When you are travelling to a land far away like Ladakh, careful planning and a well laid travel itinerary becomes of utmost importance. Ladakh is not your typical vacation where you can just pack your bags and go. Everything is different up there, bound by timelines, hostile weather conditions, bad roads and for most of the people, it may be several years before you can plan another trip there. Just so that you do not face any hassle and enjoy your trip at the fullest and also in terms of safety, you must have details on where should you break the journey for night, which route should you take; information on the road conditions and availability of basic amenities. It is also helpful to know what all places are worth covering and what are the major tourist attractions that you must not miss. In this article, I will provide a sample Manali to Ladakh itinerary that you can follow.
There are two routes of course that you can take to reach Leh, one from Manali and the other from Srinagar. In this article however, I will talk about travelling from Manali to Leh, local sightseeing in Ladakh, and return via Srinagar. In case you do not intend to cover Srinagar highway at all, then I will also provide an alternate itinerary to return via the same route to Manali.
Several things come into consideration of course when you plan a travel itinerary like how many days you have in hand, what your budget is and how you plan on travelling. For the sake of this article, I will assume that you are either using your own vehicle, motorcycle or car, or renting a private cab for this trip. If however, you are using public transport services or a shared cab, then the itinerary will be different and you cannot use this one to the point. I will lay down a plan for 2 weeks journey which in my opinion is advised if you truly want to cover and travel at ease. Based on the number of days you have, you may modify, add remove places from this itinerary or may ask in the comments section below and I can suggest a different one. I have tried to cover almost all major tourist attractions here and as many more places as I can so that you can make the most out of your journey. I have only included days from Manali onwards and until Srinagar. The time you will spend to reach Manali or reach home from Srinagar will be additional days to this plan.
The most important thing that you need to keep in mind while travelling from Manali is the permit for Rohtang Pass. A quick fix for this would be that before starting from home, contact a hotel in Manali and ask them if they can arrange permits for you. If their answer is yes, book your night stay with them and collect permits after you reach Manali. This way, you will not have to spend an entire day in Manali arranging permits. Please note that the permits are mandate and there is absolutely no way around this. If caught without a permit, you will not be allowed to travel beyond the check post and will get sent back to Manali.
The following Manali to Ladakh itinerary mostly focuses on an easy travel plan without too much rush and covering all major tourist attractions. It is more of a common itinerary that can apply to almost anyone, irrespective of whether you are travelling solo or with family. You cannot of course follow it to the point but can use it as a base plan and then modify it as per your needs.
Day 1 – Manali to Jispa
It is advised that you start as early as you can from Manali to avoid traffic congestion at Rohtang. Cross the first high altitude pass of your journey and enjoy beautiful vistas all day long. There is mostly a lot of slush towards the top of Rohtang Pass and roads too are narrow so drive carefully. If you must stay in a cemented hotel and are on a budget, then stay at Keylong. You can find several moderately priced hotels here. If a hotel is not a must, then by all means go to Jispa and stay there. There are a couple of camp sites and a hotel in Jispa where you can stay. Jispa is a beautifully located town and in my opinion, you must stay at one of the camps there rather than Keylong. Depending upon your speed, this journey can take you anywhere between 6-10 hours.
Day 2 – Jispa to Pang
Start easy by 8-9 AM from Jispa, cross Baralacha La, Lachulung La, Nakeela on the way. Also see two small lakes, Deepak Tal and Sooraj Tal and witness the beauty and challenging nature of Manali Leh highway. Gata Loops are another major attraction. After Sarchu, you will cross into the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Reach Pang by evening and check into one of the camps / chadar tents.
Most people will advise you against staying at Pang because of high altitude sickness which you are bound to suffer from here. But if you have 3 days in hand, there is not really much of an option to stay other than Sarchu or Pang and you are bound to feel AMS at both places. The only other way around this is to really rush through the journey on day 2, start from Jispa by 5-6 AM and reach directly to Leh by evening. This is also a preferred choice if you are not comfortable staying at a camp or chadar tent at either Sarchu or Pang.
Read the article below on more details on how to deal with acute mountain sickness. Total journey would be of 6-8 hours.
In my opinion, a 3 days journey on this road is better however if you are short on time, then you can change it to Manali to Jispa on Day 1 and Jispa to Leh on Day 2 to finish the journey in 2 days.
Day 3 – Pang to Leh
Leh is not too far from Pang so you can start at your own convenience. Cross the magnificent Moore Plain and Tanglang La on the way. Journey from Pang to Leh is not more than 6 hours even if you travelled at a slow pace so you should comfortably be in Leh by late afternoon at most which gives you ample time for hotel hunt. Once you have decided on a hotel, you can either chose to rest or may even visit Shanti Stoopa, Leh Market or Leh palace in the evening.
Day 4 – Leh
Stay for the day in Leh. Rest and give your body some time to adjust to high altitude. If you are planning to visit some restricted areas like Changthang Valley or Batalik, then you can use this day to arrange permits. If you are short on time, you can skip this day altogether.
Day 5 – Leh – Khardung La – Diskit / Hunder
Travel to Nubra valley and cross Khardung La on your way. Spend some time at Khardung La top and have a cup of tea at Army canteen. You can stay at either Diskit or Hunder for the night. The tall Buddha statue, sand dunes and Bactrian camels are the most famous tourist attractions that you should see. It is a 6-8 hours journey depending on your speed.
Day 6 – Diskit / Hunder – Panamik – Khardung La – Leh
Start early from Diskit or Hunder and head towards the small village of Panamik. See the hot water springs in Panamik and start your return journey to Leh via the same route that you took to reach Nubra Valley. An alternate way to do the journey here can be to take the Wari La route to reach back Leh or take the Agham Shyok road to head straight to Pangong from Nubra Valley.
Day 7 – Leh to Pangong Tso
This may be a long journey depending on your speed and breaks you take so an early start is advised. While on the way, you can also cover a few monasteries like Hemis, Thiksey, Shey Palace and get across mighty Chang La. You can chose to stay at either Tangste, Lukung or Spangmik. If you want to stay close to the lake, then you will have to stay at a camp site. If you want to stay at a cemented hotel, you will have to look for accommodation at either Tangste or Lukung.
Day 8: Pangong Tso to Leh
Take the same route back to Leh that you took to reach Pangong on day 7. If you did not visit the monasteries, Shey Palace on Day 7, you may cover it on Day 8. An alternate way to do the return journey can be that you take the Changthang route from Pangong and head directly to Tso Moriri from here via Man, Merak, Loma, Nyoma, Mahe and Sumdo. Please note that this area still requires ILP so if you have not obtained permits from Leh, you cannot travel here and will have to return to Leh.
Day 9: Leh to Tso Moriri
This will again be a long journey not because of the distance but because you will be travelling on some terrible roads today. Head back on Manali Leh highway until Upshi and take the diversion towards Chumthang. Road until Sumdo will be a mix of good and bad but after Sumdo it will pretty much be a dirt trail all the way until Karzok. This can easily be a 8-10 hours drive depending on your speed and breaks you take in between. The monasteries, Shey palace that I mentioned for Day 7 and 8 can be covered on this day and on Day 10 as well.
Day 10: Tso Moriri to Leh
Spend some time at the lake early in the morning and head back to Leh via the same route that you took to reach Karzok. Another route that you can take for the journey is to take the diversion towards Polakongka La frm Sumdo and exit on Manali Leh highway just after Pang in which case you will again be crossing Tanglang La to reach back Leh. I will advise to take this route because the road is good, won’t add much time to the journey but you will get to travel right through the amazingly beautiful More plains.
Day 11: Leh
Take a rest day in Leh. Visit some of the tourist attractions in town like Leh Palace, Shanti Stoopa, Leh market etc and relax. Please note that you can skip this day if you are short on time.
Day 12: Leh to Kargil
You will start your return journey to Leh via Leh Srinagar highway. See the magnetic hill, Zaskar river confluence, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, monasteries at Mulbekh and Lamayuru and Lunar Landscapes. Road will be mostly good with a few bad patches in between. Easily a 10-12 hours journey if you cover all the places I mentioned above, spending some time there or else it can be easily covered in 8 hours. I would still advise on starting early from Leh, by 7 AM I would say. Kargil has several hotels so finding one will not be a problem but finding one within a budget can be.
Day 13: Kargil to Srinagar
Travel on the Srinagar Leh highway and enjoy the mesmerizing and heavenly beauty of Srinagar. Take a lunch break at Sonmarg and continue to Srinagar. About 8-10 hours journey depending on your speed and the breaks you take. If within budget, head straight to Dal Lake upon reaching Srinagar and stay in a houseboat; highly recommended and totally worth it.
Day 14: Srinagar to Jammu
Reach Jammy via Patnitop. About 8-10 hours journey but there is mostly traffic on this route so can even take a bit longer.
RETURN VIA MANALI
The above itinerary is covering both the Manali Leh and Srinagar Leh highway however if you intend to return via Manali itself, the journey will change Day 10 onwards. On Day 9, you will reach Karzok (Tso Moriri) and from there, rather than going back to Leh you will head back to Manali.
Day 10: Karzok to Pang / Sarchu
Depending on what time you started from Karzok, you can chose either to stay at Pang or Sarchu. If you started by say 9-10 AM, you can comfortably make it to Pang by 4-5 PM. If you can start before 9 AM, you can make it all the way till Sarchu which will be a better option because it will reduce your travel time on the next day. Sarchu also has better and cleaner choices in terms of accommodation.
Day 11: Pang/ Sarchu to Manali
If you stayed at Pang and intend to reach Manali today before dark, you must start your journey by first light of the day. It will be cold like hell and if you are on a motorcycle, first couple hours of the journey will be tough so early in the day but it will see you in Manali before it gets dark. Do not take too many breaks as well. If you stayed at Sarchu, even then I would advise to start early after having breakfast and you will take the same route back via Rohtang Pass to reach Manali.
I hope this information was helpful. This as I mentioned above is more of a common Manali to Ladakh itinerary that you can follow even if traveling with family. There is not too much of travel time any days, no risky areas involved and covers most of the tourist attractions. If you have any further questions, would like to amend this itinerary a bit to fit your timelines, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would be glad to answer.