I’ve never been so in awe of a place as I was with Himachal Pradesh (past Manali), Ladakh, and Kashmir. The mountains and beauty of this land are breathtaking. The sheer scale is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve travelled the world.
It’s grander than Yosemite, more picturesque than New Zealand, and more enchanting than anywhere else.
Because Ladakh is so remote and difficult to get to, it remains an untouched paradise. It and North East India are the only untouched lands left in India.
The following is my personal super guide to a successful motorcycle trip to Leh, Ladakh in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It includes road conditions, tips, the sights, and all the other info you must have for a great trip.
The best time to go is anytime between June – September (the rest of the year it’s too cold and the roads are closed!).
This ‘Himalayan Odyssey’ trip is the ultimate adventure in a land before time.
Before You Go
- Light Packing List for Ladakh or Any Mild Climate Motorcycle Trip
- Tips for Renting a Motorcycle in India (Especially a Royal Enfield)
- How to Drive in India for Foreigners (India’s Unofficial Road Rules)
- Royal Enfield Himalayan (2017) Adventure Bike Foreign Review
Delhi, Manali, Leh, Srinagar & Jammu Itinerary
Day 1: Delhi to Sundar Nagar (398.1 km, 55 kph average speed, 11 hours ride time)
The first day on our way to Leh saw us maxing out our Royal Enfield Himalayans at 122 kph on the motorways across Haryana and Punjab. The roads are generally good but watch out for the odd large pothole. There isn’t a lot to see, so just enjoy the ride and keep moving towards Ladakh.
We decided to stop after 398.1 km in Sundar Nagar for the night.
Day 2: Sundar Nagar to Manali (127.2 km, 31 kph, 6 hours)
Sundar Nagar (Beautiful Town) doesn’t actually live up to its name. Its beauty is limited to a large dam which looks great as the sun goes down. Nevermind, two days worth of riding to Rohtang Pass is worth it I promise.
Roads: Great but expect massive delays if entering Manali by car. Manali is overrun with tourists. It’s worse than Chandni Chowk on weekends!
Day 3: Manali to Jispa (134.3 km, 25 kph, 8 hours)
This is where the real adventure and the jaw-dropping beauty of the Himalayas begins. They dwarf you. The sheer size of what you’re climbing is magnificent. The snow capped mountains and the ice walled roads define Rohtang Pass.
Once you pass Rohtang and the hordes of tourists there, you can relax, you’ll be one of the few on the roads. You’ll travel through deep valleys that used to be glaciers. You’ll see many large glaciers too. In winter, it gets so cold there that the locals move to the warmer city of Kullu during winters!
Roads & Tips
Great roads but there are massive delays leaving Manali to Rohtang Pass though. There are hours of queuing for car and bus drivers to get to the pass. Luckily, bikes can creep through on the muddy sides of the road. Leave Manali early by 4 am to avoid the worst and fuel up at Hindustan Petroleum, the second and less busy petrol station on the way.
The roads past Rohtang to Lahaul-Spiti are abysmal. They’re dirt tracks with massive stones and holes. Once past there, the roads are good all the way to Jispa. You’ll just find the odd dusty dirt road every 10 km or so.
This ride also sees you cross multiple water crossings! You’re going to get wet.
The Last Petrol Station Before Leh
The last petrol station before Leh is at Thandi. After Thandi, there are no petrol stations for 365 km until you reach Leh! Fill up your bike and jerry cans for when you run dry. A Royal Enfield Bullet 500 cc will get you about 250-300 km on a full tank; A Himalayan 411 cc, 300-350 km.
To conserve fuel ride slow and steady, and in neutral down hills.
Day 4: Jispa to Leh (332.4 km, 30 kph, 13 hours)
This is the most spectacular ride of the trip. You’ll pass through 3 of the highest mountain passes in the world (Bara-lacha La, Lachung La, Taglang La), through ice walls and witness the grandest vistas. The scale of the mountains makes you feel tiny in comparison.
This is also the longest and most treacherous ride. If the sun is shining and the ice has melted, then you’ll have no problems. But if the weather takes a turn for the worst, as it did for us, it becomes do or die out there. My friend and I dealt with rain, snow, hail, white and black ice covered roads, wind, and visibility of less 5 metres.
At every pass, we encountered a blizzard. During Bara-lacha La Pass a downhill ice covered road left us and our bikes worse for wear as we hit white ice and slid down the road with our bike’s crash bars doing their job protecting us and the bike. In the accident we suffered smashed indicators, a bent handle bar, readjusted mirrors and controls, scratched bikes, and 2 bruised egos. We learnt the danger of ice the hard way.
If you want to avoid iced roads, go in late June. Or take tyre chains to help cut through the ice. At the end of June they’ll be less picturesque snow, but unless you’re an advanced rider, I wouldn’t recommend going early June as soon as the road opens.
Day 5: Leh
After that long ride, you need a rest. To further explore the Ladakh region you need permits. Foreigners must go through a travel agent to get a permit, Indians can apply online or at the permit office behind the Tourist Information Centre.
If you’re in a group of foreigners no problem, go to any travel agent with your passport. Permits cost 600 INR per person. If you’re a single foreigner, you cannot get a permit alone. You need minimum two foreigners in a group to get a permit; even if you’re travelling with an Indian like I was. After trying a bunch of travel agents we found Swiss Tour & Travels (near JK Bank Tsaskan Complex, Leh. +91 8492059027, email@example.com). They added me to a group of other foreigners and issued the permit.
Day 6: Leh to Pangong Lake (150 km, 30 kph, 6 hours)
This 150 km ride has it all. It’s possibly the best ride in Ladakh. It has rocky mountains, lush greenery, grey and golden sand deserts, snow, a mountain pass, yaks, goats, horses, sheep, and small beautiful villages. Not to mention the largest saltwater lake in the world. Pangong Lake is so big its waters are half in India and half in China.
Stay the night at one of the many lakeside camps. Don’t stay at the first set of camps you see though, travel a little further to the next which is further away from the crowd. Eat a well-deserved meal at 3 Idiots Restuarant where a father of 3 adorable kids will cook you up a homemade feast.
Half the roads are good, and half are terrible making this a long 150 km. It’s a real ball breaker!
Day 7: Pangong Lake to Leh
And back to Leh again (or head up to the Nubra Valley if you have time).
Day 8: Leh to Srinagar (430 km, 40 kph, 12 hours)
Today you change landscapes from the rugged spartan beauty of Ladakh and gradually transition into the lush green mountainous region of Kashmir. The difference is striking. Kashmir contains all the beauty of the world in one state.
Stop at the halfway mark, Kargil, for lunch at the clean and delicious City Palace hotel. Make sure you order Mutton Fried Rice and Rogan Josh – two famous Kashmir dishes. You’ll also notice mighty Indus river flowing right alongside this town.
If you need any help or a drink visit Roots Travel Cafe nearby. These guys provided me with a phone to use when I needed to find out where my friend was, they wouldn’t take any money for the help either!
The most exciting part of this ride is the death-defying Zogi La Pass. It’s considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world! You’ll ride on the side of dirt and stone roads thousands of metres up and have to contend with massive trucks taking all the space on the single landed passageway. If it’s raining, as it was when I passed, it’s extra slippery and not for the faint hearted or those with an extreme fear of heights. I’ll never willingly repeat it, put it that way.
On entry into Srinagar, there are multiple people stopping traffic telling tourist vehicles they need to pay a fee. The first one I paid as it was a pollution tax with a receipt in English. The other two I said no as the writing was in Urdu, so I didn’t know what it was for. I just told them I already paid and they seemed OK with that. The other one I didn’t even bother stopping for. They weren’t in uniform or anything.
Day 9: Srinagar to Jammu (500 km, 35 kph, 14 hours)
This ride should only be 7 hours and 260 km. Except I misunderstood some instructions and took the longest of the 3 routes from Srinagar to Jammu which takes double the time, includes mountain passes and terrible roads! Doh! It was an experience though. I was travelling through areas of Kashmir that few go to and meeting friendly locals wherever I stopped.
I reached our hotel at 8 pm exhausted, having left Srinagar at 6 am. I hadn’t eaten properly all day as I didn’t have time to stop for anything but more caffeine. I ate KFC and two mixed parathas (stuffed Indian bread) in record time and KO’d to wake up the next morning to start my trip back to Delhi.
Delhi to Ladakh and back is the journey of a lifetime. It’s dangerous, adventurous, and beautiful all in one. It’s the ultimate motorcycle trip!
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