We were surprised to find that India is one of the cheaper long haul destinations, especially compared to North and South America. The obvious entry point for onward travel to Ladakh is Delhi International Airport, from here you can get an internal flight to Leh (the capital of Ladakh) or you can spend a bit of time here and get ground transport to Leh.
The lure and mystery of India may seduce you into a three day bus journey from Delhi to Leh, we spoke to people who'd done this and would not recommend it, crowded ill-maintained buses groaning up steep narrow roads with precipitous drops did not seem the best way to spend valuable holiday time. We booked separate flights, one to Delhi and an internal flight to Leh - we expected about six hours in the airport, but by the time we'd recovered our hold luggage and got through immigration then changed terminals, there was little time to sit around getting bored. Awkward flight times on the way home meant we had about 14 hours in Delhi on the return leg.
The bottom line is a good one - we left Newcastle Airport at 11.10am on the 2nd September and arrived at our final destination (Leh) at 3.35am (UK time) the following day; 08.05am local Leh time, a total journey time of just over 16 hours, not bad considering Leh is fairly remote.
I left home at 7.00am and traveled to Newcastle airport, we flew from Newcastle to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, arriving at 13.30pm on 2nd September, our baggage was carried through this airport so we wasted no time getting our next flight, to Delhi, which left at 14.20pm. We arrived on time in Delhi at local time of 01.35am (9.05pm UK time). After experiencing such good flights we were about to be disappointed by the performance of getting through customs, we had our visas to hand but Passport Control was very slow, a full set of bio-metrics were recorded and another set of forms were required to be completed.
The transfer bus is free but you must get a ticket before you board, you need your boarding card etc..
Eventually we were passed through and allowed to collect our hold luggage - by the time we got to the public side of the airport two hours had elapsed since the plane had landed. There was a currency exchange desk open in the arrivals hall and we bought some rupees. For our internal flight we needed to get to Terminal 1D, this turned out to be a bus ride away so we made our way to the stop. Outside the air was hot, but it was still about 4.00am local time, so it was not unbearably hot as it would be during the day.
The transfer took about 20minutes, it seemed to go through the outskirts of the city. We had a coffee and a pastry and waited till 6.00am when we were allowed to pass through to departures, only 40 minutes before the flight was due to take off. We boarded the plane which took off on time at 06.40am, arriving in Leh at 07.55am, 10mins ahead of schedule. On the approach to Leh it seemed like we passed very close to the surrounding mountains but this was just an illusion as a few days later we were watching the planes coming into land, and they were no where near the mountains.
Small airports are often the best places to fly into/from because they have relatively few flights to deal with and can handle things with the efficiency of familiarity, sadly though it took ages to get our bags off the plane and we had to register again with the local authorities - this was easy enough but time consuming. We finally got a taxi sorted and arrived at the hotel at 09.00am. Door to door from home had taken 21.5 hours.
We started the return journey after breakfast on Wednesday 21st September, leaving the hotel at 08.00am we arrived at the airport just before 08.30. The check-in process was slow, there were additional checks and a secondary baggage identification stage before we were allowed near the aircraft, nevertheless, although the take-off was late we actually arrived in Delhi on schedule at 11.50am.
We now had a fourteen and a half hour wait until our flight home. I remember when we planned the flights it was with researched knowledge that there were often delays and even cancellations of flights from Leh, the paucity of flights gave us few options but we were comfortable with the fact that we could cope with even an extended delay and not miss our connection.
Upon arrival at Delhi the wait seemed like it would be an eternity. It seems we were targeted by a man who was dressed like flight crew and appeared to engage us innocently in conversation. He recommended we spend the day at a hotel where we could get cleaned up, watch tv, go to the gym etc.. and he would even arrange transport. We guessed we were being hustled but decided it was a good idea anyway so went along with it.
The taxi ride threaded through some superb international hotels before ending up outside a pretty run down hotel above a garage - we declined to go inside causing a problem with the taxi driver, as the hotel would pay his fare only if we stayed. We told him we wanted to go to the Marriott and agreed to a fare. Finally we were dropped off at the Marriott, one of the best hotels I'd seen. We negotiated an exorbitant room rate but spent the next ten hours or so in fantastic luxury - a comfortable end to our time in India. When the time came another taxi returned us to the airport - around midnight.
The flight took off at 02.35am on the Thursday and arrived in Schiphol at 08.00am, journey time was about nine hours. We had a two hour window to get something to eat before taking off for Newcastle at 10.10, we arrived in Newcastle at 10.25 taking the time difference into account. Door to door from the hotel was 31 hours although about 10 of these were spent relaxing in the Delhi Marriott.