Manali Leh Highway, How To Plan A Journey on Manali Leh Highway(Srinagar – Leh Highway being the other one). It is one of those Highways which offers almost everything to an adventure lover that is available with nature. Serious travelers in India and even abroad does have a dream of traversing this most beautiful Manali Leh Highway at least once in their lifetime and I am honored to have experienced this journey of my lifetime. Having said that, the journey on Manali Leh Highway could be a bit tricky to plan if you haven’t researched well enough. Almost more than 350 KMs out of 474 KMs long Manali-Leh Highway, does not have any civilization and hence you would be the only soul wandering on most part of your journey here. Even one cannot find fuel (petrol/diesel) for 365 KMs on Manali Leh Highway. Therefore, adequate planning is very well required to travel on Manali Leh Highway so as to make it a memorable experience. I hope the below information would be helpful for someone planning a journey on Manali Leh Highway.

Manali Leh Highway

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Season to travel on Manali – Leh Highway

Usually, the opening of Rohtang Pass and Baralacha La majorly governs the travel time on Manali Leh Highway. The average time for the opening of Rohtang Pass every year is around May and Baralacha La usually opens up close to May end. Hence, June to September is the time window when the Manali Leh Highway is open and is considered as the only time for traveling on Manali Leh Highway. In the early stages i.e. June, one can find huge stocks of snow en- route but the road conditions may be a challenge to drive. While in the later stages i.e. August to September, the conditions of the roads are almost perfect in shape with all the slush dried out, maintenance work almost completed on these roads by BRO but your eyes will be devoid of the snow mostly.

The weather in June is always unpredictable and chances of rain are also bright. This leads to the closure of certain sections on Manali –

Manali Leh Highway due to landslides triggered by rains. However, you may be lucky in June as well to cruise this Highway in bright sunshine. June is not exactly the ideal time when one wants to be in Manali due to mad tourist influx. As the July – August comes, the Monsoon comes as well in the Northern parts of India. However, the regions on the Northern side of Rohtang Pass that is Keylong and beyond mostly remains untouched by these monsoon rains (except the year 2010 which was an exception). So in July-August, though you may need to cross the Southern side of Rohtang Pass in Monsoon rains that are Manali and lower hills but after that, especially Keylong, you are almost good to go without much trouble with these rains.

June – July is also the time window when the snow melts on high passes creating almost tiny rivers or water crossings (nallas) on roads in the early stages. This is quite a challenge to dodge, especially with the vehicles having low ground clearance. Post afternoon, when the sun is burning at its best, some of these water crossings or nallas becomes so violent that they are almost impossible to cross. This may force you to halt the journey of the day in the middle of nowhere or return back to some civilized place for a night halt. The best way to overcome these water crossings or nallas, is to know the specific nallas on Manali Leh Highway and plan to cross them as early in the morning as possible. In the year 2010, one of the major hurdles was water crossing or nalla just after Zingzing Bar and before Baralacha La. Another major one was between Rohtang Pass and Sissu. In early stages (June), even crossing Baralacha La is a big challenge due to melting snow which creates some deep water streams on the road itself. Slush is also bound to be present on Baralcha La in the early stages of the season and is also quite a challenge to negotiate without proper skills even on SUV/MUV. This slush is generally created by the constant moving traffic which beats the snow present on the road or aside. Hence, try to cover these sections of Manali Leh Highway in the early part of the day, when snow melts very slowly and traffic is less.

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Modes of travel on Manali – Leh Highway
Private Vehicles i.e. Cars and Bikes Self Drive or Ride to Ladakh

Most people prefer to self-drive or self-ride to Ladakh by their own car or own bike and some also prefer to self-drive or self-ride to Ladakh by hiring a bike or car. In any case, hired car/bike or personal car/bike, idea is to live the passion of driving or riding through one of the toughest and adventurous terrains accessible in India. You can take your own or rented, car or bike to Ladakh but one must be careful while driving or riding through slushy roads, snow and water crossing or nallas. Also, it is always handy to learn little maintenance tasks of your vehicle prior to the start of this arduous journey in which you will be desolated majority of the time.
For cars, although an SUV/MUV is good to have and a 4WD SUV will definitely help but I have seen hatchbacks (including Altos and Nano) and sedans doing good enough job on Manali – Leh Highway. However, with sedans / hatchbacks, one must drive with extra care and caution. Also, be ready for few scratches or sacrifice some parts on your sedans/hatchbacks underbelly due to the lack of enough ground clearance which may be required in some water crossings or landslides on Manali – Leh Highway. If you are trying to attempt in a hatchback or sedan, I will suggest planning the journey late in the season (August – September) when the roads are in good shape than early season.
Whenever in doubt, always step out of your car, walk down the path, inspect with your foot and plan the path of exit before crossing a dangerous landslide or water crossing on your vehicle. You can also park aside and see how others are crossing the risky section to plan your route of escape. In deep water, crossings try to maintain the momentum without any half clutch measures and complete the entire stretch in one go only. Similarly, in slush stretches do not force the issue rather keep the smooth momentum with required speed to pass you through, without half clutch measures. Do keep an eye on the direction of the vehicle too. If you get stuck in slush then try to back and forth your vehicles to get out of the stuck position. It is always handy to ask your fellow co-travelers to get out of the car and push the vehicle from behind in case the car is struggling to pass through the slush or water crossing stretch.

Basic toolkit, screwdriver set, small hammer, puncture repair kit, iron rod, two or three “2 LTR” empty bottles of Pepsi / coke / limca etc to carry extra petrol or diesel (jerry cans will leak, cold drink bottles do not leak), funnel, towing rope, spare tube (must for bikes), elfy or fevi quick (2-3 sachets), jump start cables/wires, M-seal to prevent leakage etc. were among the few things which I carried along on my trip to Ladakh. Also, do not forget to get your vehicle (car/bike) serviced about 2-3 weeks before the start of the Ladakh journey. This will ensure that you have proper time in advance to test your serviced vehicle and get fixed any hitches that may have been introduced in that service.

Hiring a Private Taxi

All taxis (except Ladakh registration number) having taxi number or tourist permits number plates are only allowed for a drop in Leh – Ladakh. They are not allowed to be driven in Leh – Ladakh and as per the taxi union rules, only taxis with Ladakh number are allowed to roam in the Ladakh region for sightseeing. If you want to travel within Leh – Ladakh in your private taxi hired from a place other than Ladakh then in that case you need to hire a taxi with private number plate only. However, in the latter case be ready for some queries by the local taxi drivers in Ladakh or police constables on your route. You need to ensure everyone interrogating with you that the vehicles are not hired.

Whenever, you need to hire a taxi always try to hire it from Manali, as the drivers of Manali will always be more skilled and more accustomed to the route or current conditions of Manali – Leh Highway. Secondly, the locals always have a majority with an advantage of local support in any hurdle you might face on the way towards Leh.

To hire a taxi, go directly to Manali taxi stand and bargain hard with the local drivers only, for a drop to Leh. Do not involve any tour operator or hotel staff at any stage. The local taxi drivers will charge about Rs 1000 extra for a planned night halt on the way to Leh. The charges are close to Rs 12000 to Rs 17000 for a drop to Leh from Manali, depending on your bargaining power, tourist rush and time when you are visiting the place. June being the highest paid and September – August being the least paid.

On Manali bus stand, the taxis that drop people coming from Ladakh are also available sometimes. Since the same local sightseeing rules are applied to Ladakh taxis as well in Manali, they are bound to return without any tourists from Manali side, officially. If you can catch any of those Ladakhi drivers, you might save yourself Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 for a drop to Leh from Manali. The Same rule is applicable from Leh to Manali side as well and hence, if you can get hold of some Himachali driver at Leh taxi stand, you will again save about Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 on your return drop to Manali. However, you need to be a bit careful from local drivers while fixing a deal with non-local drivers. So, it is always nice if you have some references to either place upfront and call them directly to fix the deal. Secondly, it might be hard that these taxis will agree for any night halt on the way but it depends on how you gel up in the negotiations and bargaining.

Manali – Leh Bus Service, HPTDC Good for a solo traveler or a couple

Perhaps if you are traveling alone or with one or two friends, you can buy or book tickets of Manali – Leh bus service of HPTDC. This semi-deluxe bus covers the 474 Km long Manali – Leh stretch with a night halt at HPTDC Hotel Chandrabhaga, Keylong on coming from either side. The ticket costs Rs 2000 per person (as per the year 2010 price) which includes a stay at HPTDC Hotel Chandrabhaga, Keylong and two meals i.e. dinner and breakfast at the same hotel. There was also an option to buy the ticket only without hotel stay and meals for Rs 1500 (not sure if it is still there). The prices mentioned here may change anytime, though. The overall comfort level of the bus is much better than other buses that ply on Manali – Leh Highway.

The bus starts every odd day of the month i.e. 1,3,5 etc from Manali side and every even day of the month i.e. 2,4,6 etc from Leh side. (Schedule: At the time of writing this article) Hence, you need to plan your travel dates accordingly, if you go by this option. The tickets can be bought or booked at HPTDC office on mall road, Manali or you may like to contact at HPTDC Office in your local town (HPTDC Contact Details). Do not book the seats at the back and confirm before booking regarding the location of the seats. At the back seats, you may have trouble when the road gets bad especially on the second day i.e. Keylong to Leh. The bus departs at 11 AM from Manali on the first day and 5 AM from Keylong on the second day to reach Leh about 7 PM.

You can also book the tickets for HPTDC Bus Service Online

LEHMANALI5, Manali Leh Highway

Keylong – Leh Bus Service, HRTC Cheapest mode of travel

HRTC also run a regular bus service to Leh although not from Manali but from Keylong. However, you can book tickets for connecting buses (Manali – Keylong, and Keylong – Leh) from Manali bus depot itself or even ISBT, Delhi. You can also reach Keylong by getting a seat in numerous shared taxis that ply between Manali – Keylong every day. The HRTC buses may not be as comfortable though but comfort comes with the price.

The ticket between Manali – Keylong costs about Rs 100 – 125 and then Keylong – Leh it costs about Rs 450 – 550, in HRTC buses. I do not know the exact price, though. The bus departs at 5 AM from Keylong and reaches Leh about 7 PM.

Shared Taxi

You can also buy yourself a seat in a shared taxi which runs every mid-night from Manali and reaches Leh on next evening without any night halt. In the same way, shared taxis are run from Leh to Manali as well.

You need to pay about Rs 1200 to Rs 1800 per person for a drop to Leh from Manali or a drop to Manali from Leh. Of course, since it is shared with 9-10 other people plus the driver and completes the back breaking cannonball run of Manali – Leh in 16-18 hours, you can imagine the level of comfort yourself. This one is the second cheapest mode of travel on Manali – Leh Highway but mind you, it could be the toughest on the body too.

Planning Night Stay or Accommodation on Manali – Leh Highway

Based on my experience, you can opt to plan a journey on Manali – Leh Highway in one of the following ways –

Two-Day Journey on Manali – Leh Highway

The options of stay or accommodation are very limited on Manali – Leh Highway due to the limited civilization. Hence, a two-day journey on Manali – Leh Highway is the most common among all travelers. Private Taxis and buses run by HPTDC or HRTC also cover the Manali – Leh Highway in two days. Mostly, people break up the journey on Manali – Leh Highway in the following two ways over a span of two days –

LEHMANALI7, Manali Leh Highway

Manali – Keylong / Jispa (Day 1) and Keylong / Jispa – Leh (Day 2)

This option is mostly preferred by people who do not want to run the risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS) by staying at higher altitudes than Keylong or Jispa. However, on the second day, you need to leave early in the morning like by 5 AM from Keylong or Jispa to reach Leh in time. Public buses including HPTDC / HRTC halts for a night at Keylong and leave at 5 AM in the next morning, too. Personally, out of Keylong or Jispa, I will always prefer to stay at Jispa if traveling by your own or privately hired vehicle. Jispa has situated right on the banks of river Bhaga and is further 20 KMs away from Keylong town. Spending the evening at this place is extremely refreshing and is far better experience than the boring Keylong town. While Keylong town offers varied accommodation options, Jispa has only a few options available for a stay and hence, it is important that you pre-book them. Secondly, if you are traveling by public transport i.e. HRTC or HPTDC buses then you need to stay at Keylong only else you need to manage the travel to Jispa yourself and then fix the pickup too with the driver or conductor. Mobile phones may or may not work in Jispa.

Manali – Sarchu / Pang (Day 1) and Sarchu / Pang – Leh (Day 2)

After Keylong and Jispa, you will find accommodation majorly at Sarchu and Pang only. This option is also taken by many travelers. However, Sarchu and Pang being at much higher altitudes, many people suffer from headaches, vomiting or sleepless nights. Hence, if you have plans to stay either at Sarchu or Pang then it is extremely important that you stay at Solang Valley not in Manali to acclimatize your body a little bit. Solang Valley also may not help altogether though but Manali will certainly not help the cause.

Both Pang and Sarchu are close to midway between Manali and Leh. So, a stay at any of these places evenly distributes the time and fatigue over a span of two days. This way it helps you better enjoy the journey on each of the two days. Again in between Sarchu and Pang, I will suggest a stay at Sarchu due to its lower altitude than Pang. Pang has lesser and cheaper options available but Sarchu has varied options including the Swiss tents with attached toilets. In the end, if you are coming from Leh, then you can stay at either Pang or Sarchu without any trouble because by then your body will be acclimatized to handle such altitudes.

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One Day Journey on Manali – Leh Highway

Manali – Leh (Day 1)

This option of completing the journey of Manali – Leh highway in a single day is mostly common among local people or people who are in a high rush and is least recommended if you want to enjoy your travel. Shared taxis are the preferred way to avail this option. Although, it could be the cheapest or time saving for you but this back breaking, cannonball run of 16-18 Hrs with least stoppages does put a heavy toll on the body as well as the mind of an average traveler. This long journey is extremely tiring and by traversing through the varied amount of altitudes ranging from 1900 Mtrs to over 5000 Mtrs in a single day, you are definitely running a risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS) or some severe headaches or disorientation en-route. This will certainly kill the joy of the journey.

Manali Leh Highway, Keep in mind that you are most likely to hit with mountain sickness in this option. If you get away with it consider yourself extremely lucky otherwise keep in mind that any breakdown of the vehicle like puncture, engine heat down etc at some high altitude (Tanglang La, Nakee La, Lachulung La etc) with you suffering from mountain sickness may lead to very very ugly outcomes. Hence, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT take the acclimatisation factor lightly.

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Three Day Journey on Manali Leh Highway

Manali – Keylong / Jispa (Day 1) and Keylong / Jispa – Sarchu / Pang (Day 2) and Sarchu / Pang – Leh (Day 3)

Well, this option is nothing but the combination of other two to cover Manali Leh Highway in three days. Definitely, this option will require more time as well as more money but the results will be worth every penny. This option is the best way to thoroughly enjoy the beauty of nature that is offered by Manali Leh Highway with worries of mountain sickness but minimum and in a relaxed manner. There are plenty of places/vistas and picture taking points on Manali Leh Highway that is worth spending this extra time and money.

LEH-MANALI2, Manali Leh Highway

Acclimatization and its importance on Manali Leh Highway

The journey on Manali Leh Highway goes through series of high altitudes passes which are good enough to cause headaches, vomiting, disorientation and mountain sickness to the best in the business. After crossing Patseo or Deepak Tal you are bound to run this high road to Ladakh above 4000 Mtrs until you descend from Taglang La towards Rumste / Upshi. However, with little prevention and care, you can combat or minimize the effects of altitude sickness. Here are some tips which will help to fight the AMS on Manali Leh Highway –

  • Do not stay overnight at Manali rather stay at Solang Valley which helps in the acclimatization whereas Manali does not. You always have an option to roam around in Manali and come back for a night sleep at some hotel in Solang Valley. This will help your body acclimatize to a certain extent on the start of your journey.
  • Do not stay overnight at Manali rather stay at Solang Valley which helps in the acclimatization whereas Manali does not. You always have an option to roam around in Manali and come back for a night sleep at some hotel in Solang Valley. This will help your body acclimatize to a certain extent on the start of your journey.
  • On Manali Leh Highway, do stay at either Keylong or Jispa which are lower in altitude than Sarchu and Pang to minimize the effects of mountain sickness.
  • Keep your body properly hydrated.
  • Avoid sleeping at high altitudes.
  • Avoid over exertion.
  • Avoid tobacco and smoking and alcohol and other depressant drugs.
  • Keep your body warm and eat lots of carbohydrates.
  • Avoid sleep during the day.
  • Sleep in an upright position, if possible.
  • Carry preventive medicines for AMS.
  • Immediately descend, if symptoms increase

Fuel or Petrol Pump on Manali – Leh Highway


After Manali town, there is only one Petrol Pump at Tandi on entire Manali Leh Highway before Upshi / Karu. DO NOT forget to get the tank full fuel at this petrol pump, even if you had it completely filled at Manali. The more you have, the better it will be for you.

ATM on Manali – Leh Highway


Do carry enough cash money with you as the ATM is available only in Keylong and Manali town. If you have no plans to stay at Keylong then do not forget to withdraw cash from Manali town. After Keylong, you will get hold of an ATM only at Leh

Mobile connectivity

In our case, a mobile signal of Airtel worked till Keylong only and then faded rapidly. The signals were restored after crossing upshi for Airtel. Of course, BSNL has more coverage and better connectivity within this range than any other operator. Airtel works in Ladakh but with poor connectivity.

SMS does work fine for both BSNL and Airtel.

Vodafone did not work for us at all after crossing Marhi and not even in Leh -Ladakh.
Packet data also works upt Keylong and in Leh packet data is available only with BSNL edge.

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Images: Google Images

Author

I am Pankti Shah, a traveler by heart and an entrepreneur by passion. You can call me an avid speaker, a day-night dreamer, a keen writer and a passionate lover of Yoga. I'm a solo traveler luster and enjoy a life as a happy traveling soul.I love spreading smiles by my initiative, "Be Charitable"- it's an NGO which is providing education, life lessons to less privileged and working on breaking stereotypes from society.

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