Himalaya Mountains

Travelling in the Himalayas

Bus Leh Desert India

Travelling north of Delhi for 12 hours on a bus brings you to the Himalayas. You might then think that you have seen the Himalayas; you can see mountains, but there’s more – always more, higher and higher. The journey overland to Ladakh in the very north of India takes you over the highest passes in the world, on the most dangerous roads in the world, to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Upon First Hearing About Leh

I have been to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, twice now. Upon my first visit to the Himalayas, I hadn’t heard of this place. When the weather is right, the roads to Leh open, and suddenly people were talking about heading there.

There are two ways to get to Leh by road: one is through Srinagar, on the Indian side of Kashmir; the other is from Manali over the Rohtang pass (which means ‘pile of dead bodies’ in Tibetan). Both journeys take about two days, and both go higher than 5500m. I had no idea what I would be experiencing upon booking the Manali to Leh ticket for around $US10.

On a Bus For 2 Days – Where Did All the Plants Go?

Bus Leh Dangerous Roads

The first day on the bus from Manali takes you to a town called Keylong. It’s only 115 km from Manali but you have to go up higher than the tree line, and to get up to these heights the road goes back on itself over and over, as many as 30 times on some of the highest passes.

So, it’s a long journey. Tough on the body and mind (make sure you get a bus seat in the middle or the front of the bus; the seats at the back bounce around so much – I even saw people bang their head on the roof of the bus).

When you get to the top of the first pass – the Rohtang Pass – you’re presented with two views: one is of the Kullu Valley where you just came from, and the second, the way ahead, dropping away from the Rohtang Pass. These views are the first of many. Easily some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. The distances seen are dizzying; the colours so vivid; the sky so blue, and the clouds had so much style. The whole of the journey carries on like this. Each mountain the bus goes around reveals something never seen before.

The Himalayas are vast and beautiful. Arriving in Keylong, somewhat shaken, motion sick and with a touch of oxygen depletion, I found a room as quick as I could.

Time to get back on the bus. The first day: about 8 hours on the bus, and the second: longer than planned (15 hours from Leh from Keylong).

World’s Most Dangerous Roads

Bus Leh Mountain Roads

The bus will go along roads that seem right out of an Indiana Jones movie. Roads where one side is a rock wall carved right from the mountain, and the other side is a drop to a river and certain death should the bus fall. The road is firm, though. Mostly, it is bad driving that causes vehicles to fall, and there is evidence along the way of vehicles that have fallen.

The best option is to use the local bus: the Himachal Pradesh Road Transport company service. The drivers are used to the journey, and they take their time. Still, I had moments where I feared for my life, looking out of a window down a 500ft drop into white water does this. Luckily, the lack of oxygen makes your conscious mind a little less alert.

Thinking back on this journey, it all seems rather unreal, and I will happily do it again.

Arriving in Leh

Leh Mountains

After 2 days the bus arrives in Leh. The roads are flat, and thankfully there are no cliff-edge roads anymore. Arriving at night, with no idea where you are, or what the place looks like (you’ll always remember the first time this happens while travelling). Disorientated, I’m off the bus, through all the headlights going past; I could see it was very dusty.

Cheap Accommodation

Like all of India, there are many places to stay in Leh. The prices are below average and the quality of rooms is higher. I would recommend going to Upper Changpsa to stay. It’s out of the city centre, and Changpsa is a beautiful area.

Mountain Snow Pass

Upon finding a room and waking up the next day, I knew I was in a place like no other. The sky, a rich blue – due to being so high up; Leh is around 3500-4000m above sea level. It takes a bit of getting used to and your legs will feel heavy for a while.

Once in Leh there are many things to see and do. There are some of the highest lakes in the world; there’s amazing wildlife, from wild horses (kyang) and double-humped camels, and, of course, there are yaks! You can also try a local berry – the Leh berry. You can eat it or drink its delicious sour juice, and try the tea made from the leaves.

Two-day Bus Travel: Is it Worth it?

Prayer flag Roads

It takes two days on a bus to get there, on one of the most dangerous roads in the world, but I went back again! This says something about the place, it’s an oasis in the Himalayas, all around the town there is desert, Leh, itself, is a strip of green amidst this extreme terrain. The people are friendly and peaceful. The town is unique. Some people choose to fly to Leh, but doing this doesn’t show you how far away the place is, which is part of the wonder about it. I know I will be going back there again in the future.