“Ladakh – An expedition across the roof of the world” is a mind blowing journey where I, along with my friends set out on a 2500kms bike ride from Chandigarh to Delhi across the roof of the world to experience the beauty and pride of India. A call from one of my friends, on a cold December morning was the start of this roller-coaster ride, which still remains as one of the best journeys I have ever taken up. Ladakh “the land of high passes” is a region of India, located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and lying submerged between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the Great Himalayas to the south. Ladakh offers the most magical and unpredictable landscapes …… the snow covered mountains, dangerous passes……… crystal clear blue lakes, the sandy deserts……chilling winds, sand storms, the harsh sun……….the great plains, the steep abysses ……the avalanches and the landslides. Yes…… This is the land where the celestial forces and the gods rule!!!…….The mysterious Ladakh!!!
It wouldn’t be fair jolting down the main attractions of Ladakh, as anything and everything about Ladakh in interesting. Rohtang Pass, Deepaktal, Baralacha Pass, Snow Valley, Ghata Loops, Moore plains, Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Tsomoriri , Pangong Tso, Kargil & Dras are a few to highlight. Other places of tourist importance are Simla, Kousouli, Kulu and Manali.
Getting there and around
Ladakh is accessible both via road and air. You can reach Ladakh either via the Manali – Leh Highway or via the Srinagar – Leh Highway, but make sure you check out the status of the roads on sites like bcmtouring before you plan to travel, as the roads remain closed during winters and months of heavy snowfall. Each road gives you a unique experience and a new set of challenges. You also need to get permit from the Office of Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Manali & Leh if you are planning to take your own vehicle. There are regular bus services from Delhi and Manali to Ladakh. Cab service is also available from Delhi and Chandigarh though it is a bit expensive. You can also reach Ladakh via air from Delhi. Which ever ways you choose to travel you need to plan in advance and do a good ground work.
Ladakh Distance Chart
Delhi-1040kms | Chandigarh-781kms | Srinagar-416kms | Manali-475kms | Jammu – 706kms |
Things to do
The main activities you can indulge in are biking, off-roading, sight seeing, adventure tours, cultural tours, trekking, photography, cinematography and anything that you call adventure.
Things to carry
- Water / Chocolates / Nuts / Dry Fruits
- Cameras /Binoculars
- Sports shoe, thick socks, double layered clothes, sweaters, jackets, monkey caps and gloves
- Helmets and knee caps in case you are riding bikes
- Sunglasses / Raincoats
- Moisturizers and Sunscreen lotions
- Identity cards /passport size photoes / Required passes and permissions / 2-3 attested copies of your identity cards (just in case)
- An additional can of petrol
- Immediate spare parts of your vehicles / Repairing Manual / General Medicines
Ladakh - My Experience
I picked up the phone to answer my friend’s call on a December morning.The voice from the other end said “We plan to go to Ladakh, this coming July. It’s a 15 day trip….and on our own bikes. Are you coming ?” I was like Man!!! you should be crazy…….?. It sounds totally impossible…….15 days leave from office…….driving our bikes all the way from Kerala to Ladakh…………It’s not going to happen and I opted out of it until I turned to the net for more information. The more I read the more interested I got. I knew for sure that it was going to be a trip of a lifetime. I decided not to miss myself out of it……. the next thing I did was to present a leave request to my mentor and asked him for a 15 days leave from office. Somehow I got it sanctioned. Meanwhile mails had started poring in regarding the itenary, feasible dates, modes of travel,commercials, risk factors, options of taking the bike, overhauling and upgrading our bikes for the terrain, things to carry, securing the required permission for the vehicles for entering Leh, and getting mentally and physically prepared for the trip. Ideas started pouring in from all sides and it was almost like kicking off a project. By the end of December we had the itenary and the final plan ready. The team narrowed down to 7 members and 5 bikes. The plan was to drive the bikes from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum, have them couriered to Chandigarh, board the train to Chandigarh from Trivandrum , collect the bikes from Chandigarh, complete the 2500kms long trip, courier the bikes and catch the train back to Kerala.
To test our physical endurance, we decided to enroll and take up the the Agasthyakoodam trek. Meanwhile, bikes were overhauled as per the recommendations we got from the net, courier companies were contacted, sponsorship obtained from Wildcraft , train tickets were booked and we were all set to take on the test ride from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum.
Just 1 week ahead for the trip , we tested the bikes on the Trivandrum Kanyakumari circuit. All went well and the next day we couriered the bikes to Chandigarh. We boarded the train named Sampath Kranthi on 11th July and reached Chandigarh on 13th night of July . We checked into a cozy hotel, freshened up and set off to collect the bikes from Gati India’s office at Chandigarh. We had a sound sleep that night.
Day 1 (Chandigarh to Manali | 308kms)
We woke up late next morning. The climate in Chandigarh was too good to leave the quilts behind and get to the bikes. By 10:00AM we vacated the rooms, loaded the bikes with our luggage and saddle bags. Got into the riding attire and by 10:30AM after filling the bikes with petrol, we started our journey towards Manali.
The ride was more or less monotonous till we reached the tunnel at Aut by around 8:30PM. It is a 3-kms long tunnel, built on the Chandigarh-Manali national highway at Aut, and is the only gateway to Kullu-Manali. The ride through the long tunnel at full throttle really got us back to our spirits. We stopped by, at the end of the tunnel for refreshments and after resting for some time rode towards Manali….
It started drizzling and we had to get into our raincoats to beat the rains and the cold. In another 45 minutes we reached Manali. We had to show the passes that we had taken, prior to entering Manali. The whole town was fast asleep and we had to search around for a place to stay. We managed to wake up the hotel guys and at last checked into a motel. We were totally exhausted and all I remember was leaping into a creaking bed.
Day 2 (Manali to Keylong via Rohtang Pass| 117 kms)
We woke up to a bright and sunny Tuesday. A visit to the balcony really sent our jaws open. On one side was the snow covered peaks towering up the clear blue skies and on the other side was the large stretch of pine forest.
The whole place was really beautiful and scenic. It was really cold and the climate was very much pleasant. Manali is known to be the most favored destinations among honeymooners. We started off early that day to avoid driving late night. Since we were not sure of the petrol pumps ahead, we filled the tanks and bottles with petrol. The ride from Manali to Keylong was very much scenic and at times adventurous.
It is a steep climb through the winding roads from a altitude of 6,400 ft (Manali) to 13,060 ft (Rohtang Pass). On the way we got stuck up for an hour due to landslide, a long stretch of road was gone. Within minutes the Border Roads Organisation and the armed forces took over the task of clearing up the mess. It was a display of real professionalism.
We moved on stopping in between for photshoots and to admire the unimaginable beauty of the place. Many a times we felt as we were driving through the clouds.
By noon we reached Rohtang Pass. Rohtang which stands for “pile of corpses” is a high mountain pass that is always covered with snow. It connects Manali with Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh. The pass is very famous for being dangerous and unpredictable with unexpected snowstorms, fog and blizzards. Interesting activities in Rohtang are skiing and snow carts. Unfortunately the whether was not fine, it was severely windy and foggy.
The entire stretch was pitch dark with no signs of habitation. It is very risky to drive through the roads after 4:00PM as one side of the road drops steeply into the Bhaga river. One single mistake from the drivers part and you are gone!!!!. We had no option but to move ahead and find a place of rest at Keylong. We reached Keylong by 7:00PM totally terrified by the night drive on the Thandi – Keylong stretch . We found a good hotel named ” Surmila GuestHouse” and stayed there for the night. It is an economical motel. The rooms were clean and they served good food too. I would suggest Surmila Guest house for anyone who plans to stay overnight at Keylong.
Day 3 (Keylong to Sarchu | 106 kms)
Next day we woke up to a bright and sunny day at Keylong. Keylong is located along the sides of the gushing Bhaga Valley and is the main stop over for tourists travelling between Manali and Ladakh.It is famous for it’s monasteries and breathtaking views (snow covered mountains, green valleys and forests). This is the last place from where you can fill your bikes with petrol or locate a workshop/mechanic before you reach Leh. So guys make sure you get these done before you move ahead.
Next day we started off early pledging that we wouldn’t drive in the dark.Since there were no petrol pumps in-between Keylong and Ladakh, we drove back to Thandi to fill the tanks and stock our bottles with petrol. We then started off our onward journey to Ladakh with a plan of reaching Sarchu by the end of the day. The drive was not that hard, the roads were really good . We were climbing from an altitude of 10,100 ft (Keylong) to 14,000ft (Sarchu).The weather was bright, sunny and dry with clear blue skies.The first stop for the day was at Deepaktal, a awesomely serene and beautiful lake. We dropped into a small hut to have a quick lunch of noodles and tried out our pedaling skills on the pedal boat. After taking some good rest we started off our ride.
The drive ahead was through dusty and totally dilapidated roads.Many a times we came across convoys of army trucks. We couldn’t resist saluting them. The muddy patches soon got over and we were heading towards the snow valley. It was the first time in the trip that we were coming across snow. Spent a good time there, playing in the snow (like crazy kids) and attacking each other hurling snow balls.
The ride ahead was really interesting ….the place was insanely beautiful with snow covered mountains and terrains ……….many a times we were riding through roads cut mid way through the ice blocks.The next stop was at Baralacha, a green lake in the backdrop of snow covered mountains.
Riding ahead we reached Sarchu by 6:00PM. This was the first day of the entire trip where we reached our destination before dark. With the help from the Army we managed to get the accommodation in a tent at Sarchu. It costed as 200/- per head for the stay in tents, overlooking the mighty Himalayas. The night was fiercely cold with temperatures dropping to -6 degrees and winds howling through the tents. We sought refuge under layers of blankets and sweaters.We experienced for the first time in our lives the feel of freezing to death.
Day 4 ( Sarchu to Leh | 227 kms)
The overnight stay in Sarchu at an altitude of 14,300 feet helped us in getting acclimatized to the high altitudes. As like Day 3 we started off early from Sarchu with a plan of reaching Leh before sunset.
The ride was was through a number of passes, each of them offering a totally different terrain. The entire stretch resembled more of a desert with no vegetation of any sort. Through out the drive we could see magnificent rock formations. The ride was breath taking.
24ksm from Sarchu, we were driving towards the Gata Loops. Gata Loops are a set of 21 hairpin bends which takes us to an altitude of (15302 ft).
After the Gata Loops next came the Nakeela Pass at 15,547 feets height and then Lachulung la. The climb up the Lachulung La opens up to a whole new world on the other side. It was then followed by the The Moree Plains, a straight piece of land extending to infinity.
The drive ahead took us to Taglang La, second highest motor-able pass at an altitude of 17,469 feet . Moving ahead we crossed the Upshi village. All along the way we could spot green and yellow patches of cultivation, it was a treat for the eyes, having driven for the day with no vegetation in sight. By 5:30 we reached Leh and checked into the Hotel named Auspicious Hotel.
Day 5 ( Leh to Khardung La|38.5 kms)
Next morning we woke up late. after a sound sleep and a well deserved rest. By 10.00AM we reached the DC Office at Leh, to secure the permissions for our visit to Khardung La, Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso. The process was very fast and costed us less that 150/head. After securing the permissions we also visited a workshop to have our bikes thoroughly checked. One of the bikes had a serious issue and we got stranded at Leh, for the entire fore-noon due to this. We started off our ride towards Khardung La, , the World’s Highest Motorable Pass by 2:00PM . The roads were good and we reached Khardung La by 4:30PM climbing to a height of 18380feet. The views en-route were spectacular. We had planned to visit Nubra Valley that very day itself, but had to cancel it due to lack of time.
It was freezing cold at Khardung La and the entire place was clad in snow. We trekked another 15 meters up the base camp to the top most point, from where we got the view of the entire pass. Climbing up the snow clad peak was an experience. We enjoyed every bit of it.
After spending almost an hour freezing at Khardung La we started our descend. On the way back we dropped by an army camp. We met two keralites who were on duty at the army camp and they took us to their rooms and offered us coffee,nuts and sausages. They shared their experiences about the place and the challenges they face each day on these high altitudes. They inspired us to take up the Kargil-Srinagar stretch and urged us to visit the Kargil War Memorial. India was celebrating the 10th Anniversary of India’s victory in the war. They wanted us to be a part of the celebrations. The officers were very friendly and I really felt proud about them for enduring all the hardships to keep us safe. After a photo shoot with the officers we started our decent back to Leh. We reached back by 9:00PM. The officers so inspired us that we cancelled the return tickets with IRCTC and booked flight tickets to Cochin, so that we would get 3 more additional days to cover Kargil and Dras.
Day 6 ( Leh to Pangong Tso|197kms)
Yet another hectic day with a target of 200kms to be covered, we dint waste any time in the morning. We payed a visit to the Shanti Stupa in the morning and after having breakfast started our journey to Pangong Tso. Shanti Stupa is a Buddhist white-domed Stupa which holds the relics of the Buddha at it’s base. It is famous for both it’s religious significance and also it’s location which provides a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.
We started our journey to Pangong Tso by 9:30AM. The route that we planned to take was Leh – Karu (36 KMs) – Sakti (10 KMs) – Chang La (34 KMs) – Durbuk (32 KMs) – Tangste (9 KMs) – Lukung (34 KMs) – Spangmik (16 KMs) .
The ride was tough but the landscape and the scenery kept our spirits high. Our first stop over was at Changla La (17586 feet) third highest motorable road in the world. The ride from Changla La to Tangste gave us a heavenly feel, such was the beauty.
The biggest hurdle we faced was crossing the furious and gushing Pagal Nala (The mad river) . This stream can be crossed with ease from morning till noon around 2 o clock, after which the it would be impossible/risky to cross it. The reason being the snow in the mountain peaks would have melted by noon which would come gushing across the road. Even the water poses a big challenge as it is near to freezing point. So make sure to cross the Pagal Nala before 12′o clock. We almost got locked midway while crossing the stream, but miraculously escaped that night. (Check the video). We reached Pangong Tso by 10:00 all soaked and shivering. Managed to find a place to stay for the night. We had a candle light dinner at Pangong Tso
Day 7 ( Pangong Tso to Leh|197kms)
We woke up by 6:00AM, the sun was still behind the mountains, shadowing the whole of Pangong Tso. We set out from our dorm to explore that place. The first sight of the place , in the dark was depressing. It was nowhere near to the pictures that we had seen on the net.
But as the first rays of light pierced through the mountain passes and valleys, the beauty of the place unfolded in front of us, just like as in the fairy tales. It was as if someone just unveiled a painting in from of us . The crystal clear blue lake, with golden peaked mountains as the first layer and the clear skies with beautiful formations as the second layer in the backdrop just seemed like a lively painting and to add on was the the final touch . ……the reflections on the lake……………………..
I stood there witnessing one of the most memorable and spectacular events in my life. I have never seen something like this till date. It was more or less a proud moment just by the thought that we have such beautiful places in India……….And for all of you who are going through the post………India is far more beautiful that what you can imagine……….if only you start exploring it’s beauty…………This is a place you definitely need to visit during your lifetime……..Ladakh………….Yes it’s the Pride of India and a Paradise on Earth.
We spent 3-4 hours in Pangong Tso before packing back to Leh crossing the Pagal Nala…….(had narrowed down to a small stream in the morning). We reached back Leh by Noon. We celebrated our last day in Leh freaking out in the night in the local markets and gallis.
Day 8 ( Leh to Mulbekh |174kms)
Early morning we set off to visit the Leh palace, which overlooks the town of Leh. The palace is 9 stories high and was build in the 17th century. You get a panoramic view of Leh town from the palace.The palace houses the richness and culture of its glorious past while reconstruction works are going on to get it back to it’s past glory.
By 11:00AM we checked out our rooms and started our journey to Ladakh. We halted at Mulbekh for the night and found a place to stay at a J&K tourist banglow. The banglow like many govt undertakings was in a miserable state, there was neither water nor electricity and the rooms were poorly maintained.
We started early and on our way dropped by to visit the Chamba Statue, a striking enormous figure of Buddha carved into the rock. We drove through the fruit farms of Kargil to enter Dras.
Day 10 (Sonamarg to Udhampur |306 kms)
It was all about covering 306 kms and the only stop in between was at Srinagar. We visited the Dal lake, and to my surprise it was far from the beautiful lake I had seen in movies.
We reached Udhampur by 6:00PM.
Day 11 (Udhampur to Ambala |399 kms)
Another big stretch to drive and we started early, dropping by Pathankot for Lunch and without any stop overs and reached Ambala by 8:00PM.
Day 11 ( New Delhi to Cochin |215 kms)
The drive through the express highway took us to New Delhi by noon. After couriering the bikes back to Kerala we spent the evening shopping. We visited the India Gate and also gave an interview to India Vision on the Expedition codenamed ” Mission Kashmir” that was broadcasted on IndiaVision as part of the 10th Anniversary of India’s victory in the Kargil war.
Day 12 (Ambala to New Delhi |215 kms)
We boarded the NewDelhi – Cochin flight by noon and reached Cochin by 4:00PM. From Cochin we boarded the Trivandrum bus to reach back home safely by 10:00PM.
Ladakh An expedition across the roof of the world - Short Film
Geologist call it ” The Desert in the Skies”, Meteorologist call it ” The Rain Shadow area”, Photographers call it ” The Picture perfect”…….. however you term it ………Ladakh definitely is the Pride of India…….or rather a Paradise in India…….It is an amazingly beautiful place with so much of diversity and mysticism surrounding it. It not only amazes you with it’s beauty but also gives you the picture of how our army toils day and night, fighting all odds to protect the nation. This trip costed us INR 22000/head and was worth each and every penny spent.
I would highlight Ladakh as a must see place in India. A place that every Indian should visit, once in their lifetime. Signing off with the last note for those of you, who fly to destinations abroad on holidays…………….India is more beautiful than you can ever imagine ……………..It’s incredibly beautiful ………..Go explore her first before you packs your bags and fly abroad seeking paradises!!!!!