Ladakh is a part of Jammu & Kashmir state consisting of two districts- Leh and Kargil. Leh is the largest district in the country in terms of area. The district is bounded by Pakistan occupied Kashmir in the West and China in the north (Aksai Chin) and Himachal Pardesh in South East. Summer in Leh starts from April and lasts till September. Temperature varies between 10-18 degrees in Summer. Whereas winter is very harsh, temperature may drop to -40 degrees. Therefore best season to visit Leh is between end of June to mid September.
One can reach Leh by flight from Delhi. Jet airways, Indian Airlines, Kingfisher and Air Deccan run daily flights between Delhi and Leh. We kept this option for our return journey. We decided to hit the road for Manali to Leh. This road opens from around mid-June to mid September. By road one can also reach Leh from Srinagar which is open for traffic between early June to early October but we did not consider that option due to ongoing tensions in Jammu.
We booked our stay for 6 nights/ 5 days at a place where one of our Techmighties had already stayed. The contact for stay is Mr. Sheshan – 09419178635, Shangaylay Guest House, Fort road, Leh. He charged us Rs. 500 per night. The room was decent and guest house had a family touch. Other guest houses/ hotels can be easily booked after reaching Leh.
Guest house rates start from Rs. 200 per night with shared bathroom option and Rs. 300 per night for an attached bathroom room upto Rs. 5000 per night for a luxurious stay, for double occupancy. The travel agents and local people who run guest house usually roam around bus and taxi stands offering wide variety of options. One can easily choose between these based on budget, quality and comfort one is looking for.
We were informed that sightseeing can be booked after reaching Leh as Tourism is one of the main businesses of Leh and there are many options based on places to be covered and choice of vehicle. So we left that part to be planned on the go.
For Manali to Leh journey, we searched a lot of sites but no one was ready to block the seats based on a mere call. Same happened for Delhi to Manali journey. All we could book is Rajdhani express to Delhi. The most suitable option for us was Rajdhani express starting from Vasai road, Mumbai at 12.40AM and reaching Delhi at 5PM next day.
After reaching Delhi at 5PM, we rushed to ISBT Kashmiri gate for a bus to Manali. Apart from HRTC buses, there are many private buses to Manali. All buses start in the evening around 6-6.30 and reach Manali by 8AM in the morning. We took a bus leaving at 7PM from Delhi and it cost us Rs.1100 per head. Condition of the road is good, almost like pune-mumbai express highway. Since it was a luxury bus we had a quite comfortable journey. The road was beautiful, specially as we were nearing Manali. There were many streams of river Beas and greenary all around. One of the biggest stream was frozen and there were birds sitting on ice, it was a beautiful scene.
We took a halt in Manali for that day and did local sightseeing in the evening. There is nothing much in Manali. Kullu may be having some good places but we had no time for it. On the way back, we booked a bus to Leh. Mostly buses from Manali take 2 days and they arrange for overnight stay in tent or 2 star guest house, the cost of which is included in the fare (Approx 1600 per head). There are also some travel agents who run buses to reach Leh in a day (11 seater mini buses). We booked our bus at Valleycon travels. They have a office right in front of the main bus/ taxi stand. Address – Shop No. 40, N.A.C. market, Manali – 175131, Phone – +91-1902-253776 / 253043, Cost Rs.1400 per head. It was scheduled to start at 2AM in the morning and supposed to reach Leh by 7-8PM.
Tip : When any local mentions there is a bus please enquire about the number of seats in it. All vehicles having more than 10 seats is a bus. Try not getting last seats as the ride from Manali to Leh is bumpy. Eat light. People with altitude and motion sickness should not take a bus. Take direct flight from Delhi.
The bus arrived at the hotel at 2.30AM and journey started immediately. There are several tents and small shops on the way which offer snacks, tea for travellers. Often you will see army and tourists vehicles stopping by. Tents offers the best snacks and comfort. Our main stop for breakfast was at a tent in Keylong at 10AM. As we entered the tent, it had tables all around and a small kitchen in one of the corners. The cook and maid were very friendly and immediately offered us a seat. The main menu in all such tents (There are quiet a few on the way) is Maggie, Aloo paratha, Omlette, Dal-rice and tea or coffee. While the hot food is served, you can lie down on the mattress covered with blankets inside, for your comfort. It was a different experience. Eating maggie was never so exciting.
Due to altitude shift/ moutain sickness, many were falling sick and throwing up. It is recommended to take with you lots of mint, chewing gums, basic medicines and lots of water if you decide to travel by this road. Throughout the day, we ate only a bowl of maggie and an aloo paratha. May be due to altitude change, we were not feeling hungry at all. However we were feeling very thirsty. We almost drank 4-5 litres of water by evening.
We crossed many passes in this journey including Rohtang(3980 Mt) near Manali- it is on the way to Kullu and is a famous tourist spot, Baralacha La (4650 Mt) – this is a historic pass which crosses the main Himalayan chain, Lachalang La(5019 Mt) – this is little ahead of Sarchu. Taglang La (5494 Mt)- the highest pass on this road and second highest motorable road in the World. On crossing this pass, one enters central Ladakh valley.
We reached at last crossing junction at Upshi at around 8-8.30 PM and finally the road conditions improved. Starting from Manali, the road conditions were really bad. It was a complete roller coaster ride.
It took almost 20 hours to reach Leh from Manali, covering 474Kms. Due to road condition, the journey was really very tiresome. I would definitely mention here that though the journey was tiresome, whenever we looked out of window it was a visual treat. So many snow clad mountains, streams of water, greenery that you just forget about your tiredness. We could have reached Leh in an hour by flight but we don’t regret travelling even 30 hours for that.