Come summers and the one sound that resonates on the Manali-Leh road is the zooming of bikes and SUV’s. Not without reason; these are the few months that you can make that unforgettable trip to Leh on your bike. Whoever said that the journey is as important as the destination surely had the Manali- Leh route in mind. The journey through the many mountain passes, meandering streams and more, is breathtaking to say the least. You will encounter picturesque villages, snow clad mountains, barren Moore plains and more. Such a diverse scenic experience is nothing short of surreal; something that every adventure enthusiast dreams of. The fact that you drive along five of the highest motorable passes in the world, is an added perk! Little surprise then that while the Srinagar road works better in terms of acclimatization, the Manali route is still widely preferred.
Here is all that you need to know to not just take that 475 Km odd journey from Manali to Leh but also to make it memorable.
The Manali-Leh highway is a mix of high-altitude passes, bad roads, landslides and more. Not to mention the fact that there is acute AMS to contend with. There is no way, therefore, that you could consider it like a regular 475 Km journey and hope to cruise it in a day.
52 kms from Manali and you reach Rohtang Pass. Thereafter, it is a descent into Chandra Valley through Khoksar and then into Tandi. (Pro Tip – Tandi has the only petrol pump on this road so tanking up, is an absolute must-do! You should even carry some extra fuel with you.)
Places you will visit enroute Leh from Manali
While you have set your eyes on Leh, here are some of the other places that you can savour on the way while making this stunning journey!
Manali (Altitude 1950 mtrs)
The starting point of your journey, is a dream destination in itself. Located in the Beas river valley, this is one picturesque town with its snowcapped peaks, valleys and fruit orchards. A haven for adventure lovers, it offers opportunities for trekking, paragliding, rafting , skiing and more. The seat of many temples including the famous Hadimba Devi temple, Manali also has a rich religious heritage.
The one day necessary halt at Manali to acclimatize yourself, could turn out to be an opportunity to explore some aspects of it. Although it may be preferable to stay at Solang Valley 14 Km away from Manali. Not only is it a much quieter place than Manali, located at an altitude of 2590 m it aids acclimatization.
Gulaba and Marhi
20 Kms from Manali and you pass through Gulaba which is one of the lower snow points in winter. Up next you reach Marhi at an altitude of 3300m, the highest snow point in winters.
The next stop on your journey is likely to be Rani Nala. This glacier point is known for its snow around the year. The huge snow walls over 20 feet high here are a must see!
Rohtang Pass (Altitude 3980 mtrs)
51 Kms of driving from Manali and you will enter the spectacular Rohtang Pass, the crown prince of this route. Located at an elevation of 3980 m it connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys. You are bound to be mesmerized by its view of the snow-capped peaks, hidden waterfalls and valleys. For adventure seekers, there is nothing to beat the pleasures of skiing at this altitude.
Trivia- Did you know though that the name Rohtang means ‘ground of corpses’ !
Gramphu (Altitude 3200 mtrs)
On descending from Rohtang Pass lies Gramphu at an altitude of 3200 m. A diversion from Gramphu leads you towards Spiti Valley. In case you are desirous of vising Chandratal, you need to take this diversion.
Khokhsar (Altitude 3140 mtrs)
The first settlement in the Lahaul Valley, Khokhsar is home to the Chandra river. You can admire the amazing view while staying at the PWD rest house which requires an advance booking of course.
Tandi (Altitude: 2573 Mtrs)
Now this is a fairly important location, the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga river. From the traveller’s perspective, it is also important because this is the ONLY petrol pump on the highway after Manali and next is more than 350 km’s away..! It is imperative that you tank up here!
Keylong (Altitude 3080 mtrs)
The administrative centre of Lahaul, Keylong stretches on the north side of the Bhaga Valley. This could well become your night halt with its range of hotels. The place is known for its grand mountainous views. If you are spiritually inclined, you could visit the many Buddhist monasteries that add to the charm of the place.
Jispa (Altitude 3320 mtrs)
Many people prefer staying in Jispa and crossing the Baralacha La Pass at a whopping height of 16,500 feet in the early morning. If you are looking for a comfortable hotel for staying the night, Jispa in any case is likely to be your halt. This hamlet located by the Chandra river will mesmerize you with its lush greenery, picturesque valleys, streams and scenic peaks. You could also choose to live in a tent at Jispa and be close to mother nature. Even if your stay at Jispa is short, it is likely to rejuvenate you in more ways than one!
Darcha (Altitude 3360 mtrs)
Located besides the Bhaga river, this is one picturesque village that you cannot have enough of. With an opportunity to camp at Darcha as also to savour the local culture, the place will make its way into your heart in no time. Schedule permitting you could also take the Darcha-Padum trek and witness nature in all its glory!
Zingzing Bar (Altitude 4270 mtrs)
There couldn’t be a better way to rejuvenate your self but to take a halt at Zingzing bar and recoup with a steaming cuppa at the few dhabas here!. Located between Jispa and Sarchu, this stopover adds zing to your tired body!
Suraj Tal (Altitude 4883 mtrs)
The second highest lake in India and 21st in the world, it is a must see with its crystal clear water. A great site for some photo opportunity!
Baralacha La (Altitude 4890 mtrs)
Crossing Baralacha La is one of the high points of your journey. The Bhaga and the Chandra rivers originate from the glaciers in this region. Legend has it that two unabashed lovers, Bhaga and Chandra, the son and daughter of the sun and the moon, decided to ascend the pass to realize their union.
The view from Baralacha La is spectacular with the Himalayas extending along the horizon, as far as the eye can see.
Sarchu (Altitude 4290 mtrs)
This is likely to be another halt point for you to spend the night in the tents. Located at an altitude of 14300 feet, the experience is nothing short of surreal.
Gata Loops (Altitude 4190 mtrs)
24 Kms from Sarchu, you will encounter a series of 21 hairpin bends, the stuff that pumps Adrenalin like little else. No one however stops at the Gata Loops unnecessarily, after all there is a ghost story doing the rounds!
Nakee La (Altitude 4740 mtrs)
This one is the third of the five passes that comes on the Manali – Leh Highway and a great photo op!
Lachulung La (Altitude 5079 mtrs)
Located about 16,000 feet over sea level, the view of the entire Ladakh Plateau from here, is likely to stop you in your tracks. The high altitude could lead to some breathlessness though, so remember to carry your AMS medication at all times.
Pang (Altitude 4600 mtrs)
The seat of the highest army transit camp, this is as much a stop for tourists. Besides basic tented accommodation available here, this is also a stop for the many tea houses along the river bed.
Moore Plains (Altitude 4730 mtrs)
Running over a length of about 30-35 Kms, these are flat bedded plains flanked by mountain ranges on both sides. Get ready to see some sandy natural formations. If you are lucky you may also spot a Kiyang or some blue sheep.
Tanglang La (Altitude 5328 mtrs)
Upon crossing the picture perfect Moore plains, you reach Tanglang La. The second highest motor-able mountain pass this really is like a gateway to Leh. A small temple and a marker stone with the altitude makes you realize the sheer heights that you are scaling!
Upshi (Altitude 3480 mtrs)
This quaint but picturesque village with its goat farmers and their livestock will have you enchanted. You will be standing at one of the highest civilized settlements and that is no mean feat! The many pictures that you will take here will stand testimony to the place’s beauty! With less than 50 families living here, it is a wonder of sorts for people coming from teeming cities.
This is a place you simply cannot miss. Here is where you start to ascend to Chang La. The chortens on the road side give it a hue of its own. Another 45 Kms and you are in Leh!
All fitting places to your final destination at Leh! Carpe Diem or sieze the day, as they say, on this breathtaking journey!
Tips to remember while taking a road-trip from Manali to Leh:
- Carry all essentials so that nothing comes between you and a memorable trip. Remember to take a day’s halt at Manali before beginning your trip
- Take a leisurely ride that enables you to both enjoy the landscape and deal with AMS
- Do not forget to tank up at Tandi
- Among other things, keep your rain gear handy for those times that you can experience rainfall on the way
- Keep yourself hydrated and remember to carry your AMS medication. Taking short breaks if you are suffering from AMS, is prudent
- Do not over speed or try crossing high altitude passes late in the evening
Amenities on the Highway
- Hotel / Guest Houses – Khoksar, Sissu, Gondla, Tandi, Keylong Jispa, Upshi
- Tents / Camps – Jispa, Darcha, Zingzing Bar, Bharatpur, Sarchu ,Pang
- Diesel / Petrol Pumps – Tandi (107 KMs from Manali), Karu (36 KMs from Leh)
- ATMs – Keylong
- Mechanic / Puncture Shops – Marhi, Khoksar, Keylong, Darcha, Sarchu, Upshi
Best time to travel
The Manali-Leh road is typically open from June to Mid October. If you want to witness snow on the passes and enjoy the cold weather, you could consider setting out in June. The fall out though is that with the melting snow you are likely to witness many water crossings on the road, making the drive challenging. If you must travel in June, it is best to cross these water crossings early in the morning rather than later in the day when the sun is out in all its glory and the snow melts pretty fast. There is also the chance of rain making the travel difficult.
Come July-August and while the chance of seeing snow reduces, the temperature becomes far more bearable and the road conditions improve significantly. With the advent of end September-October there are once again low temperatures to contend with along with the risk of snowfall.
It is, however, best to enquire about the road conditions closer to your planned timing, as road conditions differ from year to year.