The mountains are calling – and we do all the groundwork for you so you can explore the prettiest, chillest spots in Himachal Pradesh and J&K, the best way possible
The sound of silence can be deafening. Blue skies can offer a virtual spectrum of the cool colour. And you’d be surprised at just how many kinds of green you can find up in the mountains. But the best way to let yourself be surprised by India’s epic mountain states is to road trip through them – turning minutes into infinities. We chart our done-and-dusted route from Kasol, Himachal Pradesh to Leh, Jammu & Kashmir. Prepare yourselves for endless dusty stretches, picture-perfect panoramas, ceaseless chai stops and the liberation of just being, on the road.
First stop: Kasol. Fly or drive down to Chandigarh (if you’re based in and around the North Indian union territory) and begin your road trip after a fulfilling stop at one of its many delectable dhabas. Your first stop is Kasol – and the shortest distance from Chandigarh to the village in Himachal Pradesh is about 292 kms, covered realistically over an 8-hour period, and longer with pee-pitstops.
We love: Alpine Guesthouse, Kasol, located practically atop the Parvati river promises days and nights filled with the sounds of the gushing water body, chocolate balls and cute comfortable attic-rooms, if you’re lucky.
Second stop: Sissu. The ideal time to spend in Kasol is about 3-4 days so you can make the most of the village and enjoy treks nearby (Kheerganga, anyone?). Head on over to Sissu from here – following the Kasol – Rohtang – Gramphu – Kokhsar – Keylong – Jispa – Sissu route, which covers over 165km over 5.5 hours minimum. The drive to the small town in the Lahaul valley of HP is beautiful and once you’re in Sissu, just take in your serene surroundings to make the most of it.
We love: Sissu’s small size means your stay options are limited and Goldrop Camp’s ace tents and hospitable staff make it the ideal stopover for a night.
Third stop: Sarchu. Follow the Sissu – Darcha – ZingZingbar – Baralacha La – Bharatpur – Sarchu route over 150 kms and 5.5 hours. On the boundary between Hp and Ladakh, this is a popular halt point and tented accomodation is quite easily available. One of the benefits of driving from one place to another into Leh, is that the much hyped altitude sickness is kept at bay – as you calmly and leisurely slide into higher altitudes, instead of flying from low lands immediately up above.
We love: The Goldrop Camp’s tents at Sarchu for the overnight stopover.
Fourth stop: TsoMoriri. Follow the Sarchu – Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachulang La – Pang –Tsokar Lake -Tsomoriri lake over 180 Kms and 7hours, hallelujah, you’re in Ladakh. The distant cousin of the more popular Pangong Lake, Lake Moriri is the largest of the high altitude lakes entirely within Indian and an important stopover on your road trippin’ adventure.
We love: Nomadic Life Camp’s tents for the one night halt.
Fifth stop: Leh city. For a break from the all-natural stopovers and proper plumping, insert Leh into your trip, via Tsomoriri and the Mahe Bridge. An 8-hour drive covering 220kms leads you straight into the tourist-heavy city for an overnight stay.
We love: Tukchu Homestay – where the homemade momos and sweet family made us want to extend over stay, endlessly. This traditional Ladakhi home provides views of the Shanti Stupa from the upstairs living room that just sealed the deal. If you’re aching for a hotel experience, pick Lotus Hotel Leh – the rooms are cute, clean and any altitude sickness can be battled with the oxygen tanks available at the reception. It’s also walking distance from the main market square.
Sixth stop: Turtuk. On to Nubra via Khardung La Pass and onward for the Muslim-dominated, Pakistan-bordering village of Turtuk – the nearly 8-hour long drive covering more than 200km is long and tiring, so stop over for two nights to make the most of the village.
We love: The Maha Guesthouse – it’s the only place that has electricity for a couple of hours in the evening, the rooms are quaint and owner Salman, along with offering homemade food, shares intimate tales of the village.
Seventh stop: Pangong Tso. Drive back to Leh via Khardung La only for the night, because early next morning you should head out to the Three Idiots’ biggest reveal – the breath taking Pangong Tso Lake. Over 140kms and 7 hours takes you to the many shades of blue, which is the best way to round-off your 14 day mountain road trip.
We love: Camp Redstart – for its five-star quality tents, view of the lake and crazy good room service. French fries, tea and Nutella crepes add a certain je ne sais quoi to the views of the lake.
- Make sure you organise a driver in advance. Preferably a dependable-known one through a contact-network– number one priority.
- Ensure all your driver’s documentation is in order before you set out – valid license and permits to travel across state lines and within.
- We neglected to book one from Manali to Sissue, and even though Manali is quite the tourist hub, early-late evening made it next to impossible to get a good driver.
- Night drives are off-limits on mountain roads. We were forced to tackle a rough, winding, uphill road post 9 pm and reached our destination only post 12 am – needless to say thanks to the fog and treacherous turns, we barely made it out alive.
- Make sure you buy enough drinking water before you set-off on your next destination – stock up with sugary and salty snack supplies, toilet paper, sanitiser and sanitary napkins for the ladies in the group. Don’t rely on stopovers to purchase these essentials.
- While the mountains are known for their abundant fresh leaf-related produce, don’t wave it around carelessly or stock up in huge quantities – be judicious and be safe, random car checks in and around Manali are rampant.