How to plan a dream motorcycle holiday to Ladakh? - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

How to plan a dream motorcycle holiday to Ladakh?

Dream motorcycle trip to Ladakh

A motorcycle ride to the highest motorable road in India is a dream trip for all motorcycle enthusiasts. It would certainly feature in the travel bucket-list of many Indian and international travelers. After all, such terrain and panorama is rare and only exists at a very few places across the world. This motorcycle ride to Ladakh in India’s Western Himalayas is dubbed as one of the top 10 best motorcycle rides in the world. However, it takes a lot of planning to complete this challenging journey. There are many things to keep in mind such as AMS, tough terrain, mountain riding experience, etc. So, the key question here is how to embark on one of India’s top motorcycle routes and successfully complete this dream motorcycle journey to Ladakh?

How do I plan the motorcycle bit?

The highway leading to Khardung la, one of the highest motorable roads in the world

There are 3 ways to plan your motorcycle logistics:

1) Option 1: Take your own motorcycle

This is the best option as you get to take your own motorcycle. Some riders ride all the way from their city or they ship their motorcycle to the nearest point and then ride from there. As a thumb rule, motorcycle riders to Ladakh usually prefer sending their bikes by train to Delhi or Chandigarh and then start their journey from there. You could also send your bike by road or by air. There are many options, but I personally prefer Indian railways. If you travel in the same train, the process becomes much more simpler.

2) Option 2: Rent a motorcycle at Delhi or Manali

If you do not want to take on the worries associated with motorcycle logistics, you can rent a motorcycle of your choice at Delhi, Manali or Leh. The prices are reasonable, though it is advised to check the motorcycle thoroughly before you decide to take it on your long ride. It is best to get it checked properly by a mechanic to ensure that the engine, clutch, brakes, tyres, etc. are all in good condition.

3) Option 3: Go with a motorcycle touring company

This is the option with the least headache and possibly also the safest as it comes with the service of tour guides, mechanics, doctors, etc. Such Ladakh bike trips run by motorcycle tour operators are ideal for first timers and for people with limited riding and/or mountain experience. A lot of motorcycle tour companies allow you to select your motorcycle in advance. Some even allow you to keep interchanging motorcycles during the course of the trip. Usually motorcycles in such outfits will be in good condition and in case of any trouble, you will always have access to an in-group mechanic.

How do I plan the itinerary?

The mountain highway to Leh

Your itinerary would depend on the time you have at hand and the route you opt for.

Route 1: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang pass and return the same way

This is the traditional and most popular route that begins at Manali. This is also the shortest route. It takes you via Rohtang pass, Tandi, Barlachala pass and Tanglangla before heading towards Leh. Acclimatization points would be Tandi or Jispa, Sarchu and Leh. Once you reach Leh, you can opt for the Leh - Khargung La- Nubra valley circuit, Leh – Pangong Tso – Tso Moriri circuit and/or Leh – Lamayuru – Alchi – Kargil circuit.
While it is possible to complete this route in 10 days, it is best to have at least 2 weeks for it.

Route 2: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang pass and return via Srinagar

The famous signboards on the Ladakh mountain highway

This is what I call the full Jammu and Kashmir circuit. It begins at Manali and then heads to Leh via Rohtang pass, Tandi, Sarchu and Upshi. Like in the previous option, you can explore Khardung la, Nubra valley, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and the surrounding monsteries. But, for your return leg, you don’t head the same way to Manali, but head to Chandigarh via Kargil, Drass, Srinagar, Patnitop and Pathankot. This route is longer, but allows you to get an experience of the lush Kashmir valley.

This route should take 14 days to complete, though I would keep 3 days as buffer for any kind of contingencies.

Route 3: Manali to Ladakh via Rohtang Pass and return to Shimla via Spiti valley

This is the magical Western Himalayan route as it allows you to experience the best of both Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. The route starts at Manali and like the previous 2 routes heads to Leh and after seeing all tourist attractions of Ladakh, it returns the same way till Keylong. At Keylong, it diverges towards Gramphoo, Chandra Taal Lake, Kunzum pass before heading into Spiti valley. After exploring the various high altitude villages of Spiti valley and nearby Pin valley, it makes it way to Shimla and/or Chandigarh via small diversions to Sangla, Chitkul and Kalpa.

This is the longest route and will easily take at least 3 weeks. The roads beyond Gramphoo are some of the worst in the region. Hence, it is extremely essential that you are a good rider and can handle really tough off-road mountain conditions.

How do I handle AMS?

Capturing the Pangong Tso beauty in his lens

There are 4 golden rules when it comes to handling AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness.

1) You ascend slowly and spend the night at lower altitudes after completing a higher elevation during the day

2) Stay well hydrated and keep physical activity to a bare minimum during the first 48 to 72 hours

3) Try to avoid smoking and drinking during the first 48 to 72 hours

Petrol pumps are few and far between in Ladakh

4) Descend urgently to a location of lower altitude in case you struggle big time (like high blood pressure, heavy breathlessness, blood coming out from the nose, etc.)

As a precautionary step, motorcycle riders usually chew ginger and garlic right from Manali. While this makes your mouth stink and your stomach uneasy, this allows you to fight AMS successfully. Others carry a pill called Diamox which is known to help with AMS. However, Diamox comes with a side effect of tingling in fingers and at other places. Do be aware of it.

What is the best season to visit Ladakh?

Chemrey Monastery, Mustard Fields and the Himalayas of Ladakh, India

Ladakh is beautiful all year round and hence allows all year access if you fly into Leh. However, since you will be riding over the high mountain passes of the Western Himalayas, you will have to plan your ride between May and August. The rest of the year, Rohtang pass and the other high passes are closed due to heavy snowfall. The exact time of opening and closing of the mountain passes varies every year depending on the extent of snowfall. This information is usually available online so that can be checked easily.

Once the tunnel from Manali to Keylong is ready, this route will be open all year round as it will skip Rohtang pass altogether. Till that time, you will have to make do with the summer months of May through August.

Any important things to keep in mind?

Posing at Chang la high mountain pass

Following are some important things to keep in mind before and during your ride to Ladakh:

1) There is no petrol pump between Tandi and Karu (about 350 kms). Hence, plan to carry jerry cans with additional petrol for contingencies.

2) Mountain weather can be tricky. Things can change very quickly. Stay prepared for all 4 seasons within the course of a single day.

3) The high mountain passes are extremely beautiful and begs a long stay. However, a long stay at such high altitude places with low oxygen can lead to AMS.

4) Do not block the way for Indian army vehicles. It is us who are going on their roads and not the other way around.

5) Ladakh is a pristine, yet fragile mountain region. Please refrain from littering or causing any kind of damage to this sensitive ecosystem.

6) Summer months happen to the busiest tourist season in Ladakh. Hence, it might be prudent to make all your bookings well in advance in case you wish to stay at a particular hotel or if you wish to visit a particular festival.

7) Buddhist monasteries are places of worship. Do respect the sanctity of the place by reducing your volume levels.

How do I go about inner line permits?

The Holy Buddhist scriptures in front of a monk at Shey Palace, Ladakh

Inner line permits are required for some border zones in Ladakh. You can either apply for them yourself at Leh or ask someone to apply on your behalf. The process is simple and it requires your ID card, some passport size photographs, your vehicle papers and your rough itinerary. Inner line permits usually take at least a day, but if you ask for a speedier option, you could get it sooner.

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