Best plan for Ladakh trip
The plan below is suitable for both first timers and experienced alike. It is also suitable for both people in car or bike. You can take the print out of the short version and take it with you on the trip. It starts from Delhi, goes to Leh, on to Pangong Tso lake, Nubra valley and ends at Jammu. We executed this plan on a motorcycle in the month of August 2013 and it worked perfectly.
Duration of trip: 2 weeks
Distance covered: 3000kms (approx.)
Difficulty: 9 (On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is an extremely simple and 10 is a tough, technical trip)
Best time to go: June to September
Best Plan for Ladakh-Day 1: Delhi to Mohali (270kms, 4-6 hours)
The road is extremely good, probably one of the best in India. There will be stretches where you’ll not need to go below a 100kmph for about half an hour straight. Once you get out of Delhi, the road is just awesome. However, there is work going on to make it even more awesome, so in the second half you will find quite a few diversions. Even then, we were able to finish this section in 3 hours! The weather will be generally hot though.
Where to stay: We stayed at Lodge Ganga in the 3B2 market, Mohali for 800 bucks a night and it is a decent accommodation. Generally, hotels in Mohali would be cheaper than those in Chandigarh, and since they are so close by you might as well stay at Mohali.
If you stay at Lodge Ganga, walk over to 5 Phase market and eat at Khalsa restaurant, the best Punjabi food you will ever have. There is the Katani restaurant too very near to the lodge which is known for its excellent food and deserts.
What to do: Since it is a rather short trip, you will have plenty of time to spare on Day 1. You can head over to Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh for some nice relaxing views. The famous Rock Garden is also nearby. On the way back, stop at the Rose Garden and enjoy the beauty of that place. Then head over to the Sector 17 market which is right next to the garden. That’s all there is to see in Chandigarh and Mohali.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 2: Mohali to Manali (315 kms, 8-10 hours)
We went via the “normal” route, which goes from Ropar-Kiratpur-Bilaspur-Mandi-Aut and then Manali. This road quality is average, with some very bad stretches in between. Plus this route is taken by all buses and trucks, so it can get quite congested. There is an alternate route that goes through Kalka-Shimla-Kufri-Narkanda-Aut and then Manali. It is longer by around 70kms, plus the road condition gets bad after Kufri, but there will be very less traffic. On both the routes, you will find cold weather as you approach Manali.
CAUTION: Just before you enter Manali, there is a Green Tax barrier where people will ask you to shell out a 100 bucks per bike and 200 per car to pass through. Personally, I think it’s bullshit, it looks more like a private nexus of corrupt policemen and politicians. So if you want to run through it, do it, nobody will stop you later on.
Also, you will find many agents here, giving you rooms at nice location for 500 rupees, DON’T take the offer. Manali is still a good 5kms away, you don’t want to stay in the middle of the jungle.
However, this checkpoint does have one advantage, you can get your pass for crossing Rohtang from here, so you will not have to get in line at Manali for it. The pass costs 100 bucks per person.
Where to stay: The Beas, HPTDC hotel. It is THE most ultimate hotel you can stay at. You get a balcony with a splendid view, hot water and very comfortable bed. All for a measly 900 bucks. And breakfast is complimentary! We chose not to take the breakfast and they gave us the room for 600 rupees.
What to do: Manali is like most hill stations, highly overrated. Go to the Mall Road, roam around a bit, eat at Satyam restaurant, come back and get some rest. Tomorrow is the start of the real trip.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 3: Manali to Jispa (150kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 6,700 feet to 13,000 feet)
OK, play time is over, now the real trip starts. Before you begin, take a pill of Diamox, it will help you acclimatize easily and prevent onset of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Remember, Diamox takes about an hour to come into effect. It will be very cold, so wear all of your warmest stuff. You need to start very early, before 6 AM, if you want to beat the traffic at Rohtang pass. If you cross Rohtang before 11 AM, chances are no one will check your permit either. The pass remains closed from 11 AM to 1 PM, and gets traffucked very quickly. The aim is to reach Jispa, but if you are unable to do so, you can stay at Keylong as well, which is 21 Kms before Jispa.
You need to start early not only to cross the pass quickly, but also to keep some buffer for taking photographs on the way. The path after Marhi is amazingly beautiful and will remind you of the floating mountains of the movie Avatar. Also, if it rains, which it most likely will, you will find long sections filled with sludge. They are tricky to maneuver and consume extra time. Just remember, when in sludge, never use the front brake of a bike. Use the engine braking and the rear one. Because if the front locks, you will be covered in mud in no time.
Stop at Tandi and get your tank full. Take additional petrol/diesel based on your mileage, it’s never bad to take some buffer. There is no petrol pump for the next 350 kilometers.
There will be a lot of elevation changes, so you might feel symptoms of AMS. Drink lots of water mixed with glucose, eat at proper times and take rest whenever you feel dizzy. The road is dangerous and one wrong move will get you killed. Take a stop at Keylong and eat something. You will get maggie and alu parantha etc.. The road is basically just a dirt path will asphalt in places.
There is another reason why you need to start early, water on the road. There would be many spots on the road where water will magically appear and block your way. The water comes from melting ice, mostly. If you start early, less ice would have melted and you will have to face less ice cold water. If you start late, well, I hope you like your feet frozen. We were wearing full sized gum boots and water still managed to get in, so that gives you an idea of how bad it can be.
Where to stay: Reach Jispa and stay for the night there in any tent. Don’t expect there to be any hotels, pick out any good looking tent and pitch in for the night. DO NOT attempt to go till Darcha or anywhere beyond Jispa. You will not find proper accommodation and it can quickly turn very bad. DO NOT listen to Army people or the locals, they will tell you that you can make Manali to Sarchu in a single day. Yes you can, but if you ride like a mad man, taking no photographs. Plus it will be an altitude nightmare, with 4 passes to cross. You will be better off following this best plan for Ladakh trip, thank me later!
What to do: Rest, enjoy the views and drink lots of water.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 4: Jispa to Pang (170 kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 13,000 to 16,500 feet)
This is going to be a tough section, with 3 passes and the infamous Gata loops. It is again going to be mighty cold. Start early and take a Diamox, just as a precaution, there are no side effects. This road, although dangerous, is extremely beautiful. You will find 1000 feet waterfalls, melting glaciers and mountains bigger than any you have ever seen. Try to keep your eyes on the road.
The first pass you will cross, Baralachala, is the highest for the day at 16,500 feet. Next up is the most beautiful and technically demanding piece of road you will ever see, the Gata loops. It is a series of 21 hairpin turns that gets you on the top pretty quickly. After that it’s on to Nakee la pass (15,500 feet) and Lachulung la (16,000 feet), which will take you to Sarchu. There are plenty of places to eat and stay on the way, Sarchu is the biggest. At Sarchu you will also have to register with Police the number of people and vehicles going through, so that they know how many people are stuck in case there is a landslide or such. Have a good meal and then set off for Pang.
Where to stay: At Pang you will need to find a good tent to sleep in, there are no hotels. Find a tent that will help you in rain as well, some of the tents are just made of cloth and water seeps in quickly. The food is good. The plan is to make it to Pang, but if you are unable to do so, you can stay at Sarchu which is a good 80 Kms before Pang.
What to do: Enjoy the views and sleep early.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 5: Pang to Leh (180 kms, 5-7 hours, elevation change from 15,000 to 17,500 feet)
This is the easy section, beautiful straight roads and fantastic views. Go slow on this road, enjoy the scenery of the More plains. You will encounter the Tanglang la pass, which at 17,440 feet can be extremely cold. We had to face ice cold rain and a hailstorm here.
As you progress, the road condition will keep on getting better. You will go through beautiful red mountains, yellow meadows and colorful communities. Don’t go too quickly, enjoy the beauty. At Upshi, you will again have to fill in your details with the Police. Then you can go ahead to Karu and get fuel again, which was missing in the last 350kms.
Leh is a proper city. You will get petrol pumps, medical supplies, even riding gear.
Where to stay: We stayed at City Heart Guest House (01942421292, 9622334485). It is at a rather obscure location, near Bijoo hotel. Cars may find it difficult to reach it. The accommodation is very nice, although electricity can be a problem. Leh gets massive power cuts throughout the day. But the weather is pleasant so you will not notice it much. It is rather easy to reach Leh from Pang, but if you do get stuck, there are places to stay at Upshi, 50 Kms before Leh.
What to do: Enjoy a hot bath and rest yourself.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 6: Leh and Permits.
Today you will just rest your aching body, acclimatize some more and get your permits for Nubra valley and Pangong Tso lake. Permits cost 350 per person for both of these locations. DO NOT go yourself to the permit office, they will give you permits to all the places you will never go to and charge more. Just ask your hotel manager and he will arrange the permits for you. You only need one photo copy of identity proof to get the permits.
Leh main market is a good place to buy dry fruits, they are much cheaper there than anywhere else in India. You can buy their local handicraft material as well. Also, buy that thread with sacred markings which you will see on almost all bikes going to Khardungla. Don’t pay more than 50 rupees for it. Put it on once you cross Khardungla. It is a sign of your conquest and of luck on your future ride.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 7: Leh to Pangong Tso lake (220kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 11,000 to 17,500 feet).
This is the most beautiful part of the trip. There is nothing more mesmerizing than the Pangong Tso lake, it’s heavenly. A few kilometers after Karo, you will need to submit a copy of your permit, they will give you a piece of paper with a number on it. Keep it safe, you will need to give it back on return. Get your tank filled up at Leh, there are no petrol pumps once you cross Karo.
The route to Pangong lake goes through world’s third highest motorable pass, Chang la. The road gets progressively worse as you approach the top and then gets a little better towards the end. There are small restaurants at the top where you can have maggie and tea. There is also an army medical camp where you can get help if in trouble. You might encounter one more security post where you need to make an entry.
Where to stay: Pangong lake has many tents on its edge where you can stay for the night. You get good food and decent stay. We stayed at the first one you can see and it cost us 600 per night. Pangong is cold, but it gets even colder because of wind chill. Keep yourself wrapped properly. Like all tents, you get a toilet but no place to take a bath.
What to do: Enjoy the views of the lake, it is simply breathtaking.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 8: Pangong Tso lake to Leh (220kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 11,000 to 17,500 feet).
We faced heavy rain and fog at Chang la while on the way back, it was very very cold. Give the chit with with number at the security post when you get back. Go to your hotel and enjoy.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 9. Leh to Nubra Valley (140kms, 5-6 hours, elevation change from 11,000 to 18,400 feet).
This has to be the hardest part of the trip. To reach the beautiful Nubra Valley, you need to cross through the world’s highest motorable pass, Khardungla. At 18,380 feet, it is no mean feat. Get your tank filled up at Leh, there is one petrol pump at Diskit but there is no guarantee that it will have fuel.
You will need to give one copy of your permit here as well and get a number. There might be one more place ahead where you need to make an entry with the security people. It’s just to keep a tab on the number of people in case a disaster happens.
Khardungla is dangerous. The road is bumpy, slippery with lots of mud and there is almost always a thick cover of fog. We encountered rain and snowfall on the way up. Snowfall makes it even more dangerous, since disc brakes stop working. That was the only time in my life I loved having a drum brake at the rear. Once you reach Khardungla, you are entitled to put the sacred Tibetan thread on your bike, as a sign of your conquest.
There is an army medical center at top and a few restaurants. Our advice will be not to stop here, it is very cold and breathing is difficult as well. Take some photographs and move on. After climbing down the pass, there is a nice little place with many little shops where you can get awesome maggie and tea. The route is very beautiful, big ravines, rivers and glaciers.
Where to stay: Once you reach Diskit, find a hotel to stay. We stayed at Thachung Guest House at Diskit (01980220080, 9469176066) and it cost us just 500 bucks per night. The room was huge and so was the washroom, with geyser. Amazing.
What to do: Get fresh there and then head on over to Hunder, where you will find white sands and Bactrian camels. It is 14kms away. On the way, you will find the only petrol pump this route has. The pump is hand operated and works from 12 PM to 7 PM, provided there is fuel. Don’t depend on it. There will be long lines of the local people too. Enjoy the Hunder valley and get back to rest. Eat at DK Restaurant near the hotel, awesome food.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 10: Nubra Valley to Leh (220kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 11,000 to 17,500 feet).
Follow the same route on the return journey, eat before Khardungla, cross it and go to Leh. Give the security people the number and get back to the hotel.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 11: Leh to Kargil (220kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 11,000 to 8,000 feet).
The road is awesome but boring, proper well laid asphalt. The road is curvy but nice. There might be some great views on the way.
Go slow as this route is prone to landslides. You travel with a huge river on your left, all the more reason to stay on your toes. After you have done the dangerous roads from Manali to Pangong and Nubra, this road will look very easy and almost boring to you. We had to sing songs and take a lot of stops to get through this section.
Where to stay: Take a stop at Kargil and stay at any of the hotels there.
What to do: Go to the Kargil war memorial and pay your respects. Get some rest for the night.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 12: Kargil to Srinagar (220kms, 6-8 hours, elevation change from 8,000 to 11,500 feet).
On this route you meet the last mountain pass, Zojila. It is actually a blot on the name of mountain passes, too easy and not so good looking. The road gets bad around this pass, all the way till Sonamarg. If it rains, the whole road at Sonamarg will be filled with slush.
You will see sections with great beauty on this route. Srinagar is a proper city, so be prepared to be stuck in jams and narrow roads.
Where to stay: Almost all hotels and boat houses are situated near the Dal Lake. We stayed at Potomac boat house at Nigeen Lake (01942421292, 9906467332) near Nigeen lake, cost us 800 per night, cheaper than those on Dal lake.
What to do: Eat at the Nigeen restaurant which is at walking distance, amazing food and quantity. You can buy Kesar, kashmiri shawls and other items here. Sellers come in boats and come inside yours to sell the stuff! As always, they quote astronomical rates for their products, so bargain aggressively. There isn’t much to see in Srinagar. There are the Mughal gardens, which aren’t that impressive after you’ve seen wild flowers at Pangong. Enjoy the food and take rest.
Best plan for Ladakh-Day 13: Srinagar to Jammu (300kms, 6-8 hours)
Again a boring section of the road. There is road work going on at almost every inch of this road, so there are numerous diversions and single lane roads. Expect tonnes of dust and grime.
Keep asking for directions as it is easy to lose you way here. You need to turn right at Anantnag or you will end up at Pahalgam. Once you reach Jammu, take the main highway towards Delhi and avoid the city. Once you have circled around the whole Jammu, then take a right and go for the railway station. You will find many nice hotels there.
We stayed at King’s hotel very near to the station. It was quite awesome, huge space with a fan in the bathroom, never seen that before. It cost us 1000 per night, but there is a catch. The check in and out time is 9 am, so you need to get out early or you end up paying a 1000 bucks more.
We put our bikes in train and headed back to Mumbai from here. This concluded the trip.
Hope you find this guide useful! This is the best plan for Ladakh trip, as far as my knowledge and experience goes. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.