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Driving from Manali to Leh - Ladakh
An experience of a lifetime!
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The drive from Manali to Leh - Ladakh was in planning for a long time and all of us were looking forward to this drive of a lifetime… It was late June and we were in Manali for 2 days doing the final checks on our jeep and stocking up on supplies for the long drive.  

We rolled out of Manali, quite early on a clear day and drove up to Marhi, a steady climb to about 10,800 ft and a further climb to reach Rohtang Pass a little before midday. The Altitude at Rotang is about 13,060 ft.

Rohtang was crowded with tourists and a little depressing. The whole place was littered with empty plastic cups, packing cartons and other left overs. There were also a large number of shops selling numerous things right from tea, snacks and batteries to jacket & snow shoe rentals and just about everything else..

All of us were keen to leave Rotang behind. The road wound down to Gramphu and then we were on the highway along Chandra river. The terrain suddenly started to change. The greenery disappeared and the grey tinged mountains appeared larger.. there were large boulders and loose gravel almost everywhere..

Though a highway, the road was narrow - not much wider than a regular state road. The Border Roads Organisation is actually in charge of maintenance of these roads, but because of the fragile terrain conditions most stretches on these roads are in pretty bad shape.

We drove past Kokhsar and Sissu to arrive at Tandi which is at an elevation of 8,430 ft. Tandi is probably one of the smallest towns that I have seen. It is located in a valley where the Chandra river and the Bhaga river meets and flows then on as ‘River Chenab’. Though there is a petrol pump at Tandi, it is better not to depend on it and carry enough gas to take you see you through to Leh.

To beat AMS, we decided on Keylong to for our overnight stay. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is common at high altitudes of over 10,000 feet as oxygen in the air reduces by roughly 40%. The first symptoms of AMS is headache, dizziness and shortness of breath. If one experiences any of these, make sure you stay at Keylong rather than at Sarchu, which is at a higher altitude.

The next day we departed from Keylong before sunrise to go to Jispa and continued on to Darcha, a total of about 30 kms which took us about 3 hours! There is a police check post at Darcha and everyone needs to register here.

One of the highest passes in this section is Baralacha La pass (16,500 ft) and the steep climb to this pass starts from a place called Zingzingbar. Both the Bhaga and the Chandra rivers originate from melting snow at opposite sides of Baralacha La. The Bhaga flows southwest and the Chandra flows southeast and they finally merge at Tandi.

From Baralacha La it was a descent to Bharatpur and to Sarchu at 14,100 ft. Sarchu is more of a military base and has a border check post for registrations. The HP and J & K border, beginning of the Ladakh region.

We took some time at Sarchu stretching our legs. Driving out from Sarchu, the terrain was beginning to be increasingly interesting... scarce vegetation, bland landscapes and varied blue hues of the sky.  

We then drove up through the Gata loops, a section of 22 hairpin bends at about 15,300 ft and finally negotiated the Lachulung La pass at 16,616 ft.

There is a completely flat plateau after Pang towards Tanglang La pass. Flanked by beautiful mountains on both sides and stretching for about 35 kms, it is called More plains or Morey plains. 

This area is lined with some stunning natural sand and rock formations and is completely uninhabitable, with no construction at all. The road is mostly on the plains for around 35 km before it again starts to rise to Tanglang La (another high pass at 17,480 ft). 

About 60 kms further is the village of Upshi, an ancient trading post next to the Indus river.


It was already getting dark and we were still quite some distance from Leh. Look at the spectacle that awaited us on arrival – Concurrent night and day @ Leh – Ladakh!


The Ladak saga continues……

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