Planning a Trip
1 Get in
1.1 By bus
1.2 By jeep
1.3 By truck
1.4 By motorcycle
1.5 By plane
1.6 By train
There are two roads into Leh: one from Manali in Himachal Pradesh in the south and one from Srinagar in the west. Both routes are equally spectacular in different ways, and both are time-consuming with winding, narrow roads and numerous military checkpoints.
The main advantage of taking the road from Srinagar, covering a distance of 434 km (270 mi), is that it runs at a lower altitude, and thereby reduces the risk and severity of altitude sickness. It is also open longer - normally from the beginning of June to October - and follows the traditional trade route between Ladakh and Kashmir, which passes through many picturesque villages and farmlands. The disadvantage is that it passes through areas of higher risk of militant troubles. It takes two long days, with an overnight stop in Kargil. Tickets cost ₹370/₹470 on ordinary/deluxe buses.
The route from Manali to Leh, covering a distance of 473 km (294 mi), is the one more commonly taken by tourists. It takes two days, normally with an overnight stop either in Keylong (alt. 3,096 m) or in tent accommodation in Sarchu (4,253 m) or Pang (4,500 m). Making the first stop in Keylong drastically reduces the risk of altitude sickness (AMS). It traverses one of the highest road passes in the world and is surrounded by wild, rugged mountains. The scenery is fantastic, though it is definitely not for the fainthearted. This historical trade route was linked to Yarkhand in China, severed by the India-China war in 1962, and later was transformed into a military supply road. Reliable access is limited from mid-June to the end of September, as it is blocked by snow for the rest of the year.
Clearing of snow on both these roads starts some time in early April. Once the whole road is cleared of snow and has been opened for public transport, this is announced at the official website of Leh.
State buses run from Srinagar and also privately operated deluxe buses. The HRTC bus from Srinagar to Leh cost ₹952 (August 2017). From Manali, Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation (HPTDC) operate Deluxe buses that stop overnight in Keylong, between July and September. Costs ₹2,700 (August 2017). Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC), the state run buses, ply the road during the officially open period, allowing you to stop in a number of places along the way. Total cost ₹173 (Manali-Keylong) + ₹539 (Keylong-Leh) (August 2017). Private buses stop in Keylong, Darcha or Sarchu - the last alternative (800 m higher than Leh) involving a high incidence of altitude sickness.
It is possible to book tickets direct Delhi-Leh, but the best option is to break off the journey in Manali and at the lower end of Lahaul: Sissu, Keylong (main population centre) or Jispa; all around 3,100 m altitude.
The Leh bus station is chaotic and poorly organised. There are two sections, one for local transportation within Ladakh, and one for the state run buses.
The local buses get exceptionally crowded, times of departure fluctuate greatly, and there is no ticket office (just board the bus, and pay to the conductor). When planing a trip to a destination in Ladakh ask around to find when the departure time roughly is, and show up at the station half an hour early; ask people there what bus to take, don't trust the destinations marked on the buses; take a seat and wait for the bus to depart. Then expect to spend at least an hour at the bus station.
The state buses run to Srinagar, Manali, and even a direct service to Delhi (3 days away), there is a ticket office, and bookings are taken days in advance. The process here is more straight forward and less time consuming.
The fastest way to get to Leh from Manali is by 'jeep'. Shared jeeps do the trip in one long day (of about 20-24 hours) as opposed to two short ones on the bus. Keep in mind that that all single day rides comes with a risk of being stranded near five thousand meters without being acclimatized, with severe altitude sickness as a result. The journey costs up to ₹, for a seat on a shared jeep. During the high season tickets for the jeep rides must be bought in advance of the day of departure and the main street in old Manali is full of ticket touts, you won't have to find them for yourself.
Leaving Manali before dawn, arrival in Leh is sometime after sunset. Although this is the longest and most uncomfortable car journey you will ever take, it's an experience unparalleled in India. Crossing over the five thousand metre passes affords views of stunning and the bizarre territory. It is advised to take a front seat in the jeep and do not allow yourself to be seated in the boot. These seats (in the boot) are inward facing and 24 hours sitting on one of those will take all the pleasure out of the trip.
Privately hired jeep allows the luxury of stopping wherever you like, and allow you to decide on how many people you will travel in your group.
If you are coming from Srinagar, go to #1 taxi stand in town. You can either book direct to leh or book your seat on sumo taxi jeep to Kargil for ₹500, Stay overnight then book your seat for Leh from Kargil and pay ₹400 upon arrival in Leh butthis is a lot of messing around and accommodation in kargil is often of poor value. Get them to drop you at Fort Road which is the heart of the tourist area and accommodation is close by. Ask for middle seat in the taxi as it's too crowded in the front and too uncomfortable in the back.
If you are coming from Leh, you can buy tickets either from various agencies in the town, or directly from office located in bus station which is in the first floor of the nortern (uphill) building, doors facing away from the buses. Price was ₹1,500 for front seat in September 2009, and the ride down to Manali took 23 hours starting at midnight.
It is also possible to travel between Leh and Manali by truck. These trucks ply the route when it opens in summer and they will be no new sight for anyone who has been in India for even a few days. Making the 490 km (304 mi) journey in the cab of one of these trucks is an experience; they are not as comfortable as the jeeps, nor do they give as good visibility as either jeeps or buses, and take anywhere up to 3 days to complete; but sleeping in the cab and eating the same food as the locals is worth it. You can pre-arrange truck drivers in Manali by going to the main truck stop in the new town. Here the drivers stop on their way from Delhi to Leh and will be more than happy to give you a ride for ₹500. Make sure you do not pay before you travel. In Leh there is a similar truck park. Try to pick a truck with the fewest passengers already otherwise your trip will be even less comfortable. Those staying longer in Ladakh are likely to find themselves traveling by truck at some point, and probably don't need to go out of their way to take one.
Note for hitchhikers: because of scarce public transport trucks commonly take paying passengers- and most truck drivers will see no reason you should not pay either; some will ask even more than the comparable bus price so hitchhiking can be a dispiriting experience
The road from Manali to Leh is popular with bikers. Motorcycles are available for rent at Manali. A popular place is Hardev Motors, behind the Private Bus Parking Ground. Also Into Himalayas, near Manali Mall Road is a good place for bikes, especially Royal Enfields. Bike Rentals Manali in Vashisht rent out Pulsars and Royal Enfield.
When biking to Leh it is advisable to travel at a slow pace to allow acclimatization. A suggested itinerary is: Day 1 Manali - Jispa (110 km; 68 mi), Day 2 Jispa - Pang (130 km; 81 mi), and Day 3 Pang -Leh (130 km; 81 mi). Essential supplies include: puncture repair kit, spare clutch cables and some good carriers (to hold luggage). The next bike workshop after Manali is Keylong (110 km; 68 mi) and then at Leh (400 km; 249 mi).
Planes fly year round, and are the only option in the winter. Book early and give yourself at least a few days of flexibility as flights are often delayed due to weather conditions. Air India, Jet Airways and GoAir have daily flights from Delhi. Air India Flights are also available from Srinagar and Jammu.
Those arriving by air are strongly advised to rest for at least one day in order to acclimatise to the high altitude. (See article on altitude sickness)
The closest train stations are Pathankot or Chandigarh, both at least three days away by bus. A new station added recently is Udhampur which is linked by rail to Jammu. Please check the Train schedule as trains may not operate daily.
Jammu is another nearest railway station, which is around 734 km from Leh. As the city doesn't have any railway station, train travel is impossible. Tourists should take hire cab or take a bus both of which require 2 days to reach at Leh.