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Old 22nd May 2013, 17:00   #16
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Pangong - Marsimik La excursions

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-pangong_marsimik1.jpg

There are some - "Because its there" places.
Marsimik La is one such place. Its the highest pass you can visit.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-pangong_marsimik.jpg

Its the one true 4x4 must have pass. Yes, I know of local drivers who have taken their 2WD scorpios up there. But the cost was broken coil spring, plus other major damage.

For a slightly entertaining account of the Pass, please see (Post 82)

Now coming to the details.
Marsimik La is a very high pass, which acts as a gateway into the Aksai Chin region. For the tourist, this pass is not a route to anywhere. With a permit, you must go to the top and come back.
Most do the pass for adventure, however, the route to this pass offers much more.
Right at the start of the journey, you will witness landscapes rarely seen anywhere alse.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-tan14l.jpg
The track starts rising slowly, and after around four kms, it gets steeper and steeper. On many sections the track is banked towards the valley side, and you have to give constant steering input to not go cartwheeling down
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_0529l.jpg

After this its mayhem zone. Most of the vehicles which do this track are army 4x4 stallions, creating deep ruts. Keeping one wheel in each rut will rip the undersides of your SUV unless you have over 300mm of GC. So its one wheel on the rut.

Due to rocky surface, you will get a fair amount of wheelspin, and there is a good chance of tire damage. This is where 2WD SUVs suffer damage because to negotiate the terrain they need speed. A 4x4 with low range allows you to gently crawl. But even with over 200mm at our disposal, we weren't able to avoid underbody hits.

The second problem here is the dust, and the altitude. You are constantly above 5000mts above sea level, and climbing at a sharp rate. This means, there is not enough air to cool your engine.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_0548l.jpg

We suffered a minor overheating issue and had to stop and cool down for a few minutes.
And this means another problem. At close to 5500, every breath is an effort.

Finally you reach the top after huffing and puffing.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_0538l.jpg
Now people have a mixed reaction at the top. Our reaction was "Whats the point".

Nevertheless, if you are thirsty for adventure, this is the pass to attempt. Nothing else will test your vehicle to the limits than this short stretch. As a bonus, you will get sightings of Mormots, Kiang, and the Himalayan Rat. Don't know the proper name though.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6582_lrl.jpg

Last edited by tsk1979 : 28th May 2013 at 21:49.
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Old 23rd May 2013, 17:29   #17
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Hanle Nidar(Nyoma) via Kyun Tso

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-hanle_kyun.jpg

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-kyun_tso.jpg

In this land of high passes, as we have seen before, many magical routes with unreal lakes exist. However, few of these come close to the Kyun Tso system.
Two lakes, one Salty, one Fresh on either side of the track.
Five thousand meters above sea level, where you don't expect any life, grass grows defiantly, and many migratory birds make this high plain their home.
the tough nature of the track, and the fact that its off the tourist radar means that you won't have much company for your route.

Nevertheless, a visit to Hanle is incomplete without this route.
Kyun Tso's can be visited as a 3 hour one way day trip from Hanle, or from Nidar village (near Nyoma, taking around 2.5 hours one way).
However, to truly enjoy the landscape, its best to start from Hanle, and reach Nidar in around 5-6 hours.

Our Journey starts from Hanle, and proceeds southwards behind the Observatory hill. Behind Hanle lies the village of Punguk. Though a small village, this has a satellite phone(PCO) and a small school.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_3751l.jpg

The short ride to Punguk will take 10 minutes only.

At the end of the village, is a closed gate. Open it, drive beyond, and do not forget to close it. The gate is there to prevent kiang from entering private grazing grounds, and also to prevent animals from straying.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-p1000203l.jpg
After the gate the change in landscape is stark. Green gives way to all brown, and you are driving on what is effectively an ancient river bed. If the monsoons are generous, water flows in these streams. Being a river bed means that the track is not constant. The track will go where the mountain wants it to go. Be prepared for offroad action on this route
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_3754l.jpg
Look back and you will see the Hanle Observatory, perched high above
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-p1000197l.jpg

When dry, even 2WD with high GC is good enough, otherwise, 4x4 is a must, esp to negotiate the points where the track criss crosses across the streams

This area is rich in Kiang, and you can see herds grazing on the tiny grass patches

The Himalyan rat can also be found here. You will spot many specimens coming out for a look as you pass by their tunnels.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6582_lrl.jpg

For two hours you negotiate the river bed, and then it gets better. Do not be alarmed by the mountains of goat droppings on the way
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6583_lrl.jpg

These are precious commodity, and locals use them for heating in winter. Being strong insulators, they are also used to line flooring to keep the room warmer during the winter when temperatures dip to -50 degree C

As you cross this region, you are at 5000mts above sea level. We started from 4100mts and slowly but steadily without crossing any pass, its above 5000. Five thousand meters is a game changer. The only time you have witness such altitude is during pass crossings, staying at this altitude for minutes at a time. But here, you are constant driving in rarified air. Both you and your vehicle are stressed, and therefore its important that this trip be attempted only if you have spent atleast 4-5 nights at 3500+. Therefore, doing Kyun Tso at the end of your trip is important.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6588_lrl.jpg
As you climb a small hill, what greets you will leave your mouth open. The track forks into two parts here, left going to Chumur, and on the right flank likes one of the most beautiful lakes on Earth. The Kyun Tso. The lake is partially frozen even in June.

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-p1000204l.jpg
Park your vehicle to on the side, and slowly walk to the lake. Do not attempt to take vehicle near lake as the soil is marshy, and if you get stuck, help may not come for days!
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_3772l.jpg
The hill opposite the lake offers great views.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6605_lrl.jpg

However, the journey has not ended. What lies ahead will take your breath away again. If you have climbed the hill, you will see another lovely lake, the Kyun Tso II. This is a fresh water lake, and is very different from its bigger brother.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dsc_dsc_6618_lrl.jpg

From here I would advise you to quickly move ahead. Spending too much time above 5000mts is not advisable.

The road ahead is bumpy but very scenic
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_3782l.jpg

And then you start climbing again. This is a smallish pass, called Thit Zarbo La. On the ascent you will see both the Kyun Tso's together. And its a sight which will remain with you forever.

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-p1000221l.jpg

From Thit Zarbo la its a sharp descent to Nidar village, few kms from the road and indus at Nyoma.
The village has wheat farming in the month of september, but before June its deserted.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_0957l.jpg

A short run and you are at the indus bridge near Nyoma
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_0960l.jpg

As you meet the main road, take a right and you will go to Nyoma. Nyoma is just few kms to the right, and visible from this bridge.
Left goes to Mahe and Leh

Hanle,Loma,Nyoma enough

Last edited by tsk1979 : 28th May 2013 at 22:25.
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Old 24th May 2013, 12:03   #18
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Leh-Hanu-Dha Kargil

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-leh_dha_kargil.jpg

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-dha.jpg

Where there is a tourist, there is a trap. And nothing could be more elaborate than the legend of Dha-Hanu. Insolated villages, isolated from the world, home to the one true Aryans.
So much so that there are legends of women from Europe coming here to get pregnant so that they can give birth to a Pure Aryan child.
The thing with internet is that, tell a lie frequently enough, and with enough conviction, and it becomes a truth. And this is the story of Dha Hanu.
Before this region was opened to foreigners, the people of Dha-Hanu did not know they were pure Aryans. Infact, even though they were different from Ladakhis they did not consider themselves to be special. And the reason for this is simple. Before the borders and nations and countries, the Baltis, the Yarkandis etc., all came to ladakh, and many settled there. If you every travel to Baltistan, you will see similar features of people of dha Hanu. Well that is expected, because their ancestors came from Baltistan region(this is now under Pakistan).

However, their uniquness in the region resulted in the legend being born, and this legend is being milked. Unfortunately, there is no need of this legend. If you are a culture guy, this region offers you a glimpse into history. You get to witness what was set in motion centuries back when people from central Asia, the Baltis, the Yarkandis, and even some Turkish, central Asian traders came to this region.

The custom of the people of Dha Hanu are very different from what you see in all of Ladakh. If you want to attend their festivals, you will have to brave the frigid octoboer, because thats the season of festivals.

As for us, our journey starts from Leh, and goes on till police checkpost at Khalste. Here we must part ways from the main highway, and proceed towards Hanu. Hanu is about 50kms from here, and on a paved but bumpy road it takes around 2 hours.

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1078l.jpg
About 12 kms after Hanu comes the walk route to Dha. Its easy to miss this. There is no landmark. However, if you reach a bridge with a roaring waterfall, go back a km, and park your car there. There are steps leading up
The waterfall is among the most beautiful you will see in the region. At the bridge the army checkpost will also check your permits
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1079l.jpg

A walk up the path along lush green fields brings you to Dha
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1093l.jpg

a view of the trek route
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Locals are happy to pose. The legend brings them tourists and a means of a better livelihood.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1101l.jpg

The walk up and down takes an hour at most.
Proceeding further on the route takes you to Batailik turnoff. you have to go towards Kargil if you do not have Batailik permits (Kargil DC office issues them).
Around 22kms after Kargil is the only pass of the route, the Hamboting La.
At 13280 feet its slightly lower than the Fotu La.
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1102l.jpg

From here its a fast 33kms to Kargil, offering amazing views, esp around sunset
Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-img_1107l.jpg


Dha - Home Stays

Last edited by tsk1979 : 28th May 2013 at 15:23.
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Old 24th May 2013, 16:09   #19
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Suru and Zanskar - The Glacier Express

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-suru_zanskar.jpg

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-kargilrangdum.jpg

Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide-ragdumpadum.jpg

People, esp the mountaineers, and those involved in defense or administrative positions often talk about the Depsang Plains, the Karakorams, and how at every turn majestic glaciers come down on the very road itself. Unfortunately, such wonders lie in the disputed regions, in no mans lands and most of us will never get a chance to witness those wonders. However, fret not, for tucked in a very big corner is a land of wonders. And the most wondrous thing about this land is that no permits or permissions are needed.
For you and me, this is the ultimate glacier highway, with every turn giving you a glimpse of a lofty peak, and some turns... well have glaciers coming down to the very road itself.
Whether its the the massive Brankta/Kangriz glacier which drops right onto the road at Parakchik, or the long and windy Durang Durung which wows travelers at the Pensi La or the numerous little and big glaciers which come into view at every curve.
And if you have had enough of them, do not worry, massive peaks like Nun and Kun will fill your view, and most who come here wonder.... is this real.
Such is the charm of this paradise on earth, that among the residents of the Alps, who are themselves no strangers to the mountains, this region is the most favoured trekking destination.

That said, the condition of the road is inversely proportional to the scenery, which is a roundabout way of saying there is no road. Though some have done this route in hatches and sedans, its best advised to have a high GC vehicle, for often the surface deteriorates to something resembling the surface of the moon.

Our journey to this wonderland starts from the town of Kargil. We proceed southwards from the town, along the Suru river.
In the month of October, the vegetation turns yellow, and the riot of colors is very similar to the Arctic Ruska

As the road progresses, villages become less frequent, however the road surface is a delight. Its smooth and there are few "mountain" sections. That said, the road is gradually rising.
Forty kms ahead of Kargil is the town of Sankoo. It takes an hour or little more to reach here. This town is one of the few places on the route where you will get food. A side road from this town branches to Umba La, connecting you directly to Drass. However, the road is very bad, and the section of prone to frequent landslides.

Anyways, we proceed forward, and reach the town of Panikhar. These 25kms in the heart of Suru valley are what give you the best views of the mountains. You catch the magnificent Nun and Kun, and at places the valley opens up to reveal large flood planes.

The Views

At Panikhar, things take a dramatic turn. First and foremost the road vanishes. In October 2012 there was frantic road construction activity happening, and aim is to tar the road all the way to Rangdum. However, when and if, are the big questions.

Second dramatic thing which happens is the change in scenery. The valley narrows, and the road starts approaching the river. The surface gets worse and worse.
Parakchik village is about 20kms ahead of Panikhar, and immediately after the village, you get a sight which will make you stop, and really wonder. The dirty Parakchik glacier, which is actually Branktan+Kangriz comes right upto the road itself, separated from you by just the narrow river. To view something so powerful and majestic at such close quarters is a humbling experience. And then to think that twenty years from now it may no longer exist is equally depressing.

This is one of the most dramatic sections of the journey. As you leave the glacier, you will find that as a driver you cannot afford to enjoy the scenery. The road is a collection of rocks, simply waiting to rip open your tires, or the sump guard. To your left rise lofty cliffs, with constant thread of natures missiles raining down. Till a couple of years ago, lot of rock mining used to happen here. The activity still happens, but is less now. This contributes to the road condition in a big way.

As you exit this section, the road opens up again, and paradise is back. You can relax. But the 10kms from the glacier to this point are really bad.
Many stop here for a picnic. A nice spot, isn't it?

But wait. 20.5kms from the Parakchik Glacier likes a spot which many ignore. In their hurry to reach Padum, people forget that the journey is a destination.
34.060072N 76.200790E - Yes this is the location of another majestic glacier, almost invisible from the road. But if you climb up to your left, a wonder reveals itself.

A glacier, hidden behind a small hill. We tried to cross the river to get a better view, but could not find a crossing.

This spot is not just lovely because of its glaciers. As the valley widens, marshes are formed, and here you can find ducks and geese, which have flown from as far as the north pole, on their way down south to escape the winter.

This indeed, is the most beautiful section of the trip. If you visit in Autumn, the yellow grass will make it all look like a middle earth movie set.

In sheer beauty, the suru valley here surpasses anything you would have seen in Ladakh. Having seen the Alps, as well as this region, I can safely say, that every second peak here can make the former seem like ant hills. Lack of human settlement in large numbers means this beauty is untouched.

As we proceed further, the landscape gets better, and more wild. Every jagged mountain calls a challenge. Climb if you dare.

As we approach the town of Rangdum, the valley fully widens. This is the end of Suru valley. Ahead of us lies a pass which will drop us into Zanskar. But first, its time for Rangdum. Rangdum with its dhabas and a JKTDC "hotel" is a popular lunch spot.
And to add, the views of Rangdum are the most magnificent in the region

This is the Alpine paradise

Randum also has a Gompa, which like most Gompas is perched on a hill. The hill is not small, but the big mountain makes it look tiny

By now, we have been on the road for around six hours. With brisk pace this distance from Kargil to Rangdum can be done in 5 hours. But if you did this in 5 hours, you have not done it at all.
Though rangdum is only 120 odd kms from Kargil, even maintaining 20kmph is a big achievement.

If the journey is your destination, I recommend 9-10 hours from Kargil to Randum, for there will be many diversions, many river banks, and small treks which will hold your fancy. Rangdum is the perfect night halt, I must say!

After randum, the road is just a track which was formed as vehicles came and went. A local at Padum once told me, that in the 1990s, you could not do this route in anything but a tractor or a truck. The potholes would swallow even the jeeps and MUVs.

Shortly after Randum, starts the climb to Pensi La. The views are as dramatic as ever!

And right near the Pass, like the twin lakes Stat Tso and Lang Tso

This is an ideal picnic spot, and fortunately, you won't find three or thirty idiots here. Just tranquility

More glaciers reveal themselves

you will also find glacial streams. Do you have a water bottle. Fill her up please!
Pensi La

But nothing prepares you for what appears at the down slop of the pass.
The Durang Durung.This glacier is something nobody forgets. I am ready to visit Zanskar every year just to get a glimpse of this wondrous site. Do not confine yourself to the road. Climb the hill, for those who rise get the best views.

For almost the entire descend, the Durang Durung keeps you company. We are in Zanskar valley now, and the landscape is dramatic.
Padum is mere 3-4 hours away now.

And the glaciers and peaks keep coming

Sometimes, wolves also show their face.

The river you are going along is "Stod", which will eventually merge with Zanskar. So technically, its Stod valley I guess

Padum, however, is sort of an anti-climax. If monasteries are your thing, many monasteries lie here. Otherwise, there is little to do.
An excursion around Padum is the Shiela Fall, the site of a village which was wiped by an avalanche many decades ago. The new settlement now sites below the fall

You can also admire the blue Zanskar

IF you are out for adventure, you can go to the end of the road towards Leh from Zanskar. BRO is working on a direct route from Nimmu(confluence near Leh) to Padum. They say the road will be done in 2017.

Another route from Darcha(Near Jispa) to Padum is also in the works, though it may take a decade since many lofty passes block the way.

For around Padum, here are a few pics with GPS location.

1. Hill overlooking Padum
33.455898N 76.870137E

2. Plantation
33.457188N 76.881490E

3. Burdun Gompa

4. Sheila fall from the road

Of course, there is a lot more to explore. Every track, every road goes somewhere. There are passes hidden between the mountains everywhere. Padum is a wonderland, and if you are a trekker, its best go go in an organized group, esp for long treks like the 7 day Lamayuru to Padum Trek


Sankoo - Guest Houses
Panikhar - Guest Houses,JKTDC
Parakchik - JKTDC
Rangdum - JKTDC + home stay
Padum - Hotels, Guest houses, JKTDC, Home Stays

No permits required. A police checkpost few kms before Padum has a register where you enter your name and details.

Last edited by tsk1979 : 28th May 2013 at 15:33.
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Old 27th May 2013, 14:54   #20
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Vehicle, and list of Items

Choice of Vehicle

A question often asked is, what kind of vehicle you need to get to Leh. Do you need a 4x4? Can a hatchback do the route?
Such questions often leads to debates with somebody saying, you need a SUV/MUV with high GC. People pitch in with "I did this route in XYZ hatch with 160mm of GC... The list goes on.
As we all know people do this route on bicycles and motorbikes too.

So what vehicle? This is the question

The answer is not easy. Infact there is no answer. Over five years ago, the route to Leh, esp Manali Leh highway was very tough. Morey plains was an endless sand trap which turned into a slush pocket if it rained even lightly. Numerous water crossings were actually small rivers.
Over the years, the route has been tamed to a large degree. This tameness is best seen on the Sringar Leh route, which can now be done in "most" small cars.

If you are a first timer, I would suggest taking this route in your small car, as the chance of success is high.

So what about Zanskar and Manali Leh highway. Again, no easy answer. Depending upon the mood of the mountain on that particular day, your car won't make it, will make it without issues, or will make it after some damage. It all depends upon the immediate ground conditions.

As a ground rule, if you are making your trip before end of July, there is high probability of damage to a small car on both Zanskar and Manali Leh stretches.

In the months of August and September, barring Rohtang pass, the highway is relatively easy. A point of trouble is the Killing Sarai river crossing. Due to bridge breaking every now and then, it involves wading through a river with almost 2 feet of wading depth with round stones. Even a high GC MUV can get stuck. Something like a XUV with a low air intake(located below LHS headlight can get into a sticky situation if the driver is not careful.

So its all your judgement, based on actual ground reports. In the month of October 2012, we reached Killing Sarai before 10am. Its a time when the river flow is at its lowest. A Scorpio got water in the engine, as the 2WD dug in at an angle. A pure case of bad luck.
The Wagon R following us decided to abandon the trip, as water level was almost 2 feet high.

Barely few days earlier, the bridge was okay, and small cars could do this route with ease.

So nothing is certain. However, a word of advice. If you think water can enter your air intake, ask a trucker for help. If you are confident that nothing will tear your sump(no large stones in path), shut of your engine, and ask any truck to tow you. they may be reluctant, but for as little as 100rs as incentive(many would do it free though), they will pull you through. Just plug the exhaust and in neutral with engine off let the truck pull you. But extremely risky if there are big rocks on the path.

Secondly, your small car may not have a sump guard. In this case, do not even attempt this route. All it needs is a small sharp stone flying and hitting something critical. Sump guards for most cars can be easily fabricated and fitted. Even a hard plastic sheet will do. It will allow you to slowly scrape the underbody over high rocks without worrying about the engine sump.

As far as Zanskar is concerned, I would say do not attempt in a small car. People have done it, but if route deteriorates, you are in trouble, as traffic is very thin, and help may be days away. Our 4x4 safari got stuck in a rocky stretch, as the loose stones slipped and moved to create a deep rut. Rocking back and fourth in 4L was needed to get out. If we had been a 2WD vehicle, we would have needed a tow. the next vehicle was saw on this road was hours later.
A small car would have simply given up.

So to summarize
High GC 4x2 MUV/SUV - Easy route, may have trouble in June/July or in some sections like Kaksang La, Agham Shyok, or Pangong Banks.

4x4 - No issues

Small car - Srinagar Leh preferred. Try Manali leh only after July to be on the safe side. Always carry a sturdy tow rope. Make sure a sump guard(even if plastic) exists.

Vehicle Health check and preparation
  1. Service done
    1. New engine oil
    2. Clean/new air Filter
    3. Clean/new diesel, petrol and oil filters
    4. Check glow plugs for diesel engine. Actual inspection to make sure all work
    5. If possible, clean out diesel/petrol tank for debris. Low quality fuel will add a lot anyways
    6. No cracked drive etc., belts. Sharp variation in temperature over a short time can snap the weakest links in chain
    7. No hoses should have even hairline cracks. These tend to expand and grow due to sudden pressure/temperature differential changes. Low air pressure (600mbar as opposed to 1000mbar) puts additional stress on pressurized systems
    8. Clutch in top shape. Conditions can hasten demise of a clutch which is on its last legs.
    9. New brake pads. Fast downhill sections are plenty, and eat pads even if you use engine braking wherever possible
    10. Inspect critical systems like power steering, spark plugs, etc.,
    11. Get greasing done wherever applicable(hubs, propeller shaft etc.,)
  2. Suspension inspection done
    1. All bushes in top notch shape
    2. Engine mounts proper
    3. No leaking shockers
  3. Tires
    1. Adequate tread depth
    2. No cuts or nicks, and not too many existing punctures
    3. No low profile "performance tires"
  4. Cooling system
    1. No leaks in system, not even minor evaporative
    2. Engine temperature not exceeding "recommended parameters" in city traffic with AC on - You may need to drive with an OBD-II scanner for this
    3. Proper coolant-water ratio used. No "just water" in radiator.
  5. Body
    1. Window runners(rubber) in proper shape
    2. No missing screws or fasteners in bumper, cladding etc.,
    3. All lights working
    4. Wiper proper with no streaking
  6. Other
    1. AC system in top condition
    2. If pollen filter etc., in system, make sure its clean
    3. Make sure recirculation control is not faulty. Dust in cabin can be a major annoyance and a health risk
    4. Window demister working
    5. Install sump guard if not fitted or broken

The highway is extremely dusty, no matter which route. So once you reach Leh, clean your air filter. If there is no workshop for your vehicle, remove air filter and get it cleaned from a big Carwash near the Leh Airport. Ask anyone for directions. This is a must do. Doing this will keep your engine healthy.
If you are in a diesel vehicle, remember, cold starting, esp at altitude can be troublesome. A tarp covering the engine bay like this can allow a quick start next morning
The Tarp is to be placed such that there is no heat loss from the front grill. At night before sleeping, keep engine on for 10-15 minutes to get to atleast 50-60% of max operating temperature (temp guage at 1/4th or so). With tarp in front, this can quickly happen with just 10 minutes of idling even at sub zero. This will ensure trouble free start for the next 8 hours or so.

If your vehicle does not start(esp for diesels) do not panic. First check whether you can prime the manual diesel pump. If diesel is not flowing freely, push car in sun, and give multiple cranks while priming the pump. Eventually it will start.

Cold weather can also cause starter motor solenoid to get stuck. If engine does not turn on cranking, first rule out a dead battery. After that put vehicle in gear, rock back and forth using 2-3 people for the job. And then crank again.

If you observe slight coolant loss, do not worry. Happens in some vehicles which have overflow tank instead of a de-gassing chamber. Simply top up with required ratio of coolant-water. Some high pass climbs can lead to coolant spray from overflow tank. Its normal

  1. Personal Use
    1. Tents/Sleeping bags if you want to camp
    2. Portable oxygen(for emergencies)
    3. Medical kit - Consult doctor
      1. Fever (eg crocin)
      2. Headache (eg disprin)
      3. Stomach trouble antibiotics etc.,
      4. Motion sickness medicine
      5. First Aid Kit - Found in new vehicles.
      6. Pain spray
      7. Pain medicine
      8. Sprain bandages
    4. Ready to eat food (cup noodles, MTR etc.,)
    5. 10 liter water carrying capacity. Always try to fill up water from tap wherever safe, avoid buying "bottled water"
    6. Sun screen (SPF 40+)
    7. Toiletry and hand sanitizer
  2. Clothing and shoes
    1. Summer(May-August) - Be equipped for upto -5. Heavy waterproof jacket and jeans. Thermals not necessary but good to have. Carry woolen socks if you intend to walk around a lot, esp after sunset, or around sunrise. For shoes sport shoes can be good enough, but leather casual shoes with thick sole enough, example Addidas outdoor series. All weather trail running shoes by Asics or Quechua arpenaz series.
    2. Autumn - Be equipped for upto -10 - Down jacket, or feather filled jacket. These jackets often weight 3kg. Dress in layers. Thermal+Short+light sweater+Jacket. If day temp rises, you can get rid of layers one by one. Thick jeans with woolen socks, and add a thermal if you still fee cold. For shoes carry mountaineering or trekking shoes. Casual or riding shoes may not be very comfortable. Example are Woodlands, Quechua Forclaz 500,600, Salomon trekking footwear
    3. Winter - Special equipment like mountaineering jackets. You have to be dressed for Arctic conditions. Even thick jackets are not enough outdoors. Layering can help, but its best to have a specialized mountaineering jacket and thermals. Shoes should have insulating soles. They are usually sold has "Glacier trekking", Skiing, etc., footwear. Brands like Quechua, Salamon, sell these in India. These are costly (6000+). Many local trekking shops also sell shoes for ice trekkers. If you are on a budget, look for Army surplus stores, but these shoes are very heavy
  3. Car use
    1. Shovel
    2. Tow ropes
    3. Air compressor
    4. Puncture repair kit
    5. Chargers and cables for the same (DC-AC good to have)
    6. Spare bulbs (Atleast 2)
    7. Air filter
    8. Fuel filter, oil filter
    9. Tarp cover for engine bay if needed
    10. 50% in volume of required fluids(Brake oil, power steering fliud, engine oil). For example, if your car takes 4L, carry atleast 2L
    11. 3 liters concentrated coolant (Can be mixed with water)
    12. Digital multimeter
    13. Full toolkit with spanner kit for all nuts, and * or + screw driver
    14. Jump start cables
    15. Jerrycans (Depending upon your circuit)
    16. Portable torch, and one work light (emergency light)
May to September are the best seasons to Camp. Some forest designated areas are off limits, so ask around.
If you intend to Cap in October-April, temperatures can fall below -10, so a proper sleeping bag with a comfort rating of -10 degree C is needed.
Tent should be waterproof with multiple layers.
Due to low ground temperature, always use a camping mat under your sleeping bag.
Camp in open spaces, and ravines can get rockfall due to animal movement. Even a small rock falling from 200 meters above can kill
Try not to camp near rivers, because water levels can suddenly change, especially in summer.
Items to carry
  1. Sleeping bag - 5 C for May-Sept, -10C April,October -20C comfort Nov-Mar
  2. Tent - Waterproof all season tent with peg provision. Winds can get fast
  3. Camping mat with thick insulation layer
  4. Fleece blanket to supplement sleeping bag

Navigational Aids

Smartphone with GPS chip will do. There will not be any network coverage in many areas, but you can pre-download google maps. Ladakh region is well mapped in Openstreetmap. So applications like NavFree, OSMAND,Navit do fine. Just download India map beforehand (100MB). GPS fix may take time as there is no network connection to download A-GPS assist data. After first fix its all fine.

Due to less number of bifurcations, navigation is easy as there are one one or two tracks going here or there.

Last edited by tsk1979 : 29th May 2013 at 12:49.
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Old 27th May 2013, 16:02   #21
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Have a safe trip!

So that brings us to the end of this Guide.


Q. What are the seasons, and what can I expect

November - April - This is winter. Road routes into Leh are closed. Be prepared for snwofall, and low temperatures (-30 possible). Tourist rush is minimal From Nov-Feb many hotels and guest houses are closed. In March April many open up, and you have lot of choice

May-June - Low season. Roads have just opened. Easily get accommodation. Snowfall at passes possible with heavy falls blocking road for few hours. Temp can go down to freezing on some segments after a snow shower. Passes have snow-walls. Manali Leh highway is quite white at the passes

July-August - Peak season - Snow has mostly melted. Passes may still get light snowfall. Minimum temperature seldom falls below 5 degrees

September-October - Low season - Little snow or rain. Roads are best. Temperatures can go down to -10, most guest houses open and bargaining is easy with low rates. color of Autumn become visible.

Q. I am a newbie when it comes to mountain driving etc., when should I go

First half of September. Good weather, low tourist rush, and roads in better condition

Q. What if my Vehicle has a breakdown

If you are near Leh, get your vehicle to Leh. Even if there is no Authorized service center, things like Hose pipes, simply connectors, fuel tank cleaning can be done. In case of service light, or check engine light, its best to carry an OBD-II device. Sometimes, overheating can cause check engine light. In that case minor radiator leaks can be fixed. For Maruti, Toyota and Mahindra, there are well equipped service centers. Tata has an Authorized service center in Leh, but they sometimes do not have even simple stuff like Air filter or coolant.

If you are far from leh, look for a big BRO camp. They have workshops with trained tech's and stuff like hose pipe repacement, radiator patching, minor suspension fixing can easily be done there. Gypsies can be fully repaired at their camps or Army camps

That said, if something tricky like a sensor or ECU fails, you have to truck your car to the plains. No way out.

Q. I am feeling unwell

Could be AMS. Could be stomach upset, or plain old fever as immunity drops. Look at the map for your nearest health facility. Ask the locals and they will guide you. Leh is very well equipped, on par with cities and complex surgeries have also been performed there. Other towns like Tangste, Padum, Nyoma, Diskit have hospitals with oxygen availability. Army camps have oxygen facility, and if its AMS, you can turn to them for help, as every camp has medical corps.

Q. I feel like off roading

Good. Enjoy it, but responsibly. Vegetation gets very little chance to grow here. So do not go Gung Ho anywhere. Dry sandy hills devoid of any plants or grass will provide enough opportunity. In the month of October as the Grass dies, more slops and meadows may seem accessible, but take it easy, and do not dig out stuff. Try to limit yourself to streams and vegetation devoid areas.
Popular spots you can try your hand at
- You can try shortcuts(visible tracks) on Manali Leh or Sringar Leh highway
- Near Magnetic hill, slopes provide interesting opportunity
- Hemis national park has dry rocky tracks
- Hunder Dunes
- Sand banks of Pangong and other lakes
- Kyun Tso area has some difficult tracks too, you can take them instead of the easy obvious track
- Near Rangdum rocky river bed is a nice to offroad, though only for experienced offroaders
- 1km after Tanglang La a very steep downhill shortcut can help you hone your No ABC crawl skill. But if you lose it, its a 200 meter tumble down

Q. I am lost with GPS, Smartphone etc., what do I do?

Read this ->

Q. Acute Mountain Sickness - What all I need to know

The basic principle is simple. As you gain altitude, oxygen drops with the dropping air pressure. Human bodies do what they do best. "ADAPT". When your rate of ascent exceeds your rate of adaptation, you get unwell. If you go too high too soon, it can result in serious conditions, and many have died even at seemingly tame altitudes of 4000m or so. If you take precautions, all you will feel is a mild headache.
NIH has a wealth of information on AMS.
Wikipedia :

Ascend slowly, do not exert too much during initial days, and drink plenty of water. This will work for 99% of the people. If you want to go the medication way, make sure you consult a doctor before taking popular drugs like "Diamox".
Srinagar Leh highway, being lower, means lower chance of hitting AMS.
If you are doing Manali Leh highway, make sure you sleep at Jispa instead of Sarchu. Sleeping at Sarchu in the beginning of your trip can lead to complications.
Another precaution you can take is not linger for too long at the Passes. Just spend 5 minutes at the top, and then cross over.

Q. Will my mobile Work? How do I stay connected to my Family?

Post paid mobiles work in Leh city. Idea, Airtel,Aircel postpaid are working. Even BSNL postpaid works in Leh. Outside city limits, however, BSNL works in major centers like Tangste, Nyoma, Diskit. That said, many times you may get mobile signal, but unable to make any call. This is due to sketchy connectivity. So if you are outside the city of Leh, the best way to connect is use a satellite phone PCO. Most villages of Leh have satellite connectivity, and you can ask around for location of DSPT. As per my knowledge DSPT is located at
On road between Tangste-Pangong(Lukung)
1km north of Lukung Towards Phobran
Merak Village
Chushul Village
Hanle Observatory (5rs/minute)
Punguk (1km from Hanle)

Rates are usually 2-3rs/minute depending upon mood of the operator.
IF you have a BSNL mobile phone, then along with the DSPT booths, you can connect with family multiple times a day

Q. How much fuel will I need

Fuel efficiency in the region is about 10% less than normal city traffic conditions. For example, Tata Safari 4x4 gives around 10.5kmpl in city like Delhi. In Leh expect 9-9.5kmpl. Small cars which average 15kmpl on diesel will give 12-13kmpl. Petrol hatches will give around 10-11kmpl. Always carry 10% extra. For diesels, fuel is available in jerrycans from shopkeepers, but quality can be a hit or miss.
So check the segments you are doing, and then add up the kms, and then take 10% than your need.

Q. What is this Rohtang Pass permit

Rohtang Pass crossing from Manali side by a vehicle bearing non HP number plates required a permit. This is issued by SDM office in Manali on working days. If you are staying the night in Manali, you can ask your hotel for it. Normally, travel agents charge around 200rs to get this permit(but if you go yourself its free). This permit is not needed for vehicles crossing over from Lahaul side. This is needed only if you are going from Manali side

Q. I have decided to take my small car and I want to see Manali Leh highway too. What now

If you have decided, go via Srinagar Leh route. The night before your return, go to old bus stand, and locate HP numbered Taxis(many come there every night). Ask them about road status, and if any deep water crossings and broken bridges are present. Then you can take a call

Last edited by tsk1979 : 14th June 2013 at 17:14.
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Old 31st May 2013, 10:24   #22
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to Routes & Queries. Thanks for sharing!

Rates thread a fully deserved 5 stars
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Old 31st May 2013, 10:30   #23
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

spectacular guide Tanveer, it high time to write a book over it.
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Old 31st May 2013, 11:10   #24
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Many thanks Tanveer for this much awaited guide. Cheers!


Since the old thread is closed, I'm putting my response here. I tried contacting you, but not able to PM you. Your profile details also do not let me see any email ID etc at which I can contact you. I'll be finalising the plan tomorrow and will share, in the meantime it would be good if you can update your profile and add contact details.
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Old 31st May 2013, 12:09   #25
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Awesome guide for first timers or wannabe's like myself. Rated the thread well deserved 5star. Man you have covered almost every detail, route and answered almost every question one may ask.

Just a small question, how bad is altitude sickness, can kids/infants do it?

This will be a great help in planning my trip next year. Thanks again!
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Old 31st May 2013, 12:40   #26
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Originally Posted by stormerider View Post
Awesome guide for first timers or wannabe's like myself. Rated the thread well deserved 5star. Man you have covered almost every detail, route and answered almost every question one may ask.

Just a small question, how bad is altitude sickness, can kids/infants do it?

This will be a great help in planning my trip next year. Thanks again!
Lots of kids visit Leh, and a friend of mine took their 2 year old daughter to Leh on a motorbike.
The key is gradual ascent. If you are flying into leh with kids make sure you spend 3 nights there. the problem with kids is asking them not to exert, which is more difficult than building a tunnel under Rohtang Pass.
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Old 31st May 2013, 12:46   #27
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Gets my 5 star vote. Excellent composition, perfectly detailed without being excessively lengthy. Thanks for posting this Tanveer!

I plan to leave for Himalayas within a week, and guess what, this guide covers almost all the routes i plan to do this time. Though i had already planned the route details and everything before you posted this, but this guide still will be great help for me.

I plan to cover 3 areas this time-
1. Zanskar
2. The Lakes
3. Spiti Valley

My preferred route would be to go via Spiti, explore spiti and get out via Kunzum La and head straight to Leh. But Kunzum is not open yet, ground sources on BCMT suggest it might open by 11th June but nothing is certain with these passes.

For Plan B, i am inclined to go via Manali, just because this route just opened and the route is almost virgin till now with good amount Snow and Slush at places. The only deterrent is the Manali permit system, i do not want to waste a day in Manali just to source the permit. Then i will have to plan a night halt near Jispa, in my 2007 trip we took the halt directly at Sarchu and we felt uncomfortable for next few days.

Srinagar route appeals to me because of the comfortable acclimatization. If go through this route, we can cover Zanskar before the other regions.

Our chariot for this trip will be my XUV 500 AWD, the vehicle is yet to go through an early preventive maintenance service. For all the kms XUV has spent with me(6000kms in last few months), it has proved to be reliable, and by now i know the vehicle pretty well.
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Old 31st May 2013, 12:48   #28
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Our kid is due in July, hence dropped out this year, if I get to do it next year, I guess you will be quoting us from next time. Kidding.
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Old 31st May 2013, 13:42   #29
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide

Originally Posted by .anshuman View Post
Srinagar route appeals to me because of the comfortable acclimatization. If go through this route, we can cover Zanskar before the other regions. .
Since you are leaving before Amarnath Yatra start, Sringar route will not have many traffic issues till Srinagar Area.
However, regular tourist rush will be high.
but I would still suggest this route, because the Zanskar glaciers will be fully white at this time of the year. Tourists would have started trickling in, and you can really see a different Zanskar.
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Old 31st May 2013, 13:48   #30
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Re: Leh, Ladakh and Zanskar - The Ultimate Guide


The post deserves 5 star rating, very well presented and informative.

Is it possible to provide pointers to contact details for places to stay.
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