Driving from Delhi to Leh, Ladakh

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There are many ways to reach Leh from Delhi, but the most enjoyable way is to do so by road. If you can drive the distance of about 1075 kilometers, taking at least 3-4 days, it is sure to be an experience you will cherish for life. And try to drive yourself; there is a different thrill to it than being driven by someone else.

I did so myself in July 2008, and the journey came with some learnings as it has its own challenges. Here is a practical plan you could follow to get from Delhi to Leh:

Day 1:
Leave for Kullu or Manali. It will take about 12 hours to cover the 550 km to Kullu via Ambala, Chandigarh, Roopnagar (Ropar), Bilaspur and Mandi. You could carry on for another 50 km to Manali. A night halt in either of these towns is fine.

Day 2:
Head for Jispa, located about 145 km from Manali via Rohtang Pass. The 51 km drive from Manali to Rohtang can take about three hours; it is a steep ascent, the road quality is below par and traffic can halt at places due to landslides or broken down vehicles. Continue a further 65 km to Keylong, but don’t forget to tank up at Tandi (about 9 km before Keylong) as the next fuel station is only 30 km before Leh. (It is always a good idea to carry some extra fuel in a jerry can in case Tandi is closed or out of fuel, or you decide to take some detours). About 16 km from Rohtang, also watch out for a junction where you keep left; the right turn will take you to Lahaul and Spiti Valley. From Rohtang, the drive to Jispa can take about three hours. But do provision for a lunch break too; your options are either the shacks along the way or some restaurants in hotels in Keylong.

Jispa, located at about 10,890 feet, is a strongly recommended stop to get acclimatized to the subsequent higher altitude regions you would be staying at in Ladakh. You may even be advised to spend two nights here to get better acclimatized, but the jury will be out on this one for a long time as altitude sickness follows few rules and trends; the weakest looking of the pack might sail through, while the highly experienced travellers may just take ill anytime.

Day 3
Now this is the tricky part: Do you make a run for Leh, take a night halt at Sarchu about 87 km from Jispa or camp somewhere between Sarchu and Leh? Here are some points to consider:

  • At about 14,200 feet altitude, Sarchu is more acclimatization than you may need. It is very cold here, with strong windy conditions giving even camp managers who reside there constant headaches. Accommodation is all tented, and toilets are not attached, and it is not a cheerful thought walking out in the middle of the night with howling winds around. But Sarchu is also the only place between Jispa and Leh where you can organized accommodation; your only other option is to pitch tent on the way or crash at any of the shacks on the way who provide a bed for Rs. 50.
  • You can make a run for Leh from Jispa, about 325 km away. It should take you about 11 hours but here is a warning: You may not want to be driving in the dark should you get delayed due to traffic snarls, road blocks, breakdowns or any other reason. And the drive from Jispa to Leh is worth stopping many times over to admire the natural features as well as to take pictures. Why would you want to keep moving when the whole idea of a road trip to Leh was to enjoy the drive?

I personally fell ill at Sarchu, and had a tough night with its symptoms. The next day too was a difficult time driving, and it was only when I received medical attention and a dose of oxygen from an Army doctor at Pang on the way to Leh did I feel normal.

What would I do in the future and suggest you do too? Stay at Jispa, and make a very early start (say at 5:00 am) and make a run for Leh. Make sure you get a full night’s sleep to be well rested for the long drive ahead. It may be safe to assume that the chances of falling ill, even when going through high altitude areas, are low as long as you keep moving. Starting early will give you a cushion for delays and you can still make it to Leh while there is daylight. Even if night falls, but if you are within 60-70 km of Leh, it is all right as the terrain is mostly flat and more densely populated (in case you need assistance).

Day 4
You need this day in case you take a night halt between Jispa and Leh. Or if you had stayed at Jispa for two nights.

Going to Tso Moriri before Leh
If you intend going to Tso Moriri en route to Leh, it is a long drive from Jispa and a night halt in Sarchu may be required. But remember, Tso Moriri is at an even higher altitude than Sarchu and you may feel ill as some travellers do. Do take your precautions.

Some more points to consider

  • All driving times mentioned above are without a provision for stopping to take photographs.
  • When you are short of time, like when you have a full day drive planned, it may be a good idea to carry some food packed at the last hotel you stayed in. You will then not waste time looking for food, and be able to use that saved time for photographs or to make up for lost ground in case of unforeseen delays.

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About the author

Ajay Jain

Ajay Jain is a travel writer, photographer, and blogger. He has written many books, and publishes and online mag and a travel channel too. Contact him at ajay@ajayjain.com.

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  • ravi dutt

    Hello,how are you , im ravi planning to go leh by road, any body interested, in the same pls feel free to contavt me at 9716416319. presently im staying in greater noida.luking forward to hear, tc

  • Punit

    Hi Ajay I have visited manali four times but never beyond Rohtang pass,this year im planning to go leh by my Hyundai Verna.now my question is that Hyundai Verna can make up to leh ? As I don’t know the road conditions but I can drive anywhere if there is a road .plz help me as I don’t have any SUV.im planning my tour with in 3-4 days and a early response will be very helpful .

  • Prarthi James

    HI Guys i see here that there are lot of people who want to join groups, and i am looking for members for my Royal Enfield group, please contact me on my email if interested…
    My email is prarthiawesome@gmail.com … .. .. .. looking for quick group formation. So please hurry….Thanks

  • naveen

    hi m want to go to ladakh this august on bullet 350, give me some sugetion about time period budget and other requirement.

  • Mithlesh

    Hi All,

    I am going to Leh from last 2 years- regularly in my Msucular Scorpio with my wife and my 2 young Kids- one is 7 year and one is 4 year old.

    What I do is as below.

    1. Start from Delhi in Evening and stay in Chandigarh.
    2. Very Next morning start from Chandigarh and reach Manali late night- Have dinner and relax.
    3. Next day get Permission from Manali SDM (Sub Divisional Magistrate). You need to take SDM permission if you are going by your own vehicle to Leh. After taking permission take some Fruits, Foot Pump (for your vehicle if it gets flat tyre) and get your Vehicle Tank Full from Petrol Pump- Fortunately Credit Card works here. In evening, enjoy Mall Road, have early Dinner and get to bed.
    4. Next early morning start from Manali, enjoy Rohtang and then you can stay either in Keylong or in Jispa- NEVER advisable to stay in Serchu. Because if you are not from hill area then please ensure that you stay some time in Keylong or in Jispa to get your body used to of high altitude. There are very high risks to become victim of AMS (Acute mountain sickness).
    5. Next day start from Keylong or Jispa and head to Leh. Drive early- by 5 Am so that you can reach to LEH by 5 PM.

    Ensure that during your journey, Eat Less Oily food, drink LOTs and LOTs of Water and have one medicine ready with you and that is called DIAMOX. Remember that you are going to World’s second highest Motorable Road so DIAMOX is the only medicine which cures. There is another remedy which LADAKHI people used to have (desi Nuskha) and trust me it is very effective. Desi NUSKHA is to have Garlic in your mouth and chew eat slowly. Last year, I was the only driver who was driving whole way from Delhi to Leh and AMS caught me in just before Thanglangla. I stayed for TEA with my wife and 2 my young Kids (7 years and 4 years) and I told to an old Laddakhi lady that I am having severe headache and she told me this NUSKHA. It was so much effective that my Headache has gone instantly…. GOD Bless that Old Lady…

    It is an amazing Journey or I would say the AMAZING Journey I had.

    I had also travelled in US from Los Angeles to SAN FRANCISCO but this Drive is more pleasurable than which I had in US.

    Let me know if someone needs any other info and I can share more on it.

    Thanks and Best Regards
    Mithlesh Kaushik

  • Thanks for sharing this Mithlesh – very useful. Especially the garlic part. :)

  • Mithlesh

    Hi All,
    A common question which everyone ask is what kind of car we can take it to Leh via Manali??

    Answer is: Better to have SUV like SCORPIO, XYLO, INNOVA, Quanto, Thar, Fortuner, Pajero, Rexton,Sumo, Safari, Travera, Grand Vitara etc… but if you don’t have these options then any or every car would be a risky affair…. Verna, Estilo, Etios etc. These can be good for flat roads but not for LEH ROAD, you are going to LEH and not in Delhi’s flat road- MIND it.
    Roads are as bumpy as you can imagine. At some places road holes are of 1 to 2 feet depth too. A very steep road with breathtaking curves so drive very very carefully and respect the vehicle which is coming uphill side. Last year, I saw that one ALTO was going to Leh and this Year I saw that one SWIFT was running to Leh.

    But that is a risk you are taking @ your own. If you have family with you (like I had with me during my journeys to Leh) then better to be Safe and hire some SUVs but if that option is not there and you have to drive by your own cars then go in groups- A group of 2-3 vehicles so that if you have a problem then you should be having mentally as well as physically support to tackle the situation. This is road where you don’t have a petrol pump in 200 KM stretch then don’t expect a luxury to have Road side mechanic to repair your cars. In last, be ready to spend 15-20K on your vehicle service post you come back from the Trip..

    Enjoy this Trip.. It is a place where it attracts you to come back every year..

    Mithlesh Kaushik

  • raghu

    Hi Mithilesh,

    It is very nice guidelines, can u tell me how long it will take for round trip from delhi to ladakh.
    Thanks in advance,

  • Mithlesh

    Hi Raghu,

    From Delhi to Chandigarh- 5 hours (including 1 hour break)
    Chandigarh to Manali- 10 Hours (including 1 and half hour break)
    Manali to Keylong ( 8 hours- depending on the traffic @ Rohtaang Pass)

    Keylong to Leh (12-14 hours including 1 hour break for photography).

    From Manali to Keylong and Keylong to Leh- Drive very carefully as the real fun and scary road starts from here. Have confidence, check your vehicles from all angels and then enjoy the world’s most amazing road at some places you will feel that this is not India but something like Scotland’s snow hills…..

    One ADVISE: Always respect vehicles who are driving uphill side.. give them way….

    Mithlesh Kaushik

  • Subhendu Paul

    Hi Friends, I had already done to Leh with Maruti Alto in 2009 in the month of Sept.In my opinion , it is advisible to complete the Manali to Leh in a single day or 2 at the maximum.Pls remember that those who are chain smokers should avoid this route.Garlic & hot drinking water is a must.

  • Varun Chadha

    Guyz I am planing my trip to Leh on my Yamaha FZ. My plan is for next year. Can any1 temme is it fine on Yamaha FZ or shud I opt for pulsar or bullet (Though I dnt hve these bikes)

  • Teju Nagaraj

    Hi, I am planning for bike trip (Pulsar 150) from delhi – leh delhi. If anyone interested to join kindly drop me a note at teju.nagaraj@gmail.com.


  • mansoor

    Hi, This is mansoor and i am planning to go on a road trip to Leh via my Bajaj Avenger 220. Is this advisable or shall i take a bullet 350. Also please advise if October first week is ok for journey as per the climate.

  • Akshat Chauhan

    Guyz , i akshat planning to go leh by my pulsar 200ns it is good or not.. plz advice me , and one more thing how much fuel it will be take in whole journey..i started my journey by delhi ..

  • girish

    guys im leaving to leh via manali by my bike 200 ns in 2nd week of September, tell me if its a suitable time to go there by bike or do i have to wait for next year summer’s trip?

  • Ashwani Sharma

    I a, planning to do Chandigarh-Manali-Leh-Srinagar-Chandigarh in June 2014. It will be good to see if we can make a small group

  • I am planning for a drive to leh ladakh by end of February month would it be possible. Will the roads be motorable or snow covered.

  • The roads are motorable from around end-May to early-October but this can change based on the snowfall in a given year.

  • Jayant

    hi, can u tell me what is the best time for travel, as i not live in india, but for holiday in Feb. i’ll come to india, so it’s that time suitable or any other tiem. pleae inform me.

  • gyan deep singh

    can i go to leh on 1 week of nov via road .. and which one of the route is best for me from delhi .. during nov 1 week …p;zz suggest me..

  • Kiran M Pradeep

    hi, we are planning to do Leh in a Hyundai I20…Apart from the risk part is there anything which cars like ours can’t do…suggestions please..

  • pankaj kumar patel

    can i go to leh on 1 week of jan via road .. and which one of the route is best for me from delhi .. during jan1 week …p;zz suggest me..

  • sahil mathur

    hi sir i am sahil mathur so i contact you please suggest to me i go to leh jan month one week so i drive from delhi to leh on road ,

  • Ashish

    I am planning a road trip of 9 Days from Delhi to Leh via Manali and return to Delhi via Jammu.
    Can someone suggest the best route plan including night halt places.

  • Deepak

    Delhi to leh by road my car ford indawer muje bahut acha laga leh me har saal leh jaunga this is very beauti full city leh me gurgaon se my cont 9999929897 Deepak Sharma from Gurgaon south city 2 Sohna Road

  • Apurva Gupta

    Hi Guys….I am planning Delhi-Leh Trip by Road with my family. I shall be driving my Hyundai I20 Car. So for a quick one….(1) is this the best time to visit Leh. (2) Which is the best route Delhi-Manali-Leh or Delhi-Jammu-Leh. (3) Any other comments we need to adhere to while on this trip

  • tariq

    hi everybody,
    i want to visit ladhak.from delhi selfdriveing.in which
    time and what kind of vehicle is suitabla.plz help me

  • Parth

    I am planning to go to leh on my Bullet Electra.
    Can any one suggest

    1. Single person should ride bullet or two is Ok.
    2. What should we carry with us when we are going in a group of 4.

  • Mithlesh Kaushik

    Hi All,
    Any family person planning to go Leg this June? I am going for my 3rd consecutive trip this year….with my family.

  • bipin

    planning a trip (4 adults) to leh including pangong lake in month of july.for me travel by road or air both is fine.pl. give max. no: of days required from delhi to delhi in both travel modes and also estimated cost for both types. Thank U

  • Mithlesh

    Hi Apurva,

    I am all set to go to LEH via Road with family in month of June, If you are fine then we can go together. I can take my SUV and you can drive your own. Let me know if you are fine then we can discuss further..



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