Srinagar Leh highway is often considered as the easier way to reach Ladakh and in my opinion quite rightly so. This is a road that has its own set of challenges but does not quite get as treacherous as Manali to Leh. It runs through quite a few stretches that can be considered as dangerous, has three high altitude passes on the way, receives ample amount of snow each year but has several advantages as well. Some of the basic amenities like cell phone reception, gas stations, accommodation are better on this route. When is the best time to travel from Srinagar to Leh by road is the information that I will try to cover in this article.
As compared to Manali Leh highway, route from Srinagar to Leh remains open for a longer duration due to several reasons first of which is that it is used by the Indian Army as the primary road connecting the region of Ladakh with rest of the country. Then there is also the fact that this road runs right next to the LOC at several places. In terms of population as well, there are several major towns on Srinagar Leh highway out of which Drass and Kargil are considered to be very sensitive areas. Due to these facts, BRO tries to keep this road operational for as long as they can and it is only in the months of peak winter that Srinagar Leh highways remains closed.
Srinagar Leh highway remains open for about 6 months in a year. It is sometime by late November or early December that BRO closes the road for vehicular traffic after snowfall specially around Zoji La pass. Please note here that even though I mentioned early December here but it is safe to assume that this road become unsafe for tourists around Mid November after it starts to snow at three high altitude passes. After November, the road remains closed for the entire winter and usually opens around Mid-May (or early June if there has been heavy snowfall in the region). This entire time civilian traffic is not allowed to move on the road.
So when is the best time to travel from Srinagar to Leh by road? As I mentioned above, the highway remains open for 6 months and in my opinion, each month is unique in its own way. Travel in any month and you will feel that this entire 430 odd kilometers stretch is a road from on heaven to another. When do you want to travel on this beautiful piece of heaven pretty much depends on when it is convenient for you and what interests you the most. Travel as early as later May and you will get ample amounts of snow at several places. Travel in late July or August and you will have lush green valleys all around you. Go in November and you will feel the cold chill run down your spine without an ounce of snow anywhere. Below is a month by month breakdown of how the highway remains and what can you expect to find in a particular month. Read through and make a best judgment of the time that suits & interests you the most.
Late May: And by this, I mean traveling on Srinagar Leh highway as soon as it is declared open. This is not an ideal time to travel at all for several reasons. First and the foremost would be that BRO can close the road any time for a few hours and even days in the initial period. Understand the fact that a road that was buried under snow for 6 months was just thrown open which means there will still be a lot of snow clearing work still happening which may halt the traffic any time. If that happens, you would be stuck and would have no other option other than to go back to the nearest town and wait it out. Road at this time would be the most challenging with a lot of local traffic, returning to their home towns and villages, which they left in winter to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Snow would have just started melted and on a recently open road, it would be creating havoc. Expect to find slush at a lot of places. The only upside of going at this time would be a lot of snow, if that is what you are after.
June: June here can be broken down in two parts, early June and late June. BRO starts restoration work as soon as they open the road and it is usually by late June that the road conditions are improved to a much better condition. This will be an ideal time to visit. On the other hand, traveling in early June will be problematic in several ways and I will list those down below.
- Since the snow was cleared only a couple of weeks ago, condition of the roads is in a terrible state in June. Tar on the roads will be severely limited and you will end up testing your stomach and your vehicle’s suspension.
- Because of the ongoing work on the roads, there will be several places where you will have to stop and wait for BRO to give a green signal before you can cross.
- Numerous waters streams throughout the highway.
- Lots of slush.
Traveling in Late June however will present you with much better road conditions and the journey would not be as challenging as it would have been a few weeks ago. However chances of finding snow at this time would be severely limited.
July: Like June, July too can be broken down in two parts, early July and Late July or just call it July before Monsoon and July after Monsoon starts. Early July is a great time to be taking this journey. Road conditions would have improved a lot, number of water streams will be a lot less and chances of road getting closed due to natural reasons will almost be next to none.
However, once the monsoon arrives in Kashmir valley in late July, rain would start to present a whole new set of problems. There will be landslides at several places and driving/riding would become a nightmare. Expect several parts of the road to be blocked until BRO is able to restore the damaged part. Amarnath Yatra too begins in the July so there will be a lot of rush on the roads of Yatris, especially between Jammu and Srinagar & Srinagar and Sonamarg. Army presence too will increase for Amarnath Yatra security.
Take a look at the picture below taken by a friend of mine, time was first week of July and we were returning from Ladakh. Guy on the motorcycle in this picture is me. Down in the valley on the left, right next to the river are Amarnath Yatra camps. You can imagine what would happen at this stretch of the road when it gets crowded with Yatris in late July and August. Also, imagine what monsoon and landslides would do here.
August: August is the worst month to be traveling on Srinagar Leh highway. Monsoon would be in full swing. Rain would already have done a lot of damage in July and would continue the same in August as well. Amarnath Yatra would be at its peak so there is going to be traffic and people all around. The biggest factor however is the Independence Day. We all know how things get in Kashmir at the time of 15th August so there will be a lot of tension in the air. You may come across protests, bandhs, stikes and owing to that, there is going to be heavy Army presence and a lot of security measures in place, not ideally the kind of fun you were looking for when you started from home.
September: September is the best time to travel from Srinagar to Leh. Monsoon would be gone, Amarnath Yatra would have finished and road conditions would be as best as they can ever be. Though it won’t be as green as it was in July and August, valleys of Kashmir would still be blossoming enough to inspire the awe out of you. There will not be any slush, no water crossings and no nightmarish landslides anywhere. Your destination, Ladakh, too would be covered under a sheet of colors at this time. The only downside of traveling in September is that you won’t come across any snow at all.
October: Winter has arrived in the valley and tourist season would start to approach its end. If you are going in early October, conditions would be pretty much the same as September making it an ideal time to travel but the later part of October will present you with terribly cold weather. The road remains open throughout the month but in the second half, it is just mostly the locals traveling.
November: Not an ideal time to travel at all. Month of November will present you with almost nothing. Vistas will not be green enough, cold weather but no snow and limited accommodation choices. The only upside is that since the tourist season is over, there will be very few people around if some time alone is what you seek.
In the end, I would say that late June, early July, the entire month of September and early October are probably the best time to travel from Srinagar to Leh by road but again, all this depends on what your preference is and when can you afford to be out on vacation. If you can, plan your journey at this time and you will definitely enjoy your trip.
Good to know information, there is currently a railway project in talks which will connect the region of Ladakh with rest of the country. The tracks will run from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil. The line was designated a national project on 26 February 2013. This will be the most challenging railway project for Indian railways, after Konkan railway. However, it is uncertain when the construction would start, if at all.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section below and I would be glad to answer.