Ladakh in my Skoda Kushaq: 3000 km road trip in an SUV
The road from Leh to Pangong Tso is usually narrow with aggressive taxi drivers. This route requires extreme caution and the full attention of the driver.
BHPian KharbandaKartik recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
I had never been to Ladakh and it had been on my list for a long time, but I kept getting delayed for one reason or another.
I got married in February of this year and was also busy with my newly assigned husband’s duties, a road trip not in sight for at least two months.
In May this year, I slowly started planning a trip to Ladakh in the first or second week of July.
I like the anticipation, the idea of traveling somewhere in the coming months can make me happy and also gives me a lot of motivation at work.
I deliberately slowed down my preparations, so that I had something to look forward to before hitting the road.
I have a weakness for torches, and the next trip was a good reason to buy a new one. I did some research online and selected Fenix as my favorite brand, I started looking for different models on different platforms but couldn’t make a decision so I decided to do an in-store purchase. I visited a store in Kalkaji, Delhi and bought myself a Fenix E35 V3.0. It has different modes like Eco, low, medium, etc., puts out 3000 lumens on the brightest mode and also has a strobe mode.
Extremely powerful for its size
There were only two of us, me and my wife, so we had no problem with space.
- Good wishes and good luck
- A camp, just in case we want to rest or have a picnic somewhere in the middle of nowhere
- Sleeping bags
- Butane cooker with gas canisters
- Cooked meals, tea, coffee, dried fruits
- Sun glasses
- 2 cases of water bottles
- A puncture kit
- chewing gum
- Garbage bags, strictly no litter anywhere
- Disposable paper cups, plates, etc.
- and much more
As July approached, we decided that our departure date would be July 6 and made holiday reservations accordingly.
Our plan was to go to Leh via Manali and we haven’t decided yet if we would like to come back the same way or via Srinagar.
I washed/prepped my car on July 5, checked vitals like engine oil level, coolant level, tire pressure, etc. and everything seemed good.
Packed in all night itself, as the plan was to hit the road at 4am the next morning.
I tossed and turned all night from the excitement of the trip and got up before the alarm even sounded.
As usual, we hit the roads on time.
I was eager to get out and get away from the city to avoid traffic jams before rush hour, I kept a constant speed the whole way and didn’t encounter any traffic jams.
Decide that our first break will be around 10:00 a.m. as I also had a few calls to the office at that time, our first stop was in Mohali, Punjab.
After a 90 minute break, we continued the journey, Manali was over 250 km away and I was doing 90-95 km/h when I suddenly heard a slight noise coming from the right rear of the car. The first thought that came to mind was a tire blowout. I slowly swerved to the far left and stopped, got out and my tire was not flat. I got closer to the tire and saw a separate tread from the tire and the threads were visible. Replaced by the spare tire which is marked with a speed limit of 80 km/h because it is a smaller tire. I made a few calls to Skoda and Goodyear and learned that the stock tires did not have an unconditional warranty. I didn’t want to waste time with all this and decided to buy a new tire from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
I went to a Goodyear store and the guy said it wasn’t the tire’s fault. I understood what he meant and concluded that it was my fault that I hadn’t changed to a better set of reliable tires from day one.
By the time I reached Manali, I was pleasantly surprised to see empty roads and few passenger vehicles. I guess it’s because of the monsoons.
Our day 1 stay in Manali
By the time we settled in etc it was already dark, we relaxed in the garden for a while, had dinner and called it a night.
I woke up the next morning and it was raining. Without wasting time, we left for Sarchu, where we were to spend the night.
Once out through the north portal of the Atal tunnel, we realized that it hadn’t rained in Lahaul.
The tunnel is magical, I remember once going to Sissu from Manali in winter through the tunnel and there was a temperature difference of about 10-12 degrees between Sissu and Manali. It’s like going somewhere completely different in 10 minutes.
Had scheduled office calls for 10am so decided to take a break at Keylong for good networking and hearty breakfast.
View from where we had breakfast in Keylong
I was looking forward to reaching Baralacha La Pass which is located approx. 16,000 feet and clicking on the pictures.
I met a few bikers here, one of them told me he was from Nubra valley and he wanted to reach Chandigarh on the same day, that would be a record I think, hoping that it arrived safely.
At this point we could definitely feel the lack of oxygen in the thin air, we continued our journey slowly and steadily.
While waiting for our lunch, Sarchu was an hour away.
Our stay in Sarchu
The epic view
Our home camp
After spending some time inside the camp we both started to feel a bit unfamiliar and realized it was altitude sickness due to the high altitude in Sarchu, we managed to spend the night.
The morning after
We left Sarchu after a very light breakfast around 7:00am, as we went we felt a bit better due to the fresh air and we descended as well.
I’ve been to high altitude places before but never had any symptoms of MAM. I was told later that most people who stay in Sarchu face these problems and an old man also suggested me not to stay in Sarchu next time.
Sarchu to Leh is approx. 250kms and it’s beautiful but not for the timid. This is the hardest leg of this trip, on this very stretch you will go through Gata Loops which has 21 hairpin bends and you will gain elevation quite quickly. The views are of course out of this world and it looks like the clouds are right ahead. I was so engrossed in driving that I didn’t take any photos of Gata Loops.
The terrain here was all wallpaper. Just point and shoot, no photography skills required.
We took a break in Pang, ate garlic soup and Thukpa, had a good chat with the host and was told that during winters Pang is absolutely inhospitable. I inquired about road conditions further out and was told it was fine. He also suggested that we spend no more than 5-10 minutes on Tanglang La, about 65 km from Pang.
At Tanglang La pass, an elevation of 17,582 feet.
The rest of the trip to Leh was about 100 km. Once we got near Leh, we found it to be much more urban than we expected. The roads were flat and perfect but had speed cameras around military camps.
We arrived at the hotel/villa around 4:00 p.m. and all my worries were put to rest when I saw that they had ample parking.
Went out in the evening to explore the market. If you are a foodie, you will have many options to choose from.
I came back to the villa and decided that we were going to Pangong Tso the next day and the plan was to leave at 6:00.
I woke up to this view early in the morning
We were able to leave on time, refuel at the nearest Indian Oil pump and we were all ready for Pangong Tso.
We took our first break early in the morning and made ourselves breakfast on the butane gas stove.
The road from Leh to Pangong Tso is usually narrow with aggressive taxi drivers. I believe it has something to do with having a private license plate, this route requires extreme caution and full attention from the driver.
On the way to the lake
Pangong wasn’t crowded and we had spent a good few hours here relaxing, the blue water is very calming to look at.
On the way back to Leh
We had a picnic here on the way back and it was one of the highlights of the day – the sun, the water, the flowers and the colors, it all seemed unreal.
The journey from Leh to Pangong and then back is tiring because of the bad roads. If you plan to go here, be prepared.
Our return trip from Pangong to Leh was a little quicker and we were back around 8-8:30pm. I tried a new restaurant in the main market and came back to the villa.
Our plan was to spend the next day in Leh.
Ladakh has many Gompas/monasteries. We decided to visit Thiksey Gompa. There were relatively many people. There is also an entrance ticket.
Once inside, you will find a cafe near the entrance.
There are lots of stairs, which can be difficult to climb given the altitude. I saw many people aged around 55-60 happily climbing the stairs and clicking pictures.
View from Thiksey Gompa
Our visit here was short considering it was quite warm outside.
I went to the main market, had a few beers with some Tibetan food and headed back to the villa. We spent a lazy afternoon on the lawn as we took in the beauty of the clear blue sky.
As we had a slow day, we decided to visit Nubra Valley the next day to bring back the adrenaline.
We had a good rest the night before and were able to wake up on time and leave on time as well.
I was told that people usually stay one night at Nubra, but we had no such plans.
The road conditions from Leh to Nubra are much better and won’t tire you so much.
The day before, I had made calls to Diskit (Nubra village) to make sure there was network connectivity as I had calls to the office at 10:00.
We had our first break, breakfast and calls to the office at Diskit village, unable to remember the name of the restaurant, but they served excellent food, the best we have had so far on this trip .
View from the restaurant
Somewhere along the way!
Waiting for the roads to clear
We went all the way to Thang village which is right at the LOC and POK can be seen a few miles away.
Before we were allowed to go to the last point, our IDs were deposited with the Indian Army and had to be collected on the way back. Only Indian citizens are allowed to go to the last point.
Keep reading on the KharbandaKartik road trip for comments, insights and more information from BHPian.