Ladakh offers one of India’s greatest adventures. The former Himalayan kingdom is one of Asia’s most spectacular places to explore, with high altitude arid valleys and snow-capped mountain ranges dotted with ancient Buddhist monasteries.
Leh is the main town and transport hub for any Ladakh adventure. It’s not the easiest place to reach requiring some spectacularly long road trips through mountains and over high passes. I’ve put together this blog post on how to get to Leh to help you plan your own North India itinerary.
Whether you’re wondering how to reach Leh from Srinagar or Manali, this post will explain all the public transport options for travellers hoping to get to Ladakh.
Where is Leh, Ladakh?
Leh is the largest town and capital of the Ladakh Union Territory in far north India. Ladakh and Leh are often referred to interchangeably, but Leh is generally the town where most people base their trip to the Ladakh region. Leh was the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom before Indian independence and it sits at an important crossroads of the former Silk Road trading route.
The Ladakh territory covers just over 59, 000 sq km in area and sits at a contentious part of Asia. It’s wedged between Tibet to the east, China to the north and Pakistan to the west, with the rest of India to the south. The nearby international borders are heavily contested and there is significant military presence in the surrounding area.
Leh town is 1010km north of Delhi, the capital of India.
Read next: Comprehensive Travel Guide to Ladakh
When is the Best Time to Travel to Ladakh
Leh is in a part of the world that sees extremely harsh weather conditions. Sitting at 3500m in the Greater Himalayan Range, the town has very cold winters and heavy snow for much of the year. Its remote location means that travel in the region can be quite challenging at any time outside of summer.
Still, you can technically visit Leh all year round.
However, the summer months between June and August is the best time to visit Leh, Ladakh. This is also the high season for tourists with the most pleasant weather. The town comes alive during these months, although it’s rarely crowded compared to other parts of India.
The roads are generally open from May/June until September/October, depending on the weather conditions. If you wish to visit Leh by public transport, you’ll have no other option but to visit during these summer months.
Outside of summer, snow and ice can block the roads in and out of Leh and access to Ladakh is limited to flying. In winter, you’re only hope of reaching Leh is by plane. Even many locals migrate away from Ladakh at this time.
How to Get to Leh
Leh is not an easy place to reach. You generally have two options to get to Ladakh: by air or by road. Flying to Leh is the easiest option and there are flights at any time of the year, although in summer you’ll find more regular flights. If you have limited time and want to reach Leh from Delhi directly, then this is the best option.
Flights are generally operated in the morning hours with the mountain weather most clear and predictable at this time. The flight time is around 1.5 hours and can cost from 4000INR (AU$80) up to 10,000INR (AU$200) depending on when you book. Air India, Vistara and Spice Jet all fly from Delhi to Leh.
However, many travellers prefer to reach Leh by road. This is one of the greatest road trips in the world and is not for the faint-hearted. To reach Leh by road, you can come from two directions: from Srinagar or from Manali.
For most travellers, coming from Manali is most convenient and the more popular option, although the road is far more arduous. The Srinagar-Leh road is less travelled but is a great option if you plan to explore Kashmir or think you might have problems with sudden changes in altitude. The Srinagar-Leh route has a more gradual altitude change compared to Manali.
There’s a range of public transport options to reach Leh from both Manali and Srinagar and I’ll provide details for both journeys below.
Via Srinagar and Kargil
Getting to Leh through Kashmir means taking the beautiful but long drive from Srinagar via Kargil to Ladakh. It’s one of the most incredible road trips in the country and one that takes you from the green, fertile lands of the Kashmir Valley to the high altitude desert of Ladakh.
The road between Srinagar and Leh is generally open from around April until October. You should always check the road status before planning your trip as it depends on the snowfall in the colder months and risk of landslides. This road is usually open longer than the Leh-Manali Road.
Srinagar is the summer capital of Kashmir on the edge of the beautiful Dal Lake. Although it’s perhaps more known for its political disturbances and the centre of India’s attempt to control the Muslim-majority Kashmir territory, it’s actually a city worth exploring.
To get to Srinagar, you’ll most likely have to pass through Jammu, the other major city in Kashmir and easily reachable from towns in Himachal Pradesh. Getting to Srinagar from Jammu is usually straight forward with a number of buses and shared vehicles making the journey each day. However, the political situation in Kashmir can occasionally mean the closure of the highway to Srinagar for considerable lengths of time. Check the situation with locals before you begin your journey to Jammu.
Read more: 10 Best Things to Do in Srinagar, Kashmir
Where to Stay in Srinagar
Hotel Fabulous Kashmir | The family who runs this hotel is lovely and I would go back for their hospitality. Private rooms start from 400 rupees (AU$8) per night, perfect for the budget traveller. Check availability here.
Zostel Srinagar | This is one of India’s biggest hostel chains and they are high quality budget option, with good standards. It’s a great place to stay for backpackers and solo travellers with a very social scene. Check availability here.
New Shanhshah Houseboat | I stayed at this homestay-style houseboat run by a great local guy called Altaf. It was a great experience and he’s a popular choice with other backpackers. The houseboat is nothing flash but the homely experience and delicious food cooked by Altaf’s wife makes it worthwhile. He can also be your guide around the city with his own autorickshaw and boat. His number is: +91 97970 55438. You can call him when you arrive in Srinagar and he can pick you up.
Srinagar to Leh by Bus
Once in Srinagar, you have a couple of options to reach Leh. The cheapest option is to take the local J&KRTC bus service. This local government bus plies the route to Leh from Srinagar every couple of days. It usually halts overnight in Kargil where you have to find your own accommodation and then return to the bus the next morning.
The journey is slow and can be around 10 hours of travel each day, with 7am starts. Check the latest schedule for the next bus at the TRC bus station on TRC Road in Srinagar. Book ahead of time, as the seats can fill days in advance. Prices start from around 1050 rupees (AU$21).
Where to Stay in Kargil
Kargil is a dusty sprawl of a town that has a number of decent accommodation options. It’s best to stay relatively close to where your transport will drop and pick up, so you don’t necessarily need to book in advance. I waited until I arrived to find somewhere close to where the bus would depart from again the following morning.
Hotel International Residency | This is a great option with decent rooms and despite the fancy name, prices are reasonable with both dormitory-style rooms and private rooms available. Check availability here.
Hotel Rangyul | This is where I stayed as it was right where my bus dropped me and I bargained for a decent price for the night. They had Wi-Fi and an onsite restaurant.
Srinagar to Leh by Shared Jeep
The other option to get from Srinagar to Leh is by shared jeep. If you ask at the TRC bus station in Srinagar you’ll find taxis and jeeps waiting to fill up with passengers. They tend to make the entire journey in one day and are much quicker than the bus.
If you have a group of travellers, it’s best to hire the whole jeep and then you can stop along the way whenever you please. Prices are usually around 2000 rupees per seat (AU$40) and the journey takes around 12 hours.
Via Manali and Keylong
The more popular route for travellers is to reach Leh from Manali via Keylong. This is an epic road that is well known by intrepid travellers and motorbike enthusiasts for its high passes and unpredictable conditions. It’s more arduous than the Srinagar-Leh road, but with Manali a more popular travel destination, this has become the preferred route.
This road winds for 430km through the Greater Himalayas with an average height of 4000m. There are three high passes over 5000m with the highest being Tanglang La at 5320m. This makes the road an extremely beautiful and yet challenging feat, with a high risk of altitude sickness and landslides causing havoc for many trips. Still, it’s a commonly used road with a constant stream of buses, trucks, jeeps and motorbikes in the summer months.
The road is usually open from around May or June until October every year. This depends on how harsh the winter is in the region and when the Border Road Organisation is able to clear the snow. You should check the current road status before planning your trip.
Similar to the Srinagar-Leh approach, you have two options to take this road: by local bus or shared jeep.
Where to Stay in Manali
Manali is a major tourist destination in Himachal Pradesh with hundreds of accommodation options for every type of traveller. Old Manali is where you’ll find most of the backpacker and budget accommodation.
Moustache Hostel | This is one of the Indian chain hostels and was one of the cheapest options that I found in Manali. It’s great value and I enjoyed my stay. It was clean with all the amenities you can expect from a good hostel. It’s situated right at the beginning of Old Manali. Check availability here.
Find more Manali accommodation options here.
Manali to Leh by Bus
There are a couple of options for getting to Leh from Manali by bus. Both are government run, with different comfort levels and times.
HPTDC – Himachal Pradesh Tourism Bus
From Manali’s ISBT and main bus station, you’ll find all the ticket counters and parking bays for the buses. You have a couple of options for the bus to Leh. The HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Bus) offer a semi-deluxe tourist bus from Manali to Leh which runs direct in a day. Prices for this option are around 1800 rupees (AU$35).
You can either book at the HPTDC office on the main mall in Manali just up from the main bus station or online using RedBus. When I did this journey it took 20 hours, although they often say it takes 16 hours. It all depends on the road conditions.
HRTC – Himachal Pradesh Local Bus
A more budget-friendly option is the local HRTC bus.
The journey is done in two days, with a night in Keylong. First, take a local HRTC bus to Keylong, stay the night there and then take another bus the following day to Leh. A bus from Manali to Keylong is 250 rupees (AU$5) per seat and there are regular departures from around 5am to 1pm. The journey takes around three hours.
The bus from Keylong to Leh leaves at 5am (there’s only one) and costs around 600 rupees per seat (AU$12). It’s best to be at the station early to get your ticket as this can be a popular bus in high season. The journey takes around 14 hours.
Where to Stay in Keylong
Keylong is a small town but there are a few accommodation options around the bus station. Prices can be exuberant because the hotel managers know that you need to spend the night there. Ask around and take a look at the rooms to compare.
Khandroling Guesthouse | This hotel is right on the edge of the bus station. After asking a few places, it was by far the cheapest and they charged 400 rupees (AUD$8) for single occupancy or 500 rupees (AUD$10) for two people per room. It was basic and average but for just one night’s sleep, it did the job. They have Wi-Fi and a restaurant too.
Manali to Leh by Shared Taxi or Tempo Traveller
There are some shared jeeps and taxis which make the drive from Manali to Leh. The Manali taxi stand is right next to the bus station and you’ll find plenty of people there to ask. The drivers tend to begin the journey at around 6am direct to Leh. You’ll usually reach Leh around 8pm. A seat in a shared taxi can cost around 3500INR (AU$65). You should enquire at least the day before to confirm the time and seat.
If you can find other travellers to join, it can be beneficial to hire a whole vehicle and split the costs as you might have a more comfortable trip.
About Leh, Ladakh
Leh is a great mountain town and the main transport hub for exploring Ladakh. There are plenty of things to do in Leh and you’ll find that you can easily spend a few days in and around the town.
After the long journey to reach Leh, you’ll want to take the time to relax and acclimatise slowly. There are plenty of accommodation options, restaurants and cafes to sit back in for a few days.
Where to Stay in Leh
There are accommodation options for everyone in Leh. For budget travellers, the best accommodation in Leh is the small family-run guesthouses that you can find around the bazaar and Fort Rd. It’s a very walkable town and you could easily find somewhere to stay upon arriving, however here are my top picks:
Budget: Raybo Hostel
Budget: Peace Guest House
Midrange: Chandan Guest House
Midrange: Rock Castle Residency
High-end: Grand Dragon
Read more: Best Places to Stay in Leh, Ladakh
Leaving Leh and Ladakh
Leaving Leh, you have the same options that I outlined above, just in reverse. You can go down to Manali by shared taxi or local bus or head in the other direction to Srinagar by shared taxi or local bus.
The main bus stand in Leh is 1.5km from the main bazaar area and is where you’ll find the latest bus schedule and office to pre-book tickets. You can also find some shared taxis and jeeps here, although some also congregate around what is referred to as Bomb Guard (locals know of it).
HPTDC – Himachal Pradesh Tourist Bus
The HPTDC office was closed (as of 2023) in Leh. However, you can book tickets online. The bus in the reverse direction down to Manali leaves at 6pm and runs overnight to Leh. You’ll arrive in Manali in the morning around 9am. Tickets are around 1800 rupees (AU$35).
J&KSRTC – Local Bus
The local bus to Manali from Leh operates mush the same as the journey going up. The bus halts for a night in Keylong after an early morning departure from Leh at around 4am. The ticket costs about 800INR (AU$16) for the whole journey. Go to the bus station in Leh the day before to check times and purchase tickets.
The same goes for the Srinagar bus. There’s usually a daily local bus that leaves Leh at 2pm and halts the night in Kargil. Head to the bus station the day before to book a ticket.
You can also top for the quicker shared taxis which run back to Manali from Leh and back to Srinagar.
For Manali, they usually charge around 3500INR for a seat. Some leave in the morning around 7am from Leh, while others near the bus station leave in the afternoon and do the journey overnight. The easiest way to book them is through any of the travel agents in Leh or you can also head directly to the bus station or Bomb Guard in the morning to get a seat. There are generally always drivers looking to fill their cars on the day of travel.
For Srinagar, there are shared taxis leaving from the bus station in the afternoon to do the trip overnight. Otherwise, you can also head to Bomb Guard in the morning to grab a seat from as early as 6am. Any of the travel agents in Leh will also be able to book a seat a day in advance for you too.
Exploring More of North India?
You can head back to Kargil and then towards the remote Zanskar Valley. It’s one of the last places of real adventure in Ladakh and is a place that sees very few tourists. Read about how to explore Zanskar Valley.
If you’re heading down to Srinagar, you should take a trip to Aru Valley. This spectacular place just east of Srinagar, has snow capped mountains and lush green slopes, a completely opposite sight to Ladakh. Read my travel guide to Aru Valley in Kashmir.
If you’re going the other way and down towards Manali, then you might be interested in going to Spiti Valley. This incredibly remote part of North India is a truly spectacular place that is popular amongst those looking for an adventure. Read my travel guide to Spiti Valley.