Srinagar to Leh in bus - TOP Tips for a perfect road trip!

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Though most travellers visit Leh from Srinagar by flying in to the capital of Ladakh or by driving in a car, a bus trip from Srinagar to Leh is an experience which is quite unmatched. I did something like this alone for the first time back then, but don't regret even a minute of it, even though many things went wrong! Here is the story of my experiences below.

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Collage of my memories...

This happened a long time back...at a time when I couldn't afford to buy plane tickets (I was still a student and learning design in school)!

I was in Srinagar for a project to document a local craft and actually finished it a little before time...so had more than a week to roam around Jammu and Kashmir. I had already done a bit of meandering in buses around Srinagar, inviting love of the locals and wrath of the army (I had long hair and beard, and looked like an often misunderstood image of a Jihadi). So my plan was to escape from the valley to the other part of the state - Ladakh. Flying was not an option so had to depend on the local bus to reach there...a long, arduous, yet stunningly beautiful journey that takes two full days. As luck would have it, for me it took three days :)

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Finally on my way :)

I was traveling alone (yes, I have been doing it for years), and just hoped to find some good company on the way. Just as we inched into Sonmarg, news came in that a bridge ahead on the river had broken down and so all traffic on the road had to stop. There was no question of returning back, as all roads on both sides of the road were jammed.

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Traffic stuck for kilometers, no escape in sight...

Thankfully we were close to Sonmarg, so I got out and started exploring the town. Apart from me, there were only two more people who took any interest in looking around, they were also fellow lonely travelers :) As I found out later, Christine was from Germany and Ti was from Korea. We bonded over multiple cups of India chai and a hike to a nearby glacier (that's the thing about Kashmir, all these exotic things are just a few kilometers' hike away). By the time night came, we were already thick friends. Because of the way I looked, they initially assumed that I was a local Kashmiri as well, a feeling I often got from locals as well. Anyway, the chaiwalla gave us shelter in his tea stall, while Christine stayed with a local family. My road trip had barely begun, and I already had a gang :)

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Hiking to the glacier (my first ever) was great, but it was even better to see snow horses :)
road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Ti looking grumpy in the tea seller's tiny house - we all had to share blankets and bed!

The bridge was temporarily built overnight by the army and the traffic started inching forward the next morning. We decided to sit together and share stories. I think that's the best thing about such long road trips - you have so much time to talk, and without mobile phones etc, all you can do is look outside and make conversations. For me the most amazing part of the journey was passing through snow covered Jozilla Pass. Its a strictly controlled army zone and you are not allowed to take pictures (of course, I did), and not allowed to stop as well. Checking is through at both the entry and exit of the pass.

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Bonding over tea :)

Our bus was, at best, rickety and moved at snail's pace. I was often left awed that it could actually climb up the hills. But it moved on and ahead. Since it was so cold, it would stop every couple of hours when someone would have to pee. Initially women tried to hold, but later gave in :) Lack of greenery after the valley is intense - there are only a few shrubs to hide your modesty. There were multiple tea breaks as well...

The night of the second day we stayed at Kargil in a small hotel. Many men shared a room together, and slept wherever there was space available - bed, couch, floor. I slept on the floor and actually had a great sleep. The journey started again the third day and this is when you actually see Ladakh in all its glory. Its a long day, and gets rather hot in the afternoon. But our dear old rickety bus chugged along. I made many other friends in the bus, including a local monk who helped us find a perfect home-stay later in Leh. Everyone was also curious about us - 'People who travel alone, and then make a gang when find other similar types' :)

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Dinner conversations (apart from tea) is great for making friends :)
road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Early morning views from Kargil hotel window...

We passed through Lama Yuru, Magnetic hill, drove along the mud filled and scary looking Indus, and loved every bit of it. Every sight from the bus window was an experience for me - the people, the language, food, tea, clothes, landscape...

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
Green patches like these are a rare sight in Ladakh

It was late in  the afternoon of the third day when we actually reached Leh and everyone was absolutely exhausted. I wanted a bed for myself and some hot Ladakhi tea, while the locals wanted to get home quickly! I had never done three day long road-trip before in life but after this one trip I was determined now to do many more such trips in future. I am yet to do such a long trip again, and actually aching to do one now - but in my car (or maybe a bike), though bus has own multiple advantages.

road trip srinagar to leh ladakh bus
And finally the majestic views of Ladakhi mountains...

But what drives me to these moments on the roads? I think it's just my love for roads, people, places but most of all the journey itself...

So where would my next trip be? I can think of many - a long road-trip in North East, a trip along the entire western Ghats - Maharashtra to Goa and multiple such journeys. Any suggestions? :)
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23 comments:

  1. Some excelents pictures, especially the collage on the top.
    Greetings from Catalonia

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  2. Some really gorgeous pictures there!

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  3. Una gran experiencia ese tipo de viajes y las fotografías que se toman en ellos, independientemente de su valor artístico, tienen para el viajero el valor incalculable de los recuerdos y de las amistades que surgen a lo largo del camino. Se lo que es eso porque tu primera fotografía me trajo a la mente algunos trayectos que he hecho por pistas de tierra similares bordeando barrancos que solo con verlos brotaba un sudor frío. Hoy ya el vértigo me impide esas aventuras. Un saludo,

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    Replies
    1. Muchas gracias por tu comentario Miguel, que era muy especial :)

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Rajesh...you should also write for this competition...

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  5. Nice pictures Siddhartha. And nice collage. I would not go on that bus for these roads eh? A hug:-D

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    1. Thank you Gumer...the road as well as the bus was pretty scary! :)

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  6. This report is specially beautiful indeed! It's an interesting way to make friends and to know different places. Loved!!!

    Hugs and friendship.

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  7. You are very fortunate with those experiences. I would like...
    Well, so you can take amazing photos.

    · hugs

    · CR · & · LMA ·


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  8. What a great trip! Beautiful and intresting photos!

    ps Thanks for visiting my blog! I have google translate in the sidebar, then you maybe can understand a little from my text :)) ds

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I will surely use the google translate on my next visit :)

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  9. Lovely photos.. the roads are precariously narrow.. reminds me of my Amarnath Trip..

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  10. Thanks for writing about Srinagar to Leh in bus - a road trip to remember! . Your trip experience was unique and you feel real adventure. You can also check best hotels in Srinagar with an best and world class amenities.

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  11. thanks for sharing your experience.Have been planning The Ladkah trip for some time now and have been reading a lot on the net, must say your write up is unique and ya amazing pics

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