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Old 16th August 2015, 19:38   #1
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Arrow Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi

Visit to Jammu and Kashmir has been in bucket list since a long time. Each time a plan to visit J&K came up it was dropped due to political unrest and security concerns.

However, during college days few of my friends who are from J&K insisted that things are not as bad as it is portrayed to be. Also since past decade or so, in general situation has improved all around. This gave enough confidence to plan a trip. However, thanks to getting into a corporate job and settling down it never got any active consideration.

Fast forward to 2008, I came across TBHP while searching for some other location and became a frequent visitor there after. Going through travelogues of Leh experts - RKBharath, tsk1979, Laluks, Hvk among others gave an idea of driving down to Leh from Bangalore, to where I had relocated by then.

The drive was planned to take place in Aug 2010. Unfortunately, as with any trip which involves lots of planning, things did not materialize. During later years, due to work and personal commitments it was not possible to plan the trip.

June 2015

One of my college friends, who is currently located in Dubai calls up and informs he will be coming on vacation for a week in Aug 2015. He suggested we do a guys only trip to Leh.

Now, Leh has always been a self drive location for me. Idea of flying down to Leh did not excite me much. However, for driving down from Bangalore it may require at least two weeks leave. My manager had an expression as if I asked for his kidney when I mentioned about 1 week leave, getting two weeks was out of question. I came to know from a TBHPian who wanted to remain anonymous, about a self drive trip he took to Leh and back in just 11 days. Since it was a first trip to Leh for all of us, we did not want to rush the trip. Also, we did not have appetite for a similar marathon drive.


So, we thought of the next best option. To fly down to Delhi and rent a car. Zoom cars were the preferred option and would work out cheaper too than renting multiple cabs in Srinagar and Leh. However, my friends were bit apprehensive on driving around ghats in a car which in which they were not familiar with. Hence we dropped the plan for taking a self drive car. On hindsight it was a good thing to do, due to ongoing agitation against self drive cars in Leh.

Next option was to take flight to either Srinagar or Leh. Since we wanted to see Srinagar - Leh highway and also visit Kargil war memorial we decided to take our onward flight till Srinagar.

This will help us in keeping flight ticket cost less, since flights to Leh is considerably expensive than those to Srinagar. Also, this will help in us better acclimatization when we reach Leh.

Return flight was booked direct from Leh. This means we save couple of days, won't be backtracking the same route and also will save us from any blockades of NH 1 due political or natural reasons.

As mentioned above, driving to Leh was and is a dream. However, if not going in flight this year too trip was not going to materialize. Hence with mixed emotions I book flight tickets.

Onward journey - 31 July from Bangalore to Srinagar via Delhi.
Return journey - 09 Aug from Leh to Bangalore via Delhi.


Along with the TBHP stalwarts mentioned above I would like to thank our defense forces. Without them, these places may have long belonged to our neighbouring countries by now.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3604.jpg

Last edited by mpksuhas : 17th August 2015 at 11:27.
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Old 16th August 2015, 19:58   #2
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Default Day1

31 July

We have the evening Air Asia flight from Bangalore to Delhi. We take the airport shuttle bus and reach airport in record time (for those from Bangalore, Bellandur - Airport in 1.20 mins).

The flight reach Delhi around 10.30 PM at Delhi's new terminal 3. This is my first visit to T3 and was left impressed. However, our flight to Srinagar is only on next day morning from the older terminal 1 from which all other domestic services operate.

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We take the airport shuttle to T1 from T3. Once reaching T1, we catch sleep till boarding starts next day morning.


1 AUG Srinagar

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Morning sun saw us cruising above mountains near Srinagar. We reach Srinagar by 07.30 AM and take a pre-paid taxi towards Nigeen lake where we have houseboat booked.

Nigeen lake is considered less crowded and cleaner than the more famous Dal lake. However on the downside this is bit far off from the major tourist locations of Srinagar.

Nigeen lake

A quick bath and breakfast and we are ready by around 09.30. Our local sight seeing and also drive to Leh is planned in an Innova booked via our college friend who is currently working in Srinagar.

We had two different drivers Srinagar sightseeing and Leh drive. Both of them were superb drivers and cars very well maintained. I am not quoting the rates offered to us since it was via reference. However, for Innova usual rates for Srinagar - Leh with a stop over at Kargil is in range of Rs. 18000. This increases to above 20K during peak time.


Our cab arrives by 09.30 and we start off for Srinagar sight seeing. Our first stop is Shalimar gardens.

Shalimar gardens

Location

Road around Dal lake

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Garden entry

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Compared to gardens in other Indian tourist locations all gardens in Srinagar are better maintained and cleaner.

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There is a clean public restroom inside the garden.


We are back outside the garden in around 40 mins, enroute we stop over at Jamal carpets nearby for shopping for woolens. They are one of the reputed shops in Srinagar.

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Once done we head towards Nishant Gardens.


Nishant Gardens

Location


Located with Dal lake on one side against backdrop of tall mountains, the gardens look beautiful.

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By time we completed viewing the garden, it started drizzling. We decide to head for lunch. We had read good reviews about two restaurants - Shamiyana and Stream, both located next to each other.

Based on suggestion from our cab driver, we head to Shamiyana resturant.

Location

Restaurants are located on Boulevard road near Dal lake. We order a bunch of non vegetarian dishes and found them all good.

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Dal lake

By time we complete lunch, rains have stopped. We decide to take a stroll around Dal lake and also take a Shikara ride.

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We negotiate rate with a Shikara rider, who agrees to take us around Dal for
Rs. 500 per hour.


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There is a floating market in the lake, where you can purchase anything from postage stamps to medicines.

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Shankaracharya Temple

Location
Shikara ride over, we head to Shankaracharya Temple. Located on hillside next to Dal lake, you get panaromic view of Srinagar from the temple.

However, sadly cameras are not allowed inside the temple. We spend some time around the temple and then head towards Pari Mahal


Pari Mahal

Location

Located on another hillock, overlooking Srinagar golf course and Dal lake this is a great place to enjoy sunset.

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It does not take more than 20 mins to see around Pari Mahal. Once it is done we return towards Srinagar town with a stop at Chashme Shahi gardens.



Chashme Shahi gardens

Location

Garden is located enroute from Dal lake to Pari Mahal. Compared to other gardens this is smaller in size. May since we had gone to bigger gardens first, we were not much impressed with Chashme Shahi.

Garden entry

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We are back in taxi within 15 minutes and start off towards Hazartbal Shrine.


Dargah Sharif

Location

Located next to Dal Lake this shrine is of immense religious importance. There is sufficient parking space next to the entry. Do note that you need to remove your foot wear for entering the shrine.


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Once we are done visiting the shrine, we head back to town for meeting few of our friends who are currently settled in Srinagar. By the time we reach back to houseboat it is late in night.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 25th August 2015 at 15:42.
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Old 17th August 2015, 23:34   #3
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Default Day 2

02 AUG Srinagar - Sonamarg - Kargil

Our plan for today is to start towards Leh. We plan to do this in two days, as per our plan we intend to stay at Kargil for the night and then head to Leh tomorrow.

Distance from Srinagar to Leh is around 420 KM's and there are taxis which will do this in one day. However, with a travel time of around 15 hours and night drives over ghat roads this is not a prefered option.

Also, you will end up missing the sights enroute and also will be hard pressed on time to stop at any of the tourist locations enroute.

We are up and ready by around 05.30 AM. Overnight rains are continuing till morning and we are worried if Zozila pass, which was closed for past couple of days will again get closed.


Till the taxi driver arrives, we enjoy view of the lake from houseboat.

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Taxi driver arrives by 06:30 AM, and the rains which had stopped for a while starts again.

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However, some half hour drive out of Srinagar rains stop. Also, we get word from other taxi drivers that Zozila is open and there are no rains towards the top.

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We noticed lots of security personnel at each hamlet we crossed.

Also, noticed this kind of 'chanda' guys, couple of places our taxi driver stopped. However, at many he just drove on without bothering even to slow down.

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Roads till Sonamarg is good and we reach Sonamarg by 08:45 AM and stopped for breakfast.


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Sonamag is a small town along the road. It has a JK tourism run hotel overlooking the glacier.

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There are lots of shops which sell goods which can be helpful for onward drive. We saw shops selling rain coats, boots, cans which can be used to fill fuel. We purchased boots anticipating rains and slush around Leh, we have a plan of renting bikes in Leh.

By time all this is done and we start it is 09.40 AM. Just outside Sonamarg is a huge truck parking area. Trucks headed towards Kargil is stopped over here till afternoon when they are allowed uphill due to one-way restrictions.

Earlier there was similar restrictions for cars too, however the same is not followed now and this route till Leh is open 24 hours either way for cars.


Soon after this truck parking we encounter a huge traffic pile up due to a car getting stuck in mud.

The section where car got stuck

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The slush was caused due to a landslide which happened couple of days back.

It takes another one hour by the time car is pulled out by army crane and road cleared.

Once past this roads are in descent condition, though not surfaced.

We pass tents used by Amarnath pilgrims, the cave is around 14 KMs walk from this place.


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Roads

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Do note that the roads look very treacherous in pictures than in real.

One question I have seen in many forums is if low clearance vehicles can take this road. I don't think it is required to have an SUV to clear this road.

Behind us there was an Hyundai I20 which was doing this route without any issue, also saw few Omni's, Alto's and M800.

However, you should be careful on taking rough sections in any low clearance vehicle. Also, if any landslide causes tough sections like the slush in above pic, it can be tricky for you. Else, as a rule it is NOT required to have an SUV.

More than SUV what you need is a cool head and common sense, since some sections of roads are narrow. Hence if any army convoy or truck comes from opposite direction you need to wait in a wider area allowing the trucks to pass.


Soon we reach Zozi la.

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We cross Zozila war memorial constructed in memory of those who laid down their lives in India - Pak war of 1947. Pak army had advanced till Zozi La before they were beaten back.

Battle of Zozila was in record books for usage of army tanks at highest altitude till then.

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Scenery changes dramatically after Zozila.

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Soon after we reach near Drass, you are required to enter vehicle details here. Since ours was a taxi, only driver and vehicle details were required. It was not required to enter our details.

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Last edited by mpksuhas : 20th August 2015 at 18:06.
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Old 19th August 2015, 22:45   #4
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Default Day 2 ctd

Day 2 ctd

Drass - Kargil

Surroundings are strikingly beautiful, the sky suddenly seems to have taken a more vibrant blue.

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We see Drass village at a distance

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However, while we were enjoying this beauty we come across this wall. Though not in use now, this wall was used a shield for vehicles traveling on NH1 to protect them from Pakistani firing.

Till Kargil war in 1999 and the fragile ceasefire after that, enemy used to fire at vehicles driving through the NH without provocation.

Our driver, who as a kid used to travel along with uncle during that period recollect that they used to drive in night with lights switched off so that they are not noticed.

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Soon, we see this tall hill which was identified as Tiger hill by our driver. All those who had watched Kargil war on TV would vividly remember this hill.

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Our cab driver stops roadside to clean the vehicle from a stream. In meanwhile we notice this abused tyre or what is left of it. Shockingly, it had come over there for a puncture repair

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We reach Drass town soon after and stop for lunch. There are only couple of small restaurants here. Also, since most of the tourists arrive at town at almost same time the road was getting blocked.

Since we had heard good reviews about canteen in Kargil war memorial we decide to try our luck there. Bad decision as we would find out later.

Drass is a small village, it has an SBI ATM in case you are looking for money.


Kargil war memorial

Location

Though named as Kargil war memorial, build in memory of those who laid down life in Kargil war of 1999, the memorial is located in Drass and not Kargil.

Around 12 KM's past Drass we reach the gates of memorial, which is located next to the highway.

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Strangely there is a dress code for visiting the memorial. Shorts and slippers are not allowed.

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We decide to have lunch at cafeteria along with the memorial. Unfortunately there was only idly and noodles available. We ordered both, while noodles was OK, idly was really bad and we were not able to have the same.

There is an SBI ATM inside the memorial campus.

Pakistani bunkers which were captured during war

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Behind the memorial is Tololing mountain which was a field for deadly battle during war.

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There is a golden plaque below the flag which has names of all martyrs of Kargil war.

Some names still takes us back to the battle 16 years back

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There is a room next to the flagpost which has photos, news paper cuttings and letters related to war.

An army man explains the sequence of events to visitors at regular intervals. It takes us around an hour to see around the place.

We start off towards Kargil, roads continue to remain good.

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Enroute we notice a landslide happening at opposite hill

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We reach Kargil by time it was getting dark. Kargil has few hotels, we came to across the more recently opened one named Zojila residency.

Zojila residency

Location

We negotiate a room for Rs 2800 for three persons, as per our taxi driver this hotel is owned by same person as Hotel D'Zojila further down the road.

View from hotel room

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Hotel has a decent restaurant, we get to bed early so as to start early tomorrow.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 24th August 2015 at 15:01.
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Old 20th August 2015, 18:05   #5
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Default Day 3

03 AUG - Kargil - Leh

We start around 07:00 AM from hotel and stop at a road side dhaba soon after Kargil fuel depot for breakfast. It has been raining since early morning and we are worried if it will cause any landslide.

This section was closed couple of days back due to landslide, due to which roads are rough. The rains does not help either.

Also, we are worried about suffering from AMS. Hence we are regularly drinking water mixed with ORS.

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Rains travel with us till Mulbekh.


Mulbekh Buddha Statue

Location

Located next to the road is a 9 meter long Buddha statue.

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After a brief stop of around 15 minutes we start towards Leh.



Road condition improves dramatically as we cross Mulbekh. Also, rains stop and we are greeted by arid landscape.


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This vehicle reminds us of the danger of these roads

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All roads lead to Leh

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Due to loose soil, landslide is an ever present danger

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Just around Stakste we stop at army canteen, direction to which is marked few KM's ahead itself. After a break for having tea and momos we start off again.

The canteen also has an SBI ATM and clean restrooms.



Lamayuru

Location

Just before Lamayuru we are deviated to older highway (white line in map) due to landslide. The old road is narrow and soon we end up in a traffic jam which wastes our time.

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Lamayuru monastery


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Rocks around Lamayuru has a peculiar texture

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The famous moonscape

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Beautiful roads

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Soon after Lamayuru where road from Batalik joins NH1, there is a check post where our driver stops to enter the vehicle details.

In sometime we reach village of Khalsi where we stop to have lunch. There are couple of small restaurants here. Roads soon after Khalsi is bad, however within couple of KM's it becomes smooth again.


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Soon after Saspul we reach this section. I guess this is NH1's reply to Moore Plain's.

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And we go past Basgo Monastery

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Soon we reach the turn off towards Zanskar valley and reach near Confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar. We stop to have a view of the same and also white water rafting ongoing at river below.

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After a short break we proceed towards Magnetic hill.


Magnetic hill

Location


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3534.jpg

For those who still believes that there is any additional magnetic field which is causing vehicles to roll up the hill, all you need to do is just get out of the vehicle and notice the road.

Seated inside the vehicle you feel like the vehicle is rolling up, however if you stand next to the road and notice. You can find that the road slopes down towards backside of the vehicle.

In this pic taken by my friend you can see the road sloping down.

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That apart, this is a nice place to take a break. Straight road surrounded by mountains on all side.

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Short distance ahead of magnetic hill towards Leh is Pathar Sahib Gurudwara


Pathar Sahib Gurudwara

Location

Located next to road, we spend sometime enjoying twilight.

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Soon after starting from Gurudwara we get a glimpse of Leh city

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We proceed to fort road in Leh and negotiate a two bed room with an extra bed for Rs.2000 per night at Barath Guest house.

Since outside taxis are not allowed in Leh (more on that later), our taxi driver will have to return from here back to Srinagar. Luckily for him, he gets a customer from our hotel who wants a taxi to return to Srinagar tomorrow.

After spending sometime we walk towards main market for negotiating bike rental for tomorrow and also to have dinner.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 20th August 2015 at 23:38.
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Old 20th August 2015, 23:44   #6
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Default Day 4

04 AUG - Leh local

We had negotiated for bikes yesterday night. Our plan is to try the bikes for a day or two for Leh local sightseeing and based on climate and our comfort level take the bike to Kardung La and Nubra.

We decided to take 2 bikes since this will give rest to one person who can ride the bike taking breaks.

Based on online reviews we decide to contact rental agency called 'Ladakh bike rental', they had two offices in Leh. However, we came to know that as of now they operate from only one which is located near Leh main market almost opposite to Hotel Khangri.

We had met and discussed our requirements with Gurmat Namgail yesterday night. They had promised to get the bikes ready by 09:00 AM today, however past 11:00 AM too they are trying to fix issues on the bike.

It seems bikes which were supposed to return yesterday night did not arrive yet due to landslides at Kardung La and Pangong Pso. They promise to get our bikes changed in the evening when they expect other bikes to arrive.

Reluctantly we take the bikes and head towards Phyang Gompa.


Phyang Gompa

Location

Founded in 1515 AD, this is one of the oldest monasteries in Leh. We need to head back on the road towards Kargil and near entry to Leh town take a right to the monastery.

The roads are good all the way, however just around the monastery due to recent landslide there is a small rough patch.

Photography is not allowed in all building, we are given a guided tour by one of the resident monks.


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Work on a new monastery building is ongoing, we find the interiors of the same being painted.

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We head off to our next location.



Spituk Gompa

Location

Located next to Leh airport, this is a 11th century monastery.

I guess it would be a great sight to watch flights take off from the monastery against background of hills. Since we are visiting in afternoon there are no flights since airport close by noon.

Leh airport

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3563.jpg


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Monastery is on top of a hill, which is accessible by vehicles. However, from parking area you need to take around 60- 70 steps to reach other buildings. Though a small number, due to the altitude of Leh your breath becomes laboured by the time you take the steps.


We head off towards Hall of fame from the monastery.



Hall of fame

Location

This is located next to airport arrival terminal and we reach there within 10 of starting from monastery. Hall of fame is an army memorial which houses photographs and details of war and peacetime operations of army around Leh area. There is also a kids activity area which has low ropes and archery among others.


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3605.jpg


There is also a video show of around 15 minutes which explains the series of
events of Kargil war.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3581.jpg

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Spituk monastery as seen from hall of fame.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3582.jpg


It takes us around one hour to complete our visit, we head off towards Shanti Stupa quickly since it has started to get dark already.




Shanti Stupa

Location

This is a recent addition to Leh's list of Buddhist places of worship. It is possible to either drive up to the Stupa or walk up the steps. Access from Leh is via Changspa road, however since we are coming from Leh airport side we take the direct road.

Steps to the hill

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3610.jpg


View from the hill of Leh is superb.

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It has started to get dark, hence we head back to Leh.

We enquire with taxi drivers and couple of tourist agencies about the status of Pangong Pso and Nubra valley routes. To our disappointment we come to know that both the roads are closed.

On informing them to call us in case the roads open tomorrow we head for dinner.

Also, since we will not be needing bike the next day, we return the bikes to the rental agency.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 23rd August 2015 at 15:25.
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Default Day 5

05 AUG - Leh local continued

Our initial plan for Nubra valley and Pangong Pso was to have a 3 day circular route.

We planned to start from Leh early morning to Nubra valley, via Kardung La. Visit Panamik and then proceed towards Hundar after visiting Diskit enroute.

Our plan was to stay overnight on the first day at Hundar or if things were fine at Turtuk village.

On second day, we planned to proceed towards Pangong Pso via Wari La and stop at Tangste for the night.

On third day our plan was to start early to Pangong Pso, visit the lake and then return to Leh by night.

Due to landslides roads around Pangong Pso and Nubra valley was blocked since past two days. Also, everyone in Leh suggested us against taking the Wari La route since it was open only few days this season. So we decide to drop the three day circular route plan and instead visit Pangong Pso as a one day trip and Nubra as a two day separate trip.

Hence we check in the morning again regarding road status and come to know that it is still closed. Also, we came to know that Pangong Pso route may be opened by noon.

However if we take the risk of taking that route and even if it was open by noon, we may not be able to return to Leh by same day.

Nubra route is closed still.


With outside Leh plans dropped, we decided to spend time around Leh and also to do bit of shopping in afternoon.




Leh Palace

Location


Situated on a hill overlooking Leh town, the palace can be accessed via road or by walk. We decide to take the walking path.

The issue in going to palace by walk is that there is no proper marked route for the same. On enquiring about the route, we were informed to take the lane next to Juma Masjid in Leh market.

We proceed towards Juma masjid, Leh palace is visible on the right top.


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3619.jpg


On the right side of the mosque is an Axis bank ATM, just take the lane next to that and proceed.

After a walking around 200 meters we take a lane in general direction of the palace (left).

We reach another lane, this one is devoid of any shops and narrow. At certain locations there are small signboards written by locals mentioning the route to palace.

However, the route is not confusing since you can see palace always and you just need to proceed in that direction.


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3623.jpg


Recent rains have caused landslides here too.

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The climb up hill is moderately steep. However, thanks to rarefied air we are forced to take multiple breaks.

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Soon we reach the entry to the fort.

There is an entry ticket of Rs.5.

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Leh palace consists of 9 different levels, apart from a prayer room all other rooms are unoccupied. Also, the palace unlike other north Indian palaces is devoid of any extravagances. Also, like many older and smaller buildings in the area, palace is constructed with a combination of stone and mud walls and wooden roof.


Bed room

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3639.jpg


You get good view of Leh town from top of the palace

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Namgal Tsemo monastery, located further more top to the hill is visible. You need to walk up the hill from parking. Both parking and walkway is visible in the picture.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3643.jpg


We had initially planned of visiting Namgyal monastery also, however after the trek up till Leh palace we were not in a position to trek up to monastery also.

Hence we walk back towards Leh market to have a heavy lunch.


Before lunch we came to know that Pangong Pso route is open as of now, though taxi drivers are not ready to take the route yet due to fear of its closure again.

Nubra valley is cut off still.

We spend rest of the day roaming around in Leh.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 23rd August 2015 at 16:30.
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Default Day 6

06 AUG - Kardung La

There was talk yesterday night that Nubra route may be opened by today morning, hence we decide to try our luck. We start from Leh around 06:30 AM and head towards Kardung La.

Along with us there were couple of other taxis too, however no one was sure of the road conditions ahead.

Roads to Kardung La is mostly muddy. There were a group of 3 bikers ahead of us, while talking with them at South Pullu check post we came to know that they were riding down from Kerala.

The muddy terrain along with frost on the road were making it difficult for them. Traffic is very less, which makes it bit easier.


Clear skies gave us hope of open roads

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3658.jpg


South Pullu check post, you are required to enter vehicle details and also self declaration of all passengers along with ID proof.

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Unpaved roads start

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Valley below

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Unique sign boards seen in this route

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I guess Leh is a major market for TATA Aria. The top end taxi segment is dominated by Aria's.

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We encounter frost on road as we approach Kardung La

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And we reach Kardung La

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The ever present danger of AMS

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There is a army medical aid post along with few other buildings at the pass. I had seen a documentary on Discovery channel, where the presenter had to be administered oxygen due to preliminary symptoms of AMS while driving across Kardung La. He was attended to at this same medical post.

Along with the medical post there is a souvenir shop and a canteen, both of which were closed.

Road towards North side of Kardung La, which leads towards Nubra valley.

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An often repeated query about Leh routes is regarding the feasibility of taking hatches or low clearance vehicle in this route.

During our trip we encountered quite few hatches, both of tourists and also locals taking the roads with ease. We did not find any route which can not be done using the hatches or which required an SUV.

However, yes there are certain rough sections where if you are in a low ground clearance vehicle will have to be careful. Infact we were in an Innova during our Srinagar - Leh trip and it did quite fine.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3747.jpg


We check with the army personnel and also with few taxis coming from Nubra valley side regarding the road condition. We were informed that, due to landslide few bridges were damaged near Khalsar and it will take another couple of days to repair the same.

Hence we drop the plan of heading to Nubra and decide to turn back from Kardung La.

It is around 10:00 AM still, and due to early morning start we are getting hungry. Hence when we reach South Pullu check post we stop to have snacks from the tea shop there. As breakfast only bread and omelette was available, we decide to have omelette and head to Leh for a more elaborate option.

Here we meet a group of backpackers, they were enroute to Nubra however they were stopped at South Pullu since by now news of road closure has reached here.

Hearing their plight we considered ourselves lucky since we were able to visit Kardung La at least.

However, they were travelling in a shared cab. Which consisted of locals too, since police wanted to avoid a situation where tourists will be stuck at landslide area they allowed the vehicles to pass after asking all tourists to disembark. It seems the locals will trek through the area which is damaged by landslide (~3KMs is what we heard) and catch another vehicle from the other side.

Since we were only 3 people in a Xylo, we offered to drop 3 of them down at Leh. Remaining two of them from their group decided to wait for another vehicle.

During conversation with them, we came to know about a picnic spot near Spituk road next to Indus river. We had seen few advertisements regarding same place in Leh, so after their comment we decide to head to that place after reaching Leh.


On reaching Leh, we pay off our taxi guy and ask him to come the next day for our Pangong Pso trip. After a heavy brunch we decide to check out bicycle rentals. Our plan was to take the rental bicycle and head to the picnic spot.


After food, we get mountain bicycles for a rental of Rs.600 for half day. We roam around Leh city get a feel of the cycle. Its been years since any of us rode a cycle. After that we head to our room and decide to wait till sun is bit less harsh before we start.

We start around 03:30 PM from our room and head towards airport. The road from Leh to airport is downhill and we reach there without spending much time or energy.

From there we ride past the road towards Spituk Gompa and heard towards Spituk village. We enquire with few people regarding this place and they ask us to continue on the same road. However, few KM's past we see the road closed due to landslide and flash flood.

The whole road was submerged for around 200 meters or so, a truck which tried its luck in negotiating this has got stuck and now the road was closed. Since we were on cycles we decided to push the cycle through the shoulder of road where due to plant growth the mud was not that deep.

After great trouble and getting our shoes and cycles covered in mud we are able to cross the muddy section only to find out the picnic spot is closed since river is flowing high.

We take a break at a small bridge across the river near the picnic spot.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-img_20150806_160021369.jpg

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After which we cycle back to Leh by connecting to Leh - Manali highway. The route back is uphill and by time we reach hotel we are tired and sweating. On checking later, we made out that we had cycled for around 21 KM's.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 23rd August 2015 at 18:05.
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Default Day 7

07 AUG - Pangong Pso

We had booked the taxi driver who took us to Kardung La yesterday for today's Pangong Pso also. However, he calls up in the night and informs that his village is hit by landslide and he is heading home. He arranges another friend of his to come and take us for today's trip.

We start by 06:15 AM and reach Karu by 08:00 AM, we stop here for breakfast.

At Karu one needs to take left to Pangong Pso, the right fork goes to Sarchu/ Manali.

This is the landmark for taking the left to Pangong Pso

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3756.jpg


Karu has a police check post where you need to submit vehicle details and also self declaration form.

Also, along with the police check post there are couple of guys from forest department seated who collects Rs 20 per head (not sure, unable to recollect correctly) as entry charge for forest sanctuary entry.

Again, in Karu the Leh taxi mafia runs a parallel check post which is few meters before the deviation from Leh- Manali road. While we were having breakfast we saw them having an altercation with few Delhi registration bikers who were in bikes not in their name. More on this Leh taxi issue later.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3757.jpg

The famous mark of 'Z'

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3763.jpg

Roads remain good, however due to landslides and rain there is dirt over road. Though it is not an issue for cars, bikers would find it difficult in the same.

Soon we reach Chang La and stop for around 10 miniutes

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Two recent avalanches have left a mark on the hill

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There is a bit of bad patch around Chang La.

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However roads continue to remain good in general after Chang La too.

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We get view of Pangong Pso from a distance

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Soon we reach the army post at start of the lake.


We proceed towards Spangmik and stop near to lake.


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Sun is very harsh and we are hungry thanks to an early morning start. So decide to head back towards start of lake for having lunch.

There are quiet few restaurants and hotels here. We stop at a place which looked decent and had lunch.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3829.jpg


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All these tents have resturants in the backside. However, it is a shed at best and not suitable for ladies.

Later we noticed much better maintained restroom at the army post which is accessible for public. Though we did not use the same, it looked much better option than the ones along resturants.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3874.jpg


It was almost 02:00 PM by time we finish lunch. The onward trip to Pangong took us around 06:00 hours including break, since we wanted to reach Leh before getting dark we decide to start soon. Also, we were worried of rains in evening.


Return trip was uneventful till Chang La when it started to rain heavily and we encountered hailstorm.


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3895.jpg


Thankfully rain stops soon and we cross Chang La easily.

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Default Day 7 ctd

Chemrey Gompa

Location

Since past Karu roads are good, we decide to stop at Chemrey Gompa. We wanted to stop at Hemis Gompa too, however we dropped the plan since it was getting dark.


Chemrey Gompa is visible from road to Pangong.


Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3758.jpg


Monastery is bit off the main road

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Monastery was almost getting closed for the day, we spend sometime inside and start back. This is one of the biggest monasteries we had visited in Leh.


Saw this room outside the monasteries, it looked like an old toilet which is not in use. The hole in the floor overlooks the cliff.

Talk about a toilet with a view.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3903.jpg


It was getting dark and we head back to Leh.

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Default Day 8

08 Aug - Leh local - Extra day

This was an extra day we got since we were not able to plan our Nubra valley trip due to landslide.

We decide to just roam around Leh and also spend time catching up with each other.




Datun Sahib Gurudwara

Location

Located in the lane next to Juma masjid the tree next to this Gurudwara is said to be the first tree planted in Leh.


Juma masjid in Leh main market, Leh palace visible on the right and part of tree next to Gurudwara visible on left.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3916.jpg

Gurudwara

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Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3914.jpg

There is a new building constructed next to the tree. Compared to pics I had seen on internet taken few years back the tree is now encircled by building. Hope the constructions does not end up destroying the tree.


After lunch we roam around in Leh market

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3917.jpg




Zorawar Fort


Location

In evening we decide to head to Zorawar fort

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Default Day 9

09 AUG - Delhi

Today we bid goodbye to Leh. Our flight is at 05:00 AM from Leh to Delhi.

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3925.jpg


We had booked evening flight from Delhi to Bangalore. Our plan was to take the guided tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan. For those who are interested, since past two years it is possible for general public to visit Rashtrapati bhavan on weekends after making an online reservation.

We had deliberately taken a later flight planning of the same. However, when booking started two months in advance unfortunately booking for 09 Aug was blocked. We doubt it may be due to Independence day weekend coming soon after that or due to any state visit. Anyways, by then our flight tickets were already booked. So we decide to roam around Delhi in same time.

For those interested to take this visit, you can find the details here. Booking has to be done through this link.



Rajdhani Delhi

Delhi welcomes with heavy rain. Since my last visit to Delhi, I had heard about new metro line to airport opening. We take the metro from airport to New Delhi station and further to Central Secretariat.

Since rains has not stopped, we think of first visiting National museum till the rains stop.



National museum

Location

One of the main attractions of museum is relics of Buddha

Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi-suh_3939.jpg


It takes around 3 hours for us to roam around the museum.

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By the time we come out of museum, rains has stopped. We take a stroll around Rajpath.


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Once done, we proceed to Connaught place and have lunch from Saravana Bhavan. It is around 03:00 PM by now, so we take metro back to airport. Our flight is delayed by around 40 mins and it is past 09:00 PM when we reach Bangalore airport.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 24th August 2015 at 23:01.
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Default Epilogue

Stay options
  • Srinagar house boat - We had booked this through help-desk of Hivayking group, hence we got it in discounted rate. However, before our trip on checking the rates I had seen most houseboats which has good reviews on travel forums charges around Rs.3000 for two beds.Some of them have airport pick up also, that way you save around Rs. 500
  • Hotel Zojila Residency - Do bargain. Clean rooms and the biggest hotel in Kargil. 9419176249. Rs 2800 for two bed room with extra bed.
  • Bharat Guest house Leh - Unfortunately I lost the the contact details. Clean rooms, basic stay option. Got parking for two cars and few bikes. Rs 2000 for three two bed room plus extra bed
  • Hotel Khangri - We had checked this hotel also in Leh. Clean rooms, central location and parking space for cars. Rs 1800 for double bed room.



Bike rental
Based on reviews on various biker forums, these were the most recommended bike rental agencies
  • Ladakh bike rental, Changspa road. Contact Gurmat Namgail.
  • Apex Adventure. Paul house, Zangsti. Contact Rinchen.
  • Soma adventure. Contact Tsering Norboo.


Taxi rental
  • Our Srinagar sightseeing and Leh drop was by a taxi arranged by our acquaintance. Do let know if anyone needs the reference.
  • Taxi rentals in Leh is very expensive. Hotels quote from the Leh taxi associations rate chart, the rate mentioned in the document is inclusive of ~20 % commission to hotels / tour operators. Hence deal directly with taxi drivers, they will readily give discount of 20% on the rate sheet this way. Rate chart.
  • For sightseeing around Leh, you can take only Leh taxis. Taxis from Srinagar or Manali are blocked by Leh taxi union.
  • Travel agents in Leh have share taxi option, where you can join along with other travelers to a specific destination and share the taxi cost. You can find flyers of the same across Leh.


Leh restaurants
  • Two restaurants we frequented was Lamarayu (mostly Indian menu) and Gesmo (Continental menu). Both are located next to each other on Fort road. Location.



Route details


Documents required
  • Get multiple copies of self declaration form and vehicle and passengers ID proof. We were not asked to submit our ID copies anywhere, however we submitted self declaration forms at multiple checkposts. It is required to mention your ID proof details also in the form. Hence I guess they may ask for ID proof based on their convenience.

    Copy of self declaration form can be found in TBHPian lovecars21's travelogue. Link
    Even if you are planning of taking a taxi, do get few copies of the same. Taxi drives wont be having this form always, forcing you to buy from shops around.




Taxi mafia & issues non Leh taxis and self drive vehicles

This is much discussed in TBHP and else where. You can find the discussion thread related to the attack of vehicles by Leh taxi association here.

TBHPian Silverwood under Drive without borders have filed a case against this unfair rule, you can find the same here.

That apart, taxi rentals are very high in J&K and especially in Leh region. It can be attributed to the fact that the terrain is rough meaning more maintenance and lesser fuel economy. Also, due to frequent road blockages due to political and geographic reasons, cancellations of trips are high.

However, all these doesn't justify a militant approach towards non Leh taxi's. Worse, they have started blocking self drive vehicles from this year. So, if you are taking a self drive (Ex Zoom cars) you can drive till your hotel in Leh, park the vehicle for your entire stay and get a local taxi for roaming around Leh.

The issue is compounded by lack of action by administration against the taxi association. In fact, during our trip we saw association run parallel check posts few hundred meters ahead of South Pullu police check-post and just before Karu police check- post.

Even if you are driving / riding in a private (white board) vehicle, they stop you at these check-posts and ask you to prove that the vehicle is not rented. Things can get tricky if you have borrowed your friends vehicle or if the vehicle is in your parents/ spouses name and they are not accompanying you.

While we were on our way to Pangong Pso, we saw two bikers turned back after a heated argument since the bikes were not in their name.

The video of the association members attacking a vehicle is scary and annoying at the same time. We would have dropped the plan of Leh in case we had not booked our flights by then.



Health, Safety & Security concerns

Leh and surrounding areas are in general peaceful. Locals are helpful and ready to guide you in case of any concerns. We noticed that Leh has lots of solo female travelers, compared to other Indian tourist locations.

Due due geographical issues, there is a high probability of you getting stuck due to landslide or road blockages. Do carry warm clothes and food and water with you. Especially if you are in your own vehicle.

We met few foreigners who are in Leh for trekking, cycling expeditions. They were there for weeks together and did not complain of any hostilities or safety issues they encountered.

There are army camps at almost every nook and corner, you can approach them for any medical emergencies and road updates.

Always be careful about AMS. We were taking Diamox from the night we reached Srinagar till we came back from Kardung La. Dosage we were following was 250 mg / day. Along with this, we were sipping water at regular intervals. There were online forums which suggested drinking up to 8 liters of water, though I am not sure how feasible and recommended is that.

A draw back on drinking more water is that body tends to loose minerals along with urine. Over-hydration also has similar symptoms as AMS - Fatigue, nausea etc. To avoid this, it is suggested to have water mixed with ORS at regular intervals.

Another issue with drinking lots of water in cold climate is that you will be obviously require to urinate more often. However, restrooms are almost non existent in majority of routes. Where it is available, it is in very bad state. This will be an issue, more so for ladies.


Mobile network and data connection

Till last year, pre-paid mobile connections were banned in J&K. However, currently government has lifted the ban on the same for two years. BSNL has the widest coverage on highways, followed by Airtel.

However, landslides can disrupt mobile and data connections and you will be cut off from outside world. While we were in Leh, entire broadband connection in Leh was down for 5 days and mobile data network for BSNL was down for 3 days thanks to landslides.

If you plan to rely on Google maps, download the maps in your phone using offline maps feature before traveling. Also, note down multiple contact numbers. This way, if one operator network is down, you can try the other one.



Cash & ATM's

ATM's though understandably less in number is available throughout the Srinagar - Leh route. Leh has multiple ATM's, however you will find long queues in day time.

POS Card transactions are next to nil, couple of places we tried the same only to find the network not working. Hence carry sufficient cash for hotels, food and fuel.

Also, we found few currency notes which looked suspicious. Do check the same while doing any transactions.



Fuel bunks

Leh and Karu has fuel bunks. Apart from these, there are no working bunks in Nubra or Pangong Pso route. Also, seeing few bunks on Srinagar - Leh route, fuel quality is a concern. Plastic containers for fuel (not Jerry cans though), are available or rent for bikes and available for sale for cars in multiple shops at Leh.



Vehicle requirements

This is an often repeated query as I mentioned earlier. At-least for Srinagar - Leh, Kardung La & Pangong Pso route. It is NOT required to have an SUV or 4WD vehicle. Road gradient is not that high and the climb is gradual. There were few bad stretches which would require careful navigation if you are in a low clearance vehicle, however it is doable.

Going for this trip has increased my confidence in doing this route by myself sometime in future.


Places we were not able to visit
  • We didn't plan any locations outside Srinagar since we were there for only one day. If you are not short on days, you can plan Gulmarg & Pahalgam too.
  • We were not able to visit Nubra valley due to landslides. Places we missed were Turtuk, Hunder, Diskit & Panamik. Also, if you are able to get permission from army in Leh, you can visit Siachen base camp.
  • There are tour operators who conduct daily cycle trip to Kardung La, we wanted to try this but backed out due to AMS concerns. However, we met a couple who did this and they said it is very much doable.
    The tour operators will carry the bicycle to Kardung La top by pick up truck, you too will reach the top the same way. From there, you cycle back downhill to Leh. This will take around 2 hours and is mostly downhill. Hence there is only minimum exertion (hence no worry of AMS). However, one need to be careful with your speed or may end up in the valley.
  • White water rafting is conducted as a one day event from Leh. The most popular location is near Zanskar turn off from Leh - Kargil route. There are mostly three options with all operators based on the KM's covered. The package including pick up from Leh around 09:00 AM, lunch, rafting and drop back in Leh by around 04:00 PM cost in range of Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 based on the KM's you have selected. We dropped the plan since due to rains and landslide Indus was overflowing.



Is it worth it?

This was one of the most frequently asked question once I returned. To be frank, I do not have a straight forward answer to this. However, do note that the place is extremely beautiful.

The reason why I am saying about the value for money part is as follows. Our rough trip expense per head was around Rs. 45000 in-spite of the budget level hotels we stayed and dined in. Do note that this is after expenses were divided three ways.

Now, if you are doing this trip as a couple it would cost you above a lakh rupees, I would like to add that the place is worth that amount too. However, the issue is even after spending that much money and a years leave allotment you are not sure if you will be able to visit all the places thanks to political and geographic uncertainties. We were not able to visit Nubra valley, while we were in Leh, the city was cut off from Manali and Srinagar sides due to landslides. And worst, there were tourists who got stranded in Nubra for around 4 days.

Now, this uncertainty is part and parcel of traveling to a remote location. However my reasoning is, If you are not that adventurous type, with that money there are far too many options in India and outside where you can have a good time.

However, if you are one who got a dream of driving / riding in the Himalaya's, then there is no need for second thoughts.

In short, Leh can be called as an adventure destination and not a tourist location.


For me, I will not be taking flight down to Leh anymore. Drive? Yes, the dream of driving there in future is still very much alive.

Last edited by mpksuhas : 25th August 2015 at 15:57.
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Old 25th August 2015, 16:18   #14
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Default Re: Wanderlust Traveller: Srinagar and Leh in a taxi

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 25th August 2015, 21:03   #15
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Excellent. And just in time. I start on coming Sunday from Srinagar and plan to taxi it to Leh via Kargil and fly back.
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