Considered the ultimate pilgrimage for biking and driving enthusiasts, this road trip from Manali to Leh is packed with thrilling and life changing experiences.
Connected via the Manali – Leh highway, the drive takes you through four high mountain passes – Rohtang Pass, Naki La Pass, Baralacha La Pass and Chang La Pass.
The unique head spinning Gata Loops make for a phenomenal experience. Spectacular lakes along the route like the Suraj Tal make it a stunningly scenic drive.
Small makeshift dhabas or eating joints in remote locales along the route serve basic but hot and delicious food – steaming parathas, rice and rajma.
Travellers are advised to carry a route map, adequate fuel, bottled water, food, snacks, chocolate bars, high altitude medicines, sunblock, sunglasses and a camera with additional battery on this incredible drive.
Please refer to the Important Travel Tips for Ladakh before embarking on this journey.
Route and Travel details:
Manali – Leh highway (474 kms, 15 hrs)
Ideally, when travelling by a SUV, this route is covered in 2 days with a night halt enroute at Keylong/Jispa/Sarchu.
Day 1 :
♣ Manali – Palchan – Kothi – Rohtang Pass (3980m, 52 kms, 2 Hours):
The single road is in good condition most of the way except for a few rough patches upto Rohtang.
♣ Rohtang – Gramphu – Turn left – Khoksar (3980m, 20 kms, 1 Hour):
The descent from Rohtang is painstakingly slow with huge rocks all along the route. The road is extremely bad in this section, ridden with deadly potholes and completely missing in some areas!
Once you reach Khoksar, a vehicle entry has to be made at the Khoksar Check-post.
Khoksar has many dhabas or eating joints, so take a pit stop for some food/snacks/tea.
Basic bathroom facilities are also available for travelers.
♣ Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Gondhla – Thorang – Tandi Junction – Keylong (45 kms kms, 2 hours):
The road conditions improve from Khoksar and the drive is mesmerizing across meadows along the Chenab river. A few kilometres further on, the shimmery green waters of Deepak Tal welcomes travellers to Sissu. The road continues to be good upto Tandi. Thereafter it converts almost into a dirt-track from upto Keylong.
Tandi has the last petrol pump in this area and the next one is 365 kms away. So make sure to fill up petrol/diesel here.
Keylong is 9kms from Tandi and takes around 30 mins. to reach.
Take a night halt at Keylong or if you wish to cover more distance on Day 1, travel ahead to Jispa (23 kms, 1 hr) or Sarchu (107 kms, 4 hrs).
♣ Keylong – Yurnath – Kawaring – Gemur – Jispa (23 kms, 1 hour).
One can stay overnight at Jispa or choose to drive further upto Sarchu.
♣ Jispa – Lingkyam (6kms, 15 mins) – Darcha (4 kms, 10 mins.) – Deepak Tal (12 kms, 30 mins.)- Zingzingbar Cafe (9.5 kms, 25 mins):
If you take the night halt at Jispa, leave early next morning by 4 or 5 am as it is a long drive to Leh from here with 2 high altitude passes enroute.
Zingzingbar is the only cafe in this area, so stop for a meal, chat with the locals and stretch your legs.
♣ Suraj Tal (19 kms, 1 hr; take a photo stop) – Baralacha La (4891 m; 3.2 kms, 15 mins.)
Moving further on from Zingzingbar cafe, you will drive through magnificent walls of ice before reaching the spectacular Suraj Tal. Take a pitstop to enjoy this visual treat! Gear up now to ascend the formidable Baralacha Pass going upto an altitude of 4891m asl. Its cold and windy at the pass but a quick customary photo-stop with the milestone is a must!
♣ Baralacha – Sarchu (31 kms, 1.5 hrs):
The descend from Baralacha pass is slow, steep and winding.
Travellers who did not stopover at Keylong or Jispa, have the option of taking a night halt at the tented Swiss camps at Sarchu.
Make sure you have multiple layers of warm clothing on as it gets extremely cold post sunset in these areas. Stay warm by sitting around the fires that are provided.
♣ Sarchu – Drive along Tsarap River – Gata Loops (31 kms, 1.5 hrs) – Naki La (Pass 4739m, 15547 ft; 7kms, 20 mins.) – Pang (39 kms, 2 hrs):
Start off after a good breakfast at the camp.
The drive will take you along the banks of the Tsarap River that have interesting mud formations. These make for a exotic barren backdrop reminding one of the Grand Canyon.
Drive across the famous Gata Loops upto the Naki La Pass.
Descending from the pass, a 2 hour drive will bring you to Pang. The tented restaurants in Pang are a welcome sight. Stop for a meal and get some rest. Beds are also available here for travelers/ drivers looking for a power nap.
♣ Pang – Tanglang La (17582 feet-2nd highest pass in the world, 66 kms, 2.5 hrs) – Debring – Gya – Upshi (61 kms, 2 hrs) – Leh (47 kms, 2 hrs).
Its a 2.5 hours drive from Pang to Tanglang La. Take a photo-stop at the pass and drive on. From here, it is a 2 hour drive to Upshi and a further 2 hour drive to Leh.
Do remember it is extremely important to take adequate stops, keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water/ liquids and acclimatize your body to the lower oxygen levels when travelling to high altitude places like Ladakh.
Never try to speed on mountain roads, it can be extremely treacherous and endanger lives.
Journeys such as this are as much of a landmark as are the destinations! So capture every moment, every sight, every turn, every interaction…in your heart…they will remain with you as a lifetime of memories!