Leh-Manali Highway is an epic journey across the Roof of the World
Leh-Manali Highway is the name of a challenging mountain road across the Himalaya mountain range. It passes through some of the world’s highest mountain passes, with a mean altitude in between 2 to 3 miles above sea level.
How long is Leh-Manali Highway?
The road is 479 km (298 mi) long running from Leh (in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir state) to Manali (in Himachal Pradesh state). It crosses some of world’s highest passes including averaging well over 17,000 feet. Because of the important position of Ladakh between China and Pakistan this Highway plays an important strategic role for India, which results in the maintenance of the road by the Indian army itself. In addition to the spectacular landscape the life on and next to the road is diversified because of a wide variety of people frequenting it. Construction workers from other parts of India are working for better road conditions during the summer. The road has been improved the last years. Currently it’s mostly paved. It’s incredible what kind of vehicles are using the road - from tankers and goods lorrys, army trucks to whatever else comes along with a motor in it, or without the motor, as some cyclist do. The road, built and maintained by the Indian Army, plays an important role in the movement of armed forces in Ladakh. It's cleared by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
Is Leh-Manali Highway open?
It’s accessible for cars and trucks during several months in summer only and tops out at 5.328m (17,480ft) above the sea level, by Taglang La mountain pass. This road is usually is open for only about four and a half months in a year in summer between May or June, when the snow is cleared by the Border Roads Organisation of Indian army, and mid-October when snowfall again blocks it. Owing to the rarefied atmosphere (low air pressure) at high altitude, less oxygen is breathed in and many travellers experience altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness, causing acute mountain sickness: headache, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Ladakh is a cold semi-arid desert. It is cold along the highway even in summer (June onwards); the days are warm in bright sunshine but the nights are very cold.
How long does it take to drive the Leh-Manali Highway?
Part of the National Highway 3, it takes about one full day by jeep or two days by bus. Tourists from all over the world, as well as a growing number of Indian tourists use this road for the scenic impressions of the mountains. Truck drivers transport their cargo to Leh and back to other parts of India. There are several bad patches; water crossings you will need to cross; and several badly broken dirt trails; but overall condition of the road is not as bad as everyone perceives it to be. Extremely bad sections of the road will mostly be around Rohtang Top and near Tanglang La. For rest of the journey, it will be a mix of smooth, good, Ok and bad.
Is the Leh-Manali Highway dangerous?
The trip on this road includes a lot of dangers. The road itself, with trucks and buses that sometimes travel only at 15 to 20 km/h due to the road condition. This is not the most comfortable drive in the world. This is not helped by the fact that some of the roads have drops to the side of a good few hundred metres. You can observe crashed and unlucky vehicles cover with rust down the slope somewhere... And some of the passes are really spectacular, especially if you have to wait on the side of the road for a truck to pass... The road is one of the most complicated and challenging roads in the world, with snow, never ending traffic jams, landslides and terrain making the journey exceedingly difficult. Uncertain weather, high altitude, extreme cold and no civilization for miles make this a very treacherous track. Carry extra fuel and feel close to heaven. It is also advisable to carry chocolates, glucose or other high energy food on the journey and spend only a little time at the high mountain passes. Mechanics and spare part shops are few and far between; Keylong is the best bet in case of any running repairs. Make it a point that you carry enough cash in your pocket as ATM is available only in Manali and Keylong.
Pic: M Yasi