Planning a journey from Manali to Leh
Manali to Leh journey is the most sought after trip by adventure lovers across Indian and overseas travellers. Come June and this road is abuzz with activity as travellers on bikes, cars and public transport start cruising the road. Manali to Leh route passes through five passes, prominent ones being the Rohtang La, Baralacha La and Tanglang La. The journey is stretched over a distance of 475 km and is covered over a period of minimum two days.
Before embarking on Manali to Leh by road there are few things to be kept in mind. This road remains open from June to Mid October. The best time to travel on this road is in the month of August and September. But if you happen to be an adventure freak you can make the journey in the month of June when the road has abundant snow. By end of July, the snow melts en route but as they say, you can never predict the weather in the hills!
There is no human civilisation on three quarter of the entire 475 km Manali to Leh route hence proper planning and research is required. Most of the travelling on this route is done over 4000 meters (13,200 ft) altitude. Acclimatising to higher altitude is required before starting on Manali to Leh highway else you can be hit by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Click on the link to know more about AMS.
Upon reaching Manali and leaving next day on Manali-Leh journey is NOT advised at all. Plan a stay for at least 2 days around Manali. One can stay at Solang near Manali to get used to the altitude. Staying at Manali will be of no use.
Transportation available on Manali to Leh highway
Bus: Himachal Tourism (HPTDC), Himachal roadways (HRTC) and Kashmir Roadways (J&KSRTC) ply buses on this route. HRTC operates it’s direct bus service from Keylong to Manali which leaves at 5 am and reaches Leh at 7 pm the same evening. While HRTC and J&K buses have a daily service of ordinary buses, HPTDC operates a luxury bus on Manali to Leh route which departs every alternate day from Manali. HPTDC buses can be booked at Manali office of Himachal Tourism, Tel. no. 01902-252116 / 252360.
Buses cover the Manali to Leh distance in two days with a night halt at either Keylong, Jispa or Sarchu. While roadways bus fare does not include night stay charges, HPTDC charges Rs. 2,000/ per person which includes stay in tents at it’s Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong along with dinner and breakfast.
Taxis: Taxis are available at Manali for the entire trip. Plenty of options are available where you can book a taxi on per seat basis or by sharing with other fellow travellers or you can hire the entire taxi for yourself. While booking a shared taxi make sure the driver does not drive straight to Leh, a straight journey of 20 hours, without any night stay. This may spoil your journey as you will miss the vistas of the entire trip and only breaks you may end up would be loo breaks!! These straight trips are also called cannon ball trips. Forget them.. they are not worth it.
Rent a Bike: If you wish to rent a bike for the Manali – Leh journey there are plenty of options available in Manali. Few of the rental companies also give an option to rent a bike till Leh where you can leave the bike. One reliable bike rental I can recommend is Royal Moto Touring. They offer bike rentals and customised bike rental tours in the Himalayas.
Self Drive: You can also self drive on the Manali to Leh route in your own vehicle. The best vehicles on the route are the SUV with good ground clearance. If you are travelling in June and early July when there is snow on road then a 4×4 vehicle may come handy. Locals can be seen driving in their Altos and smaller hatchback cars on this route. This is best left to them as they are accustomed to hill driving. Only issue with smaller cars is one has to have a good idea about road clearance. At times you will be driving through deep water streams and landslides. If one is not attentive, it may cause some serious harm to the car while driving. You must also have a knowledge about car and tyre repair as you will not find any handy help in case you get stuck midway.
Manali to Leh Journey
Manali – Rohtang – Koksar – Keylong (120 km): Leaving early from Manali is ideal to avoid those (in)famous traffic jams on Manali – Rohtang route. Early would mean leaving latest by 6 in the morning. The traffic on this 52 km route is now regulated and non Himachal registered private and taxi vehicles now require a permit to cross the Rohtang Pass. Being an early bird would mean that you will likely cruise over the Rohtang Pass in three hours. On way you can have tea and breakfast at Marhi tea shops.
Once you cross Rohtang Pass, it will be downhill drive to Koksar (20 km) and further 38 km is Tandi, which happens to be the most important place on this route. Tandi has the last fuel pump on this highway as the next one is at Upshi at a distance of 310 km. Needless to say, you need to tank up your vehicle and in case you feel to take some extra fuel along, this is the place. Keylong is further 10 km from Tandi.
Stay at Keylong is suggested as it lies at a perfect altitude and right place to acclimatise in the high mountains. Plenty of guest houses and small hotels are available here. HPTDC also runs Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong.
One can also stay at Jispa, which is 22 km ahead and has few tented accommodation and hotels. In case you plan to stay here, make advance reservations from Manali.
Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Sarchu (112 km): Next morning once you start from Keylong / Jispa next stop is at Darcha which is at a distance of 28 km from Keylong. There are a few small Dhabas and shops here. You can stop for breakfast and then proceed to Sarchu, 84 km from Darcha. You will cross Baralacha Pass (5000m) on way and it is now when first symptoms of AMS starts appearing. From Baralacha Pass, you climb down to Bharatpur and then move on to Sarchu where you leave the state of Himachal Pradesh and enter into the Ladakh region of J&K.
There is tented accommodation available at Sarchu but being situated at an altitude of 4245m night stay here can give you AMS.
(Frozen Suraj Taal picture)
Sarchu – Pang – Upshi – Leh (260 km):
Pang is located 80 km from Sarchu. It is time when you cross the famous Gata loops. Gata loops are 21 loops where you travel to an altitude of 4636m. The road here is dusty and other passing heavy vehicles throw a lot of dust making the drive difficult.
Later you cross Nakee La at a height of 5050m. A little further the last ascent bring you to Lachalung La at an altitude of 5150m. The final descent takes you to a small settlement of Pang. Here you can rest and have lunch if you feel like as AMS will be at it’s peak by now. Pang is situated at an altitude of 4500m.
The famous Moree plains are located ahead of Pang. This is a flat drive of over 35 km. The plain area starts after covering around 4 km uphill road from Pang towards Tanglang La. The road is mostly on the plain for around 35 km, before it again starts to rise to Tanglang La.
Once you cross the Moree plains, ascent to Tanglang La will start. Tanglang la is situated at an altitude of 17,582 ft and is the third highest pass in Ladakh after Khardung La and Chang La. The steepness and the height takes a toll on the vehicles. From the top you can see a magnificent view of both sides of the route. Once you come down the pass, the next stop is Upshi where you can stop for a small break. Leh is finally 55 km away!
Upshi to Leh is a straight drive with good roads along the banks of river Indus. This distance can be covered in 90 minutes to 2 hours and finally you reach Leh.
If you have more time, you can also make this trip in three days.
On Day 1 do the Manali – Keylong stretch / on Day 2 Keylong – Sarchu / 3rd day you can do the Sarchu – Leh journey.
Acclimatising is the main mantra of Manali to Leh journey else it can land you in serious trouble. While travelling stay away from alcohol on this route. Carry preventive medicines for AMS and keep your body hydrated.
Manali to Leh highway useful information
ATM: ATMs are available only at Manali and Keylong. There is only one ATM of State Bank of India at Keylong. Better to draw all money at Manali.
Fuel: Last fuel station is at Tandi near Keylong. Don’t forget to tank up here. Next you will find fuel at Upshi, 310 km away.
Mobile service: Keylong is the last point where the mobile will work. BSNL and Airtel has coverage at Keylong.
Repair Mechanics: Keylong is the last point where you can get minor repairs done. Flat tyres can be repaired at Sarchu but no guarantees!!
Medical facilities: Available at Keylong and basic facilities at army camps at Sarchu and Pang.
Accommodation: Khoksar, Keylong, Jispa, Darcha, Zingzing bar, Sarchu, Pang, Upshi. (Mostly in tents)
Food: Marhi, Khoksar, Tandi, Keylong, Jispa, Darcha, Zingzing Bar, Bharatpur, Sarchu, Pang, Upshi.
If you are planning Manali to Leh journey by road we offer Innova cabs on this route at great value. You can contact us with your travel plan. We can also arrange transfers from Chandigarh or Shimla to Manali.
(Pictures: Aseem Thakur and the Internet)
July 5, 2011 / NITYIN / 1