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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Expedition Wangdu: This is WIP and a compilation of all that I need to prepare for the trip...

The contents of this post are in no specific order, and as we inch closer to the date, we will have more meaningful stuff...

Today's Date: Jan 30
When: May 14 (2nd Saturday) to May 29 (4th Sunday) / May 31
Where: Mumbai - Leh - Mumbai by Car
How: By Car
Approach: via Srinagar
Return: via Srinagar


Preparing your Car for Ladakh

An arduous journey like Ladakh can take its toll, on not only the driver and passengers, but also on the car. In places like Manali - Leh highway or Zanskar Valley, a mechanical failure can spell disaster. With nearest town miles away and a mechanic even further down the road, it is a good idea to get your car serviced properly and get the worn out parts replaced, before embarking upon a journey of this magnitude.

Things to watch out for when getting the car serviced for Ladakh

  • Clutch Plates: For the steep and hilly terrain of Ladakh, it is best to ensure that your car’s clutch plates have enough life left in them to see you through the trip comfortably. When you’re getting your car serviced, ask the mechanic to check the clutch plates and replace if necessary.
  • Engine oil and filter: It is essential to get your cars engine oil and filter changed before going to Ladakh.
  • Brake pads, shoes and oil: Get the brake pads and shoes checked and if there is little life left in them, get them changed. Remember driving in hilly terrain continuously causes more wear than driving in plains. Also get the brake oil level checked as well, get it bleeded to ensure there is no air pocket left that could jeopardize your ability to brake on time.
  • Coolant: Continuous driving at high rpm takes its toll on the engine and causes it to over heat, even in cold climates. Get the car coolant changed/topped up at the time of service.
  • Air and fuel filter: Get both of these changed, Ladakh has quite a dusty environment and it doesn’t takes long for an old air filter to clog up. Poor fuel quality can also clog your cars fuel filter, so get them change if they are nearing the end of their life.
  • Electrical and battery: Ensure all the electrical connections are working properly and battery is in good condition. Don’t forget to top up battery water and change any bulbs/fuses which are showing signs of age.
  • General servicing: Ensure all the nuts and bolts are fastened properly; also check fan belts, timing etc.
  • Tyre alignment: Get the tyres aligned properly if there is a need; remember you will need you car to be handling at its best.
  • Tyres: Check the condition of the tyres, including of the spare wheel. If the tyres are nearing end of their life or have serious cuts/cracks in them, get them replaced asap!
  • Anti rust treatment: Most service centers offer anti rust treatment for the underbelly of the car before the monsoons. You will need it, since you will be driving through water crossings and snow and these can cause your car’s underbelly to catch rust.

Learn minor repair/servicing

If you have gone through the above routine, your car should hold through for the entire trip. However it would be a good idea to ask your mechanic to teach you minor chores like fixing punctures, changing bulbs and fuses, checking and topping up essential fluids such as battery water, coolant, engine oil etc.

Final checks on the D-Day and beyond

Now that you have prepared your car and are ready to embark upon your trip to Ladakh. Here are few checks that you need to perform on a daily basis.

  • Check if all lights, horn and indicators are working.
  • Double check fluid levels such as engine oil, brake oil, coolant, battery water etc.
  • Check tyres for air pressure as well as look for any signs of any nails, rocks etc lodged in tyre tread.
  • Check for any leakages or loose nuts and bolts.
  • Start the engine and let it idle, then check if there is any unusual sound coming for the engine.

List of essential tools, spares and car documents

Although it is recommended to learn basic repair of your car, even if you don’t know much, it is generally a good idea to carry necessary tools and spares. Sometime even in the smallest of town you can find a mechanic or some one who knows how to do basic repair, but might not have the required tool and spares to go through it.

Essential tools
  1. Tool kit: OEM tool kit that came along with you car is an essential part of the tool kit that every road trip enthusiast must carry.
  2. Screw Driver set: Try to carry a screwdriver set which has multiple attachments; a set which also includes a set of Allen keys is a good choice. While purchasing screwdriver set, ensure you get one which is the sturdiest of the lot and wont break while you are tightening or opening something.
  3. Steel wire: Can be used to tie together various parts in case of any breakage.
  4. Electricians & Scotch tape: Can be used for tying together various parts and insolating damage wires.
  5. Torch light: In case of break down in the evening or early in the morning you will need it to see your car’s engine, even once you are out of your car, it can prove quite useful.
  6. Foot or Electric air pump: Even though you have a spare tyre it is a good idea to carry an electric pump, since it can be used not only for fixing punctures it can also be used for adjusting tyre pressure.
  7. Puncture repair kit: Puncture repair kit for tyres with tubes should consist of; rubber patches, solution for pasting the patches on tube and tyre iron for taking off the tyre from the rim. In case of tubeless tyres, purchase a tubeless puncture repair kit. It is also recommended to carry a spare tyre valve.
  8. Jump start cable: In case you car’s battery dies, you can use the jumpstart cable to start your car with the help of another tourers car.
  9. Spare can for petrol/diesel: In case you run out of petrol/diesel at some point, you will need a spare can in which you can bring enough petrol/diesel to reach the nearest town.
  10. Petrol pipe 1-2 meter: In case you run out of petrol/diesel in the middle of nowhere and a kind soul agrees to lend you spare petrol/diesel, you will need a pipe through which you can get the petrol out of the tank.
  11. Plastic sheet couple of meter long: Can be used for keeping the tool or to stop air/water from coming in, in case the one of the windows break.
  12. Fire extinguisher: Can come in handy, carry it!

Essential Spares
  1. Engine oil: Carry at least half a liter of engine oil recommended by your car manufacturer, daily check engine oil level and top up if necessary.
  2. Headlight and brake light bulb: Always carry a headlight and brake light bulb.
  3. Coolant: Can come in handy in case your car is overheating.
  4. Battery Water: Carry a liter of battery water, frequent starts and continuously running headlight and music system can put quite a load on the battery causing the water to evaporate faster.
  5. Spare fuse: Ask your mechanic about the essential fuses that are needed for the car and carry them with you.
  6. WD40: Can be used to lubricate and clean various mechanical and electrical parts of your car.
  7. Rope for towing the car: In case of a serious break down you will need it to tow your car to the mechanics shop.
  8. Electrical wire: Can be used to replace faulty electrical wire in the wiring.
  9. Few nuts and bolts of various sizes: Based on your cars requirement, carry nuts and blots of various sizes for things like the bumpers, doors etc.
  10. Windscreen cleaning liquid: Windscreen can at times get quite dirty and cleaning it with windscreen wipers can produce scratches. It is best to carry a windscreen cleaning solution and a clean soft cloth to clean the windscreen at regular intervals to ensure maximum visibility.
  11. Small wooden plank: In case your car gets stuck in mud and starts loosing traction, you will need to put couple of small wooden planks underneath the stuck tyre to ensure it gets adequate grip.
  12. Spare car key: Carry the spare car key in some thing that you will always carry with you when you get out of your car, after all it is not unusual to leave the key inside of car by mistake and get locked out.

Essential documents
  1. Driving license
  2. Registration Papers of your car
  3. Insurance certificate
  4. Pollution under control certificate

Carry two - three copies of the above mentioned documents; generally you should have photocopies of Registration certificate and Insurance certificate handy, while the original should be kept in safe yet accessible place. In case of photocopies, they would have to be attested by a gazetted officer in order to hold any value. You should always have your original license and PUC certificate handy as well.



HVK's Itinerary 

This is the route that was followed by HV Kumar, but he went via Srinagar and came back via Manali. In our case our access points on both the sides is going to be Srinagar. HVK's experience is invaluable.


Suru & Zanskar Valleys


Nubra & Shayok Valleys
Leh-Khardung la-Deskit-Hunder-Panamik-Wari La-Chang la-Pangong Tso-Tangtse

Chumathang Valley & Sarchu
Tangtse-Upshi-Karzok/Tso Moriri-Tso Kar-Pang-Sarchu-Keylong

Lahaul, Spiti & Kinnaur Valleys
Keylong-Gramphoo-Kunzum la-Kaza-Tabo-Sumdo-Sangla-Chitkul

Back to Bombay


Draft Route Map 310111
...refer to the drawn map later in this blog by Aarti & Harsh...
Note: I have intentionally kept, Suru, Zanskar, Nubra, Marisimik La and Chumur out in the first itinerary, as it was being difficult to manage in 16 days. Have also not kept an extra day in Srinagar due to the paucity of time. We will have to do it again to cover these points. Have specifically included Lamayuru, Pongong Tso, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar and Monasteries of Leh. Khardung La is there. We need to keep an extra day kept for any exigency.


Srinagar - Leh

Route: Srinagar - Sonamarg - Zoji La - Drass - Kargil - Khaltse - Lamayuru - Nimmu - Leh
Distance: 440 kms

Usually the Srinagar - Leh circuit is covered in the span of two days with a night stop at Kargil, however you can make it a three day journey with another night stop at either Alchi or Lamayuru.

Srinagar - Sonamarg (85 kms)

The journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg takes you through some of the magnificent vistas Kashmir is renowned for. Even though there is heavy army presence and there are soldiers posted every few hundred meters, it is relatively safe and security forces are there to help you out. Apart from this the journey is pretty straight forward and you will be in Sonamarg in couple of hours, take a breather here and marvel at the beauty of Sonamarg i.e. meadows of gold.

Sonamarg - Drass (62 kms)

From Sonamarg the landscape starts changing dramatically all the way till the famous Zoji La pass (11,640ft), roads on the both side of the pass are in bad condition with lots of gravel, during rain the gravel turns to slush, so if you are planning to attempt this pass during rain, be prepared for some wheel spin fun! The traffic to the final summit of the pass is controlled and visitors have to get themselves registered to proceed further. This is also the toughest few kms of the entire Srinagar - Leh highway, beyond which tarmac is fantastic.

With in an hour of crossing Zoji La, you would be at Drass. If you have reached here late in the afternoon then my recommendation would be to have your meal here especially if you are a vegetarian, in Kargil the food isnt that good and for vegetarians finding food can be a bit of chore.

Drass - Kargil (58 kms)

A few kms beyond Drass is the Drass war memorial, built in the memory of fallen soldiers in the 1999 Kargil war and a must visit for every traveler passing through this route. From here it is a straight run to Kargil and you will be there in less than an hours time. Kargil is the intended pit stop for the majority of travelers and thus has quite a few accommodation options.

Kargil - Lamayuru (110 kms)

40 odd kms down the road is the town of Mulbek, a sleepy town which many would pass through without knowing the fact that next to the road is a statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. It is believed that the 9 meter high statue carved out of solid rock was built in 7th or 8th century. Although one is not allowed to take photographs of the statue, the statue itself is a must see for any one passing through Mulbek.

A short ride from Mulbek will take you to 12198ft high Namika La, a windy yet scenic pass. Roughly 40kms Namika La is Fotu La, the highest point on the Srinagar - Leh highway, (13,479ft).

After short yet scenic ride/drive you will reach the village of Lamayuru, Ladakhs most famous and one of the oldest Gompas. Take some timeout here for a quick photo shoot and a visit to Gompa, else plan a dedicated day for it and move on.

Lamayuru - Leh (125 kms)

Few kms down the road from Lamayuru are the Hangro Loops, the 18 loops are fast yet sharp loops with steep gorges, drive/ride carefully here.

Next major attraction comes in the form of Gurudwara Patthar Sahib located in the town of Nimmu (55kms from Leh), beyond which its fast and straight forward drive/ride to Leh.


Sonamarg being a tourist attraction and a hotspot in itself has quite a few accommodation options, both luxury as well as budget.

Even though most travelers prefer to stay at Kargil, Drass is a good option as well, especially if you are a vegetarian. Since finding vegetarian food in Kargil in evening is a chore.

For majority of people traversing through the Srinagar Leh highway, Kargil is the de facto night stop. Due to this there is no dearth of guest houses and hotels here, and one can easily find one to suit their individual needs. For a list of registered hotels and guest houses, please check this list by J&K tourism.

Even though Mulbek is a small town, there are few accommodation options where one can spend a night, including a J&K tourism bungalow.

Even though most people prefer to come to Lamayuru on a day trip from Leh, if you are going through the Srinagar Leh highway and have your own transportation then it would be a good idea to spend a night at Lamayuru. Lamayuru does have few guesthouses where one can spend the night.


Petrol Pumps: Petrol availability on the Srinagar - Leh highway is way better than on the Manali - Leh highway. One can find petrol bunks on the Srinagar - Sonamarg stretch and at Kargil and Khaltse.

Phone Services: Mobile phones with post paid roaming on Airtel and BSNL work in and around Srinagar and beyond that only postpaid GSM MTNL & BSNL phone connections work at Drass, Kargil, Khaltse and Nimmu. One can also find pay phones at Drass and Kargil.


Leh - Khardung La - Nubra Valley

Route: Leh – Phyang – Khardung La – Khardung – Khalsar – Diskit – Hunder – Diskit – Sumur – Panamik

Distance: 335 – 375 km round trip covering Diskit, Hunder, Sumur and Panamik.

There are various ways to do this excursion, people short on time prefer to only drive/ride till Khardung La, spend some time there and come back to Leh, a trip of this sort should come out to be 80 kms.

However many people do decide to go to Nubra Valley, which is highly recommended. You will need at least couple of days for such an excursion, with a night stop at Diskit, Hunder or Panamik.

Leh – Phyang – Khardung La (40 kms)

An early start should ensure that one reaches Khardung La without encountering lot of traffic. Despite all the hype surrounding Khardung La, drive/ride to the summit is relatively easy. Road beyond South Pallu (check post where one needs to submit the permits) is in a bad condition and gain in altitude is substantial, however it isn’t as strenuous or steep as Chang La or for that matter Tanglang La.

Once you reach the summit, you can take time out to get your photo taken next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world”. For those out of breath, there is a café at the summit, where one can have a much needed cup of tea/coffee along with some snacks. There is also a suvnior shop selling Khardung La memorabilia.

Khardung La – Khalsar (58 kms)

After break get ready for a bumpy ride/drive till North Pallu (one needs to submit permits here as well) this is also the last place before the village of Khardung where one can expect to find food.

Roughly 30 kms from the Khardung La pass is Khardung Village, it is quite a small settlement and there are only a few restaurants here, a quick stop here for photos is recommended due to the lovely mountainous backdrop.

Roads from Khardung to Khalsar are once again in good condition, Khalsar is the preferred pit stop of taxi/bus operators for breakfast/lunch.

Khalsar – Diskit (20 kms)

Few kms down the road from Khalsar the road bifurcates into two, road on the left leading to Diskit while the road on the right goes to Panamik. This is also the place where you first experience the changing vistas Nubra Valley is famous for, few kms into the road leading to Diskit the scenery changes from arid desert to a small oasis.

Many people choose to stay at Diskit and there are phone facilities available here as well as hotels and guest houses. While in Diskit don’t forget to visit the ancient Diskit Gompa which was built in 1420AD. Perched on top of a hill overlooking town of Diskit, the Gompa provides some breathtaking panoramic views. Access to Gompa is via a half hour trek through a two meter wide steep path; however the views and the Gompa more than make up for the effort. The main attraction of the Gompa is the main Deity, which holds in its hand the mummified human forearm and head, which is believed to be of a Mongol warrior.

Diskit – Hunder (8 kms)

8 kms down the road from Diskit is the village of Hunder. Hunder is set amidst fields of rye and barley and surrounded by fruit orchids and sand dunes; for people used to seeing the moonscape scenery of Ladakh, Hunder is a welcome break.

Hunder – Sumur (40 kms)

After backtracking for 20 odd kms you should be back at the bifurcation from where you had taken the diversion to Diskit, now you need to take the other route going towards Sumur and Panamik. The 20km drive from here to Sumur is scenic to say the least, with the views changing every few kms. Sumur’s main attraction is the 150 year old Samstening Gompa and apart from that the village itself is an oasis in the middle of a desert.

Sumur – Panamik (20 kms)

20 kms down the road from Sumur is the village of Panamik, famous for 250 year old Ensa Gompa and hot water springs. This is also the last point tourists are allowed.

Restricted Area: Nubra Valley is a restricted area and to visit it you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC’s office in Leh and can be procured by either submitting the application yourself or through a travel agent. The permits are issued for a maximum period of three weeks, in case you are visiting other restricted areas like Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso you need to mention them in the permit as well. Make at least 4 photocopies of the permit per region, since you would need to submit them at various check posts.


Diskit is the district headquarters of Nubra Valley and has the maximum number of accommodation options. Add to this quite a few households in Diskit run small guest houses from their home, which provides cheap and clean accommodation to travelers on a budget.

Hunder has few guest houses and camping ground where one can find decent accommodation.

Like Diskit, Sumur also has wide variety of accommodation options and is a favorite pit stop of many travelers.

Unlike Diskit and Sumur, Panamik has fewer accommodation options. However the guest houses here do provide hot water from the hot water spring which believed to have therapeutic values.


Petrol Pumps: It is advisable to tank up at Leh itself and carry enough petrol/diesel to see you through this trip, since only Diskit has a petrol pump and availability of petrol/diesel can be an issue there.

Phone Services: Diskit has quite a few pay phones that one can used to make long distance and overseas calls.



Leh – Tso Moriri

Route: Leh – Upshi – Chumathang – Mahe Bridge – Tso Moriri – Korzok – Mahe Bridge – Tso Kar
Distance: 295 kms

There are a few variations to the above listed circuit, one can go to Tso Moriri or do the entire Tso Moriri – Tso Kar circuit and come back to Leh via the same route or via the Manali – Leh highway or head to Manali from Tso Kar itself.

Leh – Upshi (55 kms)

Although you will be traveling for only 215 kms, it is best to start early from Leh. From Leh one needs to take the Leh – Manali highway till the town of Upshi.

Upshi – Chumathang (95 kms)

From the roundabout at Upshi take the left turn and a few hundred meters down the road is the check post where you need to submit your permits. For better part of the journey you will have the Indus River for company and tarmac is in good condition for most part, barring few landslide prone stretches.

Chumathang itself has little to offer to a visitor apart from a few restaurants, a Gompa and hot water springs. A quick lunch stop would suffice for most, while a night here would be recommended for travelers with a lot of time at hand.

Chumathang – Tso Moriri (Korzok) (60kms)

From Chumathang it is a relatively easy drive till Sumdo, few kms after which it is best not to use the road since it is too bumpy, instead either make your own track by driving/riding off road or use one of the numerous tracks left by passing vehicles. The last 30kms are a pain, but a boon for those who love off road riding/driving, the track here is a mix of sandy and dirt trails littered with small stones. However the view one gets at the end of it makes it all worth it.

Even though Tso Moriri is smaller than Pangong Tso and fewer people come here, it is more beautiful in some ways due to the fact that area surrounding Tso Moriri is a wild life reserve and one can see Tibetan wild ass (Kiang), marmots, red foxes and quite a few migratory birds. For accommodation and eateries take the right turn from the main entrance of Tso Moriri wild life sanctuary and continue for few kilometers to reach the village of Korzok a.k.a. Karzok.

Tso Moriri (Korzok) – Tso Kar (80 kms)

From Korzok back track till the Mahe Bridge and from there take the diversion to reach Tso Kar. Road from Mahe Bridge is in bad condition, but a boon for off road junkies.

It is believed that Tso Kar was once connected to Tso Moriri, even though Tso Kar is a salt water lake while Tso Moriri is fresh water. The area surrounding Tso Kar is protected and forms the Tso Kar wild life sanctuary.

From Tso Kar you can return to Leh via Tso Kar – Moore Plains – Tanglang La – Upshi route (155 kms) or by backtracking to Mahe Bridge and then continuing on the Chumathang – Upshi – Leh route (205 kms).

Restricted Area: Tso Moriri is a restricted area and to visit it you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC office in Leh and can be procured by either submitting the application yourself or through a travel agent. The permits are issued for a maximum period of three weeks, in case you are visiting other restricted areas like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso you need to mention them in the permit as well. Make at least 4 photocopies of the permit per region, since you would need to submit them at various check posts.


Chumathang has more accommodation options to offer than Korzok or Tso Kar; it has a few guest houses and even a resort!

There are few accommodation options in Korzok since Tso Moriri isn’t as famous as Pangong Tso. However there is a hotel here along with guest houses that Chang-pa Nomads run from their houses. There is also a collection of tents and one can even pitch their own tents at designated spots.

Tso Kar
There are tented accommodations available near Tso Kar; one can also pitch their own tent in designated spots.


Phone Services: There are no internet cafes or phone booths beyond Leh, so be prepared to remain out of touch for the next couple of days.

Petrol Pump: Carry enough petrol for the return journey to Leh or till Tandi, since there are no petrol pumps beyond Leh. Although one can find contraband petrol/diesel at Chumathang, Pang and Sarchu, it is recommended to carry enough petrol to see you through this trip comfortably.


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Leh – Pangong Tso

Route: Leh – Shey – Karu – Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tanksey – Lukung – Spangmik (Pangong Tso)
Distance: 170kms

Many travelers do the Leh – Pangong Tso excursion as a day trip and come back to Leh by night fall. However this is not at all recommended, since the 340 km long round trip leaves little time for Pangong Tso, which is a magnificent lake and doing this excursion in the span of 2 - 3 days is highly recommended.

Leh – Karu (45 kms)

Start off from Leh early in the morning after breakfast and start driving/riding on the Leh – Manali highway till you reach the town of Karu. Road is in good condition and journey is fast paced, due to this you will be in Karu in less than an hour.

Karu – Chang La (35 kms)

From Karu you need to take the left turn that would take you to the village Shakti, roads are mostly straight till you cross Shakti and a few kilometer thereafter the real ascent for Chang La starts. For most part ascent is steep and initially roads are in good condition. As you approach the final few kms of the ascent to Chang La, road conditions start to deteriorate and steepness increase, making the affair of reaching the summit of Chang La more challenging and memorable.

Of all the passes one encounters in Ladakh (barring Marsimik La), Chang La is the steepest and due to bad roads at the final ascent it is also the toughest, no wonder it is called "The Mighty Chang La".

At 17,800ft it is also the second highest pass in ladakh that you will come across. Once you reach the summit, you will be greeted by the Indian Army troops who are stationed here to acclimatize to high altitude, before they are posted in world’s highest battlefield, Siachen. There is a temple on top of Chang La pass, called Chang La Baba ka Mandir, as well as a cabin built by the army where you can warm up yourself while chatting with the soldiers.

Chang La – Tanksey (58 kms)

After a few minutes rest, its time to begin the descent from Chang La, road is in bad condition for few kilometers, beyond which superbly laid tarmac coupled with beautiful scenery awaits you.

Your next big break will be at Tanksey a.k.a. Tangste; Tanksey is a big town with few shops, hotels and an internet café. It is a good idea to have your lunch here or in case you have arrived late in the evening, then spend the night here instead of continuing to Lukung or Spangmik where finding accommodation in peak season can be an issue.

Tanksey – Spangmik (Pangong Tso) (32 kms)

Journey beyond Tanksey for most part is through fantastically laid tarmac and views, however don’t indulge in over speeding, since there are quite a few water passages built in the middle of the road, which essentially mean 8-10 feet long depression in the middle of the road without any warnings!

As you approach the lake, the sheer size of it starts becoming more apparent as you finally reach its shores. On the banks of the lake is a military camp and also Lukung which is a collection of tents and newly built Eco Huts.

From here you can carry on, on the road that turns in to sand and rock filled dirt track. The small settlement visible from here is the village of Spangmik, the last village up to which you are allowed to go on normal inner line permits.

Spangmik – Marsimek La (42 kms)

10 kms before Spangmik on the Spangmik – Tanksey road is a diversion that goes towards the village of Phobrang and finally to the highest Motorable pass in the world, Marsimek La a.k.a. Marsimik-La a.k.a. Marsmik-La.

Restricted Area: Pangong Tso, Marsimek La and Chang La are restricted areas and to visit them, you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC’s office in Leh and can be procured by either submitting the application yourself or through a travel agent. The permits are issued for a maximum period of three weeks, in case you are visiting other restricted areas like Tso Moriri and Nubra Valley you need to mention them in the permit as well. If you want to attempt Marsimek La then you need to specifically mention that while applying for permits. Make at least 4 photocopies of the permit per region, since you would need to submit them at various check posts.


Even though Tanksey is 32 kms before Pangong Tso, it is a good place to spend the night, due to sheer number of accommodation options and their quality which is better than both Lukung and Spangmik.

Eco Huts at Lukung are just right of the shore of Pangong Tso. Be warned there is no electricity or proper toilet, just camping grade toilet and warm water courtesy solar water heater. Beside this one can also pitch ones own tents here.

Spangmik only has one hotel which offers rooms as well as luxury tents; however get ready to shell out any where between Rs.700 - 1200 for these. One can also find accommodation in guest houses that some inhabitants of Spangmik run from their home.


Petrol Pumps: It is essential to fill up your vehicles petrol tank at Leh and carry enough petrol for the return journey, since there are no petrol pumps beyond the outskirts of Leh.

Phone Services: Beyond Thiksey there are no phone booths and mobile phone coverage, however there is an internet café at Tanksey.


Suru & Zanskar Valley
Route: Kargil - Sanko - Parakachik - Rangdum (Suru) - Panzi La - Padum (Zanskar Valley)

Distance: 245 kms

Zanskar Valley is one of the least visited spots in ladakh and this is mainly due to the distance and fact that roads here are dirt tracks for the most part. Most people like to take this excursion at the end of their trip while returning from Ladakh via Srinagar; however there are few who like to cover Zanskar first, while a smaller number do it in the middle of their trip. For more on how to reach Kargil, please read Srinagar – Leh route guide (earlier in this post).

Kargil – Panikhar (Suru Valley) (68 kms)

It is better to have your breakfast in Kargil itself and also to get the supplies, both for your vehicles and yourself from Kargil. Since there are no petrol pumps in Suru or Zanskar Valley so please ensure you have enough petrol/diesel to travel for 550kms.

From Kargil to Panikhar the roads are metalled and barring few freshly laid stretches, it’s full of potholes but easy to negotiate. First major town you will come across after leaving Kargil would be Sankoo, 42kms from Kargil. It is recommended to have your breakfast here if you haven’t already had it in Kargil, since the next major stop is Rangdum, 88kms from here.

Roads from Sankoo start improving as you enter Panikhar and you are greeted with lush green valley and snow covered mountains peaks and glaciers dotting the horizon. Panikhar is one of the most scenic places in Suru Valley and a photography stop here is highly recommended.

Panikhar – Rangdum (Suru Valley) (62 kms)

As one leaves the town of Panikhar, road conditions start to deteriorate once again and the once metalled road becomes a dirt trail. From here onward it’s a dirt trail all the way to the outskirts of Padum.

Roughly 40 kms before the town of Rangdum is Parakachik, from here the vistas change dramatically and the real beauty of Suru Valley starts becoming apparent, to relish this beauty it is recommended to come here in late September or October since the grass at that time has shades of orange and that combined with the arid mountain backdrop makes it even more dramatic.

Rangdum itself is a small town with barely a dozen houses and couple of restaurants and guesthouses. If you are planning to reach Padum leisurely then this should be your preferred night stop, else have your lunch here and get ready for the final push of 115kms to the capital of Zanskar Valley, Padum.

Rangdum – Pensi La (Zanskar Valley) (25kms)

5 kms from the Rangdum village is the 18th century Rangdum Gompa and a stop here for photos is highly recommended. From here one can continue on the “road” or take a shortcut and ride on the dried up river bed (if it is dried up when you are there).

The ascent to the pass starts couple of kms after the Rangdum Gompa and for the most part is an easy ascent on dirt and rock filled trail, to which you would have gotten used to by now.

Couple of kms from the summit of the pass you cross into the Zanskar Valley and Darung Drung Glacier begins to make it appearance felt with few glimpses and the unmistakable chill in the wind owing to vast reserves of snow it has. You will also come across couple of small lakes before the summit of the pass, which are surrounded by marmots and their holes.

Pensi La a.k.a. Penzi La is easy to miss since the small board on the right hand side is easy to miss, which also tells to a certain extent how touristy the Zanskar Valley really is. At an altitude of 14,000ft, Panzi La is the highest point on the Kargil - Padum highway and provides a fantastic view of Drang Drung Glacier.

Pensi La – Padum (Zanskar Valley) (90 kms)

From Pensi La the road starts descending to the plateau below, along side the Stod River. Journey from here on is pretty easy and having being acclimatized to the dirt trails, chances are you will start enjoying the road from here on as there is more dirt and less loose rocks, which significantly raises your speed as you leave the dirt cloud behind. However be extra cautious while driving here, since cows, goats, horses, marmots, dogs etc. here have a tendency to come in front of your vehicle to check your reflexes and nerves.

Few kms before Padum tarmac begins to make an appearance and is a welcome relief for most after 180 kms of off road driving.

Padum is small town and the district headquarter of Zanskar Valley, due to this and due to it being a popular trekking destination, it has quite a few amenities including an internet café, phone booth and a plethora of hotels and restaurants.

Padum also has quite a few monasteries one can visit; of these major ones are Sani, Stongdey and Karsha.


Sankoo has J&K tourism bungalow where one can find cheap and clean accommodation.

Panikhar also has a J&K tourism bungalow.

Parakachik also has a J&K tourism bungalow.

There are two places where one can sleep in Rangdum, one is a PWD guest house and the other one is J&K tourism one. Accommodation at both the guest houses is cheap and amenities here are limited to solar powered lights and outside toilets. Beside this you can also pitch your tent either in the compound of these guest houses or near the two Dhabas next to the police station.

Padum has several accommodation options to offer, from guest houses to camping ground, Padum has it all. Although the J&K guest house at Padum is highly recommended and is relatively cheap as well.


Suru Valley: Suru Valley has little apart from basic amenities such as eateries at Sankoo, Panikhar and Rangdum and puncture repair shop at Sankoo and Panikhar.

Padum: Padum is the district head quarter of Zanskar Valley one can find phone booth, internet café and a verity of restaurants. However one thing that surely would be missed by people is the lack of a petrol pump.



Leh is a beautiful city and also the gateway to some spectacular excursions in Ladakh. Leh also boosts of civic amenities like airport, banking, internet cafés, phone services, market, petrol pumps, automobile service centers and mechanics, thus providing a breather and a place to recuperate for both man and machine.

Places of interest

Leh and surrounding towns and villages have a lot to offer to travelers in the form of ancient Gompas, Mosques and Palaces.

Shanti Stupa: One of the newest of Leh’s religious monument, Shanti Stupa was built by a Japanese Buddhist order in 1985. The white colored structure of Shanti Stupa is decorated with traditional Buddhist paintings. Located only a couple of kms from Leh’s Fort Road, Shanti Stupa offers fantastic views of Leh city.

Ancient Leh Palace: Towering over the city of Leh is the former residence of Ladakh’s royal family, Leh Palace. Built in 16th century this 9 story Palace still looks fantastic and offers a panoramic view of the city. Above the palace on the Namgyal Tsemo hill are the remains of an old fort built in the 16th century by then King of Ladakh, Tashi Namgyal.

Main Market: main market of ladakh offers travelers and locals a place to indulge in shopping, from internet cafes, to restaurants offering mouthwatering traditional and foreign cousins, traditional ladakh handicraft items, cloths, vegetables, so if you need some thing, chances are you will be able to find it in the main market.

Polo Ground: Located couple of kms away from the main market is Leh’s polo ground, the highest in the world. Next to the Polo ground is Ladakh’s DC Office where one needs to apply for permits to visit restricted areas like Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley etc.

Thiksey Gompa: 20 kms from Leh on the Leh - Manali highways is the famous Thiksey Gompa. Situated on top of a hill, Thiksey Gompa not only offers spectacular panoramic views, it has some of the most beautiful murals and statues. Thiksey Gompa also contains gold covered 15 meter tall statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. (http://www.thiksey.com/)

There are several other Gompas worth visiting in and around Leh.


Leh is filled with hotels and guest houses of various types and budget.


Petrol Pump: There are two Indian oil Petrol Pumps, one located on the entrance of Leh city and another located few kms down the road on the Leh - Manali highway.

Garages and Mechanics: There are several garages and mechanic shops, including an official Maruti service center at Sakara road.

Phone Services: Leh has plenty of pay phone booths and cyber cafes, add to this if you own a post paid GSM connection and your operator has a roaming agreement with either BSNL or Airtel, you will be able to make and receive calls with ease.

Preventing AMS

The key to avoiding AMS is a gradual ascent that gives your body time to acclimatize. People acclimatize at different rates, so no absolute statements are possible, but in general, the following recommendations will keep most people from getting AMS:

  • If possible, you should spend at least one night at an intermediate elevation below 3000 meters.
  • At altitudes above 3000 meters (10,000 feet), your sleeping elevation should not increase more than 300-500 meters (1000-1500 feet) per night.
  • Every 1000 meters (3000 feet) you should spend a second night at the same elevation.

Remember, it's how high you sleep each night that really counts; climbers have understood this for years, and have a maxim "climb high, sleep low". The day hikes to higher elevations that you take on your "rest days" (when you spend a second night at the same altitude) help your acclimatization by exposing you to higher elevations, then you return to a lower (safer) elevation to sleep. This second night also ensures that you are fully acclimatized and ready for further ascent.

Things to Avoid

Respiratory depression (the slowing down of breathing) can be caused by various medications, and may be a problem at altitude. The following medications can do this, and should never be used by someone who has symptoms of altitude illness (these may be safe in persons who are not ill, although this remains controversial

  • Alcohol
  • Sleeping pills (acetazolamide is the sleeping tablet of choice at altitude)
  • Narcotic pain medications in more than modest doses


Under certain circumstances, prophylaxis with medication may be advisable.

  • for persons on forced rapid ascents (such as flying into Lhasa, Tibet, or La Paz, Bolivia), for climbers who cannot avoid a big altitude gain due to terrain considerations, or for rescue personnel on a rapid ascent.
  • for persons who have repeatedly had AMS in the past


We do not recommend acetazolamide as a prophylactic medication, except under the specific limited conditions outlined above. Most people who have a reasonable ascent schedule will not need it, and in addition to some common minor but unpleasant side effects it carries the risk of any of the severe side effects that may occur with sulfonamides.
The dose of acetazolamide for prophylaxis is 125-250 mg twice a day starting 24 hours before ascent, and discontinuing after the second or third night at the maximum altitude (or with descent if that occurs earlier). Sustained release acetazolamide, 500 mg, is also available and may be taken once per day instead of the shorter acting form, though side effects will be more prominent with this dose.
Ginkgo biloba extract
Some early work with Ginkgo biloba extract was encouraging with regards to its use in preventing AMS, but some recent large, well-designed studies have shown no benefit.

AMS Prophylaxis:

Acetazolamide (Diamox®)

125-250 mg (depending on body weight; persons over 100 kg (220 lbs) should take the higher dose) twice a day starting 24 hours before ascent, and discontinuing after the second or third night at the maximum altitude (or with descent if that occurs earlier). Children may take 2.5 mg/kg of body weight twice a day.

Preventing Severe AMS

This simply cannot be emphasized too much. If you have symptoms of AMS, DO NOT ASCEND ANY HIGHER. Violating this simple rule has resulted in many tragic deaths.

If you ascend with AMS you will get worse, and you might die. This is extremely important - even a day hike to a higher elevation is a great risk. In many cases of High Altitude Cerebral Edema, this rule was violated. Stay at the same altitude (or descend) until your symptoms completely go away. Once your symptoms are completely gone, you have acclimatized and then it is OK to continue ascending. It is always OK to descend, you will get better faster.

The Golden Rules

If you've been paying attention to the tutorial so far, these will be familiar. If there is a nugget of knowledge to take away from this tutorial, here it is:

If you feel unwell at altitude it is altitude illness until proven otherwise.


Never ascend with symptoms of AMS.


If you are getting worse (or have HACE or HAPE), go down at once.