The cool breeze started caressing our face when we opened the car window, our eyes popped up seeing the enchanting 180 to 360-degree views of the landscapes around. There was a strong urge to stop every now and then at each spot indefinitely. Such is the real beauty and benefits of road trips. Road trips have always fascinated us. And being road trip lovers, we did an epic 13 day, 3500 km road trip from Delhi to Leh Ladakh. The massive changing landscapes, crowning shaded mountains, and the virgin beauty of Ladakh left us completely stunned. It was a lifetime experience for us to drive on the Srinagar Leh Highway and its beauty is just beyond words.
If we tell you to stop at each of these places or villages in between, to check the attractions out, we will be absolutely wrong. In fact, the whole journey is a big attraction in itself. There are high passes and glaciers, natural and manmade wonders, centuries-old monasteries. And if you are a photo-bug like us, you will have a strong urge to stop and click pictures at every curve, while traversing on the Srinagar Leh highway. But stopping at each point is just next to impossible. So, here is a brief overlay of what one must visit.
We broke our journey from Sonmarg to Leh in two days, to sense and feel the actual beauty of Ladakh. The first day we traveled from Sonamarg to Kargil and second day Kargil to Leh. Also, read complete Leh Ladakh Itinerary from Delhi
Attractions on Srinagar Leh Highway
(Day 1 from Sonamarg – Kargil)
The Thajiwas glacier lies just 7 km away from Sonamarg. The trail offers splendid views of green and frozen lakes around it. One can climb it by ponies and also try a sledge ride in mid-summer there.
The first high altitude pass, Zoji La lies 9 km from Sonamarg and is at an altitude of 11,575 feet. The pass remains covered with snow throughout the year and even in the months of May-August, you can see 8 – 10 feet of snow wall around it. Just a kilometer ahead, there is a snow point where snow never melts and one can enjoy snow games there.
Drass lies 39 km from Zoji La and is famous for the Drass War memorial which is built as a tribute to the martyrs of Kargil war. One gets teary-eyed seeing how our brave Indian soldiers fought and laid their lives to sway back our Indian Flag there. Remember to spot the Elephant ridge, Tiger Hill, and Tololing Hill in the backdrop of Drass War Memorial. Also, see Amar Jawan Jyoti and 100’s of memorial stones at Veer Bhumi.
The city Kargil lies 65 km away from Drass and is famous for rich apricot plantations. There is a Kargil war memorial and the Kargil heritage hut here too. Do visit these to see the traditional and cultural attires and crockery of the various tribes of Ladakh valley.
We stayed at Hotel Zojila Residency in Kargil. We must say, the ultimate place to relax and unwind; with the Suru River flowing around it.
Attractions on Srinagar Leh Highway
(Day 2 from Kargil- Leh)
Mulbekh Monastery/ Maitreya Buddha at Mulbekh
The Mulbekh monastery lays 45 km from Kargil on the Srinagar Leh highway. It is famous for the 7th-century old carved statue of Lord Buddha. This Maitreya Buddha sculpture is 9 meters tall and is believed to be the former Buddha.
Just 16 km ahead to Mulbekh, lays the second highest pass, Namika La. It is at an altitude of 12139 feet and is known as the “Pillar of the sky pass” because of the pillar-like object rising towards the sky at the pass.
Fotu La, one of the most picturesque pass, lies at an altitude of 13,478 feet and is 36 km from Namika La. This pass too has relay station of Bharat Prasar. Read more about Ladakh – the Land of High Passes.
After descending 14 km from Fotu La, you reach the most scenic surreal village, Lamayuru. The village is known for its absurd landscapes i.e. moon lands and centuries-old Lamayuru Monastery.
Lamayuru Moon lands
These bizarre Landscapes resemble the lunar landscape of the moon; hence named Lamayuru moon lands. Locals too say they shine extraordinarily during the full moon nights. For best views of moon lands, one can climb the meditation hill.
The whitewashed monastery on the hilltop amidst these lunar landscapes is one of the largest and oldest Gompas of the region. The foundation stone of the Gompa was laid back in the 10th century by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa, after drying up the lake in the valley. The Monastery is still a house to almost 150 monks and is famous for the dance masked festival.
Gravity Hill or Magnetic Hill in Ladakh is a perfect example of Optical Illusion. 30 km from Leh there is a stretch of the Srinagar Leh highway itself, where the surrounding slopes and valley layout give the impression that the downhill road is actually an uphill road.
Most of the people are aware of the fact, but still, hey fascinate to turn off their car engines and leave them in neutral, to see their cars moving. Even we stopped our car here to experience it, no less than others.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
The Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is a beautiful shrine 25 km before Leh. The shrine has a huge boulder with imprints of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and demon foot.
There is an interesting story behind this shrine. During Guru Nanak Dev Voyage to Ladakh, he was meditating here and seeing him lost, the demon thought of attacking him. The demon rolled down the rock from the hilltop to kill the divine soul but as soon as the rock approached him, it got converted to the soft molten wax. Seeing this, the demon got more ferocious and he pushed the rock further with his feet with full strength. Instead of Guru getting injured, the demons’ foot got injured himself. Soon, after this demon realized that he is a mortal soul and he stopped disturbing him.
Tibetan Buddhists idolize Guru Nanak Dev Ji as a Guru Gompa Maharaja and as Nanak Lama.
Indus Zanskar River Confluence, at Village Nimmu
The confluence of river Indus and Zanskar on the Srinagar Leh highway is another mesmerizing sight in itself. It lies 6 km from the village Nimmu and is a photographer’s delight.
Apart from this, we mentioned earlier too, that the whole journey on Srinagar Leh highway is an attraction in itself. So, stop wherever you can, enjoy and get soaked in the beauty of the Ladakh.
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You can also read about our other series of Leh Ladakh below and the road trip to Spiti Valley.
“Our Land is so barren and the passes so high, that only the best friends or the fiercest enemies come to visit us”
The above saying can be found everywhere on the internet about Ladakh the Land of High Passes; also known as the roof of the world but never knew the deep meaning behind it. In July 2017, while doing a 13-day long road trip to Leh Ladakh from Delhi; we saw the same quote at various places posted by BRO (Border Road Organisation) and now after visiting quite the part of Ladakh; crossing one valley to another we have understood the real meaning of each word.
It is true that the whole land in Ladakh is barren; a cold desert lying at an altitude between 10,000 – 25000 feet, where temperature even dips to -50 degrees Celsius in winters. The army is on its foot front guarding Indian border from Pakistan and China, and the passes are not only India’s but worlds highest. Some of these passes or La, as known in Ladakh are the highest motorable and treacherous roads. So, in this post, we will be talking about why Leh Ladakh is known as Land of high passes. The word Ladakh itself is composed of two words La and Dakh, where La stands for “passes” and Dakh stands for “many” which together comes to Land of High Passes. It’s not 5 or 6 passes but overall there are more than 20 passes. And if you are following our itinerary then will be crossing around 15 passes. So, let’s see the passes covered by AllGudThings.
Road: From Sonmarg to Zoji La, roads are serpentine and single Lane
The first pass; Zoji La lies on Srinagar – Leh highway is 24 km ahead of Sonamarg and is the gateway to Ladakh. This highway is also known as NH1D and has high strategic importance, as it links Ladakh with the Kashmir Valley. Zoji La is quite daring and thrilling for nature lovers as the green valleys are taken over by barren cliffs and here the winter never seems to end. The tall walls of snow can still be seen in July- August too.
Just meters ahead form pass, there is a Zero-point where no natural habitation exists. Here, the snow lovers can enjoy snow sports like sledding, snow bikes and trek to the barren mountain.
Also, enjoy some Maggi with tea/coffee at shacks. It is really windy at the pass; so wear some woolen or windcheater, to protect yourselves.
Note: Zojila receives on an average, 60 feet of snowfall and it opens only in April end or May.
2. Namika La (Pillar of The Sky Pass)
Roads: Well constructed road, continuous ascent, and descent; lie 16 km ahead of Mulbekh.
The Namika La is one of the two passes between Kargil (Also Read- Kargil War Memorial) and Leh in the Zanskar mountain range. The mountain at the pass has a pillar-like object rising to the sky. The mountains around are arid and offer a 180-degree view of the valley. The Tibetan prayer flags around the summit flutter at its best.
3. Fotu La / Fatu La
Altitude: 13,149 feet
Roads: Well constructed road with a thick layer of tarmac, continuous ascent and descent with hairpin bends, lies 36 km ahead of Namika La and 14km from Lamayuru.
Fotu La is considered as one of the highest points on Srinagar – Leh highway. From here one gets the perfect view of rugged, brown, stacked mountains. Ahead the road descends to beautiful Lamayuru town. Personally, we feel the views from this pass are photographers and videographers’ delight.
On the pass is also located the relay station of Prasar Bharati television that serves Lamayuru village.
4. Khardung La/ Khardongla (Pass of Lower Castle)
Altitude: Claimed to be at 18,380 feet, but actual height is 17,700 feet
Roads: Lies 39 km from Leh; roads are paved from Leh till South Pullu i.e almost till 24 km; After that rock and dirt road with snow melting streams in between North Pullu to South Pullu. Overall the roads are continuous winding ones.
Time Taken: 2.5 – 3 Hrs
Khardongla lies in the Ladakh range and is a gateway to Nubra and Shyok valleys. The pass was built in 1976 and opened to the public only in 1988. The pass is strategically important as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier. Khardongla offers breathtaking views, is covered with snow all around and thousands of Tibetan prayer flags decorate the place.
Roads: Steep climb, well-constructed road but almost 15 km before and after the Chang La pass, the road is of loose dirt and slush. Small streams too appear across the road.
The Chang La lies on the way to Pangong Lake via Leh and is covered with snow throughout the year. It is the main gateway to the Changthang plateau located in the Himalayas. The views from the pass are mesmerizing, scenic and adventurous along with breathlessness and extreme chill. If one is lucky enough, one can get to witness snowfall happening.
Both Indians, as well as international tourists, require Leh Ladakh inner line permit and protected area permit respectively for visiting Chang La and Pangong Tso too.
There is a myth that Chang pass is named after Saint Chang La but the myth is banished by army personnel.
It’s quite windy and chilly at Chang La, so wear woolens and cover your head and feet too.
Don’t stay there for more than 20 -25 minutes, to avoid AMS.
Check the weather conditions from locals before leaving for this route.
The roads are slippery and steep, be really slow and careful.
The best time to visit is from May – October.
Enjoy hot tea served by the Indian army
Carry extra fuel from Leh
6. Rezang La
Altitude: Lies at 16,000 feet
Road: Completely dirt and gravel road, except for a few places there is a tarmac road.
Rezang La lies in the Chushul Valley, 46 km from Spangmik on the way to Tso Moriri. The landscapes on the way are beautiful, scenic and at times, one might be the only lone wanderers. Local advised us to follow the electricity wires, to avoid getting lost. The place is known for Rezang La Memorial; which is built as a tribute to the martyrs of Sino – Indian War, 1962.
Domestic tourists need an Inner Line Permit to travel along this way whereas International tourist needs special protected area permit.
Note: Rezang La lies at a really high altitude, so just stop for a short span of 20-25 minutes.
7. Chagga La/Tsaka La
Altitude: Lies at 15,242 feet
Road: Gravel, dirt and rocky road, Continuous steep road.
The Tsaka La lies on the way to Tso Moriri from Pangong Tso. The area around Tsaka La is almost barren and the roads are only accessible during summer months. It is advised to take this route only if you are confident enough to drive on steep mountain roads. The drive becomes tougher if roads are wet.
8. Namashang La
Altitude: 15800 feet
Road: Mostly gravel & Dirt road; steep too. One needs to be really attentive and careful here to be on the track.
The Namashang La lies between Mahe & Kyagar Tso on the way to Tso Moriri. Roads are only accessible during summers. And just like Rezang La and Chagga La, Indian tourists need Inner line permit and foreign tourists need Protected Area Permit.
9. Polo Kongka La
Road: Dirt road, not very steep, but maximum you can drive is at a speed of 20 -30 lm/hr.
Polo Kongka La lies on the way from Tso Moriri to Tso Kar near Pulga. On the way, there are many sulfur springs also known as Pulga Hot water spring.
Note: Do check the condition of roads before leaving for Tso Kar from Tso Moriri.
10. TagLang La
Altitude: Lies at 17,582 feet
Road: The roads are well paved while ascent from Moore plains and during descent towards Upshi.
The TagLang pass lies between Leh and Pang and is considered to be the highest pass among all the passes on Manali – Leh Highway. The pass is well made, paved and there is a shack on the top too. Luckily or unluckily, at Taglang La; we experienced rain, snow and chilled wind with almost zero visibility. The mountains around are snow-laden and the valleys are electrifying. The pass summit is overall laden with Tibetan prayer flags.
The pass is impassable during winters. During snow melting and rains, roads become too slippery. There is a small temple on the Taglang La.
The temperature and oxygen supply at the pass is relatively low. So, there are high chances of AMS.
Stay maximum at Taglang La for 20- 25 minutes.
11. Lachung La / Lungalacha La
Road: Steep paved road at a pass, in between patches of dirt and gravel roads, bumpy because of a lot of potholes.
The Lachung La lies on Manali – Leh highway and is 22 km from Pang. The pass is completely deserted and the cold winds blow at a very high speed. The vast landscapes, brown humped mountains, and valleys around it are known for its exquisite beauty.
Note: The pass gains sudden height from 15000 feet and the cold here increases tremendously. If one is not acclimatized well, he/she will surely face the symptoms of AMS.
12. Nakee La
Altitude: Lies at 15,647 feet
Roads: Well construct red asphalt steep road passes between the rocky gorge.
The Nakee La pass too lies between Pang and Sarchu; just 19 km ahead to the LachungLa. The Indus river flows along in the valley, leaving green patches on the arid mountain slopes. As you descend from the pass, one crosses 21 hair loops known as the famous Gata Loop. There is an interesting story related to the loop which you can read on our blog.
Just like other passes, here too, it is quite windy. The weather here is really unpredictable; in seconds it changes from the sunshine to rain and snow.
Note: Roads get slippery after rain and snow, so be really careful.
13. Baralacha La
Altitude: 16,040 feet
Road: Well constructed, steep, paved road with multiple water streams flowing in between and some of these are really wild. On one side there are huge mountains, while on another deep valley; so be careful while driving.
The Baralacha La lies between Sarchu and Jispa, 59 km from Sarchu in Himachal Pradesh, India. The pass summit has crossroads from Ladakh, Lahaul Spiti, Zanskar and was earlier a famous trade road. It is also a base for many treks. We encountered lightning and rain at Baralacha pass. Roads and the whole valley turned foggy but still, it was really serene. We guess the pass will be much prettier in clear weather.
Just 3 km ahead of the pass, we saw a pentagon-shaped, turquoise blue pond, known as Suraj Taal, which is the source of river Bhaga.
The BaraLacha La closes down in winters due to heavy snowfall and one doesn’t need any permit to cross it while coming back to Manali from Leh.
There are multiple streams passing on the road. Cross only if it’s not extreme, as it can be dangerous.
Be careful with the falling rocks and landslides.
April to October is the best time to travel this pass.
14. Rohtang La / Rohtam Pass (Pass of Corpuses)
Altitude: 13,054 feet
Road: The road is really rough and in dreadful condition. There are patches of gravel and then completely muddy and slushy roads. There are a lot of potholes and one mostly faces traffic jams while ascending and descending the pass.
The Rohtang La is on the Manali – Leh highway in Himachal. It lies 53 km from Manali; connects Kullu Valley with Lahaul -Spiti and is a gateway to Keylong from Manali. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous passes. Every year the pass faces many landslides, gets completely embedded in snow and the road cleaners use GPS services to dig it back. There are always chances of getting stuck in between while crossing the Rohtang pass. Sometimes the jam gets cleared only after 10 -12 hrs.
The pass is highly scenic, offers views of glaciers, peaks, lush green valleys, and Chandra River. Indeed it is one of our favorite passes too. While we crossed it, the whole pass was under and in between the clouds. There was hardly any visibility; the cold breeze was caressing our face but the fear of 13 days Leh Ladakh trip getting over had started biting us.
Drive really slowly and be very cautious while crossing the pass.
Every Tuesday, the pass remains closed because of the repair work carried out by BRO.
Apart from this, there is one unknown pass around Chushul, and people have named it as Chushul Pass or Chushul La.
We encountered all colors of nature while being on this path. Crossing 15 passes in 13 days has actually made us believe that name Ladakh is perfect. It stands true to its words and is actually the mesmerizing Land of high passes. In case, you think we had missed out listing anyone here, do let us know. We will try to include it, as will cover the missed out La’s in our next post of Ladakh – The Land of high passes.
Other related articles from the Leh Ladakh series:
Some of the places are always your dream destinations; even after knowing that they are well connected by roads but still cut out from the rest of the world. Leh Ladakh road trip from Delhi was one of our dreams. We were trying to accomplish this 3500 km road trip dream for three years and finally, it happened in 2017.
The each landscape, mountain, road, stream throughout the road trip is unique and has its own tale. So, now do we have?
Starting with Julley! Joolay! Julley from Ladakh- the land of high passes is a mesmerizing, indeed a magical word to say Hi, Hello, Namaste, Welcome and goodbye. It brings a smile whenever we say it. Anyways we have lots to talk about this epic road trip; starting with the itinerary or travel guide for Leh Ladakh road trip.
13 days Itinerary for Leh Ladakh road trip
There are two routes to reach Leh – one from Manali and another from Srinagar, Sonamarg. We did the circuit route, starting from Jammu to Leh and back via old Manali. So, we will be talking about the 13 days guide on it.
Day 1 (Delhi – Jammu)
Start from Delhi around 6-7 am and try to cover the distance till Jammu.
Condition of roads: Excellent; National Highway with tolls, plain as well as hilly drive
Tunnels: India’s longest 9 Km tunnel; Chenani – Nashri (also known as Patnitop tunnel) has got opened in 2017 itself and it has cut short the total distance by 41 km. Another, 3 km long Jawahar Tunnel; also known as Banihal Tunnel.
The condition of roads: Continuous ascent and descents; good roads with few broken patches in between.
Passes: Namika La at an altitude of 12139 feet and Fotu La pass at an altitude of 13,478 feet
Places to explore on the way: At Mulbekh, the future Buddha statue dating back to the 1st century, Fotu La Pass, the ruins of Chiktan Fort; at Lamayuru the old Lamayuru monastery and moon lands, Gurdwara Pathar Sahib at Nimu, the magnetic hill and confluence of Indus – Zanskar River.
The condition of roads: Completely broken patch of 20 km at and around Khardung La till South Pullu.
Passes: Khardung La, the highest motorable road and pass at an altitude of 18380 feet
Places to explore on the way: Khardungla Pass, Diskit Monastery; the tallest statue of Maitreya Buddha and Hunder Sand dunes.
Day 8 (Hunder – Pangong Tso)
There are two routes to reach Pangong Lake from Khalsar (33 Km from Hunder); one via Shyok and another via Leh. Check with the BRO (Border roads organization) or locals if the route from Shyok is accessible or not. During our travel, there was a major landslide on the Shyok way, so we had to travel all the way from Khardung La again to reach Pangong Tso.
Total Distance: 240 Km via Shyok and 351 km via Leh
Total Time: 8 hrs via Shyok and 11 – 12 hrs via Leh
The condition of roads: The roads are bad at and around Kardungla. Gushing streams; and the paved road is on the way to Pangong from Changla whereas for the other route via Shyok; local taxi driver narrated that the route has many streams flowing on the road itself and sometimes it gets impossible to judge the depth and condition of the road.
Passes: Kardungla Pass at 18380 feet and Chang La pass at 17590 feet
Places to explore on the way: Pangong Lake, Chang La pass, Shyok River, ruins of Shey Palace, Thiksey monastery, Hemis monastery.
The condition of roads: Gravel and dirt tracks, enclosed amidst the mountains. One can drive max at a speed of 20-30 km/hr (which can be irritating after a span). The road at Tso Kar village is metalled, a well-made road.
Places to explore on the way: Kaygar Tso, Puga hot springs, Polo KongKa La, and Salt deposits around Tso Kar Lake.
Day 11 (Tso Kar – Keylong)
Start early from Tso Kar to reach Keylong by evening and trust me this is the most scenic ride.
Condition of roads: From Tso Kar to Manali Leh highway dirt road whereas afterward excellent paved roads till Pang, then continuous ascents, and descents with paved as well as dirt road patches, and too have to cross the famous Gata loops i.e. 21 loops within 6.5 kilometers
Passes: Lachalung La at an altitude of 16,616 feet, Lakeela at 15547 feet and BaraLacha at 16,040 feet
Places to explore on the way: Suraj Tal, Deepak Tal, Gata loops, Lachalung, Lakeela, and Baralacha pass
Day 12 (Keylong – Manali)
The Keylong to Manali route is lush green and it’s just a 4-5 hr drive if the ascent to Rohtang pass is in good shape.
The condition of roads: From Keylong to Sissu excellent paved roads, then continuous bad road while the ascent of Rohtang pass and the good road while descents. Few gushing water streams in-between the roads.
Passes: Rohtang pass at an altitude of 13,050 feet
Places to explore on the way: Mandi; Chandigarh and delicious Punjabi food at Dhabas.
Certain important Points for Leh Ladakh Road Trip
All these routes can be covered in a lesser time than mentioned, but we suggest stopping and taking the enthralling views.
There is neither a hurry to rush and reach anywhere in the valley, so drive slowly.
Listen to the locals for advice as they know the valleys better than a traveler.
Don’t drive at night as first you will miss the views and it is really risky. And if your vehicle breaks down there is nobody to help around for miles.
Spend a day or two at Leh, to get acclimatized for the higher altitudes.
Prepare yourself for AMS (Acute mountain sickness) which can vary just from a mild headache to breathlessness. If one is feeling severe restlessness, look for immediate help at the nearest shack or with BRO.
Always have a day or two buffers in the Leh Ladakh road trip, as one never knows neither can predict the present and future situation of roads and landslides here.
Get your vehicles fuelled up at Leh as the next fuel station is available at Tandi, 365 km from Keylong.
For covering Tso Moriri and white Lake Tso Kar on the way from Pangong Lake, do carry extra fuel; at least 20 liters or even more.
If you are planning to go to Tso Kar directly from Pangong lake (which is 7-8 hrs journey), on the way you will cross Taglang La which is the world’s second-highest pass at an altitude 17,582 feet.
Drink lots of water and say complete no to drinks while driving and during your whole Leh Ladakh road trip. This is for the safety as well as helps to get acclimatized
Don’t litter around in the valley.
The idea of Leh Ladakh road trip itself means being in the lap of nature; away from the daily hustle-bustle and social media. We simply mean that here there is no network. If you want to be in continuous touch with your family and friends do carry a BSNL sim.
ATM services are available at Srinagar, Leh and then at Keylong. So carry enough cash during your Leh Ladakh road trip and keep some as a buffer.
There are a lot of options for accommodations. Luckily, we got nice accommodation everywhere without booking but we recommend to have pre-bookings for the Leh Ladakh road trip.
In between, there are multiple shacks to enjoy Maggi, tea, coffee, paranthas, omelet, etc. These shacks do provide homestays too at very reasonable rates.
There are washrooms at the shacks for nature’s call and one needs to shell 5 -10 Rs each time.
This is just the start of our Leh Ladakh road trip travel series. Stay tuned to know and see more in detail.
You might be interested in checking our other series of Ladakh too: