MBA days were long gone and work pangs had started hitting me. Word was in the air that there was a road in the mountains higher than the peaks of Europe. ‘Plans’ were made with friends; but I was destined to be on this magical road trip of self discovery alone. I reached Delhi airport, not yet revealing at home that I was all by myself. I hopped on to the pre-booked HPTDC Volvo from Delhi to Manali aloof of any first time solo travel jitters! Solo travel for somebody, who got scared of the demons when he slept alone. What was I thinking?!

My heart was rife with excitement & my first brush with serendipity happened when a pretty South African female was seated next to me. Her hazel eyes spoke & lips showered poetry when she asked me must-dos in India. Dinner time was hilarious with me teaching her the Indian way of eating; with hands, minus the fork – over beer.

Read : Ten foodie delights of Manali

On the Delhi to Manali bus journey, I woke up to pretty mountain views with snow fed waters of the meandering Beas river hugging the road all along. Cheap backpacker accommodation was quickly found in hippie Vashisht; where an intoxicating smell of charas and songs dedicated to Lord Shiva dominated the hazy proceedings.

Rohtang Pass Road
Road scenes near Rohtang Pass.

‘A thousand mile journey begins with the first step.’ I had come a long way solo and the universe wasn’t going to disappoint me. Off I went (an introvert) wandering on the streets of Manali trying to find fellow travellers. Luck was on my side and now we were 5 travellers; I was able to meet 2 excited couples to accompany me on this epic journey! A white number plated Scorpio (SUV) was called from Chandigarh through a friend’s contact as the yellow one (taxi) might have trouble with sightseeing with regards to Leh Taxi Union.

The rain gods waved us off from Manali on a chilly morning with a slight drizzle as a good omen for our journey. Rohtang Jot came and went with lush greenery on both sides of the freshly metalled road but it was the other side I was curious about.

When I was small I used to think the road ends at Rohtang, now that I have grown wiser; I realise that it just begins.’

Manali Leh Highway.
Into the realm of the mountains…

Read Top Solo Travel Tips for a First Time Traveller

While descending from Rohtang, a little trailer of the road ahead (or whatever was left of it) revealed itself to us as our empty stomachs churned with a mixture of fright and delight. The dhaba hamlet of Khoksar was our stop (only choice) for breakfast/lunch. This road practised equality in the true sense, and how! A solo adventurer in his swanky Toyota Landcruiser Prado ate food at that meagre place and was overjoyed with the simplicity that only a free life brings.

We were in Lahaul Valley; fuel was refilled at Tandi which was the last petrol pump before Leh. The ‘Old lady of Keylong’ towered above us but we had decided that a break at Jispa (3300m) would be better for the longer run to Leh the next day. AMS(Altitude Mountain Sickness) & my interpretation of it played a big part in not going further to Sarchu (aka. the vomit hilton) at 4200m.

Colourful prayer flags fluttered and also perhaps set my soul free in the process.

Jispa turned out to be a fairytale town located on the banks of the Bhaga river. Frugal accommodation was arranged in the mountaineering Institute. The Scorpio SUV was taken on the banks for a wash and much fun ensued (holi without colours) with the icy cold waters being splashed around when the cute village kids decided to join in. Evening was surreal with dusk bringing a beautiful sunset. A surprise bonfire was arranged in the night with millions of stars I did not know even existed, while we made dinner at a nearby dhaba.

Sitting by the stream in Jispa, I learnt about life.

The adrenaline had well & truly started pumping as we left sleepy-eyed at 4 am next morning. The weather was dull and gloomy complimenting the stark, barren landscapes. The semi-frozen greenish waters of the Surajtaal lake just before Baralacha La woke us up from our reverie as I gasped at how pristine it looked! The pitter-patter of raindrops had turned into gentle snowflakes, a first for me and in the process making Baralacha La(4850m) my favourite pass. A cluster of colourful dhabas at Bharatpur appeared in the far distance as the valley opened up. Here I had my first tryst with Maggi as a possibility of food in the high Himalaya.

Read Practical Tips for Winter Travel in Ladakh

Baralacha La Road
Baralacha La in July; The high altitude valleys of Lahaul, Zanskar, Spiti & Ladakh are accessible from this vantage pass.

We set off again into absolute wilderness with unbelievable scenery. The landscapes changed with every turn and the plethora of colours of nature could be scarcely believed! Sarchu came and went in a flash with just the tents and no permanent settlement to speak of. We were leaving the state of Himachal Pradesh behind and entered Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir). Sarchu marks the boundary between Lahaul and Ladakh.

Someone pointed at the unreal looking windswept erosion formations just after Sarchu; we dared not even blink our eyes for fear of missing something. The road starts snaking up to the spectacular Nakee La (4900m) with 21 hairpin bends famously called the ‘Gata Loops’ in total merry go round style!

Ladakh road
And all the roads we have to walk are winding!

The sun gods finally decided that it was time for us to be exposed to the azure blue skies that Ladakh has since become famous for. Just when we thought the road could not go any higher, Lachung La (5025m) decided to surprise us with sharp edged mountains. The views of the other side from top of the pass were surreal & majestic. Everything appeared so tiny.

In the frenzy of clicking pictures, everyone had made the fatal mistake of exhausting their camera batteries! A persistent headache had me asking for chai and we duly made a stop at Pang (a place bang in the middle of nowhere).

Ladakh colours.
I still can’t believe this scene is real!

The road meandered along and we were at Morey Plains (4800m). The Morey Plains is a flat stretch of land without roads, smooth round topped mountains and Tibetan wild asses grazing (visualise that :P). An impromptu race began with 4-5 SUVs and we all loved the awesome off-roading experience. The Morey plains led us to the second highest pass in the world – Taglang La (5350m). It was the highest high and the funny part came when our driver said ‘I can’t breathe!’ A puff with my asthma inhaler helped.

We descended quickly as the road tumbles downward to the first village in 250 Kms, Rumtse. The landscapes had completely changed and were now interspersed with green & yellow fields, dotted with cute looking chortens. 

Ladakh landscape
Buddhist chortens adorn the landscape among lush green fields.

Read A Photo Essay from Ladakh

Sanity was restored as the road continued on a steady descent and we were at Upshi (3400m) at about 4 pm. We were all very hungry and wolfed down enormous quantities of food, and it really tasted divine. The land of the lamas charmed us with wide and relatively straight roads as we were ushered into enigmatic Leh. I was secretly hoping for a special welcome & acquiesced ‘To get to heaven; you must pass through hell’. The 475 kilometre Manali – Leh Highway had surely not disappointed us.

Buddhist monks in maroon robes muttered ‘Om mani padme hum’ with handheld prayer wheels.

A certain sense of deja vu was felt. Maybe I did not want the road to ever end!

I was about to realise the true essence of being smitten by wanderlust and the uncluttered & unconditional joy a nomadic existence gave me. These mountains loved me back!

The transformation of the scared boy was complete. I had arrived in Leh. Jullay!

Manali Leh Road Highway
A blue that took our blues away!

Ancient Ladakhi Saying

The land is so barren and the passes so high

that only our fiercest enemies or best friends would want to visit us.

Read : 7 roadtrips for adventure junkies in India

For more travel stories, anecdotes and experiences connect with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

74 responses to “Romance of the Manali-Leh Road”

  1. […] Romance of the Manali-Leh Road. […]

  2. Ishita Avatar

    You write like a magazine editor. This post is apt to be the cover story of a travel magazine. Keep the good work up. 🙂

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hehehe, you are too kind Ishita 🙂

  3. mohit dada Avatar
    mohit dada

    A nice read as usual. 🙂 I always wait for your blogs to publish…wonder blogger you are.. you have inspired me in a great way.Travelling had always been my passion, but for the past sometime I almost lost the intensity, being occupied professionally…thank you for rekindling my interest…

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Woohoo, Thanks brother! That comment made my day.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thank you, Stuti. 🙂

  4. kuldeep Avatar

    awesome write up.. way to go.. keep it up.. #travel #gofootloos

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hey! Thank you Kuldeep 🙂

  5. holidayhangovers Avatar

    Your post just helped me make up my mind for my next travel trip! Beautifully written!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      I’m glad you did that. Thank you.

  6. parulthakur24 Avatar

    Wow!! These pictures are simply suberb! Loved each and every one. The write up made to virtually travel. Great job, must say!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Lalalla, thank you Parul. *Wide smile*

  7. param Avatar

    Such an exciting trip, equally well narrated. Look forward to more such trips.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Yay, thank you! I will keep writing straight from the heart 🙂

  8. Ankita Shreeram Avatar

    Memories of six years past! :-O Time to make fresh ones again. 🙂 Spectacular photos, Shubham.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hehe, thank you Ankita! Memories are all that we live by, so yes. 🙂

  9. magiceye Avatar

    Gorgeous captures and wonderful narration!!

  10. Kan Avatar

    Absolutely gorgeous pics… its been on my bucket list for a while… enjoyed the virtual visit through your post!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thank you, Kan. So kind of you to say that. 🙂

  11. nupurpradhan Avatar

    Stunning pictures! I miss Vashist. Had been there ages ago. Your post has inspired a revisit 🙂

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thanks Nupur for the candid review. You must re-visit and tell us stories!

      1. nupurpradhan Avatar

        Yes! I will do that 🙂

  12. Michelle Carr Avatar

    Simply amazing and poetic! You transported me to the magical lands through your writings! Love it. 🙂

    PS Did I mention how much I loved your photos?!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Awww, thank you Michelle! I’m so happy with such cool words. Woohoo

  13. Sunil Avatar

    Those are awesome photographs. And your writing is crisp & clear. Next time don’t forget to contact me before you make any plan. Otherwise…. 😀

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thank you bhaiji! Make any plan in the winters 😀

  14. Natasha Avatar

    These are amazing shots and I love the way you write too, it paints such a beautiful picture of the place. This is somwhere I’ve always wanted to visit too. Lovely post! – Tasha

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      You must come to India soon then! Thank you!! My recent posts have been missing your encouragement 🙂

  15. The Guy Avatar

    I think I’m forming a romance too. It looks truly wonderful, breath taking in fact.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hehe, I’m so glad. Words of praise 😀

  16. Elita Avatar

    Neat, damn neat …you bring out both sides of solo travel 🙂

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hey hey Elita! Thank you thank you

  17. Mithila Menezes Avatar

    This blog post has got me running up to my “Top 10 things to do before I die” list and adding “Visiting Leh” at 2nd position. Keep blogging, and the remaining eight will fill in magically!
    #AwesomePost #KeepItUp 👌👍

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hehhe, thank you Mithila! You must set off for the mountains soon 😀

  18. Havneet Pal Singh (@havneethuda) Avatar

    Amazing stuff man. You are a good story teller. This road travel from Manali to Leh has been on my list for quite some time now.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thank you Havneet sirjee. Its high time we met. Kuch plan banao?

  19. enchanting2013 Avatar

    A combination of flowing poetic writing style and excellent photography skills is very uncommon. Very well written and photographed!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Woohoo! Thank you. My recent posts have been missing your encouragement. 😛

  20. hackernewbie Avatar

    Beautiful photos, made me nostalgic!

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thanks! You must visit again to make fresh memories 🙂

  21. Madhura Avatar

    Oh my godd!! Why did I not stumble across your blog before? Beautiful photos, and I’m now dying to go there! <3

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Hhehehe, thanks M. Woohoo! *Does a little dance*

  22. quirkywanderer Avatar

    such beautiful pictures! an absolutely stunning journey. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Thanks so much Divsi ji 😛 yayayyayya

  23. Katie Featherstone Avatar

    Beautiful scenery! It sounds like you had an amazing experience.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Many thanks, Katie. I sure did!!

  24. Madhu Avatar

    What an breathtaking landscape Shubham! Your stunning photos do it full justice.

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Woah! So pleased, thanks for the generous praise, Madhu ji 🙂

  25. […] Romance of the Manali-Leh RoadIn “India” […]

  26. pc73 Avatar

    When I was small I used to think the road ends at Rohtang, now that I have grown wiser; I realise that it just begins.’ So true!! Such beautiful pictures 🙂

    1. shubhammansingka Avatar

      Just like the words came to my mind. Thanks Pooja for checking it out.

  27. […] Read : Romance of the Manali – Leh Road […]

  28. […] Read : Romance of the Manali-Leh Road […]

  29. […] their journey on the famous Manali – Leh highway. I had done so too, on my first trip on this magical road. Over the years I have kept returning and explored Lahaul in bits and pieces; it is too huge a […]

  30. […] by fluke that I had landed in a remote village in Lahaul when I was not supposed to be here. The Manali – Leh road was officially closed (15 October is the official closure) and Rohtang Pass was snow bound. I […]

  31. […] my body pained in places I didn’t know about. There is always adventure in the heart on the Manali-Leh highway and the adrenaline rush kept me from thinking of other alternatives. Anyway there are few choices […]

  32. […] Read : Romance of the Manali-Leh Road […]

  33. […] Check : Romance of the Manali-Leh Road […]

  34. […] Read : Romance of the Manali-Leh Road […]

  35. […] Thinking about a road trip to Ladakh? Also check : Romance of the Manali-Leh Road […]

  36. […] the time of the journey neared and unknowingly I was on my first ‘solo’ trip. Check my Romance of the Manali-Leh Road for getting into the groove of this […]

  37. […] The best place to try Juma & Poti for tourists and travellers are the dhabas of Darcha (near the bridge on river Bhaga) on the Manali – Leh Highway. […]

  38. […] a totally offbeat experience. I am no stranger to Lahaul, having passed through the region on the Manali – Leh road to Ladakh earlier. The gompas around Keylong had fascinated me and Jispa had appeared like a […]

  39. […] Can u guide me for ladakh? We r a group of 3-4 people planning to go in June by road. […]

  40. Priya Singh Avatar

    After reading your article, I checked out your website, and i really like your post. It looks massive and pretty cool. It offers a lot of awesome things to do.

  41. Bharat Taxi Avatar

    Really very nice post, Thanks for sharing this information with us.

Leave a Reply