Manali Leh road trip is the most spectacular road trip in the world!
This is first part of a series of two posts detailing our experiences travelling on Manali Leh road. We did it exactly six years back and it was a journey of our lifetime. We again did another trip in June 2016. This time around we ran on the same highway in Great Himalayan Running Festival aptly known as “Hell Race”.
“It’s breathtakingly beautiful” – we told our friends as soon as we reached Leh after the spectacular journey of 473 Kms on the Manali Leh road trip. Being fed up of the rush hour traffic to office and back, having lived all along in an urban set up, this “Big Trip” gave us all the thrill and excitement which we could not dream existed. The road clings and wriggle through some of the most spectacular terrain in the world crossing four high passes, fords, streams and waterfalls tumbling from mountains!
Our journey started from Manali on a cold rainy morning with overcast sky. We were ordered (!) by our Driver Sumit Singh on the previous day to be ready at 6 AM to leave Manali. The wisdom of driving in Himalayas is “Leave early and Reach early” as you can not trust the fickle mountain weather as day pass by.
Being our first trip in the Himalayas, ascent upwards unfolded a lot of surprises – the omnipresent apple trees with “red juicy” apples, the streams which gently flow down the tall mountains creating numerous waterfalls, the green carpet of trees and plants in the valley, the clouds which seem to caress the mountain peaks was a “visual” poetry which can be best seen than written. The road from Manali to Rohtang is an ascent and is surrounded by beautiful valleys. Let the pictures tell the tale.
Please click on the pictures to see them in original size.
Our car slowly climbed towards the snow-capped Rohtang Pass only to wait behind a “Kilometre long” pile up of cars due to a “mudslide”. We had a long journey ahead as the plan was to stay overnight at Sarchu – at 14,000 feet – which is approximately 220 KMs from Rohtang. Employees from Border Road Organisation were summoned from Manali to help clear the “mud slide” and when our car cleared this hurdle, we had lost about 2 hours of precious time.
Having had breakfast at Marhi, our journey resumed towards Sarchu. We did not stop at Rohtang, the place where the day trippers from Manali – majority of them newly weds – gather to play in snow. Some glimpses of Rohtang landscape.
The journey beyond Rohtang was suddenly silent. The only noise we could hear was the air rushing against the mountain or the tip – tap of the melting snow or the screech of the car tyre on the road or sometimes when a “Bullet rider” overtook us with that “Thumping” sound. The road was sometimes “cemented”, sometimes a “patch of mud” or sometimes “a path through a running stream” . Very soon the green valleys and mountains were replaced by shred of brown and rust and the snow peaks lingered in the background. Driving along the Bhaga River and listening to its different notes transformed us into a different world. We could see many water falls with water trickling away under the sheets of snow above, valleys capped with snow, rocky mountains painted green by wild grass and flowers…..
We cross Thandi and Jispa – last villages – and begin our ascent again towards Baralacha la which is at about 16500 ft. The journey was an absolute delight. Beautiful and pristine Suraj tal lake and the winding snow-capped roads , the low hung clouds with sun breaking in between and creating a beautiful rainbow, we could not just take our eyes off the road. We wished we had a 360 degree vision. Barlacha la was white sheet spread out in every direction and made us sway between dream and reality!
Sarchu is where we find tents pitched in the pristine valley of the mighty mountains…for a city bred person, having to stay and sleep amid these mountains and listening to the noise of the winds and the gentle noise of the rain/dew/snow on the tent was a surreal experience.
Check out this nice Time lapse Video of the drive on day 1 – Manali – Leh roadtrip Day one on You Tube
The journey on Manali Leh road starts at Manali. Hence make Manali as a base.
a) There are overnight buses from Delhi to Manali. One can book the luxury Volvo buses run by Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation from Delhi to Manali.
The nearest railway station is Chandigarh. If you are coming by train, then the convenient station will be Chandigarh. Unless, you want to visit Chandigarh, we would recommend you to take the bus as mentioned above.
The nearest airport is at Kullu which is around 40 KMs from Manali. The flights to Kullu from Delhi are notorious for cancellation/delay due to weather condition in Kullu. Keep this in mind while booking your plane tickets.
There are many options to suit all budgets in Manali. We stayed in Johnson Hotel which is one of the oldest in Manali and regarded as an institution. Huge and excellent rooms with a laid back atmosphere. The continental restaurant in the hotel is one of the best in Manali.
a) This trip is not for faint hearted. You really need to rough it out on the treacherous roads. So be prepared mentally and physically!!
b) Remember that you will be driving from a height of 6000 ft in Manali to close to 18000 in Tanglang La. Acclimatisation is the key. Else, AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness – is likely to hit you at these heights. Most of the cases will be mild and result in nausea, headaches, sleeplessness.
c) Though the trip can be done in two days, we recommend doing it in three days with overnight stay in Keylong/Jispa and Sarchu. This will help one acclimatise better and fit and raring to go once you reach Leh.
d) Driving in hills takes more time and speeds are drastically reduced as road condition is not good. Always have buffer time to allow delays due to landslides and flooding of roads. Land slides are particularly common between Manali and Rohtang.
e) Doing the trip in three days will also help you stop and savour the beauty around. This will also give you time to take a detour to Tso Kar a beautiful lake in wilderness closer to Moreh Plains.
f) Our advice is to hire local transport to do the trip. The roads are narrow and bad. The driver will not be able to enjoy the ride as his eyes will be fixed on the road. We have seen bikers on the road and we do not advise unless you are interested in adventure alone. Believe us; the guy who drives the vehicle – bike or car – will not be able to enjoy the drive. If you still want to drive your own car, make sure it is an SUV or a car with good ground clearance.
g) Fill up fuel in Manali and carry supplies in Jerry cans. There is only one petrol bunk in Thandi and if it runs out of stock you will curse yourself. Diesel may be available in “black” at exorbitant cost but getting petrol will be difficult.
h) Follow the golden rule of hill driving. Start early and reach early!
i) Carry enough memory cards for your pictures. There is so much to click that you will regret if you haven’t had these chips.
j) Eat less and don’t overfill yourself while driving in hills. Drink lot of water.
k) Carry a good medicine kit. Talk to your family doctor and take necessary medicines.
l) Do not exert and run around in high altitude. Oxygen content in atmosphere is 30 – 40 percent lesser in these areas and will make you tired and sick. Do not stay for more than 10 minutes in passes above 15000 ft
m) Carry a good Binocular.
n) Pack your long johns and woollens. You require them at these tented camps where the temperatures fall to 5 deg. If you have a sleeping bag, carry it.
o) Ensure that you have the complete vehicle accessories and kit. If self driving, practice trouble shooting techniques and become confident. Carry a good map of the area.
p) Dal/Rajma – Chawal , Maggi and Omelettes are staple food you get in dhabhas on the way. Don’t expect anything more!
q) If possible try and plan your drive during full moon day period. You will possibly see the brightest moon ever in these rarefied and unpolluted areas at night in tented camps.
r) Do not rely too much on your cell phone. It may not work most of the time.
s) Do not sleep on the journey. You will regret having missed on some of the outstanding scenery in the world.
t) Lastly, if you get stuck up anywhere and find an army camp close by, go in and take their help. These great guys will never say NO. Poorna can vouch for it having served in Indian Army!!
u) We would recommend that spending one day in Manali will help in seeing some nice places around and also prepares you for the long journey. The transport for the drive can be hired in Manali. The transport charges are generally expensive and it will be good to have at least four people travel in the taxi to reduce the cost burden.
For second part of our Manali Leh road trip from Sarchu to Leh, please click on this post –
We travelled on the same road in June 2016 while participating in Great Himalayan Running Festival or “The Hell Race” as it is called. The road conditions have improved drastically. The Rohtang loops are lovely tarmac today and there is no mudslides anymore. Except for few kilometres between Rohtang Top and Koksar and again from Sarchu to Pang the road condition is good. In fact, one need not have to stay in Sarchu and drive straight from Jispa to Leh which will help avoid AMS. You will also find dhabhas at many places on way like Zing Zing bar, After Nakkee la, Pang, Moreh Plains. One can also stay in these dhabhas in emergencies.
You can read all about our Ladakh travel – more than 20 posts including a drive to Siachen base camp – by clicking the following post below.
Dal – Chawal – Spicy lentils and Rice
Dhabha – Shack
Chai – Indian ready-made tea made with milk, sugar and spices
La – Ladakhi word for “Mountain pass”
Tal – Lake
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