The Road Less Traveled: Manali-Leh Highway

If you are traveling to Leh by road it may turn out to be much more than you bargained for. For me it led to philosophical ponderings about my existence or the continuation of it!

One can reach Ladakh (Ladakh is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but not a troubled region) either by air or by road. We decided to travel by road. There are two ways to reach Ladakh by road. One is the Srinagar-Leh highway and the other Manali-Leh highway. We decided to go by the Manali-Leh highway, as Manali is closer to New Delhi.

Manali Leh Highway

Manali Leh Highway

Delhi to Manali

From New Delhi, Manali is a 16-hour bus journey, which left us really tired. The 2X2 luxury buss was not so luxurious and various lumps in a seat that would not recline properly haunted me. Then we stayed for two days in Manali.

Manali to Leh
From Manali to Leh is 450 km, which we covered by jeep in a single day. One can book an entire jeep but it is costly (Rupees 10,000 upwards, or one can buy a seat which works out much cheaper at Rupees 1100 but cramped).

I developed a new respect for the humble Tata Sumo jeep through this journey. They ply in highest numbers on this route. It is meant to take 3 people in the middle row, two in front and four in the back. The taxi operators take two to three in the front, four in the middle and four in the back. The journey begins at 2 am and ends at 8 pm, making it 18 hours in a row and this is what we did. It is extremely tiring and a very foolish way to travel from Manali to Leh. The journey was uncomfortable because we were seated four on a seat meant for three and both my husband and I have motion sickness. We take medicine for it and though it keeps nausea at bay, it leaves us very sleepy and gorgy. However, the scenery on the way is spectacular and not to be missed for anything. We arrived in Leh dead tried, found a hotel, dumped our luggage and started looking for a restaurant to eat.

Is there a better way?
There is a better way to travel by road and that is to break the journey into two days and take a night halt on the way. Government buses (which are much cheaper than the jeep, at Rupees 525 this season) ply on the route and this is what we did on our return journey. But we found that the buses move much more slowly and they take too much time to reach the night halt and the total time spent increases a lot. So, we concluded that if one has to reach Ladakh by road one has to pay the price in terms of being very tired, even turning philosophical. With hindsight, probably the best way to travel to Ladakh is to go by road only one way and take the flight the other way round, if possible.

But I have to say it was one road trip, which I will remember and brag about shamelessly. After all traveling from Manali to Leh by road is not for the fainthearted.

13 thoughts on “The Road Less Traveled: Manali-Leh Highway

  1. sujeet pandey

    Hi
    enjoy the trip with bike, all the young people must have to visit coolest & most lighted roads,
    if you have any query regarding trip may help you always all friends

    Reply
  2. Sisir Deka

    Thank you lovely people for the inputs on the Leh Manali Highway OR the other way around. We are due to start our adventure by a Tata Safari from Guwahati (Assam) by road to Uttrakand, Himachal Pradesh, J & K and back via Punjab. A long grueling and arduous journey but what a adventure it will be.
    Time to be taken : 18 to 24 days.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    aaah ..no fun in reaching leh [frm manali] in jus ONE day!! ..its the journey which matters, not the destination… we went frm manali to leh on enfield bikes, in 4 days!! it was real fun, used to stop every now n then, taking pics, hiking up any mountain we wanted to, total freedom ..real adventure ..next time if u ever go there, spend the most of ur time on the way, am sure u’ll love it ..

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Hi,Soon, as fror 2-3 weeks I plan to go to India, (Delhi- Malani- Leh). I was searching on Internet, just to get the idea where I am about to go, and I find this story of yours. Thak U for posting it!!!! Now, more or less I know where I am going…Still I am not sure that I can imagine how it will be.I am sure that it will be something totaly new for me..Or maybe not…since I am coming from Macedonia, a small country in the south of the Balkan….Love!elieli.bejkova@gmail.com

    Reply
  5. jay johnston

    there is one other way: if you have the time, the inclination, and a butt of steel, than i can highly recommend doing the journey on an enfield. you get to go at your own rate, stop and admire the views, and often pity the poor tata drivers. however, you will inevitably get wet passing through the odd glacial stream, so only really recommended in the months of july/august. it took us three days, and was extremely tiring, but remains one of the best travelling experiences i’ve had.enjoyed your pictures and account thoroughly. you must be getting a fair bit of traffic now that you’re linked from the front page of the BBC!

    Reply
  6. Mridula

    Hi Jay, million thanks for stopping by and giving me the clue that where all this traffic was coming from. I actually had no idea initally. I do not think motorbike is our cup of tea but both my husband and I were impressed with the few brave ones who travel by bicycle on the Manali-Leh road. That has to be given a try but when I am not sure. Next annual vacation we are thinking of Sikkim.

    Reply

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