“Traveling-it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta.
The journey on the road from Srinagar to Leh is one of the most beautiful journeys in the world. This road trip gives a glimpse of landscape and culture from Europe to Central Asia. From Netherlands like Tulip fields to Siberia like harshly cold Drass. From Central Asian looking people of Kargil to the Tibetan Buddhism of Ladakh. Your mind creates a picture of the now destroyed heritage of Buddhism when you see the statue of Buddha carved out on a hill at Mulabekh. The shikara rides and houseboat stays on the Dal lake remind you of Venice. The alpine meadows of Sonmarg have stark resemblance with Switzerland. This journey entails travelling from the country’ most lush and green territory to its driest and coldest land via Zojila Pass, the connecting link between the two regions, making it very diversely mesmerising.
Be a part of this Journey- Srinagar To Leh Road Trip!
Here, we present everything that you need to know before planning a Srinagar – Leh road trip.
Click on the links below to read about specific sections
Why Take Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- A glimpse into the life and culture of people closely resembling the Central Asians and Tibetans
- The excitement of driving only a stone’s throw away from the Pakistani border
- A brush past history and heritage along the Old Silk route.
- No acclimatisation trouble
- Breath in the beauty of two diversely yet immensely beautiful landscapes
- Takes less time than Manali – Leh highway
- Smooth, well laid roads
- A detour on the way takes you to Dah – Hanu, inhabited by descendants of Greek conqueror, Alexander
- The road opens early May and is operational till November.
- Srinagar is connected with flights from different cities and the fare costs less than the fare for Delhi – Leh
- If you haven’t been to Kashmir before, spend a few days in this paradise at places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam
- To add a little religious flavour to your trip, start it from Jammu, visiting the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi.
Srinagar – Leh Road Trip Map
CLICK HERE for the current status of the Srinagar – Leh highway.
How to Reach Srinagar
Flights from major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmadabad etc. to Srinagar, operate regularly.
You either have to reach Jammu Tawi or Udhampur raliway station by train and then hire a taxi or take a bus to reach Srinagar. A railway line connecting Srinagar to Jammu is expected to be completed by 2017 – 2018.
The Srinagar – Leh Highway
Name – NH1D
Length – 422 km
Months Open – Late May to Early September. The highway is currently open for traffic.
No. of Days – Two Days
Kargil is a huge district and covers many villages. The little town of Kargil is a military head-quarter with mostly Muslim population. While going to Leh by the Srinagar-Leh highway, it is important to stay in Kargil for at least a night to acclimatize well.
Zoji La (3528 m) – Links Kashmir Valley with the Ladakh region. Situated 103 km from Srinagar.
Namika La (3717 m) – First pass on the way from Kargil to Leh. Situated 256 km from Srinagar.
Fotu La (4108 m ) – Highest Point on the Srinagar – Leh route. Situated 293 km from Srinagar.
- The Zoji La being too narrow allows only one way’s traffic at a time.
- It is aslo the gateway to the Amarnath shrine, hence the rush at the pass increases during the Amarnath season.
- This is regulated by the army, so it is advisable to enquire beforehand what time window would be allotted to private vehicles.
- Apart from being narrow, the pass is also slushy, so one needs to be very careful while driving.
- Only Kashmir registered taxis are allowed on the Srinagar to Leh route. These taxis, however can not take you for sightseeing in Ladakh.
- If you wish to visit places enroute Sringar – Leh, then you must change to a Ladakh registered taxi at Kargil.
Modes of Transport
By Own Vehicle
You can drive your own vehicle to Leh. If you are taking a car, an SUV or MUV would be the best option instead of a hatchback or sedan.
Groups can take ordinary, deluxe and A-class buses for Leh, Kargil or Padum (Zanskar) from the J&K SRTC at Srinagar. There are some private operators too, but they charge more. This is the most inexpensive mode.
Taxis are available at Srinagar for the journey to Ladakh. If you wish to do sight seeing by the same taxi, then you must hire one with a private number plate. You can also take a shared cab, which does not halt for the night at Kargil.
Best Time for Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
The Srinagar – Leh highway, i.e. NH1D opens in May, however, it is operational for private vehicles not before the last week of May. The highway remains open till the first week of September. The best time is between June to August when the weather is not very cold for night halt.
Weather in Sringar
Pleasant Cold Weather. Temperature ranges from 15 C to 30 C.
Extreme Cold. Temperature hovers between -2 C to 10 C.
Weather in Kargil
Mildly Cold Weather. Temperature hovers between 14 C to 29 C.
Extreme cold. Temperature dips as low as -13 C.
Weather in Leh
Mild Cold. Temperature hovers between 5 C to 30 C.
Self Drive Essentials for Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- Your vehicle needs to have a high ground clearance. A vehicle which is 4×4, SUV or MUV is ideal for this road trip instead of a sedan or hatchback.
- Your vehicle should be properly serviced before embarking on this trip.
- It is imperative to carry surplus fuel as the highway does not have many fuel pumps.
- It is advised that you carry a spare tire and a mechanical tool-kit.
- Start early in the morning to avoid traffic en route and enjoy the beautiful landscapes in more quietude.
- Avoid the Amarnath yatra season, i.e. July – August.
- Check the timing for opening of the Zoji La beforehand so that you don’t have to lose time waiting later on the way.
- Zoji La is narrow and slushy, so you need to be careful while driving through it.
Road Update – Expected Bad Road Patches 2015 as Per Last Year’s Experiences
- A couple of patches to look out for before Drass.
- A few bad patches for the first 15 -20kms from Kargil towards Leh.
- Kargil- Zanskar the only region with very bad roads/absence of roads. You will find good roads till Sankoo after which you would encounter many streams.
Remember to leave early and cross the streams before 11 am – 12 noon after which the water level starts rising.
- Leh-Khardung La – Nubra (Panamik and Turtuk as well) around 25 km of bad stretch towards the Khardung La top.
Be a part of this Destined Journey- Srinagar To Leh Road Trip ..!!
Places to Visit on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Sonmarg (80 km)
It is a famous tourist spot, around 2 hrs drive from Srinagar. It has a beautiful glacier called Thajiwas Glacier. Tourists can find snow here even in summers. Situated on the bank of Nallah Sindh, this alpine meadow is totally worth a visit. Here, you can see the glacier melting at its lower end to go on to become a river.
Drass (142 km)
Drass is famous for being the second coldest inhabited place on earth after Siberia, after temperature once dropped to -60 one winter night. It has the Drass War Memorial dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in 1999 Kargil war. It is also called as Gateway to Ladakh as it is here where the green hills of Kashmir change to brown mountains of Ladakh.
Kargil (203 km)
Kargil became popular afer the 1999 Indo – Pak war. When in Kargil, you can go on and explore the Kargil bazaar. It is surprisingly difficult to find our normal bread. If you’re looking for a quick breakfast, buy kawaa, it will help you keep warm. Buy jewellery from the women on the street, you will find the same things in Leh for a higher price!
Mulbekh (241 km)
It is the biggest Buddhist village in Kargil district and also the point on your trip where Buddhist settlements of Ladakh begin. It is famous for its imposing statue of Buddha, carved out of a rock in the hill. This statue dates back to the time of Emporer Ashoka.
Dah- Hanu (271 km) [Goes through an alternate route via Lalung and then Indus river ]
Dah and Hanu are two villages inhabited by the people of Drokpa tribe. These people are believed to be the descendants of the Greek conquerer, Alexander. There facial features too differ from the predominantly Tibetan features of Ladakhi.
Lamayuru (308 km)
Known for its picturesque landscape, Lamayuru is known as the Moon Land because the surface of the rocks here are the same as found on the moon. The Lamayuru monastery here is guarded by moutains that cut it off from all the haphazardness of the world and fills it with peace.
Alchi (364 km) [By taking a 6 km long detour before Saspul]
You will reach Alchi after crossing many barren fields. Situated on the bank of Indus river, Alchi has a monastery which is one of the oldest and also the only Ladakhi monastery built by Kashmiri craftsmen. The monastery houses some really exquisite centuries old wall paintings.
Likir (375 km) [By taking a small detour, 11 km ahead of Saspul]
This little town is famous for its Klu-kkhyil monastery which has a 75 feet tall gold covered statue of the Buddha. This monastery was built in the 11th century, and then later in the 18th century. Monks of Gelukpa order reside here.
Nimoo (388 km)
Nimoo has the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar River. It is also called ‘Sangam’. The turquoise water of Zanskar merging with the muddy water of Indus is a magnificent sight.
Take the Roads Less Travelled With our Ladakh Road Trips
Pathar Sahab Gurudwara (393 km)
A Gurudwara created by the Indian army, which serves to respect Guru Nanak ji. It has a rock with the outline of Guru Nanak Dev’s body engrave on it, and hence the name. It is believed that once while the Guru was deep into meditation, a huge rock came rolling down the hill and collided with him, but instead of crushing him, it caved in to accommodate his divine figure.
Magnetic Hill (396 km)
Magnetic hill has a gravitational force that pulls cars up-hill and force air-crafts flying above to increase their altitude so that they can ignore the magnetic interference. On your Ladakh Holidays of Summer 2015, park your car in the opposite direction, put it on neutral, and then see your car being pulled up-hill even when nobody is driving it.
Phyang (408 km) [By taking a 5 km long detour, 15 km after Nimoo]
Phyang has a historical monastery built in the year 1515. Many hisotirans believe that it wass founded by the king Tashi Namgyal. It belongs to Drigunpa school of Buddhist teachings. It houses a 900 yr old museum with an extensive collection of idols including those made in Kashmiri bronze.
Spituk (411 km)
Spituk means ‘exemplary’ Spituk monastery was founded in the 11th century by Od-de, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od. and Spituk monastery has the largest statue of Kali which is unveiled during the annual Spituk festival. It is home to close to 100 monks.
Hall of Fame (412 km)
The Hall of Fame stores the stories of exemplary bravery shown by the hero’s of our defence forces who lost their lives in various Indo-Pak wars. This place also shows the existing cultures in Ladakh and Kashmir; the traditional dresses, the tribes, flora and fauna etc.
Important Note – There is a certain amount to be paid for the entry in all the monasteries and museums; the timing of entry also vary.
Find out the Best Time To Travel To Leh Ladakh..!!
Places and Experiences In and Around Leh
- There are a couple of monasteries and palaces that can be visited. Do not to miss the ‘Thiksey monastery’ as it gives you a spectacular view of Leh and also has the largest statue of the Maetriey Buddha in Ladakh.
- Visit the Shey palace, it might look old and rugged from the outside but from the inside it is beautiful. You can buy souvenirs’ from the stall set up by the Indian army at the entrance. Such stalls set up by the army are created to promote tourism and collect funds for the development of the region.
- Hemis monastery, the largest in Ladakh region should not be missed. Try to visit Ladakh during the Hemis festival and you will see how lively the place can be. A Tibetan restaurant right outside Hemis serves great food, which is another reason why Hemis so amazing!
- Go explore the Leh bazaar! You will get some great artifacts and jewellery at the Tibetan refugee markets set up at almost every corner. This is where your bargaining skills become functional. Leh bazaar is a great place to buy all sorts of adventure equipments.
- Almost all the restaurants in the Leh market serve good food, it depends on your choice and how many restaurants you’d like to explore.
- Go for white water rafting in the Zanskar and Indus River, the experience is literally ‘bone-chilling’
- The Zanskar or the Chadar trek is the most difficult yet sought after treks in the world. The trek takes place in January/February when the Zanskar River is completely frozen.
- Cycle to the world’s highest motor able road, Khardung-La at 18,379ft above sea level. There are marathons that regularly take place.
- Do not miss visiting the Shanti Stupa. The view from there is fantastic and so is the place!
- Leh palace or the Namgial palace is Leh’s most prized possession.
To know more about things to do in Leh – Ladakh, click here.
Inner Line Permits Required
- According to a government guideline in 2014, Indian tourists do not more require permits any more to visit inner line areas like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Dha Hanu etc.
- Only photo identity proofs issued by the government of India like Passport, Driving License, Voter Id, PAN card etc are needed.
- Foreign tourists however need to obtain permits for these and other inner line areas.
- Permits can be obtained through registered travel agencies in Leh or from the DC office in Leh. You could request your tour operator or hotel manager to arrange them for you.
- Remember to carry 6 photocopies of the permit while travelling. You will need to submit them at the checking points, along with your ID proof.
- You can take out a day to spend in Leh and get your permit. Download the application form for the permit online and fill it in advance.
- The timing for the DC office in Leh is from 10 am to 5 pm. The office is closed on Sundays, so be mindful of that. It is advisable to visit the office before noon
Local Languages on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Languages Spoken In Different Regions
- Leh– Ladakhi
- Nubra– Balti
- Chogalam Sar– Tibetan
- Kargil– Purik, Shina
- Kashmir – Kashmiri
Commonly Used Local Ladakhi Words
- Hello, goodbye, thank you : Julley
- How are you? : Khamzang le?
- I am well : Khamzang in le
- What is your name? : Nyerangi ming chi in le?
- My name is: Nge ming le
- Where do you come from? : Nyerang kane in le?
- I come from Delhi: Nga Delhi ne in le
- I understand: Hago le!
- Do you understand? : Hago a
- I do not understand: Hamago le
Srinagar and Leh have hotels ranging from average to luxury. There are a few decent hotels in Kargil and Uley Topko. Hotels at other places are hardly average.
Only Uley Topko, Alchi and Mulbekh hava permanent camps.
In Srinagar, you can stay in house boats on Dal Lake, Nagin Lake and Jhelum.
Photography Points on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Sonmarg to Kargil
Drass War Memorial
Kargil to Leh
Hall of Fame
Fuel Points on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- Sonmarg (80 km)
- Kargil (203 km)
- Mulbekh (241 km)
- Khalatse (342 km)
Medical Aid on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- Srinagar has a number of hospitals and primary health care clinics.
- Drass has a district hospital.
- Kargil has got primary health care centers.
- Leh has a number of hospitals, including an army hospital.
Acute Mountain Sickness on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- Since the route does not go above 4100 m, AMS is not a problem on the Srinagar – Leh Road Trip unlike the Manali – Leh Road Trip.
- However, it is always advised to stay cautious.
- You can carry Diamox, which is taken for AMS.
- Keep chocolates and energy bars handy for instant energy.
- Have garlic as it increases oxygen capacity.
- Take ginger water to beat AMS symptoms, if any.
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of non alcoholic fluids. Drink at least 4 to 5 liters of water per day, as acclimatization causes fluid loss.
- Don’t skip meals. However, eat light.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, sleeping pills and other depressant drugs.
- You can also carry a small oxygen cylinder, just to be safer.
Explore The Wonderful Journey of Srinagar To Leh Road Trip ..!!
Mobile and Telephone Connectivity on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- No pre-paid connections from outside J&K work in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Postpaid connections however work in Srinagar.
- Kargil has Airtel connectivity.
- Leh has only BSNL, Aircel and Airtel’s networks, but that too only for post-paid.
- BSNL has better connectivity than other networks.
- Nubra Valley has BSNL connectivity at Diskit, Hunder ans Sumur.
- Tso Moriri and Pangong have no connectivity. Chumthang (60 km from Tso Moriri) has mobile connectivity
- Phone booths are available at Drass, Mulbekh, Diskit, Padum and Tangtse.
- Internet connectivity is available only in Srinagar, Kargil and Leh.
- Postal facility is available at Srinagar, Kargil, Leh, Padum and Nubra.
- You can also buy a local pre – paid sim from Srinagar if your stay is long.
Things to Remember on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
- Always carry extra snacks with you, there might be a roadblock or a landslide you could get stuck in. Carry an extra portable oxygen cylinder with you just in case you need it.
- Do not be scared of Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) if you’re doing a Ladakh road trip . Just make sure you keep the windows of your car slightly open and don’t exert yourself while travelling.
- Do not go jumping around or become excited! Store your energy for later. Pop in a Diamox in case you’re really freaking out, after a prior consultation with your doctor.
- Remember Diamox has its side-effects like blurry and hazy eye sight. The worst will be that you’d have to go to the loo every half an hour (imagine that!)
- NOT many places have the facility of Credit/Debit cards, so it is advisable to carry cash with you.
- There are SBI/ J&K/ HDFC/ PNB/ AXIS bank’s ATM available in Leh. However due to huge tourist movements in the season, they are usually jam-packed or out of order.
- Inform your family that there will be no network in Ladakh and thus you will be unable to communicate properly for a few days.
- See your doctor before going to Ladakh – especially if you suffer from any heart related problem or asthma.
- Ladakh is a “no polythene” zone. Kindly respect this and please carry back all the plastic you take with you. DO NOT litter around.
- Keep Threptin biscuits with you. There are times when you’ll be starving and won’t find a tiny shack for kilometres and on!
- Carry your personal medicines with you all the time.
- Do not eat heavy food like eggs. Try all the dishes but do not stuff yourself!
- Always carry an extra set of warm clothes. The weather can be very unpredictable and if you’re going on a bike then you’ve got to carry extra pair of shoes and socks since they get wet when you’re crossing streams.
- Make sure all permits are ready before you leave. To go to most places in Ladakh, one must have an inner line permit. You can check about that with your Ladakh travel operator.
- If you are taking your own vehicle, carry extra fuel on your Ladakh tour. Srinagar-Leh highway does not have many fuelling stations. Know the basics of mechanics, so that you are able to fix your own vehicle if stuck.
Be a part of this Destined Journey- Srinagar To Leh Road Trip ..!!
For Women Travellers on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Since there are NO toilets on the way (only available in camps etc.), it is normal to make a group and go behind rocks. DO NOT avoid drinking water due to this reason. It’s important for acclimatization!
If you are a solo woman traveller then click to join RLT’s signature All Women Tour of Ladakh.
Read more about Ladakh here. Share your experiences of Ladakh with us in the comments section below.
Things to Carry on Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Luggage and Bags
- Waterproof backpacks and handbagss
- Toiletry and Medical Supplies –
- High SPF sunscreen (UV40+), moisturisers, lip balm, Pain relievers
- Moov, Volini spray/balm, camphor (helps in breathing at high altitudes)
- Analgesics, Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol – for headaches etc. (NOT Codeine based pain killers)
- Re-hydration salts (oral)- 6-8 sachets/Gatorade type electrolyte.
Clothing and Footwear
- Good, heavy,waterproof shoes for trekking and walking
- Extra pair of socks (esp. for bikers as you will have number of water drains and streams to cross)
- Proper woollen clothes (esp. for the months of April-July & October-November)
- Rain jackets and umbrellas for unexpected showers
- A good quality camera
- Memory cards of a considerable size
- Fully charged extra batteries and chargers as batteries discharge quickly at higher altitudes.
To read more about things to carry on your Leh – Ladakh trip, click here.
Cover Photo Credit: Suravi Shome