Any time is a good time to talk about Leh Ladakh! If you have visited this pristine mountainous region, situated in the lap of Himalayas, then you know what I’m talking about. Once you come back from this incredible journey, you just can’t stop talking about it! The breathtaking natural beauty and the stark contrast of the peaceful Himalayan town against your fast-paced city life overwhelms you and stays with you for a long time after your trip.
You tend to include Ladakh in every conversation that you have with your friends, family (I did it for almost a year after my trip!) and you recount the many experiences over and over again, just because you can’t have enough of it! And why would you not talk about it? Such is the majestic quality and peaceful aura of this destination that it turns any traveller into a storyteller!
Travelling to Leh Ladakh is considered to be a milestone and those who haven’t been to this incredible destination (whether they admit it or not) are always in a little awe of those who have. So, if you haven’t visited this amazing place yet, this blog is perfect for you! What this blog attempts to do is, give you a rough idea about how you can go about planning your own Leh Ladakh journey… So, read on!
The Planning Stage:
- Leh is a huge district located in the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir! It is situated at an altitude of 3524 metres (11,562 feet) above sea level, due to which the air out here has reduced levels of oxygen. The best time for a Leh Ladakh trip is during June to August, when the hilly region experiences summer. (this is also when the Border Roads Organization (BRO) clears up mountain roads for tourist season)
- It is essential for travellers to consider a very important factor while planning their Leh Ladakh trip. Lower levels of oxygen can cause breathlessness, high or low blood pressure, difficulty in breathing, migraines, altitude sickness etc. It is extremely important to consult your physician/doctor and determine your physical capability for this trip.
- To be on the safer side, always remember to carry medicines such as Diamox (after consultation with your doctor) and general medication such as Crocin, Avomine, Cough & Cold Tablets and First Aid Box, on your trip.
- As you go further up north, your body starts acclimatizing to the outside temperatures and you can help in the process by doing a few things yourself. Remember to drink water and stay hydrated every day of your journey. Also, carry light snacks such as chocolates, energy bars, chewing gums, chips etc. because you need all the energy you can at higher altitudes.
- Carry small portable oxygen cylinders, in case of emergencies. These will come in handy if you have difficulty in breathing at remote places.
- Pack clothes such as fleece-lined jackets, winter coats, woollens, scarves, socks, gloves etc. for your trip. The weather here is cooler than what we experience in cities, so it is always better to be prepared. Make sure to pack thermal wear! These keep you warm in a way that you don’t need to layer yourself with too many clothes.
- Shoes! We cannot stress enough, the importance of efficient and comfortable winter shoes. Ensure that your shoes are equipped to walk and climb on mountain surfaces, slopes, ice paths, snow etc. There are shoes which are especially available for trekking or hiking purposes and we recommend all travellers to invest in these for a smooth and hassle-free experience for your feet. After all, they are the ones who will be taking you places. (Quechua is good mountain sports brand for these products)
Let’s Go Already! :
- There are 2 ways to reach Leh by road. You can go from Manali to Leh (via Leh Manali Highway) which takes about 473 km or you can travel from Srinagar to Leh (via Leh-Srinagar Highway) which takes about 420 km. You can also directly fly to Leh and begin your journey directly at Ladakh if you do not wish to travel via Manali or Srinagar. (There are direct flights to Leh from Mumbai, Pune & Delhi).
- If you wish to enjoy scenic landscapes, beautiful mountain sceneries and abundant nature by road, then you can opt for the route options given above. For Manali to Leh, you can fly to Chandigarh first and travel by road to Manali and onwards to Leh. For Srinagar to Leh, you can fly directly to Srinagar and begin your journey from there. For this journey, we opted for the first route.
- Pick a flight which will drop you at Chandigarh by afternoon or early evening! If you want to make the most of your travel, you can even fly to Chandigarh in the morning and devote the rest of the day to explore Chandigarh city.
- In the evening, begin your journey towards Manali! We were a group of 9-10 people so we opted for a mini tempo traveller which had enough space for our luggage. You can also opt for a private four-wheeler, taxi-cab or state transport buses that can take you from Chandigarh to Manali. (If you’re taking the 2nd route and travelling from Srinagar to Leh, then your first stop can be Kargil and this exact route can be reversed, a day for day)
- The purpose of reaching Chandigarh by afternoon or early evening is that the onward journey to Manali takes place overnight and you end up utilizing your night for a road journey rather than wasting your day! The distance between Chandigarh and Manali is roughly 320 km and the average time required to cover this distance is about 9 hours.
- The closest airport to Manali actually lies in Bhuntar, Himachal Pradesh, also known as Bhuntar or Kullu Airport. But, flights to this destination are very erratic and expensive, making it the least preferred way to travel to Manali. Although the distance between Bhuntar and Manali is not that much (about 50 km) the time required to travel through the mountainous terrain is close to 2 hours.
First Stop, Manali:
- After an overnight journey from Chandigarh, you reach Manali in the wee hours of the morning! Admire the breathtaking views and get ready to constantly look out of the window as you encounter snow-capped mountains, lush green hills and abundant trees and forests everywhere. Manali can also be a perfect destination which can be included in your Leh Ladakh honeymoon package.
- We opted for a fun stay at a campsite by the ‘Beas River’! There are many such campsites along the river. The camps give you an amazing thrill of being ‘one with nature’ even as the frothing white Beas River flows by with great gusto and zeal. Hotels in Manali are plentiful and you can find many options to stay in the nearby Manali town, as part of your Ladakh holiday package.
- We rested for a while and soon began our adventure! We enjoyed a nearby trek that took us to the breathtaking ‘Pasha Falls’. This trek takes you through beautiful forests with the Beas River flowing nearby and enchanting nature that surrounds you, at all times. The walk upwards is gentle enough (only mildly steep in between) that leads you to the amazing beauty, that is the waterfall itself!
- We came back tired but refreshed and full of happy memories! You can even dedicate this day for Manali sightseeing. Explore temples such as Vashista Kund, Hidimba Mandir (Yes, the one that featured in ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’) and spend the evening at Manali Market for shopping. Get a good night’s sleep because the next day, we begin our onward journey to Leh Ladakh!
Next Stop, Sarchu via Rohtang Pass:
- Put your thermal wear to good use today, because you will be climbing higher altitudes and experiencing lower temperatures! Our next stop, Sarchu, was just a stopover destination between Manali to Leh, due to the long distance we had to cover between both places. The plus point, we travelled from Manali to Rohtang Pass en route and encountered huge stretches of snow on either side of the road. Now isn’t that a perfect way to begin your Leh Ladakh trip?
- Rohtang Pass is a must-see, must-visit destination when you travel to Manali! The mountain pass became extremely popular when it was featured in the movie, Jab We Met, where the actors drove through the snowy walls that line up the dreamy mountain road.
- It is an extremely popular tourist spot that can be featured in your Ladakh holiday package, where you travel from Manali to Rohtang Pass! Travellers can get out of their vehicles and enjoy the pristine snow blanket out here. Wear the special snowsuits provided by many vendors on the side of the road and literally play, roll, slide in the snow without getting wet or feeling too cold.
- This is also the perfect place to enjoy some hot ‘Maggi’! The staple food of the mountains (for tourists), a piping hot bowl of Maggi is a must-have in the cold weather of the snowy region. There are many local shops and small eateries on the roadside that sell Maggi, tea, coffee and other light snacks, making Rohtang a perfect pit-stop for your onward journey.
- Now, a fair piece of warning! Rohtang Pass has several mobile toilets (toilet on wheels – which can be moved from one place to another) and makeshift arrangements for tourists who wish to relieve themselves. Although the facilities are available, they may not be hygienically up to the mark and in some cases, only sub-standard. A hard truth you have to face when you are so high up in the mountains!
- After enjoying a splendid stopover from Manali to Rohtang Pass, we covered more ground distance ahead. Our aim was to reach Sarchu by night! We passed by Keylong, where we stopped for lunch and drove onwards towards our final destination for the day. High up in the mountains, you will not have much choice for food items and you have to make do with whatever local food is available in the region.
- Another milestone that we crossed was the Baralacha Pass, where some of us got down to click pictures. We were at really high altitudes now and the freezing temperatures outside were unmistakable and unforgivable! We reached our camp at Sarchu at night. A remote village with no concrete structures and zero mobile connectivity, this is the last settlement near the border of Himachal Pradesh.
- Make sure to put food in your stomach even if it’s late! This was the place where most of us experienced dizziness and altitude-sickness as our body started adapting to the freezing temperatures. After dinner, we retired to make-shift tents with beds, blankets and a small washroom at the back. You will only find such camp arrangements and no hotels since the small village settlement is only frequented by travellers on their way to Leh.
Head’s Up, we are in Leh! :
- The next day was awesome! We got up fully refreshed, rejuvenated and our bodies had received their due amount of rest. We crossed the border of Himachal into the state of Jammu & Kashmir and began our journey towards ‘Leh’.
- The distance between Sarchu and Leh is about 250 km which can be covered in about 5 hours. After rows and rows of undulating mountains, rugged hills and breathtaking scenery, we reached the town of Leh. The landscape completely transformed as we were greeted by small structures, better roads, commercial shops and a quiet city life, slowly unfolding all around us.
- We checked into our hotel and relaxed for the day! It is absolutely essential to get used to the weather and climate of this city before you start exploring the place. Almost all Leh Ladakh tour packages, advice a day of rest for all travellers on the first day. You can stroll around the small town and explore the nearby markets in the evening, but avoid walking long distances or climbing steep hills.
- The next day is completely dedicated to Leh city sightseeing. Take your pick and explore the many sightseeing places that form an integral part of Leh Ladakh holiday packages. Get ready to explore:
a.) Hemis Gompa – believed to be the largest and wealthiest monastery in Leh
b.) Thiksey Monastery – home of the ‘Maitreya Buddha’ statue which is 49 feet tall (equal to 2 stories of a building)
c.) Shey Palace – summer retreat of the Kings of Ladakh
d.) Druk White Lotus School a.k.a Rancho’s School – the famous school where few scenes from 3 Idiots were shot.
e.) Hall of Fame Museum – Museum featuring Ladakhi history & culture along with contributions of the Indian Army to safeguard Ladakh during war
f.) Shanti Stupa – a Buddhist peace pagoda built to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and to promote world peace and prosperity.
- After you are done with sightseeing, take some time out and explore the local market square of Leh. This is where you will encounter many interesting shops, souvenirs, local items on sale and an array of quirky cafes and restaurants. Try the local food and go about the market to interact and meet with the locals. Be sure to make this experience a part of your Ladakh tour packages!
Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass:
- Next, we made our way to the amazing Nubra Valley! Located at a distance of 150 km north of Leh town, the travelling time required to reach this valley ranges between 5-6 hours. This is because of the rough mountain roads and uneven terrain that slows down the progress of your journey.
- On the way, we pass by the world’s second highest motorable road – Khardungla Pass, situated at an altitude of 18,380 feet. Until very recently, it was the world’s highest motorable road and was surpassed by ‘Umlingla Pass’ which has been built at an altitude of 19,300 feet.
- Khardungla is a must-visit spot that is included in many Ladakh tour packages! Gather your buddies around you and pose in front of the huge sign that claims, you are (almost) on top of the world. Covered with Buddhist prayer flags and snow-capped mountain landscapes all around, this mountain pass is a true testament to the journey that you have taken so far!
- From here, we travel to the mesmerizing Nubra Valley! (a definite highlight of your Ladakh tour packages) Be greeted by a wonderful trio of mountains, river and white sands at this unique place where you can experience all 3 landscapes together. Admire the rugged brown mountains, dip your feet in the soothing waters of the ‘Shyok River’ or enjoy a camel ride in the white sand dunes with your loved one, as part of your Leh Ladakh honeymoon package. Nubra valley is home to the double-humped ‘Bactrian camels’ that are only found in this valley and certain parts of Kazakhstan.
- Stay overnight at Nubra Valley! It is highly recommended since the journey is long and you have one more interesting sight to cover before you head to Leh city. The next morning, begin your journey towards Leh, but first, visit the beautiful Diskit Monastery. This is one destination that you can’t afford to miss in your Leh Ladakh tour packages.
- Even if you don’t visit the actual monastery, do not miss out on the spectacular ‘Future Buddha’ statue located below the monastery. This amazing 106 feet statue is a mesmerizing representation of ‘Maitreya Buddha’ in the most benevolent and peaceful form ever! The statue was completed in 2010 and was built with 3 main purposes – to promote Diskit village, to prevent future wars with Pakistan and to promote world peace.
- With such a wonderful image at the back of our minds and lots of pictures to remind us of this beautiful memory, we head back to the mothership – Leh city!
The reason we go to Leh Ladakh, Pangong! :
- Don’t fool yourself but even you know that this is the main reason that you want to visit Leh Ladakh! The pristine, serene, mesmerizing, stunning, ‘oh so beautiful’ that even adjectives fall short to describe it, Pangong Lake. A Himalayan lake with ever-changing shades of blue water, it is the crowning glory of the Ladakh region and many Ladakh tour packages. The lake is 134 km long and stretches between two countries, India and China (about 60% of the lake lies in China).
- The journey from Leh to Pangong is a long one! The distance is approximately 223 km and the time required to reach Pangong from Leh is about 6 to 7 hours. It is necessary to dedicate 1 entire day, purely for this lake, since the travel time is very high. But, once you reach the lake, the journey is completely worth it!
- Just as you are about to reach this lake, you are greeted by short glimpses here and there of the pristine blue water. But nothing will prepare you for the amazing feeling that you will experience when you first set your eyes on this beauty; it simply takes your breath away! Spend a good amount of time by the lake and take in the mesmerizing nature, all around you.
- The vibrant shades of blue, the epic canvas of mountains dotting the horizon, the undulating white clouds constantly playing a game of hide-n-seek and the numerous ducks and seagulls (that make the lake their home during the migratory season), help transport you to a completely different world altogether. Now wouldn’t that be a perfect spot to spend some quality time with your loved one, as part of your Leh Ladakh honeymoon package?
- Get a chance to click photos with the 3 Idiots movie memorabilia available on site! All in all, have an unforgettable experience at Pangong Lake. On your way back or even on the way to Pangong, check with your guide and stop by the grassy plains on the side of the road. You will encounter some very peculiar and cute (Yes, cute!) creatures called ‘Marmots’. These creatures resemble large-size squirrels that stay underground but come out of their hiding places as soon as you bribe them with eatables such as grains, chips or nuts.
- We went back to Leh on the same day but you can opt to stay overnight at Pangong. There are various camp-stay options (mostly tents) available by the side of the lake. The only drawback here would be, the next day would be entirely spent travelling back to Leh city. But, if you don’t mind an extra day of travelling and want to spend a night under the stars by the lake, go for an overnight stay at Pangong! An incredible feeling you can take advantage of, as part of your Ladakh holiday package.
On our way to Kargil:
- The next day, its time for Kargil! We leave the wonderful town of Leh behind and start descending to Kargil city, located at a distance of roughly 220 km. The route we take today is NH 1, Leh Srinagar Highway that takes us about 5 hours to reach Kargil.
- Before we reach Kargil, we have a plethora of sightseeing options to choose from, on the Leh-Srinagar Highway. Be sure to include these in your Leh Ladakh tour packages:
a.) Pathar Sahib Gurudwara – the revered Sikh shrine constructed in memory of Guru Nanak
b.) Magnetic Hill – a mysterious natural phenomenon or an optical illusion of a seemingly upward slope
c.) Sangam Point – the confluence of two distinct rivers, the murky brown Indus and the clear blue, Zanskar.
d.) Moonland – surreal landscapes that look like the surface of the moon
e.) Lamayuru Monastery – an ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery
f.) Alchi Gompa – mainly known for its magnificent and well preserved 11th and 12th-century wall paintings, all in an Indo-Himalayan style.
- You can also take advantage of the wonderful adventure activity of Zanskar River rafting like we did! Feel the adrenaline rush and experience the thrill of the water, as you paddle through sharp river currents and make your way through the gushing water. It is a memorable experience that forms an integral part of many Leh Ladakh tour packages.
- It is easily possible to cover the river rafting and other sightseeing experiences, all in one day! Start your journey early in the morning from Leh city and head down NH 1. On the way to the river rafting, we can cover Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and witness the Sangam Point. After this, you head for Zanskar river rafting and after this amazing experience, you move towards Lamayuru Monastery. Moonland can be sighted on the way to Lamayuru and finally, by the end of the day, you can also visit Alchi Gompa. After you complete all sightseeing, head towards your final destination for the day, Kargil.
Hold your head up high at Kargil:
- We are at Kargil today! At this glorious city, visit the Dras War Memorial also known as Vijay Memorial – built in the memory of fallen soldiers in the 1999 Kargil war. The museum in this war memorial exhibits army emblems, models of Himalayan mountain ranges and documents archive of the soldiers. There is a special war gallery named, Captain Manoj Kumar that is dedicated to photographs and weapons of the Kargil War. Another must-visit and endearing experience of your Leh Ladakh holiday packages.
- Pay your respects at the Tiger Hill Memorial! Experience what it feels like to be in the presence of pure bravery, extreme willpower, die-hard patriotism and utmost love for your country. That is exactly what the memories of these war heroes stand for and remind us of their sacrifices for years to come!
The final frontier, Srinagar:
- From Kargil, we moved towards Srinagar, the capital city of Jammu & Kashmir. The distance between Kargil and Srinagar is roughly 200 km and the travelling time, on an average is about 5-6 hours. We travelled through the narrow and treacherous, Zojila Pass (Expect delays due to intermittent landslides that cause heavy traffic on this route) and onwards through the beautiful landscapes of Sonmarg to finally reach our desired destination of Srinagar.
- Again, you have 2 options here; either catch a late night flight out of Srinagar back to your home city or stay for the night at Srinagar and catch the next day flight back home. We opted for the 2nd alternative because you can never predict how much time it might take for you to clear Zojila Pass and reach Srinagar in time for your flight journey.
- The route is almost always loaded with traffic and therefore, it is advisable to find accommodation for the night at Srinagar and then travel back home the next day. If you live to travel and want to optimize your journey, even more, explore the next full day in Srinagar with local sightseeing and catch a flight back home in the late evening or late night.
- Bid adieu to the mountains, hills, rivers, lakes that have been your companions for the last few days and be homeward bound with a head full of memories and a heart filled with lingering traces of fresh mountain air!
That’s my journey through the mountains, a route map if you will, of my trip to Leh Ladakh! Now, the route could be different for different people depending on their individual choice, the preferred method of travelling, sightseeing, duration of stay, accommodation & food preferences, overall budget etc. A lot of factors go into planning this kind of journey, so make sure you are well-equipped with all the information you have! Pick up ideas from here, take suggestive routes and embark on your own ‘mountain sojourn’! Happy travelling to the Land of High Passes…