Given the high altitude, crazy roads, surreal experiences, and erratic weather mostly cold the route from Manali to Leh can be highly challenging as well as the most rewarding. Riding 18,000 feet above sea level, this 480km stretch is undoubtedly the most spectacular route. The scenery rewards you at every nook and cranny as you would pass through windy passes, dramatic views of lush green pine and coniferous forests, lonesome hamlets, friendly locals and shepherds.
Expect the entire journey to be one that would make a dent in your memory as the course from Manali, a splendid hill town sporting magnificent views of the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges leads you to one with unbeatable mountain adventures. Leh and Ladakh are unassuming Tibetan towns with much to offer. One of the most popular reasons to do a motorbike ride along this route is the thrill and conquest of the highest motorable pass in the world, Khardung La.
If this isn’t inspiring enough and the road less traveled is your calling, perhaps these reasons could inspire you to hit the road.
Spend a night in the mountains
Image Credits: Flickr- pushkar v
Naggar situated around 20km from Manali is a hidden gem with a distinct natural charm. Watching the sunset against a mountainous backdrop and watching the sun bid the day goodbye over the Himalayas are two different things. Catch this phenomenal process at Naggar, an ancient hamlet in the Himalayas resting on the banks of the Beas. The multi-hued sky is a rare sight. It is absolutely mesmerising to watch a snow-capped peak glitter in this light through crevices amidst innumerable pine trees.
From Naggar, you could head for a night stay at one of the many heritage bungalows that even to this day are strong landmarks of a bygone British era. Most of these bungalows are sport original English architecture, style, fireplaces, and mud walls. With unmatched scenic beauty, these quaint houses are usually aloof and are backed with thick orchards of apples and kiwis.
Little Greece at Malana
Image Credits: Flickr- Vikram Singh
Around 25km from Manali is Malana, home to descendants of Alexander The Great. A trek in this hilly region also known as Athens of Himalayas brings you up, close, and personal with a unique race of people who are friendly but will ask visitors not to touch anything in their village because of their ‘purity’. Considering themselves superior to everyone else, the people belong to the oldest democracy in the world. Experience this elusive hamlet perched between rocky ridges sporting two-three storey houses with a hanging balcony in the remote locales of Manali.
Not so commonly visited places
Image Credits: Flickr- Motographer
Take a break from visiting the usual sightseeing places around Manali. With the luxury of a road trip, explore the lesser-frequented sights around a region, which is full of passes, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, temples, and many more cultural strands.
Arjuna Cave [5km, Manali] laced in the mythology of Mahabharata is an escape from the commotion of Manali. Deafening silence, gurgling sounds of the Beas, sights of the majestic Himalayas, and an appealing natural beauty of the cave makes it worthy of a visit.
Situated at the start of the climb to Rohtang Pass is the beautiful Rahala Falls [2,051m]. An attention grabber all year round, this waterfall is a delightful trail for avid trekkers too.
A must do road trip for these reasons
Image Credits: Flickr- Shiraz Ritwik
The grueling path takes you through some of the highest motorable roads in the world with scenic landscapes and ancient cultures. Imagine a Buddhist dominated land with a contrasting topography of lush green fertile land at Lahaul leading into the stark high desert land of Spiti.
Image Credits: Flickr- Mor
Or traversing the Indo-Tibetan border watching the changing frames of mountains through the Sarchu Plains while crossing the Baralacha La Pass. Entering into Leh after such a journey to feel the peace, solitude, and hospitality in a land subjugated by colourful prayer flags and monasteries is nothing short of a legend in the
Old Manali is a coming together of two worlds.A simple bridge across the Manalsu River takes you from the chaotic Manali city to Old Manali, a village hidden beneath lustrous apple and apricot orchards. Find rows of traditional houses, a busy market place, and local cafes stirring delicacies in a place resembling a magical fairyland. The stark difference of both these worlds co-existing like two sides of the same coin is quite impressive.
Conquering the highest motorable road in the world “Khardung La”
Image Credits: Flickr- Elroy Serrao
Access to the Nubra Valley beyond Leh is through the snow drapped Khardung La [18,380ft] Pass. With barely paved roads in sight, this zigzagging stretch through rough bareback mountains can create uproar within you. Rejoice your moment of glory by sipping a steaming cup of mountain chai from a local joint and buying souvenirs [believe it or not there are shops selling T-shirts at this dizzy height] while getting acclimatised to the high altitude weather.
Beyond Khardung La lies the green valley of Nubra. Formed by the confluence of two gushing rivers Nubra and Shyok, this oasis stands in solitude amidst the mighty Karakoram ranges. With plenty of places to see around, one of the distinct activities to do around here is to watch or even take a ride on the two-humped Bactrian camels.
With hardly any precipitation in the region, any form of life existing around here is a wonder by itself. Continuing your probe around Nubra will lead you hot springs at Panamik, Hunder, Diskit and the gompas in the area etc.
Image Credits: Flickr- Aayush Iyer
Your heart skips a beat at the first sight of Pangong Tso. This rich cobalt-blue water body is one among the highest altitude lakes [13,900ft] is Pangong Tso. Situated in the Leh region, the lake would have left behind a distinct memory if you’ve watched 3 Idiots.
Image Credits: Flickr- Aayush Iyer
Known for its myriad changing hues this vastness of aqua extends from India to Tibet with almost 2/3rds of the water flowing into the neighbouring country. Walk on the narrow ramp-like formation of land running into the lake, catching reflections of dun-coloured mountains creating a stoic frame for this scene. Freezing completely during winter months, the lake plays a wonderful host offering its banks as one of the most scenic campsites in the world.
Natural curiosity at Magnetic Hill
Image Credits: Flickr- Kartikeya Kaul
The route taking you from Leh to Kargil and Baltik further on is surrounded by a mysterious natural phenomena of the Magnetic Hill. This gravity hill can pull any vehicle up its steep slope despite the ignition being off. Wouldn’t you want to give this a try?
Image Credits: Flickr- Fulvio Spada
Leh culture and Ladakh festivals
Image Credits: Flickr- Bino Caina
A land of Buddhists and monks with a distinct culture in comparison with the rest of India, it can be quite surreal. Visit this mountain land during a time when the locals celebrate festivals akin to them. A number of festivals such as the Hemis Festival [HemisMonastry], Losar Festival [celebrating harvest season], annual festivals organised by various gompas and monasteries from July to February each year, and the Ladakh Festival commemorated every year before Ladakh gets cut off from the rest of the world in winter months are visually stunning, soul stirring, and enigmatic in every sense of the word.
Image Credits: Flickr- rajkumar1220
So when are you planning to go?