In the month of August 2017, I worked in Ladakh for a month and a half. Being a budget traveller, I had to make sure that my trip is as cheap as possible. So when I started my trip, I made sure that I will find the easiest way to reach Ladakh and make a return trip. The idea was to go for an ultimate budget trip to Ladakh.
Fun fact; I ended up spending my time in Ladakh for 15k which included my stay, food and travel to the places where I was working. But that will be very much impossible for you so let’s stick to the basics of doing a road trip to Ladakh.
I guess, if you are past the first paragraph then you are planning to visit Ladakh in the near future. While there are frequent flights to Ladakh from major airports of India, they are very costly unless you book them atleast 3 months in advance. A lot of shops in Manali and Leh offer cheap return flight tickets to Ladakh but it totally depends on your luck and how you can find it.
My journey to Ladakh included Manali to Leh by road and then Leh to Srinagar while returning. There is at least one bus which runs between Srinagar, Leh and Manali but it takes almost two days. According to me this is the perfect way of travel.
Another fun fact; I have spent my 20s selling travel packages to Ladakh. I hadn’t visited Ladakh then but had remembered every aspect of traveling there. I used to receive 20% commission for every trip I used to sell and there was an extra 5% commission for selling flight tickets.
Traveling from Manali to Leh
There are two ways to travel between Manali and Leh.
Manali to Leh via Keylong (Night stay in Keylong)
Manali to Leh via Keylong (no night stay in Keylong)
The second way will help you reach Leh by 8 PM if you start from Manali by 4 PM but is hightly tiring and exhausting. This trip should only be taken if you have experience of long road trips in past. However, if you really don’t want to waste your time in Keylong then better keep moving. Anyhow you’ll be spending a day relaxing in your cosy hotel room in Leh.
Buses and shared taxi between Manali and Leh
There is one bus which starts from Manali at 5:30 AM. This bus starts running during the month of early June after Rohtang Pass is cleared.
Make sure that you read about Rohtang Pass opening dates if you are planning a visit during early May. This year Rohtang Pass was only cleared by June 10th. The Leh – Manali road status is only cleared after BRO clears the snow from the road.
Despite a semi deluxe bus available between Manali and Leh, I will not recommend it for those who want to reach Leh in a day. The reasons being, that this bus takes a night halt at Keylong and you’ll have to bear the expenses of overnight stay at Keylong on your own. The bus charges INR 2900 for a trip to Leh and it doesn’t include the cost of meal and stay that you’ll be spending at Keylong so that total amount that you’ll be spending during your Manali to Leh trip by the bus will be close to INR 4000.
Once past Rohtang, you can also take a detour and go to Spiti Valley instead, if you have extra time in hand.
On the other hand, regular shared taxis run between Manali and Leh. These taxis start at 3:30 AM and pick you directly from your hotel. The shared taxi and tempo traveller office is right next to the Manali bus stand and the payment has to be done in advance. You start from Manali at 3:30 AM and reach Leh by 8:00. This taxi will leave you near Leh Bus Stand so you’ll have to take another taxi to reach your hotel. Shared taxi charges INR 2200 per person and is perfect for those who are traveling solo or are in a group of maximum three people.
In case you have a group of more than 3 then you can hire their own taxi, which will cost somewhere around INR 10000. Most of the taxis take an overnight halt at Jispa or Sarchu so you’ll have to convince your driver to drive straight to Leh in case you don’t want a night halt. He may charge a two or three thousand extra but it is still better than spending the same money at a campsite in middle of nowhere.
Now that you have arrived Leh, you’ll probably be thinking about how to return upon the end of your vacation.
Return trip from Leh to Manali
There is one bus between Leh to Manali that again takes two days to reach the destination. You can instead go to the city bus stand and visit the office of tempo traveller association. The tempo traveller will charge you between INR 2100 to INR 1800 depending on the time of the tourist season.
The tempo travellers and shared cars start at 4 PM and reach Manali in the morning by 10 AM. They do this because they travel all night and by the time they reach Rohtang Pass it is already morning. An early morning trip between Leh and Manali would mean that you’ll be spending the overnight at some place before Rohtang waiting for the pass to open.
I know someone who tried traveling at 3:00 AM in the morning with a target that they’ll cross Rohtang by 4 evening. Their tyre flattened in the way and they had to return all the way to Keylong after reaching Rohtang as it was closed. Don’t be that person, Okay?
Return Trip from Leh to Srinagar
A return trip between Leh and Srinagar is the best way to end your trip. You start from Manali and while returning you take the route of Srinagar. Or you can start from Srinagar and do the vice versa.
Most of the people who travel to Srinagar start early morning and spend the night at Kargil. The share taxis take you straight to Srinagar by an overnight journey. Before taking the taxi better make sure of your co-passengers and ask for the front seat. It is not that the road is unsafe but the co-passengers can make you comfortable. I would rather recommend you to take the government bus. You need to book the ticket at least a day or two in advance. The bus is safe and will drop you near Dal Lake in the morning.
Moreover, the bus ticket will cost you INR 1100 and the taxi will charge at-least 2000 so it is a huge win for you.
You’ll find a lot of posters in Changspa and Leh Market area looking for a co-passenger. You can follow suite and stick posters of your own.
A private taxi between Leh and Srinagar costs INR 10000.
A lot of travellers leave from Leh and then travel to Lamayuru and spend a night there. From Lamayuru they take a bus till Kargil or Drass and then travel to Srinagar
Traveling from Srinagar to Leh
Like Manali, the Srinagar – Leh road status is only cleared after the snow from Zo-Zila pass is cleared. The bus from Srinagar leaves in the morning and one needs to confirm the timing. If you miss your bus then you can also travel till Sonmarg and then to Kargil (or Drass and then Kargil) from where you’ll find a bus or share taxi to Leh. Kargil will also give you an option to hitchhike a car or truck.
Shared taxis between Srinagar and Leh start in the morning and you can book them again near the taxi association’s office. But for Srinagar a bus journey is more recommended even if you are in a large group of just a bunch of traveling females. While the bus is kind of uncomfortable, it is a great way to save at-least 1000 bucks compared to what shared taxis would charge.
One of my favourite idea to travel between Srinagar and Leh was to spend the night at Drass. People generally stay in Kargil but Drass is more rustic and authentic Kashmir. You’ll get to meet lovely locals and eat some great food. A bus ticket between Srinagar and Drass costs INR 350 and takes 5 hours to take you there.
So you can either travel in the following ways
Manali – Leh – Srinagar
Manali – Leh via shared taxi (INR 2200)
Manali – Keylong / Jispa / Sarchu – Leh (INR 2900 + extra cost for food and stay)
Leh – Srinagar (by shared taxi, avoid if possible – INR 2000)
Leh – Srinagar (by bus, INR 1100, fun ride)
Leh – Lamayuru – Srinagar (By bus, book the ticket for Lamayuru Srinagar from Leh bus stand itself)
Leh – Lamayuru – Drass/Kargil – Srinagar
Leh – Kargil /Drass – Sriangar
Srinagar – Leh – Manali
Srinagar – Leh by bus (INR 1100)
Sringar – Leh by shared taxi (INR 2000, not recommended)
Srinagar – Kargil / Drass – Leh
Srinagar – Kargil / Drass – Lamayuru – Leh
Sringar – Lamayuru – Leh
Manali – Leh – Manali
Manali – Leh
Manali – Keylong / Jispa / Sarchu – Leh
Leh – Manali – Leh (Absolutely recommended, don’t even think about taking a night half)
Srinagar – Leh – Srinagar
Srinagar – Leh
Srinagar – Kargil / Drass – Leh
Leh – Srinagar (By shared bus)
Leh – Lamayuru – Sringar
Leh – Drass/ Kargil – Sringar
Additional Notes – Those arriving Jammu can take a shared bus or tempo traveller till Banihal station and then take a train to Srinagar station. The train passes through beautiful tunnels and green scenic fields of Kashmir. It is a beautiful ride and gives you a chance to meet Kashmiri folks. The ticket between Banihal and Srinagar costs you only INR 40 compared to a bus or jeep that will take at least INR 400 for the 4 hour ride. On a down side you’ll not get a seat on the train but then the ride is only 2.5 hours. Make sure that you arrive before the last train leaves.
Rohtang Pass is closed for maintenance every Tuesday. Zozi-La pass is closed for maintenance every Friday. This means you cannot travel to and from Manali, Leh or Srinagar on those days.