road across the Himalayas to Leh in Ladakh is breathlessness unsurpassed,
thanks to both its altitude and scenic landscape. This month our drive
originates in Delhi, goes north on Sher Shah Suris Grand Trunk road
to Chandigarh, and then hits the Himalayan foothills as we enter Himachal
Pradesh and the green Kullu valley en route to Manali. The Manali-Leh
road leaves you overwhelmed, going through four mountain passes, the highest
being 5328m. The sheer magnificence of the mountains, snow-capped peaks,
and some patches of lush green make this a trip worth making. If youre
looking out for adventure, take the road to Leh.
Planning for Ladakh
Ladakh: High season Mid-June to end-September. Low season November to
Manali: High season April to June. Middle season July to October. Low
season November to March.
The tourist season in Ladakh stretches from mid-June to end-September.
The Manali-Leh road is opened for traffic in the beginning of June as
the Border Road Organisation (BRO) begins clearing snow at the passes
but its best to take this road during August and September.
Manali has two seasons April to mid-June when honeymooning couples
take over and August to October when foreign tourists descend on the Himalayan
youre going only as far as Manali during the summer months, light
woollens should be adequate; warmer stuff is necessary during the low
season when heavy snowfall is common.
For your trip to Ladakh do carry heavy woollens, more for your overnight
stay at Sarchu than for Leh itself because the wind factor at the campsites
is considerable. An absolute must is sun-block lotion to ward off the
burning effect of the sun. Sunglasses also help reduce the harsh glare
reflecting off the snow-capped peaks.
If you think youll have difficulty breathing in the rarefied air,
take along bottled oxygen which is available in portable pressurised cans.
Also carry plenty of water and eatables like fruits and chocolates as
snack stopovers are few and far between.
there are some really bad stretches on the 460km Manali to Leh road, its
imperative that you take a car with high torque and high ground clearance.
A four-wheel-drive vehicle like a Gypsy is an advantage, should you attempt
off-roading. Exercise caution with cars with lesser ground clearance as
there are places where youd need to clear rocks to avoid damage
to the vehicle underbody. Two-wheel-drive cars will take you there too
but you need to take care.
ake Murphys law seriously. Get your car thoroughly checked and rectify
or replace anything that has the slightest possibility of packing up in
the midst of nowhere. Check hoses, belts and other easily worn parts for
wear and take along essential spares. A full tool kit is mandatory. Also
pack in a spare tube and a foot-pump, if possible.
To carry extra fuel, try Delhis Saddar Bazar for army-spec metal fuel
cans. The plastic ones often leak and the odour of petrol coupled with high
altitude will definitely make you nauseous.
It makes sense to also pack an instant puncture repair can, which can inflate
a tyre and seal a puncture for about 100km a real asset if you suffer
a flat on a high mountain pass with no energy to change the
When you get the car tuned before the trip, remember your priority should
be torque rather than top end. For the Gypsy, a timing of six to six-and-a-half
degrees advance is good. The air-fuel mixture should be made lean by one-fourth
turn of the screw to adjust to the thin air.
beautiful Pangong lake; Shanti Stupa - Leh's 'peace pagoda';
Buddist lamas are a most common sight in Ladakh.
tips for Ladakh
Fuel Though your car may have a range of 400km on a full tank, carry
at least 20 litres of fuel as fuel efficiency drops drastically by the
demands made on the engine and the thin air.
Avoid night driving The Manali-Leh road is narrow and broken at
places and the weather can suddenly take a turn for the worse.
Fuel en route While it is difficult to get fuel from the army,
the tented accommodation fellows at Sarchu usually have some stashed away.
The premium you pay depends on your bargaining power.
Right of way for upcoming traffic There are sections where two
vehicles cannot pass side by side, so give way to upcoming traffic.
Shortcuts Dirt tracks, made by the army, cut across a loop of
the road and are shorter (and steeper) than the regular tar road. If you
attempt them, switch into four-wheel-drive mode or make sure your two-wheel-drive
car has enough momentum to make it to the top.
Stranded motorists and bikers Extend a helping hand to these unfortunates
realise that the roles could easily have been reversed.
the 250-odd kilometre drive from Delhi to Chandigarh is straightforward
and good for high speeds, keep your eyes peeled for unwary pedestrians
and indisciplined motorists.
The road through Punjab to the Himachal Pradesh border is sandwiched between
verdant paddy fields and you would do yourself an injustice if you do
not stop at an authentic Punjabi dhaba the food is tastebud-tingling
and the lassi heavenly.
The Mandi to Manali drive is pleasurable, the road going alongside the
Beas river right up to Manali. Practise caution as blind corners and speedy
super deluxe tourist buses abound. The final run upto Manali has roads
lined with apple orchards that alternate with the hotels on the outskirts
of the town.
A few kilometres after Manali, you get your first sight of the Himalayan
snow as the road goes past Vashisht and the ascend to the imposing Rohtang
pass begins with the conifers giving way to grasslands. The last fuel
station comes up at Tandi from where the road veers north along the Bhaga
valley to Keylong.
Then its Keylong-Darcha- Sarchu. The Baralacha pass comes up after
Darcha. The road to and from Baralacha is miserable and the flat plains
of Sarchu are a relief.
The next days drive has some even more breathtaking views in store
as you come across the Pashima herdsmen tending their sheep and find yaks
grazing in the pastures on the approach to the Tanglang Pass. After the
final pass, the home run into Leh is pretty straightforward.