A road trip to Ladakh. This line has been heard in cafes and groups all around. Some people talk about it while some actually visit Ladakh through the mesmerizing roadways. Since you are here, I hope you fall into the latter category.
Many would argue that to get the full picture of Ladakh, one needs to travel the roads. And they are not wrong. The jaw-dropping beauty of the landscape, the topsy turvy curves of the highway, and snow walls of the passes make this trip a worthwhile one for adventure seekers.
The elusive component of the trip is the highways leading to Ladakh are operational for a limited time every year. This limitation provides extra incentive to travelers who want to get to Leh by road. There are two options to get to Leh by road; the first one is Manali-Leh highway and the second Srinagar-Leh highway. The Manali-Leh highway remains closed from the end of September to May, while Srinagar-Leh highway closes down from early November to April.
Delhi to Leh by Bus
Delhi to Leh bus via Manali
This epic bus journey from the capital of India to Ladakh has very few rivals in this part of the world. From the crowded mess of Delhi to the tranquil mountains of Ladakh, this unique route has it all. Starting from an elevation of 216 meters in Delhi to sky-high passes of 5000 meters, be ready to be blown away.
As previously mentioned, bus service from Delhi resumes after the Manali-Leh highway reopens. The total duration of the trip is about 55-60 hours, and the travel time is close to 35-40 hours as the bus stops at Manali or Keylong. The bus covers a distance of 1100 kilometers. Just to explain the magnitude of this trip, it passes through six states and UTs, namely – Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, and Ladakh(It used to be Jammu and Kashmir, in August 2019 Ladakh was given a Union Territory status).
Delhi to Leh bus Route
This route starts from ISBT Delhi, then makes way for Chandigarh via NH1 and reaches Manali through Kullu. After Manali, the bus journey starts to give you a picture of what’s next to come. Picking up on elevation from Manali, the bus heads to Keylong via Rohtang Pass. Then the bus passes through Jispa, Baralacha La, and enters Ladakh through Sarchu. After Sarchu, the stops will come in the forms of Nakee La, Lachulung La, Pang, Tanglang La, Upshi, Karu before reaching Leh.
HRTC buses stop in Keylong for the night and continue the following day to Leh around 5 in the morning.
HRTC bus from Delhi to Leh is the first option you have. It is also the cheapest, and the bus service starts after the Manali-Leh highway opens around June and continues till September end. It is hard to predict the number of bus changes during the trip, it could be 2 or 3, and the driver will also change during the journey.
Another option for you would be to break the trip into two parts. You can choose a comfortable bus from Delhi to Manali. Several Volvo buses ply from Delhi to Manali. And from Manali, you can catch the HRTC bus to Leh. Also, you could use public transportation to reach Keylong and then take the HRTC bus. Currently, there are no Volvo buses that go to Leh.
Delhi to Leh Bus Fare
The bus from Delhi to Leh by HRTC charges around INR 1400 . As the trip is divided into two parts, the first is the journey from Delhi to Keylong, which is around INR 800, and the second is from Keylong to Leh, which is around INR 500-600 . You are required to pay the fare in two parts.
There are no other amenities provided during the trip, the cost of food is for you to bare. The bus stops in Keylong for a night, so you will have to pay for your night stay too.
If you first want to get to Manali on a Volvo, you will get buses starting from INR 1200. You can then opt for the HRTC bus from Manali.
Delhi to Leh Bus Booking and Timing
HRTC bus tickets are available in New Delhi. You can purchase it from ISBT Delhi from Counter 7. As mentioned earlier, in some cases, you can only book tickets till Keylong and then pay the second part of the trip to Keylong. You will get the tickets to Leh at the Keylong bus counter.
This giant bus trip starts from Delhi at 3:30 pm and then reach Chandigarh by 8-9 pm the same day. Then, the bus continues to Manali, getting there around 9 am the following day. Then, the bus halts at Keylong around 4 in the evening. You spend the night here in Keylong and leave for Leh around 5 am the following day and reach Leh at 6-7 pm.
Tips for the journey
This journey, by no means, is a comfortable one. It is a simple bus with minimal service if comfort is your topmost priority, this bus ain’t the one for you. The long hours, curvy roads, and several high passes can be intimidating. Acclimatization shouldn’t be a problem as you climb on altitude slowly. For precaution, please carry medicine for altitude sickness, just in case you face difficulties. Some travelers who find this journey daunting take a bus from Delhi to Keylong and rest tin Keylong for a day, and then head to Ladakh on the following day.
Delhi to Leh bus via Srinagar
Delhi to Leh via Srinagar is another bus trip that you could fancy if you are up for some real adventure on the road. This trip takes you to Leh from the other side of Ladakh, from the plains of Punjab to Jammu, which is the gateway to Kashmir. The bus for Leh starts from Srinagar and it is from here the journey gets exciting. You will cross the Zoji La Pass from Sonmarg, watch the landscape change from lush green forests to an arid landscape by the time you enter Kargil.
The Srinagar-Leh Highway remains closed for about 4- 5 months, usually from the end of November to mid-April. This makes the route a perfect alternative for Manali Leh highway
This journey stretches for about 1230 kilometers and takes 3-4 days. There is no direct bus from Delhi to Leh via Srinagar, and you are required to make a few changes before you finally reach Leh.
This trip can be divided into two parts. First is the bus ride from Delhi to Srinagar. The second part is Srinagar to Leh and certainly the most exciting leg of the trip.
Delhi to Srinagar
You will easily find a bus from New Delhi to Jammu. Buses leave Delhi from Jama Masjid and Lal Qilla. Usually, buses take an overnight journey to Jammu. The duration will be about 12 hours. The ticket prices start from INR 700. Another option would be to get to Jammu by train and then head to Srinagar.
Jammu to Srinagar takes about 7 hours. You can opt for a bus or taxi from Jammu and head to Srinagar. Buses will take you to Srinagar for as low as INR 200 , and taxis take around INR 700. After getting to Srinagar, people halt a night there and leave for Leh the following morning. Fare for buses from Jammu to Srinagar is as follows. It takes INR 445 for MCV buses, INR 392, INR 321 for Deluxe, INR 230 for Semi Deluxe and INR 213 for a normal one.
Srinagar to Leh via Kargil
Buses ply regularly through this route, and travelers have two options. The first one is run by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, and the bus service is called JRSRTC. They provide deluxe, semi-deluxe and regular buses. Another function is run by private companies, which run minibusses to Leh.
Delhi to Leh Bus Route
As mentioned before, the first lap of the trek is from Delhi to Jammu and then head to Srinagar. From here, the touted Srinagar-Leh highway starts. This highway takes you through Sonmarg and then crosses the Zoji La Pass, which is at an altitude of 3528 meters. Then it heads to Drass, which is a beautiful stop and then makes way for Kargil. From Kargil, you head to Mulbek, then to Lamayuru and Saspol before finally reaching Leh.
Delhi to Leh Bus Availability
JKSRTC provides 13, 19, 25, and 49 seater vehicles from Srinagar. The 13 and 19 seaters are minibusses, while the 25 and 49 seaters are regular buses. Usually, just one vehicle from every category mentioned above runs daily. So, you should book your ticket in advance. There is also no option to book your tickets online from Srinagar, and you need to book your ticket a day before your journey.
Delhi to Leh Bus Fare and Timing
Daily buses run from Srinagar to Leh. Buses depart from Dal Lake at 8 am every day. This service is a two-day affair as it halts in Kargil for a night, and it takes you through all the famous sites. On the second day of the journey, the bus leaves early in the morning, reaching Leh by late afternoon.
The bus fare depends on the type of bus you choose depending on your budget. The 14 and 19 seaters cost around INR 1300 , the 19 seaters cost INR 920 , and the 47 seaters cost INR 740 . Please check the JKSRTC website as there might be changes.
Tips for the journey
This route is chosen by tourists who wish to visit Leh by road when the Manali-Leh highway is closed and usually falls as an alternative for the Manali-Leh highway for the tourists. This highway also has very few cases of altitude sickness. Another issue that has marred this region is security. Due to the sporadic unrest in Kashmir, travelers do have reservations visiting Ladakh through this region. But all in all, you could stick to your itinerary, and no one would bat an eyelid.
Delhi to Leh in Car
Another exciting option to get to Leh from Delhi would be taking a car or opting for a taxi service. A road trip in your personal four-wheelers would be a fantastic experience provided you take precautions. During the tourist season, there is no shortage of taxis plying from either Manali or Srinagar.
These are the two routes for your road trip.
From Delhi to Leh(via Manali): Delhi → Karnal → Mandi →Manali → Jispa (via Rohtang Pass) → Sarchu → Tanglang La → Leh
From Delhi to Leh(via Srinagar): Delhi→ Amritsar → Jammu→ Srinagar→ Sonmarg→ Zojila Pass→ Drass→ Kargil→ Lamayuru→ Saspol→ Leh
Taking Your Car
If you are a beginner driver, then it is a big NO for you to get to Leh. However, if you are an experienced driver, you will have the time of your life. You must get your car serviced as you will encounter dirt tracks, snow, water crossings, and slush making the journey a challenging one. If you have little or no knowledge about the technical aspects of a four-wheeler, we would suggest you gather some.
The favorable vehicle for the journey would be to take a 4WD SUV. The roads can get tricky, and the exceptional ground clearance provided by SUVs can go a long way. Some travelers take their hatchbacks, and it is possible to do so. But it may come at a price due to the terrain with your car enduring scratches. It would not be advisable to take your hatchback through the Manali-Leh Highway during June and July as the water crossings grow in size, and you might have a tough time crossing through. While the Srinagar-Leh highway has better roads and the only tricky part would be crossing the Zojila Pass.
Taking a Taxi
The taxi service would be your next bet as many taxis ply from Manali as well as Srinagar. It is not feasible to hire a cab from Delhi itself, and getting to either Manali or Srinagar by bus would be the best option.
Taxi from Manali
There are two options from Manali to get to Leh. You can book a private taxi or pick a shared taxi.
To hire a private taxi, it will cost from anywhere around INR 25,000 to Rs. 30,000. Price is totally dependent on the time of your visit and how hard a bargain you can drive. Commonly, for the first couple of weeks after the Manali-Leh highway opens, HRTC buses don’t start. This is the time where taxi drivers are not really interested in negotiating the price.
Keep in mind the taxi that you hire to Leh will not be allowed to visit other parts of Ladakh, such as Tsomoriri, Nubra Valley, or Pangong Lake. The rule dictates that only taxis from Ladakh are allowed to run. You can find cabs from the Manali taxi stand.
To hire a shared taxi, it will cost you around INR 2000 – 3000. This is a better option if you are traveling alone or with a few people. On the other hand, it can get challenging as shared taxis don’t stop a lot and will drive to Leh in 18-20 hours.
Taxi from Srinagar
You can either choose a private taxi or a shared taxi, depending on your budget and group size. Again, taxis from Srinagar are only allowed to run on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Visiting tourist spots in Ladakh is not permitted, and you are required to hire a local taxi in Ladakh.
For a private taxi, it will cost around INR 15,000 – 18,000 . This is for a one day ride to Leh and will take approximately 18-20 hours. If you opt to hire a taxi and take a couple of days, it will cost around INR 20,000 – 22,000.
If you are traveling alone or on a budget, a shared taxi is the best option. It will cost INR 2500-3000 and will take you to Leh in 18-20 hours.
Delhi to Leh in Motorbike
Ladakh has almost become synonymous with bike tours. It has seen a surge in number over the years. The increasing popularity of bike tours leads to many bikers heading Ladakh during the tourist season. While the type of trips may differ from person to person; eventually, people want to see the magnificent landscape of Ladakh and revel in its glory. Some choose to get to Ladakh from the Manali-Leh highway, some through Srinagar-Leh. And some land in Ladakh and hire a motorbike.
Delhi to Leh via Manali
This route is the most popular one for bike tours to Leh. It remains open from early June to late September.
Delhi to Leh Bike Route
Riding from Delhi is an option, and several groups head to Leh from Delhi. Another popular option would be to get to Manali and then hire a bike. The route is as follows: Delhi- Manali- Sarchu- Pang- Leh.
From Delhi, there are several places to hire bikes. Karol Bagh has several bike rental agencies and travel agencies. If you are renting bikes from Manali, you will come across no shortage. Do your due diligence and find the shop that gives you the best deal, and there are several of them that you can choose from.
The bikes that you hire come with conditions. The rule is that rented bikes from Manali are not allowed to tour other parts of Ladakh. You will only be allowed to ride on the Manali-Leh highway. If you want to visit Ladakh on a bike, you will be required to rent a motorcycle in Ladakh. Another viable option would be to hire a bike from Manali to Leh and leave the bike at Leh. You can talk to the agency you rented your bike from, and they will surely be open to the idea. Although you will be required to pay an extra charge for this type of service. You will also be required to present a valid ID to rent a bike. The rental agency will keep a copy of your ID.
There are several types of bikes available. The most popular ones are from Royal Enfield. You can also opt for other companies if you are on a budget. You will get Royal Enfield 350cc for about INR 1300 and 500cc for INR 1700. For Royal Enfield Himalayan, it will cost around INR 2000 . Other bikes such as Avenger and Pulsar cost a bit less.
You will also be required to pay a security deposit, which generally starts around 15,000 INR.
There are just two petrol pumps between Manali and Leh. You should definitely carry extra petrol for the way. The two locations where you can refill are Tandi and Karu in Ladakh.
There are options where you can hire a mechanic for the entire duration of the trip. But, this just adds to your cost. Several shops cater to various bike issues in Marhi, Khoksar, Keylong, Darcha, Sarchu, and Upshi.
Delhi to Leh via Srinagar
This route is open a bit longer than Manali-Leh highway. Several bike trips are conducted through this route every year. Usually, people opt to use this route after they enter Leh through Manali and want to leave Srinagar, covering the entire circuit.
Delhi to Leh Bike Route
As mentioned before, you have several options to approach your trip. You could hire a bike from Delhi itself or head to Srinagar and then hire a bike. The following is the route: Delhi- Ludhiana- Jalandhar- Jammu- Srinagar- Kargil- Leh.
As mentioned earlier, you can rent bikes from Delhi in Karol Bagh. You will find ample options. It is comparatively more difficult to rent a bike from Srinagar than Manali. You will find bike rental companies in the Dal gate and Lal Chowk.
The rules are similar to what is mentioned above for Manali. You can only ride the rented bike on the Srinagar-Leh highway. If you want to visit other places in Ladakh, such as Nubra or Pangong, you must hire a bike in Ladakh. Another option would be hiring a bike from Srinagar and drop it off at Leh, for an additional cost.
The rate of bikes is similar to the prices mentioned above for Manali.
The situation here is not as complicated as the Manali-Leh highway, and you can find petrol pumps at reasonable intervals. You will find petrol pumps in Srinagar, Kangan, Sonamarg, Kargil, Mulbekh, Wakha, and Khaltsi.
You will find mechanics and puncture shops in quite a few places on the Srinagar-Leh highway. The stops from where you can get mechanics are Ganderbal, Sonamarg, Kargil, Lamayuru, Mulbekh, and Nimmu.
Things to look out for
It is your responsibility to check if the bike you are renting is tip-top. It is a long journey, and there have been cases where bikes break down entirely and leave the rider hanging high and dry. Here are the things that you should look out for.
– Check the odometer of the bike for the total kilometers the bike has clocked. Look for a comparatively new motorcycle.
– Do a test ride to get the feel of the bike. In case of a discrepancy, you can get it fixed.
– Check the condition of the chain, if the self-start works or not, if the tires are worn off if the tail lights work and check for oil leakages. Do your due diligence.