In this article, I will post a brief travelogue shared by a friend, Kaustubh Kale, who recently traveled to Ladakh by Public Transport Services. This travelogue details and provide some important information on how you can go to Ladakh; completely depending upon Public transport like bus and shared taxis. Kaustubh also shares information on where he stayed during his trip and how much it cost him. If you too are planning a trip to Ladakh in near future; by public transport and intending to keep it within a budget; then I am sure the information below will be of extreme help.
Ladakh, the very name entices and intrigues. I do not believe there is anyone in our country today that has even the slightest of interest in traveling and hasn’t either been to Ladakh already or is not planning to do so.
What once was a mysterious land far away is now the dream destination of India. Each year, thousands travel to this piece of heaven on earth and return with long lasting memories and tall tales of travel to cherish. I too was no exception.
For most, Ladakh is a biker’s paradise. A place where you proudly ride your motorcycle to. Others travel by car but majority of the tourists go by their own vehicles. But what do you do when you live in other corner of India? Do you bring your own vehicle all the way from your hometown to Himalayas; riding or driving through a boring plane journey? Or do you travel by air and miss the fun of a road journey? No, you mix a bit of everything; something that I ended up doing.
A trip to Ladakh means meticulous planning, a lot of research. It is not your usual weekend getaway where you just pack your bags and go to. This trip demands that you familiarize yourself with every aspect of the journey before you start. When I say every aspect, I mean the places, the weather, connectivity, accommodation, possible challenges and much more. Thinking back now, I am not even sure how many hours I spent in research, reading about Ladakh over the web, pages and pages of information.
Ladakh by Public Transport
Please note that Inner Line Permit is now needed in order to visit areas like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. Read How to Obtain Inner Line Permit for Ladakh for more details on the procedure and charges related.
If you are traveling with family, please read How to Plan a trip to Ladakh with Infants or Children for some tips on ensuring that your children do not face any problem in a high altitude place like Ladakh.
Mumbai to Chandigarh
Day 1: Monday, 24th July
I caught my flight from Mumbai and reached Chandigarh by evening. There wasn’t much to do in the city here. I had no intention of staying or sightseeing in Chandigarh so proceeded straight to ISBT bus stand at Sector 43, Chandigarh by Uber to board the next bus going towards Manali. I had a long night of bus ride ahead of me. After a bit of walking around, I decided to have my dinner at the bus stand itself. Finally the bus from Chandigarh to Manali started at around 10 PM.
Chandigarh to Manali to Keylong
Day 2: Tuesday, 25th July
The bus reached Manali early in the morning at 6.15-6.30. I had a day of stay planned here for which I had booked ‘Manali Comforts’; a kind of home stay close to Mall Road for Rs. 850 per day. Since I arrived early in the morning, I showed up at the home stay way before the actual check in time but the owner was kind to let me an early check-in. The guest house was just about OK for the price. I had the entire day here to myself so slept for a couple of hours, freshened up and proceeded to do some sightseeing in Manali. Saw Hadimba Temple, Ghatotkach Temple, Vashishta Kund, Manu Temple, Indian Mountaineering Institute apart from Mall Road obviously.
I found Manali to be strictly okay, it was a bit too crowded for my taste really; does not require a stay unless a journey break is required.
Also read: Mobile Phone Services in Ladakh
Manali to Keylong
Day 3: Wednesday, 26th July
Plan for this day was to catch the HPTDC Manali to Leh bus that halts at Keylong for the night. I had already booked my seat in advance just to be on a safer side. Fare of the bus was INR 2,900, including the night stay at Keylong, Dinner and breakfast early morning next day. We reached Keylong by evening and stayed at HPTDC Hotel Chandrabhaga. It is a dormitory type accommodation with 4 or 5 beds in each room. The rooms and washrooms were clean, better than what I expected, so I was happy. Dinner was amazing too. No complaints with anything regarding the bus. The bus left early morning at 4.20 am next day for the final lapse of the journey to Leh.
Keylong to Leh
Day 4: Thursday, 27th July
Keylong to Leh is by the same bus HPTDC bus that brings tourists from Manali to Keylong. Unlike the HRTC Bus, you are not required to change and board a different bus. Your allotted seat remains the same throughout the journey; from Manali to all the way till Leh. Breakfast in the morning was inclusive of bread omelette, one banana and a cup of much required hot tea. The bus left at 4.20 am in the morning and reached Leh at 7.30 pm.
Since my network wasn’t working, I couldn’t call up or search around hotels to stay and went for the hotel where a family friend had stayed two weeks back; Gongma Guest House. Had the first hand experience of Ladakh hospitality and warmth of the people when a father-son duo helped me navigate to the hotel by calling up the owner themselves and showing me the way though I am sure it was not in their regular way; rather a considerable detour.
Gongma was less of a guest house and more of a hotel. Rates are about 1500 for a double bedroom. I could get it at 1000 since I was a solo traveler. A bit on the higher side but I am bad at negotiation. The rooms were good and owners were very hospitable. I decided to stay all my nights at Leh in the same hotel so as to be comfortable. I carried two bags; one rucksack and a handbag. I used to keep the handbag in the hotel itself during my visits to places around.
Also read: 10 Reasons why you should NEVER visit Ladakh
Day 5: Friday, 28th July
A fellow solo traveler from Delhi (met him the in HPTDC bus) and myself spent this day for some local sightseeing in Leh. We rented an Activa there for the purpose. We visited Leh Palace, Shanti Stoopa, Hall of Fame, Zorawar Fort and Leh market. The more important task for the day however was to arrange the Inner Line Permit. Thankfully though, my hospital hotel owners came to rescue with this task. For an additional Rs. 100 apart from the ILP charges, they arranged my permits without needing me to go to the DM office. This way I could spend the entire day visiting all the above mentioned places in Leh.
Leh to Nubra Valley
Day 6: Saturday, 29th July
The plan for today was to visit Nubra Valley. There is a direct bus from Leh to Diskit in Nubra Valley; available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The bus leaves Leh at 6 am for Diskit; and the same bus return to Leh the next day. It depearts from Diskit at 7 AM.
However, the ticket for this bus must be booked in advance at least one day before. For booking, you will have to go to Leh Bus stand and buy a ticket from there. Next day you need to reach the Bus stand early in the morning to catch the bus. We were not aware of this and made the mistake of not booking tickets in advance. There were 5 other solo travelers I met at the bus stop who faced the same issue. Since we were not allowed to board the bus, we book ourselves a shared cab. You can easily find shared cabs for Nubra Valley at nearby Polo ground.
As a matter of fact, we found the shared cab on the way while we were walking towards Polo ground. We were quoted a price of Rs. 400 per person, but we paid him 500 for staying a bit longer in Diskit and visiting the monastery. We reached Diskit at around lunch time and had lunch at the cafe adjacent to the shared taxi stand.
We then took another cab (all 6 of us) to Hunder at a total cost 400. Ask anyone in Diskit for the shared taxi stand and any local will guide you. Shared taxis are available there for almost all other areas of Nubra Valley.
Hunder to Turtuk
My plan was to go all the way to Turtuk and of my 5 fellow travelers; I found out that 2 more people had the same intention. There is a daily bus service from Diskit to Turtuk that passes through Hunder as well. But since we were a bit late, we had already missed the last bus going that way. This yet again left us with shared cab as the only choice which actually so far had suited us very well. From Hunder, the 3 of us then proceeded to Turtuk for a total cost of Rs. 3,100.
We reached Turtuk at around around 7.30 in the evening; and stayed there for the night at Balti Homestay for Rs. 500 ; including dinner. Owners of Balti Guest House in Turtuk; a gentleman named Abdullah and his brother were very hospitable people. Food served was basic but surprisingly delicious. For a price of Rs. 500 per person, I must admit that the stay was well worth the money.
Turtuk to Panamik
Day 7: Sunday, 30th July
There is a waterfall in Turtuk that I must recommend for everyone to hike up to. You will have to walk and climb a little bit but you will get a totally amazing view of the village from the top. I went there early in the morning at 5:15 am and returned back to the home stay by about 8.45 am. My plan for today was to first go to Diskit and then continue to Panamik from there. However, yet again, I was late and missed the morning bus from Turtuk to Diskit. In peak tourist season however, you will have no trouble hitch hiking. There are a lot of people traveling by their own vehicles and they will be happy to give you a ride if they can. I just started to walk along the road from Turtuk and quite soon, was offered lift by a noble Delhi man.
I got off at Diskit and from there took a cab to Panamik. The private cab was on a bit of expensive side but luckily, I found a German solo traveler to share the cost with. He got off at Tiggur and I continued to Panamik where I stayed the night at Panamik Oasis. The stay here was quite decent and reasonably priced, Rs. 500 including dinner. Rooms were just about okay but the staff and owners were hospitable. Dinner however was very delicious.
I took a leisurely stroll around Panamik, which didn’t feel any exception after going to Turtuk. It is just a a normal sleepy village but the hot water spring here is definitely worth a visit. I took a bath in the hot springs which was amazingly refreshing.
Panamik to Leh
Day 8: Monday, 31st July
Next morning I took a bus from Panamik to Sumur for Rs. 20 bucks. From Sumur, I boarded a shared cab to Leh for Rs. 400. In Leh, I went back to the same hotel that I checked in to when I arrived here. Remainder of the day was spent in Leh; randomly wandering, roaming and going to the market.
Leh to Pangong Tso
Day 9: Tuesday, 1st August
Plan for today was to see the famous Pangong Tso. Unlike Nubra Valley, this time I made sure that I booked my ticket in advance. The bus starts from Leh at 7.30 in the morning and fare is Rs. 270 per person. You will have to visit Leh bus stand and book your ticket at least one day before or else you may not be able to board the bus at all. The journey took about 7 to 8 hours; and we arrived at Spangmik between 4 to 5 PM. Luckily for me, I met a person in the bus who owned his own home stay and camp in Spangmik and decided to stay with him. It goes by the name of Padma Homestay and Camp.
The place was good and camp was especially quite close to the lake. Since I got a little friendly with the owner during our 7-8 hours journey, I got a camp with attached washroom for Rs. 800; including dinner and breakfast.
Rest of the day was spent whiling away my time at the lake; wondering how beautiful its clear water on account of the blue sky makes it look. Had dinner at about 8 pm (which was indeed amazing) and slept at about 9 PM. For a person from Mumbai, the weather was very cold.
Also read: Clothes for Ladakh Trip – What to Pack?
Pangong Tso to Leh
Day 10: Wednesday, 2nd August
The bus that brings you from Leh to Pangong returns the next day . It starts from Spangmik at 7 AM and fare per person is Rs. 270. Traveling by the same bus, I reached Leh at around 3 PM. I spent the rest of the evening in Leh randomly wandering, roaming and going to the market. My plan for next day was to visit Tso Moriri and so far I had no idea about shared taxis going that way. So I started to ask around with various travel agents that are on the market road; and especially on Changspa road. I was told that Changspa Road was a better chance for me to get a shared cab to Tso Moriri. Finally I was able to book myself a seat in a shared cab going to Tso Moriri the next day morning.
Leh to Tso Moriri
Day 11: Thursday, 3rd August
Taxis in Ladakh are indeed a costly affair. The shared cab I booked was accommodating 4 people and yet cost us Rs. 3,400 per person for a round trip. We Leh Leh for Tso Moriri at 7.30 AM and arrived at 5:30 PM, after a long 10 hours drive. I had a Thali for Lunch at Chumathang for Rs. 80 which was extremely filling and delicious. The skies weren’t clear when we reached Karzok so didn’t really have as good a view of the lake that it would ideally look. But I could imagine how beautiful this too would be. I spent the evening at the lake and stayed in a homestay in Karzok.
It did not have a board so I can’t recollect the name but it was just ahead of Wangdu homestay. I paid Rs. 470 for the stay which also included dinner and tea. I will definitely have to come back to Tso Moriri once again during my next trip to Ladakh.
Tso Moriri to Leh
Day 12: Friday, 4th August
Next day I decided to stroll out early morning; walking randomly behind Karzok for some time on serene, isolated roads; decided not to go to the lake since the skies were just the same. I went to the monastery as well, which provided awesome view of the lake. We left Karzok at 8.30 AM for Leh. For return journey we took a different route via Tso Kar and Tanglang La. I found Tso Kar to be an immensely beautiful lake. Though the lake was partly dried up but a fascinating beauty still. We had lunch Thali at Upshi for Rs. 90; and also visited Hemis monastery, before reaching Leh in the evening.
Leh to Gurudwara Patthar Sahib to Leh
Day 13: Saturday, 5th August
This was my last day in Leh before I caught a flight back home. I booked a cab for Rs.1,900 and explored about 30-40 kms of Leh Srinagar highway. It was more of a leisurely drive; I saw Indus Zanskar confluence (Sangam), magnetic hill and paid a visit at Gurudwara Patthar Sahib. My lunch too was delicious langar at the Gurudwara. Returned to Leh by 2.30-3pm and took a short nap before venturing out in the Leh market in the evening. I bought packets of yak milk cheese and jars of apricot jam to take back home apart from the mandatory OM – Buddhist string of small flags that is tied to every car / bike (sorry, don’t know what that is called).
Leh to Mumbai
Day 14: Sunday, 6th August
And so was the end of an amazing trip to Ladakh, the land of Lamas and heaven on earth. I took a cab from Gongma Guest House to Airport for Rs. 250 and caught my flight back home. How I killed my time during the flight, well I was preparing the list of places I will be visiting during my next trip to Ladakh. My plan included the following,
To-do for next year, randomly scribbled:
- Hanle – Ladakh
- Leh – Srinagar highway especially Joji La pass
- Kargil halt when Leh – Srinagar
- Turtuk again with couple of nights
- Plucking apricots from the trees in Turtuk
- Have yalk milk cheese and pizza with yak cheese – didn’t do this since I was on diet in 2017.
- Alchi monastery
- Lahaul and Spiti Valley – Chandrataal, Kaza
- Dha and hanu
- Lamayaru monastery
- Kasaul / Kasol hp
- Tso Moriri once again
For anyone planning a visit to Ladakh by public transport, I am sure the information above could be of great use. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.