Leh to Kargil
There are many fascinating sights close to the Leh–Srinagar road. You'll need a vehicle to make the most of numerous short diversions, for example to Basgo, Likir and Alchi. The most popular stops en route are Mulbekh (for its castle and ancient carved Buddha statue) and the village of Lamayuru, where there's a memorable monastery and curious 'Moonland' erosion formations.
The deep-cut Shayok and Nubra River Valleys offer tremendous scenery on a grand scale, with green oasis villages surrounded by thrillingly stark scree slopes, boulder fields and harsh arid mountains. There are sand dunes, monasteries, a ruined palace and – at Turtuk and Bogdang – a whole different culture (Balti) to discover. Permits are required by foreigners.
Alchi & Saspol
The rural village of Alchi has become a regional tourism magnet thanks to the special murals and carvings of the world-famous Choskhor temple complex, founded in the early 11th century by ‘Great Translator’ Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo. Curiously, Zangpo's equally ancient works at more accessible Saspol and beautiful if out-of-the-way Manggyu are often overlooked.
Tso Moriri Loop
One of Ladakh's magical great lakes, Tso Moriri shimmers with an ever-changing series of reflections in its vivid blue waters. However, the long drive from Leh, while impressive in places, and passing attractive Likche and Himya villages, is neither as varied nor as photogenic as the Pangong route.
Lamayuru to Mulbekh
West of Lamayuru, the NH1 road zigzags up towards spires that tower impressively over Fotu La (4147m; Km295.9). At Km284.9, a 12km spur road leads through memorable canyons to Kanji, an authentic village of less than 300 souls that's most famous for its tiny Chuchik-Zhal Temple containing a trio of millennium-old Alchi-style statues. Back on the NH1, look north 1.
Across the valley from Leh, Stok's main drawcards are its 19th-century royal palace, its collection of older Ladakhi houses and its role as a possible starting point for hikes to Rumbak and the Markha Valley and for climbing Stok Kangri. Stok also makes a quiet alternative to Leh as a Ladakh touring base thanks to its small but excellent choice of accommodation.
Leh to Diskit
The Nubra road zigzags up stark bare-rock mountains for around 1½ hours to Khardung La, which at 5602m is claimed (disputably) to be the world’s highest motorable pass. Descending again, look for marmot and dzo (a cow and yak cross-breed) around the pretty pond known rather misleadingly as Tsolding Buddha Park. Army posts check permits and passports at Km24 and Km53.
The turbulent Shayok valley between Hunder and Turtuk is 80km of scenic magnificence marred only very occasionally by military installations. The grand raw-rock valley briefly narrows near tiny Changmar, the western limit of Ladakhi-Buddhist culture. Thereafter, the rare green splashes of village are culturally and linguistically Muslim Balti.
Nimmu & Chilling
West of Phyang, minor curiosities along the NH1 include the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib temple, enshrining the sacred rock that failed to kill Sikh founder Guru Nanak in 1517; a no-longer magical 'magnetic hill'; and viewpoints above the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers.
Slow-paced Lamayuru is one of Ladakh’s most memorable villages and an ideal place to break the journey from Kargil to Leh. Set among mountain-backed badlands, picturesque homes huddle around a crumbling central hilltop that’s a Swiss cheese of caves and erosion pillars topped by a photogenic gompa.
Lost in greenery and closely backed by soaring valley cliffs, Hunder village is far and away Nubra's top attraction for Indian visitors, who settle into relatively comfy guesthouses and tent camps, and then spend the late afternoon riding Bactrian camels through a series of photogenic sand dunes.