A Leh Ladakh road trip is touted as the most adventurous way of exploring the Ladakh region. Whether or not this is your cup of tea or in this case, ‘butter tea’, since we are talking about Ladakh, you can figure out by reading on!
The routes from Manali or Srinagar to Leh are both scenic, but they remain closed for around 6 months in a year from November to around end of April. Since our trip was in April, we decided to fly down and then hire a car with a driver! Well, there is no way to get a self-drive rental car option in Ladakh. Well, the former option was a tad bit expensive, but worth every penny simply because it allowed us to enjoy our trip to the maximum with minimum hassle.
Suggested One Week Ladakh Itinerary
It was our good luck to sample a wide gamut of amazing experiences in Ladakh as we were there for a week, which we think is perfect to explore the region especially if you are directly flying into Leh.
Day 1 – Fly into Leh and get acclimatized
Day 2 – An introduction to Leh Ladakh. Visit Thiksey Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Shey Palace, and Ice Stupa.
Day 3 – Rent a bike (Or drive) around the other part of Leh. Head to Hall of Fame, Alchi Monastery, Sangam River, Magnetic Hill and Gurdwara Pathar Sahib.
Day 4 – Time to leave the town. Drive through Khardungla to Hunder. Diskit Monastery and Nubra Valley.
Day 5 – Day trip to Pangong, overnight stay if possible, else come back to Leh via Changla.
Day 6 – Explore the remaining places in Leh Ladakh including Spituk Monastery, Leh Palace, Tsemo Fort, and the famous ‘3 Idiots’ school.
Day 7 – Fly back to New Delhi
The ones doing a road trip from Srinagar or Manali, the same itinerary applies, just add two more days for traveling to (and back from) Leh. You can also read our road trip to Leh Ladakh from Delhi itinerary for further details.
Highlights from our Road Trip to Leh Ladakh
- We’d love to share the things we loved the most about ‘the Land of High Passes’ – the ones that you definitely mustn’t miss during your visit to Leh Ladakh.
- Ah! the clear blue skies with cotton-candy clouds neatly suspended over the barren mountains. So picturesque!
- Bike ride and drives whilst surrendering to the pure paradisiacal beauty and scenic landscapes.
- Getting wallpaper pictures for our phones/laptops at Pangong Lake. Oh, the reflection of the sublime Himalayas in crystal clear waters.
- Finding inner peace at the Shanti Stupa and of course marvelling at its pretty architecture.
- Moon watching and bird watching – every single day of our trip. You cannot get over those feelings ever!
- Selfie time with the double-humped (Bactarian) camels in Nubra Valley has now become a long-lasting memory.
- Our conversations with monks with maroon robes and even the local people.
Detailed Leh Ladakh Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: New Delhi to Leh Ladakh
Taking an early morning flight from Delhi to Leh made sense as it gave us ample time to take things slow on the first day. An absolute must for acclimatisation otherwise, our trip could’ve been spoiled by a bad bout of Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) with symptoms like a bad headache, nausea, breathlessness, and dizziness. If like us, you are planning to fly into Leh directly from Delhi, write this day off as the change in altitude is going to leave you breathless. It is best to get sound sleep even though the flight journey is short.
Here are a few things you should bear in mind once you reach Leh Ladakh:
- Once you’ll exit the airport, you will find a number of taxi drivers waiting to take you to your hotel. In all likelihood, you are going to be staying somewhere near the centre (Old Town). It’s about 30 minutes journey from the airport and the charge is 500 INR.
- It is best to stock up some snacks for the long evening especially if you are not staying near the market area. In April, when not a lot of cafes and restaurants are open, it can be a tad bit difficult to find good food jaunt.
- On Day 1, you won’t be walking or hiking much as it can make you sick so ensure you have everything you need handy including medicines, clothes, dry fruits, etc.
Things to do in Leh on Day 1:
1. Explore Leh Market– A few hours of rest and we seemed up for a slow trip to the main market. We suggest travellers check out unique pieces of gems and jewelry, Pashmina shawls, wooden handicrafts and by far the best – to mingle with the friendly locals! Julley!
2. Eat at Gesmo Restaurant – This quaint little restaurant was on the road towards the main market and surprisingly had everything on the menu! As most of the cafes were closed during our visit in April, this felt like a really lucky find!
Don’t forget to try burgers and momos at Gesmo Restaurant!
3. Obtain Inner Line Permits – Inner line permits are a must for both Indian and International travellers. You need these permits to visit the protected areas of Ladakh like Nubra Valley, Khardung La, Pangong, Tso Moriri etc. The queues could put off any visitor, but thankfully our driver got them for us. You can also get them online too!
4. Talk to the locals – Many of our unforgettable moments in Leh Ladakh were when we halted to say Julley to the locals. They were more than happy to call us over and strike a conversation. Ladakhi people truly get happy about meeting you and love talking about life in their beautiful region. Definitely, what makes travelling memorable in Leh Ladakh are the people.
Stay: We reached Leh Ladakh post noon (12:30 PM), and we took accommodation in a gorgeous hotel over there – Silver Cloud Ladakh (deluxe room priced at 6000 INR). The deluxe rooms were the finest and even the food was delectable. What touched us the most was the hospitality of our hosts – Stanzin and his family. They even guided us with regards to our planning for the trip. On their suggestion, we spent our first three days in Leh and kept Nubra & Pangong for later. This was actually for our own good. We got pretty well acclimatized because of which we stayed in good shape and health during the entire trip. Many thanks!
You can read our review of Silver Cloud Ladakh to make up your mind.
Day 2: Local Sightseeing (East Ladakh)
Getting the max out of your early days in Ladakh involves maintaining goldilocks conditions – taking it just slow and relaxed enough to avoid AMS while planning in such a way that you still manage to see the all the top attractions in Leh!
As for us, we were definitely looking forward to our trip to Nubra Valley on Day 4 and did not want to risk AMS in any way. Having slept well, we woke up with enough energy to pack in the must do’s for our Leh Ladakh road trip.
Things to do in Ladakh on Day 2
1. Photostop at Stakna Monastery – We started at around 10 A.M and drove all the way to Stakna Monastery. This one wasn’t on our itinerary but we love exploring the offbeat stuff and this monastery simply caught out attention while we were driving to Thiksey, supposedly our first stop.
2. Hemis Monastery-This iconic, pre-11th-century monastery is the place where the annual Hemis Festival is held around June/July. It is at this festival that you can see the famous masked dances (chamm dance) and the whole monastery displays a riot of colours with costumes, flags and general excitement! I am quite sure it is similar to the Thimphu Festival that we attended in Bhutan. Though our visit was too early for this, we still enjoyed viewing the gold statues, stupas and beautiful thankas there.
3. Photography pit stop at the Location of the Naropa Festival – The Naropa festival is like the Kumb Mela of the Tibet region and so also known as the Himalayan Kumbh. How could we not take a pit stop for pictures at its location? Hemis, the otherwise sleepy little village, turns vibrant with festivity and religious fervour once in 12 years to host this spectacular festival.
4. Special detour to Shara Village to see the winning Ice stupa – Sonam Wangchuk’s groundbreaking work to preserve water gave rise to this annual competition where villages in Ladakh compete to create high stupas out of ice (artificial glaciers). This year, Shara Village emerged the winner with the tallest stupa!
It was certainly worth the bumpy drive and 30-min hike! Most recommended to all those travelling to Ladakh in April.
5. Drive to Thiksey Monastery –This Gompa is just a short 25 to 30 min drive from Leh via the Leh-Manali Highway and Thiksey village. The views along the way are stark yet somehow so serene that they left us with a newfound calm. The Gompa itself left us awestruck with its grand façade! This one is probably one the most recognisable monasteries of Leh simply because it’s been photographed the most!
6. Shey Palace – 15 km from Leh on the same Leh-Manali highway and going through the beautiful old village of Shey (capital of ancient Ladakh), our car dropped us just ahead of the short sandy trail to reach the palace. We ran our hands along the numerous prayer wheels along the way! The best photo ops, of course, were the ruins around, the main Sakyamuni Buddha statue and the golden chorten spire.
Stay: Again at Silver Cloud Ladakh
Day 3: Bike Ride, Alchi Monastery & Magnetic Hill (West Ladakh)
The real adventure starts today as stunning empty roads beckon invitingly. Get set for experiencing the best of Leh today – scenic beauty abounds these remote areas of Ladakh. And just imagine the thrill of riding a bike on these oh! so pretty roads! We had to rent a bike on one of the days of our Ladakh trip, and as suggested by our ever-so-accommodating driver, Lobzang, we decided to do the deed on Day-3. Good decision, I must say!
Now make sure the bike you are renting is in good condition. Even though the roads are pretty well-built still you’d be driving a lot. So, a comfortable ride would only ease the effort and make your journey beautiful. We paid 900 INR day rental for a green Royal Enfield bike that was in an excellent condition.
Things to do in Ladakh on Day 3
1. Hall of Fame – Our first experience on the Leh-Srinagar Highway was definitely an interesting one. Straightaway after fuel top-up, we headed to Hall of Fame. A history lesson diving into the history of our army men who battle every day at LOC to protect our lives surely got us excited. We spent about half an hour at the museum and proceeded with our long journey.
2. A Quick Stopover at Nimmu Village – Now prepare yourself for a 64km long bike ride from Leh to Alchi Monastery. You’ll definitely need to stop for lunch along the way, and I suggest to take a break in Nimmu Ladakh. Of course, you’ll be needing some time off after riding on crazy hairpin bends of the Himalayan roads. Perhaps there was no restaurant open along the way in April except in Nimmu so it was a mandatory halt for us. In fact, the food we had at one of the Punjabi Restaurants here was sumptuous and just to our liking. The views are scenic nonetheless.
3. Head straight to Alchi Monastery – So drive further on the Srinagar-Let Highway to reach Alchi Monastery. Don’t miss out the left turn (Easy to miss) that leads you to the monastery. Look out for the cute bridge on the left adorned by thousands of prayer flags. 15 minutes ride later you’ll be at Ladakh’s oldest monastery – Alchi. This monastery was founded in the 11th century and houses three holy temples. The complex features beguiling Buddhist art pieces and paintings. But photography is prohibited inside the temples.
Go for the striking landscapes and the exhilaration of being in the majestic Himalayas. Also, for shopping at the stalls outside the monastery.
4. All the Way Back to the Sangam Point – Once you have soaked it all in at the gorgeous Alchi Monastery, it’s time to begin your journey back to Leh. En route to Leh, we crossed Nimmu Village and stopped at the Sangam Point. It is where Indus River meets Zanskar River. The beautiful confluence of both rivers is a sight to behold. And the rivers are easily distinguishable because of their different colours – Zanskar is muddy brown and Indus is shiny green!
5. Continue to reach Magnetic Hill – This is a popular small stretch of road believed to have magnetic properties – a phenomenon believed to defy gravity. There is a yellow box where you must park your vehicle in neutral gear, and once done, the car starts going uphill rather than downhill. Well, this is more of an optical illusion than any gravity-defying stunt but is definitely a popular sightseeing destination.
6. Gurdwara Pathar Sahib – The last place to visit in Ladakh on Day 3 is the pious Gurdwara Pathar Sahib that is a scenic attraction about 25 miles away from Leh. It is a holy shrine of historical importance and is of immense importance to the followers of Sikhism.
After a languorous dinner at any restaurant in Leh centre, come back to your hotel and get as much rest as possible.
Stay: Again at Silver Cloud Ladakh
Day 4: Khardungla and Nubra Valley
The journey began at 10 A.M as usual for us, and it was the first day during our 7 days road trip in Ladakh that we had dressed in layers. We were all set for the long day it was going to be, and of course, some nice dose of snow!
Things to do in Ladakh on Day 4
1. Khardung La Pass – Likely the most visited place in Ladakh, Khardung La stands proud as the mightiest motorable pass in the world. It is the gateway to Shayok and Nubra Valley. We drove from an altitude of 10000 feet to 18378 feet constantly sipping water to avoid motion sickness.
The journey was surreal; the mountains looked unrealistic – all so fascinating. Don’t fret if you have to wait in a queue to click a picture in front of the famed Khardung La signboard. In case you wish to do a day trip from Leh to Khardung La and come back the same day, the total distance to be covered is 80km which is fairly doable. There is one check post at South Pullu where you have to submit a copy of your permit. The road conditions until South Pullu (25kms) remain good but the later stretch of 14kms isn’t smooth due to a lot of slush caused because of melting snow.
Leh – Phyang – South Pullu – Khardung La [39 kms]
- Just make sure you tank up the car in Leh itself as there’s no petrol pump en route to Khardung La. Carry spare fuel just in case you need it if you are continuing to Nubra Valley.
- It is common for visitors to experience altitude sickness at the top so don’t exhaust yourself. And avoid smoking and drinking at any cost.
- You can drink tea and eat Maggi at the Khardung La Cafe or Army Cafe as there will be no other eatery along the way until Khalsar.
- Don’t spend more than half an hour at the top.
2. Photostop at Khardung Village – The road from Khardung La Pass till North Pullu remains quite patchy (say about 18kms). You will have to stop at North Pullu checkpost once again to submit your inner line permit. The landscapes completely change from here onwards. Very soon you’ll be driving in the Khardung Village. Take a few stops in the almost secluded village to click a few pictures of the scenic vistas. You can lunch here if you want at the Khardong La Restaurant. But we decided to cover a few more kilometers before stopping for lunch.
3. Lunch at Khalsar – It is going to be 30kms long drive from Khardung Village to Khalsar. Since the roads are smooth, you would feel nothing but happy gawking at the tremendous scenery particularly the harsh arid mountains. Have lunch at a quaint roadside dhaba (eatery) and get ready to drive through vast uninhabited hinterlands.
Continuing up the valley, it is best to pause at Diskit Monastery next.
4. Divine Intervention at Diskit Monastery – From Khalsar the road divides into two; you take the left to continue to Diskit. A modest little village, which has now become a commercial hub with all the tourist influx in all these years, welcomes you. The highlight is the 32-metre high statue of Buddha (Diskit Gompa) that sits prettily on a craggy spur facing down the Shyok River making for a visual delight for the onlookers. After soaking it up all, head to the oldest buddha monastery in Ladakh. Diskit Monastery comes across as a heap of Tibetan-style box buildings perched atop a rocky peak. The panoramic vistas of Diskit village from the monastery would enchant you completely. Now you can choose to stay overnight at Diskit or continue your journey to reach Hunder.
I’d recommend a stay at Chamba Camp Diskit if you are coming during the season time. Sadly, during our visit in April, there was no chance of camping so we decided to continue our journey to Hunder. Sten Del Hotel is a good option for travellers looking to stay in Hunder. The property boasts of decent rooms and nice gardens, priced at approx 1000 INR per night.
5. A Desert in the Middle of Nowhere – Hunder, popular as ‘The desert in the sky’, is an altogether different world. Just about 8km west of Diskit, you will find double hump camels grazing on dune-like landscape cocooned between the Himalayas and the Shyok River.
Travellers do not like to give camel rides in this part of Ladakh a miss. But we just like admiring these beautiful creatures from a distance rather than riding them. No shame in admitting that we are responsible travellers!
Quad Biking is quite popular in Hunder region. It looks like a fun thing to do in Ladakh especially in such wilderness.
Stay: We spent our night at the beautiful Hunder Resort which was luckily open in April as well. Our hosts were really warm and friendly. I would also highly recommend you to have dinner at this hotel only. Their buffet selection is surprisingly great and worth every penny spent. A night stay here would set you back by 4000 INR.
Day 5: Pangong Tso Lake Road Trip
Ladakh is not just home to some of the world’s most stunning monasteries but mystical lakes as well. Wake up and enjoy a typical Ladakhi breakfast and be prepared to encounter the grandest of all lakes today – Pangong. I spent most of the time in the morning just thinking about all the pictures of the lake I had seen online and how I’d like to capture it.
Stock Up on Fuel: The total journey from Hunder to Pangong Two is going to be around 180 km. It is going to be a long drive and there is one petrol pump, 1 km North of Hunder, so ensure you top up the tank without fail.
Things to do on Day 5 in Leh Ladakh
1. Long Drive to Pangong Tso Lake – It is the day when you would be clicking countless pictures, driving on a plenty hairpin bends, and making lifetime memories. The drive down from Hunder to Pangong via Agham-Shyok route provides is going to take 4-5 hours easily. Get a rare insight into a region virtually uninhabited and untouched by civilization. You’ll cross riverbeds, drive on curves that are easy to manoeuvre, constantly gazing at the roads that turn extremely narrow at some places.
All-in-all, it is going to be a dramatic journey; just the Leh Ladakh road trip you had been hoping for.
- This route shall only be taken when you are well-prepared. Make sure there’s no scarcity of fuel in your vehicle and you have everything that may be needed during the journey like medicines, water, etc.
- This route is a bit fragile and you won’t find any help along the way. So in worst case scenario like tyre breakdown, you’ll have to help yourself.
2. Lunch en route to Pangong at Tangste – We had a bit difficulty in finding food on this day particularly as much of the area we were covering wasn’t open for tourists yet. We took a short break at Tangste and treated ourselves to a plate of Chowmein (our only option) and some hot coffee. Sadly, there weren’t any restaurant/hotel operational along this route during April in the region. We started again and barely after 10 minutes had to get our permits checked at Durbuk.
3. Watch out for Rarest Wildlife Species: Keep your eyes open as you will definitely encounter a range of endemic wildlife animals and birds when you are nearing Pangong. You will see Marmot, horses, deers, yaks, migratory birds, and brahmini ducks around this region. Now you have another reason to look out of the window. Learn to appreciate these creatures from a distance only.
They can be quite dangerous if teased, tamed or just disturbed in their homes for no reason.
4. Surrender to the beauty at Pangong Tso Lake – You will notice a striking palette of scintillating colours – from burnt umber and cocoa brown to Caribbean-style turquoise – contrasting extraordinarily with arid, stoic mountains. Situated at a height of 4,350m, this lake is about 130km long, with 60% of its length lying in China. In April, much to our surprise, there was little to no tourism in this part of Ladakh at all. So, we didn’t feel shy about conducting our photoshoot here. Well, perks of road tripping in Leh Ladakh in April.
There aren’t many activities that you can do around Pangong. And with the recent development of banning tented accommodation at Pangong, there is no other option but to return to Leh or stay overnight at Tangste (Though the reservation needs to be done much in advance). We totally support this decision as it will prevent degradation of Pangong Lake in the near future. Anyway, it’s going to be a scenically gorgeous day and you’ll be going back with man fond memories of Pangong Tso Lake.
5. Stay back or Head Back to Leh via Chang La Pass – We decided to head back to Leh from Pangong as we didn’t find any desirable accommodation in Tangste. It was again a long journey but Lobzang made sure that we didn’t feel uncomfortable even for a moment.
We were prepared for the drive and had an idea that there wasn’t going to be a single vehicle on that route especially when it was getting darker.
But within an hour we were at Chang La. We stopped for a quick picture and got back in the car as it was unbelievably cold at that time. We hadn’t witnessed so much snow in any other part of Leh Ladakh on our entire road trip.
Stay: Overnight stay at Singge Palace, Leh
Day 6: Leh Local Sightseeing
We were really drained out after Day 5‘s long hectic Ladakh road trip and had already informed Lobzang that we wouldn’t be ready for sightseeing anytime before noontime the next day. We had many amazing destinations left on our Ladakh itinerary that we wanted to see before heading back from Leh to New Delhi.
Things to do on Day 6 in Leh Ladakh
1. 3 Idiot’s Filming Location (Rancho’s School) – First on our list of places to see in Ladakh today was Druk White Lotus School, Shey. Our driver was particularly happy to drive us to the school where 3 Idiots was shot. Just make sure you do not call out the students who study there. Just take a picture against the famous ‘Idiotic Wall’ and leave.
2. Spituk Monastery – This is yet another interesting monastery to visit in Leh and is about 8 km away from the Leh town. Located on a hilltop, this monastery offers stunning views of River Indus from the top. Make sure you take this surreal drive to soak up the panoramic vistas from the monastery.
3. Shanti Stupa – It’s time to visit the iconic Buddhist monastery that was constructed by Japanese monks to foster world peace. And those in the quest for some time alone should definitely put a visit to this magnificent white spired structure on their Leh Ladakh road trip itinerary.
Spend some quiet time here and soak up the striking views of the Leh city from the top.
4. Leh Tsemo Fort – This was the last place we visited in Ladakh on our 7-day road trip. I had no idea what we were in for and where we were going. We were in for a surprise. Leh Tsemo offers some of the most majestic, panoramic views of the Leh town. This tiny, ruined palace is visible from virtually everywhere in Leh. Go for the views and the atmospheric setting.
Stay: Overnight stay at Singge Palace, Leh
Day 7: Fly Back to Delhi
It’s time to go back home!
I’ve tried to cover every possible aspect for planning your Leh Ladakh road trip and things you can do there. In the blogs to follow, I will cover more aspects regarding planning your trip.
Have a question? Ask me in the comments below! You can also follow us on our Instagram channel and ask your questions directly there.
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