Published On: Sat, Apr 21st, 2018

Manali to Leh on Motorbike

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The 475 km from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in the Indian Himalayas is one of the world’s highest and toughest roads. Much of it is higher than 3000 m altitude, so the views are amazing but the road is not. The classic way to travel from Manali to Leh is on a Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Manali to Leh on Motorbike

Weather and Road Conditions Between Manali and Leh

The road opens for traffic from May to October, depending on snowfall. Weather is one of the main hazards on this route, since rain turns parts of the road into a mudslide and snowstorms can start without warning.

Overtaking trucks on narrow roads next to a 3500 m drop into emptiness, crossing ice-cold glacier streams, and struggling through dust, mud, deep sand and even deeper potholes – this is not a road trip for complete beginners.

There are five mountain passes to cross, the lowest being the first, Rohtang-La at 3980 metres, and the highest the last pass before Leh: Tanglang-La at 5328 m. The drive up to Rohtang is busy with traffic since the pass is a favourite daytrip destination for Indian tourists, but after Rohtang the traffic consists mainly of overloaded trucks and army vehicles. Most truck drivers, as well as the Indian Army, are very polite and friendly.

High Altitude Driving from Manali to Leh

Parts of the road are at 4000-5000 m altitudes, so Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a serious risk.

AMS can hit anyone and it is impossible to to predict who gets sick or how sick one can get. Most travellers will start to feel the altitude at around 3000 to 3500 metres. The only way to prevent AMS is to ascend slowly, and if symptoms are severe one should descend immediately. The problem, however, is that after the second pass (Baralacha-La at 4950 m) the road will not descend below 4000 metres until after Tanglang-La, the last high pass before Leh. Most travellers will thus end up spending at least one night at over 4000 m, and for many it will be a cold, sleepless night.

The best strategy is to drive from Manali to Keylong on the first day and acclimatize there as long as necessary.

Where to Sleep Between Manali and Leh

There are guesthouses and hotels in Keylong, but after Keylong camping is the only option. Along the road are several tent dhabas (places to eat) that usually have beds or offer communal tents. Many bikers end up spending their second night in Sarchu, a collection of tent camps ranging from “luxury” tents (at INR1000 for two) to parachute tents shared with random truck drivers (at INR30 per person).

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at

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