This is a journey which when complete will give you a feeling of achievement since the bus ride from Manali to Leh is an experience by itself. One which many have experienced and a lot more have considered but ended up taking the easier and faster route to reach Ladakh.
If you are planning a trip to Ladakh, the HRTC bus from Manali to Leh is your preferred mode of transportation, then this article is for you. If you are someone who’s curious to know how the bus journey to Ladakh is, then read on. This is arguably the most gruelling yet fun way to reach Ladakh.
The tickets for the bus to Ladakh have to be booked in person, so there is no way you can book this online even though it shows up on the HRTC site. The ticket does not really end up getting booked, you’ll always get some or the other error. This is because the bus is subject to road and weather conditions.
Even though you will read about the bus being marketed as New Delhi to Leh, it.s not a direct journey all the way. The bus will stop at Manali and Keylong in Himachal Pradesh. You will need to find a night stay at each of the two locations and hop onto the bus the following day as per the timings which is mostly between 05:00-07:00 HRS in the morning.
The journey to Leh can be divided into three parts
- New Delhi to Manali
- Manali to Keylong (116km = 5-7 hours)
- Keylong to Leh (357km = 12-16 hours)
Do keep in mind it’s an ordinary class HRTC bus which has two rows of two seating and three seating. Based on the number of people you’re travelling with, you can opt for seats. That’s provided there are enough seats on the day of your travel.
New Delhi to Manali: It is basically an overnight 14 hour bus drive from ISBT Kashmiri Gate New Delhi to New Manali Government bus stand. This is the only leg of the journey where the tickets can be booked online via the HRTC website. Most travellers prefer to take a Volvo bus on this leg of the journey and then stay a night or two in Manali before they rough it out for the rest of the journey to Leh.
The second leg of the journey: Manali to Keylong is pretty much the most unorganised and scrambled part of the journey since you have to wait for the bus to come and then book tickets for the journey to Keylong. Mostly its always a dash since there are a lot of locals who ply up this route on a daily basis, so expect the first couple of buses to be crowded. A total of four to five buses from Manali leave for Keylong in a day and all of them are again the same class HRTC ordinary.
Before the start of the Atal Tunnel which connects Manali to Keylong, this journey was via Rohtang La which used to take a lot of time with the narrow road and the tourist traffic to see Rohtang La. Expect to get stuck for a good two to four hours at Rohtang regardless of the time you take the bus, there will always be some kind of traffic or road block.
Once you reach Keylong bus stand, you will be approached by a few touts who will try to sell you a cheap room or a dorm for the night but most of the times these rooms are just a good deal but not the ideal place to stay before another long journey to Leh. Booking online via Google or any of the portals is a better way to book a room for your night stay in Keylong.
It is while you are at Keylong that you will need to book the bus ticket for Leh. And this can only be booked around 15:00 HRS from the booking counter at the bus station, since they only take bookings after the bus to Leh arrives at Keylong. Be prepared to stand in a long line or miss out on getting a ticket for your travel the next day.
If you already notice people in a line outside the booking counter, then its best to join that line and wait for the counter to open. The bus to Leh can only accommodate roughly around 50 people, so if you want a front seat then it’s best to wait in line early.
IMPORTANT: Reconfirm with an HRTC official what’s the max number of tickets a single person can book by standing in line and based on that take a call in case you are in a group. Rules change based on the number of people waiting for a bus.
Once you have got your bus ticket and have confirmed the timing of the bus, make sure you make it to the bus station at least 45 minutes prior to departure. The reason is because you have to load your own bags at the top of the bus. Yes, you have to climb the bus yourself and load the bags. No one is going to do that for you in Keylong at 5 am, so the only way around this is to climb the ladder and load your bag at the top of the bus. For this single reason, it’s best to come early, so you have enough time to get your backpack well bolted to the roof of the bus.
The Third Leg: Keylong to Leh
Bus starts from Keylong in the morning at 05:30 HRS and will go all the way to Leh with stops first at Darch for breakfast, it’s along the river side with a barren view of the Trans-Himalayas. It’s a good place to get out of the bus and stretch your legs, but only eat if you are feeling fine and absolutely need to eat something.
Along the way, three passes that come are Baralacha pass, Lachung La Pass and Tanglang La Pass. The other highlights of the journey are passing through Sarchu which marks the border for Himachal and Ladakh. Gata Loops and more plains which come along the way between each of the respective passes. Suraj Tal is a a beautiful lake which will be visible briefly between Zing Zing Bar and just between the climb to Baralacha starts.
The bus will stop at Pang for lunch. It’s easily the highest place most of us will ever stop on a bus ride for lunch. Pang is located at an altitude of around 15280 feet above sea-level. It’s normal to find the air a bit thinner and have some kind of a headache, don’t freak out, just have a light lunch and move.
If everything goes as per schedule along the journey, then you can expect to reach the entry check post to Ladakh which is the village of Upshi which is located roughly around 47 kms from Leh. This is a mandatory stop which is usually a large evening tea halt. Before it’s a straight drive all the way to the town of Leh. You should reach Leh by 17:00-20:00 HRS based on the road condition along the journey.
If you are the kind of person who likes things out of their comfort zone, then this is the perfect start to your adventure to Ladakh. But on the other hand, if you want comfort then choose any other mode of travel other than the HRTC bus ride.