You can minimize Leh-Hemis travel cost in two ways:
1. Shared taxis and / or public buses for solo travelers
Solo travelers can rely on public buses and / or shared Maruti Van taxis. The vans are affordable and comfortable. But this option has a con: waiting time. A tradeoff between two equally important wants, saving both money and time, is required.
Public buses and pick-ups
I traveled by a combination of public buses, pick-ups, and shared taxis during 2013-14. Here are the rates:
Leh-Thiksey: 40-minute bus ride @INR 25 per person
Thiksey-Kharu: 25-minute bus ride @INR 20 per person
Kharu-Hemis: 20 minute pick-up ride @INR 20 per person
Total: INR 65 per person | Travel time 1.25 hours + waiting time
Hemis is slightly less than fifty (50) kilometers from Leh town. When traffic is moderate, a non-stop drive takes just one hour or less. During big events like Kalachakra 2014 (Choglamsar), traffic diversion and large amount of traffic reduce the travel speed.
Kharu / Karu / Karoo
Kharu is about 15 kilometers from Thiksay on the Manali-Leh highway. The road is wide and in good condition. The road runs along fields, houses, and army establishments, including Hill Training School and Trishul Museum and Restaurant. Ranbirpur and Stakna villages on the banks of the muddy Indus River fall on the way to Kharu.
Small village of Kharu has a few basics:
- A petrol pump
- ATMs of Jammu & Kashmir Bank and State Bank of India
- Dhabas, wayside eateries, serving simple local food: chow mein, ready-to-eat snacks, fried rice…
- Some rooms for a night stay
I searched the shops for Cadbury fruit and nut chocolate to satiate my sugar cravings in vain.
Shared taxi, Maruti Van
Leh to Thiksay: 30 minutes | INR 40 per person
Thiksay to Kharu: 15-20 minutes | Once I paid @INR 50 per person and another time paid @INR 20 per person
Kharu to Hemis: 15-20 minutes | INR 50 per person
Total: INR 140 (INR 110) | Travel time 1.00 hr (1.10 hr) + waiting time
A shared cab will not start the journey unless it has minimum required number of passengers.
On July 6, 2014, I took a shared van from Chamba Hotel and Restaurant in Thiksay. My co-passengers were three local ladies and a foreign tourist. The ladies took the van from Shey, whereas the tourist took it from Leh. All of us wanted to go to Kharu. The driver charged different rates. The three ladies paid INR 100 for Shey-Kharu (21 kilometers). The tourist paid INR 200 for Leh-Kharu (34 kilometers). I paid INR 50 for Thiksay-Kharu (15 kilometers). Is it fair?
Do check the rates before taking the cab and observe what your co-passengers pay.
I felt I was cheated. However, the ladies were also going to Hemis. They and I hired a van from Kharu to Hemis for INR 200. This time the driver treated local and non-local equal. Each of us paid INR 50.
The ladies were friendly. They showed me a part of Hemis. For return journey, they could find a pick-up for Hemis-Thiksay-Shey journey. The pick-up gave us a free ride to our respective destinations.
But you may not get a pick-up every time you want.
In mornings when I traveled, buses were empty with just two-three passengers, including me. The bus did not had a conductor. No ticket was issued. The driver collected the fare.
In afternoons, buses had more passengers.
There was no direct public transport service from Thiksay to Hemis.
Taxis and some buses are easily available up to 06:00 pm.
2. Leh to Hemis by chartered (booking) taxi for group travelers
Kharu-Hemis: about 8 kilometers ride in Maruti Van | INR 200-250 for up to 7 passengers
Leh-Hemis: INR 1,283 for 7 passengers to INR 1,422 for 8 passengers
Chartered taxis are comfortable and save time but expensive for solo travelers.
Group travelers should use these to save both time and money. For example, a Maruti Van taxi for Leh-Hemis route charges INR 1,283 (for 2015-16 season). The van can comfortably accommodate seven (7) passengers. Each passenger, thus, pays about INR 183. The passengers need not wait for connecting transport.
If the group wants extra comfort and leg room, it can hire bigger taxis such as Innova for INR 1,422 (for 2015-16 season). Innova can accommodate at least eight (8) people. Each passenger pays about INR 203. There is no waiting time.
If you get a shared taxi or public bus up to Kharu, you can take a chartered taxi for Hemis.
The taxi rates have been revised upwards. The rates recorded an increase of 19-20% in 2015-16 as compared to 2013-14.