This is Part 2 of our 5 part series on planning the ultimate road trip to Leh Ladakh in India. We will cover every aspect – itinerary, accommodation, packing, driving – of planning an unforgettable Ladakh road trip:
Read Part 1 – Leh Ladakh Road Trip I (Gulmarg and Leh Ladakh) (opens in new tab)
Read Part 3 – Packing for a road trip to Leh and Ladakh (opens in new tab)
Read Part 4 – 10 Dos and Donts for a roadtrip to Leh-Ladakh, India (opens in new tab)
Read Part 5 – Accommodation: Luxury Camping in Ladakh (opens in new tab)
Day 11: Drive to Nubra Valley
Once you’re done exploring Leh City, it’s time to head to one of the most remote and barren corners of the world – The Nubra Valley. Do beware: It isn’t possible to drive rental cars within Ladakh, so you will have to rent a cab. It’s probably for the best because roads here are in bad shape and can be extremely challenging for outsiders! However local drivers know them well as they ferry thousands of passengers to and fro every day.
The road might be bad but the drive is one of the most scenic ones so far. Expect barren panoramas blanketed by snow. This drive also takes visitors through one of the highest motorable road of the world – Khardung La. The mountain pass is crowded but provides the perfect photo opportunity.
Head to the taxi stand in Leh City to find a cab and a driver at a competitive price. Expect to pay £100 (INR 8000- 10,000) for an overnight trip to Nubra Valley.
We were so impressed by our well-appointed luxury tents in Leh, so we decided to stay at The Ultimate Travelling Camp’s glamping site in Nubra as well. Chamba Camp Diskit boasts of canvas tents overlooking the resplendent Diskit Monastery. We woke up to huge rainbows, clouds suspended over our tent, and gourmet breakfasts every day. The butler service, extensive menus, and We also had a dreamy glamping lunch, one I won’t forget for a long long time at Chamba Camp Diksit. We had pan-seared scallops with cauliflower foam and a watermelon-feta salad to THIS view – a glistening lagoon, towering peaks, and the Diskit Monastery in the distance:
Day 12 & 13: Explore Nubra Valley and Diskit
You could spend 1 or 2 days exploring Nubra Valley. The area offers a whole host of things to do – you could:
- explore the gorgeous Diskit Monastery
- marvel at the gigantic Maitreya Buddha (Future Buddha) at Diskit
- go offroading and search for the hidden lake, Tso Kar
- visit the sand-dunes at Hunder and go for a camel ride or admire bactrian camels from a distance
- Explore Turtuk village or go for a trek in the area
However as with Leh City, the panoramas are the highlight of a visit to the Nubra Valley. They are surreal to say the least – rainbows play hide and seek, sand-dunes appear out of nowhere, and barren valleys offer an obscurity that is truly liberating for the passionate traveller. It’s easy to feel like one is on the moon or Mars – but it’s just Nubra Valley hellbent on exerting its charms on visitors! 🙂
It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to check everything off a list but when you’re in Nubra Valley set aside 1 morning for doing nothing – just stare at fresh rainbows or marvel at the way suspended clouds form patterns over towering mountains. You’ll find yourself falling irrevocably in love with Ladakh all of a sudden 🙂
Day 14 & 15: Drive to Pangong Lake and savour Pangong Lake (optional Tso Moriri)
You could head to Pangong Lake in your cab straight from Nubra Valley. However the road that connects Nubra & Pangong is often closed to tourists. In that case, head back to Leh City and head out to Pangong the next day. Pangong Lake left us mesmerised to say the least. It might have been the highlight of our road trip to Ladakh 🙂
Ladakh’s peacefulness and blue skies are nowhere as impressive as they are at Pangong Tso (Pangong Lake). Cradled between mountains, the glimmering water body, that extends from India to China, changes colour every hour. Just sit by the lakeside and try to count the shades of blue! Watch the sun set over the expansive lake before you hit the sack.
Stay overnight at Pangong Lake, spend a couple of hours walking by the lake, sitting on the shore, or photographing its waters before departing for Leh City in your cab.
- There are 4-5 shacks selling a mix of India and Tibetan food at Pangong Lake. Hot food is quite reasonable. Snacks including biscuits, chocolates, aerated drinks, and crisps are available but overpriced. Stock your car with snacks in Leh City if you can.
- If you have a couple of extra days at hand, head over to Tso Moriri, another lake in the area. We did not visit Tso Moriri but heard great things about it.
A number of people choose to see Pangong Lake as a day trip from Leh City. The drive takes 5 hours/way. So this leaves little time to see the lake or absorb the surroundings. So we would strongly recommend staying at the lake at least for a night. Make sure you book in advance as accommodation is extremely limited and in high demand in the area. Do beware – a lot of other campsites in the area don’t have toilets or blankets. Make sure you confirm before booking a place.
We stayed at Pangong Inn – it’s a concrete structure (the only one in the area!) with electricity, hot water, and hot meals. This is as luxurious as it gets in this remote an area. Rooms are basic but boast of en-suite toilets (a rarity in the area), proper beds, and running water. Besides, the view from Pangong Inn is breathtaking – check it out for yourself in the photo below:
Day 16: Drive from Leh City to Jispa (optional Lahaul-Spiti)
It was hard for us to say good bye to Ladakh but after a week or so in this enchanted land, it was time to pick up our rental car from Leh City and continue our road trip back to Delhi. On the way back, the road from Leh to Pang is in good shape but it deteriorates after Pang. The stretch from Pang to Sarchu is mostly unpaved and in really bad shape (we hear it will be better in September).
The scenery between Rumtse village and the world’s second highest pass Tanglangla Pass, is nothing short of spectacular – think towering multi-hued mountains, terraced green fields, wild horses, and streams. It reminded us a lot of Iceland’s countryside.
But that’s not all – this route is FULL of surprises. It’s home to numerous offbeat sights that don’t make it to guidebooks. The More Plains (pronounce Mo-ray) are home to a 40 kilometre stretch of road flanked by towering mountains in variegated colours on both side. The More Plains are uninhabitable, so there is no sign of civilisation here – just azure skies and unending open spaces!!
Then there are the Gata Loops, a series of twenty one hairpin bends that took us down from 16000 feet – self-drive road trips are the only way to see such crazy wonders of nature!! Loved them
Stop by the little-known Debring “village” for a quick brunch – there are just a couple of roadside shacks here. The food isn’t the draw but the view is!! This is also the start of the little-known but incredible More plains. The roads were in great shape when we visited and we found ourselves stopping every 5 minutes for a photo (or 10!) 🙂 The stretch from Leh to Pang was by far the best stretch of road in terms of quality on our Leh Ladakh road trip.
Once you leave Leh / Karu, the next fuel station will be at Tandi (after Keylong). That’s around 360 kms from Leh. Make sure you top up your fuel tanks in Leh city or Karu.
Sarchu and Jispa offer a number of camping sites and guesthouses. All accommodation in the area is extremely basic. We stayed the night at a small hotel called Padma Lodge. The hotel complex is next to the gurgling Bhag river and quite scenic during the day. Rooms are basic but clean and hot food is plentiful – ok for a quick stopover to break the journey!
Day 18-20: Drive from Jispa to Manali & explore the villages around Manali
The drive from Jispa to Manali is quite a short one on paper but it can take anything between 5-8 hours. this is because the road from Jispa to Rohtang Pass is in bad shape and Rohtang Pass itself can get extremely crowded. Hundreds of tourists flock to Rohtang Pass every day because its an easy day trip from Manali. Consequently the traffic situation is nightmarish, to say the least!!
Once you’re settled in a little corner of Manali, spend your days discovering quaint bakeries, visiting orchards or devouring freshly-picked cherries and peaches, knocking back a few beers by the banks of River Beas, or going for rambly walks and hikes in the area.
- Manali is the perfect place to stock up on fresh fruits – cherries, apples, and peaches – for the long drive back to Delhi. You won’t have to go too far looking for fruits – dozens of vendors can be found selling cartons of fresh fruits on the roads surrounding Manali.
- When you leave Jispa, make sure you top up your fuel tank at the petrol station in Tandi.
Manali is an extremely popular getaway for Indian tourists so the main town can get crowded, cramped, and chaotic. We’d suggest staying away from Manali, in a peaceful village in the Parvati Valley if you’re there for more than 2 days. Vashisht, Old Manali, Tosh, and Kalga are some of the villages that are peaceful and slightly off-the-beaten path.
If you’re there for a shorter period of time and are just breaking your journey in Manali, then a hotel like Holiday Cottages and Resorts in the neighbouring Simsa is apt as it is just a couple of kilometres away from Manali but far from the madness. Rooms are spacious, well-equipped with hot showers, electric kettles, and other such and overlook Himachal’s lush green valleys.
Day 21: Drive from Manali to Delhi
Just like the first day, the last day of this roadtrip is not particularly spectacular. The first few hours comprise of winding roads through hills but soon enough you’ll find yourselves in the plains. The route we followed is – Manali- Kullu-Mandi-Swar ghat – Kiratpur- Ropar (Roopnagar) – Ambala – Karnal – Panipat – Delhi. Once again, do not refer to your GPS blindly. Study the route beforehand and map it out before you set out on the drive. It took us 14 hours from Manali to Delhi including a few stops for meals and coffee.
That’s it! A road trip to Ladakh is truly the road trip of a lifetime. We saw panoramas that didn’t seem real at every step and found it so easy to fall in love with this forbidden remote land. As you probably know, we’ve driven thousands of miles in dozens of countries, but this road trip to Ladakh will forever rank as one of our favourites 🙂
* All costs and road conditions true of June 2016
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Other resources to help you in planning your road trip to Ladakh: