Ladakh: The Road Trip Journey of a Lifetime. A 5000km journey to the north

Ladakh: The Road Trip Journey of a Lifetime. A 5000km journey to the north

“It’s better to be Mr. Late than Late Mr. “. Amidst such quirky road signs, one can find the road to Shambhala. For those of you who don’t know, Shambhala is believed to be a version of paradise on earth in Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

So we started our 12-day long journey on the 19th of June, stuffing our cars with our baggage & food at dawn. We started out from New Delhi.

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 1 New Delhi to Patnitop – 670 Km

Our first day, we had to cover the most distance on road compared to all the other days. The 650 odd Km drive through the states of Haryana, Punjab & Himachal Pradesh, during peak summers isn’t very exciting. Still, we managed to keep our energy high with food. It’s a normal thing, isn’t it? Our first major halt was at The Haveli in Jalandhar. After a quick lunch break, we resumed our journey to Patnitop. There wasn’t much to do on the first day, except wonder & anticipate what lies ahead in the next 11 days.

Finally, at around 8 in the evening, we reached Patnitop, where we prepared for next day’s journey.

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 2 Patnitop to Sonmarg – 260 Km

We departed from Patnitop at 9 in the morning. Patnitop onwards, the drive is pretty usual; hilly roads & greenery. This “usual” part ends once you enter Kashmir. On your way from Patnitop to Kashmir, you pass through the famous Jawahar Tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel is heavily guarded. You can see guards & CCTV cameras everywhere. It looks like a scene straight out of a Hollywood military flick. Also, photography is strictly prohibited in that area.On entering Kashmir, you will notice a sudden change in terrain. From the hills of Himachal, you will now see lush green valleys & plantations. The highlight of this day was our destination, Sonmarg. As you are about to enter Sonmarg, you will notice hordes of wild horses scattered around the valley, beautiful streams flowing along the road & patches of snow. Sonmarg is somewhat like the green open fields of Switzerland.

On entering Kashmir, you will notice a sudden change in terrain. From the hills of Himachal, you will now see lush green valleys & plantations. The highlight of this day was our destination, Sonmarg. As you are about to enter Sonmarg, you will notice hordes of wild horses scattered around the valley, beautiful streams flowing along the road & patches of snow. Sonmarg is somewhat like the green open fields of Switzerland.

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 3 Sonmarg to Kargil – 125 Km

Once we got up in the morning, we headed for a short trek where we were next to the wild horses who didn’t care that we were so close to them. They were busy grazing. Kind of like how we are. When we are eating, we don’t care what’s happening around us till we are done. We had breakfast & left for Kargil. The drive from Songmarg to Kargil is quite the drive. The view is so scenic that it is difficult for the driver to concentrate. Beautifully constructed roads running alongside the Sindh river.

As far as the eye can see, there isn’t a single car on the road, except a few bikers. The only thing that worried us was what lay ahead; the Zojilla Pass. The hype around it was that there isn’t any road & it is a long stretch that will tire you out. The former turned out to be true as there was only gravel & rocks in the name of a road, however, the latter isn’t true as we had crossed it in hardly an hour.

You can notice the change in climate & terrain as you get closer to Kargil. The mountains have lesser vegetation & the air gets cooler.

Entering Kargil, we noticed that even walking itself made us a little breathless. As the day came to an end, we prepared for our most awaited destination – Leh.

Songmarg, Kashmir
Songmarg, Kashmir
Songmarg, Kashmir
Songmarg, Kashmir

Ladakh Road Trip Journe Day 4 Kargil to Leh – 211 Km

On the fourth day, we finally made our way to Leh. Now there was no need to even point out how beautiful the road & the views were. The whole drive is through the barren, rocky mountains of Ladakh. The drive itself was so comforting & peaceful. We effortlessly passed through our second pass – The Namika La at a height of 12,000 Ft. We stopped briefly to click photographs.

Between Namika La & Leh, we stopped at the Buddhist town of Lamayuru that is built around the famous Yuru Monastery. The town and the monastery are very old, one of the first to be built in Ladakh. The monastery is still kept in its original state, even the old wooden flooring intact.

Lamayuru, Ladakh
Wall Mural at Lamayuru
Wall Mural at Lamayuru Monastery

You can enjoy some good vegetarian Tibetan or Italian Food at the monastery’s in-house café. If you ever visit there, you should definitely try the Red Sauce Spaghetti Pasta.

Once we left Lamayuru, we couldn’t help but look around in awe. We had never seen anything like this before. Vast areas separating mountains with a great road running in between. You will encounter a stretch where you will notice cars parked to the side & people clicking pictures. It’s an endless stretch of a flat road as far as you can see. Once you enter Leh, you will notice a significant number of military bases & personnel. The barren mountain desert is nothing short of incredible. Leh is a well-established town with a significant population & traffic. We met our travel agent Mr. Abid, who guided us to what was our home for the next few days. We had booked a guest house by the name of Dream Ladakh, which was situated on Changspa road, a little away from the busy city.

Kargil, Sindh River
Kargil, Sindh River
dream ladakh guest house
dream ladakh guest house

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 5 Leh

The 5th day was more about getting acclimatized & resting our bodies to avoid any health issues. Apart from the usual mild headache, we were all doing fine. For some, who didn’t feel too good, they took Diamox, recommended by the doctor. At 12,000 Ft., in a place with hardly any vegetation & thin air, it is essential to stay hydrated & avoid any kind of exertion. We visited the local market, had amazing awesome Thenthuk & momos while in the evening we hung around with our guest house owner’s children & their dog. To our surprise, the guest house owner, Thundup Namgyal, is the present captain of the Indian Ice Hockey team. You can see trophies & medals hanging around everywhere. We had awesome home-made food for dinner, cooked by his wife.

Dream Ladakh

Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 6 Leh to Nubra – 150 Km

In the morning we left for Nubra Valley. The Journey from Leh begins with South Pullu, North Pullu, Khardong La & Khalsar in between, until you finally reach Nubra. The road from Leh to South Pullu is narrow but smooth. From South Pullu onwards, till North Pullu, there is no road. You practically drive on gravel & rocks. The 20 Km stretch takes forever to cover & is very tiring till Khardong La. The key is to drive slowly & cautiously to avoid any damage to the car or the tyres.

Once you reach Khardong La, you see a sign that reads “The world’s highest motorable road”. THAT SIGN, gives you a sense of achievement. It’s something you can always boast about. From Khardong La we headed for Nubra via. Khalsar. It is incredible seeing such vastness surrounded by barren mountains. As we headed for Diskit, a small town in Nubra Valley where we had our arranged for our stay, we passed through sand dunes. Partially, Nubra has a sandy desert.

Once we checked in to our hotel around 2 p.m., we left for Hunder, a place where you can see the unique Bactrian camels (2 humped camels). Hunder is a vast desert area with hordes of these special species of camel. It is mind boggling how you experience such different types of terrain at such a high altitude, between mountains. You can enjoy a camel ride at Hunder or just look around & appreciate the wonderful view.

Bactrian Camel at Nubra
Nubra Valley Desert Safari at Hunder
Nubra Valley
Nubra Valley view

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 7 Nubra to Pangong – 160 Km

On day 7, we experienced the best part of our entire trip. We made sure we left on time as certain roads may get blocked due to increased flow of water caused by rapid melting of snow during noon. What made this drive so incredible was the beautiful picturesque Shyok Valley, through which we passed. Beautiful green & yellow Trees & pink flowers, next to the Shyok River. On exiting Shyok, we reached Durbuk, where we had tea & Maggie at one of the small cafes there.

Durbuk onwards, the road is great. We crossed Hemis National Park where one can experience wilderness & nature closely. We saw wild horses, mountain cows, goats & marmots. With just a few kilometers left to Pangong Tso, we got a glimpse of the bluest blue color far ahead. It was a view of the lake itself. The closer we got to the lake the more mesmerizing it seemed. The lake stretched as far as we could see & that was only a small part of the giant. The whole lake stretches to about 300 Km with its major part in China.

As we reached our tents we headed for the lake where we dipped our feet in the icy cold salt water. One can sit next to the lake & enjoy its beauty till sundown. We made way for our tents as it got dark. Another highlight of the place was the sky. It’s like you can see the whole galaxy all at once. Different shades of purple & red in the sky with a zillion stars.

Pangong Tso
Tent accommodation at Pangong Tso

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 8 & 9 Leh

On the 8th day we made it back to Leh to relax & revitalize. We played soccer with the ladakhi boys, enjoyed good food & met a few people. On the 9th day we visited the famous Thiksey Monastery. The gigantic monastery is built on a hill. The monastery has what we thought was the most beautiful statue of Lord Buddha – Maitreya or Future Buddha. The huge colorful statue was one of a kind. One could practically look at it all day long.

After Thiksey, we visited the residence of the King of Ladakh – The Stok Palace. We saw several ancient artifacts & learned about Ladakh’s rich culture & heritage.

Stok Palace, Ladakh
Residence of the Ladakhi Royal Family

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 10 Leh to Sarchu – 260 Km

Day 10 was the beginning of our journey back home. The journey, though about to end, still had a few highlights down the sleeve. We left from Leh to reach Sarchu in Himachal. As we crossed the city, we wondered when would be the next time we get to visit the place again. On the way from Leh to Sarchu, you will encounter 3 passes: Nakee La, Lachulung La & Tanglang La, Tanglang La being the highest in terms of altitude. The passes are all devoid of any kind of roads. Your best bet for crossing safely is a travel friendly weather.

Snow Fall at Baralacha La
Snow Fall at Baralacha La

On your way to Sarchu, you will cross Pang. This spot is so picturesque that you will be forced to get out of the car & take pictures.

Pang Valley
Pang Valley

From Pang, we reached Sarchu. Sarchu is also a beautiful vast valley surrounded by grass covered green mountains. The only accommodation in Sarchu is in tents, where you get slushy ice flowing through the taps. It gets severely cold at night.

Tents at Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh
Tents at Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh

Ladakh Road Trip Journey Day 11 & 12

On the 11th day we carried on with our journey on the Leh-Manali Highway. This time we crossed 3 more passes – Baralacha La, Zingzingbar & Rohtang. We encountered snow fall & inclement weather at Baralacha. Again, you wouldn’t find proper roads at any of these. We did see a lot of cyclists making their way uphill. The stretch to Rohtang is the worst of all. The 40 Km is the most painful part of the journey.

Once you reach Rohtang, you will find yourself in the middle of lush green mountains, the kind you are used to seeing. We made our way to Manali from there. We spent the next day in Manali itself gathering & collecting all memories from the last 10 days. On the 12th day we finally arrived back home with the feeling that we have seen what paradise on earth looks like.

We hope this article inspires you to experience what we experienced.

10 thoughts on “Ladakh: The Road Trip Journey of a Lifetime. A 5000km journey to the north

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