Delhi-Srinagar-Leh Road Trip is a dream trip for any road tripper in India, and probably the world. Add to this the Leh-Manali circuit and this is what the dreams are made of. These roads pass through the most scenic routes that you can travel on. The vistas change from rich green fields of plains of Punjab to a river fed meadows of Kashmir before all the green is lost and naked Cost to the cold desert of Ladakh presents its hues in various shades of stones. The roadside Dhabas make way for the roadside monasteries.
I was on this dream trip organized by Oyo Rooms in association with ScoutMyTrip team for the highest blogger meet at Khardung La in Ladakh. I could not complete the trip due to bad health and had to return back from Leh. This means half a dream lived and another half parked for some future date.
As soon as I landed in Delhi, I saw the Kanwariyas on the roadside. I realized the month of Shravan – the typical monsoon month of Indian Calendar has just begun. So this was going to be a monsoon road trip as well after the Konkan Coast Road Trip last year.
Delhi-Jammu part of Delhi-Srinagar-Leh Road Trip
Getting out of Delhi was the biggest challenge we faced on this day. When you travel, make sure everyone in your car or group agree on which way to exit Delhi, else the metropolis has a way to eat up all your time and energy. Once out of Delhi, you can stop anywhere on the highway when hunger pangs visit you.
Frequent road trippers will tell you to stop at famous Dhabas at Murthal. My verdict – Skip anything that is suggested. Stop at the small Dhabas where the truck drivers eat. Do not worry about the hygiene part – no one needs a better stomach than truck drivers.
We passed by the city of Panipat and wondered if this is where all those battles were fought. All I could see there were boards selling Panchranga Achaar along with many types of digestive Golis.
Chai stop at Ambala was a desire that never came true. As we crossed Sutlej, I knew I was close to my birthplace. We had all intentions to stop and take a picture but the cruel flyover made the town look so distant. It was like flying over it, rather than passing by it. The same was true for cities of Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Phagwara till our hungry stomachs made us stop at a roadside Dhaba. The food was good but what I enjoyed most was speaking in Punjabi after a long time & discovering others in the group who can speak Punjabi. To speak Punjabi in Punjab is like really re-visiting the place.
Further ahead to Jammu
Tummies full, we started moving towards Jammu – this is when we crossed Beas and Ravi rivers. Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab & Jhelum are the rivers that give Punjab its name. I knew by the time we reach Srinagar, we would cross all 5 of them. So, is the drive from Ambala to Srinagar really the drive through the larger Punjab as it used to be.
On the way, we had a nostalgic taste of sand roasted corn or Chhali, Murunda or the puffed rice cake and freshly plucked Jamuns.
By the time we reached Jammu, it was dark and we would leave the city before the sun comes up the next morning.
Thankfully, I could meet an old friend in Jammu and I promised the city that I would come back to explore it at leisure.
Jammu-Srinagar part of Delhi-Srinagar-Leh Road Trip
We started early from Jammu so that we can reach Sonamarg in time. Rains and the recent attack on Amarnath Yatris on this route made us a bit anxious for this part of the journey. I was looking forward to crossing the famous tunnels on this Jammu-Srinagar route. Especially, the newly opened Chenani-Nashri or the Patnitop Tunnel which is the longest tunnel in the world at 9.28 Km. This tunnel connects Chenani in Udhampur district to Nashri in Ramban district.
Just short of Udhampur, we stopped for roadside Parathas. Deep-fried with butter floating on them – they sound sinful but believe me there is nothing more heavenly than them.
We crossed the Chenani-Nashri tunnel holding our cameras for all its length. We were in Ramban, traveling along the muddy Chenab river. Little did we know, this is where would end up spending a night as the road was closed due to a landslide.
The weather-enforced halt
Ramban residency – an ordinary-looking hotel had a lovely view of the Chenab as it takes a turn around a hill. I enjoyed a small walk along the river, clicking some images and soaking in the air of Ramban.
Next day very early morning we set out to conquer the road. Our target for the day had moved from Sonamarg to Kargil. It was going to be a long day.
We passed by cricket bat making units on either side of the road after Banihal. The vistas were enchanting, but we had no time to stop. We did stop at the Titanic viewpoint of Anantnag to admire its sprawling vistas. For the springs it boasts of, I will have to make another journey.
Srinagar city had tense air, with not many places open and not many people out there. We stopped by the Dal Lake for a few minutes but it was devoid of tourists. A few Shikaras floated in the waters making it look melancholic.
Srinagar- Kargil stretch of Road Trip
From Srinagar, we headed towards the Ganderbal district. This is the district where popular hill station Sonamarg is situated. Drive to Sonamarg was the most scenic part of the trip. Sind River – a major tributary of Jhelum river was flowing towards Srinagar while we moved away from it. Glaciers started making an appearance on the horizon.
To watch the glacier slowly melting and merging with the river makes you think of the constant journey of water. A Hut like a formation of glaciers releasing water in drops is intriguing. This is how glaciers move – by losing a bit of themselves every moment.
Outside the restaurant where we had food, vast green meadows were dotted with the horses – waiting for tourists just like their owners. Some of them tried to tell us ‘Kashmir is Safe, Come here without any fear. We will show you our beautiful land.’. Their words had fear and assurance in equal measures. How we both wish the words are true.
Amar Nath Yatra Base Camp at BalTal
A little after Sonamarg, we stopped to look at the huge camp on the bend of Sind River. Colorful tents neatly arranged in rows look like lego blocks from a distance. Choppers flew back and forth porting Yatris who can afford them. I stood there trying to grasp the magnitude of Yatra. I recalled all the Bhandaras I have seen right from Jammu on the National Highway 44 and then a lot more after Banihal. Even the number of Bhandara tents could not prepare me for this large number of Yatris at the camp. Given the weather and political conditions – this was sheer faith in action. Even today when I think of that scene in front of me – I find it surreal.
Baltal is the base camp for Amarnath Yatris who do it from Sonamarg side. I assume there would be another similar camp on the Chandanwadi Side
In my mind, Amarnath Yatra was always in some distant land. Standing there, I felt I am so close to it & yet so far. Part of me wanted to join the Yatra there and then and see the Shivalinga that comes only during the Shravan month of Hindu Calendar.
I said a silent prayer before we left Sonamarg area and headed towards Zoji La Pass.
Zoji La Pass
Zoji La Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in the world. The pass would remain in my memory as a dull gray muddy path with glaciers in matching colors all around. We passed through the walls of glaciers but because of all the dirt on them, they just merged with the rest of the landscape.
At one place, where we stopped, Sledging was being offered to tourists. We had tea as the wind tried to scare us with its velocity and chill. Suddenly, I was feeling cold.
The air became thin and this was the beginning of the end of my Delhi-Srinagar-Leh Road trip.
Highly Recommended – A Night Halt at Sonamarg before you climb the mighty Zoji La Pass.
After getting down the pass, we started moving towards Kargil that was our night halt. On the way, we stopped at the Drass War Memorial near Tiger Hills.
Read my detailed account of Drass War Memorial
Kargil by the River Drass
Kargil on the banks of Drass River turned out to be a much bigger town than I had imagined. At the hotel I saw boards announcing 40 things to do in Kargil – almost felt like I can use it for the blog.
This is a bikers favorite route so the boards were full of stickers of biking groups. Barring Leh, Kargil was the only place where I saw tourism being promoted actively. I think it would be worth spending a few days here and exploring the region.
It was a sunny day. After absorbing the Kargil town and Drass River we started driving towards Leh. The roads twisted and turned. With every turn, a new vista opened up. The green gave way to subtle yet bright colors of stones. At places green was trying its best to sprout out of stone hills – most places it failed.
This was our first photo stop. It is a small lovely monastery standing on a cliff like a rock. What makes it interesting is the Maitrayee Buddha or the future Buddha carved on one rock face. The temple around it is a recent development. This ancient sculpture gives this road an old-world charm as you know travelers have walked on it since ages.
The monastery had the usual colorful interiors with painted walls. What I found interesting was the list of donors on the outer walls written in simple black & white. Prayer flags gave color to the monotone of Ladakh.
Namika La & Fotu La Passes
We stopped at these two mountain passes – more like a photo stop. I was feeling sick by now, so stayed inside the vehicle. All I remember is the strong wind that made everything flutter.
After this, we passed by Lamayuru and the confluence of Zanskar & Indus River. I had seen this route when I did Ladakh in Winters. This time I more or less slept through the route. The bright blue color of Zanskar River was what I wanted to stay with instead of the muddy river of monsoons.
Leh, that was an island of tranquillity in January was like a fish market in July with traffic jams and so many people that for a moment it felt I am back in Delhi.
Leh was supposed to be our mid-way stop on Delhi-Srinagar-Leh Road Trip. Next part of the road trip would take us to Khardung La, Nubra Valley, lakes of Ladakh and return via Manali. I had to return back from Leh. I hope there would be another time when Ladakh would call me back for another road trip.
But I am happy that I could do this road trip. There is a small window in summers when you can do this trip and that too when the political situation allows you to. In that sense, the trip was a success.
Wish you all a life full of wonderful road trips.