Solo travel to Ladakh – Pre departure un-planning

Phew! That was one hell of a task, to figure out which is the best National Roaming Plans and 3G Data Plans from the myriad of overly complicated plans ridden with hidden costs. It’s like choosing one man to commit out of many handsome eligible suitors, you cannot ever be fully sure. But what’s mobile services got to with a travel blog, right? Well, I am buying these services as part of my un-planning for another of my experimental single woman budget traveler’s trips (SWBT) to Leh, and adjoining areas in Ladakh.

For those who are new to this blog, SWBT trips are my self arranged impromptu trips at moderate budget to off beat destinations with the purpose of finding out how women friendly is the travel and tourism industry. Is it really unsafe for women to travel alone? Is the question of ‘safety’ dependent upon region, area, time etc or is it generally unsafe for women to travel alone? Can a solo/single woman embark upon the same kind of adventures that a solo man can comfortably do? I try to find out answer to these questions by gathering first hand experience.

The project is also a part of the umbrella subject of Gender and Public Spaces. As I travel, I photo document the public spaces chronicling the ways public space is used by men and women, the visibility of women in public spaces and so on. (Disclaimer: Gender study is inclusive of and must recognize the third gender but for my travel purpose I am looking at women specifically)

My first trip was to lesser known places Champawat, Tanakpur in Himachal Pradesh; second one was to Pushkar Camel Fare in Rajasthan; third was to Puri, Orissa and now the fourth trip to Manali, Leh and other places in Ladakh, J&K. I wish to cover at least 50 tourist places.

Why Leh?

I always thought Leh is the kind of place you do not go without a plan, I have seen my friends and family had always planned well in advance for their biking expeditions or family vacations to Leh. I also thought it’s very expensive to visit Leh, usually people drive and fly. Flights are expensive and hiring a full car for oneself or bearing the cost of petrol alone is not easy. So for a solo traveler Leh is a bit tricky, and as we know anything that’s difficult for people at large is doubly difficult for ‘women’ specifically. Last month I quit my job and began researching for a SWBT trip. It turned out that in theory the trip to Leh is very doable for anybody, men or women or third gender. I guess I’ll soon find out just how difficult is it in practice.

The un-planning

It is my argument that if a place, touristy or offbeat, is connected by government run public transport systems, any woman can go there on her own and be safe. So my first search about Leh was about the bus network. I gathered the following information:

  • There are mainly two roadways to go to Leh, Delhi – Manali – Leh or Delhi – Srinagar – Leh. There are direct bus services from Manali to Leh by HPTDC and similar bus from Srinagar to Leh by JKSRTC. Besides buses one can also take taxis, jeeps, bikes etc but at SWBT trips we only look at public transportation unless the same is unavailable.
  • The HPTDC bus starts from Manali in the morning, gives a night halt at Keylong and reaches Leh next day in the evening. The bus fare is INR 2500 which includes the dinner, stay at twin sharing tented accommodation in Keylong and breakfast. The HPTDC bus from Delhi to Manali is INR 1300. So my travel cost from Delhi to Leh by public transport is INR 3800. This is the cheapest option.
  • The bus routes are not open throughout the year. They close down the roads time to time depending upon weather condition. Before landing up in Manali one should check the road status on Leh’s official website (gives status of both Manali and Srinagar roads) or simply run a search for ‘Manali Leh highway status’ (same for Srinagar). Popular online platforms like BCMTouring, IndiaMike, Devils on Wheels would come up in the search results and you’d have not only the road status but also other useful information.

The information above, of course, is the theory part. In practice, as they cautioned my dad, there will be terrible mountain sickness and breathing problems in the long hectic bus journey which follows a route similar to a very abnormal heart’s ECG report. My dad gave that lovely metaphor as he handed me the Manali-Leh Highway Altitude Graph. As much as he hates my travel plans, I cannot do it without his technical support and mom’s constant emotional support and encouragement.

Manali Leh Highway Explained

It is anybody’s guess that the constant rise and fall in the altitude would not be a pleasant experience. But I guess it is nothing that one cannot survive. So I’ll feel like vomiting, breathlessness, headache and have a lot of other bodily discomforts which I am perhaps not even aware of at this moment. But they are part of the plan. The people in the bus or hotel will help. People usually help. In any case nobody has died of mountain sickness have they?

Advance booking for Hotels?

At SWBT trips we usually do not do advance booking of accommodation. The idea is to suddenly reach some place, explore and find out simple reasonably priced accommodation. Sometimes tourist places have these family run home-stays which are not listed on commercial sites like Trip Advisor or Clear Trip. The idea is to find them and enjoy local hospitality at moderate cost.

However for Leh I have broken the self imposed rule. The reason being that I will be reaching Leh in the evening, 7 pm is the ETA. In the evening it might be difficult to walk around and explore specially after a tiring bus journey. So I thought it would be a good idea to book hotel for first night, the next morning, I would explore the place and find a cheaper option. For Manali I have not done any bookings.

Single or Solo or Not so solo?

Many people ask me does ‘single woman’ as in relationship wise single or as in solo woman? Actually its both. Of course the project idea is for any woman traveling alone, irrespective of her relationship status. That said, I like to emphasis on the word ‘single woman’ because it comes with a stereotype, biases and a politics of its own. By using the phrase in travel and tourism context I am trying to get rid of the stereotype.

I say solo but I am never really fully solo. I carry my smart phone with me and before each trip I invest heavily in connectivity, the 3G data plans for constant Facebook / Twitter updates with live information, roaming plans for keeping my family informed. Call me whatever but I like being connected virtually while traveling alone, my travel experiences would be no fun if I didn’t share them with the online world.

So watch this space closely, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

I start on Sunday evening. See ya for now.

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