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My Hitchhiking Experiences In The Majestic Land of Ladakh

Keylong To Leh Journey + Exploring Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake + Leh To Kashmir Journey

Alright Folks, What can I say about this place. The more I say, the more I am going to do injustice. So, Let’s save adjectives for later to describe “Ladakh” ;). After exploring Himachal Pradesh for around 75 days, I took a bus from Keylong in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh. In July, I spent about 2 weeks in Ladakh exploring Leh, Pangong Lake villages and Nubra Valley. Ladakh is a union territory of India. In this post, I will talk about my bus journey from Keylong to Leh, exploring Leh, my Hitchhiking experiences in the Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake, and from Leh to Kashmir.

Keylong
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh
Journey to Leh begins
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh LEH
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh sarchu
Sarchu 
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh sarchu
Shortly after crossing into Ladakh
And the bus broke down
Gata Loops
Nakeela Pass Summit
Pang
I was the only passenger awake I guess haha

KEYLONG, HIMACHAL PRADESH TO LEH, LADAKH

Alright, now is the time to use the previously saved adjectives 🤓 From Keylong, I took the HRTC bus to reach Leh. Leh is the capital of the union territory of Ladakh. It took me around 19 hours to reach Leh from Keylong. Yep! This is not the regular time to complete this journey. It happened due to multiple reasons like long waiting times, the bus breaking down, multiple stopovers for food and COVID checks. I have seen it all on this route i.e. sandstorm, snowfall, rainfall. It is the most thrilling and eye-popping road journey of my life till now and the best part is I was not driving 🙂 The constant change of sceneries, high mountain passes, massive road loops, gigantic landscapes are not going to leave you memory anytime soon. I would request you do not drive on this route if you have never driven on a mountainous terrain before. Like they say “Don’t be a Gama in the land of Lama”. Our bus left Keylong at 6 in the morning and reached Leh around 1 am after midnight. Reaching Leh from Keylong is a trip to remember in itself and felt like I have already explored Ladakh but little did I know what Ladakh has in store for me!

 

Leh Market
Soma Monastery

Central Asian Museum
Leh Palace in sight
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh leh
Inside Leh Palace
Hiking begins: Namgyal Tsemo Monastery in sight
Leh city
Other side of Leh
Shanti Stupa

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Zorawar fort
Light and Sound show
Hitchhiking to Hall of Fame museum

LEH, LADAKH

After taking it slow for a couple of days and acclimatizing myself to the high altitude and low oxygen level of Ladakh, I begin exploring Leh. Ladakh is a high altitude desert and Leh is located at an elevation of around 11500 ft. One day, I explored a lot of Leh on foot. I begin my day by visiting the Central Asian Museum. A beautiful museum explores the history of Ladakh and the old Silk route. I hiked to the beautiful Leh Palace. The former seat of the royal family. Half an hour steep hike from Leh palace will take you to the cosy Namgyal Tsemo Monastery. Both palace and the monastery offers a stunning view of Leh city. I hiked down from the monastery towards the Shanti Stupa. It was built by a Japanese Buddhist and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. I end my day with another half an hour walk to the Zorawar Fort. I saw the beautiful and informative sound and light show at the fort about the conquests by Zorawar Singh in the Himalayas. It is named after Zorawar Singh, the Military general of the Dogra dynasty who conquered Ladakh in the 19th century. Other points of interest in/around Leh are Jama Masjid Leh, Leh Market, Soma Gompa Monastery in the City centre, Magnetic Hill (It gives the optical illusion of a hill), Pather Sahib Gurudwara, Hall of Fame (War museum run by Indian Army). Towns worth visiting near Leh are Thiksey, Stok, Shey, Saspol. In Leh, I stayed at Bimla Guesthouse for INR 300.

 

My Road map in Ladakh

MY HITCHHIKING JOURNEY: LEH-NUBRA VALLEY- PANGONG LAKE- LEH-DRAS-KASHMIR

After spending some time in Leh city, I decided to explore Nubra valley and Pangong Lake villages by Hitchhiking. Domestic and International tourists require a permit to visit these places that can be acquired online here. NO permit is required to visit Leh. The reason I chose hitchhiking was due to the lack of or no bus services running at that time thanks to the ongoing pandemic. All these places are connected by bus. Check the picture above for time table of buses but these timings and days can vary. You can contact Leh bus stand on 7006017672 to confirm. It was the best decision to explore Ladakh by hitchhiking. Challenging but highly rewarding! I think there’s no point in writing about the landscapes I witnessed during my hitchhiking journey across Ladakh as it is only going to let down its majestic beauty. There’s no place like Ladakh.

 

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh khardungla
Reached Khardungla Pass
Sand dunes of Hunder

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh hunger

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: LEH-HUNDER

I left Leh early in the morning to reach Hunder via Khardungla Pass. Hunder is located at a distance of 130 km from Leh. It is famous for its sand dunes. Yep, you read that time. Ladakh is full of mysteries. I wish to explore more of Ladakh in the upcoming years. I walked to the road that goes to Hunder and stick my thumb out. Luckily Only after 10 minutes, a local bus passed and I grabbed the opportunity with both legs 😉 I requested the bus driver to stop at Khardungla Pass summit and he happily obliged. Khardungla Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in the world at an elevation of around 17500 ft. Headaches and/or dizziness are common at Khardungla Pass summit if you stay there for a long time. After getting my pictures clicked from strangers 😀 I continued my journey towards Hunder. I met a Ladakhi girl on the bus who is pursuing UPSC exams and wish to work towards the betterment of Ladakh. It was really inspiring to listen to her which invariably motivated me about my hitchhiking journey. And the adventure was about to begin! The bus stopped at Diskit town for refreshments and I went to attend the nature’s call. When I came back, there was no bus! Without asking the whereabouts of the bus, I thought the bus left without me. Now hitchhiking becomes a compulsion. Forget the thumb, I stick out both of my hands and shortly I got the ride for Hunder. Two young guys gave me the ride in their car. On the way to Hunder, there was no sign of the bus. I got down at Hunder and enquired a road worker who did not see a bus passed by but was still somehow pretty sure that the bus must have already passed and going to spend the night at Skuru town. I stand alongside the road with a sense of urgency in the hope to reach Skuru town and shortly I was offered a ride by a local Ladakhi family. After a few minutes, we saw the bus behind us and we signalled the bus to stop. I took my bag from the bus and it turned out the bus did not leave me behind. They parked the bus inside the bus station and when I didn’t come back, they even went out looking for me. Hence, the delay in reaching Hunder. It was just the beginning of my Hitchhiking adventure 🙂 After checking into a guesthouse, I went straight to the Sand dunes. I took a short camel ride in the dunes. One can also ride ATV here. The best experience for me was to explore the sand dunes on foot. After walking for a while, I reached a point where desert, grass, water and mountains seems to be colliding with each other. Such a striking sight. The walk back to the guesthouse from the sand dunes is so serene and cosy.

 

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh skuru
Got a ride!
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh turtuk
Turtuk Village

Natural cold storages
The narrow path to…
Hidden waterfall!
Tyakshi village
Border view at Tyakshi village
Inside Turtuk Emperor’s museum
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh turtuk museum

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: HUNDER-TURTUK-TYAKSHI

The next day, my target was to reach Turtuk. It is one of the last 3 villages at the India-Pakistan border. The other 2 villages are Tyakshi and Thang. These 3 villages were used to be part of Pakistan before 1971. After the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. Indian army liberated these 3 villages. The people of these villages speak the Balti language. Different from the Ladakhi language which is widely spoken in the other parts of Ladakh. Turtuk is around 85 km from Hunder. I woke up early and reach the main road to continue my hitchhiking journey in Ladakh. Little did I know, It was going to be a long day. After half an hour, I got a ride to Skuru town from an awesome guy who really motivated me about my hitchhiking expedition. From Skuru, I got a ride from a truck driver. A young truck driver who truly impressed me. He taught his wife how to drive a truck and now he and his wife go on long journeys while sharing the workload. His wife didn’t come with him on this trip and he really misses her. He dropped me near an army camp. After waiting for good 45 minutes, another truck gave me a ride and voila! They were going till 10 km before the Turtuk village. We shared food, memories, thoughts on a couple of hours long journey. They dropped me at a bridge and within a couple of minutes, I got my final ride to the Turtuk village! After reaching Turtuk, I left my luggage at the restaurant and trekked to a hidden waterfall behind mountains. Initially, I lost my way but with persistence I finally found it! After reaching the waterfall, I felt like I discovered a hidden treasure while I had my adrenaline kick😃 After an eventful day, I stayed with a local family in Turtuk. The next day, I woke up early and made my way to the Tyakshi village. It is the second last village at the India-Pakistan border. Thang is the last village at the India-Pakistan border which was closed for tourists. I hiked to reach the Tyakshi village: A village with many former army bunkers. I trekked to the viewpoint while passing through a small settlement of Puchathang where one can see the last village between India and Pakistan i.e. Thang Village. I returned back to Turtuk village to visit the Balti Heritage House and Museum to witness the local Balti culture and artefacts. The helpful lady at the museum also took me to the Natural Cold storage site. Yep, you read it read! There are several brick huts that are naturally cold due to underground glacial watercourse throughout the year. My last stop in Turtuk village was the Turtuk Emperor’s museum where one can learn about the Yagbo dynasty. The dynasty that ruled the area for centuries.
I got a ride: Thank You Ladakh 🙂
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Diskit
Diskit
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Diskit monastery
Diskit Monastery

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: TURTUK-DISKIT

After exploring Turtuk, I decided to head to Diskit. The distance between the two is 90 km. I begin my hitchhiking journey in the late afternoon. Lucky for me, a local cricket match was just ended and the team were returning back to their village. They gave me a ride to Bogdang village. While waiting for a ride at Bogdang village, I was surrounded by naughty local kids who also stick their thumbs out in order to help me out haha. After 20 minutes, their patience ran out and they scrambled. I couldn’t afford to lose my patience and keep at it. After half an hour, I finally got my ride directly to Diskit. A former policeman gave me a ride who was really curious about my journey and asked numerous questions. I guess that becomes his nature by now haha. After reaching Diskit, I went straight to a guest house and call it a day. The next day, I woke up really early to visit the famous Diskit monastery. I walked all the way to the huge Buddha statue and then to the Diskit monastery. It was a steep hike but worth it for the views, the gigantic statue and the beautiful monastery. One can also stay at Diskit monastery on a chargeable basis.

 

Something to be grateful about
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh khlasar
Got my first ride of the day!
Panamik

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh panamik
Crossing Sumur

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: DISKIT-PANAMIK-SIACHEN BASE CAMP

After exploring the Diskit monastery, I visited the local District Magistrate office to get a permit to visit the Siachen base camp but I was instructed to visit the Leh office for the same. Later I find out, it was closed for tourists due to the ongoing pandemic. I begin my hitchhiking journey to reach Warshi village and see how it goes about the Siachen base camp. My permit was valid till Warshi village.  I so wanted to witness the mighty Siachen glacier that is visible from the Siachen base camp. The distance between Diskit and Warshi is 95 km. I waited for half an hour before I start walking towards the Khalsar intersection. After walking for a good 2-3 km. I finally got a ride to the intersection. I had my breakfast-cum-lunch there before continuing my journey towards Warshi village. This time I got a ride pretty quick on a truck that dropped me near a construction site along the Nubra river. There I was invited by workers to have lunch with them. Such lovey souls. After sending some quality time with them, I got back on the road. Pretty soon, I got a ride to Panamik village with a pit stop at Sumur village. I was really happy as I thought I will easily reach Warshi village given the quick rides I was getting. The two guys who gave me a ride works for the Indian army as porters. They told me that the Siachen base camp is closed for tourists due to the Pandemic. After getting down at Panamik village, I decided to leave my luggage at the village and continue my journey to Warshi village and see how it goes. I was not ready to give up! Also, there is a Yama monastery before Warshi village that I wanted to visit. It took me a while to find a place to stay in Panamik village due to very limited options. Just reach out to the Oasis restaurant in the village and the owner will guide you to the guesthouse. Panamik is known for its hot springs. I tried hitchhiking for an hour before it starts to get dark and I decided to call it a day. I woke up at 4 am to capture the milky way. People at the guesthouse also confirmed the fact that I won’t be allowed to visit the Siachen base camp currently.

Hitchhiking towards Pangong lake
My ride to Pangong Lake
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh pangong lake
Hitchhiking on the back with awesome bunch of people 🙂
First glimpse of Pangong lake
Sight to behold: Milky Way
Different colours of Pangong lake
Props from the famous movie “3 Idiots”

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh pangong lake

Astronomy sessions at Man village
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh man village
My stay at Man Village

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: PANAMIK-PANGONG LAKE-MAN VILLAGE

The next day, I was pumped to cover the ambitious 200 km by hitchhiking to reach the Pangong lake. I was ready for the challenge! After waiting for just 10 minutes, I got a ride directly to the Khalsar intersection. I already had a feeling that it is going to be a good day! From the Khalsar intersection, I begin walking towards Leh. Seeing me walking on a highway, a guy stopped his car and enquired where I am going. He offered me a ride to the diversion where the road diverts towards Pangong lake. When we reached the diversion he asked me “Where’s your bike/motorcycle?” When I replied with I don’t have one and planning to reach Pangong lake by hitchhiking. The guy wished me luck in a sarcastic way and his sarcastic wish worked haha! Within a few minutes, I got a ride from the diversion. The first thing the guy who gave me a ride asked: “Are you okay?”. The guy called me crazy when I told him about my plan to reach Pangong lake by hitchhiking. The guy gave me a ride to another diversion covering 25 km. At the diversion, I saw a big bikers group who were going to Pangong lake. I came up with an idea. I start looking for a support vehicle for the bikers group and I found one 🙂 I asked the driver for a ride and he readily agreed! That was the beginning of the very long journey. Since it was a support vehicle, we had to stop several times to fix bikes for punctures or some other engine-related issues. Hitchhiking on the back of a 4×4 vehicle while riding through the bumpy roads of mighty Himalayas was as thrilling as it gets! We finally reached the camping ground along the Pangong lake just before the sunset. There are several restaurants-cum-guesthouses. I decided to spend a night there for INR 300 a night. It is located before the famous location where the “3 Idiots” movie was shot. At night, I witnessed the gobsmacking Milky Way! The next day, I left my big backpack there and begin my journey to Man village on foot. Firstly, I walked for an hour or so to reach the “3 Idiots’ location at Pangong lake. Later, I walked along the lake to reach Spangmik village. Pangong lake is easily one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever witnessed. Surrounded by the Himalayan range, Pangong lake changes its colour several times a day due to changes in sky colour and refraction at high altitudes. It is located at an altitude of 4400m. From Spangmik village, I got a truck ride to reach just before the Man village. The awesome Nepali truck driver told me about his plan to go to Chushul village at the India-China border a couple of hours later. He was going to return back on the same day. It was as tempting as it gets for me! I told him I wish to go with him and I will see him on the road. I decided to spend a night at Man village. After reaching Man village, I look for a place to eat lunch as I was really hungry. There is no restaurant in the village. Homestays in the village serve all the meals to its guests. I found a beautiful soul who offered me lunch. She did not even take money from me even though I persisted several times. I wanted to stay at her guesthouse but due to lack of space, it didn’t materialize. I finally found a place within my budget. I paid 600/- including dinner and breakfast. I stayed at Pangong Travel Camp in Man Village. I freshen up and was really excited to visit the Chushul village. I was on the way to the main road when I saw the same truck passing by. I shouted from a distance afar but he couldn’t hear me. I ran and ran but unfortunately, I missed the ride 🙁 I was a little disappointed but it also motivated me to come back here in the future to explore more of this area. I decided to call it a day. At night, I again witnessed the spellbinding Milky Way. Man village is famous for conducting Stargazing and Astronomy sessions.

 

Waiting for a ride
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Pangong lake
And got one and they also invited me for lunch 🙂
My ride to Leh

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh changla pass
Changla pass
LEH: Almost there!

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: MAN VILLAGE-LEH

The next day, I decided to head back to Leh. From Man village, I got a ride from the guesthouse I was staying. They dropped me at the campsite where I left my luggage. After picking up my luggage, I walked for around 2-3 km until I reach an army camp. I greeted army personnel and they helped me to get a ride. Shortly after, I got a ride from a family who came from Leh to camp out near Pangong Lake. They invited me for lunch at a place where we met their friends who were camping out there last night. Ladakhi people are easily one of the most hospitable people I have met! There were many trucks parked at this location. After lunch, I approached a truck driver and voila! I got the ride all the way to the Leh. The truck driver was coming from the India-China border. We exchanged many stories during the long journey. We crossed one of the highest mountain passes in the world i.e. Chang La pass. After reaching Leh, I decided to take it slow for a couple of days before continuing my end journey in Ladakh.

 

Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Kargil
On the way to Kargil
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh dras
On the way to Dras: Back of a police gypsy
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh dras
Camping in Dras
Kargil War Memorial in Dras
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Kargil war memorial
Hitchhiking Experiences In Ladakh Kashmir
Leaving Ladakh: On the way to Kashmir

HITCHHIKING EXPERIENCES: LEH-KARGIL-DRAS-KASHMIR

So, the plan was to reach Kargil from Leh by hitchhiking but as luck would have it. I encountered a sharing taxi going to Kargil when I was hitchhiking. I decided to take it and reached Kargil later than I have anticipated due to many stops. I wanted to explore more of Ladakh like Kargil valley, Aryan Valley and Zanskar valley. Zanskar valley is one of the remotest valleys in the world. Exploring these valleys requires a substantial amount of time which I didn’t had. I will be back for sure 🙂 After reaching Kargil, I decided to continue my journey to Dras town but only by hitchhiking. Dras is one of the coldest inhabited places in the world. It is also the last town in Ladakh before entering the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Dras is known to be the battleground of the Kargil war between India and Pakistan. From Kargil, I tried hitchhiking unsuccessfully for an hour before Local Police Gypsy gave me a ride to Kargil War Memorial. I camped near the memorial thanks to a restaurant nearby who also provided me with the camping gear. Camping in the coldest place of India was certainly an experience to remember 🙂 The next morning, I visited the Kargil war memorial overlooking Tiger Hill and Tololing Peak. Two of the most crucial sites where the Kargil war was fought. From the memorial, I got a ride to Dras town. After crossing the Dras town on foot, I got a ride for 100 km till the place where I was heading to! An off-duty army man gave me a ride who kept me amused with his stories. After reaching my destination in Kashmir, I bid him adieu. With that my extraordinary hitchhiking journey in Ladakh comes to an end. I prepare myself for the next adventure which was going to start the very next day. I did the mesmerising 6 Nights and 5 Days long Kashmir Great Lakes trek by myself.
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An Indian Traveler

Hello! My name is Saurabh and I am the voice behind the “An Indian Traveler” blog. I'm a cinephile, travel writer, an avid traveler with a song stuck in my head which I keep humming till ad nauseam :)

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17 Comments

  1. What an adventure you were on. The views are absolutely incredible. For me the hike would take double the time all for that reason of stopping and taking in the majestic views. Love the little markets you came across too.

  2. Wow! This is truly the most adventurous hitchhiking experience! It is impressive that you explored the dunes by foot. Hitchhiking at 17,500 ft at Khardungla pass is amazing. Your images are so well-captured and arranged that they can tell the story. Enjoyed your blog post! 🙂

  3. Wow, quite an adventure! It looks like you’d need a really reliable vehicle to make trips like that – everywhere looks so remote that, if you did encounter a problem, help could be hours away.

  4. That was an awesome virtual tour of Leh-Ladakh. I have not been there, so this post was a treat for me. I would say that you are truly brave though, to hitchhike in the midst of a pandemic, braving the elements in an uncertain terrain. I mean, it’s not an easy place to find people and the vast expanse does need some good health. Kudos!

  5. A very beautiful part of India and not touristy. I guess it’s because of the location and one needs a long vacation to explore this area? To begin with, you have to stay at least a couple of days to adjust yourself with high altitude like you did. For some people it’s like wasting their holiday time while it is very important.

  6. Wow! 19 hours sounds like quite a trip to get somewhere, but it seems like the end was worth it after all. I’m glad you’re going to go back someday and see what you missed. I have similar plans for places I’ve been to in the past!

  7. Wow, I’ve only heard of Ladakh in the context of geopolitics, so it’s really interesting to see it from the ground in a much more personal way. The landscapes are so varied and stunning, and parts of it are much greener than I would’ve expected. The color of Pangong Lake is so pretty too!

  8. I love this post so much! I mean, (as always) your photos are fabulous, but I also love how many stories you picked up as you were hitching! It’s cool that you met so many people; Like the man who taught his wife to drive the truck, or the girl who is studying for her exams or the policeman… Your way of travelling is so good for meeting cool personalities along the way…

  9. I haven’t as yet had the privilege to visit the Ladakh region but have heard so much about its natural beauty, high up among the Himalayan Ranges. Your comprehensive description of your journey together with your fabulous images really do convey how unique and special this part of the world is. I admire your determination to overcome the canceled bus services by hitchhiking to experience such stunning scenery and while I understand your motivation, I am not sure I would ever have the courage to do this. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading about your adventure and hope to visit at some point when the pandemic restrictions have subsided. Great post.

  10. my wife and I have been traveling for 9 years straight now…and I have to say hitchiking has led to some of our favorite experiences of all time. sounds like you did it up right, and were rewarded handsomely for it! can’t wait to visit Ladakh someday ourselves so we can find the superlatives!

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