How To Reach Leh Ladakh? A List of All Possible Ways To Reach Leh
Welcome to the second article of my travelogue to Leh-Ladakh. In this article, I will be sharing detailed information about different routes that can be taken while completing the entire circuit of Leh-Ladakh. As mentioned in my earlier posts, the trip to Leh-Ladakh is best enjoyed for its remoteness and the unprecedented beauty it offers. In the last 15 years, Ladakh Valley has gained huge popularity and attracts tourists more than the Srinagar Valley situated in the same state. People visit Leh-Ladakh to enjoy some of the best creations of nature and at the same time cross some of the highest roads in the world (A huge thanks to BRO). Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Monasteries and mountain passes are the major attractions of Ladakh Valley, but it is the ride to reach these places that make the trip memorable.
If you exclude the local sightseeing of Leh City, then almost all the places in Ladakh Valley requires a drive of more than 100Km. To reach Pangong Tso, you have to ride nearly 160Km from Leh City. To reach Nubra Valley, you have to ride nearly 130 Km and the same is the situation with other famous places of Ladakh Valley. These paces lie in the vicinity of Ladakh Valley, but the most sought-after question is how to reach Leh-Ladakh. Once you have reached the Leh-City it depends on your preference i.e. which place you want to cover first but it is the ride to Leh from various parts of India that makes this trip even more memorable. In this article, I will be covering which route is best to reach Leh-Ladakh, what are the different routes that can be taken while completing a trip to Leh-Ladakh, the status of roads on these routes, permits, and risks involved while following these routes. I hope this will help all the riders in preparing their itinerary and completing their trip most successfully.
What Are Different Routes to Reach Leh-Ladakh
The most common route to reach the city of Leh is via Manali-Leh Highway. The highway is 490Km long and some of the highest mountain passes of the world lie on this route. Reaching Leh via Manali is the most followed route and it takes 3 days for a traveler to reach the City of Leh from National Capital of India i.e. New Delhi. Manali-Leh highway is nearly 70% in excellent condition and the condition of roads deteriorates while ascending or descending the high passes laying en-route. Apart from Manali-Leh highway the second most followed route to visit Leh is via The Srinagar-Leh Highway which is also known as the NH-1 Delta. Apart from these two routes, there are many more routes that a traveler can follow to reach the city of Leh. It solely depends on the person to follow the route as per his wish as all the routes are full of natural beauty, mountainous curves, hairpin bends, and mountain pass. It is to be also noted that following any of these routes apart from Manali-Leh highway will cost additional days and money. So, if you have leaves constraints, budget constraints, or some other reasons, I will suggest not following these routes. I am assuming New Delhi as the starting point of the trip, in case your starting point is different you can just pick the city from where you are going to start your trip to Leh-Ladakh. The routes are as follow:
- Via Manali-Leh Highway-> New Delhi- Chandigarh- Manali- Rohtang Pass- Keylong- Sarchu- Pang- Upshi- Karu- Leh City.
- Via Srinagar-Leh Highway (NH-1D) -> New Delhi- Chandigarh- Jammu- Udhampur- Srinagar- Sonamarg – Zozi La- Drass- Kargil- Fotu La- Leh City.
- Via Spiti Valley -> New Delhi – Chandigarh- Shimla- Narkanda- Sangla- Pooh – Nako – Kaza – Koksar – Keylong – Sarchu- Pang- Upshi – Karu – Leh City.
- Via Sach Pass -> New Delhi – Chandigarh – Pathankot – Banikhet – Tissa – Bairagarh – Sach Pass – Killar – Udaipur – Tandi – Keylong – Sarchu – Pang – Upshi – Karu – Leh City.
- Via Sach Pass-Clifhanger Road -> New Delhi – Chandigarh – Pathankot – Banikhet – Tissa – Bairagarh – Sach Pass – Killar – Clifhanger Road – Gulabgarh – Kishtwar – Anantnag – Srinagar – Sonamarg – Kargil – Fotu La -Leh City.
- Via Mughal Road -> New Delhi – Chandigarh – Jammu – Akhnoor – Rajouri – Peer Ki Gali Paas – Shopian – Srinagar – Drass – Kargil – Fotu La- Leh City. Signboard at Sarchu on Leh-Manali Highway. Sarchu lies on the border of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
These are the six main routes a traveler can take to reach the city of Leh to complete a Ride to Leh- Ladakh. There can be many more routes carved out from above like Sach Pass can be reached via Mcleodganj – Dharamshala but, you will be finally traversing on one of the routes mentioned above. Of above mentioned six routes, I have ridden on five routes (excluding the Mughal Road) so you can vouch on my experience. One more thing to note here is, in the end, all these six routes merge into two i.e. either The Manali-Leh Highway or the Srinagar-Leh Highway. So, if you have a lesser number of days then you can skip the last four options and just try the first two roads I have mentioned. Another thing to note here is that you can further expand the primary two routes i.e. Manali-Leh & Srinagar-Leh if you add few more places. For example, while reaching Leh City from Srinagar you can add the Rangdum and Padum to visit the famous Zanskar Valley. In the case of the Manali-Leh highway, you can reach Leh City by taking the road towards Tso Kar Lake- Chumathag – Leh City. These routes will further take time but will provide some of the best views of Ladakh Valley, Zanskar Valley, and Kargil Valley. I will leave the final decision to the readers and now discuss each route one by one.
The Manali- Leh Highway
The Manali-Leh Highway is the most popular route followed by travelers to visit the Ladakh Valley. The highway is 490Km long and provides vital connectivity to the City of Leh from the rest of India. The highway is managed by BRO and used by the Indian Army to provide essential supplies to the Ladakh Division. The highway remains open for around five months in a year (depending on snowfall and winter in the preceding year) from May to October. Some high mountain passes lie on the Manali-Leh highway which includes Tanglang La (5,328 meters), Lachulung La (5,065 meters), Baralacha La (5,030 meters), and Rohtang Pass at (3,980 meters). Sarchu lies at the border of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. The road in the entire Manali-Leh Highway is in good condition excluding some patches around high passes. Pang on Manali-Leh highway holds the record of the highest Army Transit Camp at an elevation of 4600 meters while Tanglang La held the record of the highest asphalted road in the world for many years and is the highest point on this highway. Manali-Leh Highway is the most common route used by travelers to reach Leh City. The highway is 490Km long and operational for 5 months in a year.
A permit is required to cross Rohtang Pass from Manali while documents (Bike RC and ID proof) is required at every TCP (Traffic Check Post) after crossing Rohtang Pass. Once you have crossed Rohtang Pass, there is no permit required until you reach the city of Leh. Start early in the morning from Manali, cross Rohtang Pass and take night stay at Sarchu. The next day starts at Sarchu and reaches Leh city (although you can extend the number of days as per convenience). Another thing to notice on this highway is the availability of a petrol pump. The last petrol pump is at Tandi in Himachal Pradesh and the next petrol pump is 365Km away. You have to carry extra petrol in cans although you can get petrol at local shops at a higher rate.
The Srinagar Leh Highway
The Srinagar-Leh highway is the second most followed route to reach Leh City. The highway is also known as NH 1D and the route is often followed by travelers who want to explore more of wilderness. The highway is 422Km long and provides connectivity vital connectivity between the city of Leh and Srinagar. Like the Manali-Leh highway, this highway also has some high mountain passes like Zozi La (3528 meters), Namik La (3700 meters) and Fotu La (4108 meters). The highway is accessible for 5-6 months once BRO has removed snow from passes and high-altitude places. The road in the entire Srinagar highway is in excellent form excluding the stretch of Zozi La. The Srinagar-Leh Highway offers more scenic beauty and tourist attraction point in comparison to the Manali-Leh highway. Some important tourist attraction on this highway is Sonamarg, Zozi La, Drass (Second coldest place in the world), Kargil War memorial, Lamayuru Monastery, Confluence of Indus and Zanskar River at Nimmu, Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, and Alchi. Kargil War Memorial on Srinagar-Leh Highway. The Highway is also known as NH 1D and provides vital connectivity between Leh City and Srinagar City.
There is no permit required on Srinagar-Leh highway but keep your documents handy (RC and ID proofs) at various TCP and Army check post. If you are driving from Jammu towards Srinagar, then make sure you cross the Jawahar Tunnel before 2 PM else CISF at Jawahar Tunnel won’t allow you to cross the tunnel and enter the Srinagar city. The reason is the heavy militancy in the areas around Srinagar and Anantnag (I was denied crossing the tunnel as I reached around 3 PM). Similarly, if you are coming from Leh towards Srinagar then ensure you cross the Army Check Post at Sonamarg before 2 PM or else you will be again denied traveling further towards Srinagar Valley. The reason behind this strictness is to ensure the travelers reach the Srinagar City before sunset which is safer than the militancy prone highways. There is nothing to worry about as the Indian army has the highest mobility on stretch (Jawahar Tunnel to Sonamarg).
The Spiti Valley Route
The Spiti valley route is an extension to Manali-Leh highway and again the route is followed by those who want to enjoy riding in the wilderness and enjoy the remoteness of mountains. The route joins the Manali-Leh highway at Koksar and offers a similar beauty as the Ladakh Valley offers. The district of Lahaul and Spiti is one of the sparsely populated districts of India. The road from Shimla to Kaza is in good form but the 120km stretch from Kaza to Koksar is a nightmare. It is one of the toughest roads you will ever witness in life and will take a test of your driving skills and vehicle’s breaking point. The numerous water crossing between Batal and Chhatru is a challenge to cross. The route from Shimla to Kaza remains open for the entire year while the route from Kaza to Koksar is open for around 4-5 months in a year. Kunzum Pass (4590 meters) act as a boundary between the Lahaul Valley and the Spiti Valley. Again, there is no permit required on this route (as you won’t be crossing Rohtang Pass) but keep your documents handy and follow the security person’s instructions. Tourist attractions lying on this route include Shimla, Chitkul (Last village on India-China Border), Dhankar Monastery, Key Monastery, Tabo Monastery. Nako Lake and Chandrataal Lake.
The Sach Pass Route
The Sach Pass route is another route to reach Leh City thereby exploring the mighty Himalayas. The route to Sach Pass is one of the toughest in India and it is termed as one of the dangerous roads in the world. The Sach Pass route finally merges in the Manali-Leh highway near Tandi and offers unprecedented challenges. There is no permit required in this route but there is a police check post near Satrundhi and then TCP’s on Manali-Leh highway. The road status is good and bad in patches, but the main challenge is the water crossing between Killar and Tandi. The road from Bairagarh to Killar is one of the worst roads you will ever see in your life. The challenges offered by Sach Pass makes this section of the road one of the memorable trips in anyone’s life. Important tourist attraction on this route includes the Sach Pass, Dalhousie, Chamera Dam, and Killar.
The Sach Pass-Cliffhanger Road
This route is similar to the Sach Pass route with the only difference that you will join the Srinagar-Leh Highway in spite of Manali-Leh Highway. Once you have crossed the Sach Pass and reached Killar you will have to head towards the Cliffhanger Road (also known as Keylong-Kishtwar Road). The road runs parallel to the Chenab River and it is again one of the worst roads I have ever witnessed in my life. The road is a mixture of sand, rock boulders and no sign of tarmac. The cliffhanger road is a dangerous stretch with road running parallel to the narrow gorge of the Chenab River. Once you have reached Gulabgarh, the condition of the road improves. From Kishtwar you have to take the road to Anantnag and then to Srinagar. In case you are skeptical about the route you can leave the route at Kishtwar and head toward Patnitop. From Patnitop you will join the Jammu Srinagar Highway which will eventually join Srinagar-Leh Highway. There is one police check-post at Sansari on the border of Himachal Pradesh & Jammu And Kashmir where you will be asked for the documents like vehicle RC and ID proof. Since on this route you will again cross Anantnag, start your ride early in the morning so you can reach the Srinagar City by evening. If you are delayed by even 5 minutes, security personnel won’t allow you to ride further in the militancy prone area. The road condition is nearly good if you exclude the Sach Pass-Cliffhanger stretch (no road at all). Again, there is no permit required to cover this route it is just you have to take extra precaution while crossing the militancy prone area.
The Mughal Road
The Mughal Road is situated in Jammu & Kashmir and passes over the Pir Panjal Mountain Range. The Mughal Road makes an alternate route to reach Srinagar from Jammu City and it is less crowded than the usual Jammu-Srinagar Highway. To reach Srinagar via Mughal Road you have to follow Akhnoor – Rajouri – Peer Ki Gali Paas – Shopian – Srinagar route. In reality, the Mughal Road is only 84Km in length starting from the Poonch district and ending at the Shopian district. The highest point on the Mughal Road is the Peer ki Gali Pass which lies at an elevation of 3490 meters. The road condition in the entire stretch is good excluding few patches. According to history, the route was used by Mughal Emperor Akbar to conquer Kashmir in the year 1586 and Mughal Emperor Jahangir died in Rajouri while returning from Kashmir so the name Mughal Road. The road offers a spectacular view of the Pir Panjal Mountain range and a large number of bridges are constructed to facilitate crossing. Buffliaz Bridge, Panar Bridge, Chatta Pani Bridge, and Ratta Chamba Bridge are few of them. Another key place to visit on this route is the shrine of Saint Baba Abdul Karim.
These are the possible six routes through which a road trip to Leh-Ladakh can be made. In my opinion, it is not advisable to go via Manali and return via the same route. Instead, one can start from Mana-Leh highway, visit Leh and nearby places and return via Shrinagar-Leh highway or vice-versa. As mentioned above any of the routes will lead you to Leh city, it is just that they will take a couple of extra days than the usual Manali-Leh highway. So, if you have leaves constraints or a lesser number of days, I will suggest going via Manali. In case you can afford a few extra days then I will suggest reaching Leh via Srinagar and return via Manali. In case you have a tight schedule then you can reach Leh City via flight but then you will miss the very essence of Leh for which it is famous. With this, I conclude my article on different routes to reach Leh-Ladakh. In case you have any doubts or query do let me know and I will help you as best I can. In the coming articles, I will be writing about the road condition on each stretch and the availability of basic amenities. Meanwhile, you can read the next article i.e. How Many days are sufficient to complete a trip to Leh-Ladakh.