There cannot be a better example of the journey being as exciting as the destination as the drive to Leh. The view is spectacular as you cross an ever-changing landscape that leaves you spell bound to say the least! As you make your way through those steep climbs of Rohtang Pass or the hairpin bends of Gata Loops, one thing is for sure this is one trip you aren’t likely to forget in a hurry. However, it is also a fact that this beautiful terrain can be quite intimidating if you aren’t adequately equipped. Given the fact that a mechanical failure on those high altitude passes with the nearest town being miles away can spell disaster, there is nothing quite like being over-prepared.
Before you even consider setting out on this trip ensure that your vehicle is fully serviced and the following aspects taken care of:
- Car Tyres– Rough road conditions en route to Leh play havoc with car tyres. The steep passes, water crossings (some nasty ones at that!) and sometimes the near absence of roads, take a toll. If your car tyres are already worn out, it is a good idea to replace them as you set out on this arduous journey. Wheel alignment and balancing is also a must do exercise before taking the trip.
- Clutch Plates– When you are circumventing those steep climbs and driving at altitudes of 3500-4000 metres, worn out clutch plates are a strict no-no. Ensure that old worn out clutch plates are replaced before you take the trip.
- Break Pad– There is no way you would want to take a treacherous high altitude journey with your breaks in anything less than perfect condition.
Those sharp climbs tend to cause a lot of wear and tear to your break pad so ensure that it is in perfect order. It is also prudent to have the brake oil level checked before you set out.
- Air and fuel filter– Driving through a dusty terrain means the added risk of having the air filter clogging up. Remember to set out with new air and fuel filters as also to have the filter cleaned once you reach Leh.
- Coolant– Even though you are travelling to a cold place the continuous high rpm driving causes the engine to heat up. Remember to have the coolant topped up before undertaking the journey.
- Car Battery- Ensure that your car battery is in good condition as you cannot afford to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with the closest town, miles away!
- Engine Oil and filter– When you want nothing but optimal performance on treacherous routes, it is best to have the engine oil and filter replaced.
- General Servicing– Ensure that all lights, indicators and horn are in good working condition. Also check for any leakages as also any loose nuts and bolts.
- Should you decide to drive on a low ground clearance car, an aluminum plate installed underneath can prevent damage caused by rocks.
With not many amenities being available en route and mobile connectivity also being an issue in parts, it is best to also be equipped with spares. Here is the list of things that are must carry:
- Complete Tool Kit- Remember to carry the complete tool kit for any emergency as you do not want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. For the same reason, it will also help if you learn the basics of car repair to be able to tide over any minor exigencies yourself!
- Puncture Kit– It will also help to be equipped with a puncture kit as also with spare tyres and tubes. Keeping an air compressor or foot pump will also come in handy.
- Jump-start cable– A Jump-start cable will be a major savior in case you encounter a car battery issue and need to start your car with the help of another. Keeping a tow cable is also advisable.
- Spare coolant and engine oil– It is best to keep at least half liter of engine oil handy. Remember to also be equipped with spare coolant should you face any heating up issues. A spare fan belt is also a must keep.
- Spare fuses – Keep yourself equipped with spare fuses for any exigency that can be easily handled with the right fuse.
- Headlight and brake light bulb– These are essential as you need to traverse a rough terrain and you cannot afford not to be able to see it properly. For the same reason you must also carry flashlights.
- M- Seal and scotch tape- Keep them handy for any fixes that you may need to undertake.
- Can for additional fuel – Remember to keep a can for additional fuel as also a petrol pipe.( Pro tip: There is only one petrol pump between Manali and Leh, at Tandi, 370 Kms from Leh. So remember to tank up!)
- Miscellaneous items:
- It will help to keep a spare car key with you for a situation where you get locked out
- Wooden planks come in handy in case your car gets stuck in the mud
Remember to carry your driving licence, car registration, insurance and PUC papers. Photocopies of all these documents should be handy while the originals should be kept safe yet easily accessible.
The only other thing that you require in the journey is safe driving. Here is what you can do for your safety while traversing the tough terrain:
- While crossing water bodies, it is best not to speed as there is always the fear of water getting into the engine
- If you are going down a steep hill, without touching the brake, the gear you are in is probably too low. As a thumb rule, you need to come down a slope in the same gear as you would normally climb up the slope.
- While climbing down do not keep the foot on the break continuously as there is a chance that the brakes may overheat and fail. It is prudent to apply the brake for a short period, then release and reapply.
All the very best as you undertake what can easily be termed as an exhilarating experience for any adventure enthusiast!