Manali-Leh highway is not for the weak hearted ones. It’s a must drive for those who love to take road trips.
We started our adventurous drive from Gurgaon and reached manali in 12-13hrs. The roads are good and once you cross ropar and hit bilaspur, you are ascending and one can feel the breeze. We spent a night and day in a tent, set by campville at jagatsukh village, Manali. It’s important to make that halt for taking permit, resting and for refill of fuel. Recently, the government has changed the regulation and now you don’t need a permit for entering Leh.
From Manali we started for Leh at 3.00am, as it is advised to cross raani naala at Maadi before 8am. This is a usual practice due to multiple reasons like land sliding due to melting ice, heavy traffic and more importantly, BRO (Border Road Organization) closes the road from 8-12 for cleaning or repairing of the road on daily basis.
Once you have crossed raani naala, start enjoying the drive, landscape and ice caped mountain and the breeze because it would be late morning by now. This road also leads to Spiti and Kaza from Gramphu along the Chandra River. For Leh, drive northwards to kokhsar, this place is around 27miles from maadi, known for its meat chawl (lamb curry and rice) and paid toilets. This is also the first checkpoint for vehicle entry and police checking. After filling the tummy and stretching your legs, get on to the road and drive towards Tandi. Tandi is in the valley at the confluence of Chandra and Bagga River. The Bagga River is known as Chenab in Jammu & Kashmir. The place is extremely important because of its Government run Fuel station. This road leads to Keylong, a hub for 3 ATM’s, mechanics, spare parts, hotels, food, bus depot and lots of people as after this one will see only themselves. This place is also known for “ Lady of Keylong” an ice caped mountain in the shape of a lady. As you drive along the river, you will find good road and a beautiful village on the bank of the river called Jispa. This place too has couple of dormitory, budget hotel and tents for travelers. From here onwards, one will be on steep ascents to reach Baralacha La at 16500ft. Both Bhaga and Chandra River originate from melting snow at opposite sides of Baralacha la. Our vehicle broke at Darcha hilltop after crossing Jispa. This lead us to halt and delayed our trip by 2days,we were prepared for this physically but got prepared mentally while going through it.
Baralacha la, wasn’t an easy drive some time back, because at Zingzingbar. Earlier, at Zingzingbar the water level normally touches the vehicle bonnet but now they have a connecting iron bridge to make the Passover smooth but when the rubber hits the iron bridge the noise is deafening. On our way, we did see broken SUV’s, trucks and cars on our way to Leh but that only strengthened our faith. This broken road will lead you to Sarchu, a military base and police check post. Also the start of Jammu region. Travelers take halt at Sarchu but generally it’s suggested to not halt at Sarchu due to lack of oxygen. From here one starts driving upwards to Pang, the highest military transit base and also known as the little grand cannon of India. One has to drive through the Gata loops (22 hairpin bends) and traversing through Nakee and Lachulung laa pass. This will lead you to the second highest motorable road at Tanglang laa pass by driving through the morey plains, known for its nomadic people. Leh is just 110 km from Tanglang la from Upshi and Karu. Ensure you take the left turn from Upshi to karu else you will reach Tibet and after karu, just drive on the highway and don’t take the right turn as it will lead you to shyok, nubra valley.
This road trip has definitely got better out of us. We learnt how to depend upon God’s Grace, how to rejoice in the wilderness, to enjoy the weak moments, to keep quite when things are not well, to depend upon fellow traveler or localities and most important to put our faith in GOD.
As a frequent traveler, I would like to suggest the following things that are important and must haves…
*) Towing Rope & Puncture Kit, Jumpers (in case of old battery)
*) Hydraulic Jack and Air foot pump
*) Jerrykin for fuel storage, Spare Tubes & stepny
*) Clutch Plate with bearing set
*) Dimox for high altitude
*) Gelosil & Limofin
Snacks & Eatables
*) Milk cartons, hot water, Instant Coffee and milk powder
*) Maggie and chocolates and disposable plates and tissue roles
*) Be mentally strong and no over confidence
*) In the slushy or inside water drive little slant and don’t be in hurry, get down and inspect it first
*) Look for tyre trails when there is no road but don’t take truck trails inside the slushy roads
*) Take care of your oil chamber.
*) Don’t change gears in the slushy tranche, no brakes n clutch, first gear and accelerate it
The most important of all is “ politely, ask for help and don’t negotiate as the help and resources are scarce and always be ready to help the fellow traveler “
Leh offers good stay from backpackers to budget to luxury travelers.
For backpackers, the daily fair would be ranging from 200-1000 INR. The places are Asia (01982253403), Goba (01982253670), Indus (01982252502), Mona lisa (01982252456), Old Ladakh (01982252951), Oriental (01982253153), Padma (01982252630), Saser (01982250162), Ree-yul (01982252911) and lot more…check for attached or shared toilets.
In Leh, all the eating joints are open till 10pm. Tibetan kitchen at fort road offers the best Tibetan food in town. Try the great mutton thukpas. Visit Leh View hotel at main bazaar for 360degree view of Leh city while dining. If you are fond of trying the local drink then try “Chang” a local barley brew.
Everyone wants to return with a souvenir for friends and family. So look for custom fit local clothing, including dapper stovepipe hats (tibi), hand dyed gonchas, Bhutanese cross-button shirts, yak wool shawls, tie-dyed rope-soled shoes (pabbu). If money is not an issue, splash out on a perak, a long ladakhi headdress. Price tends to be high, so haggle hard and don’t be conned into shelling out for cleverly faked antiques. Much of the silver on sale is in fact cheap white metal.