It’s time for the annual bikers’ pilgrimage. Time to embark on the ultimate odyssey, for the roads to Ladakh have been recently thrown open. Barring rains, there’s nothing that stands in the way of road trippers. Deemed to be one of the best road trip experiences in the world, the two routes to Leh become the mecca of bikers from April to October.
While you may drive a SUV to this land of prayer flags, it’s no fun unless you can feel the ever increasing chill in the air. Plus, just smart steering cannot be your only saving grace on these curves that are more than just hairpin bends.
To make it easy for all the bikers out there, here’s a quick guide to a motor biking tour from Manali to Leh, the more popular of the two routes.
Manali-Leh Highway (475 km approx) – 14 hours (uninterrupted biking) – You can spread it over a course of 3-4 days. Try seeking for a homestay in one of the villages on the route and you’ll know what the magic of Himalayas is all about.
Once you’re at Manali, spend a day or two for it helps in acclimatisation. Plus, make sure that your bike reads good in terms of air pressure, engine condition, coolant and other oils. Moreover, you need to have the tank full in addition to the oil that you should be carrying. Remember that you the next petrol station lies at Tandi village (110 km from Manali), and then Karu (345 km from Tandi) before Leh. It’s advisable to have your tank filled at all these stations and carry more for the route as well.
Essentials for a motorbiking trip
A plug kit + pump – To enable you to reach the mechanic, even with a flat tyre.
Air pressure gauge – To cut down the chances of having a flat tyre.
A flashlight + spare bulbs – To help you avoid accidents and navigate if your motorbike’s headlight gives up.
Windshield – To aid you in riding without putting in extra efforts, especially against the winter gales.
Anti-glare helmet visor – Preferably a Studds, these help in riding even when the driver on the other side is driving on high beam.
Loads of instant food – To help you dine when you can’t get “highway on your plate.”
Extra Oil/Coolant – If mountain roads and some faraway place is on your list, always carry extra petrol and plenty of coolant to make it easy for your motorbike’s engine.
Now, The Road
While we advise you to stock up on instant food, you’ll, with all luck, find some good places to dine at on the Manali-Leh highway. Marhi (35 km from Manali) is the first place after Manali to gorge on some hot Maggi, tea, and light breakfast. This is also the first pit stop and base camp for Rohtang pass. A steep ascent of some 53 kms from Marhi will land you at Rohtang Pass as you cross Marchi and reach Rani Nalla, a major snow point.
Keylong lies between Tandi and Jispa; take some time out here to visit the Kardang Monastery. The largest and most famous Buddhist site at Lahaul.
Your next stop after a meal at Marhi is Tandi to tank up. It’s a thrilling ride after Marhi, as you cross the villages of Jispa, Keylong and Darcha. Comfort seekers can stay at Jispa, for it has got some luxurious stay options. But since, you’re on a trip that’s famously hailed as an experience, try pitching a tent at Darcha. Listen to the many tales that the locals have, or just sleep by the side of the agile river Bhaga as stars stretch over till as far as you can see.
Start early next morning, for you’ll be scaling up the Baralacha-La Pass (16040 feet), which forges Lahaul to Ladakh. AMS might hit you here, so going slow and easy is your best call. Plus, wild streams rule the roads here. Put on rubber boots if you have those packed, for it’s hop and splatter from some kilometres on the route!
Reaching Sarchu (120 km from Darcha) will bring you great comfort and of course, those happy grins would be back at the sight of flapping tent covers. You can either stay at Sarchu or Pang, biking some 15 more kilometres, if AMS allows you to!
A night here would be enough to relieve you of those darn headaches, and it’s time you enter Jammu and Kashmir. The next and most exciting part of the journey starts now. 21 hairpin bends in quick succession await you now. Lovingly, we call it Gata Loops (this ride takes you from 4190 metres to 4630 metres).
Green fields and happy smiles will save the ride, as there’s no fuel, food, or accommodation option here. If you’ve time, try visiting the hamlets by the roadside, or maybe, stay for a day.
Two more passes await you after Gata Loops, Nakee La Pass (4740 metres) and Lachalung La Pass (5079 metres). The stretch here is startlingly deserted; not even any vegetation finds home here. It’s advisable to go slow on this route, for disorientation might hit you here, owing to the lack of oxygen.
Know that you are nearing Rumste (4260 metres), the second tea stalls pop up by the roadside. While the great river Indus gurgles in full motion by the side, sip along a cup or two and just soak in the splendour of the Himalayas. As it’s a sharp descent, your lungs will be happy welcoming plenty of oxygen again. Plus, Leh is just round the corner.
This stretch can be covered pretty quickly, for the roads are quite good and the Himalayan kingdom more than just welcoming.
PS – The conditions of Leh-Manali Highway differ from day to day, owing to constantly fluctuating weather conditions. Though BRO is doing a great job in keeping the stretch motorable, we advise you to make proper inquiries before setting off on this epical road trip.
There’s a special one for travelers from Delhi – click here for an awesome guide from New Delhi to Leh – http://bit.ly/12Zlalm
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