Ladakh can be reached by land (road) and air. If you are on a long vacation, you can travel by road and enjoy the spectacular landscapes of Kashmir, Ladakh and Spiti valley. You can either take the Srinagar-Leh highway (Srinagar- Zoji La -Kargil- Nakee La- Fotula La-Leh) or the Manali Leh highway (Manali- Rohtang pass-Keylong- Jispa- Sarchu- Pang-Tanglang La-Leh). Road trip is very popular among adventure tourists and bikers.
The route (with main halts):
- SRINAGAR-(200 km)-KARGIL-(220 km)- LEH
- MANALI-(130 km)-JISPA-(80 km)- SARCHU-(60 km)-PANG-(210 km)- LEH
Which route you should prefer to reach Leh, confused ? This blog is for you !!
Let’s see both the highway routes:
Srinagar- Leh highway (420 km):
While you are riding towards Ladakh, your bike should be in the best condition. This highway is always in a better condition because of its close proximity to the international borders. Apart from small stretches around Zozila pass and Moonland area of the highway, this highway is well tarred and maintained by BRO (Border Roads Organization).
Scenic beauty and sightseeing: There are plenty of places to halt and capture the magnificent beauty of paradise on Earth, Kashmir. If you are riding from Delhi, a night halt in Amritsar is a must. You can see the world’s largest flag retreat ceremony at Wagah border. The stay at a house boat in the serene Dal Lake is a wonderful experience. The Kargil War Memorial, the Moonland, Lamayuru monastery and Gurudwara Patthar sahib are some of the attractions on the highway.
Night halt on the S-L highway– After Srinagar, the night halt is at Kargil which is in very close proximity to the Line of control with Pakistan. There are good hotels with basic amenities available in Kargil.
Acclimatization and altitude sickness problem– The altitude gain here is very gradual. Srinagar is 1600 meters, Kargil is around 2600 meters and Leh is around 3500 meter above sea level. Your body will be acclimatized in a much better way by the time you reach Leh.
Political disturbance/ unforeseen events– Kashmir is occasionally prone to conflicts and fights which might lead to road block. Though these do not involve the tourist, it is better to stay away from these areas if there is any prior alarming information. We did not face any such problem and had a smooth ride throughout Kashmir. The police officials on the highway are the best guides.
My Dal lake dream stay- Read here
Manali-Leh highway (480 km):
Road condition is mostly dismal-The Manali-Leh highway is known for its treacherous roads, deadly water crossings and long traffic jams near Rohtang pass. There are some renowned water crossings on the route where travelers are frequently stuck. A significant proportion of the route is not in a good condition throughout the year. So the journey towards Ladakh will take a toll on the bike and the biker in the initial phase of the trip . Even if you are travelling by a car it is tough to cross long water crossings on the first day of your mountain journey. Since the distance is around 70 km more than in the S-L highway, covering it in two days is more tedious.
Permit issue– Due to overcrowding in the Rohtang area you need to apply for online permit before crossing Rohtang pass. It is mandatory to get the necessary permit otherwise you can be sent back by local authorities. You can get the permit here- Rotang Permit
Scenic beauty and sightseeing: Sightseeing on this highway is limited to high altitude lakes (Surajtaal, Deepak taal) and high mountain passes (Baralach la, Tanglang la). From Manali, Himachal Pradesh, you need to cross the Rohtang pass to enter Spiti valley. You can transiently enjoy the Spiti valley greenery on the way between Keylong and Jispa (most tourists prefer to move ahead to Sarchu for the night stay)
Night halt on the M-L highway– After leaving Manali the stay options are limited. People prefer to stay at Sarchu or Pang, both of which have temporary tin sheds with minimal facilities and common washrooms. Good hotels are available only in Keylong and Jispa
Acclimatization and altitude sickness problem– The altitude gain in this highway is very rapid. After leaving Manali (2000 m above sea level), tourists usually prefer to stay at Sarchu (4200 m) or Pang (4600 m). There is high chance of altitude sickness because of sudden gain in altitude within a day. I have seen people travelling to Sarchu from Manali in a day, suffering from severe headache and vomiting. If time is not an issue you can rather stay at Jispa (3200 meter) which has good facilities. You can travel to Sarchu/ Pang on the next day. It will be tough to reach Leh from Jispa in one day (335 km).
Check out the current status- click here
Suggestions based on my travel experiences:
Both the highways are a beauty and have its own challenges and limitations. The Srinagar- Leh highway has spectacular landscapes, great sightseeing and a comparatively smooth drive. But it is prone to political disturbances occasionally In my opinion it is always preferable to travel via Srinagar-Leh highway for the onward journey. It is better to take the Manali-Leh highway for the return journey. It is always better to assess the current situation before you make a travel plan.
Read the whole series of Ladakh Ride- Click here
Read the Europe series- Click here
Will be happy to answer any questions regarding Ladakh.