Friday, 26 July 2013

Travel Tale - Ladakh [Part 3] : Ride from Manali to Leh

A long & sleepless ride to Manali had extracted most of the energy out of us, but the major inspiring factor was that this was the start of our journey and a dream of over 4 years. This motivation replenished our spirits more than the few of hours of sleep we managed to get after reaching Manali!

A scenic waterfall at Manali
There is nothing more stirring than a growling tummy to wake me up during a deep slumber. Thus, awake & hungry, it was time to explore the city’s eateries & also get the permits to cross Rohtang Pass. This is a new process introduced to supervise vehicles passing Rohtang but seemed void as the permit was never checked during the journey.

A visit to the DC office with vehicle details, individual ID proofs, 15 mins & an expense of 100 Rs is all it took to procure the permit to get past Rohtang. 

A relaxing walk at the market, some yummy veg momos to satisfy our hunger & we waited for the rest of the gang to join us. The evening culminated in a fantastic dinner at a Punjabi place and we were ready to deck up for the ride the next day. To our shock, about 3 kgs of fresh fruits – including juicy apples, pears & plums cost about 130 Rs.Clearly, quarter of the amount we spend in Bangalore for the same quantity. With water bottles, cookies, rotis & fruits in our bag, the food qualms were taken care!

We were up by 3:30 AM & ready by 4:15, but started off only by 5:30 as the luggage tying task consumed an hour.A distance of 475 kms, 3 days with halts at Darcha & Sarchu was our plan.

Day 6: Manali to Jispa

The first day target of 150 kms was looked down by our co-riders with comments – Bangalore to Mysore distance, barring the dreaded Rohtang Pass. But, having done some research on the routes & through travel tales from friends; Sunny & I knew it would never be so easy. Our estimation was that, even if the roads are very bad – 150 kms could be done in 7-8 hours with ample time for photo breaks.

After riding about 15 kms from Manali, we couldn’t hold up our jaws as the view of the valley was nothing like we had seen in our lives so far!

By the time we reached Marhi town, we were engulfed in mist & this continued for the next 20 kms until we reached Rohtang top.

Due to the mist we didn't get a chance to witness the beauty of Rohtang & rode past it without realizing the fact that it is Rohtang as it was nowhere close to what we had seen on the internet/heard. 

There was no traffic jam or impossible riding conditions except for slushy patches in multiple places forcing me to walk the distance & circumvent the bike from getting wedged in mud. We had heard that Rohtang was closed for the last two days for maintenance, but didn't realize we were riding past it as we expected much worse. By 7:45 AM, only on inquiry we found of that we had crossed the pass  & were amused. Our sincere thanks to the BRO (Border Roads Organization) for the manageable roads.

9:30 AM & it was time for our ready to eat MTR breakfast. We took shelter at a small temple which turned out to be a deity with colossal powers as most of the army trucks/locals would stop for a brief moment to pray.

The temperature was probably about 10ÂșC & the wind was sturdy enough to push you a few feet. 

The landscapes from here on were so out of this world,thus our estimations took a back seat & our breaks overtook the distance mark. 


Thus, when we stopped at Sissu for lunch the time was 3:30 PM and we had only covered about 85 kms in 9 hours! A two course meal of soul & Dal-roti in front of a mesmerizing water fall was a treat to the eyes.

A colourful farm in Sissu village
With almost the same distance left to wrap the ride for the day, things didn’t look promising as the temperature was falling fast & we were not aware of the road conditions ahead. 

On inquiry at the restaurant, we were given enough assurance with the words: “Yaha tak toh rastha accha nahi tha, yaha se bahut accha hai”(The good weren't good so far, but in very good condition ahead) & that helped to keep our hopes high for about 5 kms after which the road became worst until we reached Keylong.

Sun playing his tricks
A fuel refill at Mandi ensured our journey till Leh would not be prone to empty tank crisis as the next filling station was in Karu, about 330 kms away! After the worst road stretch, dusty roads & truck traffic we reached Keylong by 5:45 PM.

The road magically transformed into smooth, newly tarred highway which made us believe that we could cover the next 30 kms in less than an hour. But, we soon came to realize that this trip was never going to go as per plan as the roads could never be trusted:-)

By 7:30 PM, we reached the small town of Jispa and decided to halt as everybody was tired by the journey & Darcha, our planned destination was 8 kms away. 
Reassuring myself that we are nearly on schedule I said yes to the plan & after a lot of negotiation, managed to get 2 huts for 1000 Rs. The eco huts were interestingly placed on the banks of a river & had attached bath/toilet with a requested hot water facility. It was about 8:45 PM, when we hit the sack & in no time were in deep sleep.

Day 7: Jispa to Sarchu

Target of the day being 90 odd kms, a relaxed mood set in & we left Jispa only by 11:10 AM. 

Thanks to the roads further, we reached Darcha in no time & swiftly entered a dhaba as all of us were damn hungry.

Basic but tasty Chowmein, Dal -roti, Omlettes and top-notch tea served with utmost care was a bonus in one of the toughest highways in the world. 

It was 12:30 PM when we finally set out of Darcha bidding adieu to the uncle & aunt whom we shall remember for a long time.

The Dhaba in Darcha which served more than food!

With a couple of Naalas to cross on the way, the involved risk turned into fun as photo sessions were underway depicting the riders crossing water.

Only in the second crossing we realized how freezing the water was & our shoes were dripping eventually leading to cold feet.

It was about 2:00 PM in the afternoon when we steered past villages with fancy names: Zing Zing Bar, Patseo & started ascend towards the Third highest pass on the Manali – Leh highway – Baralacha La (‘La’ meaning pass in Ladakhi). 

There are 5 high passes on the Manali – Leh highway & if the travelers are to be believed this one has the most beautiful views. 

We noticed natural ice for the first time in our life even before we reached the top. 

Now, It’s up to your imagination to visualize the following few mins as we were ecstatic & jumping around as a huge section of ice was right next to the road.

We spent quite some time posing & playing in the ice forgetting the fact that we should not spend too much time at high altitude passes as it can cause Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

We got to Baralacha top, clicked a few snaps but spent only a couple of mins as it was quite cold & the time was past 2:30 PM.

We had more than 40 kms to ride & the cold feet was not making the journey easy. 

To our despair, just after Baralacha top hubby’s cousin Akki had a minor fall off the bike. But fortunately,except for a few mls of petrol leak both were safe ;-)

Although, AMS didn’t cause much of an issue for us, Akki did have a bleeding nose. We stopped at the picturesque Bharatpur, right after Baralacha & entered a dhaba.
A few liters of water & constant chewing of garlic cloves provided some relief to the retired hurt Akki. We left from there by 4:00 PM with Akki safe as a pillion on Sunny's bike. 

Hence, this tip is with experience that it’s never a good idea to spend time on top of high altitude passes and to indulge in any activity which will reduce your body temperature drastically!

I have uploaded a few pictures capturing the magnificent landscapes en-route Sarchu here.

By 7:30 PM, we made it to Sarchu & the hunt for a tent began. With a budget of about 300 per head, we had to turn away from many high end camps & continue our search. Finally, we arrived at the “Silent Place” located just after the check post.A tent with 8 beds, enough sheets to cuddle up & beat the cold, some hot roti-dal for dinner were the amenities offered. 

This is where we had the most shocking toilet experience. I had read in articles on the internet that Sarchu has accommodation with no toilet facility & was prepared for it. But, the surprise came in when we checked out the toilet, about 100 mtrs from the tents. A rectangular metal structure, about 5 feet tall & 2 feet in width stood there with a namesake metal plank barely 2 feet high. To add to this, the toilet area was a big hole dug up in the ground & covered with a slab of stone. A sight, I shall never forget my whole life because these were designated only for ladies. Nevertheless, a reasonable price of 1100 for 4 people with dinner was charged with a free dose of Ladakhi love!

Day 8: Sarchu to Leh

During my research about Ladakh, one of the points which had clearly etched in my mind was the route from Sarchu to Leh. This was profoundly advertised as the most scenic route on the Manali-Leh highway, thus an early start was crutial to enjoy the landscapes in day light. With this muse in the back of my head, I was pretty much awake most of the night and lay in bed expectantly for the alarm to ring at 4:00 AM.

The regular drill continued as others woke up by 4:30 AM, packed our bags & rode out of Sarchu by 5:30 AM in the best ‘will’ as it was the day we were to finally reach our destination Leh after 7 days of travel from Bangalore. The roads were moderate & we had given up inquiring about them from locals as none of the assurances were true so far! Probably, for them a path with some tar was a blessing in comparison to the conditions decades ago.

An hour into the ride & in one of the valley’s before Pang, the temperature dropped abruptly and we could not ride for over 5 kms as our hands were turning numb.

A consolation amidst the freezing conditions were the bike engines & silencers as we were in the middle of nowhere with no civilization in sight.
The sun playing his tricks yet agina on the way to Nakee La

Atop Lachunglang La
Two high passes – Nakee La (4740m) & Lachunglang La (5079m), a distance of about 55 kms took us close to 4 hrs & hunger was killing us.

A mysterious cave en-route Pang
Pang is a small village, whose primary existence to serve food & basic accommodation to travelers. Thus, finding a good dhaba wasn’t tough.

After a handsome b’fast of hot maggi,dal-roti & tea, an ascend to moore plains began. 

The landscapes transformed into a dream & it was more beautiful than the wildest of our imagination.

A typical off-roading route of about 40 kms is now freshly laid with tar, thus amplifying the bike speed. 

Although, this did provide some respite to our sore butts – the curiosity to ride through the rough & sandy terrain was beckoning us.

The fantastic landscapes of Moore plains captured below:

As a blessing in disguise, the road led to us to multiple off-road paths along the way. 

Since this was the final day of our journey to Leh and also for the fact that 4 of our beloved family members were already in Leh, we were eager to traverse the distance as fast as we could. Having come through 4 high passes along the way & clearly aware of the road conditions of any high pass, we stopped at Debring by 1:15 PM for some tea. This time, it was custom made by me ;-) Hot water from the thermos & Lipton Ginger-lemon tea bags along with some plums, cookies & special Karachi biscuits were sufficient to get us to the last mile of the expedition.

While leaving Debring, we decided that we shall stop for a couple of minutes, capture a few memories & make it to Leh by 6:30 PM as Leh was about 100 kms away. 

By 03:45 PM, we were atop Taglang La (5328m) - the highest pass on the Manali-Leh highway and undeniably the coldest. 
Our fingers were numb within 2 mins and it was tough to even take pictures on the top. 

Consequently, this was our shortest stop during the ride so far & descend was fantastic owing to smooth tar road.

 After about 15 kms, we witnessed as outrageously scary bus descend.It was an awe moment as we stood there in the middle of the road for about 10 minutes without any disturbance of traffic unlike the crowded cities. Wish I could share a video here in the blog for you guys to understand the enormity of the mountain from which the bus was descending. 
Watch closely, a bus is on it's descend
Only after chasing the bus down the road for over 10 kms, we managed to talk to the driver of the HPTDC bus & get more information on their adventure. The bus was packed with passengers, including a few foreigners & the carriage filled with enormous luggage, including a couple of bi-cycles. 

We couldn’t deem the fact that this was a routine route for the driver & most of the local buses traverse in the same way! No wonder the Tempo traveler in which my Bro & SIL left Manali, only took 16 hours to reach Leh whereas we were still in the 3rd day of our journey from Manali & still had about 80 kms left.

The red mountains of Gya
The sweet feeling of reaching Leh after 3 days

The roads right from Taglang La, till Leh were in very good condition & we rode in good speed to reach our guest house – Deva in Leh by 8:30 PM. With the whole gang of 8 now together, we heaved a sigh of relief & gathered for dinner in true Ladhaki style :-) 

More to come, keep reading!!

Happy travelling!!!


  1. Unbelievable pics Ashwini.... Sand nange ee pics ella thorsilla..... and as usual, your writing is superb...

  2. Thanks Pondy :-) I'm humbled by your support :-D . So, I'm getting a non-travel tale liker to read my blog. That's a huge thing in itself!!

  3. A very energetic and informative article. I really appreciate this post thank you for sharing these type of posts.
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