Tailor-made Tour 17 days from £4275 per person

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  Places Visited: Delhi, Shimla, Manali, Jispa, Sarchu, Stok, Nubra, Leh, Delhi

Experience India’s most spectacular mountain landscape in style and comfort on our perennially popular Ladakh Overland Adventure, which follows the Trans-Himalayan Highway connecting Manali in Himachal Pradesh with Leh, Ladakh. This is India’s greatest road trip, crossing some of the world’s highest motorable passes, from the Great Himalayan watershed to the fringes of the Tibetan Plateau. Two to three days are required to complete it, with overnight stops at villages and camps along the way. It is a journey that will linger long in the memory – a constant procession of breathtaking sights.

This tour bookends the highway with stays in the former British hill station of Shimla and a week exploring the remote side valleys and villages of Ladakh – crucible of a unique way of life which until the 1970s was completely cut off from the outside world.

Overlooked by ranks of shining, pyramidal snow peaks, the mountains of the Indus Valley are extraordinary beautiful and form a constant backdrop to travels in this spectacular corner of India.

The two-week trip below, which strings together all of its highlights, can be covered from mid-June until mid-October. It features stays in some of the most atmospheric properties in the entire Indian Himalaya, where you can relax in the lap of staggering scenery, looked after by dedicated staff and an English-speaking driver-guide who knows the area inside out.

Holiday Types

Cultural Tours Walks, Hikes and Rides

 

Suggested itinerary

Day 1
UK

Fly overnight from London to Delhi.

Day 2
Delhi

On arrival in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport, you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and driver and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey with a leisurely swim in the hotel pool. You could also visit a nearby Mughal tomb garden at sunset time, or go for a stroll at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, near Connaught Circus.

Made of white marble and crowned by a gilded onion dome, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and shimmering pool inside it are places of great sanctity for Indian Sikhs, and offer the most atmospheric introduction possible to the Indian capital. The complex in its present form dates from the late-18th century and was constructed at a place associated with the eighth Sikh Guru, Har Krishnan. At a Langar, or ‘canteen’ in the temple, pilgrims are fed nourishing, free meals of chapatis and black dal by volunteers. If you’re lucky, you may see groups of Akalis, members of a Sikh warrior sect, dressed in traditional ceremonial garb.

Accommodation Options

Day 3
Delhi - Shimla

A memorable day of Indian train travel today as you transfer to New Delhi Railway Station to catch the morning express to Kalka, starting point of the narrow-gauge mountain line to Shimla, in the Himalayan foothills. Relax in the hotel’s pretty garden once you’ve checked in, or go for a stroll along the Mall, the old British promenade at the top of town, pausing for a pick-me-up in the old Indian Coffee House, where the waiters all still wear ice-cream wafer turbans and cummerbunds.

To avoid the heat of the Indian summer, the British colonial government in Calcutta decamped each May to Shimla, where a miniature England had been created among the cedar trees. Complete with Anglican church, bandstand, theatre and hundreds of mock-Tudor bungalows, the town remains more redolent of the Raj than perhaps anywhere else in India.

These days it serves as the capital of Himachal Pradesh state, and a popular holiday resort for Delhi-ites, many of whom travel up to it on the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Kalka–Shimla Railway.

The narrow-gauge line was inaugurated in 1903, the culmination of 20 years of work, during which 20 stations, 103 tunnels and 969 bridges were built in the course of just under 94km of track. Its original steam locomotives are sadly long gone, but most of the carriages are antique. The journey lasts for five hours (considerably longer than it takes to reach Shimla by road) but is a highly pleasurable one, revealing wonderful views and yielding a vivid sense of the way the vegetation changes as you ascend.

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Day 4
Shimla

Strolls along the Mall, shopping expeditions in the warrenous bazaar and gentle walks through the pine forest surrounding the hill station are the order of the day today. More adventurous travellers may wish to undertake a trek higher further afield. However you decide to spend your day, be sure to climb to the Jakhoo Temple at sunrise for your first glimpse of the distant Himalayas.

Echoes of the Raj have grown fainter in Shimla, but are still there for those with eyes to spot them. Follow our lovely Heritage Walk in the company of a local historian, who will guide you to the Gaiety Theatre, where Felicity Kendall and her parents performed Shakespeare in the 1940s, and the Shimla Club, where Kipling whiled away his leave from Lahore decades before. Most of the surviving British buildings date from the empire’s twilight days, when Mountbatten, Gandhi and Nehru were negotiating India’s Independence at a mansion on the outskirts of town, the Scots-Baronial-style ‘Viceregal Lodge’, where the tour concludes.

A long and leisurely, half-day hike much appreciated by past TransIndus clients is the ‘Sleeping Beauty Trail’, which takes you through fragrant cedar and pine forest to one of the area’s finest viewpoints. Along the way, the path passes some of the oldest British bungalows in the area. Expect to encounter the odd flying fox, itinerant sadhus and groups of inquisitive school children before arriving at the forest temple where the walk winds up.

 

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Day 5
Shimla - Kullu Valley

An unforgettable road trip begins shortly after breakfast, as you descend the rippling ridges of Himachal’s foothills to the Beas River, then wind north into the majestic Kullu Valley, one of the most spectacular and idyllic corners of the Indian Himalaya. You’ll be spending the night in a small hotel high above the valley floor, well away from the brouhaha of Manali and the main road.

Famous for its apple orchards and spectacular setting, Manali sits at the head of the Kullu Valley, overlooked by cedar forest and shining snow peaks. Holidaymakers from the plains flock here in April and May, but the town is accessible, and much quieter, during the spring melt, when the fruit trees are in blossom, and during the autumn months, when the snow line drops to the edge of the cedar forest. Although it appears to lie in a giant cul-de-sac of mountains, Manali is the starting point for road trip that defines this tour: the Trans-Himalayan Highway to Ladakh.

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Day 6
Kullu Valley

Spend a day relaxing on the veranda, soaking up the beautiful mountain views and taking leisurely walks in the forest around your hotel, where numerous pretty Himachali farmsteads nestle under the cedar trees.

Over the centuries, a unique and extremely picturesque way of life has evolved in the Kullu Valley. In the course of the day’s ambles you’ll gain a sense of why this disappearing way of life is so special. The stone and timber architecture of village houses, with their ornately carved doorways and projecting balconies; the woven shawls and capes worn by local people; the little kitchen gardens and bucolic apple orchards; and the distinctive forest temples – all framed by peeks of distant snow fields – combine to create a vivid impression.

Lovers of Impressionist art will relish the chance to visit the former home of Russian mystic philosopher and painter, Nickolas Roerich, who lived and died in the Kullu village of Naggar. His house has been turned into a small museum-gallery.

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Day 7
Manali - Jispa

The first leg of the long road trip to Ladakh begins at dawn with the ascent of Rohtang La Pass. A wall of vast, chocolate-coloured mountains capped with eternal snows is revealed once you cross the Great Himalayan watershed – a landscape radically different from the lush greenery of the Kullu Valley. Lunch will be in the little town of Keylong, home to the famous ‘Lady of Keylong Glacier’. You’ll spend the night in Jispa, half an hour further up the valley.

The Manali–Leh Highway was originally built as a military road in the 1970s to supply troops stationed on the remote Siachen Glacier and other territories disputed with China and Pakistan. It offers an exceptionally scenic, adventurous drive over the Great Himalayan watershed and into the so-called ‘Trans-Himalayan zone’. Lying beyond the reach of the monsoon rains, the sparsely populated region holds few permanent settlements. Three major passes have to be crossed in the course of the 490-km (300-mile) journey, the highest of them on the third day of the trip, when you’ll probably feel the effects of altitude for the first time.

Road conditions vary. The start of the season, shortly after the snows melt in June, can involve delays as workers clear landslides and rockfalls, or repair damage to the tarmac surface by glacial runoff.

Rohtang La Pass, the first of the three main passes traversed on the Manali–Leh road, exposed to the humidity of the Indian plains, receives far more snow than much higher passes to the north, and the weather can change very suddenly. The main incentive to use it as an entry point to the Lahaul Valley rather than the recently built Atal Tunnel are  the stupendous views revealed during the descent, which take in the pyramidal summit of White Sail 6,240m/21,06ft) to the east.

The onward journey follows the valley floor around a great bend in the Bhaga River to the town of Keylong, where you’ll pause for lunch before pressing on to Jispa, with a better selection of hotels.

Day 8
Jispa - Sarchu

The scenery grows more spectacular and exotic today as you continue north towards the second major pass of the journey, Baralacha (4,890m/16,403ft). From there on, you’re crossing almost total wilderness, deserted except for the odd military station and seasonal travellers’ camp. You’ll be spending the night in the nicest of these, at Sarchu Sarai.

Sarchu is little more than a cluster of encampments erected on broad sandbars next to the Tsarap River. At an altitude of roughly 4,500m, it’s the highest spot at which you’ll sleep on this trip, and the effects of altitude may be felt in the form of mild headaches.

Day 9
Sarchu - Stok

Day three of the Manali-Leh Highway takes you over the third and highest pass of the trip, Tanglang La (5,328m/17,480ft) to enter Ladakh. All being well, you’ll arrive in the Indus Valley around late afternoon.

No matter how many photographs of this lunar landscape you may have seen, nothing can fully prepare you for the experience of travelling through it. Vast mountainsides streaked with ochre, wine-tinted and pale-green scree surge from the roadside to high ridges encrusted in snow and ice. The job of maintaining the highway is undertaken by gangs of ragged, tar-covered coolies who live in makeshift camps by the roadside – surely some of the hardiest souls on the planet.

Look out too for groups of nomads tending their flocks of Pashmina goats on the Plains of Morar – source of the world’s softest and most expensive wool, used to make fine Cashmere shawls. The particular breed from which the wool is obtained can only survive at these altitudes. The most delicate strands grow on the bellies of the animal and are shed in the spring, when they are collected by combing rather than shearing.

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Day 10
Stok

After a leisurely breakfast, enjoy a stroll around Stok (or Tikse, depending on your accommodation choice). Later, your guide will join you for a tour of Stok monastery.

With a population of around 1,500 people, Stok is a typical Ladakhi village of large, traditional farmsteads and chortens (stupas) scattered across a patchwork of barley fields and fruit orchards at the mouth of the Stok Chu River. From a low outcrop overlooking the riverbank here rises an imposing 14th-century monastery with multi-storey whitewashed walls and windows picked out in burgundy – the colour denoting holiness in Tibetan tradition. Aside from the palace where you’re staying and where the Ladakhi royal family relocated to in the early 19th century, the village’s only other monument of note is a giant golden Buddha, inaugurated in 2016 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

With its gorgeous farmhouses and jaw-dropping backdrop of Himalayan peaks, Stok makes a perfect introduction to Ladakh.

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Day 11
Stok

Explore the sights of the region’s capital Leh today, in the company of you guide. A bustling market town overlooked by an impressive medieval palace, the town holds a lively bazaar full of colourful little shops, cafés and restaurants, many of them run by Tibetan refugees.

For centuries, Leh served as an important stopover on the trade route connecting China with India. Caravans would arrive from the north, having crossed three of the highest passes in the Karakorums, carrying tea and silk, which they would exchange for fine Pashmina wool produced on the Changtang Plateau to the east and woven into shawls by local Kashmiri artisans. The old core of the town, including the spectacular royal palace looming above it, dates from the 17th century when this commerce reached its peak.

With your guide you’ll explore the narrow alleyways twisting beneath crumbling chortens and once grand houses of Leh’s aristocrats and merchants, among them the mansion belonging to the ‘Munshi’, or Chief Minister, which has been renovated and now serves as a cultural centre.

The market is a compelling mix of souvenir shops filled with Tibetan jewellery and handicrafts, and essential supplies for locals, including traditional Ladakhi clothing, prayer flags and incense.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the shadows begin to lengthen, drive to the edge of Leh to visit the gleaming white Shanti Stupa, a modern chorten which you can climb for a superb sunset view extending to the distant Stok Kangri massif.

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Day 12
Stok

Rise before dawn today for an early breakfast and departure in time to catch the morning prayer session at Tikse monastery, on the north side of the Indus Valley. Afterwards, visit neighbouring Shey Palace, site of the ancient Ladakhi capital, and, time and energy permitting, nearby Matho monastery before returning to Stok (or the camp at Thikse) for a leisurely afternoon in the apricot orchards.

One of the largest and most spectacular Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas, Tikse rises in tiers up the flank of a sacred hill of pale grey rock and sand. Morning prayers are preceded by blasts of giant Tibetan trumpets from the roof terrace, where an astonishing view extends across the Indus Valley to the ice giants of the Stok Kangri massif. Attend prayers in the main assembly hall, under the watchful eyes of a 15-metre (49-ft) gold-faced Maitreya – a great treasure installed to commemorate the visit of HH the Dalai Lama in 1970.

Nearby Shey was the capital of Ladakh before the foundation of Leh in the 18th century. It retains a ruined palace and another splendid monastery, famous for its antique murals. Your guide will also take you to a large assemblage of old ‘chortens’ (stupas), scattered across an area of desert below Shey and a great location for landscape photographers.

Opposite Thikse, Matho receives far fewer visitors than most other monasteries hereabouts, and has a more traditional feel. Founded in the 15th century, it’s the only one in Ladakh run by the Sakyapa order and is famous primarily for its Oracle Festival, held in early March each year, when two of the monks take part in a spirit-possession ritual accompanied by spectacular masked dances.

In the afternoon you’ll be free to explore the local area at your own pace, on foot or by bicycle. Optional activities (which may incur additional costs) include traditional archery sessions and white water rafting on the Indus.

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Day 13
Nubra

A fabulous Himalayan road trip today takes you down the Indus Valley to Hemis, then north over Wari La Pass into the spectacular and remote Nubra region, where you’ll be spending two nights.

Re-join your driver after breakfast for the 40-minute drive to Hemis monastery, which is hidden in a fold of mountains up a side valley above the Indus. Founded in the 11th century, Hemis is among the oldest and most revered religious sites in Ladakh, and the venue for one of the summer’s major festivals, when large numbers of locals gather to watch masked dances and the unfurling of a giant ‘thangka’.

From here, your journey swings northwards, following the course of a photogenic side valley where, if desired, you may pause to visit two other monasteries (Chemrey and Thak Thok) en route to the Wari La pass 5,312m (17,427ft). Throughout, the views of the Ladakhi farming villages and surrounding snow peaks are wondrous.

Look out for marmots as you crest the pass, which forms a high, denuded saddle. From here on you’re in the Nubra region of Ladakh, where the scenery is a notch more dramatic and the valley flanks correspondingly wilder. Not until you approach the banks of the Shyok River will you see signs of human habitation.

Thanks to the mild climate and lower elevation of the Nubra Valley, locals grow crops of barley, summer wheat, peas, mustard, walnuts and apricots here, and you’ll even come across the odd almond orchard.

Spend the afternoon taking in the dramatic scenery and wild atmosphere of this extraordinary corner of the Himalayas, which once served as the final outpost of civilization for traders heading north across the Karakorums to Kashgar in Xinjiang – a route long since closed, even to Indians.

Accommodation Options

Day 14
Nubra

Visit Nubra’s principal monastery at Diskit today, along with the local women’s co-operative, where you may be able to pick some hand-made souvenirs. Later, enjoy a guided village walk and, if desired, a ride on a Bactrian camel around the dunes at Hunder.

Overlooked by the remnants of a palace, fort and monastery, Hunder was in former times the region’s capital. The camels are a throwback to the bygone era when this was a waystage on a spur of the old Silk Route connecting Kashgar in Xinjiang Province and Leh. The camels live in a tract of dunes, grazing on seabuckthorn and taking tourist out on rides in the summer months – a great photo opportunity!

The main settlement in Nubra today is at Diskit, near the confluence of the Shyok and Nubra Rivers. It’s the site of a large, functioning monastery, clinging to a craggy hilltop above the village, which you’ll be invited to visit in the company of your guide.

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Day 15
Nubra - Leh

One of the undoubted highlights of the tour is today’s spectacular drive, as you return to Leh and the Indus Valley via Kardung La. The trip takes half a day but flies past, thanks to the breath-taking scenery.

The road to Kardung La reaches an impressive elevation of 5,359 m (17,582 ft) and yields superlative views over the Ladakhi peaks. It was across this pass that around 10,000 ponies used to plod annually en route to and from Kashgar, one of the pivotal markets on the Central Asia Silk Road, until disputes between India, Pakistan and China closed the trail.

Accommodation Options

Day 16
Leh - Delhi

Enjoy your final breakfast in Ladakh before being transferred to Leh airport for the return flight to Delhi, where you’ll spend one night. We always recommend staying over in the Indian capital for 24hrs in case of delays.

A wealth of sightseeing options are on offer for the late afternoon and evening in Delhi, should you wish to venture into the city. Your consultant will be able to make suggestions according to your interests and location of your hotel. A popular option with our clients is a guided tour of the old tomb gardens in South Delhi – atmospheric oases of greenery and exquisite Islamic architecture away from the traffic.

Day 17
Delhi - UK

Time to bid farewell to India as you transfer to Delhi airport in good time for your flight back to the UK.

Tailor-made Tour 17 days from £4275 per person


What's included

 

What's included
✓   International flights from London
✓   15 nights accommodation
✓   All internal transportation and transfers
✓   English-speaking guides
✓   Half board days 3-6, full board days 7-15, breakfast on day 16
✓   Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary

Holiday Extensions for this tour

‘Little Tibet’: Ladakh in Style - The Taj Mahal Extension

2 days, 1 nights from £295 per person

Single supplement £ 185 per person
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Day 13
Delhi - Agra

Take the early morning express train to Agra. Spend the day in Agra visiting the Taj Mahal, the impressive Agra Fort whose buildings, made of red sandstone and marble, are a mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture and the ornate tomb of Itamud-ud-Daula. Return to Delhi by train and stay at the Pride Plaza Aerocity or similar.

Day 14
Delhi - UK

After breakfast transfer to the airport for your return flight home.

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