shinkula pass

Shinkula Pass: Keylong To Kargil Itinearary

Before I go ahead and discuss Keylong to Kargil route via Shinkula Pass, I want to bring to your notice that though this article was originally written in 2020, I have updated it with latest route details for 2023. Many patches that were underconstruction in 2020 have now been reconstructed by the Border Road Organisation.

Back in 2020, the descent from Shinkula Pass to Kurgiakh village was very risky, in 2023, that has been improved. From Darch to Shinkula Pass, BRO has built a perfect road that even scooters can attempt. Once you reach Shinkula Pass and start your descent towards Kurgiakh or Purne the road conditions deteriorate.

Here are two videos that will give you a good idea of Shinkula Pass road (journey date: June 2023) from Manali…

For a more detailed journey, watch my original circuit videos (attempted in the year 2020)…

Thanks to the Border Road Organisation, Manali to Leh highway is no adventure anymore. The (nearly) 450km stretch of the road (that connects Manali to Leh, via Keylong) remains so perfect throughout the season that Formula 1 circuits around the world can take shame from it (just like many other routes in the Himalayas like Delhi to Manali road that is now a 6-lane highway).

So what should adventure/thrill-seekers do if they’re heading that way?

My suggestion…

Do Keylong to Kargil, via Shinkula Pass, and explore some of the most isolated villages, unforgiving dirt roads, and deadly river crossings – all bundled in an epic 5-day epic road adventure!

Shinkula Pass: Keylong To Kargil via Zanskar Itinearary

keylong to kargil

shinkula pass

Shinkula Pass: Itinerary & Route map

Before Shinkula Pass, it was only possible to drive into Zanskar from Kargil, do until about halfway to Keylong, and return to Kargil following the same route.

But in 2019, the Indian Border Road Organisation opened a new circuit for better connectivity to the Zanskar region in an effort to find a shorter way between Keylong and Kargil for the Indian Army. And as a consequence (they better take it as a consequence) they have got the Indian biking community and travellers to deal with.

shinkula pass zanskar

zanskar ladakh route

At 16,580 feet above sea level, Shinkula Pass connects the Zanskar region to Keylong. It is only via Shinkula Pass that one can now drive/ride all the way from Keylong to Kargil (or vice-versa) and do a one-way trip into the Zanskar region.

Getting confused? Let’s actually start with a map and get our bearings right!

shinkula pass zanskar itinerary

If you look at the entire circuit on a map, you will see it makes a loop. If you are coming from Manali, the loop starts from Keylong, goes into Zanskar, and opens in Kargil, before it goes to Leh, and returns to Kargil. The road runs very parallel to Keylong-Leh, giving almost similar landscapes (just far more oblivious).

Also read: Tips for a motorcycle trip in the Himalayas 

Shinkula Pass: An Introduction to Zanskar

If I think of an adventure road trip in the Indian Himalayas, there are a few routes that first come to my mind. And this includes Spiti Valley, a trip from Leh to Nubra Valley, and Bhairagah to Killar via Sach Pass trip, among others. I think of these names not because of the bad roads or the river crossings they offer, but because of the desertedness of these places.

Places like Spiti Valley and Nubra offer some of the isolated corners of the world, with almost no help to find around if you’re stuck in the middle of the circuit. I remember when I did a solo motorcycle trip from Delhi to Spiti Valley, how it was common for me to keep riding for hours and not see any life around throughout my trip.

But this time, as I rode from Keylong to Kargil and came across all the adventure and different landscapes on the way, including the Shinkula Pass, I realised how this route now tops my list of adventure motorcycle trails in the Indian Himalayas.

shinku la pass

Where Leh Keylong to Leh takes only a day to drive, this, almost parallel running road (Keylong to Kargil) can take a minimum of 5 days – and that too, when you’re driving every day, pretty much dedicatedly.

Here the route takes you through not only river crossings but forces you right on a riverbed. For about 20km near Kurgiakh, you are crisscrossing the river Kurgiakh to find a connecting road. There is only one petrol station in Padum (quite unreliable for it has only one pump costing about 88 Rs per litre) in the entire route, with almost no help to be found on the way.

If you are wondering which bike did I this trip on it was Jawa 42 bike. In my experience, any bike that has good horsepower and torque can do this stretch – because there are quite a few steep uphill stretches on Shinkula Pass road (as you start from Keylong). You can also see some photos of the trip in this Jawa Ladakh pictures blog.


Keylong to Kargil via Shinkula Pass: Itinerary

Day 1: Keylong to Kurgiakh, via Shinkula Pass (83km | 10 hours)

Start Early. Carry some food. Check your brakes… are three quick pieces of advice I will give for day 1. As you leave from Keylong, pass the border security checkpoint at Darcha (32 km from Keylong) the road to Zanskar bifurcates to the left, directing towards a place called CHIKKA or CHIKA.

From Chika to Shinkula Pass (about 40 km from Darcha) the route inclines from 3300m above sea level in Darcha to over 5000m above sea level at Shinkula Pass. From Shinkula, the descent starts and takes you to 3500m above sea level in less than 10km, so make sure you check your brakes before you start descending.

Darcha to Kurgiakh is the toughest part of the journey, for there is literally nothing on the way – no villages, no food, and no help whatsoever.

zanskar via shinkula pass

Day 2: Kurgiakh to Purne, Zanskar (29km | 3 hours)

Kurgiakh to Purne is an easy drive and takes less than 3 hours (with a few short breaks on the way, of course) making it possible to drive further to Padum the same day if you’re in a hurry. But be known that if you didn’t give Purne a day, you will miss the most beautiful highlight of the journey – Phugtal Monastery.

Built around a cave, Phugtal monastery remains one of the world’s most isolated monasteries that are still be reached only by foot. Purne is the last stop from where the trek to Phugtal starts. The trek may take about 2 hours on each side.

Tip: It’s better to hire a guide in Purne if you’re on your own. I tried the trek on my own and couldn’t reach Phugtal because of confusing directions.

zanskar river

Day 3: Purne to Padum, Zanskar (56km | 5 hours)

Purne to Padum can be 7 hour’s drive with a few steep uphill and downhill stretches. The route gives almost no water crossings and stays on one side of the valley for most of the time.

Padum has the only petrol station on the entire Keylong-Kargil route, so make sure to top up. I, however, recommend carrying fuel for the entire route because of two reasons: one, petrol in Padum is overpriced, and two, the station may have no petrol.

Just like the rest of the route since you’ve left Darcha on Day 1, expect no tar and just drive on a dirt track today as well.

shinkula pass road trip

Day 4: Padum to Rangdum, Zanskar (115km | 7 hours)

Padum to Rangum will take you to the largest glacier in the Ladakh region: Drang-Drung glacier and the mountain pass of PensiLa (located at 4,700m above sea level). The route, again, has no hints of tar but only a dirt road.

For the first 40km, as you will leave Padum, you will find small villages (with a village called Skygam being one the biggest, having a couple of homestays too) to eat and relax. Once you start your ascend for PensiLa (the last 50km to Rangdum) there is nothing to be found.

shinkula pass motorcycle trip

Day 5: Rangdum to Kargil (115km | 5 hours)

As you start from Rangdum, driving for about 55km, you reach a police checkpoint in a town called Panokhar. From Panokar to Kargil, is a 60km stretch of proper asphalt – though pretty narrow, well maintained. As you leave Panokhar and drive towards Kargil, you will slowly leave dry mountains and enter into a comparatively greener valley, giving the impression that you’re entering Kashmir. Panokhar to Kargil may remain the most enjoyable ride of the entire journey.

It is possible to do Rangdum to Leh (or to Lamayuru) in a day, but that may take about 10-12 hours of constant driving. Stay in Kargil for some rest. If you’re willing to do more km, you can go to Lamayuru and stay there. Lamayuru is a small Buddhist town located almost midway to Kargil and Leh.

shinkula pass

Practical Tips For Shinkula Pass Zanskar Road Trip

  • You do not need any special pass/permission or pay any taxes to access this route, as you otherwise do for Rohtang Pass or Nubra Valley etc. Update: After the inauguration of the Atal Tunnel, tourists, now, no longer need to access Rohtang Pass and hence no need to obtain Rohtang Pass Permit. Please check my Manali to Lahaul Valley via Atal Tunnel blog for more details about the route.
  • Kurgiakh and Purne are small towns with only a few homestays to choose from. Almost all places here have dry toilets with basic amenities and food. There is no electricity or phone reception in Kurgiakh and Purne.
  • You will only find electricity in Padum and Rangdum in the entire Keylong-Kargil Zanskar route.
  • Padum is the biggest town with the only petrol station. In Padum, it is possible to find some internet and make a few calls. Rangdum, again, has no phone reception or any petrol filling stations, but it feels a little more accessible than Kurgiakh and Purne.
  • Carry the basic spare parts and tools. There are no automobile repair shops anywhere, except for in Padum.
  • It is possible to cut short the above suggested 5-day itinerary and do it in 3 days (Darcha-Kurgiakh-Padum-Kargil) but it will feel too hectic, forcing you to drive throughout the day, every day.
  • Taken on September 2019, this phone number belongs to a local resident of Kurgiakh, who also happens to own a homestay there. Since Keylong-Kurgiakh is the diciest part of the journey, with river crossings making it impossible to complete the circuit, it will be a good idea to call him, ask for the current road conditions and then plan your journey. Once you have reached Kurgiakh, there should be no problem in completing the circuit all the way to Kargil. Here’s the person’s phone number: TSENGA 9469188103. Alternatively, you can also contact the security checkpoint in Darcha and confirm the current road conditions.

And now, the video of the toughest day of our ride…

Have you done Shinkula Pass or been to Zanskar by any other route? Comments are waiting for you!

Recommended Read: 14 of the Best Riding Jackets in India to buy online 

Categories India


I am Dev, and I've been travelling full-time since 2016. I was a journalism student & started my corporate career as a documentary film-maker in England, before moving to India & becoming a full-time nomad. 25+countries. 50+ Brand Partnerships. And the adventure continues...

  1. Sure is now.

  2. Surya Slathia

    Thanku so much for this blog
    Very helpful
    Want to ask about mobile connectivity.
    Does bsnl works there ???

  3. Madhur Varma

    Hi Dev
    Would this route be open early May?

    • should be. However, June is advised. It all depends on how much snow the region received that year. The more the snow, the fiercer will be the water crossings.

  4. Siddharth Sharma

    Hi Dev.

    One question will this route can be done in mid of December around Xmas. ?

    I m planning for the same on my HiMalyan in around Xmas.

  5. Atul Malhotra

    Your map has an error. Darcha Kurgiakh isn’t 83 kms.. Darcha Shingo La top is 36 kms, Shingo La Kurgiakh is 21 kms and Kurgiakh Purne is 23 kms.

    I have a question though that nobody has been able to answer yet :

    Why has nobody tried to create a road to Zanskar from Kishtwar over the Umasi La pass ? Padum is only 30 kms from Machhail Mata Temple, (near Gulabgarh) over the Umasi La. Cars have reached Macchail Mata Temple in 2018.

    • Can I do this stretch in my thunderbird 350 in the month of June with my wife as pillion?

      • doable for sure but you need more powerful motorcycle if riding with a pillion. Something with better torque as the journey to shinkula is very steep uphill. Need lot of power in the machine.

    • richard parisi

      hello Dev, you are a great traveller and thanks for all information. personnaly I am travelling by publics bus ou shared taxis. can you tell me if the way between kargill , padum, keylong is connected by public transports ? . I plan to do it in september 2024 or 2025. thanks again. richard

  6. Sagun Tripathi

    Hi Dev,

    Thank you for the wonderful blog. One quick question: is it possible to reach Purne from Padum on a four-wheeler?

    • yes it is. You may need a 4*4 only though. Travelling in 4*2s is a risky business in Zanskar – especially if you’re crossing ShinkulaPass. From Purne to Padum, you don’t need to cross Shinkula, but it’s still a challenging terrain.

      • Sagun Tripathi

        Glad to know that! I am planning to go to Zanskar via Leh-Kargil route and visit Phutgal Monastery. The option of driving up to Purne certainly makes the task of visiting the monastery a whole lot easier.


      • Lakshay Nagpal

        Is this route doable in front wheel drive vehicle?

  7. shubhangu bhardwaj

    Hi Dev
    Congratulations on being the first few to complete this route
    You have become a source of inspiration for many
    I plan to do this route on Bonneville T120 in August end this year
    May I ask for some advice
    1. Is the water level low and snow cleared at that time
    2. For a jawa bike with a ground clearance of 165mm( on T120 which is 140mm, I completed kunzum pass in sept 2019), does the route pose serious trouble?
    3. How many punctures did you face during the entire trip on this route ?
    4 How much fuel did u carry?

    Thanks for the help in advance
    Shubhangu Bhardwaj
    Def employee

    • Hey there,

      1. Is the water level low and snow cleared at that time
      Yes, August is the perfect month. You will find a few river crossings, but they can be crossed.
      2. For a jawa bike with a ground clearance of 165mm( on T120 which is 140mm, I completed kunzum pass in sept 2019), does the route pose serious trouble?
      No, I found it okay. At times the center stand hit the ground, but it was okay.
      3. How many punctures did you face during the entire trip on this route ?
      None. I am using an anti-puncture liquid.
      4 How much fuel did u carry?
      I didn’t require additional fuel than what my petrol tank had throughout the ride!

  8. Udayan Çhatterji

    We did the pass sometime around 2008. First impression on hearing that the route has become motorable was… dissapointment. But then,I understand, one has to take such things in stride and suddenly even feeling an urge to do some photography while off roading in this route… Oh! Gomba-Ronjon and Phuktar …

  9. Does darcha to padum kugis leh route assesible by a four wheler

  10. waTCHING YOUR YOUTUBE VIDEOS. you are my ideol.

  11. BJP Government in Assam


  12. It’s with a bit of nostalgia that I read your post about the road over Shinkun La. This used to be a stunning trekking route taking you first over Shinkun La (or Shingo La, as we used to call it at the time), then to a beautiful camping place at the foot of Gumburanjon and then through quiet villages up to Padum. From there, you could continue on foot to Lamayuru or drive on a dirt road to Kargil. The trek itself was awesome, as for 3 weeks ( if you did the full trek up to Lamayuru), you wouldn’t encounter or hear a single motor vehicle : no trucks, no buses, no jeeps, no motor bikes. Just pure nature and the roaring of the river…. But this time is over and for us trekkers and nature lovers, it’s a pity to see that roads are enroaching on this stunning mountain lanscape. But I can understand that it must be thrilling to ride a motor bike on this road, although I always prefered hiking to riding. Watching at your pictures, it reminded me of the beautiful moments I spent on this trekking route which I completed twice in the nineties.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Dominique. I cannot imagine how Shingo La and Zanskar might have looked back in 90s. Roads now have made it so much easier for anyone to come and experience it. You have certainly experienced something unusual 🙂

    • ravi babu chaparala

      fantastic bro. I think u also can share ur experiences ,photos, videos if any with all of us. we love to check it bro.

    • Atul Malhotra

      It has been a nightmare for Padum residents all these years. And for all of Zanskar. I hope Padum has a small airport as well soon..

  13. Extremely glad this route is now open amd elated that you did it on this new motorbike. Two things to mention:

    1) Drang Drung glacier that you see from top of PenziLa is one of the grandest sights to witness!

    2) On toute from Rangdum to Kargil, you could de tour from Sankoo towards Umba La, one of the least known 5000m passes in Indian Himalayas. This pass bypasses Kargil and puts you right up to Drass. On this route, you actually touch 5000m twice.

    Kudos to your travels

    Himanshu Jessie Wadia

  14. Rakhi Jayashankar

    Amazing post. My husband is a big time biker. He went to Bhutan last year and this is year I think I could give him some travel ideas

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