By any standard and from any perspective, the Manali-Leh journey has EPIC written all over it. With roads that open up for only a few months a year, these 470 km will test you, scare you, shock you and leave you spellbound. The snow-capped mountains, deep ravines, humble villages and the charming pinewood forests will fill your heart with delight and wonderment. The roads from Manali to Leh takes the traveller to a stunning array of landscapes starting from the lush Pine forests of Manali through the scrubby slopes of Lahaul leading to the exquisite town of Leh. This is the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ , a journey that you will cherish for a lifetime.
Best Time to Visit:
May to September is the best time to travel down this route. If travelling by road, a person will take at least 2 days with adequate stops for rest.
Manali to Leh Distance:
The approximate distance from Manali to Leh 478 km
Manali to Leh Road Map:
Manali – Rohtang – Gramphu – Kokhsar – Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Zingzingbar – Baralacha La – Sarchu – Gata Loops – Lachulung La – Pang – Tanglang La – Upshi – Karu – Leh
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Rohtang Pass, the crowned prince of the Leh-Manali route. Or a dreaded monster! A pass no driver dares to cross in the night. “If the bus falls off now, at least I have seen the most majestic place on earth.” Yes, this thought does cross one’s mind while travelling through this rough terrain that is situated 51 kms above the town of Manali.
Nevertheless, one cannot help but marvel at the panoramic view of the grandeur of the snow-capped mountains and the splendor of the of the waterfalls escaping through the chasms of these mountains, overlooking the lush greens of Manali by the Beas River. On the way to this pass, one comes across Snow Point which is a long stretch of snow starting from Solang Valley to Rohtang. It is no less than a snow-themed park which is famous for the various adventure sports this place has to offer such as Parachuting, Paragliding, Sledge-rides, Ice-skating, Skiing etc., the perfect destination for adventure junkies and honeymooners.
There are various shops and shacks from where snow suits, gloves, boots and jackets can be hired at a price of 200-350 per suit.
Heads Up – Rohtang Pass remains closed on Tuesdays for Border Roads Organization(BRO) maintenance.
One can even look up for bike rentals. You can hire a couple of Enfield 350’s for 1000 bucks a day and that’s as cheap as it gets, for the asking price might even go as high as 2000 bucks a day. So do not hesitate to bargain and fetch yourself a good deal.
Other major attractions on the Manali-Rohtang route:
Nehru Kund- A small check post situated 5 kms away from Manali, this place is famous for its natural spring of cold water
Kothi- Located at about 12 kms away from Manali at an altitude of 2500 meters above sea level, Kothi is a picturesque spot which offers a magnificent view of the glaciers and the River Beas flowing through a narrow gorge.
Gulaba- It is about 20 kms away from Manali and is commonly known as Snow Point (apparently the place where the Snow Point starts)
Rahala Falls- A splendid waterfall the height of which is 50 meters is something that will compel you to pull over your vehicle and soak in its beauty.
While planning a bike trip, one cannot afford a day’s delay as it would set up a domino effect on the rest of the trip. So it is advisable to start as early as possible in order to avoid the traffic at the Gulaba check post and also the unpredictable weather conditions from Rohtang. The weather sometimes gets so dreadful from Rohtang leading to landslides and heavy snowfall that it is unadvisable to travel on that route after 5 in the evening.
This twin villages are 6 minutes apart and act as a halting place for acquiring rest and refreshments. Craving a generic Punjabi food amidst the chilly snow clad hills? Then you need to stop right here for a mouth-watering parantha butter breakfast at a reasonable price. However, it is not advisable for one to halt overnight at Gramphu or Khoksar as it contains only a couple of Guest Houses.
As one travels further northwards and crosses Khoksar, all the small vegetation start to disappear. All one can see is the mountains with patches of green grass scattered throughout. One has to turn left at Gramphu on the highway along the River Chandra to proceed in the direction of Leh. People with nationality other than that of Indian need to show their passports along with verified Visa at the check post here in order to proceed further.
Situated at a distance of 126 km from Manali, on the banks of Bhaga River. The magnificent mountain views and green meadows spread out like a carpet are a treat to the eyes. To anyone who enjoys unwinding themselves in the laps of nature, Keylong is the place to be.
Keylong is a popular stop among the tourists and trekkers for an overnight halt. It has monasteries such as Shasur, Kardang, Tayul and Gemur.
The Indian Government has invested $320 million to build the 8.5 km long Rohtang Tunnel that will bypass the Rohtang Pass and connect to Keylong thereby shortening the distance from Manali to Leh by 50 km.
Mountains Calling! Pull over your bikes by the Chandra River, have a few drinks there, goof around, look at the majestic mountains and escape into the wilderness.
Jispa is around 20kms from Keylong. There is a huge camping ground available at Darcha which is commonly used for camping by the travellers and trekkers. Among all the enthralling treks in this region, the Darcha-Padum trek is the most popular. If you have enough time during your Manali-Leh tour, you can plan this 9-10 days trek.
A peace-over joint located on the way to Ladakh; between Jispa and Sarchu, Zingzing Bar is one of the highest roadside bars in the world. More than bar, it is a resting ground of the army cadets. It defines every Manali-Ladakh road trip. This place has an ambience that is almost on the verge of meditative bliss. You can simply sit and sip your tea and be at peace with yourself. The charisma of this place is such that, within a very few moments, you can feel all the peace descending on you
And not to mention the several road nallas that will test your biking skills to the limit. Waters as high as a foot can be expected. Steer clear of the currents and follow the rocky bed.
Baralacha-la translates to “the pass where many roads meet”. This pass connects Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, thereby forming a natural divide between the Bhaga and the Yunam Rivers. It is a plateau where three mountain ranges namely Pir Panjal, Zanskar and The Himalayas come together.
The main attraction of Baralacha-la is the azure waters of Suraj Tal, gently decorated by an outline of snow at its contours which is in contrast with the surrounding gray and off white coloured rocks scattered in and around the lake. The trek to Suraj Tal is quite popular and attracts trekkers from all over the globe.
Baralacha-la provides decent camping grounds with basic amenities. Tibetan cuisines are famous in the restaurants of this area.
It is advisable for tourists coming from lower altitude to acclimatize to the rarefied atmosphere otherwise they may suffer from altitude sickness.
An important stopover on the Leh-Manali highway, Saruchu lies on the boundary of Himachal Pradesh, locally known as ‘Sir Bhum Chum’. It is situated at an altitude of 14,500 ft between Baralacha La and Lachlung la. It closely resembles Ladakh with its barren splendor
Sarchu is the starting point for trek to Zanskar in Ladakh region. The winds are cooler than usual, but refreshing nevertheless! Picturesque scenic quotients. The sight of the majestic mountains overlooking you from a distance will thrill you into a different time zone altogether.
Anyone who has been on a road trip from Manali to Leh will narrate to you what this place is all about. Gata Loops with its hairpin bends and twisty curves will send chills down your spine. Ascending onto this hill is as thrilling as descending down it. Feel all those adrenaline rushes as you travel through its challenging terrain.
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Safely cocooned between the state boundaries of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, Lachung-La reaches a remarkable altitude of about 16,000 feet above sea level. It gives a bird’s-eye view of the scenery beyond. One can see the entire Ladakh plateau in a sweeping glance of one’s eyes. Located 54 km from Sarchu, this mountain pass is the sought after destination of every travel enthusiast.
There is a nala that passes through this place and simply moving along the nala can accomplish one’s task of crossing this pass. After crossing Lachung La, the landscape changes where the road meanders through a canyon.
Pang – Leh Manali Highway
There is a dramatic change in the landscape as the road approaches Pang. The sand-blasted anthill slopes leading to Pang appear to be well chiselled. It is a large tented settlement providing the tourists with refreshments and accommodation. It feels like as if the mountains, the meadows and the beautiful streams flowing through it have come alive. It is the place where the highest army transit camp exists. The high altitude of this place combined by beautiful surrounding scenery makes Pang a perfect place to take a break whilst on your road trip.
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The vast rolling Morey Plains with its bowl-like structures that are fringed by low mountains is a stretch of flat land of about 45 km long and 20 km wide. There are numerous cone shaped soil formations along the banks of a half frozen stream. Occasionally, one could spot a cluster of Tibetan wild ass or Kiang, grazing over the plains and if one gets lucky they might even spot a red-tailed fox.
At the end of the Morey Plains, the roads lead straight upwards towards the Tanglang La Pass.. The weather starts to get all foggy as you gain altitude. There is no super blue sky as mist takes over and there is snow everywhere, on all sides, in all dimensions.
The Tanglang La pass is like a jewel in the crown on the Manali – Leh stretch. It is claimed to be the second highest motorable mountain pass on the planet at an altitude of 17,582 ft, Khardungla being the first at an altitude of 18,300 ft. It is like driving towards the clouds given the fact that they surround the entire higher altitudinal section of the pass. Traversing through this pass will literally give you the Cloud 9 experience. The experience is inexplicably surreal.
The weather in this place becomes unpredictable due to frequent snowstorms.
People coming from lower altitudes might be prone to altitude sickness. Hence, it is advisable to carry an oxygen cylinder.
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Situated on the banks of Indus River and 45 km southeast of Leh, is a quaint and picturesque village called Upshi. Towards the east of this region is an ancient trading route that is connected to Tibet. The highway meets the Indus Valley at Upshi and thus begins the smooth descent to the Indus valley towards the first of the many mesmerizing Ladakhi villages leading to Leh.
Karu is the last stop along the Manali-Leh highway before you reach the town of Leh. Karu stupefies you with its lofty mountain peaks and hills. This secluded bliss, leaves you gobsmacked by its the beauty. The manifestations of nature’s finest representations lies at their best in this region. Sparkling streams, resplendent valleys and majestic mountains are the hallmarks of this place.
Finally after a 475 km long drive, the Indus River unravels the beautiful town of Leh. Everything seems magical about this place- the air, the landscapes, the people, the traditions. In the evening, as one strolls through the markets of Leh, amidst all the hustle bustle, one might witness this town in all its glory with magnificent snow-capped mountains towering the town from all sides.
Since it is situated at a height of 11480 ft above sea level, it takes an entire day to acclimatize to the rarefied atmosphere of this place. There are various resorts and guest houses available in this place for tourist and travellers from all over the globe.