The 473 km road from Manali to Leh, The capital of Ladakh district, is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. It is known as Leh Manali Raja Marga, which can be translated as the main route from Leh to Manali.
Only four and a half months a year the road from Manali to Ladakh is open. It is the only time of the year that the northeast region of India has access to land. During winter time heavy snowfalls block the road which isolates the region from the lower Himalayan area.
Approximately from mid-May until mid-October the road is clear and ready to connect the state of Himachal with Jammu Kashmir so there is a long line of traffic waiting to enter. It gets very busy on the Himalayan highway.
Indian Army trucks loaded with supplies head towards the northern army posts. They carry food, ammunition but the most important treasure they carry is fresh manpower.
Indian soldiers that were posted in the remotest army bases along the borders of China and Pakistan will now have a chance to see their families after a few extremely solitary and cold months.
But not only military trucks will be populating the national highway also civilian trucks loaded with goods take advantage of these four months that the road is open to bringing supplies to the villages in Ladakh.
The Himalayan highway from Manali to Ladakh is not solely for tourists. Local people rely on this road during this particular time of the year. For them, summertime means that they are getting connected again to the world. However, the time is ticking and the trucks will have to keep up with the pace to fill up the empty storages.
This is why we urge you to be careful if you plan to travel from Manali to Ladakh on your own (by car, motorbike or bicycle) remember – the road is busy and the drivers are in a rush. Another reason to be careful is the condition of the road. The road from Manali to Ladakh is long and unexpected. Due to the topography and the climate of the region landslides, rockslides and floods may quite often happen. The temperature in the summertime is rising and the ice is getting melted so the water washes land and rocks downhill which causes many blocks on the road. The Border Roads Organization (BRO) usually clears the roads and restores damaged bridges very effectively.
Before you hit the road up to Leh, we strongly recommend staying one or two nights in Manali. There are a few nice things to do in Manali and it will be the beginning of your acclimatization process.
Note that it is critical to spend at least one night on the road to let your body acclimatize. There are few accommodation options on the way. My advice is to break down the road into small pieces and to gradually elevate into high altitudes. Don’t let headaches, vomiting, lack of appetite, dizziness, nausea and other AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) symptoms spoil the fun of this incredible road to Leh. Drink a lot of water at all times and have some energy snacks with you.
Break down the ride from Manali to Ladakh:
1) 1st night : Manali –Jispa / Keylong
Keylong is just another town however Jispa (3200 m) is a small village on the Bhaga river bank. Jispa can be a very nice place to stop for one night.
2) 2nd night: Sarchu. On Sarchu you will find a few campsites. Some of them are very expensive but if you want to go for a cheap option than stay the night at Dhaba’s (restaurants) tents.
3) 3rd Sarchu –Pang/ Tzo Kar
Milestones: Manali to Ladakh, up until Leh:
1) 7-8 hrs drive a day if you decide to take our advice and break down the road to three nights
2) 8-10 hrs drive a day if you chose to arrive at Leh after two nights on the road.
1. Manali to Rohtang Pass at 3,980 m
2. Rohtang to Gramphu at 3,200 m. It is a steady descent. Turn left (towards west) at Gramphu on the highway along Chandra river. The right turn (towards east) at Gramphu leads to Spiti valley
3. Gramphu to Kokhsar, the first village north of Rohtang Pass 6 km. On Kohsar you will have to show your passports with a valid visa at the police check post here
4. Kokhsar to Tandi (2,570 m). Tandi is located at the bottom of the river valley at the confluence of the Chandra River and the Bhaga river (flowing down from north) which merge to form the Chandra-Bhaga river. Cross the Bhaga river over the bridge towards the right, take the right turn at the fork and the road again starts climbing
5. Tandi to Keylong (3,080 m). Keylong is the capital of Lahoul districts in Himachal Pradesh. There are many accommodation options here but it might be a good idea to keep on a little bit farther 1-1.5 hrs down the road to Jispa which is the more pastoral place to lay your head for the night
6. Keylong to Jispa (3,310 m)
7. Jispa to Darcha (3,360 m). All tourists have to register at the police check post at this point just before the bridge
8. Darcha to Zingzingbar (4,270 m).The steep ascent to Baralacha La starts at Zingzingbar. Don’t forget to take some pictures in Suraj Tal the beautiful lake on the way.
9. Zingzingbar to Baralacha La passes at 5,030 m 18 km. It is a steady climb. (Both the Bhaga river and the Chandra river originate from melting snow at opposite sides of Baralacha La, the former flowing southwest and the latter flowing the first southeast and then northwest to merge at Tandi.
10. Sarchu (4,300 m). Sarchu is a military base and has a police check post. At Sarchu you will find a few camping sites to stay. You’ll have to register at the police check post here and say bye-bye to Himachal Pradesh for you have just entered to Ladakh at Jammu Kashmir
11. Sarchu to Pang (4,600 m) climbing 500 m through the Gata loops at 4,190 m and traversing through Nakee La pass at 4,739 m and Lachulung La pass (5,065 m). Register at the check post at Pang
12. Pang to Tanglang La pass (5,328 m). The 69 km will be an amazing ride through a 4,700 m plateau known as Morey plains. Those of you who plan to stop at Tzokar lake will have to turn right (east) for 10 more minutes until the campsite
13. Tanglang La pass to Upshi. Upshi has a customs and excises taxation check post before crossing the Indus River
14. Upshi to Leh. This would be the last part of your drive. Just Follow the Indus River via the famous Hemis monastery and Tekshey monastery. This is not the time to stop… Get a shower first