Is Srinagar Leh highway safe? This is usually the first question that gets asked when someone plans on traveling to Ladakh from Srinagar. Considering all the fuss that you hear about Kashmir every day and all the violence, the question, and the concern are definitely justified.
After all, no one wants to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Adventure and exploring new areas is fine but not really worth it if it poses a serious and unnecessary risk, isn’t it?
So how safe is the Srinagar Leh highway? Can you travel on it without fearing for your own safety? If you too were wondering the same, then below is some information on the topic, and a few safety tips that I am sure can be of help.
For more information on traveling from Srinagar to Leh like how to travel, where to stay, what to see, and a road map, please take a look at Srinagar to Leh Travel Guide and Road Map.
Tourism in Kashmir & Unrest in the Valley
The first thing to know is that tourism is a big part of Kashmir’s economy, probably the biggest. A common man here depends a lot on tourism and will do their best to not disrupt a steady source of income.
In a trouble-stricken state where there are not many job opportunities, people wait for the tourist season to begin. They also suffer heavily if there is a decline in the annual tourist footfall.
Whatever it is they are angry about, a local Kashmiri will always try to ensure to not let a tourist get hurt because of it. Places that are popular as tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Pahalgam, Yusmarg never really get affected by any violence. Most of the protests and agitations most of the time are usually centered around Srinagar city.
Thousands of people including both Indians and foreign nationals arrive in Kashmir each year. Some visit just the Kashmir valley while others travel towards Kargil and then Leh. People even rent motorcycles and taxis from Srinagar for their trips.
So one thing is for sure. You will not be the only tourist in the city, and not without help if something goes wrong.
Is Srinagar Leh Highway Safe for Tourists?
To answer this question, you will have to consider two sides of it.
- The first one is that you just arrive in Srinagar City, stay for the night and be on your way to Ladakh the very next day.
- The second is that you want to go to Leh but first want to visit a few places in Kashmir valley as well.
If yours is the first case and you have no intention of staying in Kashmir, then I will say that the Srinagar Leh highway is quite safe. All that you need to do is to keep a check on the news. If there is a word of ongoing protests, violence, or curfews, then do not head towards Srinagar. Do not take the risk.
If there is no such major incident in the news then it is quite safe to plan a journey on the Srinagar Leh highway. If staying at Srinagar makes you nervous then you can head straight towards Sonamarg and stay there for the night. It is merely 2-3 hours of the journey at most.
Traveling to Ladakh via Srinagar
Even if you were not planning on staying in Kashmir and were just passing through, mention below are a few things that you should be aware of.
Avoid Traveling in Monsoon Season
If possible at all, you should avoid traveling in the monsoon season. Usually, it starts to rain in Kashmir sometime around mid-July and lasts until August. But there could be pre-monsoon showers at June end and post-monsoon showers in September first week as well.
A safer time to travel will be May, June, early Jule, September, and early October. Zojila starts to receive snow towards the middle of October and after that, it becomes a little risky to be driving on this route. The road however usually remains open for all of October.
Amarnath Yatra begins in the month of July and lasts until the end of August. This is also a good reason to avoid this route in these two months. There will be a lot of traffic and an increase in security which can cause delays on the road.
Do not Plan for November
In recent years, the Srinagar Leh route has started to remain open in the month of November as well. I will strongly advise you to not travel by road to Leh this month though. Heavy snowfall could block the road at any of the three passes en route. If that happened, you will be left stranded until the authorities are able to clear the route.
If you are traveling early in the season, you may find the traffic across Zojila Pass to be controlled. What this means is that traffic from each side of the pass is allowed during certain hours only. This is done to ensure there is no traffic clog at the top of the pass.
The timings are usually changed each year, depending on the traffic. But you should be prepared that you may have to wait at Sonamarg for a few hours until the traffic movement is allowed. For an update on the timings, you can check Srinagar Leh Highway Road Status & Conditions.
Plan for 2 Days Journey
A lot of people try to rush through the highway in an effort to complete the journey in a single day. This is risky, dangerous, and not at all recommended. You are not only taking an unnecessary risk but also missing the point to be on this road at all.
A journey on the Srinagar Leh route needs to be taken slowly with plenty of sightseeing breaks. If you just rushed all the way, you might very well have just booked a flight to Leh and not bother coming this way at all.
You must at least give 2 days for this journey with a night halt at Kargil. You can also choose to stop at Sonamarg, Dras, or Lamayuru.
Go Slow, Drive Carefully and Enjoy the Journey
With all said and done, this is still a road that has its own sets of challenges. You will be driving up and down the hills across 3 high-altitude passes, on narrow and bad roads, through the mud and slush, and crossing water streams. Do not lose focus, keep your eyes on the road, drive carefully and ensure that the journey is a safe one.
Sightseeing in Kashmir Valley
Now let us talk about when you want to do some sightseeing in Kashmir as well; either before heading towards Ladakh or while on your way back from there.
What you must know is that things can change in Kashmir overnight. There is really no one who can tell you with a guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong.
There have been a few incidents when tourists got caught in between and were hurt (even died) during stone-pelting. To ensure this does not happen to you, I would recommend that you follow the below-mentioned tips.
Stick to Major Tourist Destinations
Everyone loves to visit offbeat destinations, places that are not crowded and less visited. When it comes to Kashmir however, it is a really bad idea.
Stick to main tourist places like Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Pahalgam, Aru Valley, and Yusmarg, etc. It is best to not plan a trip towards offbeat destinations or restricted areas.
Your focus anyway is to head towards Ladakh after a little sightseeing in Kashmir Valley. So use this time to just cover the main tourist areas.
Do Not Wander
Even during your stay in Srinagar, do not wander towards areas where you have no business to be.
Curfews and stone-pelting incidents happen majorly towards the old city or Lal Chowk. You will really not find any agitators, protestors near tourists spots so restrict yourself from wandering away. Do not go exploring if you heard of even the slightest possibility of unrest.
Trust Your Driver and Get a Good One
This will apply if you hired a local taxi and driver in Srinagar city. There will not be any violence at tourist spots but curfew usually gets imposed all over the city.
If that happens that there will be road closures and traffic delays. In this case, your driver will come to the rescue; avoiding violence-struck routes and getting you to safety.
As I mentioned above, Kashmiris ensure the safety of tourists. So your driver will then take it on him personally to get you to a safe place. Being a local, he will also be able to talk out of a situation if you got into trouble.
Stay at the Hotel
If there is any curfew or problem in the city, stay inside your hotel until things calm down. As long as you are in your room, there will not be any trouble at all. No one will come breaking doors to drag you out, that never happens.
Be Prepared for No Phone and No Internet
The first that happens in the valley in times of violence is a total closure of internet services and sometimes even all telecommunication services. When you plan a visit to Srinagar, you need to be mentally prepared for this. Landline phones however remain operational so you can use those to call your family.
Carry Some Essential Medicines
As a precautionary measure, carry some essential medicines like for cough, stomach ache, headache, cold, etc. If a curfew is imposed, even medical stores will be shut down.
Keep Buffer Days in your Itinerary
This is of extreme importance. When you go to Kashmir, you must have at least 2 days as a buffer in your overall plan. This is just to make sure that if you got stuck somewhere, there will really be no harm done back home because of your delay.
If everything went smoothly, then you may stay in the valley for 2 days by choice or just come back home.
Have a local Contact
No, I do not mean that you have a friend or family member in the city. But if at all possible, go with a local travel agent or at least hire a local driver. This way, if anything goes wrong, you will not be all on your own and will have at least one local contact to help you.
Is Srinagar Leh Highway Safe – Conclusion
So yes, traveling on the Srinagar Leh highway is completely safe as long as you stick to main tourist spots, keep yourself away from troubled areas, and follow the above tips I mentioned above. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum, and I will be happy to answer.