This article is in continuation to a previous one and a part of my Leh Ladakh Travelogue. We traveled from Delhi to Patnitop via Manali and then moved on from Patnitop to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil on Day 3. Please click on the link below to read the previous part of the travelogue.
Journey So Far: Delhi to Patnitop via Manali – An Unexpected Turn of Events
After the previous day’s long drive, it was time for a short drive to Srinagar from Patnitop. So we decided to start off the day a little late at 9 am. A good rest was necessary for the 3 days haul from there to Leh.
Day 3: Patnitop – Srinagar : 190 km – 7 hrs
As this was my first time in Kashmir, I was quite taken aback when I saw the amount of security. Stallions with soldiers and automatic machine guns mounted on top were everywhere, as were soldiers with rifles slung across their backs. I mean one reads it in the newspapers, but when one sees it, it is quite a different feeling altogether.
The first attraction of the day was the Baglihar dam that we saw from a distance from a view-point on the highway. With a convoy of Stallions to overtake every few minutes, we were cruising along the Chenab for a while. A little later though the weather turned for the worse and it started raining cats & dogs.
Zoomed view of the Baglihar dam from the highway
Crossing over Chenab
Army men guarding and chit-chatting
Kiyang to the Rescue
It was raining heavily, and after turning a corner we saw an Innova stuck on the side of the road with one tire in a ditch. With one rear tire stuck, the other tire was unable to pull the car out. We saw an opportunity to test our towing skills for the first time. The pelting rain did not make things any easier.
It was difficult to coordinate, but we somehow got our cars tied together within minutes and I was on the wheel with the knob shifted to 4L mode. A while ago, I had read a blog about the “snatch” maneuver. With my legs literally trembling, I decided it was about time we put the theory to test.
I pressed on the gas and with RPM at 3500 I let go of the clutch. Kiyang groaned and the taut rope pulled the Innova out of the ditch in one go, just like a cork is jerked out of a champagne bottle. It took me a minute to calm my nerves, and thus all in all in 10 minutes we were back on our way to Srinagar.
We had not anticipated that the accessory we had not expected/hoped to use at all during the trip would be used so early on.
First view of Kashmir
Moving ahead, it was not long before we crossed the Jawahar tunnel to reach the Titanic viewpoint where we were greeted with the first view of the beautiful Kashmir valley. The road beyond the tunnel was a straight one, lined with Chinars, with rice fields on either side.
We reached Srinagar early by around 4:00 pm, checked into a hotel, and then decided to go on a longish Shikara ride in the Dal lake. It was a fun & relaxed evening, which ended with an authentic and delicious Kashmiri dinner at Ahdoos. The place is a must-visit for all the foodies out there, turn your vehicle in the direction of Residency road and you should be able to locate it quite easily.
First view of the Kashmir Valley from the Titanic viewpoint
A farmer working in a field before Srinagar
A beautiful woman rowing a boat in the Dal lake
An egret on the Dal
The colorful floating market on the Dal lake
A Pond Heron on the Dal
Dusk on Dal
Colorful water fountains on the Dal
Day 4: Srinagar – Kargil : 200 km – 11 hrs
Having read earlier that only one-way traffic was being allowed on Zoji La, and that there are timings too to cross it on some days, we decided to leave Srinagar early in order to have enough time on our hands. The drive towards Sonamarg was breezy, with good quality, although narrow, roads.
The drive towards Sonamarg is in a wide valley, with the Sindh river running beside the road
It had been two days since Kiyang had shifted its transmission to 4×4 mode, and it was aching to do so! Since we were doing good on time on our way to the Zoji La check post, when the opportunity for some off-roading came, we grabbed it! A narrow kuchha road led off the highway to the river, and although not very challenging, the detour was super fun.
Also Read: How to Prepare your Car for Ladakh
We rested beside the pretty river for a while, clicking the beautiful horses grazing around, which in fact is a common sight in and around the Kashmir valley. Soon it was time to proceed towards Sonmarg.
Kiyang posing next to and not actually crossing the river!
Beautiful horses grazing on green pastures are a common sight in Kashmir
A couple of twists and turns later we reached Sonamarg. And what a sight it was! Lush green hills and meadows all around! However, the sight of a gazillion tourists littering the place with plastic bottles and wrappers put us off and we decided not to stop.
We tried to offroad on a hill as well but were stopped by the locals who conduct horse rides there. According to them, one has to pay a fine of Rs. 500 for off-roading, which was pretty surprising. I remember wondering that if the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) decided to do the same, a lot of people would lose a lot of money!
A lone tree on a lush green slope
We then started the dreaded climb to Zoji La. It was quite a bumpy ride, with lots of potholes on the road. The greenery suddenly vanished and gave way to a landscape of brown and white. We could see a path sticking to the river and running parallel beneath us.
We wondered where it went, and it was not long before the tents answered the riddle. It was apparently the campsite at Baltal from where helicopters take pilgrims and tourists alike to the Amarnath cave.
Also Read: What Clothes to Pack for Leh Ladakh
It took us about 1.5 hours to climb the pass from Sonmarg. At last, after 3 solid days of traveling, we were finally on top of a high altitude pass and were totally enjoying the feeling.
What lay ahead!
Although the climb to the pass was quite treacherous, the pass itself was interesting and pretty long! The road on the pass was cobbled and in perfect condition. However, that lasted for only about half a km, beyond which the potholes resurfaced.
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Zoji La War Memorial
After paying homage to the soldiers of the 1948 war with Pakistan at the war memorial there, we started our descent. That is when we came across the tallest snow walls we’d ever seen in our lives! The biggest one that we’d seen yet was on the way to Spiti last year.
But this was mammoth! It must’ve been close to 25 ft in height, if not more. The road was in a mess, full of craters. I was feeling bad for the Swift Dzire driving ahead of us, as I could hear his underbelly being scratched at plenty of places. I kept my speed at a crawl and negotiated the craters at my own pace, and thankfully no harm was done.
The war memorial at Zoji La
The huge snow walls at Zoji La. The wall must’ve been at least 25 ft high! Kudos to the BRO who maintain this road
Kiyang needed a shower after the dirty track
After a while, the descent became easier, with the roads becoming smoother and the valley opening up. The green started to disappear and the scenery started to become more brownish. A couple of bends later, we saw a board pointing to a hill which said ‘Tiger Hill’.
Since we were the only ones there, and the arrow was pointing to a hill quite close to the national highway, we got a little confused since we were not ready to believe that Pakistan had managed to capture a hill so close to the main highway between Srinagar and Leh.
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Soon an Army jawan ambled along and he reconfirmed that what we see was indeed the Tiger hill. Although we’d read it in the newspapers, standing there and actually seeing the hill right next to the highway really does send shivers down one’s spine.
It is very unnerving to realize that our enemy had actually come this close. At that moment, the pride and respect one feels for the Army for having re-captured the Tiger hill cannot be expressed in words!
An unzoomed shot of Tiger Hill from the highway
We reached Drass by 2 pm just in time for lunch. As soon as we got down from the car, I saw that the front right tire was losing air pressure! Damn! In no mood to fix the puncture myself, I started searching for a puncture repair shop in the local market.
Meanwhile, Aarti gave it a closer look, and by the time I came back, unsuccessful in my attempt to find a puncture repair guy, she’d figured out the source of the puncture. It was quite conveniently located, and we decided to fix it ourselves. We took out the puncture repair kit, and after reading the instruction manual, the tire was repaired in 10 minutes flat.
This was my first experience of fixing a puncture myself, and the fact that the tires are tubeless of course helps a lot. The best part was that we didn’t even have to remove the tire! By the time we were through with fixing the puncture, lunch was ready and after a good hearty meal, we proceeded further towards the war memorial at Drass.
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Kargil War Memorial
The war memorial evokes quite a strong feeling of patriotism. One can see the Tiger hill at a distance, and the Tololing range just above. The peaks which the enemy had captured were so very close, and it was obvious that the highway must’ve been their prime target.
The security threat was grave. The peaks looked unscalable, and it was difficult to imagine how our soldiers managed to climb those mountains with the enemy firing at them! The list of lives lost in the war had filled up a huge wall, and the pictures of our troops during operation Vijay threw some light on the adversity faced by them.
The War Memorial, with Tiger hill in the background
Soon it was time to leave the memorial and we proceeded towards our final lap of the day. I guess it took us another hour of driving along the Suru river to reach Kargil. We checked into the hotel D’Zojila for the night, had our dinner at the main market, and called it a day. Tomorrow we would finally reach Leh.
Also Read: A Detailed Road Map of Ladakh
Day 5: Kargil to Leh : 240 km – 12 Hrs
Today would be the day when we would finally reach Leh. Needless to say, we were super excited! The day had to begin a little early, given the amount of distance we had to cover, and so we left Kargil at 6:30 am sharp.
About an hour later, we stopped at Mulbekh for some breakfast. We discovered a nice guest house there, where we could’ve also stayed the night before had we known about it. We met some fellow travelers there, who too were moving towards Leh.
After a hearty breakfast of omelet and pancakes, we moved ahead for the next pass on the route – Namika La. The landscape already had changed to a lot of brown, and the pass was the icing on the cake.
The road through Mulbekh
The road was in marvelous condition and had it not been for the altitude, the curves, and the gradient, one could’ve gone at 150 kmph on it. It was so fantastically smooth! The pass itself was very windy and cold, and so we did not stop for long.
The curvaceous road towards Namika La
Finally, we reach the pass!
On our way down from Namiki La, we saw a fox running in the middle of the road. Aarti screeched to a halt, and I immediately put on the zoom lens. The fox, however, was in no mood to oblige and ran up the hill. I too was in no mood to give up and ran after the fox. It kept going and so did I.
About 10 minutes later and after gaining some height, I finally caught up with it, chewing on something. The shot below was the best I could manage. Running at that altitude really takes it out of you, and it took me some time to recuperate before going back to the car and moving on.
The climb to Fotu La was similar to Namika La. Fantastic roads, a similar landscape, and cloudy weather. While descending from Fotu La, it became very foggy, and we sadly missed the first view of the Lamayuru Gompa.
The road so far from Kargil had been smooth, scenic, and colorful (brown, pink, orange, and at times green), but Kiyang was aching again for some off-the-road action. We had to oblige, and a km before Lamayuru we started to climb a mountain and went up as far as we could.
Kiyang groaned, huffed, and panted as it trudged up the mountain. The orange, pink, brown and black shales on the hill ahead were very inviting, and so were the yaks grazing in the meadow beneath them.
Also Read: Leh to Pangong Lake Travel Guide
The climb itself was gentle, the gradient comfortable enough initially to do in 2nd gear 4H mode, but soon I had to shift to 4H – 1st gear and in the end, it was only 4L and 1st gear! We stopped some 100 meters before the yaks and looked around. Mesmerizing is an understatement for what we saw around us!
The road could be seen far ahead, snaking in and out of the barren mountains, and for a while we just stood there, reveling in the beauty of the place. We of course went crazy clicking pictures there, particularly of Kiyang. Our only regret was that doing Zoji La the previous day had taken its toll on Kiyang and its side-cladding had turned from black to light brown.
Off-roading before Lamayuru
This was the offroading track, we almost reached the point where the two hills come together
After coming back on the road, we contemplated visiting the Lamayuru gompa but soon decided in the negative, since the Spiti gompas were still fresh in our minds. Of course, another reason was that I’m not a gompa fan, and Aarti had already been to the Lamayuru gompa on her trip to Ladakh with her parents. Incidentally, the road to Lamayuru was not marked properly since the BRO was working on a new road, and thus we completely missed the cut.
A few km ahead, we saw a gypsy with a flashing red light on top coming towards us. The driver was waving his hands frantically, asking us to stop. We obliged, scared that the Army may be reprimanding us for our off-roading session earlier.
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However, it was nothing like that! It was actually the Chief Minister’s cavalcade going towards Lamayuru. And guess what? The dude was driving a Toyota Landcruiser, wearing Ray-Bans and a blue t-shirt, with the windows completely rolled down!
An interesting thing happened on our climb down from Lamayuru. I was telling Aarti that I have not yet been stuck in an Army convoy. And there! Lo and behold, we take a turn and had to stop for about 15 minutes or so to let a convoy of about 50 Stallions pass. Love those machines.
Personally, I think the moonscape at Lamayuru is over-rated
Now that’s an angry landscape!
The Puncture Repair Guy
Post the climb-down, I decided to take a nap while Aarti took control of the wheel. I had hardly closed my eyes when she halted as some bikers were stopping us, asking for help. The guy had a flat front tire and wanted to know if we had an air compressor.
Luckily we did, and since his bike’s tires were tubeless, he could easily get to the next town before all that air leaked. Now I had to show-off only to put my foot in my own mouth water. Beaming with confidence from the puncture repair the previous day, I told him that we could actually fix the puncture right there.
Unfortunately, I messed up big time and ended up breaking the tool with which one repairs the puncture. The poor guy still had a flat tire, only now with a little bigger opening for the air to pass, all thanks to my over-confidence! We pumped air in the tire again and sent him off, hoping to God that he reaches the next town safely.
Thankfully he did make it, as we found out later, and I swore not to show-off my puncture repair skills to anyone anymore.
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We then took the detour to Alchi, as Aarti had been there earlier and wanted to revisit the place. Had an amazing lunch of macaroni & cheese at a camping resort there. The place had an amazing place to stay with super clean bathrooms.
Alchi was very very green!
I absolutely fell in love with this stretch of the road
Indus Zanskar Confluence & Magnetic Hill
The confluence of the blue Indus and the brown Zanskar rivers at Nimmu. The road on the opposite bank is the one going to Chilling, which will be connected with Padum in Zanskar & much later with Darcha in Himachal!.
Folks, it’s not magnetism, but an optical illusion
We decided not to stop at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib since it was getting late, and we now wanted to reach Leh as early as possible. We’d already booked our hotel in Leh on a friend’s recommendation and headed straight to the hotel when we reached. The Padma Hotel and Guest House is an excellent place to stay.
In the middle of the bazaar, yet tucked away from the main road (which could also be its flip side since you cannot take your car up to the hotel, but it really is just a 2-minute walk from the main road), the hotel is set amidst a kitchen garden, and is squeaky clean! It’s the ideal place to relax and is also quite reasonably priced.
- Journey Ahead: Getting Permits and Sightseeing in Leh Ladakh
After a hearty meal at the Tibetan Kitchen, we turned in early, totally exhausted after five days of hectic traveling. Tomorrow would be a rest day. This came to an end our journey from Patnitop to Leh in 3 days.
Patnitop to Leh Ladakh – Conclusion
I hope the travelogue, pictures, and information above on traveling from Patnitop to Leh Ladakh were 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.