Trip Meter

Gurgaon 0 - Ambala - Chandigarh 300 - Mandi 495 - Long tunnel - Kullu 560 - MANALI 610 - Rohtang La 668 - Tandi 725 (petrol) - Sarchu 845 - PANG 920 - Tsokar lake 970 - Leh 1120 - Magnetic hills 1150 - Leh 1180 - LEH MILITARY CAMP 1200 - Khardung La 1260 - Leh 1300 - Tanglang La 1420 - Pang 1485 - SARCHU 1560 - Barlacha La 1595 - Jispa 1650 - Rohtang La 1740 - Manali 1790 - Kullu 1835 - Long tunnel 1862 - Nauni 1977 - Chandigarh 2100 - Delhi - Gurgaon 2387

[Numbers beside the place are trip meter readings in km at that point. Places in bold indicate night halts.]


Highlights

  1. The Rohtang Pass is open only during the Jun-Oct period every year. We managed to squeeze this trip into the fag end of this window and how!
  2. Raid-de-Himalaya - upfront and upclose
  3. The petrol stench, black out and terribly long night in Pang military camp
  4. Our car got stuck in Tsokar Lake and we managed to pull it out
  5. Gata loops, Moore Plains, Indus River and Magnetic Hills
  6. Honey, cheese, fresh bread and Pashmina shawls in Leh market
  7. The incredibly beautiful Leh valley, the infinite blue sky and the desolate ruins of Tsemo Castle
  8. The night stays in military camps at Manali, Pang, Leh and Sarchu
  9. The six moutain passes: Rohtang La (3,978m/ 13,050 ft), Barlacha La (4,890m/ 16,043 ft), Nakee La (4,739m/ 15,547 ft), Lachulang La (5,059m/ 16,596 ft), Tanglang La (5,359m/ 17,582 ft; second highest motorable road in the world), Khardung La (5,602m/ 18,380 ft; highest motorable road in the world)
  10. The 827 km relay from Sarchu to Delhi on the final day
Long story short. In what were perhaps the most beautiful and crazy 120 hours I have ever lived, I along with Harpreet and Panda did an overland self-drive trip from Delhi to Ladakh and back.

We started driving out of Delhi, past Chandigarh, crossed the Shivalik range, drove through Kullu to Manali. We then crossed the Pir Panjal range at Rohtang La, drove through Sarchu, crossed the Great Himalayan range at Barlacha La, twirled through the serpentine Gata Loops, across Nakee La, Lachulang La to Pang. We continued through the infinite Moore Plains, the Tsokar lake, crossed the Zanskar range at Tanglang La, drove along the Indus river, felt the magic of Magnetic Hills before we reached the town of Leh. We kissed the top of Ladakh range at Khardung La. Then we turned around and came back to Delhi.

2400 kms in 120 hours. Pure heaven.


Day 1 - Gurgaon - Ambala - Chandigarh - Mandi - Long Tunnel - Kullu - Manali
Distance: 610 km

Ladakh. There is something strangely orgasmic about that word. Ladakh. Ladakh. Sweeter than the sweetest music to a traveler's ear. Say it aloud. Ladakh.

One momentous midnight of September 2006, we - Harpreet, Panda and I - decided that we should do an overland self-drive trip from Delhi to Leh. Now such trip-plans are hatched at the rate of N per hour. And discarded promptly after hatching. But only very few such trips see the light of Ladakh every year.

In our case, we were slightly more determined to make it happen. We charted out the route, marked the pertrol pumps on the way, prepped up our car (a silver Maruti Swift VXi), conned our slave-masters to grant us leave from work, and prayed to the Gods that the plan didn't fall apart. We overlooked one little aspect though - accommodation. We assumed it would be easy to find and did not care enough about booking it in advance. However, Harpreet's uncle - a senior officer in the Indian army - offered that we stay at the military camps enroute to Leh. He said he would make the necessary phone calls. We needed no favours, but took his offer in any case. (In hindsight, our trip would have been a disaster if we did not take up the acco offer.)

After that, we just waited with nervous patience for the D-day.

The D-day arrived. We left home before dawn and reached Chandigarh in time for breakfast at Harpreet's parents. Lots of butter with parathas on the side. When we were sure we couldn't ingest more, we politely pushed our plates and asked aunty to pack the rest. This trip was going to be a long one. It was only appropriate we recalled our Gods once more. Harpreet and I went to the gurudwara behind his house and put our heads to the book.

The rest of the day was uneventful driving as we crossed the Shivalik range and reached Manali. The terrain was already beautiful. We passed through a very interesting tunnel, about 2.8 km long, near Mandi. The road around Kullu slowed us down considerably and the multitude of tourist cars on the route did not help. From Delhi to Manali, we covered 610 kms in a day. We could have taken it a little slow and stopped in Kullu for the night. But we only had five days off from work.

The army camp at Manali was nice and cozy. After dinner, we went out to the local market looking to buy cans to carry petrol. Tandi would be the last refuelling point on the onward route till we reached Leh. The cans were critical to the trip.


Day 2 - Manali - Rohtang La - Tandi (petrol) - Keylong - Jispa - ZingZing Bar - Barlacha La - Sarchu - Gata Loops - Nakee La - Lachlang La - Pang
Distance: 310 km

Day 2 was an early start. Dragging ourselves out of bed on a cold morning was a small price to pay in order to avoid the tourist traffic on the Manali - Rohtang La ascent. Holiday makers from around would come to Manali for the snow; and head to Rohtang La for a day trip. On the other side of the pass lay vast amounts of unrestrained and cruel beauty. The roads were deserted and broken. The mountains were endless and magnificent. It was the beginning on an epic day.

It was the week of Raid-de-Himalaya, the world's highest adventure rally. The rally route was slightly different from the regular roads and included off-road tracks. Several special-fitted 4x4 Gypsys and Pajeros hit the corners and curves as they sped away into golden dust towards the distant checkered flags.

We reached Tandi where we tanked up and also filled up the three plastic cans with 15 liters of petrol. Tandi was the only petrol pump between Manali and Leh. The petrol cans went in the rear of our hatchback and we continued our journey towards Leh.

We drove through small streams and large boulders. We did several stretches in second gear in loose mud. Saying the terrain was tough would be gross simplification. But it was also astoundingly beautiful. Every turn provided a breathtaking view. And unless you are an Arundhati Roy or a William Dalrymple, it is difficult to recreate the view in words. After a point, I was sick of taking any more pictures. I threw my camera on the back seat and tried to take in the view. We drove through Keylong, Jispa, ZingZing Bar and crossed the Great Himalayan range at Barlacha La (16,043 ft).

Then came the lovely flat stretch of Sarchu plateau. Miles of desolate abandoned flat land amid immeasurable mountains. Beyond Sarchu were the Gata Loops. There is a reason why this route is considered the toughest terrain in the world. 21 hairpin bends and an ascent of 1500 ft in less than 10 kms at an altitude of 15,300 ft. Phew, that ascent got to our heads! Literally.

Driving seemed lesser fun now. My head was groggy. Harpreet and Panda complained about the same. I sank in the front seat, Harpreet in the back while Panda soldiered on at the wheel. The sun was going down and our army camp was a good 40 km away. Harpreet said he wanted to take a leak and stepped out of the car. A couple of minutes later, we heard a loud sound.

Thud!

Harpreet had blacked out because of the lack of oxygen. But neither Panda or me were in shape to step out of the car and help him off the ground. A few minutes later, he got up on his own and walked back to the car. We were clearly pushing the boundaries.

The army camp at Manali had radioed to the army camps in Sarchu and Pang our departure in the morning. When we knocked on the Pang army camp, we weren't unwelcome guests. The warmth of bukharis inside the tents was heaven. The soldiers offered us some rice with lentils and eggs. Harpreet and I ate whatever we could. Panda was already irate because of AMS and went to bed without eating. It was a long night to the morning.


Day 3 - Pang - Moore Plains - Tsokar Lake - Tanglang La - Upshi - Karu - Leh - Magnetic Hills - Leh - Leh Military Camp
Distance: 280 km

After breakfast the next morning, we went to the camp's SHO. The SHO explained a little more about AMS and told us we were very aggressive with our distances in a day. He said we needed to acclimatize better.

"I hope you guys have been drinking enough water," he asked us.

"Yes," we all nodded.

"How much?"

"Two litres yesterday,"

"That should be good. Everyone should drink two litres per day to keep hydrated," the SHO pointed out.

"Two litres amongst the three of us," we corrected the situation.

He gave us a couple of tablets for our journey ahead. We got chatting with him and asked him about the myth of Magnetic Hill. He said that we should check it out ourselves before we made a judgement. We were amused at the idea that a stationary car would go uphill on its own.

When we started around 10 am, the water bottle we had left behind in the car had frozen to ice (and we were thinking we would sleep in the car if we didn't find accommodation!)


Day 4 - Leh Military Camp - Khardung La - Leh - Tanglang La - Pang - Sarchu
Distance: 360 km

And we drove along the narrow strip of tar clinging dangerously to the mountain cliff. The driver's task was to just focus on road ahead of him and stick to it. I would look down out of the car window and my head would spin. And we couldn't stop the car because it was too dangerous. I looked at the six ton truck on the opposite cliff and it looked like a tiny speck of metal on a rusty mountain of dust. And I thought to myself, "Is this for real?"


Day 5 - Sarchu - Barlacha La - Jispa - Rotang La - Manali - Kullu - Long Tunnel - Nauni - Chandigarh - Delhi - Gurgaon
Distance: 827 km


I get a few emails every year asking me about tips to plan the trip. Here's my list of things you can do.

  1. Ascend slowly. Take your time to acclimatise after each ascent of 1000m or 1500m.
  2. Learn about AMS and black outs. Take baby steps and conserve energy if you are feeling sick. Make sure you have a companion with you if you feel you'll black out.
  3. Drink lots and lots of water. At least 2 litres every day.
  4. Eat well. Avoid food that you think will make your stomach churn. Sticking to basics like dal-chawal is a good idea. Chocolates (5Star and BarOne) are also a great source of energy.
  5. Carry necessary medicines. Avomine for nausea and motion sickness and Saridon for headache should help.
  6. Always wear your seat belts. Even if you are in the backseat. It will help you minimize motion sickness in mountainous terrain.
  7. Prepare your car. A visit to the service station could be imperative.
  8. Estimate fuel requirement. Mark all the petrol pumps on your route. If you are driving in a hatch back, do not carry petrol in poor containers - the stench, clubbed with AMS, will drive you nuts.
  9. Try and book your night stays before you start.
  10. Relax, breathe in, throw away your camera, stretch your arms, breathe out.


Trip expenses? Hold your breath. For petrol, food and acco combined - we spent Rs. 3300 per head. We spent another Rs. 2200 per head on car maintenance and repairs. Rs. 5500 for Delhi to Leh and back. Are you kidding me? One heck of a trip!


If you like the pictures here, you can download a pps file (10 Mb).



Tags: Drive, India

Post a comment

  1. Simple awesome. - Arvinder Singh Rooprai
  2. Good to see your website .. amazing pics .. just stunning. - Hasnain Sikandar
  3. I was going through your travelogue about Ladakh and liked it very much. - Sujay Das
  4. You have fantastic photos. I loved the Delhi - Leh Drive shots. - Ryan Wanger
  5. Too good ... - Mahesh Srinivasan
  6. Good information and amazing photographs! Three cheers to you guys! Four of us are going 12 Sep 2009 - Scorpio. Will post the experience and the pictures once we return. - Rajan Bhatt
  7. Great description of the journey ... I am planning a trip to leh with my friends - Aditya Khandekar