Srinagar to Leh road

The road to Leh from Srinagar must be one of the most fascinating journeys in the world as it negotiates high passes and fragile mountainsides. There are dramatic scenic and cultural changes as you go from verdant Muslim Kashmir to ascetic Buddhist Ladakh. Because of political unrest in Kashmir, the route, which runs very close to the Line of Control, may be closed to travellers. The alternative route to Leh from Manali is equally fascinating .

After passing through
Sonamarg
, you reach
Zoji La
where a traffic control system operates: vehicles on the one-lane road bound for Leh are allowed through 1400-0700, while traffic for Srinagar can travel 0700-1400; check times before departing, or prepare for a lengthy wait at the pass. From Zoji La the road descends to
Minamarg
meadow
and
Dras
. The winter temperatures go down to -50°C, and heavy snow and strong winds cut off the town. The broad Kargil basin and its wide terraces are separated from the Mulbekh Valley by the 12-km-long
Wakha Gorge
.

On the bank of the River Suru,
Kargil
, at 2740 m, was an important trading post on two routes, from Srinagar to Leh, and to Gilgit and the lower Indus Valley. Before 1990 it was the main overnight stop on the Srinagar-Leh highway, and in 1999 the Pakistan army took control briefly of the heights surrounding the town before being forced to retreat.

From Kargil the road continues 30 km to
Shergol
- the cultural boundary between Muslim and Buddhist areas - and then passes
Mulbek
, after another 9 km, and
Namika La
, at 3720 m (known as the 'Pillar in the Sky'), before climbing to
Photu La
at 4093 m, the highest pass on the route. From here you can catch sight of the monastery at Lamayuru. The road does a series of loops to descend to
Khaltse
where it meets the milky green Indus River.

In
Lamayuru
, 10 km from Khaltse, the famous monastery is perched on a crag over- looking the Indus in a striking setting between a drained lake and high mountains. The complex, which includes a library, thought to be the oldest in the region, was founded in the 11th century and belongs to the Tibetan Kagyupa sect. The present monastery dating from the 16th century was partly destroyed in the 19th. You can still see some of the murals, the 11-headed and 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara image, along with the redecorated
Dukhang
(assembly hall). There are caves carved out of the mountain wall and some of the rooms are richly furnished with carpets, Tibetan tables and butter lamps. Overnight stays and meals can be arranged at the
Monastery Hotel
and a few other guesthouses; it's also possible to camp near the stream in a willow grove. Festivals are held in February/ March and July. There are daily buses from Leh.

Rizong
, 53 km away, east towards Leh, has a monastery and nunnery, which may accommodate visitors.
Saspul
village marks the wide valley from which you can reach
Alchi
by taking a branch road across the Indus after passing some caves.
Lekir
is off the main road, 8 km after Saspul.

Further along the road you catch sight of the ruins of
Basgo
before it crosses the Chargyal Thang plain with
chortens
and
mani
walls and enters
Nimmu
. The road rejoins
the Indus Valley and rises to a bare plateau to give you the first glimpse of Leh, 30 km away.
Phyang
is on a hill and finally
Spituk
is reached.

There are check points on some routes and foreigners will need to stop and register at
Khaltse
. Visitors from Leh approach Lamayaru along this road.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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