Destinations - India Ladakh Mountains

Manali Leh Road Trip, Day 1 | Breathtakingly Beautiful!

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 this in 2010 and it was a journey of our lifetime.

We did another trip on this road 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 tell our friends as soon as we reach Leh after the spectacular journey of 473 Kms on the Manali Leh road trip. 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!

We start our journey from Manali on a cold rainy morning with overcast sky. We are 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.

Manali Leh Road

In front of Johnson hotel. Before the epic journey.

Being our first trip in the Himalayas, ascent upwards unfolded a lot of surprises – the omnipresent apple trees with “red juicy” apples, the streams gently flowing down mountains creating numerous waterfalls, the green carpet of cedar trees 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 larger size.

Beas river flanked by Cedar trees, Manali…

manali leh road

Overcast sky as we start from Manali

manali leh road

The start of mesmerising landscape……..

manali leh road

Misty gorges with cedar trees…..

manali leh road

When mist clears, we see these lovely waterfalls….

manali leh road

Another beauty

manali leh road

……and another!

manali leh road

We start climbing to Rohtang Pass

manali leh road

And the landscape gets more gorgeous

manali leh road

Trucks climbing slowly up the hill.

manali leh road

Our car slowly climb towards the snow-capped Rohtang Pass only to wait behind a “Kilometre long” pile up of cars due to a “mudslide”. We have 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 clear the “mud slide” and when our car cleared this hurdle, we have lost about 2 hours of precious time. (BTW, the road from Manali to Rohtang has been done up beautifully and gone are the days of such mud slides. It was a pleasure to drive on it last year when we were there for “Hell race”)

The start of mud road….

manali leh road

……and the agony….

manali leh road

An enterprising chaiwala making best use of the opportunity!

manali leh road

We have breakfast at Marhi and continue our journey towards Sarchu. We don’t 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.

A meadow and the first glimpse of snow

manali leh road

The scenery gets better and better….

manali leh road

manali leh road

The journey beyond Rohtang is suddenly silent. The only noise we could hear is 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 is either “cemented” or “patch of mud” . Very soon the green valleys and mountains are replaced by shades of brown with snow peaks in the background. Driving along the Bhaga River and listening to its different notes take us into a different world. We could see many water falls in the mountains with water trickling away under the sheets of snow. Valleys capped with snow. Rocky mountains painted green by wild grass and flowers…..

Some wild flowers…..

manali leh road

From now onwards, we are treated to a spectacle of nature – Mountains, greenery, streams, waterfalls…….

manali leh road

manali leh road

manali leh road

We drive along Chandrabhaga river…..

manali leh road

A lovely waterfalls!

manali leh road

….and quiet flows Chandrabhaga....

manali leh road

manali leh road

manali leh road

This was stunning! A huge ice cap on the mountain melts and creates a beautiful, gentle waterfalls!

manali leh road

 

Manali Leh road

The sign board says it all!! Fill the tank now!

We cross Thandi and Jispa  – last villages – and begin our ascent again towards Baralacha la which is at about 16500 ft. The journey is an absolute delight. We stopover at beautiful and pristine Suraj tal lake.

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!

The climb to Barlacha La starts

manali leh road

A lovely Deepak tal

manali leh road

The landscape changes to myriad colours! It is a steep climb to Baracha La. Notice the trucks climbing up….

manali leh road

Crossing a fast flowing stream. It always help to leave early as water levels in these streams increase as the day pass due to melting of snow. Waiting for bikers to cross…

Manali Leh road

From now onwards the landscape is only white and brown. Just mind-blowing!

manali leh road

manali leh road

manali leh road

As seen from the driver seat……

manali leh road

manali leh road

manali leh road

The wow feeling!

manali leh road

Half frozen Suraj tal. Spectacular!

manali leh road

manali leh road

White all around….

manali leh road

Who wouldn’t love to drive on this!!!

manali leh road

Here we come – Barlacha La 15,000 feet. Miles and miles of snow……

manali leh road

We climb down from Barlacha La to be greeted by spectacular landscape…..

manali leh road

manali leh road

Our camp site at Sarchu @ 14,ooo feet!

manali leh road

Sarchu is where we find tents pitched in the pristine valley of the mighty mountains. It is cold and windy out here. But it is an experience we would never forget!

Check out this nice Time lapse Video of the drive on day 1Manali – Leh drive. Day one. on You Tube

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting there

The journey on the Manali Leh road starts at Manali. Hence make Manali as a base.

By Road

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.

http://www.hrtc.gov.in/hrtctickets/Default.aspx

By Train

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.

By Air

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.

Stay Options

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.

http://www.johnsonhotel.in/index.html

Other information

  1. The Manali Leh road trip is not for faint hearted. You really need to rough it out on the treacherous roads. So be prepared mentally and physically!! (Last year’s update – The roads on this drive has been done and is excellent except for few places)
  2. 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 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000133.htm
  3. 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.
  4. 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 Jispa. If you are driving yourself, drive safe. Don’t hurry.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Follow the golden rule of hill driving. Start early and reach early!
  8. Carry enough memory cards for your pictures. There is so much to click that you will regret if you haven’t had these chips.
  9. Eat less and don’t overfill yourself while driving in hills. Drink lot of water.
  10. Carry a good medicine kit. Talk to your family doctor and take necessary medicines.
  11. 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
  12. Carry a good Binocular.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Dal/Rajma – Chawal , Maggi and Omelettes are staple food you get in dhabhas  on the way. Don’t expect anything more!
  16. 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.
  17. Do not rely too much on your cell phone. It may not work most of the time.
  18. Do not sleep on the journey. You will regret having missed on some of the outstanding scenery in the world.
  19. 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!!
  20. 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.

 

Postscript/ Update 

We travelled on the Manali leh 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.

Ladakh Travel – 18 Tales to Inspire you!

Glossary

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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About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

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