The drive from home (Gurgaon) to Leh was one adventurous drive. The video shows the roads, the terrains and what the drive looks like, but no photo or video can do justice to the experience.
The major destinations from Gurgaon to Leh included:
2. Dharamshala & McLeodGanj
3. Udhampur & Ramban
7. Batalik & Darchiks
Click on the links above to see a detailed description and our experience at each of these destinations. We reached Leh from Gurgaon in 16 days excluding our 10 day stopover for Vipassana in Hoshiarpur. For a long long road trip across different terrains, we could not have asked for a better route.
Get. Set. Go.
We set foot on the journey of our dreams and our first destination was Chandigarh. We pledged not to drive in the dark and try to limit our drives to 5 hours a day. Chandigarh fit quite well in these bounds. Just about 300 kms from home (Gurgaon) and with the amazing roads that led us to the destination, it took us less than 5 hours to reach. Once we left Delhi, it was a breeze to reach Chandigarh with the speedometer never touching anything below 80kmph.
When in Chandigarh, we could not afford to miss one of the most beautiful gardens out there – the Rock Garden. A garden which has no flowers but was made out of all the trash in the city at one point of time and now is a beauty in itself. Don’t be misguided by the name, it has amazing man-made waterfalls and landscapes along with some rock art we really admired.
We are a fan of ‘Social’ and once we aspired to visit all the ‘Social’ outlets in all cities they are present in. They expanded faster than we expected them to and we could not keep up to their pace. There are currently more than 20 outlets and we have been to more than 10. Chandigarh houses one of them, so it was a no brainer to party at ‘Sector 7 Social’. We couldn’t complain spending our evening there. The decibel level of the music there was beyond we could sustain for a long time though – Chandigarh, keeping true to it’s name.
1. This was not the first time we visited Chandigarh, but I cannot reiterate more how well planned the city is. The cleanliness, the greenery and how smoothly the traffic flows here is absolutely commendable.
2. Don’t forget to walk by Lake Sukhna when in Chandigarh, it is one of the cleanest lakes where you can hire a boat as well to spend some leisure time.
3. You will find women decked up in their most flashy clothes and make-up any time of the day or night.
With nice cafes around, hospitable people to interact with and prayer flags waiving all around the city, we didn’t feel like leaving at all. All through our lives, atleast in the last 15 years, we had never travelled to a destination without reserving a hotel in advance. This was our first try at it. We reached the city without any hotel reservations and came across a lodge which was located right where you could see the sunrise unobstructed – The Kareri Lodge.
Our host at the Kareri Lodge was one of the most hospitable person we have met in our journey. In his late 50s, he told us stories about how he went to Delhi to work for a couple of years and could not understand why people are running all the time with no time for themselves. He could not live there and got back to McLeodGanj only to find peace in what he does best – host guests and help them explore the town ensuring they take back fond memories.
We explored around in Dharamshala and visited the Naddi Sunset Point in the evening. The sun sets a bit early in the hills but it is just stunning to view the sun hide from you within a matter of few minutes. Relishing Maggi with a cup of Chai while the sun sets, well, you can have that luxury only while you are travelling within India.
Norbulingka Institute is one of the most serene places around. You enter the premises and you feel you are in a different world all together. The serenity of the place is unmatched. You can learn about the Tibetan culture and art here.
Our first short trek was up to the Bhagsunag Falls. It is a 20-25 mins trek up on paved path and you are sure to get a great view to the falls. Another 10 minutes up from there was the Shiva Cafe. One of the best cafes which boasts to host a fresh flowing water pool.
1. Be ready to drive up some of the steepest roads from Dharamshala to McLeodganj if you plan to take a shorter route. The roads are steep but really fun to drive on.
2. You will find monks all around, considering H.H. The Dalai Lama’s Temple is also in McLeodGanj. After doing the Vipassana course, we could relate to this place so much more.
3. If you feel like catching a movie while on a vacation, you would be surprised with the quality of Movie Theatre in Dharamshala. Good comfortable seats with popcorn that costs only INR 40 ;)
Ramban was a pleasant surprise for us. Just 2.5 hours from Udhampur, passing through the longest tunnel in India, The Chenani Tunnel, spanning a good 9 km drilled through the mountains, it was a great drive. We stayed in a small lodge located right on the shores of the Chenab river. Sipping some beer with the local finger food on the shores of Chenab was an experience unforgettable.
One night each in Udhampur and Ramban, we were on our way to Pahalgam in Kashmir which was another 4 hours ahead.
1. The 9.2 km long Chenani tunnel was inaugurated recently in 2017 and bypasses Patnitop which makes it an all-weather tunnel 12 months around.
2. Once you enter Udhampur, the number army personnels and vehicles you see reminds you of all the sacrifices of The Indian Army to ensure people can still visit Kashmir and admire it’s beauty.
3. Don’t forget to stop by Ramban on your way to Kashmir. It might be not so well known town, but it’s worth a pit stop. Don’t forget to sit by the Chenab river to sip a pint of beer.
Pahalgam, a small town in Kashmir, has some of the most scenic places in India. It is not long ago when travelling abroad was a privilege not available to many. It was then, when everyone I knew came to Kashmir on their Honeymoon, including my parents. Baisaran, popularly known as ‘Mini-Switzerland’ is one of the most talked about attraction of Pahalgam.
Reaching Pahalgam from Ramban, a 4 hour drive, was quite scenic but bumpy. The roads were being constructed and the rocks being blown away by dynamites for atleast half our journey. To add to it, it rained pretty heavily and we drove quite slowly. We drove through the Jawahar Tunnel, one of the oldest tunnels connecting Jammu and Kashmir since 1956. As soon we exited the tunnel, was an amazing view point called the Titanic View point. Oh, how beautiful the mountains and valleys are. The words and pictures don’t do justice to them at all.
Our first view of the River Liddar, a tributary of Jhelum, and we forgot all the bumpy roads. We just setup our tripod, parked our car next to the river and clicked. I have been a fan of the noise of water gushing since the early days, and Liddar was like music to my ears.
After resting for the night, it was time for a short pony ride to Baisaran, the mini-Switzerland in India. It was a 2 hour ride up with a couple of short breaks in between. It is not that easy to sit on a horse straight for 2 hours. Our a*ses hurt for the next 2 days after that, but the ride was worth it. Our guide showed us multiple places of interest and told us long stories about the past, present and future of everything around. He might not have studied in school for too long but was more learned about current affairs and politics and life, more than many of us who spend years learning in school.
On our way back, he took us to his abode, made us meet his wife, his kid and his complete family. He also gave us some fresh walnuts to munch on for the rest of our journey. This was the first time I actually saw walnuts on trees – quite a view it was.
There are so many other view points in Pahalgam, but when you are driving through the hills yourself, you don’t need to visit these viewpoints. The whole journey is full of such scenic points that visiting these points seems like a waste of time.
1. Don’t forget to pluck the walnuts off the trees yourself while you are there. They just much better fresh than as dry fruit.
2. The locals are very welcoming to the tourists. They are more frustrated with the turmoil and unrest than any of us can imagine and would do anything to make Kashmir a peaceful place to live in.
3. Negotiate hard when dealing with the guides/taxi drivers etc. The better you negotiate, the more you save!
Srinagar, the paradise on earth, is rightly called so. Even in the midst of all the turmoil, tourists just can’t resist visiting this place and admiring it’s beauty. Dal Lake is known for it’s Shikaras which you can rent for a ride in the lake to the ‘Chaar Chinars’ and the house boats which have all the amenities you need for a comfortable overnight stay.
Our drive from Pahalgam to Srinagar, close to 3 hours, was not just scenic but also full of apple orchards and farms. We stopped by a couple of them and tasted the most juicy and tasty apples ever. First time I had real apple juice which was not from concentrate or flavours, but squeezed right out of the apples in front of me.
Private vehicles are not allowed inside the park. Only electric golf carts are allowed which you can rent along with a chauffeur at the main gate. He guided us inside the park and was a great company too.
A good 20 mins ride inside the park and we went on a short 15 minute trail to one of the watch towers. The grass was probably taller than us, but once we reached the watch tower, the view was amazing. It’s a very different kind of national park among the mountains where the altitude ranges from 5500 to 14000 ft above sea level. Famous for it’s Kashmiri Stag (The Hangul) and the Himalayan bear, sad we did not see any in the wild.
Srinagar is one beautiful place though where nature has been too kind. Only if we could end this political war, no place on earth would see more tourists than Kashmir valley and admire it’s beauty.
1. Do not miss the apple orchards on the way to Srinagar. Even if you have to take a de-tour, they are worth a visit.
2. Don’t be afraid of visiting this paradise on earth. Media shows way more than what the reality is. Left to the locals, they are more welcoming hosts than any of us anywhere else in India.
3. A shikara ride in the Dal Lake is going to leave you spellbound. Don’t miss it for anything. But again, negotiate hard with the people there if you want to save money! It’ll work out well.
Stopping by innumerable number of times just to get a few shots with the flowing river and the high standing mountains, we passed through Zozilla pass, the pass which shuts down come October due to heavy snowfall. We had tea, coffee and Maggi at point zero. We stop by for the love of Maggi everywhere we can.
We had never seen a more beautiful place than Drass. It somewhere made Srinagar look somewhat less beautiful. We stayed at the D’ Meadows hotel, the only hotel in Drass. During our evening stroll, we met a few army officers who had crazy stories to tell and advised us to visit the Kargil War Memorial which is actually in Drass.
We paid homage to the martyrs at the war memorial and could see all the peaks we had captured during the Kargil war in 1999. Tiger Hill, Batra Top, Tololing – all the peaks looked so calm and serene as if nothing ever happened there. It is only for us to imagine, how many soldiers lost their lives on these mountains less than 20 years ago.
One of the army officers was kind enough to take us for a walk in a local village in Drass. We were amazed to learn the customs and beliefs of the people there. There was not a single girl who did not go to school. The boys give dowry to the girls family at the time of marriage. Everyone works super hard in the mountains day and night. A month before the winter comes, the only job everyone does is stock wood for the winters in there house, since the weather gets so extreme that no one can even step out of there house to collect wood. There is a fire inside the house 24x7 which keeps the house warm. The people up there face the real hardships and they still had nothing to complain about. Everyone lives happily helping each other in every way possible.
1. The drive from Srinagar to Drass is just a 4 hour drive through Sonmarg, Baltal, Zozilla Pass and Point Zero. It is probably the most scenic drive you will ever see in your lifetime.
2. Kargil War Memorial is a must visit when in Drass. You will feel more patriotic than you have ever felt hearing the stories of the brave men and the martyrs.
3. Don’t just hide in your hotel room fearing the extreme weather. A stroll on foot through the villages will teach you a lot more than what you would ever learn in school.
When we started our drive from Drass to Leh, we felt that we have already seen the best and there could not be anything better than this. We had two options for our road journey – go straight to Leh via Mulbekh and Lamayuru, or take a short detour and visit Batalik. The pictures tell you clearly which route we took and we do not regret it even in our dreams. Yes, the roads were not as smooth as we would have wanted them to be, but well, we were not here to just drive on creamy roads.
The landscape is just amazing and we loved every bit of being on the road while on our way to Batalik. There were smooth roads, and rough patches, but all-in-all, BRO has done an amazing job maintaining the roads at such a high altitude.
There was a river flowing with turquoise blue water all through our journey and we just didn’t feel tired of being on the road. We encountered one or two cars throughout on the road from Drass to Batalik. If we had to stop or slow down our car at any point of time, it was either to click some beautiful shots, at some crazy hairpin bends or to give way to flock of sheep.
Around 60 kms north of Kargil and a few kilometres before Batalik is located one of the finest villages we have seen. It is one of the very few ‘Pure Aryans’ village, called the Darchiks. The entrance of the village is guarded by an army post and the village is a couple of kilometres inside from the main highway. The residents are super friendly and live off agriculture as their main source of livelihood. They have the juiciest of fruits and the freshest of grains. We had the opportunity to pick a pear from the tree and nibble on it and I had not eaten a more juicy pear in my life.
The Aryans wear a head gear which is considered holy and they wear it at all public gathering or when celebrating any occasion. One of the women was kind enough to lend Sidhi one to click a shot.
The villagers were so hospitable that they welcomed us into their house and offered us some dry fruit along with the traditional tea which they call Po-Cha, a butter tea primarily made of salt, green tea, water and yak butter. Primary reason for using salt instead of sugar is the availability of the raw materials.
1. When driving from Drass to Leh, do not forget to visit the Darchiks village and Batalik. The road might be a little rough but it is all worth it.
2. Read about the Aryans and the Brokpa community – there is a lot to know about them if you are interested.
3. It might look like a rocky desert, but the fruit and grains available in region are of great quality and taste really really fresh. Don’t miss out on tasting some fruit here.