Route: Srinagar - Sonamarg - Zoji La - Drass - Kargil - Khaltse - Lamayuru - Nimmu - Leh
Distance: 440 kms
Route Opens: Early May to late October (depends on the weather)
Apart from taking your own car (Howto prepare your car for ladakh), bike or a motorcycle (Howto prepare your motorcycle for Ladakh) to Leh from the Srinagar side, you can also hire a taxi or take a bus to Leh; the details of these are given below:
Bus: J&K SRTC along with several other travel companies run regular bus service to Leh. These buses normally take 2 days to reach Leh with night stop at Kargil.
Taxis: There are several options available while hiring a taxi for Leh, from booking a single seat in a shared taxi, to booking the whole taxi for yourself or sharing it with another couple.
Hired Motorcycles: Many people like to rent motorcycles from Delhi for their trip to Ladakh, for more on this, please read "Renting Motorcycles in India".
Usually the Srinagar - Leh circuit is covered in the span of two days with a night stop at Kargil, however you can make it a three day journey with another night stop at either Alchi or Lamayuru.
Srinagar - Sonamarg (85 kms): The journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg takes you through some of
Sonamarg - Drass (62 kms): From Sonamarg the landscape starts changing dramatically all the way till the famous Zoji La pass (11,640ft), roads on the both side of the pass are in bad condition with lots of gravel, during rain the gravel turns to slush, so if you are planning to attempt this pass during rain, be prepared for some wheel spin fun!
The traffic to the final summit of the pass is controlled and visitors have to get themselves registered to proceed further. This is also the toughest few kms of the entire Srinagar - Leh highway, beyond which tarmac is fantastic.
With in an hour of crossing Zoji La, you would be at Drass. If you have reached here late in the afternoon then my recommendation would be to have your meal here especially if you are a vegetarian, in Kargil the food isnt that good and for vegetarians finding food can be a bit of chore.
Drass - Kargil (58 kms): A few kms beyond Drass is the Drass war memorial, built in the memory of fallen soldiers in the 1999 Kargil war and a must visit for every traveler passing through this route.
From here it is a straight run to Kargil and you will be there in less than an hours time. Kargil is the intended pit stop for the majority of travelers and thus has quite a few accommodation options.
Kargil - Lamayuru (110 kms): 40 odd kms down the road is the town of Mulbek, a sleepy town which many would pass through without knowing the fact that next to the road is a statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. It is believed that the 9 meter high statue carved out of solid rock was built in 7th or 8th century. Although one is not allowed to take photographs of the statue, the statue itself is a must see for any one passing through Mulbek.
A short ride from Mulbek will take you to 12198ft high Namika La, a windy yet scenic pass. Roughly 40kms Namika La is Fotu La, the highest point on the Srinagar - Leh highway, (13,479ft).
After short yet scenic ride/drive you will reach the village of Lamayuru, Ladakhs most famous and one of the oldest Gompas. Take some timeout here for a quick photo shoot and a visit to Gompa, else plan a dedicated day for it and move on.
Lamayuru - Leh (125 kms): Few kms down the road from Lamayuru are the Hangro Loops, the 18 loops are fast yet sharp loops with steep gorges, drive/ride carefully here.
Next major attraction comes in the form of Gurudwara Patthar Sahib located in the town of Nimmu (55kms from Leh), beyond which its fast and straight forward drive/ride to Leh.
Sonamarg: Sonamarg being a tourist attraction and a hotspot in itself has quite a few accommodation options, both luxury as well as budget.
Drass: Even though most travelers prefer to stay at Kargil, Drass is a good option as well, especially if you are a vegetarian. Since finding vegetarian food in Kargil in evening is a chore.
Kargil: For majority of people traversing through the Srinagar Leh highway, Kargil is the de facto night stop. Due to this there is no dearth of guest houses and hotels here, and one can easily find one to suit their individual needs. For a list of registered hotels and guest houses, please check this list by J&K tourism.
Mulbek: Even though Mulbek is a small town, there are few accommodation options where one can spend a night, including a J&K tourism bungalow.
Lamayuru: Even though most people prefer to come to Lamayuru on a day trip from Leh, if you are going through the Srinagar Leh highway and have your own transportation then it would be a good idea to spend a night at Lamayuru. Lamayuru does have few guesthouses where one can spend the night.
Petrol pumps: Petrol availability on the Srinagar - Leh highway is way better than on the Manali - Leh highway. One can find petrol bunks on the Srinagar - Sonamarg stretch and at Kargil and Khaltse.Phone services: Mobile phones with post paid roaming on Airtel and BSNL work in and around Srinagar and beyond that only postpaid GSM MTNL & BSNL phone connections work at Drass, Kargil, Khaltse and Nimmu. One can also find pay phones at Drass and Kargil.