Without any doubt, the true fun of a trip to Ladakh is traveling by your own vehicle, either a motorcycle or a car. You travel as per you convenience, take as many breaks as you want, wherever you want, can carry all your required belongings without the fear of carrying too many bags, itinerary can be flexible and the list is endless. However on top of all this, one major factor that lures people to bring their own vehicle to Ladakh is to drive/ride on challenging and tough roads. The real dream of a trip here is to be driving through Ladakh. However to make sure that you have fun while being safe, mentioned below are a few Ladakh driving tips on how you can manage your vehicle through tough sections of the road.
Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of passing through those water streams (like in the pic above; yes that is the road), high altitude passes and the hostile conditions. You will be telling tales of it to your family and friends for months to come. However, as thrilling and adventurous as it sound, fact cannot be denied that it can prove to be quite dangerous as well. Both you and your vehicle can get hurt and If you were not being careful. Caution has to be practiced no matter how well experienced a driver or rider you are.
Ladakh Driving Tips
The best car for this terrain will be a 4WD SUV however even a 2 wheel drive SUV will do the job equally well. The advantage with an SUV is of the ground clearance but do not let that hold you back. I have known people who have commuted on Manali Leh highway in a Maruti 800 as well. If you are taking a Sedan or a Hatchback, you would have to be extra cautious or the belly of your car will be kissing the ground at several places. Just keep yourself mentally ready for a few scratches underneath your car. If you are travelling in an SUV, then you can go at any time of the year when the highway is open (June to September), however if you own a hatchback or a Sedan, then avoid travelling in June and July because in these months, the nallahs and the water crossings are at full flow and more in numbers.
Do not drink and drive:
This by far remains on top of the list, not just Ladakh driving tips but driving tips for anywhere. Do not make this mistake at all. Even if you have done it in the plains once in a while, do not think that you will able to manage up here as well. Ladakh and the roads leading here are unforgiving in this matter and even a small mistake, a small miscalculation can prove fatal. Reason why I kept this at top of the list is because a trip to Ladakh is a time when you have fun with your friends. Sitting late night at a camp around bonfire will be a temptation to pour in some alcohol but please avoid that. If you did have a few pegs and still have the hangover, let someone else take the wheel. Do not at all drive while you are still under the influence of Alcohol.
Do not try to show off:
Being confident of your driving skills is good but do not be over-confident and do not try to show off. A lot of people try to leave the road and take dirt trails either to test their vehicle or their own driving skills. This is not really wise. Please stay on the road even if it is the longer route. Do not try to go off-roading unnecessarily, even a small problem here can prove to be catastrophic.
While crossing a nallah in a car, please stop for a minute, step out, inspect the crossing and then take your car across very carefully. If you are still unsure then wait for a little while for another car to arrive and follow its lead. Stay in the first gear, do not half clutch and cross over in a single go while maintaining the momentum. If there is slush around, then ask your fellow travelers to step out of the car so that they can help push the vehicle if you get stuck. Accelerate slowly to ensure that your car doesn’t skid. You really need to go easy on the gas to avoid your wheel spinning. Avoid any sudden movements on the steering, accelerator or brakes as this may send your car spinning.
In case you get stuck and the wheel starts to spin, do not continue to accelerate. Rather, stop and try reversing a bit for a couple of meters and try to take a different angle. If you are stuck and you try to accelerate your way out, it would only bury your wheels even deeper. If you are in a 2 wheel drive and got stuck in slush or sand, engage the first gear and see if you can get in momentum. If you are able to, do not continue to stay in 1st and very quickly, engage the 2nd gear as soon as you start to move. In a 2 wheel drive, because of lack of traction, you will need a bit of wheel spin to manage your way through which you will get in the 2nd gear. Staying in 1st will put stress on the clutch plates and you will not get the needed spin to find your way out. However though, the change from 1st to 2nd has to be really quick. If you take too long to change gears, your car will stall again. Never try to manage your way out of slush using half clutch else you will just end up burning the clutch plates.
Driving up and down the hills:
When driving up a hill, you will come across several hairpin bends. It is always wise to downshift to tackle those to prevent stalling. When going down the hill, do not continue to apply brakes because it may overheat the brakes resulting in a failure. Rather, engage a lower gear and descend slowly, allowing the engine braking to help you.
Driving Across a water stream:
While crossing a water stream, please stop your car for a minute, get down, inspect the crossing and then take your car across slowly. Try to find a spot where the water does not seem too deep or does not have any lose stones. Another good practice, in case you are not feeling too confident, it to wait for another vehicle to pass by and then follow its lead. Several times you will come across water flowing across a perfectly laid road but do not just speed through it. It will cause a splash which further may lead to water entering the engine. Slow down and drive across.
Carry all required paperwork:
Please ensure that you are carrying all necessary documents like your driver’s license, vehicle registration certificate, PUC and insurance documents.
Carry all required essentials:
Please carry all essentials spare parts that can come handy for a quick fix. Some of the recommended items are a spare tire, set of screwdrivers, tool kit, Jack and spanner, compressor, foot pump, and a puncture repair kit, jerry cans for fuel, Adhesive like Feviquick, spare bulbs, towing rope, jump start cables, a torch, Funnel, spare engine oil and coolant etc.
Know your vehicle:
Do not bring your car to Ladakh unless you know it well. By knowing, I mean you should know the pickup capabilities of your car, how to maneuver it around those tricky turns, that short distance your car travels between you applying the brakes and it coming to a complete halt and how to take it up steep ascents when it refuses to go any further.
Patience is the key while driving through Ladakh. Do not attempt to overtake at turns and drive slow at rough stretches. Do not try to rush through the water streams, instead first stop, get down, inspect the crossing carefully and then take your car across slowly. If the road is blocked for any reason, please wait patiently in the queue and do not try to get ahead of others.
A trip to Ladakh is not only stressing to your own body but to your vehicle as well. Do not overburden it with items you do not really need. Travel as light as possible while making sure that you are carrying all necessary items.
You will need to pay close attention to it. Ladakh is a place where you will not come across a gas station for hundreds of kilometers. Know your car’s fuel efficiency and plan accordingly the fuel you need to carry with you. On a safer side, always carry a minimum of 20 liters of fuel in Jerry cans.
Do not over speed:
Several times you will come across freshly laid tarmac, inviting you to speed up but do not make that mistake. These roads, even though smooth, are still bumpy and can prove dangerous for your car’s suspension. Specially around More plains, Chumathang, and in Changthang valley, you will see a straight road ahead of you for miles but please maintain a decent enough speed only. There are several dips and sand traps in these roads that can really cause a sudden twist in the gears.
If you come across anyone in need of help, please stop and do what you can. Up there, when you do not have a living soul miles around, help is tough to find so when you are in a situation to help someone; please do so. Imagine this, you may be in need of help the next day yourself and you would hate it if someone just passed you by after an hour of waiting without offering to help, right?
Agreed that Ladakh is a cold desert which may have you reaching out to your car’s heater but please avoid turning it on. With a closed environment, your window glasses up, turning on a car heater may reduce the oxygen levels inside the car which will make breathing hard and may trigger symptoms of acute mountain sickness.
Ladakh is beautiful no doubt but when at the wheel, you cannot really afford to be looking at the vistas. Stay focused and keep your eyes on the road.
Please take breaks after a little while. Let your car rest while you enjoy the scenic beauty of Ladakh. Do not rush through the journey. It is not the destination that matters in case of Ladakh, but it is the journey that you need to enjoy. You need to remember that traveling here is also stressful for your car so let it rest and cool off at regular intervals.
Do not litter:
In the end, Ladakh is a beautiful place so please let it be so. Do not litter in the valley or on the roads as you drive through. Carry garbage bags and dispose them at an appropriate place where there is a dustbin.
I hope this information on Ladakh driving tips helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our community forum and I would be glad to answer.