How to plan a short trip to Ladakh
Ladakh, as it goes without saying, is not really a place for a short trip. It is not your regular weekend destination where you can just go and come back in a matter of days. A trip to Ladakh requires meticulous planning and even then things can go in an entirely different direction than what you had in mind. If you really want to enjoy Ladakh to the fullest, a minimum of 2 weeks is required to cover all the famous tourist areas as well as the beauty of both the highways leading to Ladakh. With that being said, in our daily busy lives, not all of us can afford to be away from work for so long and some people are forced to plan a short trip to Ladakh. In this article, I will provide some information that can be helpful if you are planning to visit Ladakh within a strict timeline.
Let me start off by first saying that a short trip to Ladakh can be a stressful for both body and mind so you must first prepare yourself for that. For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that you will be travelling from and back to Delhi. Depending on what your location is, you can always adjust a day or two to or from what I am suggesting here.
Now the big question is how many days do you need for a Ladakh trip at minimum? The answer to this question actually depends on how you are travelling but to be on a safer side, a minimum of 9 days is safe to assume. 9 days if you are thinking of a road trip and 5 days minimum if you are catching a flight to Leh. For a road trip, I am suggesting 9 days because this way, you can include two weekends to an entire week, e.g. start off early on Saturday and return home by Sunday evening of next week. This is the minimum amount of time required for a short trip to Ladakh. Any less than this and you are better off postponing your trip for another time when you can afford a few more days. 5 days if you are flying to Leh and 9 days if you are driving.
The second question is how you should plan your itinerary for a short trip to Ladakh? There are a few things that you must consider while panning out your itinerary. To reach Leh from Delhi via Manali, you need a minimum of 3 days however via Srinagar; you will need at least 4 days. So if you are short on time, then you should plan to reach Leh from Manali and return via the same route. Further in this article though, I will suggest alternate versions of itineraries where you can do both, come via Manali or cover Srinagar as well within 9 days. If you are flying to Leh than AMS and giving your body some time to acclimatize becomes the foremost concern. All flights to Leh land there in early morning hours so it gives you an entire day to let your body relax and get used to high altitude before you go on to visit the nearby areas. Please take a look at the article below for further tips and information if you are catching a flight to Ladakh.
Going from Manali however presents another challenge in form of a permit that is required to cross Rohtang La. For this, I would recommend that you contact a hotel in Manali before hand and ask if they can arrange a permit for you. If they say yes, then send them your details and book a room with that hotel for your night stay in Manali. You may have to pay them a little extra but this way you would be able to save an entire day from getting wasted in Manali trying to obtain the permit. The SDM office Manali opens at 10 so it means that it would be noon by the time you are able to obtain the permit. If you are thinking to start the same day then you will encounter traffic at Rohtang top and the farthest you will be able to reach is Keylong which means that either your next day journey to Leh will be way too rushed and long or you will take two more days to reach Leh and your total time from Delhi to Leh will add up to 4 days. So try to arrange the permit in advance. Take a look at the following two articles covering the Rohtang restrictions and details on permits required and how you can obtain it.
The biggest problem with a short trip to Ladakh is that it will be really hectic with no time to relax and you will be traveling for most part of the journey. Below are a few versions of an itinerary that you can follow for a short trip to Ladakh.
Day 1. Delhi to Manali : Start from Delhi early and reach Manali by late evening. Arrange for permits in advance. Take a look at the article below for a complete route guide of Manali Leh highway as well as a map of the route.
Day 2. Manali to Jispa / Sarchu: Start early from Manali and reach Sarchu. If you are unable to make it to Sarchu then stay in Jispa. There is hotel and camps sites as well in Jispa so should not be a problem finding accommodation.
Day 3. Jispa / Sarchu to Leh: Reach Leh by late afternoon or evening and check into a hotel.
Day 4: Leh: Stay in Leh. Visit Leh Palace, Shey Palace, Shanti Stoopa. If time permits, drive on the Srinagar Leh highway to visit Magnetic Hill, Indus and Zanskar confluence at Nimmu, Gurudwara Patther Sahib.
Day 5: Leh – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Leh: Start early from Leh. Reach Khardung La and continue driving to Nubra Valley. Start on your way back from 1 or 2 PM to reach Leh by evening.
Day 6: Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh: Start early from Leh, visit Pangong Tso and reach Leh by evening.
Day 7: Leh to Pang/Sarchu: Start your return journey. Chose to stay at either of these places.
Day 8: Pang/Sarchu to Manali: Start early in the morning if you have stayed in Pang. Reach Manali by evening.
Day 9: Manali to Delhi – Return to Delhi.
If you can add another day to the trip, then the itinerary can be modified as below. It will remain the same until Day 6 and the change will occur day 7 onwards.
Day 7: Leh to Tso Moriri: Pack up your bags and leave Leh as you will continue back home from Moriri. Take the Manali Leh highway and take the turn towards Karzok via Chumathang. Review the article below for a map of the region and to understand the route better.
Day 8: Tso Moriri to Pang / Sarchu: If you had reviewed the map at the article above, you can take the second route to reach Pang via More plains. If time allows, you can make it to Sarchu as well.
Day 9: Pang/Sarchu to Manali: Start early in the morning if you have stayed in Pang. Reach Manali by evening.
Day 10: Manali to Delhi – Return to Delhi.
If you want to include Srinagar Leh highway as well to your trip, then the following itinerary can be followed. Keep in mind though that this will make the trip even a little more tiresome. Change will be Day 4 onwards after you have reached Leh from Manali. If you have reached Leh on day 3 in time, then visit Leh palace and Shanti Stoopa on the same day.
Day 4: Leh – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Leh: Start early from Leh. Reach Khardung La and continue driving to Nubra Valley. Start on your way back from 1 or 2 PM to reach Leh by evening. If you have time, visit Leh market and other tourists destinations like leh Palace, Shey Palace, Shanti Stoopa or monasteries in Leh.
Day 5: Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh: Start early from Leh, visit Pangong Tso and reach Leh by evening. If you have time, visit Leh market and other tourists destinations like leh Palace, Shey Palace, Shanti Stoopa or monasteries in Leh.
Day 6: Leh – Kargil: Start early from Leh and take the Srinagar Leh highway. Visit Magnetic Hill, Indus and Zanskar confluence at Nimmu, Gurudwara Pather Sahib, Alchi, Likir, Basgo Palace on the way and stay for the night at Kargil.
Day 7: Kargil to Srinagar
Day 8: Srinagar to Jammu
Day 9: Jammu to Delhi
The above itineraries were for a road trip. Let us now talk about a short trip to Ladakh if you are catching a flight. While an air trip to Ladakh can help you in terms of time, there are a few other negative aspects to it too. The first and the foremost is that you miss on the traveling on the stunningly beautiful and adventurously challenging Manali Leh and Srinagar Leh highway. The second thing is that your body reaches from plains to thousands of feet of altitude in a matter of an hour.
So what would be an ideal itinerary for someone flying to Leh? While in the article above, I provided a broader itinerary, here is a smaller version of it. 5 days I must say again is a bare minimum. Any less than that and you would be just doing the formality of a Ladakh trip and not truly enjoying it.
Day 1. Arrive in Leh: All flights to Ladakh land in Leh in early morning hours so it gives you an entire day to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Rest and by evening if you are feeling all right, visit the tourist destinations in the city of Leh (Leh market , leh Palace, Shey Palace, Shanti Stoopa or monasteries in Leh)
Day 2: Leh – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Leh
Day 3: Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh
Day 4: Leh – Tso Moriri – Leh
Day 5: Leh – Sham Valley – Leh: Take a drive on Srinagar Leh highway. Visit Magnetic Hill, Indus and Zanskar confluence at Nimmu, Gurudwara Pather Sahib, Alchi, Likir, Basgo Palace.
Day 6: Catch your flight home early in the morning.
If you do not even have 5 days or just have 4 days in hand, you can remove either of the destinations from the itinerary that I suggested.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to answer.