Leh is a place that has become extremely popular these days because of a simple fact that it is like a key to the lock named Ladakh. Ladakh is such a wonderful destination for travellers, almost like an unbelievable place. I have written about it earlier as well and I really feel Ladakh is literally unbelievable! Home to some of the tallest peaks of the Himalayan range, huge glaciers, numerous rivers, yet so barren that Rajasthan competes with Leh. Purely due to the high altitude, low levels of oxygen (air) density, and extreme cold temperatures, it creates an example on the other extreme like Rajasthan (very few rivers, no glaciers, low altitude and high temperature). I somehow cannot resist from expressing my feeling for Ladakh. Let’s move on to the topic now.
Unlike the levels of popularity Leh (the key) has achieved, accessibility is still a major issue. Indian Railway does not even appear in my dreams 2-3 months before I start thinking of Leh! Well Chinese trains may reach on the other side of Ladakh (see the rail to Lhasa) but that will never take you to Leh! The only airport is managed by Air Force and commercial flights would never be able to scale up with the complexity of permits and skills needed for that airport (no landing in night and much more fuss like that), so most people depend upon road. While 1.3 bus routes are available – 0.8 for the Kashmir route because 20% time that is closed and 0.5 for Manali route because it opens only for 6 months, but only non-AC non luxury small buses operate and that too at very low frequency like 1 in 2-3 days. Private and Shared taxis are also there but very inconvenient and only till half mostly from where you have to change.
After having cribbed so much, let me now try to write down the options that are there but I seriously hope that my articles becomes obsolete due to infrastructure development very soon.
Reaching Leh and coming back by air needs prior planning not just for better rates but also for confirmed seat. If you book 6 months in advance, you can typically get the cheapest flight in the range of INR 4K – 6K and 8K – 10K if you book 3 months in advance, one way (Leh to Delhi). Flight rates on the other way (Delhi to Leh) are usually cheaper that Leh-Delhi by around 2-3K. So in effect, this is only effective if you plan at least 5-6 months in advance.
a. There is another option to fly to Srinagar and then travel from there to Leh but I have felt the same quite inefficient because air fares won’t be very different between Delhi – Srinagar & Delhi – Leh, marginal saving may be expected though. However, the drive between Srinagar to Leh is pleasurable, so with that motive this may not be a bad option. The cost would be same as Delhi – Leh air with an additional component of shared or private taxi from Srinagar to Leh (another 3 – 4K for shared taxi). See the road options below for the cost details of this road travel.
b. For the other way round, Leh to Srinagar, this is a good option though because Srinagar – Delhi flights would be cheaper compared to Leh – Delhi by around 2-4K depending upon how early you book (earlier booking would mean lower difference). This difference can be spent on the road journey from Leh to Srinagar that is very beautiful and has its own charm.
By Road using Bus
Booking a bus from Leh to Manali or Srinagar online is not possible. So, the only option is to go to the bus stand and try to get a seat in the Himachal Roadways bus coming from Leh to Manali.
Current Facts about the Delhi - Leh – Delhi bus (Source HRTC FB post) - [Distance: 1072 kms, Fare: Rs 1203/-, Time taken: 33 hours.
Delhi to Leh
Day 1: Departure from Delhi at 1545 Hrs
Day 2: Arrival in Manali at 0840 Hrs & Departure from Manali at 1000 Hrs & Arrival (Keylong) 1500 Hrs
Day 3: Departure (Keylong) - 0500 Hrs & Arrival (Leh) - 1900 Hrs on next day
Day 1: Departure from Leh at 0500 Hrs & Arrival at Keylong at 1900 Hrs
Day 2: Departure from Keylong to Delhi at 05:00 am (Next day)
The full route is available only between July – September every year
There is no other bus service worth mentioning for reaching or coming back from Leh.
By Shared Taxi
This reduces the problem to 50% because whichever route you choose, either Srinagar or Manali, you have to think about your travel between Srinagar/Manali & Leh.
a. By Road via Manali – Cheaper option that involves a lot of road journey but is more or less streamlined. Volvo buses are easily available till Manali and from there, the sharing or reserve taxis can be hired easily. Due to the permission requirements, one should either arrive in Manali 1/2 days early or should book for something before reaching Manali. The share taxi rates from Manali in an Innova or Xylo can vary between INR 2500 to 3500 per seat depending upon where you sit in the car (middle and front always preferable). The journey should take around 18 hours in a taxi. At least one day rest & acclimatization in Leh needed.
b. By road via Srinagar (or with Rail in between) – Another cost effective option but a bit uncomfortable since it involves changing mode of transport twice, in Jammu & Srinagar. Shared or reserved taxi options are easily available between Srinagar and Leh. Shared seat rates would range between INR 3000 to 4000. The journey should take around 10 hours in a taxi. One can avail train facility on this route till Jammu. Jammu to Srinagar is another 8 hours journey for which one can easily get shared taxi from Jammu. Other way round takes same time & money. At least one day rest & acclimatization in Leh needed if going from Delhi to Leh.
c. On a bicycle – The best way to reach Leh is this! Not to mention that riding a bike from either Srinagar or Manali (typical routes) to Leh in itself is a great expedition that should be planned well in advance. Many cyclists would reach Leh absolutely fit & fine who don’t usually require acclimatization. Rest however is personal choice.
d. On motorcycle – Another preferred way these days to reach Leh is on motorcycles. The fuel guzzlers can be hired from Delhi / Chandigarh / Manali @ INR 800 to 1500 per motorcycle per day. At least one day rest & acclimatization in Leh needed.