What’s more adventurous than trekking the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. Leh has the most famous trek in the region of Ladakh, The Markha Valley, but first you’ve got to make the journey to Leh. I opted to go on a journey from Manali to Leh by Bus. Read about the Markha Valley Trek through this link.
Getting into Leh
If you want to do some trekking in Leh, than you are going to have to fly in or catch a bus. There is no train to Leh, so that option is ruled out unfortunately. We caught the mini-bus journey from Manali to Leh. Most people seem to be doing this.
In my opinion though, you have to experience both way, because it’s so beautiful .The bus journey is the most amazing bus journey I have ever experienced. It will truly blow your mind! And the flight over out of/into Leh is also incredible. You will see the Himalaya’s snow-capped mountains from the air. It’s truly indescribable.
There are two bus options:
Local bus to Leh
This option is cheaper but is only operating near the late stages of June. This is due to the condition of the roads and the snow that piles onto them. The people in Manali will tell you if the road is open or not. You have to book the bus at the Manali Bus station which is on Mall Road.
Advantages of the local bus
- The price. It is cheaper but you will have to find some accommodation which will cost additional money.
- The bus makes a stop overnight, so you won’t have a driver that is driving 17 hours straight.
- Altitude Sickness. You can stay at one of the stops overnight. Keylong is a popular one to stop at which sits at 3,100M altitude. This can help you acclimatise, rather than going all in one journey to Leh. The journey goes to altitudes of upto 5,300M. I didn’t make a stop so am unsure whether it makes a difference but some say it helps.
Disadvantages of the local bus
- You will lose a day as you have to stay a day at Keylong.
- You will be travelling on the local bus which are tighter and less comfortable.
- Photo opportunities. I took the tourist bus with a window seat and had great photo opportunities and the windows were clean and easy to shoot through. Can’t say the local bus will be as easy.
Tourist Bus to Leh
I chose this option with no regrets. It is a 12 man mini-bus picking you up from the bridge in Manali Old town. Luggage is securely tied on the top of the bus.
Advantages of the tourist bus
- There is no overnight stop so the bus just goes all the way to Leh with some toilet and food breaks.
- The bus only has 12 passengers so is less tight. You have your own individual reclining seat. Top tip though, don’t sit at the back row (super bumpy). You are allocated seats so ensure you pick a non-back row seat when booking.
- Get a window seat and enjoy the best photo opportunities.
- Air-Con. Not that you need it but I guess it depends on the season.
Disadvantages of the tourist bus
- It cost me 3,200 Rupees, which is more than the local bus.
- Arguably more dangerous, as one driver does the whole journey, and it’s a long journey. I can testify that the drivers are really excellent though and there were no signs of fatigue.
- Altitude Sickness. It will vary person to person. I did not suffer it, but saw other people throwing up and being sick. The bus takes you to 5,300M at the highest point. Here you can stop for photos at the second highest motorable pass in the world. In June, snow covers everything you can see.
The bus journey from Manali to Leh
You should expect an amazing experience that you will never forget. The first part of my journey was in the dark as we set off at around 2:30AM. This meant we could not see the Rohtang Pass in all its beauty. It’s supposed to be a highlight. But not seeing this meant we had day light for the other parts.
The scenery and landscape changes a lot throughout the long journey from Manali to Leh. I can describe the various changes as rocky, dusty, icy, snowy, hilly, sharp and vast plains. It really has everything. People rave on about the Hai-Van Pass in Vietnam and how good that is. But this embarrasses the Hai-Van in comparison.
Much of the road is narrow, where there is a real struggle when the inevitable head to head occurs. One mistake and you will find one of the vehicles sliding off the dramatic cliff edge. At other times it is narrow for different reasons altogether. The walls of snow/ice box tower over your vehicle and make you feel very small sat in your little metal box. At one point, all the traffic stopped for half an hour or so. Later we found out that it was because the wall of ice had collapsed, blocking the road. A truck load of women were to carry out clearing duty. They looked strong and able, each equipped with their own spade in hand.
For one section of the Manali to Leh journey, you will be blown away by what I can only describe as what you think the North Pole might look like. At around 5,000M above sea level, there are blue glacially coloured lakes surrounded by tall mountains blanketed in snow.
Taglangla Pass – Worlds Second Highest Pass
Past the midway point of the Journey You will reach the Taglangla Pass. Arguably the second highest motorable pass in the world. The internet pages seem to argue differently, but there is a massive sign at the top none the less. It is very impressive at the pass, where it feels desolate, inhospitable and freezing cold. With blocks of ice littering the place.
The Final Stretch
In the latter stages of the bus journey from Manali to Leh, the scenery changes once again. The mountains change to a deep purple/red colour. As you approach Leh, you will find that it appears to look more like the countryside, surrounded by purple mountains rather than just isolated nothingness. You will sight the odd settlement and monasteries dotted around.
Your journey from Manali to Leh is over, and you have reached your destination. Leh is a quiet town, when you compare it to the rest of India. For me, it is the safest place in India, where people aren’t looking to scam you as soon as you get off the bus.
When I got off the bus, I was expected to be swarmed by parasitic taxi drivers, offering me stupid prices to take me to my guest house… But no, there was nothing. In fact, I actually struggled to even get a taxi, and ended up walking instead. I think Leh and Shimla are the safest places I have been to in India. It is a completely different side to India that I haven’t seen before. Now it’s time to decide which trek to go on. I would recommend the Markha Valley trek.
I hope this post has been helpful, please share it with other travellers if you have found it useful.