Graduates in the field of tourism intern with travel agencies where they strive to learn the well protected art of making itineraries. The job sounds easy enough and I can already see you going “Any average IQ person can come up with the perfect itinerary for Ladakh. All you need is a map and some basic knowledge of the places enroute.”
You couldn’t be more wrong.
People have been heading to Ladakh on their bikes for more than a decade now. Yet when I started searching for itineraries all Google came up with was DevilOnWheels’s itinerary. Back then, It seemed a satisfactory itinerary. Covered most places, reasoned for picking a route over the other but most importantly kept in mind the riding hours a person can accomplish in a day. But boy, was I in for a shock at how terrible the itinerary was. So after realizing enroute the impractibility of the itinerary, I made changes enroute through talking with locals, other riders I met on road, with Google Maps coming to rescue at times when at forks both roads were less taken.
Detailed Itinerary for your Leh-Ladakh road trip:
Day 1 | Delhi – (Khajjiar) Dalhousie
- 586KMs of riding on your first day. That’s around 11 hours of non-stop riding. Add appropriate breaks and I’d say 14 hours time to reach Khajjiar is fairly reasonable.
- The route will take you from Murthal-Sonepat-Panipat-Ludhiana-Jalandhar
- Dasuya Forest Division will come enroute which will take you through tree canopy and to the other side without touching Pathankot.
- Mountainous terrain and Coca-Cola bottle roads will begin from Sihal.
- Overnight at Khajjiar. Khajjiar is a 24km of mountain road out of way and adds an extra day to the trip but you will save ample time with this itinerary and wouldn’t mind spending a night at Khajjiar. With permission from Forest Department you can even pitch your own tents at near Khajjiar Lake. Hotels are also available. A forest guest is present which provides an excellent view of the lake. So those with contacts in the government have a reason to rejoice.
- Overnight at Khajjiar.
- To avoid the sun on highway, start from Delhi at night. Preferably 11pm-ish. Not only will you hit the mountains before the sun turns on his bitch mode, you will also sail through traffic of cities like Jalandhar and Ludhiana before the day hits office hours. Moreover this is recommend since your months of travel will be the summer ones where temperature during the day can reach above 40 degrees Celsius. Also leaving at night would allow you to reach Khajjiar at a comfortable pace before the sun goes down.
- You will find a mind boggling number of food options in Khajjiar. Dalhousie would naturally have more options but as a place Dalhousie is mostly dead and in comparison with Khajjiar, rather bland. Hence the 24km of extra riding is worth it.
Day 2 | Khajjiar – Patnitop
- From Khajjiar you will find two routes to Patnitop. One goes through Surajganj-Doda-Kharonti and finally Patnitop. The other, more preferable route is from Dalhousie-Dunehra-Basohli-Dharamkot-Udhampur and then Patnitop.
- Both routes are around 245km but the Udhampur route has more habitation enroute and a dam. It also has a newly made highway where you can speed up and make up for lost time, if any.
- Both routes are entirely mountainous.
- Roads are well built but constant turning doesn’t allow one to pick up speed. Udhampur route roads are better.
- 6 hours and 30 minutes of riding. Add appropriate breakfast, lunch and photography breaks in between and it turns to be a comfortable 9 hour journey.
- Lack of accommodation options at Patnitop has led to a non-competitive market leading to hoteliers demanding exorbitant prices. Either book online or reach before the sun sets to have some leverage while haggling.
- Dharamkot falls enroute. Those who wish to pay homage to the mighty Shivji can find cheap accommodation and various sort of recreational substances which can be consumed in the friendly company of Israelis. Feel free to add a night at Dharamkot to Itineary.
- 8 kms before Patnitop you will encounter Kud. Savour the famous Garam Patisa and move on towards Patnitop where you won’t find much to see.
- At an average of 35 degrees Celsius, Jammu is a waste of time.
Day 3 | Patnitop – Srinagar
- 184 kms of excellent more-straight-than-not roads. Takes around 5 hours. Add sufficient breaks and maximum it will take you is 7 hours of riding.
- Srinagar has an extremely competitive hotel market. Finding hotel rooms around Rs 700 shouldn’t be a task.
- Overnight at Srinagar
- Try for a Shikara ride or a house boat accommodation. Will be a tad bit more expensive than a hotel room but worth the difference.
- If you reach Srinagar early, roam around the market, buy warm gloves as you will pass through Sonamarg’s ice clad Zero Point next day. Dal Lake can be done in the morning whilst heading to Kargil.
Day 4 | Srinagar – Sonamarg – Zozi La – Drass – Kargil
- 202km of a fairly good road, then a majorly terrible road, then no road, then bit os road for two hours and finally one of the most scenic and well made roads you’ll ride on.
- Srinagar to Sonamarg is 80km of NH1 with stretches of broken roads labelled with mud and stones.
- At Sonamarg you will find snow for the first time. If lucky enough, snowboarding, snowmobile, ledge <something> will be on.
- Sonamarg to Zozi La is a nightmare (thrill seekers may read that as excellent). Zozi La Pass will one of the most difficult stretches of your entire journey. There’s dust all around you engulfing you like fog entering through your visor and into your lungs to find a permanent home. The terrain is hidden under sand, stones which sprout out of nowhere to misbalance you, and a scorching sun (irrespective of the temperature). Add to that a 35 degree climb at curves. Reach Zozi La after 12 and good luck battling with water too. I could go on, but I see you cringing already.
- Zozila to Drass is unmaintained stretches of relief and butt pain. You’ll spend north of 2 hours (with no stops) covering a measly distance of 70km.
- Drass to Kargil is bae. You’ll fall in love. 50km in under an hour.
- Overnight at Kargil
- About 8 hours ride. Add to that the time you will spend snowboarding et al at Sonamarg.
To avoid finding water on roads from melting glaciers, leave early. I’d suggest leaving around 7 from Srinagar.
You’ll be entering parts of Jammu and Kashmir where data is a privilege. If you need to book a hotel online for Kargil, book it before venturing out of Srinagar/Sonamarg.
Day 5 | Kargil – Lamayuru – Leh
- Kargil to Leh is 210km. Translates to 5 hours of riding. Enroute you will finally witness the vastness of Ladakh. The road is surprisingly well made with only a small bit still under construction. But frequent stop in between will extend the riding time to 7 hours.
- Cover Mulbekh Maitrey, Lamayuru Moanstery, Lunar Landscapes. These will come during the second half of the ride.
- Only an hour before Leh you will find the confluence of Zanskar and Indus at Nimmu. You’ll have to go a few kilometers off route to witness it from close.
- Gurudwara Pather Sahib and Magnetic Hill comes next. No magic there for two wheelers.
- Overnight at Leh. You can pitch your own tents at Bikacamp.
Day 6 | Leh Local Sighseeing
- Leh doesn’t have much. Try a few restaurants, shop a bit, visit the Hall of Fame, Shey Palace and Sanchi Stupa.
- That’s it, Leh’s done.
- Overnight at Leh. You won’t be coming back here.
Leh has an entire market of army clothing shops. You can find cheap army quality gloves, surviving in negative sleeping bags here. I bought a pair of gloves for Rs 120 and they fared well for the entire journey especially during a snowfall at Tang La.
Day 7 | Leh – Khardung La – Diskit – Hunder
- You will only be covering 127km. And a rather comfortable one if you can ride on sand. Shouldn’t take more than 6 hours of riding.
- Once you’ve done Zo Zila, Drass and everything enroute, Khradung La will seem like a joke. It’s scenic, is well paved and barring the last 10km one can ride at 40kmph comfortably.
- At Diskit you will find the Highest Buddha Statue (highest, not tallest).
- At Hunder you can find home stays for under 1000. Tents can also be pitched.
- Reach Hunder before 6 and experience the Jaisalmer like Desert and two humped camel safari.
- Overnight at Hunder.
Day 8 | Hunder – Diskit – Shyok – Tangtse – Pangong Tso
- A rather less known route. It takes you from Nubra to Pangong without heading back to Leh; saving a day.
- You will find a hot water spring enroute.
- What would you do in Leh anyway?
- The roads are better than the ones from Leh to Pangong Tso, but still terrible.
- It’s 9 hour journey. Hunder to Tangtse is 130km. 50km of which is paved and after that it’s nightmare.
- Tangtse to Pangong takes 3-hours. You’ll find… some road.
- Tents can be rented for under 500 for two around Pangong Tso if you reach before daylight fades.
- Overnight at Pangong
Day 9 | Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri via Karu
- Unless you can get permits from Leh to cross via Hanle, Karu is the only route you can take. With permit the route can be done in 130km on a terrible road. Without permit it takes 290km. It can be done in a day but you can stay for the night at Karu or further ahead. Cheap homestays can be easily found enroute.
- Get a tank full at Karu and take atleast 10L of fuel per motorcycle before heading off to Tso Moriri.
- About 12-13 Hrs drive, depending upon the breaks you take in between.
Day 10 | Tso Moriri – Tso Kar – Debring (Manali – Leh Highway starts) – Pang / Sarchu
- This is where the extra fuel will come of use. A 9 hour ride.
- Sarchu has better accommodation option than Pang but Pang is cheaper. You will get cheap homestays at Pang.
- You will not find mobile network/PCO STD after Tso Moriri and before you reach Darcha the next day. Darcha is 70km from Sarchu.
- Enroute you will cross Tang La.
- Overnight at Sarchu or Pang.
Day 11 | Pang / Sarchu – Baralacha La – Keylong – Rohtang Pass – Manali
- Suraj Tal and Deepak will come enroute. Route is relatively excellent till Keylong, Keylong to Manali takes 4 hours.
- Overnight at Manali.
- 12 hour drive.
Day 12 | Manali – Delhi
- Return Home
- About 13-14 Hrs drive, depending upon the breaks you take in between
Day 13/14 Buffer Days
- Why isn’t Jammu on the itinerary?
It’s pointless heading to Jammu. Average temperature during those months is north of 35 degrees Celsius.
- Where’ s Panamik?
Enroute from Nubra to Pangong Tso you will come across another hot water spring which makes up for not visiting Panamik.