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Old 5th July 2014, 23:18   #1
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Default Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

PRELOUGE
This was my first trip to Ladakh and the second road trip holiday. In that sense, I classify myself as a beginner when it comes to Ladakh at least, given that most of the posts online are from people who have visited multiple times. In this piece, I have tried to share my experiences and views about the trip and the region, in which my wife had also accompanied me.

SOME QUICK STATS BEFORE STARTING
- 6,630 kms traveled across 8 states in 23 days
- drove for 19 out of those 23 days
- covered average distance of about 350 kms a day
- max distance of 820 kms covered in a day
- spent around 200 hrs on the road of which 140 hrs were spent driving
- overall average speed of about 47 km/hr
- drove for over 17 hrs at a stretch in a day
- visited more than 20 towns / villages, of which stayed in 15
- 8 national highways used
- over 75 tolls crossed / paid
- 10 high mountain passes crossed
- passes altitude: average 15,222 feet, max 18,380 feet and min 11,650 feet
- spent over 8 days at an altitude of above 10,000 feet

TRIP SUMMARY
Route: Mumbai – Vadodara – Jaipur – Amritsar – Patnitop – Pahalgam – Srinagar – Gulmarg – Sonamarg – Kargil – Leh – Nubra Valley – Leh – Pangong Lake – Leh – Sarchu – Manali – Chandigarh – Delhi – Jaipur – Vadodara – Mumbai
Days: 23 days
Distance: 6,630 kms
Vehicle: Mahindra XUV 5OO W8 (2013)

ROUTE SUMMARY
01-Jun-14: Mumbai to Vadodara – 440 kms; 7.5 hours (2 stops of 45 mins and 30 mins respectively); NH8 (Chembur-Thane-Virar- Valsad-Navsari-Surat-Bharuch-Vadodara); Overnight at Vadodara

02-Jun-14: Vadodara to Jaipur – 820 kms; 13.5 hours (2 stops of 45 mins each and 1 stop of 30 mins); NH8 (Vadodara-Ahmedabad-Himatnagar-Udaipur-Nathdwara-Ajmer-Jaipur); Overnight at Jaipur

03-Jun-14: Jaipur to Amritsar – 605 kms; 12.5 hours (2 stops of 45 mins each and 1 stop of 30 mins); NH8, NH71, NH64, NH71 and NH15 (Jaipur-Shahjahanpur-Rewari-Jhajjar-Rohtak-Jind-Sangrur-Barnala-Moga-Amritsar); Overnight at Amritsar

04-Jun-14: Amritsar to Patnitop – 315 kms; 8 hours (2 stops of 30 mins each); NH15, NH1A (Amritsar-Gurdaspur-Pathankot-Kathua-Samba-Mansar Lake-Udhampur-Patnitop); Overnight at Patnitop

05-Jun-14: Patnitop to Pahalgam – 180 kms; 7 hours (3 stops of 30 mins each); NH1A (Patnitop-Ramban-Banihal-Anantnag-Pahalgam); Overnight at Pahalgam

06-Jun-14: Pahalgam to Srinagar – 90 kms; 2 hours; NH1A (Pahalgam-Bijbehara-Lethipora-Srinagar); Overnight at Srinagar

07-Jun-14: Overnight at Srinagar

08-Jun-14: Srinagar to Gulamarg to Sonamarg – 195 kms; 2 hours and 3.5 hours for respective legs; NH1A and NH1D (Srinagar-Gulmarg-Srinagar-Sonamarg); Overnight at Sonamarg

09-Jun-14: Sonamarg to Kargil – 130 kms; 4.5 hrs; NH1D (Sonamarg-ZojiLa-Drass-Kargil); Overnight at Kargil

10-Jun-14: Kargil to Leh – 235 kms; 7 hrs (multiple stops on the way); NH1A (Kargil-Mulbeck-NamikaLa-FotuLa-Lamayuru-Likir-Leh); Overnight at Leh

11-Jun-14: Overnight at Leh

12-Jun-14: Leh to Nubra Valley – 315 kms; 12.5 hrs (multiple stops on the way); Leh-KhardungLa-Khardung-Khalsar-Diskit-Hunder-Turtuk-Hunder-Diskit; Overnight at Diskit

13-Jun-14: Nubra Valley to Leh – 195 kms; 7.5 hrs (multiple stops on the way); Diskit-Khalsar-Sumur-Panamik-Sumur-Khalsar-Khardung-KhardungLa-Leh; Overnight at Leh

14-Jun-14: Leh to Pangong Lake – 180 kms; 5.5 hrs (1 stop of 45 mins); Leh-Karu-Sakti-ChangLa-Durbuk-Tanste-Lukung-Spangmik; Overnight at Spangmik

15-Jun-14: Pangong Lake to Leh – 195 kms; 11.5 hours (multiple stops/deviations on the way); Overnight at Leh

16-Jun-14: Overnight at Leh

17-Jun-14: Leh to Keylong – 365 kms; 12.5 hrs (2 stops of 30 mins each); Leh-Karu-Upshi-TanglangLa-Debring-Pang-LachungLa-NakeeLa-Sarchu-BaralachaLa-Jispa-Keylong; Overnight at Keylong

18-Jun-14: Keylong to Chandigarh – 435 kms; 17.5 hrs (2 stops of 1 hr each and one stop of 30 mins); NH21 (Keylong-Tandi-Rohtang Pass-Manali-Kullu-Mandi-Bilaspur-Swarghat-Nalagarh-Shahpur-Hoshiarpur-Chandigarh); Overnight at Chandigarh

19-Jun-14: Chandigarh to Delhi – 290 kms; 5.5 hrs (1 stop of 45 mins); NH1 (Chandigarh-Ambala-Karnal-Panipat-Sonepat-Delhi-Faridabad); Overnight at Faridabad

20-Jun-14: Overnight at Faridabad

21-Jun-14: Delhi to Beawer – 475 kms; 9 hrs (2 stops of 30 mins each); NH8 (Faridabad-Sohna-Bhiwadi-Shahjahanpur-Kotputli-Shahpura-Jaipur-Ajmer-Beawer); Overnight at Beawer

22-Jun-14: Beawer to Vadodara – 560 kms; NH8 (Beawer-Nathdwara-Udaipur-Himatnagar-Ahmedabad-Vadodara); Overnight at Vadodara

23-Jun-14: Vadodara to Mumbai – 430 kms; 7 hours (1 stop of 45 mins); NH 8 (Vadodara-Bharuch-Surat-Navsari-Valsad-Vapi-Virar-Thane-Chembur)

The plan for the trip was for me to reach Srinagar driving alone and my wife joining me from there. So I set out for my most ambitious and ‘adventurous’ trip. The next section provides greater detail about the trip including our daily adventures.

TRIP DETAILS

1 June 2014 (Sunday)
Drive: Mumbai to Vadodara
Start time: 6.45 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH8
Total toll paid: Rs. 410
Average Speed: 59 kmph (including breaks); 71 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 440 kms
I had driven on this route in December 2013 and was very comfortable with it. In fact this time, it was much better with the Narmada bridge issue sorted out and no delays on that count. It was a relaxed drive with excellent roads throughout, I really enjoy this drive because of the roads. There was only one small pain point near the Ghodbunder bridge as I had to turn towards Dahisar and then come back to the bridge instead of directly taking a right from Ghodbunder road, resulting in extra 15 kms and half an hour. This was on account of repair works going on the bridge and traffic being managed by the traffic police. This on my return leg, was clear.

Took a break just before Vapi and then at a food plaza near Valsad. Had a late lunch and stayed overnight at my aunt’s place in Vadodara, trying to get as much rest as possible before a looong drive next day.


2 June 2014 (Monday)
Drive: Vadodara to Jaipur
Start time: 6.15 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH8
Total toll paid: Rs. 720
Average Speed: 61 kmph (including breaks); 71 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 1,260 kms

Today was supposed to be an endurance test for me and the car as this was a planned 800 km drive. I had never driven for such a distance, neither my car had done this kind of a distance in a single day. However, my last year’s trip to Rajasthan gave me confidence about the roads. The whole stretch is great roads, except for the Udaipur bypass, which was patchy and undivided 2 lane stretch. The stretch from Kishangarh to Jaipur is as good as the Vadodara-Ahmedabad stretch (the expressway). Managed to cross Jaipur and stopped at a highway hotel/motel in an area called Chandwaji. There are a number of staying options ranging from Rs. 600-1500 for a night without having to go away from the highway.

Stopped for breakfast, lunch and evening snacks along highway at some dhabas during the day. Some pictures from during the day.

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_113046.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_124302.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_131158.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_132220.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_132240.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140602_142910.jpg

3 June 2014 (Tuesday)
Drive: Jaipur to Amritsar
Start time: 6.30 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH8, NH71, NH64, NH15
Total toll paid: Rs. 290
Average Speed: 48 kmph (including breaks); 58 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 1,865 kms

When I started in the morning, I had assumed that at least the remaining stretch of the NH8 that I had to travel would be as good as the last 2 days. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Just after a few kms from the time I left, I had to cross a number of junctions on which flyover construction was in progress / stalled. Here one has to go through the service roads which are narrow and along with the local traffic become very congested. After about an hour of driving I reached a place called Kotputli. Here there is a flyover which is under maintenance and only one side of it is functional. So at one point in time only one side traffic moves (similar to the Narmada bridge situation until a few months back), resulting in a long queue of trucks. This stretch could easily suck up a couple of hours. Since I had started early in the morning, the service road had not jammed completely yet and I took that, only to find that the road there had potholes larger than the size of my car. Got stuck even here for half an hour as there was oncoming traffic on even the service road. But then it was fine. However, I managed to cover only around 100 kms in 2 hours of drive.

Stopped for breakfast at Hotel Highway King and got off NH8, just after Shahjahanpur, taking a left towards Rewari, entering Haryana. The drive within Haryana was a mixed bag of excellent unused 6 lane roads, bad patchy 2 lane undivided roads, multiple level (railway) crossings, etc. Between Rohtak and Narwana (after Jind), there were multiple stretches of roads which were recently laid and still unused by many. It was a delight to drive on these. Rest of the roads in Haryana were just fine with a lot of local traffic (which do not let you overtake generally) and animals (especially cows and buffalos).

As soon as you cross over into Punjab, the landscape changes suddenly. Most of the road till Amritsar was 2 lane and undivided. Nevertheless, the drive was very scenic with tall trees on both sides and a water body flowing on either side of the road. The road condition was also excellent. This held me recover my lost speed and momentum to be able to reach Amritsar by around 6.30 pm. I checked into a hotel near one of the main roads which I had to use to exit the city the next day at around 7 pm.

After freshening up, I headed straight to the Golden temple. I had been here a couple of years back and was very excited to come back.

I love this place! It is so peaceful here despite hundreds of visitors at any given point. Stayed here until around 11 pm and then headed back to my hotel, having dinner on the way.

Some pictures from during the day...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_111328.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_113946.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_114852.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_174910.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_175206.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_221940.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_222238.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_223126.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140603_224208.jpg


4 June 2014 (Wednesday)
Drive: Amritsar to Patnitop
Start time: 6.30 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH15, NH1A
Average Speed: 39 kmph (including breaks); 45 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 2,180 kms

I left early in the morning from Amritsar even when the distance to be covered was around 310 kms, given that I had never been to J&K by road or rather travelled within J&K at all. Also, since I had spent 2 days in Amritsar in my previous trip, I had nothing additional to see today. The good drive from the previous day continued throughout the remainder of Punjab. As soon as I reached the J&K border (where NH1A starts), I could spot some snow covered peaks at a far off distance which got me very excited. The road beyond this point is equally good, just has a bit more curves that the normal highways.

After driving for about 65 kms on NH1A, there is a deviation to go towards Udhampur – my advise would be to avoid this road and continue on NH1A towards Jammu. This road is in very bad condition as is a dirt track for almost all the distance. This route saves about 45 kms, but is not worth the effort of unnecessarily going through a painful drive, both for the driver and the car; also most of the road is deserted. The only benefit of taking this route is Mansar lake which falls on the way and is beautiful, but if you are headed towards Kashmir and then Ladakh, there are many better ones ahead.

Once I crossed Udhampur, it was NH1A again and the road was fine, I breathed a sigh of relief. The roads after Udhampur were narrower and there was construction / repair work at many points. Overall, the drive was fine with quite a few twists and turns for a new comer in this region. Actually, this drive serves as a good learning ground for drivers like me, who are unfamiliar with curvy roads, blind turns, uphill climb and sudden onward traffic. It also helps in developing overtaking skills on such roads and building patience (on account of truck traffic ahead, big traffic jams, construction/repairs, stalled vehicles, etc.)

For a first timer, as you start approaching Patnitop, the views become extremely beautiful, pleasant and even breathtaking. The first thing that hit me was the height / size of the mountains there as compared to anywhere I had seen (even in Maharashtra). I reached Patnitop at around 4 pm, enquired about the stay options at a tourist reception center before heading out for some sight-seeing.

I drove around 3 places, the main park area of Patnitop, Sanasar Valley and Nathatop. Sanasar Valley was about 20 kms one way, Nathatop comes midway. Sanasar Valley was very beautiful with huge grazing grounds, a lake (which hardly had any water), horse rides and beautiful views all around. On the way back, I stopped at Nathatop which too offered great sights of valleys and snow covered peaks at a distance. I encountered a police patrol van standing near Nathatop. I spoke to one of the guys on duty who told me that this is nothing as compared to views in the Kashmir Valley, this is only for people who come to Jammu and want to see snow in a day trip during winters. This increased my excitement as I headed back to Patnitop, along with a feeling of achievement of making this far safely, for a night’s rest.

There are quite a few stay options in Patnitop of varied ranges. As I was staying alone and only needed a place to sleep for the night, I opted to a mid-size hotel which costed me Rs. 1,100. I also checked out the JKTDC resort (goes by the name Alpine across J&K) which was quite good at Rs. 2,000 for a night. It started raining late in the evening and the temperature started falling quite a bit, resulting in quite a cold night.

Some pictures from during the day...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_125434.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_135838.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_143806.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_171108.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_171704.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_172132.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_180554.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140604_180624.jpg

5 June 2014 (Thursday)
Drive: Patnitop to Pahalgam
Start time: 8.00 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH1A
Average Speed: 26 kmph (including breaks); 33 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 2,360 kms

I made a lazy start at around 8.00 am as the distance to be covered today was less than 200 kms. I encountered my first traffic jam after a few kms of drive which lasted for more than an hour. A military truck which had to pass, made way for everyone with the help of some soldiers managing the traffic. From there on, the road was fine but there were many traffic jams along the way until the Jawahar tunnel. I was very impressed with the 2.8 km tunnel, given that it was constructed over 50 years back and was in excellent condition even today.

As soon as you cross this tunnel, you can see sign boards reading ‘Welcome to Kashmir’ and the views suddenly become more scenic and army soldiers can be seen everywhere. The drive beyond this point until Anantnag was similar to the previous day’s drive on initial parts of NH1A and also had very little traffic. You have to take a diversion from NH1A to go to Phalgam. The drive beyond this point through Liddar Valley was very beautiful with water flowing on the side of the road all along and snow covered peaks visible at a distance.

I stopped multiple times at various points offering scenic views all along the way since morning, including at a point known as ‘Titanic View Point’.

As soon as I reached Pahalgam, I started looking for a place to stay as the number of tourists I saw here made me feel that getting a hotel room may be difficult. I started with nice looking hotels near the taxi stand but they were quite expensive (Rs. 3,000 – 5,000). I asked a few locals and figured out there were many ‘boutique’ hotels ahead (after cross the police station) by the riverside. I headed there to find a number of small hotels and settled in one of those, right next to the Sheshnag river for Rs. 700 for the night. The view from the room was excellent and there was a small garden cum sit out area with the river flowing next to it.

It was already 5 pm, when I decided to head out for some sight-seeing. After talking to a couple of local people at the hotel, I decided on Chandanwari and Betaab Valley. I was also told by the local people that I would have to hire local taxi as outside vehicles were not allowed to ply to these points in Pahalgam. This was a bit sad but the excitement took over and without trying to actually figure out the reality myself, I opted for a taxi which charged me Rs. 1,000 for the trip.

On my way to Chandanwari, I made a quick stop at Betaab Valley (on the Betaab movie fame). This point was just fine and nothing great as I had seen similar sights in Patnitop’s Sanasar Valley. The drive towards Chandanwari was also beautiful with waterfalls on nearby mountains and some snow on road sides yet to melt. I absolutely loved Chandanwari as this was the first time I was experiencing snow in my life and not only looking at snow peaks. This point also serves as one of the two starting points for the Amarnath Yatra (the other being near Sonamarg). I spent about an hour here playing in snow, climbing up hill and trying to slide back to the bottom; it was fun to watch other people doing the same as well.

On the way back to the hotel, while chatting with the driver, I figured out that he also works part time at the world famous Pahalgam Golf Course. I asked him if he could take me there, as I wanted to have a look and may be try a couple of shots. He kindly obliged, it was stunning and I was left speechless. As it was getting dark, the staff there said that it would be difficult to play on the driving range, instead they offered me if I would try some ‘putting’. Thankful to the driver and the staff, I walked away pleased.

Roamed around the local market for an hour or so and had dinner at one of the restaurants near the market. This place had a lot of eating options. Walked back to the hotel in the chilly night and went to sleep happily at around 11 pm – I had finally reached Kashmir and that too driving all by myself.

Some pictures from during the day...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_123214.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_124226.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_124324.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_124338.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_150150.jpg


This is the first part of my post, to which I will keep adding over the next few days...

Last edited by nik.agr : 8th July 2014 at 12:44. Reason: Addition of content to the post
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Old 6th July 2014, 15:50   #2
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Dont keep us waiting, and serve us some pictures as starters. If possible put in the views of wifey. It would be of great help, since they are the toughest species to understand for mankind. But worth all the effort!
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Old 6th July 2014, 20:23   #3
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Quote:
Originally Posted by YaeJay View Post
Dont keep us waiting, and serve us some pictures as starters. If possible put in the views of wifey. It would be of great help, since they are the toughest species to understand for mankind. But worth all the effort!
I will also share the pictures. As far as the views of my wife are concerned, they will be embedded in the forthcoming parts as she joined me from Srinagar.
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Old 7th July 2014, 03:21   #4
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Hi Nik, thanks for the details, I am planning to do the trip to leh in August first half in my innova. Can you please give me more details of route from jaipur till Jammu like where to take bypass and where to look for hotels etc. thanks
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Old 7th July 2014, 09:56   #5
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Quote:
Originally Posted by anupamtiwari View Post
Hi Nik, thanks for the details, I am planning to do the trip to leh in August first half in my innova. Can you please give me more details of route from jaipur till Jammu like where to take bypass and where to look for hotels etc. thanks
For Jaipur to Jammu, I would suggest taking a night halt at Amritsar and making a visit to the Golden Temple. There are numerous staying options in Amritsar across categories and budgets to choose from.

From Jaipur, head on to the Jaipur - Delhi highway (NH8) until Shahjanpur, from where you take a left to get onto NH71 from Rewari. Then the road passes through Rewari, Jhajjar, Rohtak, Jind, Sangrur. From Sangrur take a left towards Barnala, which goes on to Moga and then Amritsar. Most of the towns I have listed have roads bypassing the towns, look for sign boards as you approach them. However, even if you end up getting inside any of them, the traffic is not terrible and you can cross them easily. The roads throughout are in excellent shape except for a few bad patches.

From Amrtisar exit take the exit towards Batala (no bypass required), which goes on to Gurdaspur (no bypass required), Pathankot (look for a bypass road sign as you approach) and Kathua joining NH1A to go to Jammu and beyond. Again the roads throughout this stretch are in excellent condition.
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Old 8th July 2014, 14:49   #6
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Pahalgam in pictures...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_173546.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_181446.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_182142.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_185412.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140605_192012.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140606_072232.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140606_072400.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140606_073348.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140606_073514.jpg

6 June 2014 (Friday)
Drive: Pahalgam to Srinagar
Start time: 8.00 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH1A
Average Speed: 30 kmph (including breaks); 45 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 2,520 kms

I left around 6.30 am from my hotel to explore the parks in the Pahalgam area which very crowded the previous evening. This time of the day offered excellent views across these parks and also had very few people which made the experience very peaceful. Spent around hour and a half before heading towards Srinagar. The drive to Srinagar through NH1A was a short one (90 kms) with excellent roads and hardly any terrain.

One can drive towards Anantnag and go to Sinthan Top (thorugh NH1B) if interested, as this place is on a higher altitude and provides great views of the mountains along with snow most of the times. From Sinthan Top, then head back to Srinagar taking the same route till Anantnag and then going on to NH1A towards Srinagar. The whole trip (Pahalgam – Sinthan Top – Srinagar) is about 240 kms. I skipped this as I was going to Ladakh and would have the opportunity to visit high altitude mountain passes there.

I reached Srinagar in about 2 hours and headed straight towards the Dal Lake. I was taken aback by the sheer size of the lake while driving a full circle around it (it’s about 20 kms). The route for the drive: Dalgate-Boulevard Road-Nishat Harwan Road-Foreshore Road-Hazratbal Road-Dalgate. This is a highly recommended drive in day time as it gives you almost a 360 degree view of the Dal Lake, views of the Nigeen Lake and experience of not-so-touristy Srinagar (Hazratbal Road) as well. I was surprised with the beauty and cleanliness of the lake and its surroundings. I had heard ‘horror’ stories of how the lake was so dirty and stinky, but it was the complete opposite. The authorities have been doing a great job of maintaining and cleaning the lake on an ongoing basis, almost round the clock. All the hotels, restaurants and the bustling tourist area starts from Dalgate and spreads on to the Boulevard Road.

After this drive I headed straight to the Mahindra Service Station in Srinagar managed by Shuhul Automobiles located at NH1A, Bye Pass, Near Railway St, Nowgam, Kashmir (about a 10 km drive from Dalgate). Before I started my trip to Ladakh, I wanted to ensure that the car is in proper condition and there are no last minute surprises. The staff there was very helpful and the service advisor for XUV quickly obliged to take a test ride with me in my car, everything was fine. On the way back to Srinagar, I figured out a standalone Ayurvedic Spa near Nishant Gardens and treated myself to a relaxing session (a recently opened place offering 50% discount on its packages). Post this, headed back towards Dalgate to find a place for the night and settled in a small hotel at the start of the Boulevard Road which charged me Rs. 900 for the night. The range of hotels available here is quite wide from Rs. 800 – Rs. 20,000 (yeah, the likes of Lalit and Taj).

Went out for a walk in the evening along the Dal Lake which was mesmerising given the beautiful sunset. Visited a few parks on the way, had dinner and retired to my room for a good night’s sleep.

7 June 2014 (Saturday)
Drive: Local Srinagar
Odo reading: 2,600 kms

Got off to a lazy start, checked out of the hotel around 8 am and headed to Shankaracharya temple. The drive to the hilltop is beautiful, offering views of the Dal Lake from various elevation levels, the road is very good but narrow. Towards the temple area, a lot of cars parked alongside the narrow road and cars making ‘U’ turns create a big traffic chaos, which I think is unavoidable given the lack of space at the hilltop. After parking the car on the side of the road, I headed to the temple, which is a steep 300 stairs climb. There was quite a decent amount of tourists here. It’s a small temple with a large Shivling inside. No mobiles / cameras are allowed in the temple area, so left them behind in the car. The temple at the hilltop offers spectacular views of the Dal Lake on one side and the city on the other.

After returning from the temple, had a heavy brunch at one of the restaurants on the Boulevard Road and headed to the airport to pick up my wife. Came back to the Dalgate with wife and went on to the same full circle drive across the Dal Lake like the previous day. We then checked into a hotel alongside the Spa I had visited the previous day, they charged us Rs. 1,300 for the night. We then headed out for some sightseeing. Visited Hazratbal and the Mughal Gardens. The Mughal Gardens is a very beautiful place with 12 layered garden areas and is huge. Then took a relaxing Shikara ride (for Rs. 550, bargain a lot here). As the sunlight sunk in, the whole horizon turned orange and offered wonderful views from the Shikara. Post this we had dinner at one of the restaurants at the Boulevard Road and settled in to our hotel room for some rest.

Frankly speaking, we were a little underwhelmed by Srinagar – it was too commercial, apart from the lake there was nothing much to be excited about. Maybe, it is better in winters. I liked Pahalgam much more than Srinagar.

Srinagar in pictures...

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Old 8th July 2014, 15:12   #7
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

8 June 2014 (Sunday)
Drive: Srinagar to Gulmarg to Sonamarg
Start time: 6.00 am
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH1A, NH1D
Average Speed: 30 kmph (including breaks); 35 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 2,800 kms

We left early for Gulmarg to make sure that we got tickets for both the phases of the Gondola ride. It took us an hour and a half to reach Gulmarg (about 70 kms). Parked our car, took a pony ride to the Gondala ticket counter and straight away got in the queue at around 7.45 am (you have to wait in the queue for boarding passes even if you have pre-booked). There were 3-4 people ahead of me in the queue and by the time the ticket counter opened (around 9.15 am), there were at least 50 people behind me including a number of guides (even when they have a separate line which is not enough for them). Got the tickets, went to the boarding point, stood in another queue for 15-20 mins, reached Phase I in 20 odd mins, stood in another queue for about half hour, reached Phase II in another 20 mins. As soon as we reached the final point, we had to struggle to make our way out of the harassing guides / skiers / gear renters. So basically it took us over 4 hours to reach the final Gondola stop, which to us was seriously a lot of pain. It was unnecessary chaos created mostly by the local guides at every possible point, which could have been avoided by local authorities by stream lining things, but I guess this chaos is by design. Very unpleasant, at after a point not worth the pain / effort.

Once we reached the top, we walked around without any guide, these were the most striking views we had come across in our lives as both of us had not seen / experienced snow before this trip. There was snow everywhere you could see from the top, and that too a lot. We spent over an hour here before heading back to the parking area. The Gondola ride downwards, thankfully, was not as bad as earlier. We reached the ticket counter in less than an hour. What we witnessed there was a complete nightmare. There were almost a thousand people (I am not joking / exaggerating) standing in the queue to get into the Gondola. We were very lucky (and probably smart too!) to have come here really early.

Had lunch at a tiny restaurant on the way downhill from Gulmarg, which offered brilliant views of the mountain. The drive from Gulmarg to Sonamarg was about 125 kms and took us around 4 hours, the roads throughout were very good. We crossed Srinagar at around 4.30 pm across the old parts of the city where were interesting. Tanked up outside Srinagar on NH1D.

The drive to Sonamarg was very peaceful and scenic with the Sindh river flowing alongside the road for almost all of the Srinagar to Sonamarg stretch. We stopped quite a few times on the way to enjoy the wind and the scenery. We reached Sonamarg at around 7 pm and drove through the small town to find a hotel, at the end (near the truck terminal / parking area) we found a camp nestled between the mountains and alongside the flowing river. We got a tent for Rs. 1,000 a night. It was clean and well maintained with attached toilets, really loved the setup (it was only a couple of years old) and the owner. We chatted a bit with the owner to try and figure out the timings for the passage to Zoji La the next day. He indicated that the military generally allows cars to pass post noon. The camp gave us another benefit, it was located after the check post of Sonamarg town where generally all the cars going towards Kargil are stopped and there is a huge queue. Staying at the camp meant that we bypassed this at least. We planned a visit to the glacier point in the morning instead of waiting at the camp the next morning.

Shortly thereafter, it started raining and temperature fell drastically. We asked for an additional set of blankets after having dinner and tucked ourselves under those for the night.

Gulmarg in pictures...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140608_071742.jpg

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Sonamarg in pictures...

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140608_163150.jpg

Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140608_170630.jpg

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Short note on popular tourist destinations in Kashmir (excluding Ladakh)
At all the places – Pahalgam, Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonamarg, we were a bit put off by the guides / pony operators / snow gear renters / skiers trying to persuade you, as they just don’t let you enjoy your time at the tourist locations and keep harassing. The worst was in Gulmarg where they went to the extent of lying that tourists are not allowed to roam around without official guides / skiers. This makes the whole experience unpleasant to some extent as one has to haggle his way out of these as soon as he reaches the tourist spot.

The Kashmir destinations in the order of our liking were – Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Gulmarg and then Srinagar. We would like to go back to Pahalgam and Sonamarg again for a relaxed holiday for a few days at least.
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Old 9th July 2014, 10:37   #8
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Mod note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogue section. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 9th July 2014, 11:00   #9
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Default re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

nik.agr:

Very well written travelog. In fact, I fully echo your views about how the local tourist guides hassle the tourists.
Looking forward to the account of the trip from Sonamarg onwards.
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Old 9th July 2014, 11:06   #10
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Default Re: LADAKH Self Drive Road Trip – A Beginner’s 'Views'

Quote:
Originally Posted by nik.agr View Post
Vehicle: Mahindra XUV 5OO W8 (2013)
Nice travelogue, nik.agr. My XUV 500 will be visiting Ladakh this September. So, here are my few questions:

1. How was the performance of your XUV 500 during the trip especially at passes/stream-crossings like Zojila, Changla, Rohtang pass, Ranhi nala, etc.?

2. How many times your XUV 500 bottom-scraped in the entire trip?

3. Did the engine oil level come down significantly necessitating topping up, if so, how much of oil consumed?

4. Did you take any precautions like adding some diesel additives/covering bonnet in the night to prevent gelling of diesel at extremely cold conditions?

5. Did you face any other problem in your XUV 500?

I will be thankful if you could clarify my lingering doubts.

Last edited by J.Ravi : 9th July 2014 at 11:10.
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Old 9th July 2014, 11:29   #11
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Default Re: LADAKH Self Drive Road Trip – A Beginner’s 'Views'

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Ravi View Post
Nice travelogue, nik.agr. My XUV 500 will be visiting Ladakh this September. So, here are my few questions:

1. How was the performance of your XUV 500 during the trip especially at passes/stream-crossings like Zojila, Changla, Rohtang pass, Ranhi nala, etc.?
The performance was very good. The effieciency went down a bit on passes, which was expected. I you are able to control the car at steep climbs, there would be no problems.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Ravi View Post
2. How many times your XUV 500 bottom-scraped in the entire trip?
Since, I was not used to driving in terrains and such bad roads, the bottom-scrapped a number of times initially. The frequency started going down as I got more used to driving on such roads. However, on the Leh-Manali route, the bottom got scraped multiple times and some of the 'clips' of the car's engine guard came off and one side of the guard hung, touching the road. This was easily fixed at a local garage at Keylong.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Ravi View Post
3. Did the engine oil level come down significantly necessitating topping up, if so, how much of oil consumed?
I had topped up the engine oil just before leaving. I don't think the engine oil level came down much during the trip, as the car was sent to the service station to fix the engine guard issue properly, some other small repairs and for a check up. The service station did not top up the engine oil.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Ravi View Post
4. Did you take any precautions like adding some diesel additives/covering bonnet in the night to prevent gelling of diesel at extremely cold conditions?
Even i was worried about such potential issues before the trip. I checked about this with the Srinagar service station and they said nothing should be required. And that was true, there was no such issue even in Sonamarg and Pangong (where it got extremely cold in the night). The car started at the first key turn as usual

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.Ravi View Post
5. Did you face any other problem in your XUV 500?
Apart from the engine guard issue mentioned above following were some other issues I faced, nothing major or anything to be worried about:
- almost all of the mud flaps' fitting was off, they were refitted on return
- the car's information system used to keep flagging a 'Bonnet Open' warning towards the last 4-5 days of the trip, the service station fixed this issue on return
- the alignment of the left exhaust tip was off because of which it used to knock against the car's body and make a sound in every bad patch, this was refitted by the service station on return
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Old 9th July 2014, 14:04   #12
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Default Re: LADAKH Self Drive Road Trip – A Beginner’s 'Views'

Thanks a lot for the super prompt and detailed clarifications, nik.agr. I will be taking Srinagar route for both up and down journey. So, my XUV 500 will be spared of many bottom-scrapings and physical stress and strain!

Quote:
Originally Posted by nik.agr View Post
there was no such issue even in Sonamarg and Pangong (where it got extremely cold in the night). The car started at the first key turn as usual
This was my worst worry. Now, I am mentally relieved.

Quote:
almost all of the mud flaps' fitting was off, they were refitted on return
My erstwhile Linea lost all the 4 mudflaps during my first Ladakh trip in September 2011 and got replaced with new ones at Srinagar in the return journey.
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Old 9th July 2014, 15:49   #13
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Default Re: Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective

Nice photos. Also many thanks for the write up about issues faced. Since you went up via Kargil and back down via Manali, I wanted to ask you which route is better ?
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Old 9th July 2014, 16:36   #14
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Originally Posted by NNair View Post
Nice photos. Also many thanks for the write up about issues faced. Since you went up via Kargil and back down via Manali, I wanted to ask you which route is better ?
The Srinagar-Leh route is much easier in terms of roads but the Manali-Leh route is much more scenic.
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Old 10th July 2014, 16:55   #15
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9 June 2014 (Monday)
Drive: Sonamarg to Kargil
Start time: 2.30 pm
Roads / NHs / SHs taken: NH1D
Average Speed: 29 kmph (only driving time)
Odo reading: 2,930 kms

After spending the morning at the glaciers of Sonamarg we decided to try if we can pass towards Zoji La. We crossed a number of vehicles parked near dhabas / restaurants in the town, waiting to cross over to Zoji La. After the checkpost in Sonamarg, there is a road block near the truck parking bay (and the camp we stayed at). At around noon, we came to the road block following a local taxi car which seemed to pass the roadblock as the guard there was not very attentive, we too followed in joy, which did not last for long. After this roadblock, we saw a few more camps alongside the road. It would be a good idea to stay at these camps instead of staying at Sonamarg, as you get to beat the queue naturally.

After another few kms, we saw another road block near some snow on the road side. There were 8-10 vehicles parked here already. There were a lot of local guys with sledges here trying to sell some entertainment rides here. Most of the people waiting here looked like they had come from Sonamarg and returned after spending some time. Another guy was selling snacks and hot maggi here at exorbitant prices (obviously). This became a kind of a picnic spot for the time we had to wait here. Many waiting drivers started washing their cars from the snow melted water flowing across the road and I too followed suit. While talking to the policeman at the roadblock, we figured out that vehicles will are allowed to pass after 3 pm everyday as a rule. We suddenly heard a thud nearby and to our shock, we saw a sledge that had landed on the wind shield of a swift parked on the road side, smashing it completely. Then there was chaos and quarrel between the car owner and the sledge guys. Very unfortunate for the car owner, they had no other option but to return to Srinagar to get this fixed.

After an hour and a half, we saw a couple of cars passing the roadblock. We too followed them to find another one after a few kms. Here there were a lot many cars and a number of bikers waiting. This was a much more scenic location though. We clicked a few pictures and had some food. This was the first time in our trip when we actually used some of the food that we had stocked up for the trip. After another 45 mins or so, just around 3 pm, the road block was cleared and we could suddenly here the peaceful place roaring with the sound of engines, as if a race was about to be flagged off.

Everyone was driving in a straight line even though the roads were a bit wider, only bikes overtaked the cars, which was good. The roads started getting narrower. About 10 kms before the Zoji La top, tar disappeared and the road turned muddy, rocky and had many water puddles. The road also started turning sharply and steeply upwards. We could see BRO men and vehicles at various points on this road, they would have cleared the road for traffic to pass. About 5 kms before the top, the traffic came to a halt as a landslide had blocked a portion of the road. We could see a BRO boulder trying to clear the path from a distance. After about half an hour, the traffic started moving again. We saw quite a few places where debris from apparent landslides was lying. I started getting a bit nervous as the ascents started becoming steeper as we were driving in a row, one car behind the other, bumper-to-bumper. We saw a couple of Swifts stopping multiples times on the ascents and hair pin turns on ascents. The road worsened, became narrower and the size of the puddles increased as we moved upwards. Even our car stopped a couple of times, as I was not used to pulling the car up on such steep slopes.

We reached the top at around 4.30 pm, the roads at the top were much better and had paver blocks. There was a lot of slush here, but nothing to worry about. We stopped just before the Zoji La milestone for a quick photo session near some snow walls. As we moved forward, we saw a huge crowd near the Zoji La signboards / milestone taking pictures; we took a couple of pictures from the car and moved on. By now, we had bypassed almost all the tourist traffic. We started the descent, the roads on this side were in much better shape. The ride down was not very painful. Given that there is only one way traffic at the Zoji La at any given point in time, the driver does not have to worry about oncoming traffic at all. This is a huge relief (you will know when you read about the other passes, later on). We saw a lot of snow here, and since we were so close to the snow peaks (that we only saw from a distance before this), we were extremely thrilled.

Near Drass, we stopped at a checkpost and made an entry there. Post this checkpost, we saw a group of 3 guys (seemed local) asking for a lift. We obliged, as we too were going to Kargil. The drive to Kargil from Drass is very good (especially after Zoji La) and beautiful too. We cruised at an overage speed of around 60 kmph. We reached Kargil around 7 pm and started looking for place to spend the night. After checking a couple of them, we settled for one, which charged us Rs. 1,500 for the night. We were actually a bit worried that we may not get a place to stay in Kargil, but after reaching there we realized that there are a lot of options available. We went for a drive into the town before having dinner at our hotel. Post dinner, we happily went to sleep – we had successfully crossed the most difficult stretch of the Srinagar-Leh highway (according to what we had read before leaving).

Srinagar to Kargil is about 200 kms and can be easily done on the same day. Just try to get ahead in the queue; it would save a lot of time. We specifically wanted to stay over and explore a bit of Sonamarg, hence we came in the previous evening. Also we were not too keen to stay in Srinagar as it did not please us too much. We realized that it was a better decision to stay at Sonamarg and that too in a camp, we just loved the place.

The day in pictures...

Just after the Sonamarg road block
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_114524.jpg

The first road block after Sonamarg
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_114912.jpg

The second roadblock after Sonamarg
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_134122.jpg

Near the second roadblock after Sonamarg
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_145232.jpg

A BRO boulder clearing the road after a land slide
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_154746.jpg

The road after clearing
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_161740.jpg

A view of the steep ascents and sharp turns on the way up to Zoji La
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_162228.jpg

The muddy puddles, the road was like this for almost 4-5 kms before the top
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_162630.jpg

As we approached the top, it was snow all around
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_163052.jpg

Pools of slush and melted snow near the top
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_163406.jpg

Just before the top signboard
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_163914.jpg

The Zoji La top
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_164356.jpg

Snow walls just after the top
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_164520.jpg

While descending
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_165656.jpg

Near Drass
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_170926.jpg

Near Drass
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_170954.jpg

Between Drass and Kargil, the whole stretch is like this
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_181054.jpg

Between Drass and Kargil
Ladakh Roadtrip in the XUV500 – A Beginner’s perspective-img_20140609_183344.jpg
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