Ladakh is the land before time. It’s the beautiful, rugged, untouched region in the northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It’s a part of Indian not frequented by foreigners probably due to the road passes to Ladakh only being open in the tourist off-season when they’re not frozen shut (June – September).
The major town and base for travelling around the Ladakh region is Leh. It’s the largest but least populated area of J&K and highly influenced equally by the cultures of Buddhism and Islam. The area is known as Trans-Himalayan, meaning it lays beyond the Himalayas.
For motorcyclists, Ladakh offers breathtaking scenery and sights including huge mountains, sprawling valleys, dry deserts, lakes, vast uninhabited hinterlands and a number of challenging rugged terrains, roads, and passes to ride! It’s an unexplored adventure wonderland for riders.
As you’ll notice on Google Maps, the state of J&K has a dotted line border. This is due to them being high contested. J&K is sandwiched between Pakistan and China. Closest to Ladakh is China. China is trying to push its borders outwards into Ladakh with their aggressive foreign expansion policy. On the other side, Pakistan is trying similarly with Kashmir. Don’t let this put you off though, while there are ongoing issues in Kashmir, Ladakh is unaffected by these.
The most popular route to take on your old-faithful Indian-made Royal Enfield motorcycle is Manali to Leh return. The following 9-day trip is a personal route I have taken. It covers the best of Ladakh.
Manali to Leh Itinerary
Both foreigners and Indians can now get the required permits for the Ladakh area online at J&K’s Leh District Permit Tracking System site.
Foreigners should also check the Frequently Asked Questions on the Protected Area Permit(PAP) and Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime and the Permit Guidelines because we are restricted from certain areas in Ladakh.
Day 1 – Manali to Jispa (150 km, 5 hours)
Begin your trip passing through Rohtang Pass (3978 meters above sea level) before riding through the snow capped Lahaul Valley and spending the afternoon in the riverside Himalayan village of Jispa.
Possible Stop Over +1 Day – Sarchu (120 km, 3 hours)
In between Manali and Leh lies Sarchu, the popular stopover point near the border of J&K and Himachal Pradesh. If you want to take the ride to Leh slower, stop overnight at Sarchu and then you’re a more manageable 215 km from Leh.
Day 2 – Jispa to Leh (335 km, 11 hours)
Get back on the highway for a long ride. Today you’ll travel through the Baralachha Pass (5000 MASL), cross the border between Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, and finally through the Tanglang-La Pass which is the eleventh highest mountain pass in the world (5300 MASL).
Note: There’s a lot of miss information online claiming the passes in Ladakh are higher in the ‘top list of motorable passes in the world’ than they actually are. I’ve used the correct rankings.
Along the way don’t miss the Thiksey and Shey monasteries positioned stunningly on top of hills.
Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated as you climb in elevation to avoid altitude sickness.
Day 3 – Leh Town
You made it! Take a day off resting, getting inner-line-permits for your excursions around Ladakh, and exploring the town of Leh.
Day 4 – Leh to Lamayuru Monastery to Leh (230 km, 6 hours)
Take a day trip to one of the oldest Monasteries in Ladakh that dates back to the 10th century. The Monastery is set atop a hill with a small village scattered below and around it.
Day 5 – Leh to Nubra Valley (159 km, 5 hours)
While travelling to the huge mountains of the Nubra Valley you’ll ride on Khardung La, the world’s tenth highest mountain pass (5350 MASL)!
Day 6 – Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso (Highland lake) (273 km, 1o hours)
Visiting Pangong Tso is one of the highlights of Ladakh. It’s the world’s largest salt water lake. You’re right on the border with China here, so close in fact that 2/3 of the lake is located in China/Tibet.
Day 7 – Pangong Tso to Marsimik La to Pangong Tso (86 km) (5 hours)
Marsimik La is the third highest (5582 MASL) road in the world! If you can call it a road. It’s mainly dirt and a very tough ride. From the top, you’re just 10 km from the China border, and you can see the large six-lane motorway they’ve built all the way up to the border.
Possible Stop Over +1 Day – Leh (150 km, 4 hours)
Rather than riding all the way to Sarchu you can break it up and take a night back in Leh instead.
Day 8 – Pangong Tso to Sarchu (408 km, 12 hours)
In between Manali and Leh lies Sarchu, the popular stopover point near the border of J&K and Himachal Pradesh. After a long day riding, all you’ll want to do is relax at your campsite and watch the stars above.
Day 9 – Sarchu to Manali (230 km, 8 hours)
You’re back where you started! What an adventure!