Also known as National Highway 1-D, Srinagar Leh highway is a road that runs through some extremely treacherous terrain where shut-offs because of snowfalls or landslides are common. However for most part of this journey, this road runs through a region that is well connected and chances of getting stranded with no help around are lesser as compared to Manali Leh highway. Some of the basic facilities like accommodation, petrol pumps, mobile phone reception are also better on this road. When it comes to choosing a mode of transport for travelling from Srinagar to Leh, there are several options available that you can pick from depending on your itinerary and budget. In this article, I will provide some information to what these options are and answer some of the commons questions like which is the best way to travel, what is the cheapest option and how long does it take to reach from Srinagar to Leh.
Distance between Srinagar to Leh
Distance between Srinagar to Leh via Kargil is approximately 434 Kms. There are three high altitude passes on the route and at several stretches it runs right next to Indo-pak border. Towns like Kargil and Drass are sensitive areas with high army presence all around.
Best way to travel from Srinagar to Leh
The J & K State Road Transport Corporation (J&K SRTC) operates regular Deluxe and Ordinary bus services here with an overnight halt at Kargil. Taxis (cars and jeeps), both private and shared are available as well. If you are travelling in a groups you can charter a Deluxe and A-class bus for Leh, Kargil or Padum (Zangskar) from the J & K SRTC at Srinagar. However, best way to travel from Srinagar to Leh is in a self-owned vehicle, be it a car or a motorcycle. This way you are free to travel as per your own comfort, take breaks wherever and whenever you want and take as long as you need to finish the journey. The entire 434 kms long stretch is filled with amazing vistas that will tempt you to stop for a while, a luxury that you will not have if travelling via public transport.
Traveling from Srinagar to Leh in a Car
Even though it is considered as the best and easier way to reach Ladakh, Srinagar Leh highway presents its own set of challenges with the biggest hurdle being the Zoji La pass. As I mentioned above in this article, landslides are quite common on this route, especially when travelling in the months of monsoon. If travelling in months like May, early June, late October or November, you may come across areas covered with snow, especially towards the top of the mountain passes. In Monsoon, you will have to manage you car through slush and water streams at a lot of places. While driving through all this can sound like fun and adventure, it is, without any doubt, dangerous as well. If you are bringing your own car to Srinagar Leh highway, you really need to be good at the wheel. You must be confident of your driving skills and must know your car well, like where it may give trouble, how to get it across difficult terrains. The road will present you with many challenges like water crossings, slush, snow, dirt tracks and you will have to be extremely careful while driving across. Please get your car serviced well in advance and whatever seems dicey, get it either fixed or replaced. It wouldn’t hurt to know a little bit of mechanic work yourself.
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 if you do not own one, then by all means you can bring your Sedan and hatchback as well which is an advantage that Srinagar Leh highway holds over Manali Leh highway. You will still however have to be extra cautious or the belly of your car will touch the ground underneath at several places, especially around Zoji La. 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, July and August. In June, the nallahs and the water crossings are at full flow and more in numbers with the melting snow and July and August will bring landslides and a lot of slush due to rains.
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 be 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 in a spin. If you are highly doubtful of your driving skills and are not feeling too comfortable with the idea of driving on such roads, then I suggest you hire a driver who is a local from Srinagar.
Please also ensure that you are carrying some of the basic accessories like puncture repair kit, spare tubes, toolkit, jump start cables/wires, screw driver set, a jerry can or 2 liters bottles of Coke/Pepsi, funnel, towing rope etc. It is also advised to get your vehicle serviced at least a couple of weeks before the trip. This will ensure that you had enough time to drive it around in the city and avoid any last minute surprises.
Travelling from Srinagar to Leh by Motorcycle
This in my opinion is the best way to go to Leh, though it is not really for everyone. Riding a motorcycle on the beautiful Srinagar Leh road is a different experience altogether, either as a single rider or with a pillion. However, like in the case of a car, you really need to be confident of your riding skills and your motorcycle as well. It is not really necessary that you have a lot of riding experience in the hills but if you do, it will definitely make the journey easier. Do not just buy a motorcycle and take it straight to Ladakh. If you are new to motorcycles, then please ride it around in the city for a few weeks at least before riding it on Manali Leh highway. Also ensure that you get your bike serviced at least a week in advance so that you have enough time to test ride it within the city. This will avoid any last minute surprises that can ruin your plan.
If you are riding your own motorcycle, then nothing like it however if you are not, then you can easily rent a motorcycle from Srinagar to complete the journey. Questions like which motorcycle is best for Srinagar Leh highway, how can you rent a motorcycle in Srinagar or whether you should ride alone or with a pillion have been covered in the below mentioned articles.
Travelling from Srinagar to Leh in a private Taxi
When it comes to Taxis, you have two options. Either hire a taxi with the driver or get a self drive taxi. Either ways, though convenient, this option gets a little tricky. No matter which taxi you hire, with driver or self drive, it will only be good enough to drive straight to Leh and no further. The taxi unions in this area have strictly banned the movement of outside taxis for local sightseeing. What it means that a taxi registered in Srinagar cannot be used to visit areas like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso or any other tourist place in Ladakh. This taxi will only be allowed to drop you till Leh. What’s more, you cannot even visit places like Zanskar or Sham valleys in your Srinagar hired cab. For example, Let us say that you are starting from Srinagar, want to visit Zanskar valley on the way and then visit Pangong Lake after you reach Leh. So for your travel, you will first have to hire a cab from Srinagar. Then after you reach Kargil, you will have to leave the Srinagar taxi at the hotel, ask the driver to wait, hire another Kargil registered taxi to take you to Zanskar and bring back to Kargil. Then again from Kargil, you will board your Srinagar Taxi once again and reach Leh. After reaching Leh, you will have to hire another taxi to go to Pangong and return to Leh. Complicated? Yes I agree but then there is also the fact that tourism is in this region is the mode of earning for a lot of people and that too for only about 6 months a year so they do not actually have the liberty to sit idle while a taxi brought from elsewhere takes their share of earning. And it is vice versa too. If you hire a cab from Leh, it can only take you to Kargil but for visiting Zanskar, you will again have to hire a Kargil registered cab.
Srinagar to Leh taxi fare: Hiring a private taxi from Srinagar to Leh will cost you anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to Rs.15,000. depending on your negotiation skills. Do not book in advance or involve any tour operator as this only means that you will overpay. While in Srinagar, go straight to Srinagar taxi stand, negotiate and strike a deal. Apart from what you will pay for taxi, the driver will also charge you an additional Rs. 1500 – Rs.2000 for a night halt.
Travelling from Srinagar to Leh in a shared Taxi
Though cheap, this is probably the most uncomfortable way of travelling from Srinagar to Leh. This is a non-stop 16-18 hours of journey where you will be stuffed with strangers in a taxi which will start from Srinagar taxi stand at 12 midnight and reach Leh by evening the next day. This also gets tricky in terms of high altitude acclimatization since you will continuously gain height within a matter of hours without any rest, and thus without giving your body a chance to adapt. Srinagar to Leh shared taxi fare is about Rs. 1800 – Rs. 2000 per person, depending upon which car you are travelling in.
Travelling from Srinagar to Leh in a Bus
This is the cheapest mode of travel available on Srinagar Leh highway. Bus service from Srinagar to Leh remains available from end of May to early November. This Bus starts at 8 AM from Srinagar and is a 2 days journey with night halt at Kargil. You can also use the same bus service to return to Srinagar. Fare for government operated buses from Srinagar to Leh is ordinary Rs. Rs 1050 per person for deluxe and Rs 650 per person for semi deluxe. Normal bus charges are around Rs. 450 per person. Fare for Srinagar to Kargil is ordinary Rs.250 / deluxe Rs. 300. Private buses also operate on this route and their fare is Rs. 1000 + for Srinagar to Leh and Rs. 500 + for Srinagar to Kargil. Please be advised that these are approximate numbers but change won’t be drastic. There is usually just one bus but depending on the number of passengers and bookings, there could be a second bus for the day as well. There is no online booking system available. The bus departs at 8 AM from Tourist reception center near Dal lake and Srinagar Bus Stand near Lal Chowk. You can reach there and book your ticket for the next day. There is also the option of boarding a semi-deluxe bus run by a private operation from Sriangar to Leh which will cost you about Rs. 1000 per seat. If you want are travelling in a large group and want to book a private bus or tempo traveler, you will have to get in touch with a travel agent in Srinagar.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further question, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to answer.