The secrets of backpacking solo across Ladakh on a budget

The secrets of backpacking solo across Ladakh on a budget

Before I got the chance to visit Ladakh last year, I had no idea about what a road trip & backpacking across Ladakh would be like for a solo female traveller like myself as it was my first time backpacking solo for as long as a month. I used to think doing a road trip to Ladakh would mean burning a huge hole in my pocket. Well, no one can be blamed for thinking like that all thanks to social media and it is over the moon advertisements about tour packages for a trip to Ladakh, which might not really be the ideal choice for someone trying to backpack on a budget. But fear not my dear dreamers, I am here to answer all your questions regarding backpacking to Ladakh.

Before I get started I would like to make clear that the information shared in this article is most relevant to anyone trying to plan a backpacking budget trip to Ladakh solo (can be relevant for a group of backpackers as well). Also, I would suggest that you get your mind rid of all the if(s) & but(s) attached to the various possibilities that could go wrong on the road when backpacking solo. As fun & adventurous it might seem on the outside, backpacking isn’t for everyone. Being a solo backpacker on the road comes with its own set of difficult & fun times. So before reading on, I want you to ask yourself if you are prepared for embracing whatever may come your way on the road or not. If the answer is yes, then welcome to the solo backpackers’ community! Here you will make the best memories of your life and finally get a chance to experience the wonders of what I address as “the kindness of strangers” you meet on the road. Lastly, you have to understand that backpacking solo in Ladakh is:

  • Totally safe for both men & women.
  • When I say “cheap” I mean lesser than the prices compared to those crazy tours with its skyrocket prices you see on social media.
  • Ladakh is now more accessible to explore even for someone who has never been there before.
  • Lastly, if you are planning a backpacking trip to Ladakh with friends then choose your company wisely, as you don’t want to miss out on the best & cheapest way to do it because of the whims & fancies of your friends (well someone had to say it).

Now that the preliminary advice has been given let’s move on to the real information about how I managed to bust the myths about travelling to Ladakh and how after reading this, you can do the same!

On reaching Ladakh

There are two routes for reaching Ladakh; Manali to Leh & Srinagar to Leh. I am going to be discussing the options you have to reach Leh when taking the first route.

Manali – Leh route

The Manali – Leh HPTDC bus services that take two days to reach Leh and costs somewhere around Rs.2400 per seat one way which includes the accommodation cost for the overnight stay in Keylong along with dinner & breakfast meals. It leaves Manali in the morning around 11 am & reaches Keylong in the evening and continues the journey the next day to finally reach Leh in the evening. This is advisable for those who are in no particular hurry to reach Ladakh and would, therefore, prefer taking a halt to also let their bodies get acclimatized to the increasing altitude as you go higher. If you want, you can catch this bus from Keylong as well where it starts at 5 a.m. every day and charges around Rs. 480.

Delhi – Manali – Leh Bus services operated by HRTC costs usually around Rs.1300 and takes a travel time of 35 hours give and take, leaving Delhi at 3:45 pm and reaching Keylong the next night where you halt overnight and then reach Leh by 7 p.m. the next evening.

If you feel the bus ride is not for you then you can book yourself a seat in the tempo travellers that are operated by the various tour travels in Manali & Leh (just ask at the bus stand in Manali about where you can book a seat in a tempo traveller going to Leh). A seat costs around Rs.2000 and takes a travel time of around 16-20 hours depending on the road conditions. Besides being a safe option to travel as a solo traveller, it is also the cheapest & fastest way to reach Leh. The same option can be chosen for your return by booking a ticket between Leh-Manali from the Ladakh Mai Cab/Tempo Operator Co-Operative Ltd situated near the new bus stand in Leh. The tempo traveller leaves every day at 5 A.M and takes the same time to reach Manali.

If you are a group of friends travelling together then you can look at booking your own taxi from Manali which usually costs somewhere around Rs. 16,000 to reach Leh in one day (provided you aren’t ripped off by the tour agent). Contact Mr. Chering who operates a taxi rental in Old Manali. He is a good old man who would love to help you out. (contact details at the end of the article.)

Traveller tip: In order to get a good deal during your travels, always be good to people you meet and strike a genuine conversation with the locals or with the people managing the guesthouse/hostel/hotel/café etc. where ever you are. Treat everyone you happen to meet on your travels with kindness & dignity as you never know who might be able to be the saviour of your day by offering help & best deals in the most unimaginable way.

The same buses & shared taxi services run between Leh to Manali and you can get the latest information about the timings & revised fares for the season from the bus operator/bus stand in Leh/taxi driver once you reach Leh.

Staying options in Manali, Leh and around

Old Manali

With its hippie charm, Old Manali has a lot of backpacker hostel options available to choose from as per your vibe & location preferences. If you are not travelling solo then I highly recommend checking out Hotel Relax near Dylan’s Coffee House in Old Manali (contact detail at the end of the article). This place is a hidden treasure right in the middle of the busy old Manali market and has its own open-air restaurant called Bon Appetite that is run by Sunny, a really cool & helpful chap. The reason why I recommend staying in this place is that the rate for a room here is same as a hostel dorm bed, the staff is always ready to help you with the right information and contacts of people who can help you book a taxi/bus etc. among other things in Leh and around. But if you are rude or too cool for your own good, then you can say goodbye to the kindness of strangers!

Zostel Leh

Zostel is the reason why I was able to go for my first solo trip two years back which is why when one day while returning home from the market, I saw a sign in bright shade of orange with ZOSTEL written on it being put on a new building in my otherwise low key neighborhood in Leh, my happiness knew no bounds. I was happy with the thought that the amazing team behind Zostel is working every day and making places like Ladakh more accessible to backpackers on a budget! If you are someone who has never stayed at a hostel before & are a bit apprehensive about booking your stay at one, then you have to go read The five reasons why backpacker hostels are the perfect pit stop for a solo traveller. Also, hurry up before Zostel Leh get fully booked for the summer.

Guest Houses/Home Stays


When in Leh there are so many guest houses to choose from but if you are travelling in a group of 3 or more people then you should definitely try getting a room at the Blue Sky Guest House (next to the Lamdon Senior Secondary School in Leh). It is run by a lovely local family who is the most helpful hosts one could ever ask for. They are always more than willing to help their fellow guests in getting the best deals with taxis/bike rentals among other things. Call in advance to check for availability. (Contact details at the end of article)

If you are travelling solo & looking for a cheap guest house, then you can find lots of decent options to choose from in the lower changspa lane starting from Rs.500 onwards. It’s a busy little lane with various cafes, restaurants, bike rentals & travel tour shops all co-existing in one never-ending lane. It is a convenient location to live in as a lot of eating places are available to choose from as per your budget & mood. Its walking distance from the main market & has few lanes leading to more guest houses that are cut away from the hustle and bustle of the street & the vehicles. I won’t disclose the exact locations, because where is the fun in that? As backpacking means not having to worry about prior bookings & tickets, its all about going with the flow & trying to adapt with the “we will see what happens as we go” attitude wherever you travel. It is always more exciting this way, not knowing where you might end up at by the end of the day.

If you plan to spend an overnight in other regions of Ladakh then worry not about prior bookings as there are plenty of options to choose from according to your budget and liking wherever you go, all you have to do is explore until you find your humble abode for the night or just ask for suggestions from your current hosts/taxi drivers/bus operators or pretty much anyone. Most people are genuine and helpful with their suggestions and not looking to make a profit or a personal cut out of the place they recommend.

Of local buses/shared taxi services and Inner Line permits in Ladakh


Unlike earlier times, Ladakh is now well connected by either JKSTRC buses, private local buses or local shared taxis and most of the places are now made easily accessible all thanks to the hardworking officials and workers of Border Road Organization who work day in and out in harsh weather and altitude to build & repair these roads so that we can live our dream of doing a road trip to Ladakh. The above-mentioned modes of transport are undoubtedly the cheapest option available and one can easily find out the bus schedule & timings from the bus stand in Leh or take a photo of the bus schedule chart.

If travelling in a large group, you can also book yourself a tourist taxi from the many local tours travels in Leh, but booking an entire taxi or even booking a single seat in a tourist taxi as opposed to a local shared taxi usually falls very expensive. So choose wisely! Also if all fails then you always have good old hitchhiking to your rescue! The reason why I was able to survive in Ladakh for so long on a budget was that I had cut my travel expenses to very low by always opting for local commute/hitchhiking/walking like a true backpacker! Never did I ever feel unsafe or encountered weird people while asking for a lift from strangers in Ladakh. In fact, a lot of time I would shamelessly ask for a lift from the locals in Leh whenever I had to go to the bus stand or market and didn’t feel like walking that much or wanted to save money by not taking a taxi to go someplace inside the city. Sometimes people would be ever so kind that they would drop me wherever I had to go, wait until my work was done & then drop me back safely to my homestay.

Image source: bmctouring.com

Next, let’s talk about Inner Line permits and everything you should know about them. Inner Line is an official travel document issued by the government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. For more information on how to file an inner line permit and which areas are covered under it, you can visit lehladakhindia.com.

Image source: bmctouring.com

Next, I would suggest that once you reach Leh, you take a day or two to get acclimatized to the high altitude before you start exploring & sightseeing beyond the city of Leh. In those two days, you can go to the bus stand find out the timetable & frequencies of the local buses or talk to the local taxi drivers & gather details about whether they cover the places on your list in their routes & what is the fair for it. Once you have all the information about the buses/local taxis then plan how you wish to spend your time in Ladakh, list out places you wish to cover, mark the places in that list that can be reached by bus/local taxi & fix the dates & number of days you wish to stay at each place.

Once this is ready, you can then get your inner line permit issued at the District Magistrate’s Office. For more information about filling an Inner Line Permit, you can contact Mr. Nima Tamang who works at Mountain Trails (Contact details at the end of article). He helped me out with my inner line permits & even got me a last-minute seat in a local taxi going to Nubra Valley (without an inner line permit but shhhh…don’t tell anyone).

Lastly, I have a piece of secret information that I am going to reveal to you right now that most of you might find hard to believe at first! What if I told you that you can book a last minute flight in Leh and fly between Leh to Delhi at fares as low as Rs.6000. Yes, you heard it right! Before I explain to you how this work, I have to share the story behind how I found this cool travel hack.

One day I was strolling in the local Leh market and if you are observant like I was, then you will come across flyers & handmade posters hanging in the market advertising really cheap flight tickets to Delhi & Mumbai on the following days in the coming week. At first, I thought it was too good to be true, until one day I decided to go and check out the back story of those flyers. It turned out those flyers were 100% legit & that’s how I managed to get myself a flight ticket to Delhi for as low as Rs.6000 two days before I left Leh and this was in the first week of August which is considered the peak season in Ladakh! Unfortunately, I lost the contact details of the travel agency I had found in the market, but you can go find many such travel operators in the market in Leh city. Just look for the ridiculously low airfares flyers & posters and walk straight right in!

The reason why taking a flight back to Delhi is a good option to choose is because even if you do decide to reach Delhi through road via Manali using the most affordable option, you will end up spending somewhere over Rs.4000 including your shared taxi to Manali + overnight halt in Manali + Food + Bus to Delhi + Miscellaneous costs, while also taking a total of two and a half day’s worth of bumpy rides & backaches to reach Delhi. So if you wish to gift yourself a little bit of comfort then you can opt for flying out of Leh using the hack I just gave you!

Now let’s move on to,

The less touristy places you can cover on your Ladakh trip for a more authentic & traditional experience

Lamayuru

A village which is 125Km from Leh on the Leh-Srinagar Highway houses one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating back to the 10th century. Local legend has it that the place was once a lake that dried up. Besides visiting the monastery, you can also check out MoonLand which is a strange but beautiful landscape next to the monastery. Some say the soil there is very similar to that on the moon, which is all the more reason to go visit this place. Any vehicle going from Leh to Kargil, or on to Srinagar, will invariably pass through Lamayuru. State transport buses from Leh bus stand to Lamayuru leave at 08:00 and 14:00; however, it’s always wiser to visit the bus stand a day before to confirm the timings. If you wish to spend the night there, then you can easily find decent homestays to stay in Lamayuru.

Alchi

Another beautiful village situated between Leh and Lamayuru. Its set beside the Indus River and its main attraction is the fabulous Alchi Gompa or Buddhist monastic complex. The bus from Leh to Kargil stops on the main road near the bridge where the Alchi road turns off, so there is a 4 km walk from there to the village which you can either walk or hitch a ride. While you are in Alchi I will strongly suggest you spend the night in the village if possible (affordable guesthouses are available) and if not then definitely do not forget to eat the apricots that are in season during the peak tourist season, they look fantastic and make the whole village come alive with colour and are the juiciest apricots I have ever tasted in my life. When leaving, the bus to Kargil stops at 07:00 at the bridge and it takes approximately 1h 20min to walk to the bridge from Alchi or just see if anyone can give you a life till the bridge.

Hemis Shukpachan

A small traditional village in Sham valley in Ladakh. It has often been compared to being the closest example of the mythical Shangri-La and a place where the locals are warm & welcoming and the crowds non-existent. I was fortunate enough to spend my 23rd birthday here in this village far from the crowds of Ladakh. While visiting this village, I would highly recommend you to stay at Pharma Paa guest house to get a taste of traditional Ladakhi village life. The road is in good condition and it is a comfortable pleasant 4-hour drive from Leh where one can get to enjoy the spectacular views from the Tsermanchan-La Pass of the plenty of Apricot orchards and beautiful villages on the way. Buses leave on every alternate day from Leh for this place & leave back for Leh on the following morning. If you wish to extend your stay, then you can either wait till the next time the bus comes back or walk/hitch a ride till the Leh-Srinagar highway & get a bus or a ride back to Leh from there.

Turtuk

Opened to tourist in 2009, Turtuk is situated on a road fairly less travelled beyond Nubra Valley. It is a virgin destination for people who seek peace and an interaction with a tribal community of Ladakh. The local tribe, Balti, follows its age-old customs in their lifestyle and speak a language which is just spoken and not written. India’s last major settlement of India before the Line of Control beyond which lies Pakistan controlled Gilgit-Baltistan region, Turtuk is predominantly Muslim but does have a couple of gompas overlooking the Shyok river. The inhabitants of this picturesque village of Turtuk speak a very ancient language known as Balti which is a mix of Persian and old Tibetan sounds no longer used in modern Tibetan. The mixed ancestry & political history shapes the culture of this village that sets it apart from any other region in Ladakh & is also the largest apricot producing village in the whole of Ladakh region. The incredibly hospitable locals would make you an offer without you asking. Local buses in Leh leave from the bus stand for Turtuk every Saturday at 6:00. If you do not wish to go back to Leh in the same bus on the following day, then you can take a local taxi/hitch a ride till Hunder and then take another local taxi/hitch a ride to Leh from there.

Besides these the usual places that you should visit include the following:

Pangong Tso


Tibetan for “high grassland lake” and popularly known as the 3 Idiots lake. Local bus for Pangong leaves every Saturday & Sunday and takes about 7 hours to reach. Plenty of staying options are available to choose from based on your taste & budget. Though I would suggest you take something a little further away from where the lake starts, as that is usually overcrowded with tourists & crazy 3 Idiots fans.

Tso Moriri

A high altitude lake situated near the small village of Korzok in Chumathang region is one of India’s highest permanent villages at an altitude of 4572mts. Krozok means “middle of the mountains and here one can see how the Changpa tribe live in this quaint & beautiful village. The local bus leaves for Korzok from Leh on every 10th, 20th & 30th of a month & leaves back for Leh on the following morning. Miss the bus back to Leh only if you wish to be adventurous enough to stay for more than one day in Korzok and wait until you manage to get a free ride back to Leh from a local or from the tourist cabs that frequently visit Korzok.

Remember how I told you that a genuine conversation with the locals/taxi drivers can go a long way in helping you. Times like this call for you to remember this & never shy from talking to anyone you come across & asking them for help. Also, there are a lot of homestay/guest house options to choose from. So do not hesitate from staying at least for one night while visiting Korzok. Also, the bus ride to Korzok hands down offers one of the most beautiful & awe-inspiring views, so definitely do not miss this one.

Nubra Valley (Diskit & Hunder)


A place where the deep-cut wild Shayok and Nubra/Siachen River meet to offer tremendous scenery on a grand scale, with green oasis villages surrounded by thrillingly stark slopes and arid mountains. Nubra is the perfect example of a high altitude cold desert with sand dunes & two-humped Bactrian camels grazing & chomping on the widespread forest of seabuckthorn in Hunder. The main village, Diskit, is home to the 12 floored Diskit Monastery which was built in 1420 AD and the largest statue of Buddha in Ladkah that overlooks the mighty Nubra Valley. It is advisable to spend some time exploring the mountain trail that starts from the top of the Monastery to get the best view of the entire Nubra Valley right up to Hunder.

Local shared taxis leave every day from Leh to Diskit via the famous Khardung la pass. But it is advisable to visit the taxi stand near the polo ground in Leh and find out the timings & if possible book a seat a day in advance. After reaching Diskit, you can easily hitch a ride till Hunder where you can spend the night at the various camps, guesthouses. I would suggest you try finding a room in Galaxy Guest House, it is situated in a quiet little corner away from the crowd and has a wonderful staff who can help you hitch a ride back to Leh the next day or else just ask around if there is an empty seat for you in someone’s car/taxi. (Contact details at the end of article)

Okay, so now that I have given you enough information to start planning or not plan & just pack your bag and leave for Ladakh, you seem good to go! Once you are there just talk to as many people as you can in order to get a better idea about the current scene with inner line permits, bus timings, information regarding certain routes etc. Also do not shy away from striking conversations with strangers and exploring new places if you find a cheap way to reach those place as you never know if the person next to you in a café or bus might offer you a free ride to a really cool place or even better, something from your list!


Kind strangers you can contact during your trip:

  • Hotel Relax, Old Manali: Sunny 9418177309, 9418355640
  • Chering Sahab, Taxi Rental Old Manali: +91 9418691119
  • Blue Sky Guest House Leh: Near lamdon school Leh, 095966 56757
  • Nima Tamang, Mountain Trails Leh: 21-26 Lhmao Khang, LBA complex, debitu, Leh. +91 1982 258855
  • Galaxy Guest House, Near Hotel Karma Inn, Hunder Nubra Valley: 094199 96372

3 Replies to “The secrets of backpacking solo across Ladakh on a budget”

  1. Hi! Thanks so much for this blog post. I’m from Indonesia and I will be traveling solo in Ladakh this September. I have a few questions:
    1) Is it different for foreign solo traveler to be able to
    get the inner line permit? Even at the online website, I need to choose the travel agent (while I don’t really want to use any travel agent)

    2) I’m sure there’s no problem in getting from Leh to any other places, but what about the return journey? Will the shared taxis wait for the passengers? What if I decide to stay overnight while my (shared) taxi leave on the same day that we depart? I’ve never hitchhiked so that option somehow still seems a bit too scary for me.

    3) Is it possible to cover all the most interesting spots in Alchi and Lamayuru in one day?

    That will be all for now. Thank you for your help 🙂

  2. Same question…
    And also iam from indonesia.. Please nadia do you have whatsap… For sharing about soli travelling to leh

  3. Hey Ricca, hope you are doing great! I am happy to see your interest in travelling solo to Ladakh. Which is why I am going to help you with your questions. Just DM me on my instagram handle with your questions and I will reply to them all. Find me @ekbhuliguftugu.

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