1. How many days are required for a road trip to Ladakh
There are endless customizations possible for a Ladakh trip depends on available time. Let me break the complete trip into three major sub sections.
A. RIDE TO LEH
You can bypass this whole ride by taking a flight to Ladakh from Delhi or any other respective place.
There are 4 popular starting points for bike ride to Leh : Delhi, Chandigarh, Manali, Srinagar.
Manali to Leh : Total distance is 500 km which can be covered in 3 days (can be done in 2 days, but it will be little hectic).
Chandigarh to Leh : Chandigarh to Manali (1 day) + Manali to Leh (3 days) : Total 4 days
Delhi to Leh : Delhi to Manali via Chandigarh (2 days, can be done in 1 but it will be super hectic) + Manali to Leh (3 days) : Total 5 days
Srinagar to Leh : Total distance is 500 km and can be covered in 2 days easily with a night halt at Kargil.
Our Itinerary from Manali to Leh:
Day 1 : Manali to Jispa via Rohtang Pass (I recommend to stay in tents at Jispa over a hotel in town Keylong (20 km before Jispa)).
Day 2 : Jispa to Sarchu via Bara-lachala, where you get to ride over water streams.
Day 3 : Sarchu to Leh
B. RIDE AROUND LEH
You can roam around Leh in main market area, Changspa filled with German cafes, guesthouses etc. You can also visit monastries, Shanti Stupa, Khardungla Pass, Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake (Lake shown in 3 idiot), Lake Tso Miri.
Our itinerary :
Day 1 : Explore Leh, visit monastries (Shey and Thicksey) and Stupa at hill
Day 2 : Visit Khardungla pass and then reach Nubra valley (night stay)
Day 3 : Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake (I haven’t explored this route, but this can save you the hussle of coming back to Leh and then going to Pangong next day).
Day 4 : Pangong Lake to Leh
Day 5 (optional) : Leh to Tso Miri (Lake will be similar to Pangong but less commercialize).
Day 6 (optional) : Tso Miri to Leh (If you are coming from Manali, there is route you can follow to come to Leh via Tso Miri, this can save you 1 day).
So, it will take atleast 4 days to cover important places in Leh. I would recommend to spend first day in Leh to acclimatize, specially if you are coming by flight.
C. RIDE BACK FROM LEH
You can bypass this whole ride by taking a flight from Leh to Delhi.
Riders tends to follow the complete circuit in both directions, either from Srinagar to Manali or vice versa.
My personal recommendation is to start your journey from Manali. The major reason is road conditions, Srinagar to Leh is NH1 which is an awesome highway to ride, except a 20 km of very bad stretch known as Zozila pass, whereas the road condition from Manali to Leh is a disaster. It’s better to cover the bad stretch in the starting as energy level and excitement is usually higher in the beginning of the trip.
So, the riding time of return journey depends on your destination and route.
Leh to Srinagar : 2 days
Leh to Chandigarh(via Jammu) : Srinagar to Chandigarh (1.5 days) + Leh to Srinagar (2 days) : Total 3.5 days
Leh to Delhi (via Jammu) : Srinagar to Delhi (2 day) + Leh to Srinagar (2 days) : Total 4 days
Leh to Manali : 3 days
Leh to Chandigarh (via Manali) : Manali to Chandigarh (1 day) + Leh to Manali (3 days) : Total 4 days
Leh to Delhi (via Manali) : Manali to Delhi (2 day) + Leh to Manali (4 days) : Total 5 days
We covered the route from Leh to Srinagar for return journey.
Day 1 : Leh to Kargil
Day 2 : Kargil to Srinagar
So, now the question, “How much time is required ?” is answered by another question. : “How much you want to ride ?”
2. How much it will cost ?
There are 3 major contributors for your total expenses of the trip.
1. Bike Rental and Fuel
We got a bike rental at a cost of 1600/day for 500 cc enfield and 1400/day for 350 cc enfield in Manali. You can talk to different vendors in Manali and may crack a better deal with little bargain.
We rode for 14 days and covered around 2700 km with a total cost of 14*1600(rental) + 8000(fuel) : 30K. This cost is per bike which can be divided into rider and pillion. You can save 22K, if you are riding your own bike.
Extra cost to transfer the bikes : We took bikes from Manali and dropped them in Jammu and then took a bus from Jammu to Delhi to save some time. Bike Rental charged us extra 10K per bike to transfer the bikes back from Jammu to Manali.
Popular rumor about bike rental : There is a popular rumour that the bikes rented from Manali will not be allowed in Ladakh (specially Nubra valley and Pangong). Local bike rental owners in Ladakh will seize your bikes and force you to take bike rental from them. This is a completely baseless rumor spread by local taxi owners for their own benefit. They suggest you to take taxi from Manali to Leh and then take a bike rental there. I personally encountered this situation and know couple of other groups who faced the same. When they told me this story, my simple answer was, “Ok! thats my problem” and guess nothing happened.
This component varies from person to person. The minimum amount you can spent per meal is 100 rupees for 2 maggie with tea or two paranthas with tea. If we include water bottles, multiple tea breaks with snacks like mommos, biscuits and 3 meals; average cost for food will be 500-600 rupees/day.
Tariff for tents can vary from 1000/tent to 10,000/tent. There is no pre-booking required, we used to talk to different tent owners at runtime and decided. Average cost for stay during the whole trip will be 500-600 rupees/day per person for double occupancy. We are talking about very basic stays here.
So, total cost will depends on the duration of your trip. We had a trip of 17 days, where we rode for 14 days and it costs us ~50K per person (including our flight ticket from Bangalore to Delhi, Bus from Delhi to Manali and Jammu to Delhi, Bike Rental & transfer, food and stay).
3. Should you ride alone or with an organized group tour ?
You can find several options for organized bike tours to Ladakh by different companies. They will take care of the planning of complete itinerary, backup vehicle for emergency and luggage, a mechanic for any issue in the bike and accommodation. In short, you will just enjoy the ride and leave rest of the stuff for organizers. Obviously a good service comes with extra price too, when I compared the offered prices of the tours and our estimated cost, tours cost was at least 20K extra. This is my experience, you may get a better deal over the internet.
An organized tour is not my cup of tea as I don’t want anyone to take away the fun of planning a trip. Being a travel photographer, I try to avoid the situation, which restrict me to setup up a tripod and frame a perfect shot due to time constraint or some pre-defined schedule.
Other common doubts related to rides are :
I am not regular rider, Can I ride there ? : Leh was my first long bike ride on Enfield, only other bike trip I did was Bangalore to Shravanbelagola (160 km) that too on my pulsar 200NS. I won’t say that the ride will be easy but it will be a lifetime ride.
If you are one of those (like me) who has an image of a straight road among the mountains for Leh, as shown in all movies. Let me share a bad news with you, that is just a 40 km stretch. There are bad stretches where you have to ride on first gear for continous 70 km, which is really frustrating. Apart from the bad roads, thrill of riding in Northern Mountains with sharp turns is really a big challenge.
What happens, if there is some issue with the bike ?
If you are not riding with an organized group, you are on your own if anything happens with your bike. But biker brotherhood is so strong in Leh that even if you just park your bike on a road side and stand, someone will surely stop and ask you, “Brother, is everything fine ?”. So, you may be alone in your city but not in Leh. Along with this, there is no harm in learning basic things like : changing the break wire, engine oil etc.
4. What is the best time to plan a road trip to Leh ?
There is a small window of 3-4 months (June-Sept), when you can ride to Leh. The roads are blocked during rest of the year. Out of this 4 months window, July is usually the best as every route is open during this time. I know few people who went in late August or early September and they had to waste couple of days due to road blockage. It may not happen with everyone, but it depends on you if you want to take a chance.
You can also plan your travel dates according to cultural festivals which happens in different monastries in Ladakh. We planned our travel dates to align with Hemis Festival which was a great experience.
5. What should be there in your travel bag to Leh ?
Below mentioned things must be in your travel bag to Leh along with your clothes, ipod, camera and other stuffs.
1. Bike safety gears (Leg and arm crash guard, Helmet (optional, but helmet provided by rentals is of a bad quality))
2. Good riding jacket, boots and gloves (you really need gloves due to cold weather)
3. Luggage chords (we did this mistake of carrying normal tying ropes, but there are stretchable cords available in the market which are really convinient)
Plastic sheets to cover bags from rains
Sunglasses and Sunscreen
Medicines (Diamox : Altitude sickness, Combiflam, Disprin etc).
For other road trips, please checkout my blog : https://cameraonwheel.wordpress.com/