I am not really sure why it is this way but as far as I can remember; of the two highways connecting Ladakh with rest of the country; the road from Srinagar to Leh has always been the less preferred one. The most common Ladakh itinerary will see a person approaching Leh via Manali and taking the Srinagar route for return journey. A lot of time it gets considered just as the road you take to get back home; with people wanting to cover the entire stretch either overnight or in one day. Of all my years of blogging about Ladakh, I have heard several reasons behind this; primary ones being that it is less adventurous, less scenic, concerns related to safety or that it doesn’t really have a touch of “Ladakh trip”. All of these apprehensions I must admit are incorrect.
A trip to Ladakh is definitely incomplete unless you have included Srinagar Leh highway in it. By including, I do not mean that you just rush through it; but to dedicate at least a couple of days from your travel plan to explore and experience the charm of one of the most beautiful roads in all of our country. I once read somewhere that the route from Srinagar to Leh takes you from “one heaven to another” and I completely agree with it. The valleys of Kashmir earned the title of heaven centuries ago and in recent times, the same term was awarded to Ladakh as well. It doesn’t matter whether you are traveling from Srinagar to Leh or vice versa, this road will indeed take you from one heaven to another. In this article, I will provide details on how you can plan you trip from Srinagar to Leh.
For a brief overview, Srinagar Leh highway is also known as NH1D. It is actually part of the 534 kilometers long stretch running from Uri to Leh, known as National Highway 1. The 420 kilometers long road between Srinagar to Leh is known as NH1D, or Srinagar Leh highway. In ancient times, it is just used to be a track, impassable even with ponies. Official construction of this road began in 1962, after the Sino-Indian war. The road was declared open for civilian traffic in 1974. It usually remains closed for traffic from November till late April or early May due to heavy snowfall at the high altitude passes. Highest elevation point of the road is at Fotu La, at the height of 4,108 meters (13,478 ft).
The most common way of a journey on this road is via Sonamarg, Drass, Kargil, Mulbekh and Lamayuru. There are a couple of alternate way as well. From Kargil, rather than continuing towards Mulbekh, one can also take the road towards Batalik and reach the village of Dah. From Dah, you can once again exit on Srinagar to Leh road either at Saraks (a little after Mulbekh) via Chiktan; or exit at Khalsi (after Lamayuru) via Skurbuchan and Damkhar. There is no permit required to travel via Mulbekh and Lamayuru; however an Inner line permit is needed to travel via Batalik and Dah. Permit can be acquired from DM office Leh or Kargil.
Srinagar to Leh highway is a beauty in itself and runs through mesmerizing Kashmir valley and scenic towns of Sonamarg and Drass. It is usually considered easier in comparison to Manali Leh highway because of better connectivity and availability of basic facilities. It remains longer for a longer duration than Manali Leh road and you never really get too far from civilization. You will continue to come across several small towns and villages after regular intervals and chances of getting stranded are lesser here. Amenities like a fuel station and accommodation choices too are better on Srinagar to Leh road.
With that being said, it is still no walk in the park. When it comes to adventure, thrill and difficulty; Srinagar to Leh highway stands no less than Manali Leh road. You will still need to drive on some narrow steep ascents, badly broken stretches, through water streams, handle slush and climb three high altitude passes before you finally get to Leh. This road will definitely test you; your riding/driving skills and your vehicle’s capabilities.
Srinagar to Leh Route
If you are taking this road to reach Leh, the route would be as follows.
Sringar to Leh via Kargil
Srinagar – Sonamarg
Sonamarg – Zoji La – Drass
Drass – Kargil
Kargil- Mulbek – Namika La – Fotu La – Lamayuru
Lamayuru – Hangro Loops – Khaltse – Nimmu – Leh
If you are however considering taking the route via Batalik, then it will be as below.
Srinagar to Leh via Batalik
Srinagar – Sonamarg
Sonamarg – Zoji La – Drass
Drass – Kargil [58 Kms]
Kargil – Batalik – Dha – Skurbuchan – Khaltse
Kargil – Batalik – Dha – Chitkan – Fotu La – Lamayuru – Khaltse
Khaltse – Nimmu – Leh
Srinagar to Leh road map
Below is a road map of the routes that I mentioned above. Feel free to save the map to your phone if you would like to keep it handy while traveling.
Click on the map to view it in full size.
Srinagar Leh highway route
I will provide a brief description of the routes mentioned above.
Srinagar to Sonamarg
Get ready to be awed by the beauty of Kashmir as soon as you start on this journey. First destination will be Sonamarg, literally meaning meadows of gold, and it will only take you a couple of hours to reach there from Srinagar. Beautiful in every way, Sonamarg is a place that will take your breath away. Presence of Army is so heavy in this area that it will make you feel that you are in an Army base. There are soldiers posted every few hundred meters, on every road, every hill and every bridge. Don’t forget to take a break and eat at Sonamarg. This place has the most delicious food to offer and if you are a non-vegetarian, you are in for a treat.
Sonamarg to Drass
After crossing Sonamarg, you will be driving up the first high altitude pass on this road, Zoji La located at 11,640 ft. Visitors are required to register themselves before crossing the pass and here you will also encounter the roughest patch on this entire route. There is in fact no road at some places and it turns more into a dirt track, so if you are crossing the pass during monsoon or while its raining, extra caution is advised.
Road across Zoji La is in excellent condition and it wont take you long to reach the beautiful town of Drass. You can either break your journey here or continue to Kargil and halt there for the night. Hotels in Drass are pretty cheap and you can find a room for as low as Rs. 300 for the night. Kargil however is a little costlier and you may find it difficult to find a hotel if you are on a budget. If you don’t mind shedding a few hundreds more, then staying at Kargil would work just fine.
Drass To Kargil
The next town after Drass is Kargil. After hearing and reading so many stories related to this town and the war here, you will be surprised as how ordinary it looks, just like any other Indian city or village with people going on about their day to day life amidst heavy security. Roads here are in excellent condition and wont take you much time to reach Kargil from Drass. This is where most people traveling on this road halt for the night so finding a hotel wouldn’t be a problem, but finding one in a budget could be quite a task.
Located on the road from Drass to Kargil is the Drass War Memorial, built in the memory of soldiers killed in the 1999 war. It is a must visit for every passing Indian.
Kargil to Lamayuru
Around 40 kms from Kargil is the small village of Mulbekh. The chief attraction of this village is the 9 Meters statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, carved out of solid rock. It is believed that this statue dates back to 7th or 8th century, when Buddhist missionaries came traveling east of the Himalayas. This statue is quite a marvel of art and you don’t want to miss seeing it while crossing the village. Taking photographs of the statue however is not allowed.
Next is the 2nd high altitude pass on this route, Namika La, located at a height of 12,198 ft. Another 40 odd kms from Namika La is the 3rd high altitude pass, Fotu La, located at 13,479 ft. It is also the highest point of Srinagar Leh highway.
Descent from Fotu La will take you to the village of Lamayuru, which is famous for one of the oldest Gompas and lunar landscape. Take a break here for a visit to the Gompa and click some photos.
Lamayuru to Leh
After Lamayuru is the ascent of Hangro Loops, a series of 18 hairpin bends. From Hangro it is a straight run to Leh with a quick break at the village of Nimmu to visit the famous Gurudwara Patthar Sahib. On the way you will also cross Magnetic hill and Indus Zanskar river confluence.
Srinagar to Leh via Batalik
The second route as shown in the map running through Batalik is actually a restricted area and you will need to obtain Inner line permit from either Kargil or Leh. Srinagar to Leh via Kargil/Lamayuru is the most common and preferred route taken. If you do however wish to travel to Batalik then the journey after Kargil will change. You will no longer be crossing Namika La and Fotu La and will exit at Khaltse.
Via this route, from Kargil you will take the road that goes towards Batalik. There will be several check posts in between so ensure that you are carrying multiple photocopies of your permits; as you will be required to submit a copy at each post. Once your reach Batalik, continue towards the village of Dha. After you cross the village, a few kilometers later, you will have two choices. Either take the diversion towards the village of Chitkan and exit once again on Srinagar Leh highway a little after Namika La. Or from Dha, you can continue towards the village of Skurbuchan and then exit on the highway near Khaltse.
Batalik Route Road Conditions
I have only traveled on this route once and at that time, road conditions were excellent. The road via Chitkan however was in a terrible condition. There isn’t really much difference in terms of distance however time of the journey will increase. I will recommend that you break the journey at either Batalik or Dha. It is a highly sensitive region due to closeness to Pakistan border but you will be amazed at how scenic it is.
If you want to cover both routes in the same journey, then the only way to do it is that you take the road via Lamayuru to reach Leh and return via Batalik. If you however wish to return via Manali, then you will have to spend one day for a complete circle of the route (Kargil – Batalik – Dha – Khaltse – Lamayuru – Mulbekh – Kargil). Next day you can continue from Kargil to Leh but you will be covering the same road until Khaltse.
Hotels on Srinagar Leh highway
As I stated previously in the article, Srinagar to Leh road runs through a very well connected region. Almost every town or village on this route have accommodation choices in form of hotels or guest. Sonamarg, Drass and Kargil are the preferred choices to stay but accommodation is available at other places like Mulbekh and Lamayuru as well. Take a look at the article below for a list of some recommended hotels en route.
Srinagar Leh highway Opening Time
The highway usually gets declared open by Mid to Late April; unless there has been a heavy snowfall which may delay and push the opening time to early May like it happened in year 2017.
Srinagar Leh highway Closing Time
November is the month when the highway gets closed. The exact time can vary from mid to late November. It can sometimes get delayed as well like in 2016 when the road was open until December.
Passes on Srinagar Leh highway
There are three passes on Srinagar to Leh road. Starting from Srinagar, first one is Zoji La, just after Sonamarg, at an elevation of 3,528 meters. This pass is usually considered the toughest on this route. Second one is Namika La, a little after Mulbekh, at a height of 3,700 meters. Last one, little before Lamayuru, is Fotu La which is the highest elevation point of the highway; at a height of 4,108 meters.
Petrol Pumps on Srinagar Leh highway
Until Kargil, there are several fuel stations on the way. After Kargil however, the next one is in Leh itself and no petrol pump in between. Take a look at the article below for more information on ATM, Mechanic services and a list of petrol pumps while traveling from Srinagar to Leh.
Mobile Connectivity & Phone Services on Srinagar Leh Highway
Most important thing to remember here is that only postpaid cell phone work in Kashmir and on Srinagar to Leh route. BSNL has the widest connectivity here. No matter which network you are on, your phone will become useless after leaving Srinagar and will remain so for most of the journey until you have reached Leh. BSNL and MTNL users can hope to get network at Sonamarg and Drass as well and there is a high possibility of getting the network for all operators at Kargil and Lamayuru but again, do not really count on it. BSNL and Airtel phones will jump back to Life as you reach outskirts to Leh. For other operators, it may take a couple of hours before you are back on the network.
Srinagar to Leh sightseeing
The entire highway is a beauty in itself; full of eye catching vistas. Lush green hills, enchanting valleys and then the barren desert of Ladakh after you cross Kargil; put this all together and you are in for a journey to cherish. There are however several places that can be considered as highlight of the journey, Magnetic hill, Lunar Landscape, Mulbekh Maitreya, Thajiwas Glacier are just to name a few. Please take a look at the article below for a complete list of tourist attractions on Srinagar to Leh route.
Also read: Tourist Attractions on Srinagar Leh Highway
Acute Mountain Sickness on Srinagar Leh Highway
It is rare for anyone to suffer from AMS while traveling from Srinagar to Leh. Chances of altitude sickness are more on Manali Leh route as compared; but a few people may suffer from it on Srinagar Leh highway as well. The key factor here will be to give plenty of time to your body to acclimatize. The gain in altitude while reaching Leh via Srinagar is gradual and if you completed the journey from Jammu to Leh in 3 days at least; your body will adjust to high altitude before reaching Ladakh. A lot of people however try to complete the journey in a single day and that is when they get prone to AMS. Take a look at the article below for more details on AMS; like the cause of it, symptoms, precautions etc.
Permits for Srinagar to Leh
There is no permit required for traveling from Srinagar to Leh. You only need to obtain Inner line permit upon your arrival in Leh; in order to visit the areas like Nubra valley and Pangong Tso. Take a look at the article below for more details on how to obtain an ILP.
Also read: How to obtain Inner Line Permit for Ladakh
Srinagar to Leh bus
There are two kinds of bus services available of Srinagar to Leh route; one by Jammu & Kashmir government and other by private tour operators. Government run buses are a mix of luxury, semi deluxe and ordinary buses. The ones run by private tour operators are usually the semi-deluxe mini buses.
JKSRTC provided three different types of buses on this route. One is MCV, 14 and 19 seater, which is a fully luxury bus; next is a Deluxe Bus followed by a Semi Deluxe Bus. This bus starts from Srinagar, travels via Sonamarg, Drass, Kargil and covers a total distance of 425 kilometers. It crosses three high altitude passes on the way; Zoji La, Namika La and Fotu La. The bus departs at 8 AM from Tourist reception center near Dal Lake. An MCV bus will cost Rs. 1300 per person. Fare for a deluxe bus is Rs. 919 and Rs. 737 for a semi deluxe bus. For more details, please take a look at the article below.
Srinagar to Leh Cab
If you are in for a non-stop journey spread over a period of 18-20 hours, then a private taxi will cost you about Rs. 15,000. For a 2 day journey, it will cost you about Rs. 17000. A trip for more than 2 and up to 6 days will cost about Rs. 30,000.
Srinagar to Leh shared taxi
If you are a solo traveler, then a shared taxi would be your best bet. This again is a one day non-stop journey and charges per person will be Rs. 2200. This is a great choice if you are on a budget trip but do not want to travel by a bus; or get stuffed in a public shared taxi with other locals. For more details on private and shared cabs, I would recommend taking a look at the article below.
Srinagar to Leh Itinerary
It is best to dedicate at least two days to travel from Srinagar to Leh. On Day 1, you should reach Kargil and stay there; then continue to Leh on Day 2. This will avoid any chances of acute mountain sickness and give you plenty of time to actually enjoy the scenic beauty here. If you have more time, then on Day 1 you can reach Sonamarg or Drass; Lamayuru on Day 2 via Kargil; and to Leh on Day 3. Please take a look at the articles below for a detailed description on travel time and a suggested itinerary for your Ladakh trip starting from Srinagar.
Also read: Srinagar Leh Highway Travel Time
Also read: An Ideal Ladakh Itinerary from Srinagar
How safe is Srinagar Leh highway
Now coming to one of the most common questions that I get asked in terms of Srinagar to Leh road. All the unrest and violence in the region tends to scare people from coming this way. To be honest, whatever the situation is; the locals here make sure that no tourist gets affected by it. There livelihood depends on tourism and they make every effort to not ruin it.
The fact however can still not be denied that you do not want to end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Before you go, just keep a close watch on the news and if there is a lot of violence and high tension, then best to wait it out. Things change in Kashmir by day and a little unrest is everyday story here. The route is perfectly safe for tourists to travel upon and nothing should stop you from experiencing the beauty of it.
I do hope that the information above regarding Srinagar to Leh highway was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.