Nothing sounds more fascinating than embarking on a bike trip to Ladakh – also known as the ‘land of high passes’. A tranquil, desert-like oasis on the Himalayas, this is a place that could easily be mistaken for a barren landscape from outer-space. The vast terrain, jagged peaks, cerulean lakes and spectacular views make it one of the most unique places for exploration – and what better way to explore than on the back of a motorbike? If you’re considering biking through Ladakh, here’s a guide to ensure that your adventure is a memorable one.
Renting a bike
Head to Manali, where you will find several garages that offer bike rental services to Leh. There are some companies that offer one-way trips to Leh and Srinagar, which gives you the option of leaving your bike there once you’ve finished your adventure. However, going for this option will put a dent in your budget, so plan accordingly.
Renting a bike on a daily rate basis will cost you anywhere between Rs. 1500 to Rs. 1800 (US$23 to US$28). One would also be required to deposit approximately Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 18,000 (US$187 to US$280) as refundable security money, along with a form of ID, with the bike rental provider. Make sure that you check the insurance papers and pollution certificate of the bike before giving it a test run.
Obtaining an Inner Line Permit (ILP)
Some areas like Changthang, Chushul, Hanle and Loma still require an Inner Line Permit, a government-issued document allowing you into particular areas of the country. However, areas like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri no longer require an ILP.
The Inner Line Permit costs Rs. 200 (US$ 3) per person, but that’s a baseline cost, as there’s an additional Rs. 30 to pay per day of travel to cover wildlife protection fees and charity contributions. You can obtain your ILP at the the Deputy Commissioner’s in Leh, or through an agent or a hotel for a small commission of Rs. 100-200 per person. For this, you’ll need to e-mail or fax them a copy of your photo-ID in advance.
A road trip brings you face to face with unexpected situations, and it’s always wise to prepare for them. On a bike trip to Ladakh, you’re likely to encounter unpredictable terrain and weather. Make sure to pack both waterproof and thermal clothing, as well as gloves, hats and scarves to keep you warm and dry. Bringing mountain sickness medicine with you is also recommended, as symptoms of altitude sickness are not uncommon. Lastly, sunscreen is essential.
If you’re keen to see as much of Ladakh as possible and make the most out of your adventure, choose between these two routes:
Route one: Srinagar to Leh
Covering a distance of 421km (261.8 mi.), this route takes you through the green fields of Sonamarg, the serene villages by the banks of the Sindh River, and through the town of Dras, Zoji La mountain pass and the city of Kargil.
Places covered: Srinagar – Sonamarg – Zoji La – Dras – Kargil – Mulbekh – Lamayuru – Saspol – Leh
Best time to visit: Early May to late October. It is worth noting that the harsh weather conditions in the winter months often lead to the closure of Zoji La mountain pass and other neighbouring roads, making the route inaccessible.
Route two: Manali to Leh
Stretching across 490km, this route is abundant in panoramic views. Embrace the clouds at Rohtang Pass, meet the locals at Jispa village, wander through the snow in Bara-lacha La, and much more along this incredible route.
Places covered: Manali – Rohtang – Gramphu – Kokhsar – Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Zingzingbar – Bara-lacha La – Sarchu – Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachulung La – Pang – Tanglang La – Gia – Upshi – Karu – Leh
Best time to visit: June to September. You’ll be just in time to watch the snow melt, and perhaps even catch the Hemis Festival, which takes place in the heart of Hemis Monastery.