The 434-km strategically important Srinagar-Leh National Highway also called NH 1D connects ‘Heaven on Earth’, Kashmir valley and picturesque Cold desert area, Ladakh region. The highway is a better alternative to reach Leh as compared to the Leh-Manali Highway because of the easy accessibility of basic facilities. However, road widening tasks in several places may cause little inconvenience.
Covered with snow for over 5 months, the highway usually opens in mid –May to November. More information about prevailing condition of the road can be obtained from Director Tourism (Kashmir), Tourism reception centre, Srinagar.
Most of the travelers prefer to make their journey for two days making a stay in Kargil. From Srinagar to Kargil it is around 200km. More than two-third stretch of the road is metalled and relatively smooth except for some part through Zojila pass. The condition of the road may vary with the climatic condition as during the start and end of the season the road may not to be good enough.
Commencing the journey from Srinagar, the route map is:
Srinagar-Sonamarg (84 km): The journey will start early around 7am in the morning and after travelling around 84 km, the first destination will be Sonamarg. You will find some traffic congestion along the way. There are number of small eating points popularly known as dhabas along the road where you can have your breakfast.
: From Sonamarg, the road changes with an uphill drive till you cross Zojila(pass) at a height of 11,516 feet above sea level, (3, 530 metre) is 26 km away. After couple of turns while crossing Zojila pass, the landscape of a lush green Kashmir valley changed to a dry rugged mountainous terrain of Ladakh. Zojila pass is considered as a lifeline of the Ladakh region and the road remains closed for traffic from November to May.
Driving on Zojila pass is very tough, particularly in the early or late season, when the road is newly opened up for the traffic after the winter closure or just before the onset of winter. During June-October it is fairly dry and driving on the route is easy even for small vehicles.
Once crossing the pass, the first sign of habitation that you come across is Minamarg (check post), followed by a small hamlet Matyan and finally Drass/Hembabs. As the road descends the valley floor of Minamarg, the place offers you a wealth of exotic alpine flora.
Drass-Kargil (55 km)
: The road then meanders through valley, along the Drass river between huge mountains to reach Kargil. Just before you enter Kargil town, there is a check post.
: The road stretches about 230km and has two passes en route. The road is far better and easier than the Srinagar- Kargil stretch. The landscape is barren but breathtakingly captivating, with the rocky background changing colour at every turn of the road. The condition of the road is good and remains open throughout the year.
: From Kargil you have to start your journey early so as to reach Leh, as early as possible. From here you will enter a broader lush green valley with undulating hills and majestic Himalayan range in the backdrop, overlooking the villages of Mulbek(3230m) and Wakha(3305m).
From Wakha the road ascends through undulating and dry terrain. The colour and contrasting view of the landscape will amaze you. After about 15 km you will cross the Namika la pass(3719m), literally meaning the pillar of the sky, an opt expression because of the existence of an upright rock mass on the right of the pass. The road further descends to cross village Bodhkharbu(3420m). The last village Heniskot situated at the base of Fotula has a tourist bungalow, which often used as a trekking base to the Kanji valley. Further, another about 21km steady climb you reach Fotu la (4100m), the highest pass on the Leh-Srinagar road. It then once again descends about 15 km to reach Lamayuru village.
: From Lamayuru, the road passes through a narrow valley gradually descending into the main Indus valley, where you cross the Indus river, after about 25 km. A police check post will be there where you have to register your vehicle and foreigners need to show their passports.
From here the road to the left leads to Dha Hanu village, the Aryan valley and the one towards the right leads to Khaltse village, which is about a kilometer away. From Khaltse, the road runs parallel to Indus (upstream) right up to Leh.
The next village is Nyurla about 111 km away from Khaltse. The road towards left leads you to Temisgam, a trekking base for the lower Ladakh. Ule tokpo is another small village with good resort and the road towards left leads you to Rizong monastery. Next village is Saspol(3120m) famous for the cave painting. Before reaching Saspol, a bridge crossing the Indus leads to the famous Alchi village. As you leave Saspol, the road makes an uphill turn and at the end of the climb, another road to the left side leads to Likir village about 3 kms from the main road.
The road then passes through a large barren land and soon leads to the village Basgo. Basgo village was once a capital of Ladakh. The ruins of forts and temples can be witnessed. After Basgo, Nimoo village is the next stopover. While crossing Nimoo, you will see the Sangam point, the confluence of Indus and Zanskar river having a contrast of two different colour. This is a famous tourist spot. At the base of the river you can enjoy various rafting services. As you continue your journey towards Leh you will get to see famous tourist spot the Magnetic hill. It is believed that this hill have magnetic properties. On the road you will find a marked spot where you can place your vehicle and the vehicle will move uphill in the neutral gear with ignition switched off!
The climb ends at the historic Patharsahib Gurudwara(3555m). It is believed that the Guru Nanak Dev meditated and defeated demons. In the main temple you will find a rock with a miraculous imprint of guru’s back.
As you leave Patharsahib you will soon get the first glimpse of Leh valley. Crossing through the vast final deserted plateau, on the left side Taru and Phyang villages are situated. On the right side of the road is Spituk village before reaching Leh. You will get a glimpse of the famous Kali Mata temple or the Spituk monastery on a top of a hill. After Spituk, on the right side you will see the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport.
While entering the main gate of Leh, the Leh khar or the palace, standing tall majestically, welcomes you to the historic city: the power-house and trade centre of Ladakh since centuries.