Best Time to Visit Leh Ladakh on Bike in 2020

A lot has been spoken about Ladakh, but enough can never be said. Ladakh simply is a feast for the senses. The roads, the mountain views, the barrenness, the cultures, the people; everything about Ladakh feels surreal. It’s no surprise that Ladakh’s staggering mountain beauty has lured in an ever-increasing number of adventure enthusiasts over the years. Many of those enthusiasts want to experience their fair share of adventure on motorbikes as they accelerate their way through an ancient land, steeped in magic and mystery.

A common question for many of those enthusiasts is when they can visit this mountain marvel. In this blog, we will cover all the necessary details that you need to know about the best time to visit Leh Ladakh on a bike in 2020.

The Roads that Lead to Ladakh

There are two roads that take travellers into Ladakh. One leads to it from Srinagar in Kashmir Valley (NH1) and the other from the Himalayan resort town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh (Leh-Manali Highway). Both these roads shut down for the winter months and are opened mainly from May. NH1 stays open a bit longer than the Leh-Manali Highway, but it’s safe to say that winter is not really the best time for a Ladakh bike trip.

The Quality of the Roads

Most of Ladakh and the approaches to it find themselves in the Himalayas, while a little bit of Ladakh lies in the Karakoram Range. Given that the Himalayas and the Karakoram are two of the highest mountain ranges in the world, you may have already guessed that the entire stretch to and within Ladakh is mountainous. The average altitude of Ladakh is over 8,200 feet.

It’s a blessing that Border Roads Organization (BRO), a part of the Indian Army, has the responsibility of maintaining the roads in the remote reaches of Ladakh. While BRO has done incredible work on both approaches, a lot still needs to be done. Sections on NH1 and large sections on the Manali-Leh Highway are still dirt roads, which become worse during the monsoons and just after the winter snows melt.

NH 1 Road Conditions Timeline

The NH1 Road from Srinagar winds into Ladakh along the following route:

Srinagar – Sonamarg – Zoji La – Dras – Kargil – Namik La – Fotu La – Lamayuru – Leh

•   May-June: The NH1 typically opens up for vehicular movement in the month of May. The main bottleneck is caused on the approaches to the infamous Zoji La, a mountain pass located at a height of 11,575 feet. The pass and its surrounding areas become engulfed in snow during the winter months. Operations to clear the huge chunks of ice and snow begin sometime in late March and by May, the road is open.

In the first few months, the NH1 road remains quite muddy due to the continuously melting ice. Zoji La also sees a lot of rain once the winter snows are done. So expect the road in and around the Zoji La area to be quite challenging. However, once you enter Dras, the roads become very smooth. From Dras and all the way till Leh, the roads are impeccable.

Even though you need to cross two more high-altitude passes, Namik La and Fotu La, there is not much need for concern as these passes don’t see as much snowfall as Zoji La does. There are occasional landslides on some stretches along the Kargil – Leh road, but BRO is generally very quick in repairing these stretches.

•   July – November: The rains hit hard in the Zoji La area during the monsoons, making the road extremely tricky to handle. If the rains last long during the July – September period, they may even turn into snow. However, BRO remains ever ready to make all necessary efforts to keep the road open consistently through the monsoon.

Zoji La remains free from the onslaught of rain and snow for some time in October and November and this is probably the time that the pass becomes easier to navigate. However, rising cold winds in late November signal the coming of fresh snow, which means that the pass gets closed for yet another long winter.

Leh – Manali Highway Road Conditions Timeline

Here’s how the Leh – Manali Highway leads to Leh from Manali in Himachal Pradesh:

Manali – Rohtang La – Keylong–Darcha – Baralacha La – Sarchu – Nakee La – Tanglang La – Leh

•   May – June: This newer route to Leh offers an adventurous experience that is nothing short of grand. It passes through five high-altitude passes, four of which lie over 15,000 feet above sea level. There is a high chance of altitude sickness on this road, so bikers are advised to carry appropriate medicines.

This road stays closed far longer than the NH1 route, as snow clearing operations begin on this route in early May. When the road finally does open though, most of the stretches along the route see walls of thick ice on both sides of the road, especially in and around the passes.

Biking on this route during this period is not something that you should do on your Ladakh bike trip in 2020. There are many water crossing sections that require bikers to be at the peak of their concentrations, along with possibilities of landslides and muddy stretches.

•    July – September: If a Ladakh bike trip for couples is on your mind, then this is the period that you should target along this road. As the snows from the previous winter melt completely, many sections of the road become better than the May-June period. Even though the Rohtang La side sees a lot of rain, the road stays open throughout this span of time.

Even though many vehicles keep plying on this route in early October, it’s best to avoid it after September. Snows can fall at absolutely any time on the high passes and may block the road, making travel impossible. There are long stretches on this 480 km route that are completely uninhabited as well, which makes getting stuck an offer that you definitely should refuse.

No matter which route you decide to take to Ladakh on your biking trip, you are in for a treat of an adventure. Both routes have their share of scenic spectacles to offer. However, if solely adventure is what you are looking for, then the Leh – Manali Highway would be better. Remember to carry tons of warm clothes, gloves and altitude sickness medicines to make your journey adventurous and safe to an extent, at the same time. Happy journey!