We will cover our entire Leh-Ladakh road trip as a series of articles. This article is Part 2 of the series on planning a memorable road trip to Leh, Ladakh.
This is a continuation of Part 1 where I shared our itinerary for the Srinagar – Leh Road Trip. In this article, I will cover itinerary for Leh City and rest of Ladakh. This includes Khardungla, Nubra Valley, Turtuk and Pangong Tso.
There are three options to reach Leh. One is the Leh – Manali route, another is the Srinagar – Leh route and the last option is to fly into Leh directly. Choose what suits you best but always keep a day or two for Leh City – to get acclimatized to the high altitude.
Suggested itinerary and guide for Leh-Ladakh Road Trip
Day 4 – Explore Leh City:
Leh is such a gypsy city. It will remind you of Goa (minus the beaches) in many ways. A great place to roam around without a to-do list. This is exactly what you need to do before you hit the roads again. Use the day to relax because after this you’ll be spending most of your time on the roads. Here are some options to explore in Leh:
Sham Valley Tour:
This covers Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Magnetic Hills, Confluence of Indus and Zanaskar rivers, Likir & Alchi Monasteries. We visited all of these places except Alchi, on our ride from Srinagar to Leh. If you are doing it from Leh, it would be a one day trip. I would recommend that you visit these places on your way to Leh (from Srinagar).
Shanti Stupa, Thicksey, Hemis & Rancho School:
There are many monasteries and palaces in and around Leh city. It is not required to visit all of them. However, Hemis and Thicksey are good choices to start with. These monasteries are very ancient and Thicksey in particular is very beautiful. Apart from these, there’s also Shey and Leh Palace.
Post lunch, we headed to Rancho School and Shanti Stupa. At Rancho School, you’ll only be allowed to see a painted wall where the scene from 3 Idiots was shot. You could skip this if you’re short of time. Sindhu Ghat – a calm and serene bank of the Indus river is a good place to visit in the evening.
Hall of Fame:
This is a great place to know about the armed forces of India and their contribution to Kashmir Valley & Ladakh. Hall of Fame also throws light on Ladakh, it’s culture, landscape and people. A must visit place.
Leh Main Market:
Ah! Our favorite. Guess why? This is the only place in Leh where we got Internet connectivity. Our hotel’s Wifi had conked out so we went Internet cafe hunting to get some connectivity. All the photos we shared on Instagram & Facebook are from the little access we got here.At the main market are many Tibetan Refugee Camps selling bohemian jewelry and trinkets. You’ll also find shops selling Pashmina and Yak wool shawls & stoles. Because Leh has a lot of foreign tourists, these goods are priced high. However, it is a good place to pick some return gifts for your family members and friends.
At the main market are many Tibetan Refugee Camps selling bohemian jewelry and trinkets. You’ll also find shops selling Pashmina and Yak wool shawls & stoles. Because Leh has a lot of foreign tourists, these goods are priced high. However, it is a good place to pick some return gifts for your family members and friends.
Where and What to eat in Leh?
- Do not miss the Yak Cheese Pizza at Gesmo. The place is so good. Great menu and great food. They have exceptional breakfast. We loved their pancakes, baked breads, and the fresh apricot jam. Mmm..Amazing! They also have Ladakhi Cuisine on their menu. Make sure you visit this place. You get free Wifi access and if you are looking to purchase Yak Cheese / Fresh Apricot Jam in Leh – Gesmo is the place.
- Sumptuous vegetarian Thai food at Chopsticks Restaurant. The best Thai food I’ve ever had and their roof top in particular is super. No wifi here though.
- If you are visiting Thicksey Monastery, try Themthuk (Ladakhi soup with vegetables).
Day 5 / 6 – Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Diskit, Hunder, Turtuk:
We were pretty excited because of the most awaited drive to Nubra Valley via Khardung La – the world’s highest motorable road. When we were driving through Zoji La, we thought it was crazy with its steep bends, sharp rocks and broken roads. But we were wrong. Khardung La surpassed Zoji La by all means.
The stony roads, traffic jams and the many twist and turns make riding through Khardung La back-breaking yet breathtakingly beautiful. The barren mountains topped with snow, the nip in the air, hot Maggi and the Chai – all at 18,380 feet above sea level feels surreal.
The drive to Nubra Valley is glorious. After passing through Khardung La, the Shyok river (pronounced Shayok) begins to dot the barren panoramas. A muddy river, Shyok is a tributary of Indus which joins with Siachen river to form the Nubra Valley. In the beginning, Nubra Valley feels unreal. Throughout the drive you’d see three colors predominantly – muddy brown, white and blue. The mountains and waters are in shades of brown and white, and the sky is in a rich cobalt blue. As far as the eyes can see, these are the three colors that dominate.
Nubra Valley can be done as a day trip from Leh or you can stay overnight at Nubra Valley and explore further. We would not recommend doing it as a day trip. It can take a toll on your body and it is no fun.
Suggested Itinerary for Nubra Valley, Diskit, Hunder & Turtuk:
Option 1 –
a. Day 5 – Stay overnight at Diskit / Hunder in Nubra Valley.
b. Day 6 – Visit Diskit Monastery, take a ride on the Bactrian camels at Hunder and head back to Leh / Pangong Tso.
Option 2 –
a. Day 5 – Go for a Bactrian camel ride at Hunder and head to Turtuk. Stay overnight at Turtuk.
b. Day 6 – Explore Turtuk. Head back to Leh / Pangong Tso while visiting Diskit on your way back.
We chose Option 2 and drove to Turtuk – a remote corner of India. We are not kidding when we say remote. A 100 km drive from Hunder; Turtuk is the northern most village of India – a gateway to Siachen Glacier and the last outpost in India after which it is Pakistan. Turtuk was a part Pakistan until 1971 after which it is part of India.
The drive to Turtuk is unforgettable. It was nothing like I had imagined. In the two hours drive to Turtuk, we did not see a single human being except for some army men occasionally. It was intimidating to be driving on those roads which had nothing but black rocky mountains and rivers which appeared deadly. After a long, tedious ride where we crossed broken bridges, occasional water falls from glaciers and some quaint villages we reached Turtuk and we were just 7 km away from the LOC.
Honestly, throughout the drive I was doubtful about visiting Turtuk. What if it was the barren mountains again? What if there was nothing in Turtuk? But, I was in for a surprise. Turtuk is like no where we’ve been before. Turtuk is truly a hidden gem in the beautiful Ladakh.
There are three things that come to my mind now when I think about Turtuk – little brooks, beautiful children and gorgeous apricot orchards.
How often do you walk through narrow lanes surrounded by cherry blossoms?
How often do you jump across small brooks which flow just beneath your feet?
How often do you eat apricots right from the tree?
How often do cute children come up to you, try to strike a conversation and make you feel comfortable?
Those questions summarize what Turtuk is. A quaint, green wonderland which seems to be unreal and dream-like amidst the Ladakhi ranges. People here are in their own beautiful world. The ladies here are a hard working lot and the children are the cutest we’ve ever seen.
Things to do in Turtuk:
- Eat organic, fresh cherries.
- Sleep to the sounds of mountains and river.
- Wake up to the sounds of chirping of rare birds and the beautiful view of apple and apricot orchards.
- Take a walk in the Turtuk Village.
- Talk to the children and play with them. They are a beautiful lot.
- Trek to the old monastery,
- Appreciate the Eco-friendly ways of the villagers. See the natural refrigerators of the village – these are small rooms which are naturally cooled. It is believed that water from the melting glaciers flow beneath these rooms, keeping them cool. How cool is that? 🙂
- Feast on fresh apricots. There are apricot trees in every nook and corner of this village. Forget where you are from. Dream. Play. Live.
Tips for staying at Turtuk:
- Turtuk has no Internet connectivity at all.
- Turtuk gets electricity for just 4 hours in a day, from 7 – 11 PM. Charge your devices during this time.
- Plan an overnight stay at Turtuk to experience the beauty of the place.
- A few homestays offer a decent place to stay. Do not expect luxury here. Live the kind of life the locals live. We would recommend Maha Guest House. There are camping options available at the banks of Shyok but try to stay in the village so you can interact with the locals and explore the village.
We left Turtuk later in the afternoon next day. Our plan was to head to Pangong Tso directly via Shyok Village. However, it is very unpredictable because the route is prone to flash floods and landslides. And, there is no way to find out the condition of these roads until you see a vehicle coming from that direction. We tried our luck, did not succeed and head to Leh instead.
Day 7, 8 – Pangong Tso:
Who knew about Pangong Tso before 3 Idiots? I did not. When I first saw the movie, I knew I would visit this place. But little did I know that it would be with Shyam! The sweet mysteries of life :). The drive to Pangong Tso from Leh takes you through Chang La which is claimed to be the second highest motorable road after Khardung La.
Pangong Tso is a piece of heaven nestled between the massive Ladakhi Ranges. And, no pictures or videos you see on the Internet does justice to the beauty that Pangong Tso is. The shades of blue at Pangong Tso are magical, pure and beautiful.
I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. – Walt Whitman
To experience the beauty of Pangong Tso, do a night stay at one of the camps and enjoy the sunrise and sunset.
Suggested Itinerary for Pangong Tso from Leh:
Option 1 – Day Trip to Pangong Tso:
Start early from Leh around 6 AM. Pangong Tso is 5 – 6 hours drive from Leh. You’ll reach around noon. Spend a couple of hours admiring the place and start your return post lunch.
Option 2 – Two day trip to Pangong Tso:
Day 1 – Start early. Head to Pangong Tso. You can visit Thicksey & Hemis Monasteries on the way if you haven’t visited before. Devour the sunset at Pangong Tso.
Day 2 – Wake up to the beautiful sunrise at Pangong. Head to Leh post-breakfast/lunch.
Alternatively, you can head to Pangong Tso from Nubra Valley. This saves you an extra day and, gives you the opportunity to watch both sunrise and sunset at Pangong. But, your stars should be smiling at you for the roads to be open :P. We were planning to head from Nubra but we had to come back to Leh due to the bad condition of the roads. Hence, we could not do a night stay at Pangong.
Plan this part of your trip well. Keep an extra day so that you can spend a night at Pangong even if the Nubra route fails you. If time permits, you could also visit Tso Moriri.
Day 9, 10 – Plan the return:
We drove back to Srinagar from Leh. However, we do not recommend going on the same road again. It gets monotonous. The best option is to fly out of Leh. Alternatively, you could also take the Leh-Manali highway and head to Delhi.
And that’s it guys! The end of the most epic road trip of our lives. To sum up, we drove through rough patches, gorgeous landscapes and some of the highest motorable roads in the world. We fell asleep watching the stars at our camp. Devoured the best veg momos and the sumptuous yak cheese pizzas. We fell in love with the barren mountains, the chubby kids, the dusty roads, the unruffled beauty of Turtuk and the magical waters of Pangong Tso. We drove, drove and drove through the stories unheard and the visuals unseen. We drove. We fell in love.