Have you heard? Ladakh is one of the most sought after mountain destinations in India. With its dramatic snow-clad mountain ranges piercing the sky, deep blue lakes, and quaint mud-brick villages, the stunning Ladakh is a traveller’s paradise.
Ladakh is the highest plateau in the state of Kashmir and it extends from the Great Himalayans to the Kunlun mountain range. The average height in the Ladakh region is a little under 20,000 ft (6,000M) above sea level, with much of it being above 9,800 ft (3,000M). The picturesque landscape is unforgettable, and so is the drive up to the largest town in the region, Leh.
During the winter months of October to May or June, the only way up to Leh is by airplane. The roads are closed for six months as vehicles cannot move in the snowbound region. Now that Summer is here, the HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) has restarted the new bus route that goes from Delhi to Leh.
The Delhi-Leh bus route is the longest, highest and toughest bus route in India, if not the world. It goes through a narrow, rocky, curvy mountain terrain with countless hairpin bends. The 1,203KM road will climb an altitude of approximately 5,182M through four of the highest motorable passes in the world – Taglang-la at 17,480 ft (5,328M), Lachulung-la at 16,600 ft (5,060M), Baralacha-la at 16,050 ft (4,892M) and Rohtang-la at 13,050 ft (3,978M).
This is a slow ride that will last at least 36 hours. The journey starts at the Delhi Interstate Bus Terminus at 2.30PM. After leaving the hectic Delhi traffic, the bus will go through four big cities, namely Chandigarh, Kullu, Manali and Keylong, before reaching the freezing heights of Leh. It’s not just the temperature that you need to be prepared for, the high altitudes have caused many to suffer from nausea, headaches and breathlessness, all of which are symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). To prevent AMS from becoming severe, drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise before going on excursions.
As a safety feature, the journey will have an overnight stop at Keylong where a special camp has been built for you and more importantly, your bus “pilots”. At 5AM the next morning, you will get on a different bus for the last leg of the journey where you will finally arrive at Leh at 7PM.
The Tata bus is definitely not for the faint-hearted. However, the India Times says HRTC has given their assurance that your journey will be safe; the drivers are highly skilled and know how to drive on the deadliest of roads. Furthermore, there will be three different drivers taking turns to drive throughout the journey.
Navigating through wide open plains, fords, and tight gorges with no facilities, you will have the best views on your toilet break though you’ll need to make do with relieving yourself in the open. There won’t be any restaurants except in the cities, so make sure to bring enough food and lots of water along.
The extended drive will test your patience, but the breathtaking landscape behind your window will distract you from your aching gluteus maximus. Your biggest struggle of the day would be to stay awake or miss the amazing landscape.
Once you are in the high-desert city of Leh, the Pangong Tso lake, mountain hikes, monasteries, valleys will leave you speechless. As remote as it may be, the allure of Leh has turned it into a full-fledge tourist destination. Accommodation, food, and sights are abound. After that bus ride, you’d want to spend a few days immersing yourself in the enchanting beauty of the Himalayas.
To get back down to reality, you can take a scenic flight or embark on another strenuous yet mesmerising bus adventure from Leh back down to Delhi. The Delhi-Leh-Leh-Delhi bus adventure will be a long but insanely beautiful ride up the mountain tops, one that you can bet your rupees it’ll be worth it.
Now this is the kind of high that we don’t mind.
According to the HRTC Facebook page, the Delhi-Leh bus departs daily from the Delhi Interstate Bus Terminus (ISBT) at 2:30PM and 3:45PM, arriving in Keylong the next day at 1:30PM. The trip then starts again at 5:00AM the next day from Keylong and arrives at Leh at 7:00PM in the evening. The Leh-Delhi bus departs at 5:00AM and arrives in Delhi by 4:00AM.
One way fare is INR1,365 (USD20.45), though it comes up to INR2,700 (USD40.45) if you opt for accommodation, dinner and breakfast in Keylong. Online booking is not available at the moment due to unpredictable road conditions. However, you can purchase advance tickets from HRTC booking counter at the ISBTs. More information can be found here.
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