The first time TSC is doing a full fledged travel post & it had to be about my most epic Road trip to Leh 😀
Why a Road Trip to Leh?
A road trip actually makes you experience different states, different food, different environment & once you start climbing higher altitudes you experience different kind of terrains too! Honestly, I enjoyed the journey to Leh more than Leh in itself 😀
The whole road trip experience is actually the best part about a trip to Leh.
It all started by my mother motivating my dad to do a road trip since we have a 4×4 SUV (Toyota Fortuner). My family also happens to be a complete adventurous one & we love roughing it out (Faujis you know). Infact my father & brother were so driven about this trip & due to time constraints they drove from Pune & reached Delhi in 26hours (only tea & meal breaks later) where they met my mother & me (we flew down from Pune as we were looking forward to the road journey Delhi onwards)
We completed the round trip to Leh & Back to Delhi within 10 days. Here is a day wise record of our Leh Road Trip (Get geared because its one hell of a ride 😉 )
DAY 1 Delhi to Udhampur
A distance of 625kms covered within 15hours. 40°C
During this leg of the journey we halted at Ambala for breakfast & Haveli Dhaba near Jalandhar for lunch (by the way If u wana experience a Dhaba in an upscale way you have to visit the Haveli Dhabas that are on a lot of National Highways in North India) the Lassi was mindblowing (without any doubt, you get the best lassi in punjab ).
Then on we head straight towards Pathankot where we had the first sighting of snow caped mountains. From far they looked like clouds & it was like our wish was slowly coming true & the long journey now seemed shorter with our final destination in sight & we were just super kicked 😀
I suddenly felt all the excitement (which I hadn’t felt with such intensity earlier) of exactly why we had embarked on this journey.
We then head on to our destination of the day- Udhampur via Samba which was supposed to be a great route ended up being quite crap (back in 2014 atleast) The route via Nagrota to Udhampur is better. On our first day of the journey we had already crossed Punjab & were in Jammu & Kashmir (heaven on earth). Even though there was a long journey ahead there was a sense of fulfilment & gratitude to have made it safe. The only sadness being most of our (prepaid) phones were now just dummy pieces :p (Only Post-Paid numbers work in Jammu & Kashmir)
In Udhampur we stayed the night at an Army Accommodation (already booked prior)
DAY 2 Udhampur to Sonamarg
Distance of 308 km covered in 11hours approx.
It seemed like a summery day when we left Udhampur but when we stopped for our Tea & Breakfast break after 2.5 hrs of commencing the drive, there was a huge drop in temperature (18°C) which we felt the minute we opened our door. All of us rushed to pull out our jackets. None of us apprehended the oncome of chill on the second day of our trip itself.
Post typical hilly region breakfast- Maggi (then legal) we were now enroute Srinagar our lunch hault! The Mountain drive was being enjoyed with picturesque views of the mountains, streams of water & massive bridges over them.
After driving past Rambann we drove through Srinagar & catching glimpses of the beautiful city (promising to enjoy the city on our return journey). Past our lunch time hogged on Shwarmas (although I could barely finish 1 of my own) after which, we were straight on our way to Sonamarg.
Just about an hour & a half before reaching Sonamarg we started to get exuberant as we were getting closer & closer to the snow. The windows were open & we were breathing in fresh air that had this exciting chill in it. We made a stop near a stream which had a lot of force & we saw people river rafting too & we couldn’t help but wave out to them (more beacuse we were just too excited to be experiencing all that we were)
Just about before reaching Sonamarg we actually saw snow upclose. WE SAW SNOW at our eye level. (I have played in snow before in Switzerland, But Snow in India Never!!!)
We rushed out of the car to go touch the snow, it wasn’t fresh snow it was more like ice but yet we scrapped it off & were throwing it at each other (my mother, brother & I) while dad watched & smiled away seeing three of us behaving like babies :p
Once in Sonamarg we stayed at the Army Accommodation (booked in advance through tie-ups in the Army). Post 7pm in Sonamarg it really started to get cold- about 10°C at most.
DAY 3 Sonamarg-Zojila Pass-Drass-Kargil
Covered 123 kms in 8hrs approx.
The day actually started at 6am although the drive started by 1pm! Why did we waste so much time? Well so here is the deal- Zojila Pass (11649 ft) is just one lane, fortunately & unfortunately the night before it had just snowed (yes mountain tops were covered in fresh snow & it was a pristine sight to see early in the morning).
So roads were being cleared for the traffic to move on safely & smoothly towards Zojila (this is where we say Road trips Cannot Guarantee that you reach the destination preset for a particular day) Meanwhile we bought some authentic Kashmiri embroidered souvenirs for our dear ones back home & then got on our cars into the que from 10am itself.
Before the roads opened to all, first the Army Convoy left, truck after truck at regular intervals (Yes! The Army is God there & once you are there you will know why they deserve it!) second went the bikes & then all the public was allowed to leave. The drive to Zojila Pass is basically walls of snow on either sides (that’s what its famous for) Its a very slow up climb with narrow mountainous road (There is nothing like a tarred road there or maybe it hot washed away) We were especially crawling as we were all lined up behind army trucks.
There is absolutely no question of overtaking except some J&K drivers who managed to squeeze beside small cars & literally drive at the edge of the valley. The roads were slushy because of the snow melting, there were patches of snow that we would notice up further on the mountains, which slowly kept growing more profound towards Zojila.
After a lot of false alarms later we Reached the Zojila Pass where there was a clear board mentioning so & there were interlocking tiles on the road too. You arent supposed to really get down there but we quickly did so & took pictures. Beside us there was literally a bed of snow & I wanted to just go & jump on it but contained myself. In a few minutes we even managed ro take a picture with the car between the snow walls.
After finally managing to GET PICTURES at the ZOJILA PASS we felt like such achievers & we were then just beginning to really soak up the surroundings when we realised there was a big line up ahead & cars had stopped. Kids & adults were out of their cars & were playing on the snow mountains on the side & throwing snow balls at each other. We did the same too & after all the madness sat peacefully in the car & just ate bananas & chips as lunch. (So please make sure you have your contingencies on place for food & water)
We were actually stopped because the convoy had to get clearance. So this is part of the game once you in the mountains or on a road trip- DELAYS ARE INEVITABLE. We yet continued to drive through walls of snow & slush & it was all just WHITE outside (yet have that sight so fresh in my mind). Slowly the walls of snow vanished & now we could just see frozen lakes; it was like how you must have seen in the movie Haider.
Slowly the topography starts to change & the mountains look bare & have a more earthy colour. Streams of water were flowing on the side of the road. The different scenic views after Zojila were very mesmerising. You knew you were entering a different region as the terrains were changing!
Drass (10,990 ft) one of the main Battle grounds of the Kargil War ’99. We stopped at the Drass market to have some tea & buttered bun (Chai & Bun maska) Butter is a highly consumed food product in the mountainous regions as it provides energy & keeps the body warm!
Drass to Kargil was a stupendous drive in terms of the Drive Quality (possibly the best stretch in the whole of our journey) with the roads absolutely smooth, very well marked, sufficient signboards & efficient cat’s eyes. The satisfaction of doing such a splendid drive was what made our day after all the anxiousness & excitement through the day.
DAY 4 Kargil to Leh (from 8,780ft to 11,500ft)
210 kms covered within 8hrs
This drive is a crucial drive where you head to the highest altitude in the trip but The Biggest Advantage of a road trip is that you don’t get hit by AMS due to steady acclimatisation.
While starting from Kargil at 6 am in the morning it was already 6°C which within 45 mins dropped to about 4°C. The roads were narrow, dusty & stoney. What kept us gripped was the changing landscape with the mountains now more sharp & edgy, making them look like wooden carvings. At some part you would notice Purple streaks in the mountain which meant there was lead content in that part of the soil.
Slowly again the topography was changing with the mountains looking wider & looked more smooth but with folds like the skin of an Elephant. For a person like me sleeps off in any moving vehicle I was wide awake & absolutely amazed by the wonders of mother nature 😀
By now we had reached highest point in out journey uptil now on the Leh- Srinagar Highway at 12,198 ft- the Namika La Pass. We were freezing taking pictures there as the wind was flowing with great gusto & nullifying the strong sun rays. Might I also mention, the roads now were very good (maintained by the Border Roads Organisation).
On reaching Lama Yuru village, which has one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh about 100kms away from Leh. With the way the natives of this village were dressed, it definitely does sink in how close you are to Leh 😀 After our hault for tea we soon saw another attraction of Lama Yuru called the ‘Moonland’ which is a strange but beautiful landscape next to the monastery. Some say the soil here is very similar to that on the moon (hence the name).
The next highest pass on the Leh-Srinagar Highway is the Fotu La Pass (13,478 ft) in the Himalayan Zaskar Range. The next stop you cannot miss is above the Zanskar Lake. The whole landscape there looks unreal, specially when you look back at a picture clicked there its look like a sketch, so sharp. Wind the wind in your hair & the Tibetian flags flapping about you get even more charged about the jounery to Leh. Forget fatigue & forget sleep 😀
THIS ALL YOU MISS IF U SIMPLY JUST FLY TO LEH! As you get closer to Leh the terrain remained the same but the roads got less winding (relief to the motion sick people). The Pathar Saheb Gurudwara comes on the way after which comes the Magnetic Hill– which we almost missed. I’m sure you want to know If we felt the magnetic pull or not? Well we felt it was a load of Crap! Sorry but we didn’t feel a thing & my dad just to amuse us even took us slightly up the hill (off the road).
When you hit an infinite road & you just see sand around you & the mountains in the distance means you have hit the ‘Cold Desert Region’ and are soon to enter Leh. A complete Panaroma ahead of you & you suddenly have this rush of happiness & that feeling you get every time you see an infinty road ❤
By the time we reached our accomodation in Leh it was 2pm & by now the sun’s rays were so strong that we had started shedding off the layers we had worn. At 26°C it was warm but once you weren’t in direct sunlight, with the wind blowing it actually was pleasant & you definitely needed a warm jacket.
Before this post gets longer I have to force myself to stop 😦 Next week I shall put down the rest of my journey & a lot of Do’s & Dont’s so Stay Tuned 😀 Please do leave in your comments as to how you have liked this post? And if there are anymore details you would like me to provide you with?