The self-drive to Leh Ladakh is a dream drive for hundreds of adventurists all around the globe. As soon as the Leh – Ladakh season gets into full swing in May to September months, lots of adventure lovers prepare themselves to go for a self-drive run over the roof of the world. They travel up there via the ever-enthralling plus adventurous roads of Manali – Leh Highway or lush green beauty of Srinagar – Leh Highway.
So, how about looking into the details of a self-drive trip to Leh Ladakh in this article.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Self-Drive to Leh Ladakh – Important Tips
In this article today, I would like to share seven handy tips for your upcoming self-drive expedition to Leh-Ladakh that you might want to keep at the back of your mind, rather always on mind, before you dive into the dream drive of your life to Leh Ladakh self-drive tour.
1. Over-confidence is your biggest enemy, so keep it away on Ladakh self-drive!!
Never be overconfident that you are master of driving, you have done Rohtang Pass ‘x’ number of times, you are a champ driver in plains, etc.. because driving to Ladakh especially via Manali – Leh Highway could be one of the strangest and adventurous drive you will ever undertake in life.
Never think that any overlying stone will not hit the underbelly, never think that the road ahead is straight as an arrow-like a runway and you can cruise through it, etc..
Such thinking can get you/your vehicle stranded in the middle of nowhere for hours to up to days on a self-drive trip to Ladakh.
Even the smoothest and straightest of the roads, which look super fine, newly laid tarmac are washed in between or have sudden bumps in them which can badly hurt your vehicle.
If you see a big rock lying in between on-road especially at sections with loose gravel then it is always you better step out and throw it away to make your way instead of taking any chance and getting your car’s underbelly hurt with it.
Hence, make sure when you make a Leh Ladakh road trip by car, you remember to leave the overconfidence of being a driving expert at home else be prepared to be stuck in the middle of nowhere or a dangerous pass due to it.
2. Never rush through any tricky section of the road on Ladakh drive
On any Leh Ladakh self-drive tour, whenever you are in doubt about some rough section of the road, maybe landslide section or pathetically rough road or a water crossing, etc. then never, ever rush through it.
Rather, carefully analyze that tricky section of the road by parking your vehicle aside and judging the situation. Try to see how other vehicles are crossing that section. And, if required, check/inspect the trouble section on your foot to prepare an exit route through it in your mind. Then finally go for it.
Rushing through the tricky sections on a Ladakh drive can end up in trouble as you never know what is beneath such sections. Sometimes sharp stones can either cut the tire or even worse, puncture the engine sump.
Pro Tip: If you are doing a self drive to Leh – Ladakh, then make sure to check on 40 Must Have Things to Carry on a Self Drive Trip to the Ladakh
3. Know Your Car or Vehicle Well
It is essential to know about your car or vehicle because you might find some of the stretches or sections of the road on Ladakh drive which are not possible to cross without a hit or scratches under-belly, especially with hatchbacks and sedans due to low ground clearance.
In such situations, when you take a small car to Ladakh, you need to know which parts of the underbelly of your car you might need to protect especially oil sump (which you need to protect all around the trip) and which parts you can let get the hit from below or have some scratches on it.
Hence, knowing about your car will help you a lot in making the right choices in tricky situations on any Leh Ladakh road trip by car.
4. Do Not Use Heaters
Use of heaters should be avoided at any cost especially at high altitude places like Manali – Leh Highway and Ladakh because the warm air by heater destroys the levels of oxygen content present inside and can make breathing very difficult and aggravate the AMS Symptoms.
Hence, it is best that you do not use the heaters in the car and maybe let the outside airflow in for proper circulation. Avoiding AMS or minimizing the chances of getting hit with AMS is a key factor in making a successful self drive Leh Ladakh trip.
5. Do Not Drink & Drive
Should be first and foremost, but still, PLEASE do not take booze/drink at all while you are driving in the Himalayas, especially when driving from Delhi to Leh by road via Manali, which runs above 14000 feet at the major portion of it.
Drinking means you will have some real trouble in getting acclimatized with alcohol in your belly 🙂 and of course, will create the lapse in concentration while driving.
You already know the other perils of drunk driving apart from being a legal offense, so I am not going to stress upon this fact any further.
So, PLEASE do not mix drinks with your self-drive road trip to Leh Ladakh.
6. Always Help Others
While traveling in the mighty Himalayas, you must always help other people stuck on their way with whatever you can offer, be it a lift, push, pull, fuel, spares, rope, etc. because the help is always hard to find especially at places like Manali Leh Highway, Nubra to Pangong Tso, or Pangong Tso to Hanle, or Changthang or other remote routes of Ladakh.
Do not forget, this can happen to you at the very next turn, and it does not feel much good when someone comes after hours and passes by without offering any help on your dream Ladakh drive.
So, please always help others who are in need of your self drive Ladakh trip. It actually defines the spirit of a traveler inside you 🙂
7. Carry Essentials and other Spare Parts
On a self-drive to Ladakh trip, one should always try to carry:
- Basic Toolkit including Jack and Spanner
- Air Compressor and Foot pump
- Hydraulic Jack
- Spare Tyre (Check for puncture before leaving)
- Puncture Repair Kit
- Screwdriver Set
- Jump Start Cables
- Spare Bulbs
- Tow Away Rope approx. 3-6 ton Capacity
- 1-2 Jerry Cans / Coke Bottles to carry spare fuel
- Spare Coolant and Engine Oil
- A Long Stick/Rod
- A Shovel and a Hammer
- 2-3 Packs of M-Seal and Quick Fix/Fevi-Quick/Elfy
- Plenty of Drinking Water and Snacks/Dry Fruits
- A water bottle to refill water and save the environment
For a more comprehensive list of spare parts & tools to carry with you in your car on a Ladakh trip, you can read our guide at the link: How to prepare your car for a Ladakh or Himalayan Trip.
Apart from the above driving related list for Ladakh self-drive trip, I use to follow my list of things to carry whenever I travel to Leh – Ladakh. Also, do not forget to get your vehicle serviced before 2-3 weeks when you go on a self-drive to Ladakh.
Leh Ladakh Self Drive – Frequently Asked Questions
There is nothing as such called the “Best” car for the Leh Ladakh trip. A lot of factors depend upon making a car the best for one or the other trip. We must understand that the driver sitting behind the wheels matters the most, and which car you have for the Ladakh trip is just a matter of commute option. Still, IMO, the best car will for Ladakh self-drive trip be the one with high ground clearance, spacious to carry luggage, comfortable for long drives and is in good mechanical condition.
You can certainly take a hatchback or sedan on a Leh Ladakh trip but surely there will be challenges. I have seen Tata Nano doing it so that any car can do it. It all depends upon your driving skills and how much you love your car. I have personally driven my Santro, Swift, and Swift dZire to many remote corners of the Himalayas. The tips in this article will help you with the majority of the challenges.
You can use the outside rented self-drive cars to reach Leh over Srinagar Leh Highway or Manali Leh Highway. However, these self-drive rented cars outside Leh Ladakh are not allowed to do any sightseeing within Ladakh including places like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, and Tso Moriri.
There is no option to rent a self-drive car in Leh Ladakh. You can, of course, rent a local taxi in Leh and ask the driver to let you drive in some sections in case he agrees.
No, unfortunately, there is no option to get a self-drive rental car in Leh Ladakh. You will have to rent a local taxi in Leh to do sightseeing within Ladakh. At max, you can ask the local driver to let you drive in some stretches, if possible for him.
No, like Leh, there is no option to get a self-drive rental car in Manali. You need to take a taxi from Manali to reach Leh first and then rent a local taxi in Leh. At max, you can ask the local driver to let you drive in some stretches, if possible for him.
No, like Leh, there is no option to get a self-drive rental car in Srinagar. You need to take a taxi from Srinagar to reach Leh first and then rent a local taxi in Leh. At max, you can ask the local driver to let you drive in some stretches, if possible for him.
Road Conditions in Ladakh
It always a good idea to plan your self-drive to Ladakh well enough so that you do not come with a nightmare experience from this heavenly road trip in the remote Himalayas. I found many people going to Ladakh drive without knowing the road conditions and then curse the place for their ignorance.
Hence, one of the key areas to know before going on a self-drive road trip to Leh Ladakh is the road conditions and the fuel stations or availability of fuel within Ladakh or inroads to Ladakh like Manali – Leh Highway and Srinagar – Leh Highway.
I know that the road conditions keep changing, but still, I feel that knowing about such road conditions in Ladakh is extremely critical. You can make critical and informed decisions such as whether you should take your car on a Leh Ladakh self-drive trip or should you take a small car to Ladakh like a sedan or hatchback, or should you have a 4×4 vehicle on your Ladakh road trip. Thus, if one knows the road conditions in advance, it might be beneficial in deciding on such factors.
Index of Ladakh Road Conditions
For each and every route section elaborated below, I will suggest car types with difficulty level as Easy, Manageable, Tough, Very Tough, Car Killer.
I have taken into account the overall driving comfort as well when suggesting a particular car type. So it is not just the driving but overall picture of which car is best for the Ladakh road trip.
PLEASE DO NOT take it literally especially when driving small cars to Ladakh as Sedans and Hatchbacks. Even, if it is mentioned that route is manageable for Sedans and Hatchbacks, you still have to drive with extreme caution and care. Hence, the seven tips mentioned in the article above will help you too on your Leh Ladakh road trip by car.
Leh Local Sightseeing & Sham Valley
Most of the roads around Leh town as well as Sham Valley are good in conditions throughout the year barring few sections where water keeps running through, thus damaging them.
Only very few sections of these roads are in bad condition. Sham Valley include Alchi, Likir, Basgo Palace, Magnetic Hills, Confluence at Nimmu, Gurudwara Pather Sahib and Leh Local Sightseeing include Namgyal Gompa, Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, Shankar Gompa, Main Market, Hall of Fame, Spituk Gompa.
So, it is fairly easy to cover these places on your Leh Ladakh self-drive tour.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Easy.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Easy.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Easy.
Leh – Khardung La – Nubra Valley – Leh
The road conditions within Nubra Valley are very good but the ascent from South Pullu to Khardung La and then descent towards North Pullu has major sections of the road in tatters.
In winters or early summers like April and May, due to the presence of snow, it is extremely difficult to drive on this section (South Pullu – Khardung La – North Pullu). Once, you are in Nubra Valley most of the roads are in excellent condition including Turtuk and Panamik.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Easy (Nubra Valley) but Manageable (South Pullu – Khardung La – North Pullu), Very Tough in early summers.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Easy to Manageable, tough in early summers
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Easy to Manageable.
So, when making a self-drive trip to Leh – Ladakh, Nubra Valley is mostly manageable by small cars.
Leh – Karu – Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Pangong Tso (Lukung)
The road conditions towards Pangong Tso are a mix of good (Leh – Karu – Shakti, Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung), bad (Lukung – Spangmik) and very bad (Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk).
Roads from Leh up to Shakti are decent in conditions but again the ascend from Shakti to Changla is something very treacherous and with bad road conditions. Similarly, as you descend towards Durbuk from Changla, most of the road is in bad shape. From Lukung to Spangmik, there is no road but a dirt track.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Easy to Manageable, at least the climb up/down for Chang La and Lukung to Spangmik.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Easy to Manageable, tough in early summers.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Easy to Manageable.
So, when making a self-drive road trip to Ladakh, Pangong Tso is mostly manageable by small cars.
Leh – Upshi – Chumathang – Mahe – Sumdo – Kiagar Tso – Tso Moriri (Korzok)
The road conditions towards Tso Moriri are a mix of good and few bad. Roads from Leh up to Mahe are decent in conditions, but once you cross Kiagar Tso ahead of Sumdo, the dirt road is present for about the last 30 KMs. If it rains or in early summers when snow is present around roads, many sections form slush on them which is difficult to manage at times on a Ladakh drive.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Easy to Manageable but can be tough in early summers.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Mostly Easy.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Mostly Easy without 4×4.
So, when making a Ladakh self-drive tour, Tso Moriri is mostly manageable by small cars.
Pangong Tso (Spangmik) – Man – Merak – Chusul – Tsaga – Loma – Nyoma – Mahe – Sumdo – Kiagar Tso – Tso Moriri (Korzok)
The major part of this remote but most beautiful route of Ladakh in Changthang runs on a dirt track due to the absence of any road.
Lukung – Spangmik – Man – Merak – Chusul – Tsaga does not have any road at all and has some terrible sections where getting through with low ground clearance is very difficult, especially before Chusul due to loose sand and water crossings.
Tsaga – Loma – Nyoma – Mahe is a blacktop tarmac where it will be easy to drive. Even the diversion road to Hanle from Loma is in very good condition barring few patches.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Mostly tough from Spangmik to Tsaga La, chances of getting stuck but Easy to Manageable after Tsaga Village.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Manageable, Tough at some sections when slush and ice are present on it.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Manageable, Tough without 4×4 but Manageable with 4×4.
Hence, if you are self-driving to Ladakh in a small car, it will be tough for you to traverse the direct route from Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri.
Nubra Valley – Agham – Wari La – Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Pangong Tso (Lukung)
This one is mostly used by tourists interested in reaching Pangong Tso directly from Nubra Valley. The major part of the ascend and descend towards Wari La from Agham Village is tough, and roads are a mix of average and bad.
You will very rarely spot a taxi or other vehicle on this route when you drive over it. So in case of any exigency, help will be very hard to find.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Tough, at least the climb up/down for Wari La and then again to Changla. Very Tough and not recommended in early summers.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Manageable, Tough in early summers.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Manageable, Tough in early summers without 4×4.
Making a self-drive to Leh Ladakh and taking the direct route from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Wari La will be a tough route in a small car.
Nubra Valley – Agham – Shyok Village – Durbuk – Tangste – Pangong Tso (Lukung)
As of 2019, this route is mostly used by tourists interested to reach Pangong Tso directly from Nubra Valley. Some of the sections between Agham and Shyok villages are extremely difficult for a small car especially, very much landslide-prone and will most likely get your heart in the mouth.
On a bad day, this whole stretch has a variety of troubles to greet you – water crossing (some nasty ones), loose rocks, sharp stones, big rocks in water crossings or standing water, etc.
Always inquire about the road conditions either at Agham Village or Khalsar Village before attempting this direct route from Nubra Valley side and either at Shyok village or at a GREF hut that comes after Shyok village from Durbuk side.
- Sedans/Hatchbacks = Tough to very tough, at times car killer too.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×2) = Tough, maybe car killer when water flows heavily in July, August.
- High Ground Clearance SUVs (4×4) = Manageable to Tough even with 4×4 in some sections.
My recommendation is to attempt this route on your self-drive trip to Leh Ladakh only in a high ground clearance vehicle. In a small car, you may end up in trouble taking the direct route from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso.
Loma – Hanle – Charchaghan La – Chumur – Tso Moriri (Korzok)
This remote route of Ladakh in Changthang runs on a dirt track due to the absence of any road. It also has some bad sections where getting through with low ground clearance vehicle is extremely difficult.
There is one VERY nasty water crossing near Charchaghan La; I guess which is very difficult to cross, especially post afternoon. Loma to Hanle is in excellent condition barring few patches.
Hence, it is not suggested to take this route on your Leh Ladakh self-drive tour, especially in a small car.
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I hope the above tips would be useful for your upcoming self drive Leh – Ladakh road trip. If you know your friends or family are planning a road trip to Ladakh, do share this article with them to help them make a memorable Ladakh drive.
You may end up taking some well organized Leh Ladakh road trip packages but if you are making a self-drive road trip to Ladakh, I hope you take these tips seriously.
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In the end, if you have been to a self-drive trip to Ladakh before, kindly share your thoughts, and other information you might feel is worth sharing with other Ladakh self-drive enthusiasts.