The most talked about life mein ek baar dream road trip for every adventure-junkie is Manali to Leh. It tests every thrill-seeker’s determination and will power especially since they have to drive through the enchanting yet rugged and rocky terrain, ascend to high altitude areas that are oxygen deficit and where weather can play a spoilsport any time. The route is so unpredictable that even the most prepared lot of people have come back and shared their hiccups during the trip. This implies that the first-timers, like you must observe extra caution. So, to prepare you well for your first ever dream ride, we’ve documented every information possible so that you enjoy being surrounded by the barren paradise.

Photograph by Chetan KarkhanisImage courtesy : Sandeepa Chetan | Rohtang La

Here you go:

You begin your journey from Manali, which is located in the Beas Valley. It is advisable that you start at the break of dawn because this route is notorious for traffic snarl throughout the day. To control traffic movement there are strict regulations in place. So start early to reach Rohtang Pass, which is 51 kms from Manali; the road to Rohtang is open from 6:00 am to 11:00 am. The route is quite vehicle-friendly till Marhi, after which you need to tighten your seat belts. To your delight, you will notice a change in landscape from green to beige and brown. If you’re tired and hungry, you can halt here to snack or decide to please your tummy with delectable food at the dhabas at Rohtang Pass at 13,050 feet above sea level! If you have time in hand do capture the snow-capped mountains, summer blossoms and winding roads!

After Rohtang the journey is downhill and you’ll cross Koshkar village and Keylong Town. If you are not in a rush you can stay at Keylong, but while you’re on your way, refuel at a petrol pump in Tandi because for the next 365 kms you won’t find any. While you’re at Tandi, check your car’s mileage so that you can guess fuel consumption and fill your jerry cans accordingly; surplus diesel/petrol always comes handy in times of dire need! Talking about jerry cans, we’d say don’t compromise on quality because if they’re porous, the odor may trouble you by giving a terrible headache. Also, get a mechanic to examine your vehicle for any problem and fix it if he sees any. At Keylong, you can stay the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation hotel Chandrabhaga. Depending on your budget, you have the option of either staying in rooms and dorms or luxury tents. If not here, you can stay at some of the guest houses like Sumrila Guesthouse, Nalwa Guesthouse, Nordaling Guesthouse, Saffron Stays and Khandroling Guest House.  Also, just so you have enough money with you, withdraw some the ATM here for you’ll not find any till you reach Leh.

For those of you who want to reach Leh within 2 days, it is recommended that you stay overnight at Jispa, a small village on the banks of Bhaga river and 140 kms from Manali. It should take you near about 4 hours to reach this village that has only 78 households. At night the gurgling river acts no less than a lullaby and puts you to sound sleep. This halt helps you acclimatize to high altitude and saves you from ‘Acute Mountain Sickness’. However, if you have a headache and feeling uneasy have diamox. But, we should warn you that this must be taken only if prescribed by a doctor, especially if you are on some medications already. As far as the accommodation is concerned, you can stay at Hotel Ibex or Hotel Jispa, which is a couple of minutes’ walk away from the river Bhaga that originates from the Baralachala Pass.  If you want to camp, then you can book a spot with Jispa Journeys and Padma Lodge and Camp. You can also halt at HP PWD Rest House too. Make sure you book your accommodation in advance, either though telephone or over the internet so as to avoid disappointment during peak seasons.

Photograph by Chetan KarkhanisImage courtesy : Sandeepa Chetan | Barlachla

Now, if you’ve stayed the night at Jispa, you should wake up in the wee hours the next morning, preferably at 4 or 4:30 so as to reach Leh; you will drive for about 335 km and take approx. 9 hours. The drive on the bumpy muddy roads that follow the picturesque Bhaga river will test your maneuvering skills, so if you want to take a break stop at Darcha (51 km from Jispa) for an early breakfast. If not, then have a late breakfast at the famous Zingzing Bar dhaba tent. Between Darcha and Zingzing Bar is Patseo from where begins the steep gradient to Sarchu (84 km drive from Jispa) that will test your patience. But, don’t let your energy levels dip, especially after crossing Deepak Taal from where starts the ascent to Baralacha La at 16,500ft. It is here that you will encounter snow piled-up on either side. Take a minutes’ pause here and pat yourself because not everyone gets the chance to drive on the third highest motorable pass in the word! Please note that since Baralacha La connects Lahaul in Himachal to Ladakh in J & K. So, if you’re carrying a prepaid sim it won’t work due to security reasons in the crown jewel of our country, Jammu & Kashmir.

Photograph by Chetan KarkhanisImage courtesy : Sandeepa Chetan | Gatta Loops

After crossing the pass begins the real adventure; you descend to reach Sarchu that is locally known as ‘Sir Bhum Chum’. If you haven’t had food either at Jispa or ZingZing Bar, halt here to have some. Fell the magic for you will be surrounded by majestic mountains inviting you to trek the treacherous trail, but let’s leave that for the next trip! Sarchu is a major halt for many, but since you’re to reach Leh the same day, continue with your drive throughvariable road conditions crossing Gatta Loops, a series of 21 hairpin bend. It is 23 km ascent after which you will cross two passes Nakee La and Lachulung La that offer the most undulating views to your eyes. Descending from Lachunlung La which is an easier pass to drive you will notice a change in landscape; the road meanders through a canyon to reach Pang. At Pang, you’ll find the highest army transit camp and you will need to be here to believe why this spot is perfect for travelers like you to recharge your tired body and mind! You can get your vehicles scanned for any issues and also seek army’s help. If you’re really unwell they even accommodate your stay till the time you feel well. Anyway, before we go any further and for those concerned about the condition of the roads, let’s warn you that the road conditions depend on the time of the year you’re traveling.

4 kms from Pang and an uphill drive towards the Tanglang La pass, you will be received by the spectacular hues of the Moore Plains spread across 40-45 kms of straight road with not a blade of grass in sight! The road will tempt you to accelerate your SUVs and go the fast and furious way, but don’t give in! The road is uneven at places and a sudden jerk can hurt your vehicle. Besides, if you drive fast you will miss seeing the Sumkhel Lungpa river that has some of the most stunning rock and sand formations. You sure don’t want to miss this work of nature!

Photograph by Chetan KarkhanisImage courtesy : Sandeepa Chetan | Tanglang La

It is after Moore Plains that the arduous part of the journey begins because you now ascend to Tanglang La at 17,582 ft, which is world’s third highest motorable pass and the highest on Manali-Leh highway. Once atop the pass, you will need to brave the chill and if possible do not stay here for long. The ice-cold wind and low oxygen level will test your nerves and you may fall prey to AMS. But, things get better when you make your descend and get closer to Upshi after crossing Indus river. Thanks to the Border Road Organisation, you will enjoy the drive too because of much better hereon. We know that you will be excited to reach Leh (which is only a 47km drive away), but take a quick tea break to unwind and give your tired body and mind some rest! Upshi, if you don’t know is a quaint village that has a helipad.

After you’ve revived, gear up for the final leg of your road trip, onward to LEH! The city will welcome you with a network connection if you have a postpaid number and you can make calls and connect with the world! If you’re worried about the stay, you will be spoilt for choices because there are numerous hotels within an easy reach from the main town. As much your budget allows, you can have a luxury stay at the Grand Dragon, Ladakh Sarai, Ladakh Residency, Hotel Nalanda, Zen Ladakh, Royal Heritage Resort etc or stay at some deluxe hotels and camps.

You can also find ATMs of various banks like Axis, SBI, PNB etc to refill your wallet. And, with refill we also mean to tell you that now’s the time to also refill your fuel tank because when you do head back home, you will not find any petrol pump till Tandi! If you have Mahindra Toyota or a Maruti car, get them serviced in Leh. And, if you drove in a commercial vehicle, keep in mind that you will have to hire a taxi to go around in Leh; vehicles from outside Leh cannot ply there.

And, while you’re in Leh, don’t forget to visit the German Bakery and treat your taste buds to some awesome food!

Leh townImage courtesy: Kannelil Sandeep Sasi | View of Leh town

If you are looking forward to your first trip to Ladakh then check out the packages at WeNomads.com

Happy Tripping!

Written By: Sharanya Manola