We all have a favourite restaurant which serves us the comfort food that we crave, or a favourite pair of jeans which fits just right. I have a favourite place I can’t get enough of and keep returning to when I want to escape from the city.
Leh is a high-desert city in the Himalayas and an extremely popular tourist destination in India. A generic tourist in India does not go to a destination twice, specially if it’s their annual/bi-annual vacation. Leh’s pull was so strong that I have already been there thrice, with the last trip in May 2016.
During my first trip in June 2010, me and my husband (then boyfriend) completed the New Delhi – Srinagar – Kargil – Leh – Manali – New Delhi circuit on the Royal Enfield. We had only 15 days of leave days with us and though it was a ride of a lifetime, we got only 2 days to spend in Leh.
My second trip to Leh was in January 2016; I, along with my sister completed the Chadar Trek in sub zero temperatures. The tour was organized by a Bangalore based Adventure tour company called Burn Boundaries. Again, with a limited number of leave days I couldn’t spend even a day exploring Leh. I vowed to return to see the beautiful desert city as soon as I could.
May 2016 – I was turning 30 and nearing a burnout with the hectic lifestyle and in desperate need of a break. We (my husband and me ) made an impulsive decision to visit Leh for good. We decided against making any plans before hand, booked our tickets and landed in the Leh on the day after my birthday. What followed was one of the best decisions of our life and the most perfect vacation.
We spent approximately INR 20,000 per person on a 7 nights / 8 days self planned vacation in Leh. The cost is excluding the flights. Our per person spend could have been lower but we chose not to compromise on our stay and hotel experience. Here are some tips on holidaying in Leh on a self planned vacation and on a budget.
Season: May, June, July and some days of August is the peak tourist season in Leh. However, what many don’t know is that May is the domestic (Indian) tourist season while the influx of foreign tourists begins in June till August. Your any chance of a good bargain will bite the dust post May. We saw a lot of families from Maharashtra and Gujrat during our stay in Leh and a couple of newly weds. Families & Honeymoon couples are most likely to have purchased a tour package and will travel on a schedule and visit fixed attractions. This means that there are a plethora of travel agents just waiting for business and more than eager to reduce the price of a service. Remember to be nice while negotiating. The agents are friendly, will offer you tea and will answer any question you have about a tourist attraction.
Hire a Car: When in Leh, you will want to visit Pangong Tso, Khardungla, Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri and the numerous Stupas/Gompas and Monasteries. You can hire a car (Innova/Scorpio/XUV) and share with other solo/couple travelers. Visit a travel agent atleast 2days before the day of travel and zero in on the vehicle and cost. Your hotel’s owner can help you zero in on couples/solo travelers wanting to hire a car for the same day. More the people in the car, lesser the cost. It’s good to know that the roads at higher altitude are bad and although nobody in the car is spared, back seats are undoubtedly the most uncomfortable. Even in May, we had no difficult finding other travelers to share the car with us, but you need to give it a day.
Rent a Royal Enfield: After an exhausting 1 day trip to Pangong Tso in an Innova, we decided to visit Nubra Valley on a Royal Enfield. There is no dearth of shops renting out biks. We managed to get a Royal Enfield Standard 350 for INR 800 for 3 days while the official rate was about INR 1300. For our trip to Nubra Valley, we took on rent a Royal Enfield 500 for INR 1200 while the rate displayed on most of the shops was INR 1600-1800 per day. I doubt the shop owners would lower their rate in June /July. In May, Bullets were standing in the bike shops like potatoes in a market 🙂 No takers. The petrol cost is upto you and the shop owners will service the bullet before you take it out. We hired bullets from one of the shops on Zangsti road, the lane behind the popular GESMO restaurant on Fort road. Ask any local for Gesmo restaurant, walk till the end of that street and take a right. This lane is full of shops renting out Bullets. You can negotiate the cost further if you are planning to rent the bike for a longer duration.
Eating out: While our hotel stay included breakfast, we chose to go out and explore the local eateries. We visited the most popular eating joint to some hole-in-the-wall cafes and discovered that the gems were hidden away from the touristy Fort road. GESMO restaurant is highly over rated and full of noisy families 🙂 Right next to Gesmo is Lamayuru restaurant. Lamayuru is cheaper as compared to Gesmo, serves the same quantity of food, friendlier stewards, free wifi and ofcourse – great food. We would eat our breakfast at Lamayuru and strike a conversation with the owner regarding the town and must dos. Amdo Cafe, in Leh market (there are 2 of them, visit the one opposite Himalayan Cafe) for the best Mutton momo’s in town.
Another gem is the Aakama restaurant (on the same side as Neha Snacks in Leh Market). Please remember that these restaurants serve authentic Tibetan food, avoid them if you are craving spicy Indian food. My one bad memory is having a diarrhoea after eating in Dreamland, a very “popular” Indian food restaurant on Fort road. In most of the restaurants, we ran up an average bill of INR 700-800 per meal. (I am a foodie and I used to order like glutton in a bid to taste a variety of dishes). If you are a group of more than 2 and sharing the bill, you could be paying less than INR 200 per person per meal. Dishes like Thukpa, Thentuk are a meal in a bowl and 1 bowl is more than enough to fill you up.
Stay in Leh: We stayed at the Sia La Guest House at fort road. Sia La Guest House is one of the very few properties in the main Leh area with a huge porch and sit out area. It is also rated as the #1 BnB in Leh. We payed INR 1800 per day for 7 days here. You can find decent accommodation and home stays in Leh as cheap as INR 1000 per day but none of them will have the open space that Sia La does. We found cheaper hotels at Changspa road but decided to stick to Sia La because of 24hours running hot water facility and ofcourse, the porch. It enabled us stay at hotel without being confined to the hotel room. The owner Nabile is easy going and very helpful. Hotel Booking Tip: Book directly with the hotel instead of a hotel-booking website. It’s always good to research the hotel on Tripadvisor, look them up on Google and get their direct contact details from the website.
I hope these tips help you plan a beautiful vacation to Leh – solo or with your loved one. I had a fabulous time in Leh and hope you do too. My post on the entire trip is coming up soon.