Solo Trip to Ladakh - An unforgettable journey
Solo Trip to Ladakh. Budget Trip to Leh
Julley (Namaste)… This is the way how people normally greet each other in ladakh with due respect and love. Here, I am going to share some of my experiences regarding my road trip to Ladakh by bus, which I took in the month of July 2017.
The information I have shared here, is just as per my experiences which can be different depending on person to person.
Solo trip to Ladakh | Budget trip to ladakh
Since past few years, I was reading articles and social media posts regarding the beautiful landscape of Ladakh and as I am very fond of travelling to mountains so this time I decided to take a road trip to Ladakh via Manali.
Although some people prefer travelling to Leh by air as it saves their time a lot. By air, it is just one and a half hour duration flight from Delhi. But, for adventure seekers I would suggest a road trip to Leh via Manali which has breathtaking scenic views and rough high altitude roads with some of the world’s great motorable passes. The journey by road to Leh from Manali generally takes two days where you have to take a night halt in between maybe at Keylong, Jispa or Sarchu.
So, as I wanted some sort of adventure and apart from that I generally prefer travelling by road so, I booked a bus ticket with HPTDC that operates Manali – Leh deluxe bus service from 1st July till 15th September every year. Please don’t get confused with HPTDC and HRTC. Although, both are run by Himachal Pradesh government and they both have a bus service to Leh from Manali, but there is a difference between the two.
HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) is a government entity for tourism management and development in the state and they have only deluxe bus services for tourists, while HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) is a government entity which provides roadways bus services (both ordinary and deluxe buses) within and outside the state.
Day Wise Program
I started my journey from my hometown Dehradun. For people, who want to connect to Manali from Uttarakhand, there are buses operated by HRTC from Haridwar and Dehradun. HRTC also operates a Volvo bus service which leaves from Haridwar at 1800 hrs, reaches Dehradun at 2015 hrs and then drops at Manali bus stand next morning at around 1000 hrs.
For people travelling from Delhi, apart from regular bus services of HRTC and HPTDC, there are number of private bus operators who have regular deluxe and Volvo bus services to Manali from Delhi. Most of them start from Majnu Ka Tila in Delhi.
So, I boarded the bus at 2000 hrs from Dehradun ISBT for an overnight journey to Manali. It was Volvo bus so the journey was comfortable as compared to the ordinary buses.
Next day morning at 1000 hrs, the bus reached Manali bus stand.
Once you get down from your bus in Manali there will be some people from nearby hotels who will ask you for the accommodation for your stay. I would suggest you to not go with them as they all overcharge for the same.
There are many budget hotels/guest houses in Manali where you can get a room at just around Rs. 400-600 per night and that too at a walkable distance from the mall road.
There is a gurudwara road just above the mall road, where you can get few hotel options with room at around Rs. 400-600, depending on your negotiation skills.
I managed to get a room at Rs. 400 in a hotel which was just at the back of mall road. So, I checked in that hotel and after 2-3 hours rest I went outside towards the mall road.
If you are visiting Manali for the first time then you can take a short tour of this beautiful town visiting Hadimba Devi Temple, Van Vihar, Vashisht Temple, Buddha Temple and the famous mall road, where you can roam around in the evening and have a delicious food in some famous restaurants with an ice cream cone at last.
For non vegetarians, I would suggest you to try trout fish which is the specialty of this region.
My bus from Manali to Leh was on next day at 1000 hrs. So, a day prior in the evening, I purchased few necessary items like snacks, water bottles, tissue papers and some other important daily use items.
As it is two days long journey, so keep all the necessary items with you in advance. Would suggest you to buy 3-4 water bottles in Manali itself for the time till you reach Leh as in all the midway restaurants/dhabas you will get water bottles at overrated prices, sometimes they charge Rs. 35-40 per 1 litre water bottle. Maybe they have only 3-4 months to earn their livelihood so they charge such a huge amount for food and drinks.
Morning, I reached Manali HPTDC office in mall road at 0930 hrs. All the passengers are supposed to report at HPTDC office half an hour before the departure time of the bus. Then from there you need to go to Manali bus stand where the bus waits for its passengers.
Manali bus stand is at just 2 min. walking distance from HPTDC office. Please note, the HPTDC buses maintain a departure chart for Manali – Leh route and they leave on the alternate days and not on daily basis. For more information, please check the website http://www.booking.hptdc.in
There is a complete package for this bus where they charge you for the bus fare, night accommodation in Keylong with dinner and next morning breakfast.
One of the benefits of travelling in HPTDC bus from Manali to Leh is that it stops at all the sightseeing points which falls enroute. Also, these guys are very much punctual which is really appreciable. So, the bus left from Manali sharp at 1000 hrs.
Being month of July, it was monsoon season and it was raining heavily that day in Manali but, as the bus moved further and crossed Manali town, the rain stopped and then there were clouds and fog which made the journey more exciting.
After 2 hours the bus reached the first sightseeing point – Rohtang Pass which is at an altitude of 13058 ft above sea level. Being at such a height it was damn cold there.
After Rohtang, the bus descended towards the Lahaul valley. As soon as the bus crossed Rohtang, the sky opened and sun was shining at its best in the high mountains of Lahaul valley giving an adorable look of nature.
Lahaul valley is incredible in terms of its beauty with lush green meadows over the rocky mountains and dark blue sky that makes the scenery more appealing. After travelling for next couple of hours the bus reached Khoksar where it stopped for lunch. Khoksar is a small village in lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh and here people generally stop for lunch/tea breaks.
After this short break, the bus continued heading towards Keylong and at around 5 pm it reached Keylong town.
Keylong is a small town in Lahaul district and is a transit point for HPTDC and HRTC buses operating in Manali – Leh route. So, that night I took a halt at Keylong in HPTDC’s Hotel Chandrabhaga where the passengers were given dormitory.
This morning at 4 am the bus continued heading towards leh. Today, it was going to be a very long journey taking 14-15 hours with some rough high altitude roads.
Today, we were also supposed to cross some of the world’s highest motorable passes.
The first tea break stop of the bus today was Darcha which is also a check-post. Please note, there are total 3 check-posts in this route where the conductor/helper of the bus are suppose to give details of all the passengers to the officer in charge and for foreign nationals they need to show their passports in these check-posts.
Darcha is the first check-post followed by Sarchu and Upshi. After all the formalities the journey continued and then for whole day we were in rough mountain terrains, passing trough some of the deadliest roads.
The bus stopped at the major sightseeing points where people could take photographs and save those beautiful moments.
For lunch break they stop at Bharatpur camps where passenger can have their food. Although it is very expensive as compared to the normal restaurants/dhabas which we generally find on highways, but you don’t have any other option then.
This day, the bus crossed some of the great motorable passes also – Baralacha La (16040 ft), Nakee La (15647 ft), Lachung La (16616 ft) and Taglanga La (17582 ft). Crossing so many passes fills you with full of adventure and it also develops your confidence.
Some people may feel uneasy in the top of these passes as the oxygen level is low there. It is recommended to carry Diamox so that if you feel any problem in breathing you can take these pills to control oxygen level in your body. Or, if you are a kind of a person who prefer ayurveda/home remedies (like me..) then you may carry Clove and Ginger with you which is very much helpful in high altitudes.
So, apart from these high motorable passes there were some other beautiful stretches on the way like the Gata Loops (with 21 hairpin bends) that thrills you as you reach at the top, Morey Plains (40 kms long flat beautiful stretch where you can also spot some elegant flowers blooming), Pang (where you will find the natural art made in the sandy mountains).
For me everything was exciting and I couldn’t sleep for a minute for the whole long day as at every turn I could see something new, unusual and beautiful.
Would suggest you to try to get right hand side window seat in the bus (the row behind driver’s seat) as from here you will get more chances to witness the sceneries around.
In evening at around 7 pm the bus reached Leh. Once you get down at Leh bus station you may find some hotels/guest houses nearby or if you want to take a room in the main market area then from there you may take a local taxi and ask them to drop you at main taxi stand in the central market. It will charge you hardly Rs. 10-20 per passenger.
Once you reach main market you may find n number of hotel options ranging from Rs. 400 to Rs. 4000. Getting a room in hotels/guest houses in Leh is very easy due to number of options available around. I got a room at Rs. 400 per night and it was at just 5 min. walking distance from Leh main market.
In evening, you can take a short walk in the lit market with a dinner in some of the famous restaurants of leh. If you want to try the authentic Tibetan food then there is a famous restaurant by the name – The Tibetan Kitchen where you may find all sort of Tibetan food. Though it is overpriced, but still you can try once. I tried veg momos there which was quite yummy and full of delicious fresh vegetables with red chilli chutney.
There are other restaurants also in that vicinity like Gesmo Restaurant, Lamayuru Restaurant, Diskit Restaurant. Among these three the one which I liked the most is Diskit Restaurant. You will find a single lady there serving food to 8-10 guests at one go. She serves delicious Tibetan food, full of tasty authentic spices. Thukpa, momos and crispy noodles choupsey is the specialty of this restaurant.
For those, who love typically north Indian food there is a dhaba/restaurant just next to the lane of Gesmo Restaurant. The name of the restaurant is Dogra Dhaba where you can get all variety of north Indian food, be it dal-chapati, rice, paneer items, butter chicken etc.
Please note, for those travelling by air to Leh, it is always recommendable to acclimatize for the first 2 days so that your body may adapt to the local climate else, you may feel high altitude sickness resulting to headache, vomiting or sometimes breathing problems too.
Since, I was travelling by road all the way through Manali, crossing some high passes so, my body was already adapted to the climate of the region.
Today, I took a local sightseeing of Leh city. For those travelling solo, getting a vehicle for sightseeing in Leh city or outside could be a challenge. Although, to some extent I was much lucky on this trip. There were 2 guys who were travelling in the same bus in which I came from Manali. I took their contact no. and next day morning I called them as they were also looking for a partner for local sightseeing so that the cost of taxi can be divided.
We then booked a cab for whole day which cost us around Rs. 2700 for visiting the local sightseeing points. Please note, the taxi union of leh has set up a standard price for each route but it depends on your negotiation skills how you tackle with them if you want to cover 2 routes at less cost.
I would like to suggest you to complete your sightseeing on the same day and in a same car. It will really save your money a bit.
Like in our case, apart from Shanti Stupa, we wanted to cover Rancho’s school, Thiksey & Shey Monastery which lies on Manali highway and then we also wanted to cover Sangam (confluence of Zanskar and Indus river), Magnetic hill, Pathar Sahib Gurudwara and Hall of fame which all are located on Srinagar highway. The consolidated cost for both these routes was around Rs. 4000 but after negotiating much we were able to do all these at a total cost of Rs. 2700 which was quite cheap.
So, this way I did local sightseeing of leh. Then comes Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley that are must to visit place if you are travelling to Ladakh.
But, for going there first you need to get a permit from J&K tourism office which is in Leh main market. You need to fill a form for this and need to provide your identity proof details along with a nominal fee of Rs. 400. Apart from this you also need to pay Rs. 20 for each number of days you want the permit to be valid.
Like if you are planning to do same day Pangong and 2 days Nubra then you have to pay Rs. 60 extra for a total of 3 days. Please note, you have to fill only one form for both Pangong and Nubra, and not the two separate forms.
For visiting Pangong lake, it may be a challenging task for solo travelers as there are very less sharing cabs available for Pangong and that too at a very high cost.
There is a bus also from Leh to Pangong but that is only on Saturdays. As per my schedule, I wanted to travel Pangong on Wednesday and I was not getting any option for that day. Hiring a private cab would have been very expensive for me, somewhere around Rs. 8000.
So, till evening I was not sure whether I will be able to do Pangong or not. Then, the owner of the hotel where I was staying, suggested me something new and strange which was a bit risky also.
He suggested me to take a sharing cab till Kharu check-post where all the vehicles plying towards Pangong stop for permit documentation checks. According to him, there are 100’s of shared vehicles that do same day Pangong from Leh and every vehicle stops at Kharu check-post.
He suggested me to go there and try to get a seat from that point. Although, I was not sure whether this will be a successful idea but still I took a risk as I didn’t had any other option.
So, in the morning I took a sharing cab till Kharu at Rs. 80 and the driver dropped me at Kharu check-post. When I reached Kharu, I saw vehicles halting there and then I started enquiring with the cab drivers who were stopping there for permit checks, if they had any seat in their vehicle.
I tried with 8-10 drivers. Some were booked to capacity and some were not ready to offer seat as they were scared that the passenger already sitting may file a complaint in their office. But, I also didn’t gave up and kept on trying.
Then there came a mini bus in which a family of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh were doing same day Pangong trip. As soon as the driver got down from the bus I told him everything and requested if he could speak to the family and adjust me in the same bus.
The driver was very helpful. He spoke to the head of the family and allowed me a seat in the bus. I thanked to the family head and the driver and asked him about the fare, he said – “Jo marzi wo de dena” (You can pay as per you wish). Still I requested him to tell me the amount and then he said – “achha aap 1000 rupay de dena” (You can give Rs. 1000 for a round trip). This was very cheap as compared to other sharing cabs.
So, by god’s grace I was able to do Pangong Lake excursion. The road to Pangong is very dangerous and the driver has to be very expert as it is a very narrow, single lane road ascending up the hill. Enroute, there is also a pass by the name – Chang La (17688 ft) which is said to be the world’s second highest motorable pass after Khardungla.
Once you reach Pangong Lake, you get a feeling of reaching to some new world. A very peaceful place with blue water all around and sandy mountains. The fresh air purifies your soul and cool down your mind from all mental stress. You can take ample amount of photographs there for your whatsapp and facebook profile pictures…:) After spending 2-3 hours in Pangong, I came back to Leh with the same Kangra family.
On this day, I visited Nubra valley. For Nubra there are many transport options available from Leh. There is a bus also in this route but it goes only on Thursday and Saturday. If you are travelling solo or even for a couple, you may take sharing cabs from polo ground in Leh.
There are regular sharing cabs (Scorpio, Qualis) available from Leh in the morning for Diskit which is in Nubra Valley and they charge Rs. 400 per passenger per way. So, I also took the one. Although, generally these cabs doesn’t stops at Khardungla Top (18380 ft) (World’s highest motorable pass) as they mostly carry the localites but if you request the driver he can stop for few minutes there and then you can quickly take the photographs and view the scenery around. I did the same way.
In Nubra valley, if you want to stay in a homestay/guest house then there are few options available in Diskit else, if you want to experience the camp stay in sand dunes then Hunder is the best option which is just 7 kms ahead of Diskit.
I took a room in Diskit itself at Rs. 500 per night. This was a quite good hotel with spacious rooms. This was a newly built property by the name Thachung Guest House and is just below the taxi stand. The owner of the hotel is also very friendly and helpful in nature.
People in Ladakh are very generous; they will always try to help you and will always suggest good things to you.
From Diskit, if you want to take a tour of sand dunes then you may take a sharing cab till Hunder. The sand dune is the most stunning beauty of Nubra valley. You can see white sand dunes all around with some two humped bactrian camels walking on it. There is also a cultural show that is organized every evening during the season time on these sand dunes.
Apart from these dunes, one can also visit Diskit monastery located 2 kms above Diskit village. So, if you are seeking a peaceful place which is close to nature then you should definitely visit Nubra valley.
I took a night stay there and next morning again took a shared cab for back to Leh.
On this day, I took a return shared cab for Leh. On reaching Leh, I explored the market and spent some time in leisure.
For shopping, there are variety of clothing and handicraft shops in Leh. You may purchase shawls, mufflers, woolen caps and socks for yourself and your beloved ones from this place.
There is a government shop inside the tourist information centre in Leh where you can purchase these items which are authentic and originally made from sheep’s wool and these are available at a quite reasonable price.
There is one more shop above the tourist information centre by the name – Looms of Ladakh, where you can find original pashmina clothings.
After purchasing few items for my family, I took a room in a hotel that was close to Leh bus station.
As now, I had to return from the same route via Manali so, I bought a ticket in advance for bus to Keylong. This time I travelled in HRTC bus as I wanted to experience the travelling in normal ordinary buses as well. Though it was very tiring, but when you travel through nature you forget everything, even your comfort.
Early morning, I reached Leh bus stand and boarded my return bus for Keylong. On reaching Keylong in the evening, I took a room in a lodge for an overnight stay for which I had to pay Rs. 500.
Now I was in the end of my tour. This morning, I took a bus to Manali and passing through Rohtang Pass again, the bus reached Manali bus stand at around 3 pm.
Evening, I spent some time in Mall Road and then took an overnight bus from Manali to Dehradun.
Next morning at around 11 am, I reached Dehradun.
The journey was long and tiring but, it was full with fun and adventure.
My visit to Ladakh was a lifetime dream journey as I had been waiting to explore this beautiful landscape for a long time. Travelling solo gives you a true learning as you tackle with situations independently, enjoy the nature on your own without any interference and your confidence level also builds up.
In short, you are the king of your tour when you travel alone. Each one of you should take a solo trip once in your lifetime.