Thinking about visiting the Indian Himalayas of Jammu & Kashmir? Check out this guide to Jammu & Kashmir!
The Indian Himalayan state of Jammu & Kashmir (JK) is one from another planet. The extraterrestrial terrain, snow capped mountain peaks, abundance of starry nights, and windy roads that take you to faraway lands will present you with sights you never thought possible. It’s an incredible place to come and fully immerse yourself in the magic that Mother Nature has to offer.
While most people stick to Leh and the surrounding area, there are other cities and towns you can also visit, such as Kashmir. If this is on your list, make sure you check if it’s safe to visit Kashmir. When I was in JK, a lot of the locals warned against visiting Kashmir, so I avoided it all together. While it’s a stunning place to visit, the continuous civil unrest may not make it worth the risk. Sometimes the road to Kashmir is completely shut down. Check online or with a credible source to make sure it’s safe. A lot of the time, the locals know best.
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When to Visit
The best time to visit Jammu & Kashmir is when the road from Manali to Leh is open, between May and September. You’ll get warm, sunny days and cold nights. The rest of the year it’s freezing and snowy.
How to Get There
You have a few options to get to this state in the northern most part of India. You’ll most likely start your journey from a town called Leh, which sits at 3,500 meters above sea level. I recommend flying into Leh and then traveling via road out of Leh on the Leh-Manali highway. You can also travel via the Srinagar-Leh highway into Leh, as this road doesn’t cross as many high altitude passes as the Leh-Manali highway does (thus avoiding altitude sickness).
Check out bus and flight times on goibibo.com.
Daily flights from Delhi are cheap and quick, only an hour long. You’ll be able to find flights for as little as $50, and are well worth the price to save a few days of traveling.
There is a bus from Manali to Leh, which only runs when the road opens from May-September during the year. The bus takes over one day to reach Leh, since you have a stopover for one night in Keylong to acclimatize to the altitude. The next day, you’ll make the long, 16+ hour journey to Leh. The local bus costs around 700 rupees to Leh and starts running in May.
There’s also a tourist bus that runs from July to September and costs around 3,000 rupees.
Be careful on this bus ride, as it crosses 3 high altitude passes where you may experience altitude sickness. This highway is breathtaking and is one you should not miss traveling on, which is why I recommend traveling on it when you leave Leh. By that time you’ll be acclimatized to the altitude.
You can also travel via the Srinagar-Leh highway.
You daredevils might look into purchasing a Royal Enfield motorcycle and driving up to and around Leh. You can rent the motorcycle or buy one and then sell it when you’re done.
It took 31 hours, three cars, and one truck. I spent one night sleeping in the truck at 4800 meters, took many chai stops, listened to deafening Indian music, and had the adventure of a lifetime.
What to Do
This is where you’ll start your travels through this state. Keep in mind that Leh sits at 3,500 meters, so altitude sickness may occur. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to prevent altitude sickness. They may recommend taking Diamox. There is a medical service in Leh if your altitude sickness worsens, where they will put you on oxygen.
The mountain town of Leh is a hippie’s paradise, with colorful patterned Kashmir scarves around every corner, as well as quaint coffee and book shops, affordable restaurants, and tons of trekking agencies.
- Visit Shey Palace: A 15 minute walk from Leh is the stunning Shey Palace. People mainly go for the magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains.
- Visit Shanti Stupa: This beautiful white stupa towers over Leh. It is a great place to come for some gorgeous photos of the mountains. This is also a good place to visit on your first or second day to help you acclimate to the altitude, since it sits at 3600 meters.
- Rent a Scooter: For 800 rupees a day you can rent a scooter and drive on one of the many highways leading from Leh. I recommend driving on the Srinagar- Leh highway and visiting the towns along the way before finally visiting Lamayuru Monestary.
- Visit Magnetic Hill: When you park your vehicle in a specific place at Magnetic Hill and put the breaks on, it slowly creeps upward. Go and experience the magic!
- Shopping: There are many crystals, jewelry, and scarves for sale in Leh, as well as many other beautiful trinkets that make for amazing gifts and souvenirs.
Road Trip Across Nubra Valley
You can either take a shared taxi or drive a motorcycle across the spectacular roads of the Nubra Valley. This is something you don’t want to miss out on when you’re in this part of India. The mountains are more than spectacular, they’re humbling, magnificent, and magical.
You can take a 3 day, 2 night trip in a shared taxi. This will cost between 17k-20k rupees depending on which vehicle size you choose. The price is split between 4 people. It will take you to all of these places below. In my opinion, it’s the safest and easiest way to see all of the sights. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride along the magnificent mountain giants.
- Khardung La: One of the highest drivable passes in the world at 5,539 meters, or 17,582 feet. You’ll ascend more than 2,000 meters in about an hour from Leh, which may cause symptoms of Altitude Sickness. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to prevent altitude sickness. They may recommend taking Diamox, which you can buy at the pharmacy in Leh. I used Oxygen99, which is a tiny bottle of oxygen you breathe in at intervals to help you with the altitude.
- Pangong Lake: This incredible lake, which starred in the Bollywood movie “Three Idiots”, sits at 4300 meters, or 14,000 feet above sea level in the mountains. The gorgeous array of blue, turquoise, green, and purple glisten against the sunlight and reflect the mountain peaks that surround it. Spend the night in one of the many tents that line the lake and bask in the spectacular show of stars at night.
- Turtuk: Located on the banks of the Shyok River, this town is home to the Balti people. It was under control of Pakistan until 1971 when India claimed it. It’s only been open to tourists since 2009 and is an incredible place to visit for a throw back in time. Visit the museum in town and learn about a completely new culture.
Road Trip or Trek to Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri lake is located at 4500 meters. You can take your motorcycle on this loop, or choose to embark on an 8 day guided trek or 3 day road trip to see this stunning lake and the surrounding area. Any travel agency in Leh will be able to arrange a tour for you.
Markha Valley Trek
This popular trek from Leh takes 4-5 days. You get to stay in different homestays during the trek, with camping on the last night.
Zanskar River Trek
Also known as the frozen river trek, this multi-day guided trek will take you across mountains and over a frozen river. It can only be completed during the winter months when the river is completely frozen. If you come in summer, you can go white water rafting on the river.
Where to Stay
Gangs-Shun Homestay: This guesthouse is in proximity to the Shanti Stupa and Soma Gompa and offers guests free WiFi and a delicious continental breakfast each morning.
Travellers House: The owners of this guesthouse are friendly and helpful, and go out of their way to make sure you’re having a good stay. It’s in proximity to many of the main shops and restaurants of Leh, but far enough away that it’s quiet.
Hotel Lingzi: This hotel offers large rooms and is only a short walk to the main restaurants and cafes. The rooms have beautiful outdoor terraces and are airy and comfortable.
Ladakh Sari Resort: This luxurious resort offers comfortable rooms and serves some of the freshest, most delicious food in Leh.
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