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Ladakh, also known as the “Land of High Passes,” is a dream destination for motorcycle enthusiasts all around the world. For first-timers, it’s common to feel both eager and nervous. Don’t worry, this travel guide is your practical guide to this adventure to Leh-Ladakh in Indian Himalayas.
We’ll navigate you through twisty mountain routes, introduce you to hidden gems and ensure you’re well-equipped for this challenging journey. This isn’t just a trip, it’s your dream adventure come true. Let’s hit the road together.
- How to plan a motorcycle tour to Ladakh
- 1. Routes to reach Ladakh
- 2. Itineraries for Ladakh Motorcycle Tour
- 2. When to visit Ladakh?
- 3. Climate in Ladakh
- 4. Road Conditions
- 5. A Warning to Novice Riders
- 5. Inner Line Permit
- 6. Fuel availability
- 7. Tips for Ladakh Trip
- 8. Tips for motorcycle riders
- 9. Riding Gears
- 10. What to pack?
- 11. What to shop in Ladakh?
- 12. What to eat in Ladakh?
- 13. Places to visit in Ladakh
- 14. Attractions in Leh & around
- 15. Festivals in Ladakh
- 18. Which bike is best for Ladakh Motorcycle Tour?
- 19. FAQs
How to plan a motorcycle tour to Ladakh
Get ready for the ride of a lifetime. The best way you can get ready for the trip is by knowing the right choices in terms of equipment as well as mental and physical preparation. Before we start, it is necessary to know that ‘Ladakh is an adventure destination and not an ordinary holiday destination‘.
1. Routes to reach Ladakh
For all international riders the base location is New Delhi as the nearest international airport is the IGI Airport in New Delhi. Ideal base location to start / end riding motorcycle are Manali , Srinagar & Leh. All these location are connected by air and road with New Delhi. There are mainly two road routes which connects Ladakh to the rest of the world.
(i) Srinagar – Leh Highway
Srinagar is the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir. The distance between New Delhi and Srinagar is approximately 800 km by road. Reach Srinagar by road or by air. A rider can start the journey from Srinagar and reach Leh in 2 days. Leh is 418 kilometers away from Srinagar.
Attractions on this route are Zojila Pass, Fotula Pass, Kargil, Lamayuru, and Alchi Monastery. After reaching Leh, visit other popular attractions in and around Ladakh. And then either fly to New Delhi directly from Leh or go to Manali to complete the circuit.
(ii) Manali – Leh Highway
Going through this route is an amazing experience. It offers more challenging 4 high mountain passes, 2 lakes and scenic landscapes changing every few miles. Journey starts from Manali, a popular hill station nestled in the heart of Himachal Pradesh, India, accessible by road or air.
The stretch from Manali to Leh is a 480-kilometer spectacle filled with awe-inspiring vistas. This route is full of adventure and it is a dream for adventure seeker to ride on this route. After reaching Leh you have the option to explore other places in Ladakh and then fly back to Delhi from Leh or come back to Manali.
The Manali-Leh Highway is the most popular route that most riders choose.
Above map is showing both routes and a third one which is via Spiti valley. It is once in a life time trip, so riders usually include the Spiti valley as well in their itinerary. Spiti valley is another hidden gem in the Indian Himalayas. Refer this Ladakh & Spiti road map marked with all the major attractions / places with elevation and distance between places to well prepare your own itinerary.
2. Itineraries for Ladakh Motorcycle Tour
Creating an itinerary for Ladakh require a little home work. There are lots of places to visit, so we must have to add the places as per the interest. There are some other factors like accommodation availability, Altitude gain, and route status. Also Consider factors like how much time you have, your capability to ride in a day etc. Ensure that you ride at a slower pace to avoid AMS symptoms.
You may craft an itinerary with one way bike ride and fly by another side. It avoid the repeating of route and could be a time saver. See some itinerary examples in our listed motorcycle tours.
Also Read : Plan a perfect itinerary for Ladakh tour
2. When to visit Ladakh?
Nestled high in the Himalayas, Ladakh remains accessible only for a brief period each year, specifically from June to September. This means best time to visit Ladakh is from June to September. Each of these months has distinct characteristics and highlights, making every visit a unique experience.
In the first half of June roads get open. Weather is also favorable in this month with less chances of rain. Just remember, June also means summer holidays, so expect some crowds, especially in the lower Himalayas. In June, the route looks more scenic due to snow covered mountains.
July & August
July and August are the monsoon months in the country. Heavy rain can be expected at any time. Due to the end of the holiday season and the start of the rainy season, there are fewer tourists. This is a favorite season for adventure seekers. Most of the international tourists come during these two months. Though riders hardly found any snow deposits in these months, greener vistas of mountains welcome you.
Winter is coming and this is the last month of the season. It is more colder and is a real challenge for motorcyclists. Only a few riders dare to ride near the end of the month. But this could be an extreme adventure and it may let the riders to face the live snowfall on the mountain passes.
So, the best month to visit Ladakh depends on the choice and availability of individuals.
3. Climate in Ladakh
Ladakh has extreme climatic conditions. Average altitude of the whole region is approx 11000 feet. It ranges from 10000 ft to 19,000 ft. along the roads. Thin air leads to harsh sun rays in the day time and very cold nights. UV index will be at higher side in summer. Ladakh comes under rain shadow zone so it received very less rain. That’s why it is also known as cold desert. At some places you can even witness white sand dunes.
Simply its unpredictable
As you ride to Ladakh or any Himalayan region, you will experience a wide range of weather conditions. A motorcycle ride that starts out sunny may be transformed into snowfall within a short distance. The best way to approach your journey is to expect the worst. Snowfall or snowstorms can occur at high passes even during summer days. So the Himalayan weather is uncertain and changes very fast.
Subzero to 20 degree Celsius
As the altitude varies temperature also varies from place to place. It ranges from subzero to 20 degree Celsius. The summer climate is more favorable to riders in comparison to winters which is quite harsh. In the months of December to February, the region experiences subzero temperatures in daytime and roads remains closed to the riders.
4. Road Conditions
Road conditions change every year. Always be ready for unexpected road blockage.
The roads in Ladakh have undergone a transformation in recent years. The entire region is easier to motor through. However, there are still rough terrains that riders have to maneuver through. You need to remain cautious and focused at all times to ensure that the rough terrain is not damaging the motorcycle and yourself.
Some parts of the roads can be dangerous because of rock slides and streams crossing the road. During the winter, the Himalayan region experiences heavy snowfall, therefore, the scheduled opening of some of the roads may be delayed. Although the majority of the roads are in excellent condition, there are still some road stretches that will not disappoint adventure seekers.
5. A Warning to Novice Riders
There are always risks in every adventure.
It is not for the novice riders, only expert riders should attempt this ride. Below are some challenges that every rider should have to keep in mind.
Always be careful on curvy, steep, and narrow roads. You should have experience riding a motorcycle in a hilly area. On steep descents, break failure is common if you do not know how to use the breaks properly. You have to cross many huge streams on the way. There is always the possibility of riding on snow or ice.
Offroad skills are necessary. You should have skills to ride a bike in mud, water and gravel roads.
When riding to Ladakh, it is normal to encounter mountain sickness. This is often caused by exposure to a lower level of oxygen at higher latitudes. Altitude sickness may manifest itself in the form of dizziness, headaches, rapid heart rate, nausea, or vomiting.
Therefore, it is highly important to rest and give your body plenty of time to acclimatize. You must acclimate your body to the altitude and will have moderate to severe altitude sickness unless you take the time to do so. Many novice riders make this common mistake and pay for it big time. Read more about acute mountain sickness.
Also read : Tips to Acclimatize properly at high altitude
5. Inner Line Permit
Foreign nationals planning a ride through Ladakh should note that permits are required for certain areas. It’s advisable to carry multiple photocopies of these permits and your passport, as you may be asked to present or submit them at various checkpoints along your route.
6. Fuel availability
On Leh Manali highway there is no fuel station between 365 kms.
There is limited fuel station availability in the Ladakh region. Motorcycle riders are required to carry extra fuel on some routes. On the Leh-Manali highway, there is no fuel station between 365 kilometers.
Fule stations on Manali – Leh highway
Manali -> Tandi -> Karu -> Leh
Please note that there are no petrol pumps or fuel stations in certain remote regions of Ladakh, such as Pangong, Nubra, and Tso Moriri.
7. Tips for Ladakh Trip
These tips are helpful to prepare for a trip to Ladakh or Himalayas.
- Never underestimate Ladakh’s weather and Mountain sickness. Carry proper clothing, gears and well prepare for worst weather. See the packing checklist for Ladakh.
- Phone connectivity is only available at selected places. And don’t expect good internet connectivity.
- Carry medicines and supplies with you. Always expect that you may strand for a day.
- Don’t disturb any wild animal in the valley. Don’t feed them.
- Keep hydrated yourself during the ride and take adequate stoppage in between.
- Don’t spend much time on high mountain passes descend as soon as possible because there is less oxygen on passes and lead to mountain sickness.
- There are frequent landslides as well. So be focus while driving.
- Carry enough cash with you. ATMs may be out of order.
- Wear cloths in layers. You may experience sudden temperature change between terrains.
8. Tips for motorcycle riders
These are riders specific tips and are must to read before you start your journey.
- Sometimes there are ice on roads so bike may slip there. Don’t apply sudden break but try to gear down to slow down the speed.
- Use the same gear in descending which used for ascending to put the less stress on brakes.
- Do not ride on neutral always keep the gear engaged during descend.
- While crossing a stream keep the throttle up and control the speed with clutch, It will avoid the water to enter into exhaust pipe.
9. Riding Gears
You should use all riding gears on your tour to Ladakh. The treacherous terrain and unpredictable weather calls for preparation. T-shirt and jeans is not an acceptable attire. Carry all motorcycle riding gears like Helmet, knee guard, elbow guard, riding jacket, waterproof shoes and riding pant etc. And ensure that you have all essential information to ride to Ladakh.
10. What to pack?
We are providing here a list of necessary items to pack with you. Keep everything you need to protect from cold & dry winds and from strong sun rays.
Remember to keep all your important documents at a safe place in your baggage. Ensure that you are carrying all of the documents you need to ride a motorcycle anywhere in Ladakh. A driving license, registration certificate, and a valid insurance will double up as a reliable proof of identity. International riders / foreign nationals need an International Driving License to drive in India. Additional photocopies of all documents may need to be deposited at all check posts.
- Print of your itinerary / route map.
- Photocopies of your Passport, ID proof and permissions etc.
- Photographs (10)
- International Driving License.
- Emergency contact numbers.
Due to varying weather and temperature it is advised to wear the cloths in layers. Keep both light and heavy cloths.
- Light t-shirts and trousers
- Thermal inner wears
- Sweat shirts
- Waterproof jackets
- Shocks (light & woolen)
- Cap for protection from sun
- Sunglasses / Goggles with UV protection
- Sunscreen cream (SPF 50+). Be prepared for protection from high UV index.
- Lip protection
- Dry & wet tissues.
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Your daily stuffs like tooth brush, tooth paste, shaving kit etc.
High altitude and mild AMS may lead to low appetite. In case of road blockage keep an extra day’s supply of food with you.
- Dry fruits, cookies, energy bars, Chocolates, Chips etc.
- Energy drinks / ORS etc.
- Instant or ready to eat foods.
Ladakh has very less medical facilities. Hospitals are only available in Manali, Leh and Srinagar. So well prepared with your prescribed medicines. Always consult your doctor. Keep a first aid kit with you making sure to include following items.
- Recommended medicines for Cough, cold, stomach upset etc.
- Pain killer & pain spray.
- Avomine (For motion sickness)
- Diamox (Preventive medicine for AMS)
- Bandage, medical tape and Crep Bandage
- Band aids.
- Full face Helmet.
- Riding jacket & pant.
- Gloves which can withstand in subzero temperature while you ride.
- Riding boots or Gum boots.
- All guards for rider.
11. What to shop in Ladakh?
Leh will surprise you when you see the life after riding a long barren land. You should buy something as memory from this place. You can find many sovereign shop here to buy something unique for you. But what should you buy? We are providing a simple list of items which you can buy from here.
- Ladakhi & Tibetan handicrafts
- Stone jewelry
- Woolen cloths
- Thangka paintings
- Singing bowls
- Apricot Jams
- Ladakhi hats
12. What to eat in Ladakh?
At Leh city you have lots of option to eat from local dishes to continental food. But if you are at the Leh you should try the local dishes. Here is the list of must try food.
- Khambir with butter tea
- Ladakhi mutton sausage
- Sea buckthorn juice (Leh berries juice)
- Chhang (Alcoholic)
- Cholak (a mixup of chhang, buttermilk & tsampa)
13. Places to visit in Ladakh
Leh is the base to visit other places and destinations in Ladakh. This is the major town and capital of Ladakh. Every time to fill up the fuel tank you need to come to Leh as there are no fuel station in inner areas. All the permissions can only be obtained from the Leh. Here we are listing places you may include in your itinerary.
Nubra Valley (160 km from Leh)
You need to cross the mighty Khardungla Pass to reach to Nubra valley. It is famous for its sand dunes, and double humped camels. Here no need to mention about the beautiful landscapes. This valley includes the villages Diskit, Hunder, Sumur and Turtuk. Turtuk is the last village at India Pakistan border. You may visit the famous Diskit monstary here where huge Budha statue is built up. It will take approx 4 hours to reach Nubra from Leh. Lots of accommodations are available here in mostly all villages.
Pangong Lake (220 km from Leh)
Pangong Lake is famous for its salty water at such a high altitude. It is a 150 km long lake. Approx 45 km is in Indian territory and rest in the China. You can reach Pangong Lake either via Changla Pass from Leh or directly from the Nubra valley along with the shyok river. Or you may complete the circuit. You need a little work to design an itinerary. There are two places to stay on the bank of Pangong lake Lukung and Spangmik village. Mostly accommodation available as Swiss tents.
Tso Moriri (220 km from Leh)
Tso Moriri is a beautiful high altitude lake. Village korzok is situated near it. You will also witness another salt lake – Kyagar Lake on the route. It is situated at an altitude of approx 15000 feet. Limited stay options are available here as only tents are available.
Lamayuru (110 km from Leh)
Route to Lamayuru is well built and sometimes known as route66 of India. It is situated on Srinagar Leh highway. If you are coming from Srinagar side this will be on the way and if you have reached Leh from Manali side you may include it in your itinerary as it includes some attraction like Lamayuru Monastery, Likir Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Moon land, Magnetic Hill etc.
Zanskar Valley (460 km from Leh)
This is a less traveled destination. It took 2 days to reach Zanskar and then 2 more days to come back to Leh, so mostly people skip it from the itinerary. Route go through Lamayuru and Kargil. If you have extra time it is a must visit place.
14. Attractions in Leh & around
Indus valley – Ride the road along with Indus river. Longest river of the Asia.
One of the most captivating aspects of your Ladakh motorcycle adventure is the opportunity to ride alongside the Indus River, Asia’s longest river. The road hugging this river is nothing short of magical, weaving through the rugged, mountainous landscape of the Indus Valley.
Khardungla – Highest motorable pass of the world
A visit to Ladakh would be incomplete without traversing Khardung La, renowned as the highest motorable pass in the world. Nestled at a breathtaking altitude of approximately 17,582 feet, Khardung La presents an exhilarating challenge for every biker. As you ascend the winding paths, the thinning air and the rugged terrain push you to your limits, testing your endurance and skill.
Yet, the reward is unmatched – standing atop Khardung La, you’re greeted by panoramic vistas of the snow-capped peaks and the sheer expanse of the majestic landscape stretching out beneath you. It’s a milestone moment for any rider, a testament to the spirit of adventure and the power of nature.
Shanti Stupa is a gleaming white monument that stands as a symbol of peace and tranquility, perched atop a hill in Chanspa, Leh district. Constructed by Japanese Buddhists, this stupa offers a serene and spiritual ambiance, with prayer wheels and Buddha statues adding to its sanctity.
The true beauty of Shanti Stupa lies not just in its elegant structure, but also in the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape it offers.
Leh Palace, also known as Leh Fort, is an iconic 17th-century royal structure in Ladakh. This towering nine-story building, showcasing Tibetan architectural brilliance, offers a glimpse into Ladakh’s regal past. Inside, you’ll find artifacts from royal times, while the rooftop provides panoramic views.
Magnetic Hill, located on the Leh-Kargil-Baltik national highway, is a unique natural wonder in Ladakh. The hill’s famed ‘magnetic’ effect creates an optical illusion, making it appear as though vehicles are rolling uphill while they’re actually going downhill. It’s an intriguing pit stop on your Ladakh motorcycle tour, offering a fun-filled break from the road.
Hemis National Park & Hemis Monastery
Don’t miss out on visiting Hemis National Park, the largest national park in South Asia, famous for its unique high-altitude wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard. The park’s stark yet stunning landscape invites you to soak in the peace and tranquility of Ladakh’s wild side.
Equally noteworthy is the Hemis Monastery, nestled within this extraordinary wilderness. This ancient monastery, one of the wealthiest in India, is a treasure trove of Buddhist art, culture, and history.
15. Festivals in Ladakh
Ladakh is full of its heritage and culture. If you are visiting Leh, you should try to plan your trip so that you can enjoy one of the many festivals that are going on in the area. There are numerous festivals for you to enjoy throughout the year, so let’s take a look at some of them.
This is a festival that takes place in March in the Matho Monastery, and it lasts for two days. During this period, sacred dances and rituals are performed by Goddesses, and monks dress like the Ladakhi god.
It is a special festival for the area because villagers can consult with the Oracle about their lives so they can find solutions to any problems they are experiencing.
This festival takes place for three days in June and it is designed to pay homage and respect to the Indus River. Not only does it commemorate the river, but it also pays respect to soldiers who risked their lives while protecting the nation. One of the highlights is the bonfires that take place on the banks.
You cannot talk about festivals in the area without mentioning this one. It is one of the most popular and biggest festivals in the region.
It takes place over two weeks, and there are so many amazing performers on display. This includes a selection of cultural events, impressive dance and traditional music performances, in colorful vibrant robes and masks.
Last but not least, we have the Losar Festival, which is deemed the most important festival in the area. It marks the New Year here, and it is celebrated in a vibrant and enthusiastic manner. It is a blend of performances, recitals, chants, holy fire, rituals, and cultural events.
Two of the main highlights of the festival include the Ibex deer dance and stage fight between good and evil. It is important to note that the date of this festival will change every year, as it is based on the Lunar calendar.
18. Which bike is best for Ladakh Motorcycle Tour?
Royal Enfield motorcycles are the preferred choice for every rider. It has many models with varying capacity. Mechanics and spares are easily available for these bikes at major locations of the route. It is an essential factor as due to the remoteness of the Ladakh region we have limited choices. To know about all the models available for rental visit this page. Two most preferred models are Bullet 500 and Himalayan.
- Royal Enfield Bullet 500 CC
- Royal Enfield Himalayan 410 CC
If you don’t want to go for the widely preferred Royals you have other great options.
- Triumph Tiger is the another good option but availability is the limited. Ask your tour operator if they have the availability.
- KTM Duke is a really easy bike to ride due to its lightweight. This quality bike is a good choice for this trip. You can choose between the Duke 390 engine, and the Duke 250.
- If you can manage to change its tires, the CBR 250 can be one of the better options because of its superior technology.
Rental facilities for bikers
Motorcycle on rent is available at Manali, Leh & Srinagar locations.
Being an international rider you have the choice of bringing your own bike and other accessories along with you for this great adventure. However, doing so can be quite expensive and time-consuming. So best thing is that there are companies in Ladakh, Manali & New Delhi that offer motorbike rental services for visitors.
You can rent a motorbike and biking accessories as well as all your camping requirements. This means you don’t have to carry unnecessary baggage from and back to your home country. If you have purchased the complete tour package then ask your tour operator about the inclusions and exclusions. You have to either pickup & drop at the same location or hire a bike for a one way ride to avoid the repeat of the same route.
A: Leh-Ladakh is situated in north India. It is in Himalayan region. It borders with other two Asian countries China and Pakistan.
A: They are same but they are not same. Actually Ladakh is a State / province of India administered under central government of India. And Leh is the capital of the Ladakh. Leh is the only major town of the Ladakh so some times people call it Leh-Ladakh.
A: Leh is the capital of Ladakh. It is the base for tourists to roam around other places in the Ladakh region. So when you are in Leh you are already in Ladakh.
A: You can reach leh-ladakh by road or by Air. There are direct domestic flights from Leh & New Delhi. By road you can go via Srinagar Leh highway or via Manali Leh highway.
A: Ladakh is connected with two roads and both roads have high mountains passes, which get covered with heavy snow every year in winters. In summer border road organization open them by cutting snow from the roads. Both roads get opened in May or June which depends on weather conditions. To get the latest updates refer to Roads status. High altitude and one of the remotest place on earth make it challenging. So it is a perfect choice for adventure seekers.
A: Season open from June to September. So it depends on your choice as every month have its own significant. Please refer best time to visit section in this article.
A: Himalayan terrain is not an easy terrain. Roads are curvy and narrow. Steep ascending and descending with thin air make it more hard. Rider may have to ride in mud, gravel, sand, stream etc. So actually it needs to be experienced in terms of riding.
A: And ideal itinerary may vary from 1 week to 3 weeks. Normally it takes minimum 4 days to reach Leh by Road and 1:30 hrs by air. It really require to do work to plan a perfect itinerary.
A: The best thing is to know more about Ladakh before you go. Decide what places do you really want to visit. How many days you have. Then craft a rough itinerary. Then optimize it talking with other experts or with tour operators if they are able to deliver what really you need. Don’t trust so much on Google maps for the remote places.
A: Well, first of all prepare yourself mentally. If you are ready to take challenges and have an attitude of never give up, then you are ready to go. Rest to prepare for the trip you need to be healthy. Next step is to pack your bags with all the essentials you required.
A: Yes, It is perfectly fine to plan a tour in monsoon season. Ladakh comes under rain-shadow and received very less rain even during monsoon. That’s why Ladakh is also known as cold desert. But you have to be extra precautionary.
A: Riding on a motorcycle let the riders acclimatize easily as compared to car. It is easy to cross the hurdles in case of a minor road blockage as compared to cars. It is easier to ride on narrow mountain roads, so riders can explore more. Even after many positive points it is more challenging to ride a bike in such extreme conditions. That’s why every rider feels pride in riding.
A: Ladakh is one of the world’s most scenic & adventurous destination. It is an once in a lifetime trip. Explore why you should choose Ladakh as the next motorcycle adventure destination.