The ride to Ladakh is probably the pinnacle of riding experience in India. Its a ride that pushes the riders through all kinds of terrain and weather, throughout the ride which is a usually more than 10 days long. The Bulleteers usually take up breakfast rides and 2 nighters, but we decided to give this bigger ride a go. I know Ladakh rides are run of the mill stuff for older groups, but for us, it is and will remain to be an epic experience. The trip lasted 12 days, most of which were spent riding. The nights were spent eating, star gazing, exploring and yes, sleeping. The images will speak best for the visuals, so the remaining text will be a about the conditions. When we were planning for the ride, we searched the internet for information about conditions. Such information was usually not clear, so we have made it a point to mention the stuff that we think was and will be useful information for riders.
As mentioned earlier, this trip pushes a rider through all kinds of terrain. Following is a breakup for that. From Delhi -Manali – Leh – Shrinagar – Delhi. Part One : Delhi to Leh
- Delhi to Chandigarh : Great highway, although a lot of traffic and tremendous heat. We carried hydration packs with gatorade and will advice the same to all. The traffic is a lot at some parts, but not really an issue.
- Chandigarh to Bilaspur : An awesome stretch of tarmac up till 50 km short of Bilaspur. From then on, a very frustrating, traffic-ridden and pothole ridden route. This lasts on 50km till Bilaspur. I understand that there is a cement factory there and thus a major amount of traffic flows to that.
- Bilaspur to Manali : Awesome tarmac. Good and broad all through.
- Manali to Rohtang top : Good tarmac. Not broad but good. Lots of traffic can cause jams, but at least the road is good.
- Rohtang top to bottom : As we start descending from Rohtang top, the road gets worse. The tarmac is totally gone and there is water,snow and gravel. Not broad either. To be carefully treaded through. This stretch lasts around 40 km
- Rohtan Bottom to Keylong : Around 75% of this road this good. Nice tarmac, relatively broad. The last 25%, especially the part from Tandi to Keylong is gravel. Make sure you ask directions at the petrol pump, there is a diversion that some people get wrong.
- Keylong to Sarchu : Can’t say bad really. From Keylong to Jispa its really good. From Jispa to Barchang La is gravel mostly with tarmac here and there. Barchang La is good upwards, gravel downwards. However, Barchang la is prone to traffic jams, so can be irritating. We spent around 5 hours at the top, stuck in a jam. All got sick and felt drowsy till next morning.
- Sarchu to Pang. Half of the road, lets say, the first 30km is great. But from there, it gets bad. Especially bad in the evenings and night where you have freezing winds and ice + gravel surface.
- Pang to Leh : Once through Pang, the roads are good. The first 50 km are the most amazing stretch of tarmac with an awesome view all around. After that there is light gravel till the top of Tanglang La, but from there on again, is great all through to Leh. The entire 215 km stretch can be done in 6 hours easily.
Part Two : Leh to Hunder (Nubra Valley)
- Leh to Khardungla Top : Till halfway, there is a good tarmac, after that, till the top, its all gravel. Plus traffic. My advice would be to leave Leh at 6 am to avoid traffic.
- Khardungla top to bottom : Bad roads, gravel, snow, water. Irritating stretch this.
- From Khardungla bottom to Hunder : Great tarmac, reasonably broad.
Part Three : Leh to Pangong Tso
- Leh to Changla Top : Great tarmc till halfway and then loose gravel, water etc
- Changla top to bottom : More loose gravel, water, snow etc
- Changla bottom to Pangong : Its mixed. I will say 60% is good 40% is bad. Its a slow road, takes time, with mostly boring views.
- Pangong Tso settlements : The first settlement is right at the start. Here is where most of the day-trippers halt. The second settlement is around 8 km ahead. Nothing special in that too, mostly crowded tents with stupid innova packed tourists. We stayed at Pangong Inn for the night. Its at the first settlement. It was a great choice, definitely better, warmer, cheaper than the tents.
Part Four : Leh to Delhi
- Leh to Drass : Mostly a dreamy stretch of tarmac. Its probably the best stretch of road in north India. Doesn’t get better.
- Drass to Zozilla top : This road ONLY OPENS FROM 2 AM TO 7AM. You will be very lucky if you find accommodation. So be prepared to spend you night on the road. We left at 4 am from Drass, if was not as cold as the night ride we experienced in Pang, but yes it will was cold. The road is ok. Not really bad when compared to what comes ahead.
- Zozilla top to bottom : Now its luck. If this stretch is dry this part is dusty, loose gravel, narrow, traffic-ridden. Not good, overall. And if it is wet, it turns into the toughest pass of all. Be very very careful.
- Zozilla bottom to Srinagar : Good roads. No issues
- Srinagar to Jammu : The roads are not bad. But not good either. Lots of traffic, dust, pollution, heat. This stretch is boring and irritating.
- Jammu to Delhi : Great tarmac throughout. We took the road through jalandar, which was awesome. Don’t know about the other route.
The only stretch where fuel becomes an issue is around Leh. If you have an eFi motorcycle, carry System G. Its helps when the quality of fuel is poor, which is often the case in mountains.
- Fill up from Manali. Fill your petrol cans etc. Don’t depend on the Tandi Petrol Pump. It can be out of fuel.
- The Tandi Petrol pump closes at around 8pm – 9pm, so getting there before that can get your fuel.
- When in Leh, fill up before going to Nubra or Pangong. There are no pumps on these routes.
- When leaving Leh, you should ideally fill up. Then there is are pumps at Kargil.
- No fuel issues anywhere else.
We stayed at the following places.
- Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh : Lots of hotels. No issues
- Keylong, Himachal Pradesh : Some Hotels. When in Keylong, you can either search for hotels in the market area or on the Leh Highway. We stayed on the Leh Highway.
- Midway of Pang and Sarchu : There is a valley of sorts around 28km short of Pang. There is a family there who has a few tents. There tents are better than those in Pang and the food is better too. I had stayed here in 2008, so decided to stay here again. The temperature dropped to -10 in the night. I will advice keeping water bottles and other liquid stuff with you in the blankets, in case you want to use them in the night/early morning.
- Leh : Lots of hotels everywhere. We stayed on Changspe road (Maybe the spelling is wrong) at Zambala Inn. Its was comfortable, with wifi, hot water and good food.
- Drass : This is a place where you must stay, as the road opens from 2am to 7am only. But the hotels are very few and bad. We slept in our backup car.
- Udhampur : Again, the hotels are few and bad. We could have had to sleep in the backup car again, but luckily found a room at a place called Susan Hotel.
This is some of the stuff that we packed and consider essential
- Hydration pack, with lots of gatorade or other energy drink of your choice
- Waterproof jacket and pants
- Warm inners, thick and light sweaters
- Wind-proof gloves with some cheap rubber covers. Waterproof gloves make handling hard, so this combination works better.
- Waterproof boots. Quechua makes some good ones. You can use gumboots, but they have zero grip and thus compromise on safety.
- Suncreen, lip cream, iodex, muscle pain spray. Avoid eating medicines, as they induce sleep. Maybe eat them at night, at the hotel.
- Oxygen cylinder, if anyone has a breathing problem. We took one.
- Goggles, dirt googles, buffs, and other biking and safety gear.
- Battery pack or Motorcycle mobile chargers. We used the latter.
- Airtel/BSNL postpaid sim.
- Spares, tools, puncture kits, spare tyres etc. And basic knowledge of repair.
Since the upper Himalayas are sort of a sensitive area as far as safety of travelers is concerned, there are a few notable road restrictions in place.
- Rohtang Pass : You need to have a permit to use the pass. The permit is available somewhere in Manali. I don’t know where that is, because when we went to Rohtang, there was a temporary office set up just below the pass to provide permits. But the incharge told us that it was the last day of functioning of that temporary office. It has probably shifted to Manali. Further do check the status of Rohtang pass before opting for this route. It may be closed due to landslide, snowfall etc.
- Barchang La : Although this pass does not require a permit, but it snows a lot here, the road is narrow and the traffic is heavy. So, the road can be be closed. Getting stuck at the top can be bad for health too.
- Kardung la : You need to carry your ID proofs in original and photocopy to get through this pass. Although no ones asks for these, but you do have to fill a form where you declare that you possess these. So, it makes sense to have them.
- Chang la : As with Khardung la, you have to carry your Id proofs here too. Same form filling process.
- Zozil La : The road opens for only 5 hours a day for each side of traffic. From 2am to 7am if you are going down to Srinagar and 2pm to 7pm, if you are going up to Leh. So, you either stay in Drass or in Sonmarg. Drass lacks in accommodation and thus its good to plan your timing well.
- Carry lots of Water from every halt you make. Drinking water is essential for coping with the altitude
- Carrying chocolates bars and cup noodles is a good idea.
- They do awesome embroidery work in Leh. Carry any t shirts, hoodies or any fabric based wearables that you would like to get embroidened. They do an awesome job. I got tshirts and my group hoodie done. Looks great.
As mentioned before, I have no interest in putting some phrases in an effort to describe the natural beauty of Ladakh. However, if I have remember any other useful information, will make sure I add it. The Bulleteers hope the above information is helpful to newbies like us. Enjoy the pictures.