Mesmerizing Ladakh – Part 1: Manali to Leh, the most adventurous road trip in India
This is without doubt the most adventurous road trip in India, the highway which connects the Manali town in the state of Himachal Pradesh and Leh the erstwhile capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). This highway was designed, built and maintained entirely by the Boarder Roads Organisation (BRO) of Indian Army. This highway plays a major role in reaching the supplies to the Indian army units which are stationed in the international border with China in the north and east and the Line of Control along the Pakistani- administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in the west and north- west.
The highway is open for only about four and a half months in a year during summer between end of May when the snow is cleared and to Mid-October when the snow fall again blocks the passes. The highway has an average elevation of more than 13,000 feet and its highest elevation is 17,480 feet. It is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides featuring some stunning sand and rock natural formations and breath taking sceneries.
This 500 km highway crosses many small streams of ice-cold water from snow-caped mountains without any bridges which demands driving skill to negotiate fast-flowing streams. After passing the Rohtang Pass, the landscape changes as this region lies in a rain-shadow and the slopes become brown and arid. The highway is generally two lanes wide without a road divider but has only one or one and a half lanes at some stretches. This highway is very tricky due to many damaged stretches and under maintenance portions, where little rainfall can cause landslide making it very dangerous to cross that stretch of the road.
Travellers may experience acute mountain sickness due to high altitude on this highway and is advised to stay at Manali one night and minimum one night at either Keylong or Darcha to get acclimated to lower oxygen levels. Travel time on this highway is unpredictable though minimum three days are advised for ordinary tourists because the real fun and pleasure is in the journey itself and not reaching the destination.