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.