Ladakh to me is definitely not the place that a person would want to fly to. I believe that when it comes to Ladakh, it is not the destination that matters but the entire journey becomes an adventure and destination in itself. Fun begins right from the moment when you get inside your car or on your motorcycle to begin the journey and continues until your reach home. I am sure everyone would agree with me on this but then there are times and situation when we cannot take out all that time, when flying to Ladakh becomes a necessity and we postpone visiting both the highways leading to at a later time. If you are also planning an air trip to Ladakh, below is a very basic but ideal Ladakh itinerary that you can follow. How many places you can cover depends on how many days you have in hand but I will try to include all the famous tourist destinations that you should consider including in your trip. Depending on the time you have, you can add or remove the places from your itinerary.
Day 1: Leh: When flying to Ladakh, the first and the foremost concern is in the form of high altitude acclimatization. Within a matter of hours, you reach from plains to thousands of feet up in the lap of Himalayas. You must allow at least a day (or two depending on how you are feeling) to allow your body to get accustomed to high altitude. All the flights to Ladakh land there in early morning hours so after you reach Leh, check into a hotel and spend rest of the day in the city itself. Do not go to any other place; do not exert yourself and just rest in the hotel. If you did not get hit by AMS at all, then you are one of the few lucky ones but if you did, allow some time for the symptoms to subside. If by evening, you are feeling better, then you can consider taking a walk in Leh market or visit Shanti Stupa or Leh palace. Go to Shanti Stupa at the time of sunset at it presents a spectacular view of the sunset and the city. Below is a link to an article I wrote on how to handle acute mountain sickness in Ladakh. Please take a look so you can be better prepared.
Day 2: Leh: If you are still feeling unwell due to mountain sickness, allow another day of rest and stay in Leh. If you are however feeling better then you can go in two directions to visit the places nearby. Either you can go to Nubra valley beyond Khardung La or take a drive towards Sham valley on Srinagar Leh highway. My recommendation would be that you go on the Srinagar Leh highway. No, I am not suggesting that you go to Srinagar but just drive to a few famous places that can be covered in a day and return to Leh by evening. However, if you are planning to travel to Chushul or Hanle as well (later in the trip), then I suggest that you first secure the permits from DM office in Leh in the morning and then travel towards Srinagar Leh highway. Depending on what time you started from Leh, some of the famous places you can visit are Magnetic Hill, Indus and Zanskar River Confluence, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, Hall of Fame, Buddha statue at Likhir Gompa, Alchi Monastery, and Basgo Monastery.
Click here to read more in details about Magnetic Hill.
All these places can be covered easily in a day and you can return to Leh by evening.
Day 3: Leh to Nubra Valley: By day 3, I am sure your body would have acclimatized to high altitude completely and you should have no problem crossing over Khardung La which at not so long ago was considered world’s highest motorable pass. Start early from Leh if you can but do not make it too late either. Khardung La is just 35 kilometers from Leh so you would reach there pretty quick. Spend some time at the top and on the other side of Khardung La, you will descend into Nubra valley. Ever heard of Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground? This is where it is. The road you are on to would run through Nubra valley and would finally ascend to Siachen Glacier but do not worry, that is not where you are going to. Tourists are only allowed until Nubra valley and not beyond that. Interestingly, Nubra valley is also the place where India border touches both the Pakistani and Chinese borders.
In Nubra valley, on your day of arrival, I recommend that you drive towards Diskit/Hunder and stay at either of the places for the night. The road here is open until the village of Turtuk. You can definitely cross Diskit and Hunder and drive up to Turtuk but Diskit however is the best place to stay here. Apart from the mesmerizing natural beauty of the place, you can also visit Diskit Monastery and sand dunes in Hunder. You should also see the two humped camel, also known as Bactrian Camel, that Nubra valley is famous for. Please take a look at the following route to understand this route better and for also a map of the place.
Day 4: Nubra Valley to Leh: Now there are 3 different ways how this day can turn out. You can either return to Leh from Nubra valley or you can continue towards Pangong Tso directly from Nubra valley via either Agham Shyok road or Wari La. For the sake of this article, I would describe all three.
- Day 4 (a): Nubra Valley to Leh: Assuming that you stayed the night in Diskit on Day 3, today you will be returning to Leh but before you do that, take a turn towards Panamik village. If you had not yet, then I suggest that you take a look at the map I posted at link above so you better understand what I am referring to here. This road is open until Warshi village and you may drive all the way till tourists are allowed. Do visit the hot water springs while you are in Panamik. From there, it is a drive back to Leh on the same road that you took yesterday to reach Nubra valley.
- Day 4(b): On this day you may chose to reach directly from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Wari La pass. I have posted an article on this entire route with a map that you can take a read at the link HERE (Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Wari La)
- Day 4(c): This is an alteration to point b. You will again reach Pangong from Nubra but will take an entirely different route which I have explained with a map at the link HERE (Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Agham Shyok Road)
Of the above three, I would recommend that you follow variation 1 if this is your first time. If you are short on time however, then follow variation 2. I would highly advice against variation 3 as this road can be practically termed as “dangerous”.
Day 5: Leh to Pangong Tso: I would assume that you returned to Leh on Day 4 and would call this Day 5 but you can adjust the day count if you are planning to reach Pangong from Nubra directly. If you are already at Pangong on Day 4, then move to Day 6 in this article.
On this day, you would visit the famous Pangong Lake. From Leh you would take the Manali Leh highway until Karu from where, you would turn towards the mighty Chang La which once was considered as the third highest motorable pass in the world. Near Karu, you can also see the Druk White Lotus School where the movie three idiots was shot (the Ladakh part). Shey Palace and Monastery and Thiksey Monastery are also on the way if you want to stop and pay a quick visit but the journey ahead is long so please manage your time accordingly. Do not spend too much time at these places. Atop Chang La, you can pay a visit to Chang La baba Mandir and have a cup of tea at army run canteen.
Once you start descending Chang La towards Pangong, you will reach the town of Durbuk. The only mobile phone tower of the valley is located here so chances are that your phone will show within range so if you want to call home, this will be the time. From Durbuk, you will descend to the village of Tangtse and then straight to Pangong. I have posted the following two articles, first one detailing the entire route with a map and the second one detailing the accommodation options at Pangong. Please take a look to understand the rout better and to decide your choice of stay at the lake.
Day 6: Pangong Tso to Leh: This day again will have two different variations as below:
- Day 6(a): Today you will return to Leh via the same road that you took yesterday to reach Pangong. Before you do so, do pay a visit to the army shop near the lake where you can buy monuments to carry back home.
- Day 6(b): A variation to this day can be that rather than returning to Leh, you head straight to Tso Moriri via Chushul. Be advised though that this part of the journey needs permits that you would have obtained while you were in Leh. If you did not get the permits than you have no other choice but to return to Leh and go to Moriri the day after. If you do however have the permits than you can go straight to Tso Moriri from here. I have posted an article detailing the entire Pangong to Tso Moriri route with a map that I recommend you take a look HERE (Pangong Tso To Tso Moriri Travel Guide)
Day 7: Leh to Tso Moriri: Today you will be visiting yet another beautiful lake of Ladakh, Tso Moriri. Unlike Pangong Tso, which is a saltwater lake, Tso Moriri is sweet water, has lot of vegetation around it, is a wetland reserve and a sanctuary of migratory birds. From Leh, you will again take the Manali Leh highway but this time until Upshi from where you will turn towards Kumdok. I have detailed this entire route at the link below along with a map. Please take a look to understand it better.
Day 8: Tso Moriri to Leh: Today you will again reach back to Leh but will take a different road and will also visit another lake on your way back. If you have not yet reviewed the article above and taken a look at the map, I suggest you do that first and refer to the map while reading this article.
From Tso Moriri, you will head back to Sumdo but rather than continuing towards Mahe, you will take the road to Polakongka La, another high altitude pass. On the other side of this pass is the beautiful Tso Kar and as a matter of fact, you will come across several other lakes as well which will be smaller in size but equally beautiful. After Tso Kar, the road will merge into the Manali Leh highway, just before Debring from here you will start your journey back to Leh, crossing Tanglang La on the way which was once considered as the second highest motorable pass in the world.
Day 9: If time allows and you can spare another day, stay in the city of Leh and rest your body before you head back home. You can use this day to either just rest or visit any of the nearby areas like Leh Palace, Shey palace, Shanti Stupa, Leh market or the nearby monasteries.
Day 10: Fly back home with memories that will last a lifetime.
This was a basic itinerary you can follow if you are flying to Leh. You can either hire a taxi or rent motorcycles depending on your convenience. I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to answer.