We travel to Ladakh through lush meadows and Chinar forests. Then we pass by barren landscapes illuminated by the sun as we go. You’ll find monks all over the place and monasteries sprinkled throughout the landscape. That’s when you know that you’ve reached one of the most beautiful places on Earth. !
It is not easy to make a road trip to Ladakh. Ladakh’s soundlessness, bright blue skies, brilliant rainbows, and glistening waters are all pure magic. This trip’s iconic landmarks include:
- The Khardung La is the highest motorable road.
- The Zoji La or Tanglang La the highest mountain passes.
- The splendid scenic drive in remote areas.
- Some lesser-known gems are kaleidoscopic More Plains, Lamayuru, and the hypnotic Gata Loops.
This road trip is unlike any other. !
Those skies, that water, those mountains – it’s hard to believe the beauty of Ladakh!
This is a summary of the route that we took over three weeks. We drove via Gulmarg from Delhi to Ladakh. We went from Delhi to Leh via Gulmarg.
The route we followed for our Kashmir road trip
Only experienced drivers with a good driving record and a comfortable driving style in India can take this self-drive trip. There are many bumpy roads and unpaved mountain passes. It doesn’t get much better than this if you love driving and enjoy road trips. These views and the clear skies are breathtaking. Before you embark on your road trip, read our 10 Things to Remember When Planning a Road Trip to Leh and Ladakh.
Gorgeous panoramas, bad roads, steep hillside drives, and traffic jams go hand in hand on a road trip to Ladakh
While in India, make sure to drink bottled water. Before going on your road trip, stock up on water and non-perishable snacks such as dried fruits, nuts, or cookies. You can eat a bit of hot food in India. It is also cheap and readily available.
Many dhabas (shacks) can be found along the route, many of which are suitable for vegetarian and vegan travelers. You will find sandwiches and flatbreads. As you get closer to Leh, you’ll notice a few mok/momos (steamed dumplings), Chowmein, an Indian version of traditional stir-fried noodles, and Moggi (instant noodles) on the menus. You will only pay 500 INR for a meal at a roadside shack. You’ll also find a lot of great restaurants in larger cities. Below are a few of our favorites.
Maggi Instant Noodles are a bit of a cult favorite in Ladakh – expect to find them at all street-side shacks in the area.
A luxurious camping lunch – our lunch table in Nubra Valley – the stuff of dreams!
Your choice of restaurants and hotels will affect the total cost. We chose small, cozy B&Bs to rest at night. Luxury hotels were selected for long days in the same place as every country we visited. I will spend around PS120 (INR 12000) on fuel and PS40 (4000) on tolls or road taxes if renting a car. If you drive your vehicle, this sum will be slightly lower.
Renting a 4X4 is an excellent option for your trip to Ladakh. Although it’s unnecessary, it can make the journey much more enjoyable. You can rent a car in almost all major Indian cities. Driving in India is unlike anywhere else, as most people know. The roads are chaotic, and the concept of lane driving is a fantasy. It’s best to rent an Indian car rental company. These companies are familiar with the Indian market.
India has many car-rental agencies. These are some things to remember when renting a car for self-drive in India.
- You should choose a company that offers unlimited mileage. Many companies will offer a limited mileage quote. Customers are charged an excessive amount for every kilometer that exceeds the set mileage. This is not a good idea if you love to take detours and discover hidden gems.
We rented a Scorpio from Myles cars to drive our self-drive road trip. The experience was flawless. Their personalized service included pick-up and drop-off at our home (something that we have only seen in India). Our car was in excellent condition as we drove across various terrains, bumpy roads, and mountain passes. The unlimited mileage clause meant we could move it more than expected but at no extra cost.
There isn’t anything like a self-drive road trip!!
Incredible panoramas on a road trip to Ladakh
Now that we have all the logistics out of the way let’s get to the fun stuff. Here is a breakdown of the day-by-day itinerary for a road trip to Ladakh.
Day 1 – Driving from Delhi to Patnitop
It is a great way to get used to driving in India. It takes about 16 hours to drive from Delhi to Patnitop in Jammu and Kashmir. It takes approximately 16 hours, although Google claims it is 10;-)). If you can only go for short periods, consider breaking the record. Take frequent breaks, especially if you’re the only driver.
Get up early; we left Delhi at 4.30 a.m. We took the following route: Delhi-Karnal-Ambala-Ludhiana-Jalandhar-Pathankot-Udhampur-Patnitop. The drive could be more scenic, and there are many toll booths. The first 7-8 hours are filled with great roads. There are many service stations and public restrooms along the route.
There are many restaurants in the area. There are many international chains like Subway, KFC, and McDonald’s. If the weather is good, we recommend stopping by a traditional Indian Dhaba (shack) for some North Indian food.
Do not follow your GPS blindly, and resist the urge to get off the road. For example, our GPS guided us to Gurdaspur, Binanagar, and other destinations. Instead of driving on the highway toward Pathankot, our GPS directed us. It was the worst decision ever, as the roads were terrible and stormy. It ended up costing us 2 hours of our already long day.
Patnitop, a small hilltop village, is the perfect place to stop for the night. The area is home to a few resorts and hotels. Because a few locals recommended it, we chose to stay at Vardaan Resorts. The rooms are clean, but the food is good. However, the view is breathtaking. We were excited to see the panoramic views ahead when we woke up to this fantastic view.
View from our hotel at Patnitop after day #1 of our road trip
‘Ello Kashmir, you beauty
Coniferous forests, rivers, and snow-capped peaks: Gorgeous scenery on entering Kashmir
Working on the go – so much more fun with these views
Day 2 – Driving from Patnitop To Gulmarg
Here is where the real fun begins. You will soon notice lush forests, meadows, and glistening waterfalls as soon as your vehicle leaves Patnitop. The sun-drenched views of Kashmir and apple farms make an appearance. You’ll cross the Jawahar tunnel at one point. Then, when you reach the other side, the beautiful Kashmir valley will greet you.
It takes more than 8 hours to drive the winding hills from Patnitop towards Gulmarg. You will make many stops on the way. Rainbows and red-cheeked children in Kashmir and the countryside play hide-and-seek with each other. Here in Kashmir, nature’s glimmering and throbbing beauty is at its best.
As gas stations become scarcer at this time, make sure you have enough fuel before you leave Patnitop.
You can choose from hotels in Srinagar and Gulmarg. We decided to spend our time in Gulmarg in a more remote area – A reader recommended the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, and we are so happy we did. It is a magnificent property that is simply breathtaking. The rooms have stunning views of snow-capped peaks, coniferous forests, and mountains. We were shocked to discover that many of our users have stayed in these rooms.
The first glimpse of Kashmir valley from “Titanic” viewpoint
Gulmarg, Kashmir – the land of extravagant beauty and unbelievable sunsets
The view from our room at The Khyber Himalayan Resort
That day, getting ready took a while – I couldn’t stop staring at those snow-capped peaks and coniferous forests outside our bathroom!
Days 3-5: Gulmarg & surroundings
We stayed three nights as we explored Gulmarg and the surrounding areas at The Khyber Himalayan Resort. It was a great place to take a break from all the driving. This part of Kashmir is a haven for nature.
You can pick up your car and take a basket to any place with a beautiful view. You could also go on a hike through Gulmarg’s magical forests. This can be as strenuous or easy as you like. Hop on the Gulmarg Gondola. It is one of the most popular cable cars in the world. Although the first level is easy, the second level offers spectacular views of the Himalayas. It is highly recommended. Tickets are priced at PS16 (INR 1600). Be prepared to wait in long lines
The view at the top of Gulmarg Gondola is amazing
Breakfast with a belief in Gulmarg, Kashmir
Pool with a view: Gulmarg’s Chinar forests are mesmerizing.
Walking around in Gulmarg’s flower-laden woodlands
Day 6 – Driving from Gulmarg To Kargil
It was finally time to leave Gulmarg’s tranquil surroundings and travel to the hills. It is only possible to drive part of the distance from Gulmarg and Leh in one day. Therefore, it is best to take 2-3 days. Kargil is an excellent stopover if you plan to cover this stretch in 2 days.
This is the most beautiful drive I have seen. You will see the Sonmarg glacier, Drass streams, herds, and cheery shepherds. There are also flocks of sheep and beautiful stretches of the country. The roads to Zoji La (Zojila Pass), one bottleneck along the route, are shaky, but there are stunning views. There are many snow-laden panoramas to be enjoyed, so it is hard to get frustrated by traffic jams or bad roads.
It is best to start early. Although the drive from Gulmarg, India, to Kargil is only 250 km long, it took us twelve hours due to the Zojila Pass being always packed and the poor condition of the roads. Additionally, villagers stopped us for several hours because of a protest at one of the villages along our route. When driving in India, be prepared for such things.
We couldn’t find any hotels in Kargil because it was peak season. After more than 2 hours of driving to Kargil, we finally found a small, dingy room in a local guesthouse. The beds were a welcome relief after a long day. However, we cannot recommend this place. We were glad to be able to leave the site the following day, even though I won’t go into all the details.
Aah! Sonmarg, you beauty!
Gorgeous panoramas abound, and we couldn’t help stopping the car every 10 minutes to click photographs
Spot the herd? It must be magic
Rainbow, stream, thunderous skies – Drass village is pretty!
We stopped by a few local schools and had a fantastic time
But all is forgiven because of panoramas like this one here
Day 7 – Driving from Kargil toward Leh City
It is impossible to ignore the military presence in this region. Because of the unstable political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, you will see soldiers all over the area.
This stretch of road is stunning. It is so beautiful that you’ll want to stop every 5 mins, especially as you get closer to Leh. We could see lush meadows and Chinar forests as we made our way toward Ladakh. Then, the sun shone down on barren landscapes. We saw monks everywhere and many monasteries scattered throughout the landscape. That’s when we realized we had reached Leh!!
It would help if you stopped at Lamayuru, a village midway between Kargil & Leh, Alchi, and the famed (and highly excited) magnetic mountain.
There are many guesthouses and hotels in Leh City to suit all budgets. You can choose one that suits your travel style. Make sure you have parking, as you’ll need it while you explore Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. Also, make sure your rooms are heated.
We had to stay in Leh for a couple of days, so we chose the luxurious Chamba Camp Thicksey. The hotel overlooks Thiksey Monastery, far from the hustle and bustle of Leh City. Glamping allows you to enjoy some of the most beautiful views in the world while living in luxury. While we’ve been glamping all over the globe, I can only say that India is our favorite. We enjoyed waking up in our luxurious tent at The Ultimate Travelling Camp, nestled among snowcapped mountains, and then spending long days taking in Leh’s natural beauty with a cup of coffee on call.
No more lush green forests
The panoramas begin to change as one inch closer to Ladakh
The tiny village of Lamayuru
That road – we drove on that road!!
A sneak peeks at our tent at Chamba Camp Thiksey near Leh City.
Our decadent tent at twilight, the magic hour. Twinkling lanterns and snow-capped peaks? Yes!!
Days 8-10 – Explore Leh City & the surrounding
Leh City has many things to offer.
- Explore Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist stupa on a hilltop
- You can also explore the Old Town Leh, its crumbling buildings, and the lively marketplace.
- Leh Palace has excellent views of Leh City. But for stunning views of Leh City, visit the neighboring Namgyal Tsemo Monastery.
- The city’s two monasteries, Thiksey Monastery (near the town) and Hemis Monastery (near the city), offer a glimpse into the Buddhist way of life. You can easily spend hours in each monastery, exploring the rooms, admiring the staircases, and talking to the monks. You must attend the Thiksey Monastery prayer ceremony and early morning call for prayer.
These historical and cultural attractions draw people to them all. Here in Leh City, the main draw is the landscape. You could stop anywhere to enjoy a unique view.
You can take it easy the first day in Leh City and allow your body to adjust to the altitude. You will likely change quickly on a road trip because climbing to high heights is gradual. However, if you have flown directly to Leh City, the altitude change might be more difficult. For the first few days, avoid spicy/heavy foods and alcohol. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.