Leh & Ladakh- The Ultimate Travel Guide

With the world's two mightiest mountain ranges- the Himalayas & the Karakoram, 3 highest motorable raods- Chang La, Khardung La, & Tanglang La, desert mountains, gorgeous night skies, rainbows, Tibetan monasteries, flowers, lakes, rainbow hills, & the most stunning landscapes, Ladakh is bound to be one of the most epic journeys you can take in India.

No, seriously. None of what I just said was exaggerated. As a solo female traveller, I was in Ladakh last year, for a good 45 days. Having travelled in the bus, on a bike, in a car, & even hitchhiked from a village to another, here's all the advice I can give you. Feel free to take this as your absolute travel guide to Leh and Ladakh. ;)

So, let's get started.

How to Reach Leh

Leh isn't the easiest place to travel to, so there's that. From any part of India, you'll have to find yourself in either Delhi, Manali, or Srinagar first.

Dellhi to Leh

The best way to reach from Delhi to Leh is by taking a flight, which may be heavy on your pocket. On the brighter side, it is hassle-free & saves you a lot of time.

Alternately, take a bus from Delhi to Manali. And another one from Manali to Leh. More details below.

Manali to Leh

The road from Manali to Leh has been called one of the most difficult ones to travel, so cheers, you're up for a big and exciting game here! You'll cross Rohtang, Keylong, Suraj Tal, Baralacha pass, Lachulung Pass, Tangalang Pass (5328m!!), and many beautiful villages along the way.

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Now, here's the thing. There's only one HSRTC bus which goes from Manali to Leh, and it starts at sharp 4am. You're likely to reach Leh by 6-7 pm, or the next day by 11 am, depending on whether the driver decides to make an overnight halt on the way.

Alternately, you can take a traveller tempo/shared taxi from Manali to Leh. These are expensive but they save time.

The views along the way are utterly stunning- I didn't even a take a nap throughout the journey!

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Srinagar to Leh

Reaching Srinagar to Leh can be done either by a JKSRTC bus or by a shared taxi/traveller tempo.

If you're taking a bus that leaves at 8AM, you'll reach Leh by 4pm, while haulting at Kargil on your way. Mind you, there are no night buses from Srinagar to Leh. So plan accordingly.

Itinerary for Leh-Ladakh

If you are planning on covering the lakes and the valleys all together, please spare a minimum of 12 days for Ladakh. Your body will need at least one day to just get used to the atmosphere, so the best would be, to use that time for local sightseeing. Here's what an ideal itinerary for Ladakh would look like:

Day 1- Reach, give time for acclimatization, try Tibetan food in the market
Day 2- The left route from Leh- Shey Palace, Thiksey Monastrey, Hemis Monastrey, Stok Palace, Shanti Stupa 
Day 3- The right route from Leh- Leh Palace, Phyang Monastery, Magnetic Hill, Sangam (River confluence)
Day 4- Head to the Nubra Valley via Khardung La- Stay at Hunder after exploring Diskit 
Day 5- Head to Turtuk from Hunder, stay overnight 
Day 6- Head to Pangong Tso from Turtuk, stay overnight 
Day 7- Head back to Leh from Pangong, take rest
Day 8- Head to Tso Moriri, stay overnight (Can also cover Chumathang and Tso Kar, which are on the way with small diversions) 
Day 9- Head to Hanle village for stargazing, stay overnight 
Day 10- Come back to Leh, take rest

All set? Book your escape with us here and get going!

How to commute in Leh-Ladakh

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The most popular means of covering all the tourist places in Ladakh is the motorbike. However, the journeys are long and tedious, and most parts uncomfortable. If you are not a hardcore biker, there are other ways to get to all the villages of Ladakh.

By Bus

As a solo traveller on a budget, I preferred taking the local JKSRTC bus. The fares were cheap and the journey, very comfortable. The only drawback of the buses is that they follow a unique schedule. For example, the bus to Tso Moriri runs only on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month. It is the best to check the bus schedule in advance to making a plan. You can refer to this schedule, which I clicked in July 2018.

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By Taxi

Another convenient way of commuting is by shared taxis, which, although a little expensive, save you the hassle of long and tiring road journeys. Shared cabs are easily available from Leh. A cab usually takes 4 to 5 people, and charges 2500-3500 per person for a 1N-2D trip (bargain is possible up to some extent).

By Car/Motorbike

If you're coming by your own vehicle, make sure you know about all the petrol pumps on your route in advance. The roads are lengthy and the fuel stations, scarce. It may as well be that you have to carry petrol from Leh itself, if  you're going to remote areas where they don't have the provision of a pump.

Bike/Car Rentals

Depending on your bargaining skills, availability of the bike you need, and for how long you're renting one, you'll get a bike for rent, starting from INR 650. If you're planning to take a bike for longer journeys like Leh to Tso Moriri or Leh to Pangong Tso, I strongly suggest you to take the RE Himalayan or the RE 500 CC, as the journey's going to be arduous & you'll want the bike & its seat to be as comforting as it can be. As they're the sturdier bikes, they'll be slightly more expensive to rent, but believe me, it'll be worth it when you get down and can walk freely without any bach-ache complaints!

Car rentals can be tricky, so its suggested that you take a taxi instead. Alternately, you'll be able to scout information for car rentals from the market itself.

Found what you're looking for? Now find the best backpackers' hostel in Ladakh here and head out!

Where to Stay in Leh-Ladakh

Zostel Leh is a backpacking hostel on the Karzu Road, only 1 km from the main market of Leh. With a rooftop restaurant that serves delicious food, rooms that look out at the Himalayan Landscape of Leh, and ample space to hang out with travellers, Zostel Leh is one of the best backpacking hostels in the Leh-Ladakh region.

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You can check out Zostel Leh and book it here!

Leh being a touristy town offers accomodation easily. However, in the remote places that you're going to travel to from the town, you'll have to look for options.

If you are looking for something dirt cheap, go for homestays. All the villages of Ladakh offer homestays, which are cosy and comfortable. Most importantly, they introduce you to the locals, and through their houses and stories, you get a glimpse of the Ladakhi culture, food, and traditions. The hosts are very friendly, and upon asking them about the place, you will get to know way more than any catalogue in a hotel will ever reveal.

If you are looking forward to a relaxing, luxurious trip, you will easily find accommodation in 3-star tents, hotels, and guest houses at the lakes as well as in Nubra Valley.

Things to do in Leh-Ladakh

Pangong Tso

3 rainbows in 3 hours. Yes, that's how Pangong Lake welcomed me. Although a tourist favourite, if you walk far enough, you'll find a spot where you can sit and marvel at its beauty with no one to interrupt the view. Go, walk as far as you can, the lake's 106 km long, and ends in China!

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Nubra Valley

Famous for its double humped camels and desert sands among the mountains, Nubra Valley is a popular tourist attraction. Painted in a palette of brown, grey, white, and golden, the landscape is breathtaking especially during sunsets.

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Hunder & Diskit

Hunder and Diskit are very small, green villages in Nubra Valley. They are everything like the scenery we used to draw as kids. Encircled with mountains, small and big streams flow along all its streets and houses made of stone and brick lie dispersed, separated by needle-like, dry violet stems of old trees.

Turtuk

80 km farther from Hunder lies, what you'll agree, is the prettiest village in India. Just a few kilometres away from the northern border, Turtuk is a delight to the heart. Sandwiched between the Shyok River and mountains, the village generously grows cherries, blueberries, and even apricots.

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Tso Moriri

One of the less popular lakes, Tso Moriri is an exhibit of enormous beauty, topped with the fortune of tranquility. 'Tso' stands for lake, and 'Moriri' for mountain, and that's exactly what you'll find in abundance over there. If not for the lake, go there for the marvelous view during the journey.

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The Hemis Monastery & The Hemis Festival

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Every year, the Hemis Gompa (Monastery) organizes the Hemis Festival, which sees abundant tourists from all over the world. A two-day festival attracting tourists and photographers from all over the world, it occurs on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month. This usually falls in Early June. Decked in colourful masks and traditional dresses, the monks perform ceremonial dances in front of an overwhelming audience, all in the lap of giant mountains.

Loving the experiences that await you? Book the greatest getaway with us here!

Best Food Places in Leh

The town offers a good variety of the Tibetan cuisine, so that's a must try. Head to The Tibetan Kitchen & the Lamayuru Restaurant for delicacies like Thukpa, Shabakley, Momos, & more. Try the Yak Cheese, a local delicacy which is rare & delicious.

Other restaurants I recommend are- Chopsticks for its Chinese, Bon Appetit for its ambience & food, Neha Snacks for north-Indian dishes & sweets, Gesmos for a pizza or burger, & La Piazzetta for avergae to good Italian food. If you're up foor a good Punjabi meal, the restaurant in Zostel Leh is great. Seriously.

I'll give you one great advice. In my 45 days in Ladakh, I only found a couple of nice places to dine at. The food is always between average and pretty-good, but considering how limited the resources are over there, you should feel lucky to even find Italian in Leh!

Special Mention- Reaching Leh to Srinagar

All the backpackers who took the road from Manali to Leh sould consider exiting the town towards Srinagar for some extended fun. I recommend that you take the only JKSRTC bus from Leh to Srinagar, which leaves in the afternoon and drops you to Srinagar early morning. Book a day in advance to get the seat of your choice. The journey is long & tiresome, so that matters.

And here comes an end to the perfect travel guide. Ready for the adventure? Book it here with us at Zostel Leh!

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About Zostel

Zostel is a chain of backpacking hostels across India & Nepal, proudly Asia's largest. We provide a unique travel experience to backpackers & solo travellers, full of escapes, events, in-house fun, & much more. Know more about us here.

If you loved this blog, you can follow us on Instagram for more such travel updates and fun!

Credits: All the images in the blog by Kanwar Pal Singh (kanwar_photos) & myself, Pranavi.

Until next time :D

Writer, Pranavi.


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