Each year as spring arrives and golden sunshine starts to wake us from the long slumber of winter, my friends and I give in to a familiar restlessness – one that can only be mollified by the prospect of travel. And nothing whets our appetite for travel like a long road trip. So last spring when we asked ourselves “Where will we go on our next road trip?” the answer was an easy but a very fascinating one – Jammu-Srinagar-Leh.
The journey from Srinagar to Leh in particular was the greatest attraction.
The drive from Srinagar to Leh, up the national highway NH-1D, is one of the most incredible experiences you are likely to have in the course of your travels. The gentle ascent to the cold desert city at an altitude of over 11,400 feet is punctuated by some of the most beautiful views, intimidating military presence, barren cold stretches, and treacherous passes – all at once.
Driving through the scenic landscapes right outside Srinagar we proceed towards the green fields of Ganderbal and onward to Sonmarg. This is the most beautiful stretch of the journey, providing us deep insights into the simple but culturally rich life of Kashmir. We then climb through the treacherous Zorji La pass, our hearts racing but hands steady on the wheels. Next, we stop at Dras and Kargil. Kargil, home to the war memorial dedicated to our war martyrs, is about midway on our 434 kilometre road trip and makes for a great place to stop overnight.
The landscape is now increasingly barren but the sight of the 30-foot-tall Maitreya Buddha at Mulbek is indeed a heartening one. The next town that we stop over for refreshments is Lamayuru and then we proceed to the cold desert capital, Leh, with its remarkable palace, monasteries, and trekking trails.
The Royal Stay
Each year as we sit down to plan our road trip, we also commence our search for the best places to stay. After having stayed at one of the best 5 star hotels in Jammu, we chose to put up at the luxurious and extravagant The LaLiT Grand Palace in Srinagar. The grandeur of the palace and the breathtaking views it offers, its proximity to the Dal Lake and the warmth of the service made it an evergreen experience – not unlike the chinars growing along the manicured lawns and beautiful gardens. The LaLiT Grand Palace is certainly among the best of the 5 star hotels in Srinagar. At Leh we managed to stay as guests of the Indian Army.
Things To Remember
The Srinagar-Leh National Highway remains snowed in about 5-6 moths each year. It usually remains operational between May and November and it is best to check (at Srinagar) if the highway is motorable before setting out. This route is the lifeline for our troops in Kargil, Drass, and Leh and hence heavy military presence along the highway is to be expected. Carry all your identification papers and the Inner Line Permits. Do carry extra (dry) food supplies and medicines that you may require for the entire duration of your trip.