The 5 best travel routes for Ladakh
Perched atop the Himalayas, Ladakh is one of the most sought after destinations in India. In fact, it has almost become synonymous with road trips. The accolade is well deserved though, for there are few routes in the world as mesmerizing as the one to Ladakh. The challenge of high altitude, rugged terrain, and unpredictable weather has made it a bucket list item among travelers and adventurers alike.
There are multiple ways of doing this road trip, depending on the time availability and base destination. Want to know which route would be perfect for you? Dive into our guide on the 5 best routes to take for your dream road trip to Ladakh.
Route 1: Chandigarh – Manali – Jispa – Leh (Ladakh) – Delhi
The journey starts from Chandigarh, with an 8-hour drive to Manali. In between, you will pass Kullu, after which, lush green mountains and clear skies become your constant companions. Turquoise waters of river Beas flow alongside. From Kullu, it’s an hour’s drive to Manali.
A popular hill station, Manali affords a 360-degree view of the mountains. When you’re not admiring the wonderful vistas, be sure to bathe in the refreshing hot water springs of Vashisht, paraglide in Solang valley and dine in riverside cafes. After a relaxing jaunt here, you are ready to hit the road.
The Manali-Leh route is touted to be one of the most scenic road trips in the world. It is almost a rite of passage for every adventurer, biker, and travel junkie.
The journey is almost like a thriller movie. You don’t know what awaits you at the next turn. The landscape keeps alternating between lush greenery, snowcapped peaks, and desolate wastelands as you cross high mountain passes, glacial lakes, and charming villages. A visual epiphany is guaranteed!!
Take a chill pill in Leh city for a day and explore its local attractions. Stand atop the Leh palace, gape in awe at the Shanti Stupa, and celebrate the heroism of Indian soldiers at the Indian Army’s hall of fame. You could also shop at the vibrant markets for some antiques and cheap winter wear.
For the rest of the days, you can explore Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso, the two most popular places in Ladakh. Nubra valley is known for its monasteries, arid deserts, and hot water springs.
Pangong Tso needs no introduction. A lake of ethereal beauty, camping beside it, and watching it change shades during the day will be the highlight of your trip.
Good to know: The average altitude of the Manali Leh highway is around 10000 feet, with 5 high mountain passes on the way. So acclimatization is very important on this route. Keep yourself hydrated.
Route 2: Srinagar – Kargil – Leh (Ladakh) – Delhi
The other gateway to Ladakh is Srinagar, home to the Dal Lake, a serene lake wrapped around by high mountains. A houseboat stays on the lake is highly recommended.
The route to Leh passes through Sonmarg, a popular hill station sitting on a lush green valley fed by Himalayan glaciers. The adventure begins from Sonmarg as you start climbing the mighty Zoji La, the first mountain pass on the route. You will totally cross 3 mountain passes on the way.
There are plenty of things to see en-route. Pay homage to the martyred soldiers at the Kargil war memorial. Gape in awe at the confluence at Nimmu – a point where the emerald waters of Indus merge with brown waters of the Zanskar River.
Lamayuru monastery, perched on a cliff is another spectacular sight. The landscape around it resembles the surface of the moon, earning it the nickname “moorland”. As you cross Drass, you will see the landscape change dramatically, with the lush greenery giving way to mountains of brownish hues.
The last stretch of the road to Leh is just breathtaking, with a barren land on both sides and golden mountains providing a surreal backdrop.
Good to know: It’s the most comfortable road journey to reach Ladakh. It crosses over 3 passes and the ascent is gradual, helping in easier acclimatization.
Route 3: Amritsar – Dharamshala – Manali – Jispa – Leh (Ladakh) – Delhi
Amritsar is a bustling city, home to the elegant Golden Temple, a spiritual center for Sikhs. As grandiose as it is, the temple exudes calm and peace.
The flag retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border – The Indo-Pak border, 30 km off Amritsar is a major draw here. Every evening, soldiers of both countries perform an orchestrated drill where they march towards each other while bringing down their respective national flags. You can almost feel the nationalistic fervor in the air.
Don’t forget to gorge on some lip-smacking Parathas, laced with a generous coating of butter. A 5-hour drive from here will get you to Dharamsala.
Dharamsala is a picturesque town surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It also serves as the Dalai Lama’s residence, which explains the prevalent Buddhist culture. The town has one of the most beautiful cricket stadiums in the world. The charming St. John Church, Norbulingka Institute, Dal Lake, and Namgyal monastery are worth a visit.
Next up is Manali, one of the most popular hill-stations in India. While you’re here, check out the Hidimba temple, a unique shrine where history and heritage meet natural beauty. Hike to Jogni falls. It’s an easy 25-minute hike from Vashisht, where you can later wash away the tiredness at the local hot water spring.
There are plenty of adventure sports that you can indulge in, right from rock climbing to paragliding. If you want to take it easy, stroll along with old Manali and kick back at a riverside café.
The Manali Leh highway, the gateway to Ladakh, takes you through some of the most beautiful terrains on the planet.
Since it’s a long journey, you can break it at Jispa, a beautiful town set along the Bhaga River. Engulfed by clouds and dripping in lush greenery, it’s a place worth visiting in its own right.
The road from Jispa is like an action-packed blockbuster movie. You will cross some of the highest passes in the world – Baralacha, Lachulung La, and Tanglang La. Take some quick snaps at Suraj Tal, the third highest lake in India.
You will also take on the infamous Gata Loops, a series of 21 hairpin bends, considered one of the most treacherous routes in the world.
After a roller-coaster ride, you will arrive at Leh.
Good to know: This route gives you a dose of everything in a short span of time – culture, history, cuisine, adventure, and stunning landscapes.
Route 4: Delhi – Leh (Ladakh) – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Tso Pangong – Tso Moriri – Tso Kar – Tanglang La – Manali
After landing in Leh, you rest to adapt to the change in altitude. You can explore Leh the next day. The town has tonnes of sightseeing options right from palaces, stupas, war museums to colorful markets.
You can start the journey by heading to Nubra Valley. Being at a lower altitude than Leh, it helps in acclimatization. On this route, you will cross over Khardung La pass, the world’s 11th highest motorable road, at a whopping altitude of 17,582 feet.
Nubra Valley is famous for its arid deserts. It’s one of the most surreal landscapes – golden sand dunes ringed by towering mountains. You can explore the desert by riding the two-humped Bactrian camel, a rare species endemic to this region. While you’re here, gape in awe at the imposing statue of golden Buddha next to Diskit Monastery.
If you want to tread the offbeat path, ride to Turtuk, a quaint village on the Indo-Pak border. It’s one of the last villages in India to have a Balti culture.
From Nubra valley, you can ride over to Pangong Tso – a lake with sparkling blue waters, featured in the movie “3 idiots”. Stroll along the lake and immerse yourself in its overwhelming beauty. At night, you can sit by the lake and stargaze.
Later meet Pangong’s sibling – Tso Moriri, a lake of striking beauty. Its remoteness ensures that only a few travelers make it this far. So you can have this lake all to yourself. Birding enthusiasts will love this place as it attracts a number of migratory birds, including the elusive black-necked crane. On the way, don’t forget to check out Tso Kar, a lake whose shores are partially covered in salt crusts.
After an unforgettable journey along the roof of the world, you can descend to Manali via the Manali – Leh highway.
Navigating through some of the most difficult roads, rugged terrains, and shallow streams make it a high-voltage adventure. As tough as it is, it’s just as rewarding. The vistas en route make it all worth the effort.
Good to know: Since you are flying directly from Delhi to Leh, you are gaining altitude very quickly. Ensure that you acclimatize properly in Leh.
Route 5: Srinagar – Kargil – Leh (Ladakh) – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Chang La – Tso Pangong – Tso Moriri – Tso Kar – Tanglang La – Sarchu – Manali – Chandigarh
This route gives you the best of both worlds – the Srinagar Leh highway and the Manali-Leh highway.
Starting from Srinagar, you drive to Leh with a halt at Kargil. On the way, you can visit the Kargil war memorial, built in the memory of soldiers who lost their lives in the Kargil war. The confluence at Nimmu – the meeting point of the Indus and Zanskar rivers is another sight to behold. Stop at the magnetic hill, a mysterious stretch, where cars supposedly defy the laws of physics. Once you reach Leh, relax the rest of the day.
Leh town has tonnes to keep you entertained. You can marvel at the panoramic views from Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa, shop at Leh Market, and visit the Indian army’s hall of fame – a monument dedicated to soldiers who guarded the borders.
The epic road trip from Leh starts after a day of acclimatization. On this journey, you will witness the arid deserts of Nubra Valley and ride over sand dunes on the back of Bactrian Camels. On the way take a snap at Khardung La – the world’s highest motorable road, where you will come within touching distance of snow-capped peaks.
Sit by some of the most beautiful lakes in the world – Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. Camp beside them and stargaze all night long.
Ladakh is also the land of exquisite monasteries. Get a taste of Tibetan architecture at the Hemis, Thiksey, and Lamayuru monastery.
The last bit is climactic as you drive down the Manali Leh highway, among the most exciting road trips in the world. You will see nature in all its glory!!
Good to know: Since you are traveling to Leh from Srinagar, the ascent is gradual, helping in better acclimatization. While coming back, you are taking the Manali – Leh route, which is at a higher altitude. By this time though, your body would have adapted to the lower oxygen levels, making it easy on the return journey.