Driving my BMW 330i GT from Coimbatore to the Umling La Pass

This road trip to Leh and Hanle spanned over 4 weeks during which I covered around 8500 km.

BHPian graaja recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

A Road Trip to Leh and Hanle in a BMW 330i GT

Last year in September, when I visited Hanle for Astrophotography, I dreamt about driving my 3GT in those beautiful sceneries and also to Umling La pass. This October, that dream came true. I completed a road trip to Leh and Hanle that spanned 4 weeks and 8500 kilometers. This travelogue is to document this road trip. As this is a 4-week road trip, I will keep mundane parts of the drive (like the first 4 days and the return part from Jaipur) short and cover the more interesting parts of the trip. I will also provide an index in the next post so that the reader may jump to the topic of interest.


Let me begin the thread with a note of thanks to the following people:

  • My wife, who let me take on this long road trip.
  • My friend Karthik who gave me company for half the trip till Leh
  • Fellow BAS member Mr. Subhendu who organized stay and food in both Leh and Hanle
  • Friend and TBHPian Megazoid and Mrs. Megazoid for giving me lots of input on things to do in Srinagar. Mr. Megazoid also had driven through Zoji La in his 330i and I took many inputs from him on the drive.
  • Friend and TBHPian RobiMahanta for lending me his 20 liter jerry can to carry spare fuel. This was very useful when I drove to Hanle and Umlingla, where the last petrol bunk is in Karu which is 225km from Hanle.
  • Friend and TBHPian sud who gave me the oxygen canisters he had. These came in handy in Pangong Tso
  • Friends RobiMahanta and Dr.AD who gave live updates on road conditions when they visited Leh in the past couple of months.
  • My friend and TBHPian APV from Coimbatore, who had recently done a Leh drive in his XUV500. He gave me lots of information on traffic conditions, road conditions, monitoring the Twitter feed of J&K police for status on timings etc. This proved very helpful in the Jammu-Srinagar and Srinagar-Leh sections.
  • My friends and fellow TBHPians quicksilver who lent me his OBD dongle for BMW for debugging any fault situations, and Asta_la_vista who gave me a couple of cans of engine oil for backup
  • Mr. Karthik and his team at KUN Coimbatore who have maintained the GT in very good condition that the car did not give me any trouble throughout the trip
  • Several TBHPians who documented their drives to Leh region. I have been reading up all the road trips and the information from these threads have been very useful in planning this trip.

TL;DR Version:

  • I and my friend Karthik left Coimbatore on the 30th of September. The first three days were more of a truck driver’s life when we drove almost 1000 kilometers every day, driving from 5 or 6 in the morning till 7 or 8 in the evening.
  • On 3rd October, we reached Udhampur and spent some time visiting Mansar Lake.
  • On 4th October, we crossed the infamous Rambhan and Banihal stretches and reached Srinagar. We spent the evening visiting the Shankaracharya temple and Dal Lake enjoying the sunset.
  • On 5th October, early morning we went for a Shikra ride and visited the famous floating market. After this we left Srinagar and drove towards Kargil. We drove through the Zoji La pass in the afternoon, visited the Kargil war memorial on the way and halted in Kargil.
  • On 6th October, we drove from Kargil to Leh. On the way, we visited the Lamayuru monastery and checked out the mountains that resembled moon craters. We reached Leh in the afternoon and rested the day at the hotel.
  • On 7th October, we drove to Pangong Tso Lake and stayed the night at Pangong Tso.
  • On 8th October, we returned back to Thiksey and reached Dakpa House, a homestay. My astrophotography friends too arrived by flight on that day. I set up my astrophotography equipment and was able to capture some data on the 8th. The nights of the 9th and 10th were washed out with clouds and I could not do any photography. I and my friend did some local sightseeing in Leh on the 9th and 10th of October. We visited the Indus-Zanskar Confluence, Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace, and Leh market. We enjoyed some local cuisine at Tibet Kitchen and Namza Dining.
  • On 11th October, my friend took a flight back home and I drove to Hanle. My Astrophotography friends hired a couple of taxis and reached Hanle. We stayed in a place called Hor Cottages. We set up our equipment in the evening on the 11th. We had clear nights on the 11th, 12th, and 13th, and I got lots of good data on several deep space targets. On the 14th, we had bad weather and the sky was clouded till 10 PM. After this, the sky became clear, but we had very heavy winds. I was able to collect about half a night’s worth of data on the 14th. On 13th October, I and another Astrophotographer friend Snehith hired a local guide and went birding for a few hours. We were able to spot and photograph several birds and a red fox. But we were unlucky in spotting the famous Palas Cats. On 14th October, I drove to Umling La. My friend Snehith joined me in this drive. We also took one of the taxi drivers to guide us through those unmarked roads.
  • On 15th October, I packed up all my equipment and drove to Leh, and stayed the night there.
  • On 16th October, I drove from Leh to Kargil and halted at Kargil. That day, I got a puncture on the rear left wheel. Fortunately, I found a puncture repair shop within 20 kilometers and was able to fix the puncture. This held well throughout my return drive.
  • On 17th October, I drove from Kargil to Srinagar. Due to bad weather and heavy snow in the mountains, traffic in Zoji Las was halted. I had to wait several hours in freezing cold in Miniamarg before the road opened to traffic at 11 AM. Drove through ice and snow in Zoji La Pass and reached Srinagar in the afternoon. Rested in the hotel for the rest of the day. We had bad weather on this day too and there was heavy rain. I was monitoring the Twitter feed of J&K Police and found that there was a landslide after Banihal and traffic was closed. There was nothing to be done except wait for the road to be cleared and traffic to be allowed.
  • On 18th October, I saw a message at 9 AM that traffic was restored between Srinagar and Jammu, and I started immediately. Except for an hour’s traffic snarl near Banihal, this drive was quick. I reached Jammu at around 5 PM and halted for the night.
  • On 19th October, I drove from Jammu to Amritsar. I spent the evening visiting the Golden Temple and enjoying local Punjabi food.
  • On 20th October, I drove from Amritsar to Jaipur. Reached Jaipur around 6 PM. I had booked an Airbnb apartment for 4 nights. On the 21st of October morning, my family arrived in Jaipur by flight. We spent three days doing local sightseeing in Jaipur. We visited several places like the Palace, Museum, Nahargarh Fort, Amer Fort, and Jal Mahal, enjoyed lots of local cuisine like kachoris, gol gappas, kulfi falooda, and lal maans, and did some shopping too.
  • On 24th October, my family took a flight back home and I started my drive back home. I halted in Indore, Solapur, and Bangalore on the 24th, 25th, and 26th nights and reached home by afternoon on the 27th of October, concluding the 28-day road trip.

Below is the map of the whole trip.

The below table shows destinations and distances covered on each day of the trip.

As this is going to be a very long trip report covering 28 days, use the below index to skip to sections of interest.


  • Planning and Preparation, and a Few Tips to Would Be Travelers
  • BMW 330i GT – The Hero of this Trip
  • Coimbatore to Udhampur, The Truck Driver’s Life
  • Udhampur to Srinagar
  • Srinagar Sightseeing
  • Drive through Zoji La, and Kargil War Memorial
  • Kargil to Leh, Lamayuru Monastery and Moon Land
  • Pangong Tso Lake, and Astrophotography in Leh
  • Sightseeing in Leh
  • The Drive to Hanle
  • Birding in Hanle
  • Drive to Umling La
  • Astrophotography in Hanle
  • The Drive through Zoji La in Snow
  • The Drive from Srinagar to Amritsar, The Golden Temple, and the Drive from Amritsar to Jaipur
  • Sightseeing in Jaipur – Part 1
  • Sightseeing in Jaipur – Part 2
  • The Jaipur Cultural Experience – Food, Shopping, Folk Art etc.
  • Final Leg of the Road Trip, and Conclusion

Planning and Preparation

Usually in our astrophotography group, we start planning almost 6 months before the trip. This includes planning equipment, targets to capture, flights to take, hotels to stay etc. I too started the preparations for this road trip 6 months in advance. There were several parts of the trip to be planned and prepared. I will go through all this briefly in this post.

Route Planning

My first version of the route to take was as below:

  • Onward: Coimbatore – Hyderabad – Nagpur – Gwalior – Agra – Chandigarh – Manali – Leh – Hanle
  • Return: Hanle – Leh – Manali – Chandigarh – Agra – Gwalior – Nagpur – Hyderabad – Coimbatore

However, I was told that the Manali – Leh route is risky as the route gets closed often due to snowfall in Rohtang Pass. Also, this route is more suited for an SUV with a higher GC. I was instead suggested to take the Jammu – Srinagar – Leh route. As this route is a highway taken by trucks too, this route is better suited for a sedan. The only risky sections would be the Zoji La pass and the Ramban and Banihal sections between Jammu and Srinagar. As the Navrathri holidays were coinciding roughly with my return dates, I also decided to add a 4-day break in Jaipur to have a family holiday. The initial plan was to spend a couple of days in Agra and Gwalior visiting the historical monuments (Gwalior fort, Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikhri etc.) in these places.

I made several tweaks over the 6 months time and finally made this route.

  • Onward: Coimbatore – Hyderabad – Nagpur – Agra – Jalandhar – Udhampur – Srinagar – Leh – Hanle
  • Return: Hanle – Leh – Srinagar – Jammu – Amritsar – Jaipur – Indore – Solapur – Bangalore – Coimbatore

I was prepared to make last-minute changes to the itinerary. Some changes I made dynamically to the trip were:

  • Due to the Cauvery protests, I had to go via Vellore to Hyderabad on the first day
  • Skipped Gwalior and Agra sightseeing and added Srinagar and Pangong Tso to the plan

Preparations for Astrophotography:

Initially, my plan was to use the same equipment that I used last year in Hanle. This included the EQ6-R Pro German Equatorial Mount. This mount is huge and occupies a lot of luggage space and weighs about 35 kilos. As roof boxes were banned in some of the states I had to drive through, I decided to remove the roof box from the GT. This greatly reduced usable luggage space in the car. When I did a mock fitting of luggage in the car, I found that it was not possible to fit all the equipment and other luggage for a month long road trip into the car.

So, just two months before the trip, I decided to get a portable setup for the trip. I bought the ZWO AM5 harmonic mount which has the same payload capacity of the EQ6 R Pro, but weighs just 5 kilos and is much more compact. I also decided to use a 250mm wide angle telescope setup. This resulted in all my equipment fitting in the same space that just the EQ6 R Pro would occupy.

The below picture shows the complete equipment setup assembled.

The below picture shows all the equipment disassembled and packed up.

As usual, I also did a dry run of assembling and disassembling the equipment in my living room.

I had planned for 3 nights in Leh and 4 nights in Hanle, a total of 7 nights of astrophotography. For these 7 nights, I prepared the below list of targets to be captured. However, I lost 2 nights in Leh and half a night in Hanle to bad weather and could only get about 4.5 nights of data. I covered 6 of the targets from the original plan.

Preparing the Car

As my car is under BSI, BMW services the car only if the service requirement notification pops up in the iDrive. I was initially worried that some or other service requirement would come up in the middle of the trip. I was very lucky that oil service and front brake pads and disc service came up 2 weeks before the trip. The rear brake pads had some 4500 kilometers of life left (they would need replacement in the middle of the trip). But during service the service team at KUN, Coimbatore found that the rear pads and discs too had worn below specifications and they got approval from BMW to replace these too. This gave me total peace of mind with no worry about any service requirement in the middle of the trip.

The rear tires had only about 5K kilometers of life left. So, I changed both the rear tires and also used one of these tires mounted on a spare alloy wheel to get a full sized spare wheel.

I have covered this service in my 3GT ownership thread.

Other Essentials:

  • Hydraulic Jack: In the high altitude of Hanle and Umling La, at those low oxygen levels, it is tiring to even walk. I thought how hard it would be to use the factory supplied jack to lift the car and change the tire if need arised. The thought itself was terrifying. So, just a couple of days before the journey, I purchased a 2 ton hydraulic jack and loaded the car.
  • 20 Liter Jerry Can: Between Leh and Hanle, the last petrol station is at Karu, which is about 225 kilometers from Hanle. I was planning to drive to Umling La which is 150 kilometer round trip from Hanle. So I will need a range of about 600 kilometers after topping up at Karu. With the bad roads that I needed to drive to Umling La and the high altitude and low oxygen levels, which may affect FE, it would be impossible to reach back Karu with a single tank of petrol. My friend RobiMahanta recommended that I carry at least 20 liters of spare petrol on the drive to Hanle. He also kindly lent me his 20 liter Jerry can. This came very handy. With the 20 liters of spare fuel which I filled in the tank after the Umling La drive, when I reached Karu on the return, I had about 30% of petrol in the tank.
  • Oxygen Canisters: Last year when I visited Umling La, I got severe cough and had to be put on oxygen therapy for a whole night. This was mainly due to the reason that we spent more than an hour in Umling La last year. This year, I decided to be very careful and spend only 15 minutes max at Umling La. Also, as a precaution, I thought of carrying some oxygen canisters. My friend and TBHPian @sud, kindly gave me several oxygen canisters that he had bought for his visit to Leh which were unused. These came handy in Pangong Tso when my friend had altitude sickness symptoms. More on this later.
  • Tent and Sleeping Bag: Last year, all astrophotographers suffered in the night without a place to rest when we had set up our equipment in front of the IIA (Indian Institute of Astrophysics) guest house. This year too we had an option to set up our equipment in front of IIA. So, I bought a tent and a sleeping bag rated for -10 degrees. I did not have to use them though, as we set up our equipment in the same place where we stayed just in front of our cottages.
  • Warm Clothes: With temperatures expected to dip as low as -10 degrees in October, I packed up several layers of warm clothes that included thermals, fleece pants, fleece jackets, woolen socks, 2 layers of gloves, a winter jacket rated for -10 degrees, balaclava and head and neck warmers.

All my astrophotography equipment and the full-size spare wheel filled the boot.

The hydraulic jack, jerry can, camera bag, and duffel bags of mine and my friend were placed in the rear seat. I took care in arranging the bags in such a way that they don’t get thrown around.

With all this preparation done, ready to roll at 4:00 AM on the 30th of September 2023.

A few tips for people who plan for a road trip to Leh and Hanle (particularly sedans)

  • From the research I did, the best time would be September and early October (before 2nd week when winter starts setting). During this time, roads are mostly dry without any water crossings due to snow melt and with some careful driving, the bad sections can be easily done. I saw several sedans making it through these sections.
  • Stay in Udhampur during the onward journey. Leave very early, preferably by 5:00 or latest by 5:30. This way you will be able to beat the traffic build-up in the tunnels, Rambhan, and Banihal areas. These sections are traffic bottlenecks and once traffic builds up, takes more time to clear. Google Maps traffic will show red in these areas in the later part of the day than the early morning.
  • There are two checkpoints for Zoji La pass – Sonamarg on the way from Srinagar to Leh and Miniamarg from Leh to Srinagar. J&K police release a traffic advisory on their Twitter feed every day. In this advisory, they mention the timings when traffic will be open from both sides. Be at the checkpoint before the traffic opens. They allow cars and light vehicles to pass before letting heavy vehicles like lorries. It will be quicker to cross Zoji La if you get in before heavy vehicles which will slow down the traffic.
  • If traffic opens at 7:00 AM from the Srinagar side, then plan your stay at Sonamarg. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to reach Sonamarg from Srinagar. Similarly, if traffic opens at 7:00 AM on the Miniamarg side, better to stay in Dras or Kargil to be able to reach the check post in time.
  • At the high altitudes of Leh and Hanle, staying hydrated is crucial. Keep on sipping water. Add some electrolyte supplements (Electral or other sugar-free electrolytes). This will keep symptoms like headaches minimum. I used to consume 3 to 4 liters of water every day, and also a portion of sugar-free electrolytes. I did not face any high-altitude symptoms.

Continue reading about graaja’s road trip for BHPian comments, insights and more information.

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