There is a famous saying - Its not the destination but the journey that counts. This is so true when it comes to the Manali Leh highway. This by far is one of the best roads in the world for any adventure motorcycle enthusiasts. From slush to rocks to stones to water crossings and high altitude mountain passes to smooth tarmac fit for a flight to land - The Manali Leh highway has it all. But the best part is the views and vistas the route has to offer. It is a route one can never get fed up off riding on. Every week and every month the landscape changes. If there were 10 water crossings today there could be only four a week later. The level of snow, the colour of the mountains; everything changes every week. Its best to ride slow and soak in everything this magnificent and mesmerizing road and landscape has to offer. Couple of years ago it would take three days to get to Leh from Manali, however in the recent past with the improvement of road quality the 475 km stretch can be covered in two days riding at an easy pace. We recommend spending two days in Manali before riding up to acclimatize to the higher altitude. Depending on the time available you can break the journey in 2 to 3 days. If covering the distance in 3 days, then 1st night stop should be Keylong or Jispa, second night at Sarchu and third day in Leh. If covering the distance in 2 days then 1st night halt should be in Darcha or Sarchu and second night in Leh. Avoid staying in places like Zing Zing Bar and Pang as these are located at a higher altitude and staying here could increase chances of AMS.
The Manali Leh highway is open only for a short period of time during summer between mid May to mid October. The road condition on this route keeps changing, however here is a gist of what to expect and how to prepare yourself for the ride. Start your ride from Ride Inn and you will get a 6km head start and beat a lot of the traffic in Manali. In the months of May & June we advise starting at 3:00 am as most tourists visiting Manali go to Rohtang Pass. All tourist vehicles leave at 4:00 am so you can imagine the sheer volume of tourist traffic at Rohtang Pass. July onwards the tourists reduce and its no longer necessary to leave that early in the morning. The road up Rohtang when clear and not covered in clouds is by far one of the most scenic rides in the greener parts of the Himalayas. From Marhi village (3,300m) the view of the entire Beas valley is just breathtaking. Post 2013 the road up Rohtang is well paved and one no longer needs to have nightmares of climbing up the 3950 meter hight pass. At Rohtang top is where one leaves all the crowds behind.. Along with the crowds you also leave behind the greenery. Post Rohtang one enters Lahul District of Himachal Pradesh, tribal high altitude region with barren landscapes. After Rohtang one will cross a junction called Gramphoo. From there one road goes straight(the Manali Leh Highway) and one goes to the right(Spiti valley). Do try out the meat chawal at the Dhaba at Gramphoo which is to die for. From Gramphoo 43km ahead lies Tandi, (2,570m) a must stop to refuel as the next gas station is 300km away in Karu. Another 8Km after Tandi, situated at an altitude of 3,080m is Keylong, the only town on the Manali Leh highway. 25 km after Keylong is Jispa (3,200m), a beautiful quaint settlement with just a couple of hotels and camps. Jispa is followed by Darcha (3,360m) and Zing Zing Bar (4,080m). Dont be fooled by Bar, it is actually the name of a place where an army settlement is present. From there you start your ascent to Baralach La at an altitude of 4900 meters. Enroute to Baralach La you will see the first high altitude lake – Suraj Tal. From Baralach La you descend to Bharatpur City which is not a city but just a couple of Dhabas with LCD tv sets, serving food and providing bedding for a night's rest. After Bharatpur and 30km from Baralach La top comes Sarchu . Sarchu is the last point of Himachal Pradesh before you enter Ladakh. Sarchu has a quite a few options for stay. Most of them are tents. Accommodation in Sarchu ranges from basic alpine crawl in type tents to luxury swiss style tents with attached bathrooms and chaddar/tin structures offering dorm type accommodation. We suggest staying in the tin structures as Sarchu can get extremely cold and windy and your tent could be flapping all night leading to a sleepless night. Sarchu is at an altitude of 4290 meters and adjusting to this altitude is difficult. Reach Sarchu by evening and your body will acclimatize even better. After Sarchu the chances of getting AMS is low and if in Sarchu one feels any symptoms then one can go to the army camp where oxygen is available. Getting a good nights sleep in Sarchu is a bit difficult, however when one wakes up to one of the most stunning landscapes at dawn, you automatically feel fresh and ready to ride. Soon after crossing Sarchu a sign board reads welcome to the paradise of India. You are now in Ladakh. Next comes Gata loops, a series of 21 hair pin bends at an altitude of 4190m. After Gata Loops are two mountain passes – Nakee La & Lachung La at an altitude of 4,740m & 5,060m. Lachung La is followed by Pang, an army settlement at an altitude of 4600 meters. There are stay options here but due to the high altitude avoid staying here. Between Pang and Debring lies a 45 km stretch of clean crisp tarmac fit to race on. This area is called More plains and back in the day this used to be a dirt track. From Debring you begin a 25 km ascend to Tanglang La (5,330m), the third highest motorable road in the world. A 52 km descent from Tanglang La leads to Upshi. Another 14 km from Upshi is Karu which has a gas station to tank up. Karu to Leh is another 35km.
Note : every year & every month the road condition changes. The number of water crossings and level of water keeps changing. This is the beauty of the Manali Leh Highway and this is exactly why one can never get tired of riding on this mesmerizing road. For latest road status updates please follow us on www.facebook.com/rideinnmanali
There are a couple of check posts on this route where one has to register with the authorities. Indian nationals need to show their ID proof such as drivers license. Foreign nationals need to show their valid visa & passports. These check posts are in Koksar, Darcha, Sarchu, Pang, Upshi