Road trip to Leh in a decade-old Maruti Dzire: Covered 6300 km in total

Before this trip, I had thoughts of selling this car and buying a bigger one. But now I'm at peace with the vehicle.

BHPian unoczar recently shared this with other enthusiasts.


The idea for such an audacious trip was conceived about 10 years ago. Or more, I don't really remember.

This was the time when a certain juggernaut named Tanveer Singh was rolling all over the Himachal and much further north. Much further than a sane mind can imagine.

His white elephant and its tarp-covered front end still haunt me to this day, thinking about what would I do if I were in such a position. And we are not even talking about the camps he set up in the middle of nowhere and that too in temperatures where we could make igloos.

In 2014, I bought a new Royal Enfield Electra with the thought that I would ride it to the northmost road in India. Thoughts that remain only thoughts and never made their way into reality.

Currently, I own a Swift Dzire 2014 which has been a solid companion through numerous trips. Never did it give me any trouble. But still, the thought of taking this compact sedan to the unforgiving terrain of Ladakh never came to my mind.

I've been following the Ultimate Guide religiously and reading about Ladakh whenever I find free time. I've read uncountable travelogues of 2 wheelers and 4, YouTube videos - don't even ask!
Jump to 2022, I've seen enough travelogues with people doing the circuit in smaller cars to muster the strength to plan a trip and planning I have started. Somewhere I read, "The best car to do this trip is the car in your Garage". That was enough motivation for me.

If you're thinking that the trip is done, you're wrong. I'm still a month away from the start date and thought of starting this log anyway. Will it be this time?


Initially, the start date was August 27. It has now been pushed to September 16 owing to leaves and stuff.

Planning for the trip is currently on hold as we're yet to finalize the dates. I'm already worried as it would be colder when compared to the earlier dates.

This was what my initial itinerary looked like. This will be changed and it is currently WIP.


Everywhere I've read about this kind of trip - They all say one thing. Preparation! So with the limited resources I have, I've started the preparation. Mentally and theoretically, I've been preparing for this for years. But physically, the preparations started a few weeks ago.

Can one prepare enough for this kind of trip?


Exactly a month to go for the trip and today is an important day. Why? Today is the day I spoke to my manager at the office and got the leaves approved. It's a big step indeed. Now to speak to my kid's teacher (which wifey already did) about the days of our trip and the classes he might miss. He actually has an Autumn break in the second half of September which was also the reason for the postponement. Also, the wife has to finalize leaves at her office.

But, today the trip seems to be materializing and it has pumped in some excitement to the rather mundane days that are passing by currently. Wish I could go now, but wishes are wishes and reality is almost always different. It is this almost that keeps us going, doesn't it?


The trip almost died during the last few days cause my mother is not keeping well. I had almost made up my mind to cancel/postpone it AGAIN!

And suddenly a few days ago she says... Don't cancel your trip. It sounded like 'Jaa, jee le apni zindagi'. I was like, are you sure? And she said yes!

Yes! It might happen finally.

So, the day before yesterday I made a hotel booking for our day 1 of the trip. Hotel on NH44 bypass in Sagar, MP. I'm not making any other bookings due to the unpredictable nature of the trip. Everything will be done on the way.

Yesterday, got my car serviced. Engine oil replaced, oil filter replaced, fuel filter replaced, tyres checked, battery checked, lights checked, gear oil, brake oil checked, coolant top up. Other things were inspected and look good to go. Brake pads are at 90% and my mechanic friend says so we're good there too.

Air filter only cleaned. I'll put a new one in probably Srinagar or Leh.

So, final preparations left and off we go. Start date is fixed at 17 Sep. I'm a bit worried about all the rain around us. How's it gonna be in the hills? Time only will tell.

Finally the route plan is finalized just a week before the trip. Here it is:

This is something I've learned on this trip. YES! We finally did it!

The biggest doubt I had before the trip was that if my car would make it. Well, it did, kind of. I'll tell all about it in the log. If I say that we breezed through all the terrain, I would be lying. Even the Innovas and Scorpios were struggling, such is the challenge posed by the hills.

Let me quickly delve into penning down my experiences here - I would like to first write briefly about some things and then we'll get into the daily log. So please bear with me and I do apologise for the picture quality. The DSLR I took along for the trip - its battery gave up as soon as we reached Leh. So we used our good old smartphones for the clicking.

True that!

We experienced a lot of things on this trip. From around two to three hundred metres above sea level, we went to about five thousand metres above sea level! We saw summer, we experienced snowfall, we were drenched in rain and we also shuddered up in the cold! If we talk about roads, we got the smoothest of tarmacs to the most rugged off-road tracks I've ever seen.

The car

Did not click many pictures of the battered beast but this will have to do. I have to say it exceeded my expectations. Numerous times, I felt that it would give up. Either the engine will fail or the tyres or any of the hundreds of tiny things that are being attacked by the unforgiving roads. But nothing happened! We did not even have to fill air into the tyres up until we were on our way back near Manali! All throughout I was cursing myself for putting her through this, but after every challenge, every steep climb, every water crossing, every stone crossing, it came out with flying colours. Before this trip, I had thoughts of selling this 8-year-old beauty and buying a bigger one. But now I'm at peace with the car, I feel like I'm a part of it when I'm at the wheel and the thoughts of selling are just thoughts now which are away from me. Far away!

She will stay with me for as long as possible and I vow to take good care of it. It still gives me around 24-25KMPL on the highway - what more can I ask?

The Companions

Accompanying me on this trip - my wife and my 8-year-old son. My son, Abdullah was excited at first but soon after experiencing the mountains, he said to me - "The mountains keep calling, but I must never go!"

But kudos to my wife, she was a pillar of support throughout! She encouraged me when I was down. I almost gave up twice during this trip, but she egged me on. She helped me through each difficult water/rocky crossing. Even though breathing was difficult, she got down every time and guided me through it. She was like Sam from LOTR, "I can't carry it, but I can carry you!" She's so afraid of driving in the mountains and I did 99% of the driving but she was never afraid to get down in the cold and tough conditions to guide us through!

The Roads

We got the best roads in the world, we got the worst roads in the world. We got no roads and we got watered roads and sharp stone roads. We went through mud and sand and slush and rocks. You name it, you got it. I said to my family that this trip would be a trip of a lifetime and you couldn't ask for more when it comes to all the types of terrain we saw.

The Weather

Started cloudy near home and ended cloudy. Between that, we faced hot humid weather, bone-chilling winds, rain, snow everything. This is the beauty of this country, it has everything!

The Kashmiris

I cannot even start to imagine what it is like to be a Kashmiri and to be bang right in the middle of a conflict that has gone on. But one thing I did not like - they love to argue, they just won't give up on anything. I'm sure many have experienced this. The Shikara wala will argue with you, the hotel manager will argue with you, and even the auto wala will argue. They just won't stop talking. Of course, I met many nice people and the old folks I spoke to say that the situation is fine now and more peaceful than it ever was. The youth, however, is a different story.

The Ladakhis

These people are out of this world. The nicest warmest people I've seen or met. Of course, there are bad apples and many cabbies there, but the normal Ladakhi does not discriminate. They will be nice to you and they are not affected by the outside world. There's something about that place that calms you down probably.

The Food

We carried ready-to-eat stuff, we carried cup noodles, oats, biscuits, chips, dry fruits etc. Only needed a few things out of those on rare occasions. You get normal food almost everywhere now. We usually ate at roadside dhabas and focussed on freshly cooked dal, roti and rice. Only in Srinagar, Leh and Delhi, we indulge in local delicacies and the rest of the time we stick to basics. Of course, basics include Fruits, Lays and chewing gum. Yes, chewing gum, it helps keep your teeth clean, helps you stay focussed and doesn't let you munch unnecessarily. Water, we carried a steel bottle each and filled it up at every RO or similar we found. We even filled them at all rivers we could reach and all waterfalls/streams we could touch. But on a few occasions, we had to buy mineral water when there was no option. In Hunder, we had Nala water, that's what they call the stream of pure natural water!

The Things we carried

We did not take too much of the stuff that's recommended online for Ladakh. We stuck to basics, plus some extra stuff. We carried a puncture repair kit (untouched to this day), 12V air compressor from Woscher (not used on the trip), extra coolant, brake oil, spare tyre, jack etc. Coolant and brake oil we used on several occasions just to top up. No jerry cans, never felt short of fuel, the reason being the economy of the Dzire. We carried zip ties and one of them was used on day 1, more on that later. Plus we had our regular stuff - some normal summer clothes, body warmers, jackets, warm caps and gloves. Enough for this time of the year even in snowing conditions. Then we had our med kit, full of stuff and I had a torch, a hunting knife and a Swiss army knife. My 10-year-old (maybe more) leather gloves were handy while driving in sub-zero temperatures. The woollen ones would probably not give much of a grip. We always carried enough cash to last us at least a couple of days, but we almost always paid online. I can't remember a place where they didn't accept online or card payments.

One thing I regretted (only till I found a solution) was that I did not take a postpaid connection. Faced a little difficulty for a day but soon after bought a local Jio SIM and it worked even in Shyok River, LOL!

With those things out of the way, let's get down to the Daily log. Some statistics first -

  • Dates - 17/9/22 - 4/10/22
  • Odo - 76240KM - 82613KM
  • Total KMS on trip - 6373KM
  • Diesel spent - Rs.25446
  • Cheapest Diesel at a pump - Rs.81.xx - Swarghat, HP. Actual cheapest diesel Rs.80 at Whisky Nala tent shop. (more on this later)
  • Dearest Diesel - Rs.99.xx - Nizamabad, TS
  • Average for the trip - 23.02 KMPL - lowest - 18.3 Hunder to Karu via Pangong. highest - 25.5 Delhi to MP
  • Total Toll - Rs.7350

Underbody hits - 500 or 1000 don't really remember!

Apparently, there's an engine cover plate to protect the engine underneath the car. That plate lost a screw and was hanging by one screw, got this fixed in Manali. The mechanic said that if that plate had fallen off, you could have been stranded in the middle of nowhere! eek!

Day 1 - 17/9/22

  • Start - 6 am
  • Today's destination - Sagar, MP
  • 912KM

Preparations were ongoing and quite hectic in the few days preceding the Go day. Car was loaded with fuel our bags and stuff the previous day. We just had to get up and go. I was so tired on Friday itself that I called in sick to work and had no energy even to be nervous. Slept early, got up early and actually we would have started by around 5.15-5.30 but Madam Dearest was a bit busy with something and we finally started around 6 am.

Everything went well until we bypassed Nagpur and entered the Pench National Park area. There was a storm warning and we were caught right up in it. Visibility was very poor, it was that bad and suddenly the new Bosch wiper blades I got installed gave way. The right side one broke off or whatever and was dangling up and down and up and down. I looked at my wife and she looked back at me. Is this the beginning of something bad? Visibility was zero now and I had to get out, get wet in the torrential downpour and fix it.

Yay! It's fixed, we go on and suddenly it happens again. Why?!

Again I pull over and try to fix it, this time wife helps and we're both wet, it stays and we get out of the rain area. As soon as it is dry outside, I pull over again in hopes of fixing it well. Something seems broken as it is not how it's supposed to be. Suddenly, a Eureka moment and I asked my wife to bring out a zip tie we had in the trunk. Quickly, she gets it and I tie it into one of the holes and it's set. She then takes out the scissors we're carrying the cuts of the hanging bit. All set! I say to her -

Ab ye naya jab hi lagega jab ye zip tie fail hoga!

She smiles, and till this day it's like that. Did not fall or break, all through the hills and back! Magic!

After that, it was uneventful and we negotiated some bad roads of MH and a tiny bit in MP and we reached our hotel in Sagar. Hotel Kuber Vatika, big huge place with decent rooms. As soon as I reach the desk -

  • Sir aapne 2 adults ki booking ki hai.
  • Toh aur kya, hum do hi hai.
  • Sir child bhi likhna tha.
  • Bhai, chota bachha hai aur bahut thake huye hai. Kal baat karte hai.
  • Ok sir.

He wanted me to pay something extra, not online, but in cash. I waved it off and went to crash. Let's see in the morning.

Day 2 - 18/9/22

  • Start 7.25am
  • Today's destination - Sonipat, HR
  • 745KM

Today we were not in any hurry to start. Took our own sweet time to get ready and start our day. There was only one guy at the reception in the morning. Again he tried to bring up last night's topic, I calmly said that we did not take an extra mattress and we're not paying you anything extra. Bye!

Navigating through the cattle we made our way to another Dhaba for some local parathas and Poha.

The day after that was mostly uneventful except for how to reach and cross Delhi. My plan was to take the Mathura road (less toll and more fun to drive), but as per Google baba both the Mathura road and YEW have exact same toll. On top of that, it also said that YEW and EPE will be faster. I wanted to avoid UP roads cause of obvious reasons but then seeing the current scenario I thought why should I spend an equal amount and take the NH? I went on towards the Yamuna Expressway. Google baba played a trick on us here, we had to go through a couple of villages as that seemed to be the only road to reach the YEW. That spoiled our moods a bit, but we were soon on the YEW and reached Noida by evening. Then onto the EPE for Sonipat and we were there by around 8.30pm.

Again we had problems with our hotel reservation which we made on the way. On reaching this place, we were told that he had no tie ups with anything online. Called up goibibo and asked about this, and they said we'll fix you up with an alternative hotel which turned out to be better than what we had booked. So, on our second night, we stayed in Fair Vacanze, a little south of Murthal.

Looks like our luck with our hotel booking is not turning out so good. But wait till you read what happened next!

Day 3 - 19/9/22

  • Start 8.30am
  • Today's destination - Jammu, J&K
  • 550KM

After last night's gadbad, we were in no mood to start early. And anyways, we just had to cover 500 odd KMs today.

Road from Sonipat onwards is smooth all the way to when you enter J&K. We missed this ramp (9Q9X+89Q) and went towards Chandigarh but then took a left further on to meet the correct road. Same thing happened on our way back and we again went into Chandigarh and lost about an hour. I have no idea how is this possible.

Anyways, a smooth drive till Pathankot and the scenery also changed a bit. Now, we stopped at a fuel station and thought to book our hotel for the night. So, I told my wife to book a good hotel so that we wouldn't have problems like we had previously. So we checked on Google etc and booked the "Grand Hill" in Jammu. Navigated to that place which is atop a hill on the highway we were supposed to take the next day. Hoping for the best, we reach and I go into the place and ask the first person I see -

  • Hi, where's the hotel, we have a reservation online.
  • What hotel sir? This is a restaurant.
  • What? we made this booking see (I show him the voucher)
  • *smiles* this is "Grand Hill", your booking is for "The Grand Hill", it is 5KM in the reverse direction.

We made a mistake by seeing 'Grand Hill' on Google and then booking 'The Grand Hill' on ibibo. *facepalm*

Now, since we entered J&K, there was no network on any of our SIMs. Already regretting the idea of skipping the postpaid connection. I applied for it and rejected it at the last moment, thinking 'Jo hoga dekha jayega'. We had offline maps for J&K and Ladakh, so I thought we should be good.

Frustrated, we go back thinking, Oh no! Not again! But we had no idea that bad luck with hotels is going to get worse. We reach "The Grand Hill", a not-so-good hotel like we saw online. So we're tired and try to check in anyway. The man at the reception drops a bomb on us by saying -

  • Ye kab book kiya aapne?
  • Aaj hi - dopahar mei.
  • Oh sorry sir. We already gave that room to another person.
  • What? How can you take a booking without having the rooms?
  • Sorry sir. But we have another room I can give you which has a single bed. I'll throw in extra mattress and dinner for free.

I was like whatever now, just get over with it and we eat the food and go off to sleep. At least the AC was working and Jammu weather at the time was hot and humid like Delhi. Phew!

Day 4 - 20/9/22

  • Start 8.00am
  • Today's destination - Srinagar, J&K
  • 550KM

So, we get up and get ready to leave. Breakfast was added to the booking and upon enquiry he says "Abhi Time lagega". I was like we cannot wait because of all the cut-off times and stuff and we leave.

It's time to negotiate our way through the Nagrota check post where absolutely no one stopped us or checked anything.

Last night we felt the discomfort of not being able to use the mobile phones and were looking for an alternative. Upon enquiry, I found out that if we buy a prepaid SIM in J&K, it will work here and in Ladakh. So I planned to buy one as soon as we enter Srinagar.

Some good luck with that and we found a "Jio check post" right after we exited one of the tunnels. Purchased a SIM for 300/- and it worked just fine for the rest of our trip. Spent 15-20 minutes there and got it activated and called mom too! Easy peasy!

Reached Srinagar by 4pm after seeing thousands of trucks lined up for the cut-off times trying to go down and having authentic wazwan cuisine for lunch just before entering Srinagar.

On the way, we also visited a bat factory and spoke to locals. Shopped for some walnuts and saffron too!

Through the tunnels

Stopped for army convoy coming from the other side - 30 minutes!


One thing was beginning to dawn upon me - You cannot mess with the cabs here in J&K (or Ladakh for that matter). You must let them go as soon as they show up in the RVM or honk. They will just not stay behind you (read out-of-state vehicle).

We checked in to Hotel Curio's at Srinagar. Decent property and a nice clean place. But again we had trouble with the booking. After a long discussion with the manager, we were settled in to the room without extra charges. He was initially giving us a double occupancy room (but we had a booking for 3 people) and then relented and gave us a triple room.

In the evening, we made a round of the Dal Lake and had some snacks at Makai Point and another one near Nishat Gardens. After that we called it a night.

Day 5 - 21/9/22

Rest day

Today was basically a rest day and I intended to wander around Srinagar. So, in the morning we set off towards Gulmarg hoping to do a Gondola ride. Little did we know what was in store for us. Started early morning and grabbed a few bananas on our way to Gulmarg.

As soon as we neared the first check post before the climb started, we were hounded by a group of guides (read thugs). I said NO straightforward! I wasn't entertaining them even for a second. Then an old man from their group pleaded with me to listen.

  • Saab ji, aapne 50 rupay yaha entry ke dene hai aur 300 rupay wapas aane pe
  • 300 rupay kis cheez ke chacha?
  • Ham aapko ghumayenge, points batayenge, jaha koi rokega hum dekh lenge.

I said nothing doing and moved on and paid the Rs.50 for entry and went on for a toilet stop. They even reached their in their Alto and again started to irritate me. The old man was pleading again that this is their only source of income, and if you're not satisfied, do not pay a single rupee. He even said that he'd take us in his Alto instead of the ponies towards the Gondola ride. I said OK and started to follow them. After reaching the top, they shamelessly hand us over to the ponies group and basically, this whole game was to extort money out of us. I had made up my mind not to shell out a single rupee.

We moved away from the groups and had breakfast, parathas and tea. Even the shopkeeper was empathetic towards us and said that these guys are like this only. After all the commotion, we were in no mood for any rides and we wandered around the place and turned back. My wife was saying they'll hassle us on the way back and to pay them. I told her sternly in front of them. Ek rupaya bhi nahi dunga mai!

That episode done, we made our way back down disappointed and stopped at an Apple orchard and gave the car a much needed wash.

Then we headed back towards Srinagar for lunch. I had heard about a place called Chopstick and we went there. Amazing small little place, serves an amazing soup as a welcome thing for free! I had 2 cups! Then we had momos, noodles and their famous Shafali (paratha type with kheema filling). The place is located in a small Muslim Tibetan colony. Full stomachs and after meeting their owner, we said goodbye with a smile on our faces.

Then we made our way back to our hotel and I needed to do some things on the car. Luckily behind our hotel were some mechanic shops and I asked them to change the Air Filter (which was pending from earlier) and check other things. All good and we're good to go towards Ladakh.

It was late afternoon now and we really needed to relax in a Shikara. Yes! Walked out on towards the road and grabbed an auto rickshaw and let the car rest in the hotel. Reached Dal Lake and again the same story with the Shikara people. Bargaining on the price for the ride. Settled on Rs.1500 for 2 hours ride and had the most amazing time in the lake. The old man who was rowing us was a very gentle and nice chap. Singing traditional kashmiri songs he told us about how the Char Chinar are now just one or two Chinar after the 2014 floods and how the Prince sometimes comes to the palace in the Lake. How the locals farm on the fields inside the lake and live there itself. I never thought all of that was possible in the middle of a lake!?

There was even a masjid in the lake apart from a full-fledged market and not to mention - Houseboats. A whole lot of them.

After the ride, we paid them happily and made our way towards Lal Chowk for some woman's satisfaction (shopping) and just to stroll about. Done that, we walked back towards our hotel and had dinner at the hotel and retired for the day. The trip is actually going to start tomorrow, yes, we shall enter Ladakh and we need to get up early and encounter mountain passes and whatnot. Excited and tired, we go to sleep! Big day tomorrow as I have never crossed a mountain pass before and I'm nervous.

Continue reading unoczar's road trip experience for BHPian comments, insights and more information.

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