Cruising through the most rugged, desolate, yet immensely enchanting terrain on the “Roof of the World” is literally an out-of-the-world experience that is usually exhilarating, strenuous, tiring and dangerous as well.
A road trip to Leh Ladakh is indeed quite rewarding as you get to soak in the beauty of the terrain throughout the journey. Travelling by SUV is definitely more comfortable as you are well shielded from the harsh weather, but the thrill and freedom of biking through these routes is totally a unique experience.
Leh Ladakh is well-connected by roads to Srinagar and Manali, both of which are equally scenic and popular with roadies, but the nearly 475 Km stretch from Manali is more punishing. Planning your time on the tricky and tough roads leading to Leh is really important in order to reach your destination in a safe and relatively comfortable manner.
Here are few things that you’ll have to keep in mind when preparing for your journey.
- Time Of Your Trip
It is important to time your trip right to safely navigate high-altitude roads and passes to reach your destination. You’ll have to plan the trip between June and October as negotiating rough and slippery terrain under inhospitable climatic conditions is not advisable. If you are travelling from Manali, note that the Leh-Manali highway remains open only for a few months each year.
- Information about the Route /Destination
A road trip to Leh is no easy deal. You must get familiar with the route, road conditions, pit-stops and possible hazards before you embark on your journey. For most part of the drive you will be travelling through remote, barren terrain with no trace of civilization. Staying on the highway most often proves to be a safe bet as the roads are relatively in good condition, making it possible for you cover ground safely and speedily. Stop and ask for directions when in doubt rather than rely on GPS, for the shortest routes, if poorly maintained, may not save you any time. GPS however can prove useful if you are lost!
- Vehicle Condition
Personal vehicle or one for hire, the beast that carries you must be in good health to tackle rugged terrain. Basic knowledge about bikes/cars is necessary for you to know what to look for when renting a vehicle of your choice. Do not expect rental vehicles to be brand new, however they should not be outdated either! Make sure you get a repair kit and spares right along with the vehicle so that you can tackle minor tweaks and fixes on your own for help may not arrive anytime soon. Take adequate precautions to ensure that you don’t get stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Mobile phone connectivity is limited to Airtel and BSNL networks, with BSNL coverage available across most spots in Ladakh, including Leh, Pangong and the Nubra Valley. While the Srinagar-Leh route is covered by BSNL, the stretch between Keylong and Leh on the Manali-Leh route is where your mobile can go silent for hours. Internet access though available at key locations, may still be intermittent. It is therefore essential to be fully stocked to survive without help for at least a couple of days if need arises.
- Bare Essentials
Your regular dose of medicines plus those that help tackle upset stomach and acute mountain sickness are a must and so is your vehicle repair kit. Flashlights, spare batteries, power banks, chargers, sunscreens, sleeping bag/tent, water, fuel, dry fruits and chocolates are but a few essentials that help when it comes to surviving if all you get stranded on the highway. From vehicle breakdowns and accidents to landslides and inclement weather, there are a host of different reasons that can delay your journey. Remember to carry toilet paper and hand sanitizers as you may not find any public toilets further away from major cities/towns.
Cash is yet another essential you may have to carry on yourself as ATMs though present along the Srinagar-Leh route may not be that reliable. The Manali-Leh route however has no ATMs. Cards are not popular in Leh.
Carry adequate warm clothes and remember to dress in multiple layers. You can easily add or remove few layers of clothes to tackle fluctuating weather conditions with ease. Choose pieces of outfits judiciously as you will be wearing them one over the other and not all clothes can be a perfect fit! Additional pairs of socks prove handy.
Your valid photo Identity proof and multiple copies of the same are a must. Foreign nationals require an Inner Line permit as well and copies of it. Remember to have a hard copy of emergency contact numbers at hand, and also carry travel/medical insurance documents as well.
Driving through high-altitude roads is vastly different from your daily commutes in the city. A steady hand and an alert head is a must when negotiating slippery roads or loose gravel especially along the narrow hairpin bends. Speeding through the nearly empty roads most likely will make you sick. A cautious drive at a comfortable speed is bound to be enjoyable allowing you sufficient time to appreciate the scenic surroundings.
Always drive in full protective gear, especially when travelling by bike as you are totally exposed to natural elements and nasty surprises are never too far away.
Stopping at regular intervals to get off the road and rest a while is necessary for your system to get used to the thinning mountain air. Long distance rides through the crisp cool settings also tends to leave you parched, making it absolutely necessary for you to carry adequate supplies of mineral water to stay well-hydrated.Many of the local Leh tour packages include picturesque road trips to touristy locations close by. However, if you wish to enjoy a long road trip to Leh Ladakh without having to drive through the challenging terrain, simply book one of the Leh tour packages from Manali, Delhi or even Srinagar to experience the thrill and pleasure of journeying on some of the most scenic highways in the country!