Getting to Leh is an Adventure in Itself
Part 1 – Intro & route variations
Part 2 – When to trek & difficulty
Part 3 – Homestays & water
Part 4 – Budgeting & guidebooks
Part 5 – Exploring Leh
Part 6 – Final preparations & kitlist
Part 7 – Route description
Even getting an Indian visa is a bit of a rabbit hole. It requires filling in an interminably long form (especially if you’re British) and swearing on your honour that you have never ever had anything to do with Pakistan. Thankfully, they have an electronic visa system in place for tourists, which simplifies things considerably. Though you still have to get square photos – obnoxiously sized differently from every other visa application in the world.
Once you’ve landed in Delhi – keeping your wits about you to avoid being tricked by the locals – you have two choices to get to Leh: a 2 day bus journey or a domestic flight.
Less scary than it looks, honest!
Most people take the flight for…obvious reasons. The bus journey via Manali goes over a 5,000m pass, which though no doubt thrilling, is likely to result in horrendous altitude symptoms. It would seem picking your overnight stop is key (here is a helpful post laying out your options). If you survive, you’ll be in a good position to tackle your next 5,000m pass, but I’m just not sure 2 days spent on a bus feeling ill is worth it. Personally, I can only endure 10 straight hours on a bus (and that’s without altitude symptoms), more than that and I lose my mind.
Taking a flight does have it’s own altitude problems though. The sudden exposure to an altitude of 3,500m once you step off the plane does take some time to get used to. You’ll likely experience a mild-headache, bit of dizziness and feeling out of breath when going up steps – enough to make you think all that cardio training was in vain. After a couple of days you’ll acclimatise, and this to me seems the lesser of two evils when compared to the bus saga.
It’s easy enough to book domestic flights from outside of India. AirIndia and Vistara both operate Delhi-Leh flights and have European-debit-card-friendly websites (GoAir also operates flights, but I found the website temperamental when it comes to payment).
Exploring the Magical, Mountain City of Leh
Namgyal Gompa sitting majestically above Leh.
Once you’ve landed, you should schedule two days for tottering around slightly altitude tipsy. Luckily, Leh is an interesting, rather wonderful place to spend a couple of days exploring. Head uphill to the top of the town (testing your acclimatisation) to visit Leh Palace. Then head even further uphill to Namgyal Gompa (monastery), sampling the impressive views of the valley. There is also a modern Buddhist temple in the centre of Leh. You can also easily visit the Spituk Gompa if, if you hop in a taxi for 10 minutes. Though be sure to get your taxi to wait outside while you visit for the return trip.
After you’ve had your fill of Buddhist monasteries, stupas and prayer wheels, you can do some shopping in the many atmospheric Tibetan trinket shops (though I’m pretty sure some of the stuff flogged comes mass-manufactured from China). Starting prices do vary, so shop around and don’t be afraid to bargain hard. If you need any last minute camping supplies – such as gas cannisters – there are many camping shops that will be happy to provide.
Looking down on Leh.