Ladakh Trip – A Journey Through Enchanting Mountain Passes
After about 2 – 3 hours, just after the sun has risen, you will reach Sonmarg. (Read my previous post on how to reach Sonmarg.) All the cars and buses usually stop here for a tea break. You can have your breakfast here. The hill station in itself is a favourite tourist spot and is famous for its rolling green meadows against a backdrop of snowy mountains. The Kolhoi and Machoi glaciers lie nearby. The Sindh River or the Indus River flows along the road.
Sonmarg to Drass
After leaving Sonmarg behind, the car passes through the Zoji La. It is a high mountains pass in the Himalayas that remain close during the long winters and is the geographical link between Kashmir and Ladakh. Almost throughout the year, the pass remains covered in snow. Snowfall may continue well into the month of May and may resume again in early October. The view from here is spectacular.
Zojila or Zoji Pass en-route Leh City, India
From Zoji La, it takes about an hour to reach Drass. Drass or Dras is the gateway to Ladakh. It experiences a subarctic climate and has been recorded as the second coldest inhabited place on earth after Verkhoyansk in Siberia. Drass is like a mixture of both Kashmiri and Ladakhi landscape. There’s little green scattered here and there juxtaposed to the barren rocky mountains.
This saying became famous post the Pakistan Army’s incursion into the land in the summer of 1999.
The ancient Dardic people of Drass that you will see here are an Indo-European ethnic group who have settled along parts of Kashmir and northern Pakistan as early as 1700 BC. They are easily identifiable from the rest of the population by their whiter skin tone, rounded brow and long pointed nose.
You may like to stop here and may be take a photo along this board above. But spending too much time here postpones your arrival in Leh.
Drass to Kargil
By the time you reach Kargil, the landscape around you has completely changed. All you see around here are the sand coloured rocky mountains. Until the first half of 20th century, Kargil was a transit point for caravans to and from their way to Tibet and China. But over the past few decades, the town has emerged as a tourism hub with tourists and government buses stopping here for refreshments and acclimatisation.
Lunch can be done here because this is the last big settlement you will be passing by before reaching Leh. It is advisable to consume light food though, just enough to fill the stomach, as the road ahead gets harsher and longer with practically no life in far sight.
Here in Kargil, locate the Tiger Hill that gained prominence post Indo-Pak War in 1999.
Kargil to Mulbekh
By this time you begin to feel tired and drowsy. But not to worry, the scenery around you, the very purpose of this trip, will keep you awake. Just after you have passed the Mulbekh town, do not miss the famous Chamba Statue – a statue of standing Buddha that dates back to the 7th century A.D.
Mulbekh to Lamayuru
You are entering the ‘Moonland’! That’s right. Apart from the old Lamayuru Monastery, Lamayuru has gained curiosity because of its peculiar landscape. They say that the land here resembles the land on moon! Now, how true that is left for you to believe. Nonetheless you are sure to get spellbound seeing this place. The entire landscape is characterised by eroded cliffs and earth pillars. The barrenness and the yellow tint mountains give you a feeling that you are on another planet! Spot the Lamayuru Monastery down the slope.
Lamayuru to Magnetic Hill
By this time you are completely drained out and feel nauseated. The blue sky and the colourful mineral underlined barren mountains are still your companion but the long drive and high altitude is beginning to take a toll on your health. If you think that you are feeling sick, there is not much to worry unless you keep yourself hydrated. An entire day of acclimatisation on the following day shall be fine.
As you approach Magnetic Hill, which lies approximately 90 km from Lamayuru, the dusk has set in. Keep yourself awake if you do not want to miss the Confluence of Indus and Zanskar River. After a short while, you will be passing the Magnetic Hill.
Once you pass the Magnetic Hill, you are just 40 – 50 minutes away from Leh! Soon you will be able to see the glimmering Leh city. Ah! What an excitement after such a long long journey. The whole journey should take 12 to 14 hours.
Advice Advice !!
Try to book a hotel near Leh Market as you will be at the centre of the city, close to most travel agencies, eateries and shops. The oldest hotel of Leh City, Yak Tail Hotel, opposite the German Bakery on the Market Road is a very good option.
On reaching Leh, go straight to your pre-booked hotel. Have dinner and take rest at least for the next 24 hours. It is most important for your body to get adapted to the high altitude.
Exit by Road or Air
Surely, Ladakh by road gives you the thrill of cruising along the high Himalayan roads. After your days of trekking, camping and sightseeing in Leh, if you still have the will and energy to exit Leh by road then consider the Leh – Manali route. Apart from private buses, both J&KSRTC and HPTDC (Government buses) run regular buses on the Leh – Manali route. SUVs are available too. It takes two days with an overnight stopover at Keylong town or at Sarchu Valley. The fare ranges from 500 to 1600 INR.
Exiting Leh by Air is the best option. The small airport lies close to the city centre and connects Jammu, Srinagar, New Delhi and Chandigarh with direct flights. The aerial journey is spectacular. Just when you think your Ladakh trip is over, you find yourself flying over the magnificent Zanskar Mountain Range.