If you are a travel freak you must go, if you have never travelled to an offbeat destination, then you should not miss it for anything. The road to Leh is fondly known as the ‘Road to Heaven’ by the ones who are lucky enough to experience the heavenly journey to this beautiful place. Open only for a small part of the year, the road is taken by enthusiasts from all over the world in search of cherished memories for a lifetime. For those who have already packed their bags for travelling to Leh- Ladakh this season, here’s a complete guide for your travel via Srinagar- Leh and Manali- Leh highway.
Leh via Srinagar vs Leh via Manali
Leh via Srinagar through the National highway- 1D (NH-1D), is a 434km long stretch and by every means an unforgettable experience. There are many reasons that favor this route such as the fact that this route helps the travelers to get better acclimatization to the weather than through the Manali route. The route ascents in the altitude gradually thus affecting you minimally, and as compared to the Manali-Leh road, you are far more relaxed and feel much better.
Being relaxed and in a better health condition also implies that you will be able to enjoy the weather and spectacular sceneries much better on the way. Of course, no scenery looks nice when you have a pounding headache or worse, when you are throwing up. If your body is not properly acclimatized to the weather conditions, chances of you falling sick are high. In case you want to take the Manali-Leh route, it is recommended that you take it while returning back. Your body will already be accustomed to the weather and you’ll be in a much better position to take the route.
Best Season to travel
Leh via Srinagar
The route remains closed for almost 6 months of the year, and therefore, travelers are ready to hit the road as soon as it opens. If the weather god permits, the road opens around mid May and is open till the end of October. It is advisable NOT to go for it immediately after it opens as the roads are a bit dangerous as they are prone to the melting snow. Wait for a month after opening and then leave. Also, don’t forget that July month is the monsoon month and landslides are an inseparable part of the route. So be careful.
Leh via Manali
Mostly in the mid of May the road through the Rohtang pass and Baralacha la opens but again the possibilities of landslides during monsoons and snow melting makes it a bit dangerous. Travelling anytime between August and October makes for an ideal trip.
Leh via Srinagar
While the adventure enthusiasts and ones who can drive will not opt for anything but bikes for the trip, for those who cannot fathom a bike journey of 400+kms, private cars and taxis can be the best way to travel. Taking an SUV/MUV would be the best option, however, there’s no problem even if you opt for a hatchback. There is also JK SRTC bus service available from Srinagar, but if you want to spend some time with the beauty of the ‘road to heaven’ peeping through the bus would not be a great idea.
Leh via Manali
The biggest drawback of this route is the ban of non-HP vehicles. Yes, if you don’t have a Himachal Pradesh number on your vehicle, you can’t travel through this route. However, bikes have no restrictions of number and can travel without any issues. For those looking to travel by four wheelers, rental cars and taxis are easily available. To travel by own Non-HP vehicle, a special permit from Manali SDM office is mandatory. HPTDC busses are easily available and are preferred by solo or couple travelers not willing to take the adventurous bike route or the expensive privately hired car route.
Leh via Manali
Whichever route you take, you are sure to be captivated with dreamy landscapes, unimaginable backdrop, and the spectacular confluence of weather and views. It doesn’t matter whether you have never held a camera in your hand, any picture you click en- route will be one of the best.
Leh via Srinagar
Total route Distance– 440kms
Places covered– Srinagar → (85kms) Sonmarg → (62kms) Drass → (58kms) Kargil → (110kms) Lamayuru → (125kms) Leh
The view all throughout the route is magnificent. But Sonmarg specially deserves every bit of your time. Your to travel Kargil will be one of your stopovers for the night. Although the incessant presence of army and army camps seem a bit too much, but going by the history, it is for our own good. The best part is the personnel are extremely helpful if we follow the rules.
While Night stopovers are available at Sonmarg, Drass, Kargil, Lamayuru and Mulbek, Sonmarg and Kargil are two places where you will find ample of accommodation choices.
If a simple meal is your craving then there is no dearth of food across the route but if you are a vegetarian, Kargil may be a bit of a trouble as finding vegetarian food is a tedious task there. It is recommended that you have a good heavy meal at Drass where vegetarian options are easily available and pack some if you wish to.
Although most people don’t stop at Lamayuru as the close proximity of their final destination beckons them; it is a good place for a stopover. The view is marvelous and there are few but good accommodation options. When on road to heaven, why hurry?
A tragic rather painful history is associated with Kargil but at the same time it is inspirational to learn about the stories of war heroes who sacrificed their precious lives to honor the security of the Indian nation. Take some time and indulge in the unforgettable experiences of the place.
Also, take a short ride to Mulbek, hardly 40kms down the road. A sleepy village with magnificent view, friendly people and a photographer’s delight.
Availability of the Necessities
No problems as far as phone network is concerned, BSNL and Airtel are major networks on this route and finding a telephone booth is never an issue.
In such kind of adventurous trips it’s better to carry cash but also, not too much of it. Although ATMs are easily available at this route in Srinagar, Drass, Kargil, and Leh; it’s better to have some hard cash with you for the journey.
Leh via Manali:
Total route Distance– 490kms
Places covered– Manali → (52kms) Rohtang → (19kms) Kokhsar → (38kms) Tandi → (09kms) Keylong → (28kms) Darcha → (84kms) Sarchu → (80kms) Pang → (125kms) Upshi → (55kms) Leh
If only you have travelled on daring and rugged roads before or have the will to drive through a stretch of a good 350 kms without signs of any civilization and a distance of over 360km with a petrol pump, will you take this road. The road is for the adventurous kinds driven by their adrenaline rush for adventure. If you have the daring and have a passion for unadulterated natural scenic views; this is the route for you.
Starting from Manali which is a tourist hub, the other place ideal for a night halt is Keylong with a good amount of hotels and accommodations. Pang is another good place to halt if you are OK with Chadar/ tents.
Availability of the Necessities
Very basic food is available at few stops so it’s better to pack up some snacks for the route. Be generous with your packing as you might not be lucky to get a lot of food.
As mentioned earlier, almost 360kms can be the distance where you’ll find the next petrol pump after Manali only in Tandi before you reach Leh. So it makes all the sense to have a packed supply of fuel along with some basic tire repair accessories. If your vehicle breaks down, you are entirely on your own.
Telecom network works only in Manali, some parts of Tandi and Keylong before you finally reach Leh. Hence, It s a good idea to inform your family and friends about the unavailability of network.
Things to keep in mind before you travel
• At 10000ft above the sea level, having altitude sickness is a common problem. It is advisable to take a day’s rest and travel at a comfortable pace to avoid any kind of strain and to get properly acclimatized.
• People suffering from high BP or heart problems should avoid Leh- Ladakh. There are many other beautiful things to see.
• Please don’t rely too much on plastic money. There are very less hotels and restaurants accepting credit cards. Even if they do, a charge of 2% service tax is levied. It’s better to carry cash.
• Some of the monasteries and monument ban photography. It is better to confirm before capturing the mesmerizing scenes.
• Plastic is officially banned in Ladakh so please don’t carry plastic bags. Moreover, it’s no less than a sin to pollute the blissful place like Leh- Ladakh.
• Leh is not destination to travel in the spur of the moment. It requires a very meticulous and careful planning. No matter whichever route you go from, a planned trip to Leh is a necessity, especially if you are going by bike.
• Summer months are usually pleasant and while during the day time only a t-shirt can be enough, the night can be colder than you imagined. So it is always better to have a pair of warm clothing with you.
• A torch is your best companion in the region suffering with frequent and long power cuts.
• While in Leh don’t forget to shop for souvenirs from the local market.
• Avoid going during the rainfalls as the risk of landslides increases.
• Don’t try to be a stud and drive carefully, the roads are tricky and half of the places are deprived of civilization.
Must Pack Things
• Plenty of woolen socks with sturdy- non slippery sport shoes.
• Carry layered clothing to help feel comfortable in changing climate.
• Inner thermal suits for protection from cold.
• Balaclava, leather jacket, caps, scarves.
• Good SPF lotion to protect your skin from the harsh sun rays.
• An extra pair of gum boots or shoes is always appreciated specially at the time when the bike crosses water streams.
• Hand Gloves are also a must.
The road to Leh is offbeat, but it is an experience worth having at least once in a lifetime. The view is far beyond the pictures clicked and the descriptions written. You have to see it to believe the unmeasurable, un- spoilt beauty of the ‘Road to heaven- Leh’.
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