There are three types of travelers in India – first category is those who have been to Ladakh, second is those planning to go there and the last is those who wish to go there. What makes Ladakh popular than any other mountain destination cannot be expressed in words or pictures in entirety. You have to be there to experience it.
For starters, Ladakh is name of a region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) that comprises many smaller regions, town and villages. For example, there’s Nubra Valley region within Ladakh. The administrative capital town is Leh.
Though part of J&K, Ladakh is peaceful and there has never been any terrorist activity in this region. It’s one of the safest places in the country.
Tip: If you have time, travel by road to Ladakh from Manali and while returning take a flight to Delhi.
Ladakh has a short tourist season starting in June and ending in October. The fastest way to reach there is to take a flight from Delhi to Leh.
By road, you can enter Ladakh either from Srinagar via Kargil (state of J&K) or from Manali (State of Himachal Pradesh).
Note: Tourist vehicles registered outside Ladakh cannot be used for sightseeing within the region. Taxi union does not allow this. Outside vehicles can only drop you to Ladakh. If you are coming from Delhi, Manali, Kargil or Srinagar, only negotiate the rate for getting dropped to Ladakh. If you have a vehicle with private registration number, then there’s nothing to worry about.
1) Delhi-Leh Flight
Flight is the most convenient way to reach Leh from Delhi. If booked much in advance, you will spend almost the same money in flight compared to traveling by road. During the peak travel season, average cost of flight is around 6,500 one way. It can go up to Rs 12,000. Towards the end of tourist season, it can be as cheap as Rs 3,800.
2) Delhi-Manali-Leh by Road
The journey from Manali to Leh is an experience in itself. On the way, there are many famous lakes like Suraj Tal. You pass through a scenic Bara-Lacha-la and close to Leh there’s a vast expanse of flat land as long as eyes can see. Drivers step hard on the accelerator and push the vehicles to their maximum limit leaving a trail of dust cloud behind them.
Delhi to Manali bus cost is around Rs 800 and is a 12 hour journey. Manali to Leh, the options are many. Private minibus costs Rs 2,000. But it is a back-breaking 18-hour journey, if the road condition is good. The private minibus starts at 2.30 in the night. Add to this Rs 800 – 1,000 that you will spend in accommodation and food for minimum one-day stay in Manali. It will take you at least Rs 3,500 – Rs 4,000 to reach Leh by road from Delhi. There are also expensive options that include overnight halts in camps on the way to Leh
Tip: Do check out Himachal Pradesh state governments buses that are reasonable and take an overnight halt. Tickets can be booked online.
3) Delhi-Jammu-Srinagr-Leh by Train and Road
Tip: After reaching Srinagar, halt at Kargil and then proceed to Leh giving Zanskar a miss to save on cost and time
If you want to keep Kashmir on your itinerary, you can take this route. The sights are not as spectacular as Manali-Leh road.
The journey will pan out like this: Delhi to Jammu by train. Then take a bus to Srinagar. You can take a break at Kargil and Zanskar, and then proceed to Leh.
The costs can vary significantly depending on the travel option you choose from Srinagar onwards. There are state busses of J&K that are cost effective but very uncomfortable. The other option is to take share taxis. The travel time can differ depending on your halts at Kargil and Zanskar.
Here’s an estimate of time and cost:
Delhi – Jammu
AC compartment of train: Rs 700
Non-AC compartment: Rs 300
Time: average 10 hours
Jammu – Srinagar
Bus: Rs 350 – 400
Share taxis: Rs 500 – 600
Time: 10 – 12 hours
Srinagar – Leh
Bus: Rs 800
Share taxis: Rs 1,500
Time: 15 hours
Srinagar – Kargil
Buses: Rs 400
Share taxis: Rs 600 – 800
Time: 7 – 10 hours
Kargil – Zanskar
Bus: It’s unpredictable runs few times a week
Share taxis: Rs 10,000
Time: 14 hours (or longer with overnight stay option)
Kargil – Leh
Bus: Rs 400
Shared Taxis: Rs 800
Time: 10 hours
Tip 1: Keep at least 10 days for Ladakh sight seeing
Tip 2: Go around to as many travel agents asking to share a vehicle with people heading to destination of your choice. Keep your eyes open for posters inviting travelers to share the drive
Once you reach Ladakh, you will realize there’s a lot to do, especially if you are interested in trekking. First time visitors and those with limited days should keep at least 10 days for Ladakh. The must-see destinations like Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley and Tso Moriri, involves good amount of travel.
Day 1: Reach Leh and acclimatize for two days at least. It is necessary if you come to Leh via flight.
Day 2: In the first half, get inner line permits for the destinations you want to visit. Explore Leh in the second half.
Day 3: Head out for magnetic hill. Spend the rest of the day in Leh or exploring nearby monasteries
Day 4: Pangong Lake
Day 5: Pangong Lake, back to Leh
Day 6: Nubra Valley
Day 7: Nubra Valley, back to Leh
Day 8: Explore areas around Leh city
Day 9: Tso Moriri
Day 10: Tso Moriri, back to Leh
Day 11: Start for Delhi/Manali/Srinagar
COST OF TRAVEL WITHIN LADAKH
The taxis are very expensive in Ladakh. There are many valid reasons for this. Vehicles require more maintenance in Ladakh due to the terrain, the fuel cost is higher than most other parts of India, the fuel efficiency of the vehicles is low. Engine burn more fuel on higher altitude. Finally, they have only four months of business in a year.
However, if you are booking the entire taxi for yourself, the travel agents provide 10% discount after little haggling.
Here’s the PDF to Ladakh taxi rates 2012 – 2013 issued by the Ladakh’s Taxi Operators Co-operative:
SHOPPING, TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION COSTS WITHIN LEH CITY
Tip: Many locals have constructed hotels in their own residential compound. It is an experience to stay in such places as they have gardens, which provide for food supply. Everything is plucked fresh and served
You will be spending a lot of time in Leh. Most of Leh city can be covered on foot. There are always shorter ways to reach your destination through the bazaars and houses but you need to keep asking the locals as you travel. Avoid taxis within Leh as they can be very expensive. For a two-kilometer drive they charge a minimum of Rs 200.
In Leh, you have to also live with the fact that there are three different rates for products that do not bear a maximum retail price. For example, if you are shopping for clothes, jackets, pashmina, antiques, or anything in Tibetan markets, the locals get the cheapest price. Indian travelers are charged slightly higher and foreigners are told the highest price. Finally, it all comes down to the fine art of haggling.
Accommodation and food in Ladakh are as reasonable as any other part of India. There are lot of options for hotel rooms that charge Rs 350 – 400 a day.
SPECIAL NOTE ON INNER LINE PERMIT
Everyone needs inner line permit in Ladakh – Indians as well as foreigners. Indians can get a permit by producing an original photo identity. Foreigners need their original passport to acquire this. All places in Ladakh have police check post where you need to show the inner line permit while going as well as on return. In a single application you can include as many places as you wish.
If you don’t want the hassle, you can conveniently give the required documents to a travel agency. The government charges are about Rs 150 for the permit. The entire group can have one permit. The travel agent will charge Rs 300.
Keep lot of photocopies of the permit. You will need to drop a copy at the check posts. Foreigners need to carry the original passport with them for verification. A copy of passport will not suffice. The police have every right to turn you back if you don’t have the original passport.
To get the permit on the same day, start early for the government office or provide all the required documents to the travel agency a day earlier.it easily takes half a day to get the permit.
For further information on Ladakh, do read our other posts and see photoessays