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How to plan a road trip on Manali-Leh highway 2022

“The journey is not about the destination but the journey itself”, and this 428-kilometer long Manali-Leh Highway is a live portrayal of the former phrase. Manali-Leh highway located in Northernmost India connects Manali [ Himachal Pardesh] with Leh [UT – Leh Ladakh] is a dream come true for photographers, professional travelers, and nature lovers. Being in one of the remotest areas of the world, this highway is full of undiscovered places and snow-capped mountains that accompany you throughout the journey. Be that be rivers, waterfalls, or wildlife you will get to explore nature in its pure and rawest form. If you are planning a trip on this highway, be clear with “how, when, where” – ‘How to go’, ‘when to go’ and ‘where to go’, as it will help you with a budget and also give you an idea of the kind of trip you are in for. Here is a step-by-step guide, to help you plan a road trip on Manali – Leh highway.

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What is the Best time to plan Manali - Leh highway roadtrip

The highway remains open for around five months a year, at the end of September when winter is at arrival the highway is closed down due to heavy snowfall. The roads are opened again in May or June when the snow melts down, you can plan your trip hereafter. Here are some of the insights which will help you decide the ideal time for your tour-

1. Snow-capped mountains in early June

The roads are usually opened in June, so if you want to catch a glimpse of snowy mountains, this is the time to visit because after that the snow starts to melt. You will also meet a crazy tourist rush during this time of the year.

2. June and July 

the snow starts to meltdown and you will meet beautiful yet dangerous water streams gushing down the road, so it is advisable to cross past these streams before noon otherwise they become explosive and you will have to halt your journey for a while

3. July and August:

Manali and Leh expect a rainy season in July and August, so the chances of roadblocks and postponement of plans become higher, in case you have to face such a situation, always be ready with a backup plan. Also, don’t worry if it rains during your trip because it probably won’t last for more than two or three days, also if you want to see lush greenery and splendid waterfalls in all their glory, this is the best time to visit.

4. September

The valley welcomes spring in September, the mountains are filled with tiny blossoms and lush greenery, also tourist rush is low at this time of the year. You will
witness full-fledged colors of locality during September. There might be chances of rainfall, but again weather is unpredictable and you will always have to be ready with
plan B

In Nutshell, The weather in the mountains is unpredictable, it might be sunny today and raining tomorrow, so while planning to keep this fact in mind that the weather might contradict your expectations, that’s why you will have to be flexible if there are any sudden changes in the weather and pack accordingly.

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Is it better to travel from Leh to Manali or Manali to Leh?

Both the routes serve their unique purpose, whether you travel from Leh to Manali or vice-versa is completely dependent upon your preferences, meaning if you prefer a more comfortable journey then start from Leh, but if you are in for adventure then Manali is your hub. Here are some points, which will help you understand better-

 

  • Acclimatization: If you travel from Leh, your body will be better acclimated to AMS [accute mountain sickness] as you will be traveling from higher to lower altitude, hence the chance of sickness is low, but if you start your journey from Manali then it becomes a compulsion to make stops in Lahaul and Spiti valley to get acclimatized and chances of AMS is also higher. Please remember, AMS is no joke, it can put your life in danger if ignored, so no matter where you start your journey from, do take care of your health. 
  • Time: While traveling via Manali to Leh it usually takes a one or two- stay in Jispa/Keylong so that the body gets accommodated to high altitude before traveling ahead, otherwise, chances of AMS increase, hence your traveling time extends. On the other hand, if you start from Leh, you can have a night’s stay at Jispa, only if you want and reach Manali the next day and can even continue your journey towards Chandigarh or Delhi without making another stop in the town, so
    your time is saved.
  •  Nearby cities :  If you are traveling from a city like Chandigarh then start your journey from Manali as it is comparatively near and if you want to visit Srinagar first then traveling via Leh is a better option.

What are the Road conditions at the Manali-Leh highway?

Road conditions of the Manali-Leh highway are often a big concern for travelers, especially for bikers. The highway is maintained by Border Roads Organisation [BRO] and is efficient in its work, but looking after roads in one of the remotest areas of the country is no joke, as the highway faces wear and tear of snow and landslides and because it remains close for six months in a year, its maintenance becomes equally challenging. Some roads of the highway are smooth as butter but some will make your backache, here is a general idea of road conditions in different places –

Manali to Rohtang pass – Good
● Rohtang to Kokhsar – Average
● Kokhsar to Sissu – Average
● Sissu to Keylong – Good
● Keylong to Jispa – Good
● Jispa to Zingzing Bar- Good
● Baralacha to Sarchu – Bad, rough at points and good at other
● Sarchu to Pang – bad at some points, otherwise good
● Pang to Moore Plains- Good
● Moore Plains to Tanglang La Pass- Good
● Tanglang La Pass to Rumste- Good
● Rumste to Leh – Good

Hence the roads are smooth and functioning, the conditions of the road do change as per the weather, for example, if you are traveling during monsoons, you may face landslides. During early June and July, you will face huge water streams also called “Pagal Nala” in the local language, flowing on roads due to melting snow. Do not panic if you have to make a stop or two due to bad-road situations, if you are traveling with an experienced and trained driver, these hurdles can be crossed easily.

How and which vehicle to choose to travel from Manali to Leh or Leh to Manali?

While choosing your vehicle you should keep three things in mind-

1.  The number of travelers – 

The type of vehicles should always be according to the number of people traveling, for example, if traveling solo then you can rent a bike or even travel by bus, but if you are traveling with family and children it’s better to hire a taxi or tempo-traveler.

 

2.  Budget – 

The prices of vehicles vary as per their size and luxury, so choose a vehicle that is in your budget, here you will have to do your research to find the best vehicle at a reasonable price.

 

3.   Preferences –

Each traveler has preferences, some will want to travel in a comfortable 4×4 whereas some travel all the way here to have an adventurous bike trip. Usually,
there are four ways – 

  1. Self Drive – You can hire a car from Delhi, Chandigarh, or Manali and travel towards Leh, but here too you will be presented with two choices –
  • . Hired Car – There are three main cities Chandigarh, Delhi, and Manali from where you can hire a car for self-drive and start your journey. But remember you can drive hired self drive car only to Leh city because the Leh Taxi Union does not allow outsiders’ rented cars to operate in Leh Ladakh, so you will have to rent another local car in Leh and then go sightseeing of the region.
  •  Owned car – If you own a suitable car for rough mountain roads, then you can take your car for the journey. You can drive to Leh and even do the local sightseeing, without any restrictions. But remember you will need a good driver and servicing of the car so that the car doesn’t return in a poor condition.

2. Hired Taxi – You can rent a taxi from, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Manali from where you reach Leh, but again you can hire them only till Leh City as the Leh Taxi Union does not allow, non-local taxies to operate in the Ladakh region. So you will have to hire a local taxi to explore Leh and other local areas. The rate of the taxis is comparatively higher, so think of hiring one only if you are traveling with a group to divide the cost.

3.  Bike tour – Manali – Leh Highway is bikers heaven, bikers come from all over the world to cover this road. Undoubtedly if you are looking for adventure, you should do a bike trip either solo or with a pillion. Like taxis, you cannot take non- Ladakhi rented bikes in Leh, so you have to switch to Leh’s rented bikes and continue your journey ahead. For self-owned bikes, there are no restrictions but it is always recommended to travel with fellow bikers so that you don’t get lost.

4. Bus tour- The cheapest and most comfortable journey is by bus. Three buses run from Manali to Leh, two are provided by HRTC and one from HPTDC. It takes two days to reach Leh by bus, with a one-night stay in Keylong and short food breaks in between. The only drawback of the bus tour is that you won’t be able to stop at sightseeing spots that are located on the highway.

From Leh to Manali: While traveling from Leh to Manali, you can hire a SUV/Tempo traveller from Leh till Manali, just like Leh’s policy you cannot do local sightseeing of Manali in
Leh taxi, so hire a local taxi. There are many buses and taxis available for returning from Manali to Chandigarh, Delhi, and Shimla, so it is easier for you to head back home here on.

 

How much time does it take to reach Leh from Manali?

The roads of the Manali-Leh highway are in a good condition [except for some parts], so the journey usually takes less time than it use to before. You can cover Manali – Leh highway in different periods – One-day trip, Two-day trip, Three-day trip, the details are as follows-

One-day journey – A day trip is highly discouraged for tourists who do not hail from the Manali-Leh region and are not accustomed to higher altitudes. Usually, it will take 15 to 17 hours to reach Leh on a continuous drive, but it will drain the life out of you, and because your body is not acclimatized, AMS will take a toll and make you sick for the rest of the journey. So don’t put too much exertion on your mind and body just to cut down the cost of the trip.

Two-day journey–  It is the most time and cost-effective period which is followed by most of the tour groups and local buses. The details are as follows – 

  1. On this trip, you will start your journey from Manali and drive to Jispa or Keylong which are approx 70 to 90 kilometers away from Manali. It is a two-hour drive to Jispa, and it will be your night’s stay here so that your body gets acclimatized for further journey. 
  2. After a night’s stay at Jispa or Keylong, you will have to start your journey towards Leh early in the morning to reach your destination on time. Leh is 334 Km away from Jispa, and with several stops that you will make at the passes and other places, you will reach Leh in approx 8 to 9 hours.

The two-day journey is suitable as well as comfortable for travelers as they can enjoy the road and also reach the destination without any high risk of AMS. Some people do stay at Sarchu and Pang, but it is not recommended as both the places are above 4k altitude, and you will sleep uneasy and be nauseous due to lack of oxygen.

Three-day journey – This travel period is not so popular among tourist, as it is both costly and time consuming. Also being in high altitude for three days that too without any civilized places around, can put you in the risk of AMS. 

Why is it important to get acclimatized for Manali - Leh Highway Journey?

This question is asked time and again because people are not aware of the risks high altitudes can put them in. Our bodies are habitual of living in lower altitudes but as we move up, the oxygen level starts to get low, hence our body will need time to adjust to this new oxygen level, so an acclimatization period is necessary. If you are traveling to a higher altitude, you must get familiar with AMS or acute mountain sickness, which happens at an altitude above 2400 m and cause dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and headaches. In most cases, AMS is mild and heals easily but sometime it may become severe and create complications in the Lungs and brain. People often take AMS lightly and then travel to passes and places that hail at the altitude of 4000m and above, but it is important to take care of your health so that you can be energetic and joyful on the journey. This is the reason why you are asked to have a night’s stay at Jispa or Keylong before moving to higher altitudes.

Challenges you will face while planning Manali - Leh highway trip -

Planning is the most rigorous and complex part of the trip, especially when you are planning a trip to one of the remotest areas of the country because there will be very limited help available if a problem shows up. Here are some anticipated challenges you might face while planning and also how you can come across them effectively.

1. Budget:
On average it costs 30,000 to 45,000 per head for the Leh Ladakh tour, depending upon the luxury and period of your plan. If the budget is more than what you can afford then you should travel with travel companies who will customize a package as per your need, or you can cut down your cost by staying at local homestays or hostels. It’s preferable to travel with a group because then the cost of food, accommodation, and petrol is divided equally.

2. Timespan:

Manali – Leh highway has a very vast area, with many places to explore and you can’t cover them all in 2 to 3 days. Hence it becomes a challenge how to cover all the worthwhile places in a limited time, for this, you can read about all the nearby places in Leh and Ladakh and then decide what suits you best. Here is a list of places you can cover on the Manali – Leh highway.

3. What to Pack :

The weather in Leh is very confusing, even though it remains cold throughout the year at times you might feel sweaty, but still it is important to carry a jacket all the time. So you will have to carry warm clothes and jackets in the majority with some summer clothing which can be worn beneath. Other than that there are a couple of other things that are mandatory to carry along –
● Identity card which proves your Nationality
● Medicines for headaches and other illnesses that you are already suffering from.
● A small oxygen pump, just in case AMS gets a toll on your lungs.
● A water bottle, so you can stay hydrated [ Do not carry a disposable plastic
bottle]
● Hats and sunscreen protect your skin from harmful sunrays.
● Good shoes with grip
● Raincoats, if you are planning to travel in the rainy season.
● Gumboots, especially for bikers
● Buy postpaid plans, and BSNL connectivity because another network won’t work
on the highway.

4. Laid out a map of medical and other help centers- 

While traveling in a backward area, the availability of medical institutions is almost a rarity, so be prepared with a map or a plan just in case you are in an emergency. Some of the hospitals are present in –
● Keylong
● Pang
● Manali
● Leh
● You can also approach army medical camps in case of emergency.

Places to visit on Manali Leh highway and their altitude -

Manali Leh highway is not an ordinary highway as it contains places with such historic stories and significance that you will be compelled to stop by and explore these places. Here is a list of places with their altitudes, which are worth exploring in your Manali – Leh journey.

1. Rohtang La Pass: 

51 km away from Manali, this is the first pass of your journey which hails at the altitude of 3980 meters. Passing through Rohtang Pass is merely an option, as now you can travel through Atal Tunnel and head straight towards Jispa to save time.

2. Keylong

 A small town in Lahaul Spiti, you will find several places, temples, monasteries to explore, it is at the altitude of 3080 m and you can plan a night’s stay here.

3. Jispa:

This is a small village in Lahaul valley and is located right next to Bhaga river, being at the altitude of 3200m, this spot is chosen for a night stay, to acclimatized for further journey.

4. Suraj Tal:

Located in the foothills of Baralacha La Pass, Suraj Tal has scored the title of the second-highest lake in India at a height of 4883 meters.

5. Baralacha La Pass:

It is the second pass of the Manali – Leh highway located at the altitude of 4850 m. It is so high, that if you stay there for more than 10-15 minutes, it will start affecting your oxygen level and make you sick.

6. Nakee La Pass

It is the third pass of the Manali – Leh highway at an altitude of 4740 meters, you won’t find even a single tree here.

7. Laugalacha La Pass:

This is the fourth pass of the highway which is at an altitude of 5059 meters. You will get to see some breathtaking views of the lower foothills from this pass

8. Tanglang La pass:

 At the altitude of 5328 meters, this pass is the fifth and the last pass of the Manali – Leh highway. The pass sits in the highest and most secluded area, which has a serenity of its own. But do not spend too much time on the pass as it can lead to AMS.

You will also come across places like Zingzing Bar, Gata Loops, and More Plains that you can enjoy even while driving, but if you wish you can make a stop here.

Frequently Asked Questions - (FAQs)

1. Are there any accommodations or stay options available on Manali-Leh Highway?

You will find, homestays and hotels on Manali-Leh Highway but if you want to take a full-fledge nomadic feel, staying in Camps is something you should try on. Here is a list of some accommodations you can try out in your Manali to Leh journey.-
● Jispa Journey – Jispa
● Padma Lodge – Jispa
● Hotel Ibex – Jispa
● Hotel DeeZed – Jispa
● Hotel Yak – Jispa
● Hotel ChandarBhaga [ Keylong]
● Mulkila adventure camp Sarchu
● HPTDC stays

2. Is there any petrol or diesel station on Manali – Leh Highway?

You will find three petrol and diesel station on the Manali Leh highway- 
● The first is in Manali itself
● The second is in Tandi which is 65.2 Km away from Manali
● The third is in Karu which is 328 Km away from Tandi.
Hence you should get your tanks filled in Tandi because after that you will find a station after 328 Km.

2. Is there any petrol or diesel station on Manali – Leh Highway?

You will find three petrol and diesel station on the Manali Leh highway- 
● The first is in Manali itself
● The second is in Tandi which is 65.2 Km away from Manali
● The third is in Karu which is 328 Km away from Tandi.
Hence you should get your tanks filled in Tandi because after that you will find a station after 328 Km.

3. Where can you find ATM on Manali – Leh highway?

Please carry enough cash with you, as you will find an ATM only in Manali, Keylong, and then directly in Leh city. As most of the time, there is no network available so online payments will not work.

4. How many permits do you need on Manali – Leh Highway and at what places?

If you are covering, Rohtang Pass on your tour, then you will need a permit, other than that there are no permits required. You will have to show your national Identity card at Sarchu, which is the starting point of Leh, and other than that a foreigner will need all required documents for their travel.

5. Is Manali – Leh Highway safe? 

Bluntly, it isn’t as safe as it seems, but again Manali – Leh Highway is loved by thrill-seekers due to the adventures and challenges the road offers, yes it is important to be cautious and not overdo things but not enjoying the raw trails of this journey will just be a sheer waste of time. 

When will Manali – Leh Highway will reopen in 2022? 

The highway closed down in the month of November due to heavy snowfall. The highway still remains closed and is expected to reopen in the month of April or May 2022. 

7. How long is Manali – Leh highway? 

Manali-Leh Highway is 428 Kilometers long, and it takes approx two days (with a nightstay) to reach Leh from Manali. 

7. Who maintains Manali – Leh Highway? 

Manali-Leh Highway is maintained by BRO – The Border Road Organization, a part of the Indian Armed Forces which is responsible for constructing and maintaining roads at border area.