Initially, it was a dream for me, for 30 years, to drive a car or ride a bike from Jammu to Leh. Yes, you read it right, 30 years. I am not your usual youth in their 20s or 30s (or even 40s) planning to take an adventurous ride to Leh Ladakh. I am a Goa-based scientist and I was 69 years old when I rode to Leh Ladakh on scooter. Surprised? A lot of people were when I shared my initial thoughts with them.
The idea was of a car or bike first but then I felt that it would be a real challenge if I could ride a low-powered two-wheeler rather than a bike like a Bullet. I was following for many years the posts of Mr. Gautam who rode a geared scooter to Leh, and of Mr. Khan who was confident that a 110 CC bike also could make this trip.
These led to my decision to ride to Leh Ladakh on scooter, a non-geared one. Two other reasons that helped me in this decision were the non-availability of geared scooters now in India and my inexperience in riding a bike!
Leh Ladakh on Scooter – The Plan
The original plan was to undertake a ride from Jammu to Leh. If this was successful, then add a trip to Khardung La. If this also turned out to be doable, then why not return by Leh – Manali route?
My preparations were minimum. The scooter (TVS Jupiter) had 22,000 km on the counter but was serviced 3 weeks before leaving. I had only windcheaters but bought a jacket, on the insistence of a friend, from Chandigarh. I carried a puncture kit and a tool kit, besides medicines for an emergency.
My luggage was no more than 10 kg and even this was carried from Jammu onward on an Enfield Classic. It was ridden by my nephew who accompanied me at the last minute. Mr. Khan wrote in his post to have a test run done in a hill station before leaving. I did that in the Jammu – Srinagar section! It was a dream run, despite bad roads between Udhampur and Banihal.
Srinagar to Leh on Scooter
The ride between Srinagar and Leh was also smooth. It was completed in two days’ time, with a break at Kargil. The difficult part was a 40 km stretch between Sonamarg and Zoji La where there was practically no road. Other than that, most of the journey was a smooth run and I had no difficulty anywhere. My scooter performed very well and handled the roads perfectly.
These are roads that are considered unfit for scooters or small cars. But to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one riding a scooter around. Between Jammu – Srinagar – Sonamarg, and Kargil, you will find a lot of locals using similar vehicles for their daily commute. The only challenge on this entire stretch is just the high altitude pass of Zojila Pass. Other than that, as long as you have a decent experience on a bike or on a scooter, you will be able to manage the ride easily.
I was also doubtful before I proceeded but as I progressed, I realized it was not that difficult. It was in fact even better than riding in some city roads!.
Leh to Khardung La by Scooter
After reaching Leh, I had an overnight rest before attempting Khardung La. The ride was smooth until South Pullu, then the road was in a bad shape for close to 18 km. Still, the scooter continued its climb, though the pulling was greatly reduced. It was a tough negotiation for the last 2 km but, at last, I and my scooter were at the highest motorable road in the world!
I reasoned that, if the scooter can climb Khardung La, then it can also climb TanglangLa, Lachulung La, and Baralacha La, all above 5000 meters on the Manali route. And I was not hit by mountain sickness at any time since leaving Srinagar. So, I decided to try the Leh Manali route for the return journey.
Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso
I know what you are thinking here? What about sightseeing in Ladakh? Did you not visit places like Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso? I actually missed those places and have now them on my list for the next visit. But with my experience, I can tell you that both the places are doable on an electronic scooter or a Scooty.
In the city of Leh, there are a lot of rental agencies that offer a scooter on rent. You can get these for Rs. 800 – Rs. 1000 per day. These are a preferred mode of commute for people who do arrive in Leh by flight and do not have my riding experience. Girls prefer to opt for an electric scooter anyway (just stating the fact, not giving any opinion).
These people rent a scooter in Leh and use it for making day trips to Khardugn La, Nubra Valley, and Pangong Tso. If I wasn’t short on time, I may very well have crossed Khardung La Pass and rode into Nubra Valley on the other side. Khardung La was the difficult part and that was already covered.
So if your question is whether you can reach Pangong Tso or Nuba Valley on a Scooty then the answer is that yes you definitely can.
Manali to Leh on Scooter
I did this in two days’ time. On the first day, I rode from Leh till Sarchu where I slept the night. By next evening I was at Rohtang Pass. The ride was, understandably tougher, with cold, persistent winds, roads flooded and washed out with glacial-melt waters, fear of skidding. In fact, I skidded and fell twice, once near Kargil and once near Pang, and in both instances, escaped with minor scratches.
Well, this is my adventure story. This should be read in the context of my age (69 years at the time of the ride) and health (diabetic and BP patient) and physical standards (65 kg). Perhaps, the lightweight was a plus point! If I had been heavier, my physique may also have presented a challenge.
I am a diabetic and BP patient but by god’s grace, I did not face any problems because of it anywhere. I was of course carrying my prescribed and all the precautionary medicines but never faced a medical emergency anywhere on the entire circuit.
My message for all those who still waver between dream and reality. You can do it. You only need to be optimistic, take some precautions, and have lots of patience.
I plan to return to Ladakh again next year. However, I don’t know yet where to – maybe Lahaul and Spiti or Nubra valley and onto Siachen base camp. I hope I will meet some of you, new adventurers, on the way! And I hope to get encouragement and help from Mr. Khan and Mr. Gautam!
Ladakh on Scooty – A Few Pictures
I am sharing a few pictures of my journey below. I clicked these with m cellphone so please excuse the blurriness.
How to Plan a Trip to Leh Ladakh on Scooter?
Mentioned below are a few other tips that can be of help in planning your visit to Leh Ladakh on scooter.
You can easily do Leh Ladakh by scooter. A scooter properly serviced will not give any engine problem for 490 km (the distance between Manali and Leh).
If you are attempting for the first time, then choose summer. I rode in August and the weather was pleasant. There was no need for winter gear and the only one I needed was a light jacket which kept the wind and cold out; besides sports shoes.
Since mechanics are not there everywhere, it would be sensible to have a scooter which is new but has run for some time. Like a one-year-old with about 3000-5000 km on the dial. This means that you have experience with your scooter and feel safe that it won’t breakdown easily. For more details, please take a look at Necessary Preparations for visiting Ladakh on Scooter.
Get your Scooter Serviced
Service the scooter thoroughly before leaving. A scooter that has run 5000 km already but less than 15000 km is ideal. I serviced my scooter at Goa and then again at Srinagar before venturing to high altitude. Put new air filter, oil filter, and petrol filter. Also, check on the shock absorbers.
You should be prepared for small trouble-shooting, like the repair of punctures. It is easy with tubeless tires. A patch-up will help you to ride to the nearest village where you can get further help.
Mechanics are not there everywhere. So, first get tube tubeless tires fitted to your scooter, if not done already.
You will be covering at least 150-200 km a day because there are no places to stay in between. You will be riding at least 10-12 hours at a stretch. So, you need to attain a comfort level of riding a small scooter for extended periods of time. Or else you should be prepared to break the journey.
For example, I left Srinagar and rode to Kargil at one go. You may break at Drass and ride to Kargil the next day. But on the Leh-Manali road, there are not many comfortable places to stay. So, practice long-distance riding.
In the Srinagar-Leh sector, you would find restaurants on the way (Sonamarg, Drass, Kargil, and Leh), so food is not a problem. But not in the Leh-Manali sector.
Be prepared to eat what you get in the roadside dhabas until you reach Manali. Carry biscuits and chocolates. They reduce hunger and also nourishing.
You can fill your tank at Srinagar, then at Kargil. These will sustain you till Leh.
But from Leh to Manali, you need to carry petrol. You will be limited by the weight you can carry. So don’t carry fuel from Manali. Get all the fuel at Tandi after Rohtang pass. Here you should fill up the tank and buy 20-25 liters in jerry cans. This should see you safely all the way to Leh.
I filled the tank full on leaving Leh and carried 20 more liters on the scooter. The distance was 400 km and I calculated 20-25 km a liter because of the altitude and the mountain roads.
If you cannot manage to carry all that fuel, then look for the roadside Dhabas. They sell petrol in black for Rs. 100 – 125 per liter, approximately. The quality of petrol at these places will of course be questionable though.
Having a pillion rider is not advisable because of the low pulling power of a non-geared scooter. Someone had done it but with a geared scooter. You might find it difficult to negotiate steep climbs.
During the Ride
Extreme care is needed in negotiating gravelly stretches. Skidding on gravel is very dangerous (I fell twice). Ride very slow in these stretches. I don’t t have photos of gravels. But they are common on the road edges. So, stay away from edges or ride very slow if you are forced to the edge.
Break the ride every 90-120 min for at least 10 min. At that altitude, the air-cooled engine does not get heated much but you tend to lose concentration because of the monotony of riding. Drink water, eat chocolate, and stretch your body before beginning riding again.
Learn Minor Troubleshooting
Knowledge of some troubleshooting is necessary. Like fixing a puncture, changing bulbs, or tightening a loose or broken cable. You must carry a puncture kit or a portable tire inflator. This will come handy in case of a puncture.
Fortunately, I did not suffer this but one can’t be always lucky. So, learn fixing a tubeless tire with any puncture shop in your town. Learn these small fixes so you can do them yourself.
- Contrary to perception, this route is frequented by many riders on bikes. Even when you ride alone, you are not alone in the wild! Help will be there from passerby riders.
- There are places en route where you can sleep, by paying modest amounts for a bed and blanker. So carry only personal warm clothing.
- Ride only between sunrise and sunset.
- Unlike earlier days, now the roads are fairly good, at times better than riding in some cities in the rest of India!
- Be prepared for the monotony. You may not find living beings for several km at a stretch, especially in the Leh-Manali road.
- No speeding and always be alert for gravel. For me, this is the most dangerous thing when riding a scooter. I skidded twice and fell on the roadside, but luckily, I was at slow speed both the times. The first time, I was lone and it was at dusk. It was a bit scary with a steep slope on the side. The second time, it was near a hamlet and the locals helped me.
- Stop riding well before sunset and take shelter. On the other hand, you can begin riding even before daybreak if the road is good.
- I rode to Ladakh on a TVS Jupiter but any other non-geared scooter, like Activa, Aprilia or Vesa is equally good for the trip.
- You can do it; so look forward to doing it. No other worries.
I hope the travelogue and information above on riding to Leh Ladakh on scooter was of help. If you have any questions or need any other details please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.