Manali to Leh road trip is a dream for every adventurous traveler. Ladakh is one of the top hot spots in the bucket list of travel enthusiasts and every summer thousands of people travel to this land of lama. But the most fascinating way to visit Ladakh is undoubtedly on a bike/bicycle by the Manali-Leh highway. In the last two parts I have shared my philosophy of travelling, the reason for travelling to Ladakh and how to plan a road trip to this place. Here I am sharing the detailed itinerary of everyday ride, the conditions of roads and landscapes, and challenges and how to tackle them. Continuing from the second part-
Day-1. Manali to Marhi
So after a day’s break in Manali, next day get ready for a 7-8 am start to avoid traffic and enjoy the beautiful morning weather. It’s a 35 Kms long climb so ride in low gears and keep yourself motivated. The road gets narrower after Gulaba so you may face traffic jams and broken road at some points. Kothi is a small village just before Gulaba where you can have lunch as after that you won’t find any dhaba till Marhi except a few snack-vans on the way. The higher you go the view around you becomes more exciting and beautiful with Rohtang coming into sight on one side and the wide green valley appearing on the other. First thing you should do after reaching Marhi is have some food and book a bed for yourself so that you’re relieved about the night stay. Marhi is a small settlement of 5-7 dhabas that provide food and night stay. The weather turns cold to colder here as the night approaches and severe cold wind blows in the morning so you might have to face that also the next day.
Day-2 Marhi to Sissu
You can start by 8 if there’s no wind. From Marhi the next 15 kms stretch till Rohtang is difficult as it’s uphill, after that you only have to keep your hands on brakes till Khoksar, a small village, where you can have food and some rest. From there you have an easy 20 Kms ride by the Chandra river through Rohtang Valley till Sissu. Sissu is a beautiful village that has a lake and some riverside camping sites, if you reach a little early then you can book a bed/tent and enjoy the walk by the lake or river before going to bed.
Day-3 Sissu to Jispa
On day 3 the first 20 kms till Tandi bridge you have a similar terrain riding through the fields and small villages by the Chandra river. Tandi bridge is an important spot on this highway because of two things- first is here you see the confluence of two rivers Chandra and Bhaga, and both become one famous river called Jhelum, the second reason is that after Tandi the next petrol station is 360 kms ahead in Ladakh so bikers make sure to get enough fuel for the way from here. You can have some tea-snacks here and lunch in Keylong, 8 kms from Tandi, and reach Jispa by the evening. Jispa is a beautiful tourist village settled by the Bhaga river. Here you are in a completely calm cold and natural atmosphere and you will find many camping sites where you can stay for the night or you can also try a dormitory at cheap price in the Mountaineering and Allied Sports Hostel at the end of the village.
Day-4 Jispa to Zing Zing Bar
The landscape starts changing after Jispa. Jispa is the last human settlement on the highway, though you will find some dhabas near the Darcha check post 6 kms ahead. From Darcha you have a 5-6 Kms climb and after that mountain you have an easy downhill ride till the Deepak Taal lake at Patsio. Here you enter the wild territory of high dry rocky mountains and there’s no vegetation till Ladakh from here. Just over 20 Kms from Deepak Taal you reach Zing Zing Bar (not a beer bar but the name of a spot ) where the climb for the mighty Baralacha la begins. Here you will feel the real freezing cold weather and you wouldn’t want to step out of your bed. It’s a beautiful place where you should stay for a night in a camping dhaba and if you go in June you might get lucky to wake up in a freezing cold weather and fresh snow all around. I would suggest you go straight in the Peace Cafe pitched on the left side of road, the owner is a very humble and helpful man and you can get a bed for just 200-250 Rs.
Day-5 Zing Zing Bar to Sarchu
Eat well in the morning as you have to cycle upward the Baralacha la for 17 Kms and if you are going in June or early July then you will have really cold weather and around 10 feet snow on either side of the road on the way to Baralacha. You will see the almost frozen Suraj Taal lake from where emerges the Bhaga river, and you will find yourself riding on a thin black trail surrounded by the whitewashed mountains. This is one of my favorite places on this highway. After Baralacha you pedal down to Bharatpur, another spot of 2-3 dhabas where you have some food and then ride on a damaged road for the next 10-12 kms before you enter the Sarchu Valley for an easy ride through the beautiful plains. Sarchu is the entry point of Ladakh and is a camping settlement, here you will have high altitude sickness, mainly mild headache, so better you take your bed , eat your food, take medicine and go to sleep early.
Day-6 Sarchu to Whiskey Nalla
It’s gonna be a tough day and the reason I tell you why! First 25 kms from Sarchu to the starting point of Gata Loops is a quite easy and enjoyable ride by the Tsarap river. But the real test of your physical and mental strength and stamina begins with the Gata Loops, they’re 21 hairpin bends ascending steeply for around six kms, and once you have finished the Loops the elevation for the Nakee la begins. The most difficult and annoying thing about this part is that you ride through dry, barren mountains with no spot for food and water, not even a stream or snow melting. So I suggest you carry some extra water for this part because you will constantly feel exhausted and dehydrated and the altitude will also test you, those chocolates and toffees in your bag will be handy here. Once you reach Nakee la you start downhill ride for 8 kms to reach Whiskey Nallah, on the way down you will also see an abandoned truck that’s lying there for years now. At Whiskey Nallah you take food and rest , it’s also a 3-4 camping dhaba kind of place but a lifeline for many truckers and bikers as it is situated at a very crucial spot between two high passes. So after an exhausting ride through Gata Loops and Nakee la it’s a nice place to rest well for a few hours and a full night in the middle of your journey, take a bed here and enjoy the cold weather in the wilderness.
Day-7 Whiskey Nalla to Debring
It’s gonna be a mixed day of joy adventure and some hardship. In the morning you start climbing up to the Lachulung la which will take you around two hours and after that you go down on a really bad road and into another different landscape where you will see a different pattern and colour of mountains and by the time you feel hungry you will reach Pang. Stop in Pang, a major dhaba settlement on the highway, eat well take some rest and after the tea you start your ride towards the most amazing landscape on this entire highway. Yes, you’re going to enter the mesmerising More Plains after a four kilometres climb. This is my favorite landscape on the Manali-Leh Highway, It’s a 45 kms long plain stretch surrounded by gorgeous mountains on both sides at an altitude of over 15000ft. These plains start 3-4 kms after Pang and these are spread in around 7-8 kms wide or even more at some places till the Debring where the ascent towards the Tanglang la begins. When the snow is melted and there’s grass all around in the summer you can see the herds of sheep 🐑 of the nomadic community of Changthang (Ladakh) grazing all over the plains. Near Debring you can find some temporary camping dhabas where you can eat and sleep for the night and I don’t have words to describe the nights of these plains but I suggest if you ever go to Ladakh via this road don’t miss to spend a night in these plains.
Day-8 Debring to Upshi
It’s better you start early and by early in those places I mean by 8 am, because today you are going to cross the highest and last pass on this highway, the Tanglang la which is located at an altitude of 17,500 ft and it’s a 25 kms long ascend to the top. You’re gonna face freezing cold wind and difficulty in breathing and riding as you go upward. Keep enough water with you and yeah like the Gata Loops and Nakee la your chocolates and toffees gonna help you a lot here also, so buy some from the dhaba and stay strong. When you reach the top you will find yourself, a tiny creature, surrounded by huge mountains and vast valleys and most probably so much snow if you go in June. This’ll be the last climb before Leh and perhaps the most scenic views from the top you will see and from here you’re gonna have a thrilling downhill steep ride for next 20 kms through cold wind hitting your face but you will enjoy it so much. You reach Rumtse, first Ladakhi village on the highway, where you rest and eat food. It will probably rain or snow at around 2 and depending on the weather conditions you can either reach Upshi that very day or stay for the night in Rumtse.
Day-9 Upshi to Leh
Today is a very important and big day for you because you are going to reach Leh after a 9-10 days long ride full of adventures and amazing memories on the way. You will ride through small beautiful Ladakhi villages and by the ancient Indus river that you will see in Upshi. It’s a comfortable ride till Leh and on the way you should stop at the famous Thiksey monastery. You will reach Leh in time and the best place to go straight away is the Leh market where you will see travelers from across the country and abroad walking around or sitting in the plaza complex. You will get mobile network in Upshi after a 5-7 days I guess and in Leh you will get wifi also. As usual the first thing after reaching Leh is to find a room near the market, freshen up, put your luggage and bicycle there and go hangout in the market. If you want to celebrate in the evening with some drinks, and you definitely should celebrate, then there’s one wine shop in the market you can ask anybody, get whatever drink you want and find a nice spot and enjoy yourself. I wish you all the very best for your journey, and whenever you plan to go always feel free to ask any queries you have. Thank you for reading, have a great time!