This is the first in a series of articles providing necessary travel information related to Manali Leh Highway. If you are planning a visit to Ladakh and taking Manali Leh highway to either reach there or return, please go through these articles which I am sure will help you plan your trip better. Other articles in the series are as below.
Manali to Leh – Minimum Days Required
Manali to Leh – Available Modes of Transport
Manali to Leh Road Map With Distance
Manali Leh Highway Travel Guide
Accommodation on Manali Leh Highway
Primary Attractions Of Manali Leh Highway
Traveling to Ladakh : The hows, dos and don’ts
Kashmir was termed as “paradise on earth” hundreds of years ago by Emperor Shah Jahan and quite rightly so. Ladakh a few years ago was termed as “Heaven on earth” by I do not know who but once again the term was correctly used. Another term “Biker’s paradise” was coined to describe the roads leading to it and yet again it was 100% accurate. However as more and more people are now starting to visit this part of our country, it is no longer a journey that is limited to motorcycles. A trip to Ladakh now includes almost every mode of travel, from a bicycle to a flight. However, no matter which mode you chose, fact cannot be denied that this trip still requires meticulous planning and preparation. You need to make yourself aware of not only what you want to see there but also of timings, difficulties you may face both medical and mechanical, roads that may be closed and the list is quite long.
Of the two highways to Ladakh, Manali to Leh has always been the more popular and also the preferred one. Why it is so and is it rightly so is a topic highly debatable but a lot of this is contributed to the fact that it is the more challenging one and hence was more popular among the adventure enthusiasts. The roads are not as good as the Srinagar Leh highway, the region is not so well connected and even some of the basic amenities like fuel and phone services go missing for miles altogether. Therefore it becomes of utmost importance that you plan well ahead in time, know the region that you are about to travel in to and have the complete information. This series of articles focuses on covering several aspects of traveling on Manali Leh highway that you should be aware of beforehand in order to plan and enjoy your journey to the fullest. This article in particular focuses on the months when Manali Leh highway remains open and and when is the best time to travel from Manali to Leh.
To start with, let us go with some basic information. Total length of Manali Leh highway is approximately 490 kilometers out of which 230 kilometers are in Himachal Pradesh between Manali to Sarchu and the remaining 260 kilometers from Sarchu to Leh fall in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The highest elevation on the highway is 17,480 ft at Tanglang La pass. Road is mostly 2 lanes wide but has one lane at several stretches. There are 5 high altitude passes on this highway of which Tanglang La is the highest but strangely it is Baralacha La that remains covered with snow for the longest duration. This road was built and still maintained by Border Roads Organization (BRO), a division of Indian Army.
Manali Leh highway remains open for roughly around 5 months in a year for civilian traffic. It is declared open by Mid to late May (sometimes in early June) and gets closed by late October after the region starts to experience snowfall.
Best time to travel from Manali to Leh
As I mentioned above, the Manali Leh highway remains open for 5 months in a year and quite honestly, each month presents its own set of challenges. When you want to traverse on this road majorly depends on when is it convenient for you, if you want to find some snow on the way and how well prepared are you to handle bad roads. Let me give a small month by month break down;
June: June is probably the worst month to travel on Manali Leh highway. The opening of this road entirely depends on how fast BRO is able to clear the snow but it is always between from Mid-May to early June post which BRO starts restoration work. A journey on Manali Leh highway in June will be problematic in several ways and I will list those down below.
- Since the snow was cleared only a couple of weeks ago, condition of the roads is in a terrible state in June. Tar on the roads will be severely limited and you will end up testing your stomach and your vehicle’s suspension.
- It is highly recommended that you do not plan the journey in early June because there will always be a high chance that BRO may close the road temporarily.
- Because of the ongoing work on the roads, there will be several places where you will have to stop and wait for BRO to give a green signal before you can cross.
- Numerous waters streams throughout the highway as the snow would have just started melting.
- High chances of rain which may trigger a landslide on the road, again leading to an unexpected closure of the highway.
- Lot of slush created by melting snow and sometimes rain.
- Crazy tourist rush in Manali and on the Manali – Rohtang stretch which you will have to handle before you get on to the other side of Rohtang La.
- Limited accommodation options on the way as the camp sites and Chadar tents would have just started to set up.
The only bright side of going from Manali to Leh in June is that you will find a lot of snow all along the road. If it is snow that you are after or you want to feel that crazy rush of driving in hostile conditions then you can plan your trip in June otherwise you should postpone the idea for later months.
July: My favorite month to travel on Manali Leh highway will be July. It presents ample amount of challenges without taking things to the level of being a problem or too risky. Road conditions improve tremendously by July however the restoration work continues at several stretches. Water streams will still be a problem as the snow continues to melt and by noon, the flow of the water in these streams can be fierce. All the camp sites and places to stay are fully operational in July so there will be no problem in finding a place to break your journey for the night. Downsides of travelling in July can be the tourist rush in Manali and until Rohtang Pass. Monsoon would have just hit the region so a high chance of rain as well until Rohtang Pass.
August: Road conditions are almost perfect in the month of August. Tourist season in Ladakh is at it’s peak so each and every camp site, chadar tent or hotels along the way are completely functional. People tend to worry about the rain in this month but the fact actually is that Manali Leh highway experiences almost no rain because it is located in a rain shadow area. You will encounter rain only until Rohtang La. Water streams and nallahs are not that fierce as they are in the months of June and July. If greenery is what you are after, then this would be the best month to go. With Monsoon at its peak, the area around Kullu and Manali (Rohtang as well) is lush green. Rain is the only downside of travelling in August but once you are on the other side of Rohtang, it will be the least of your concerns. Do keep in mind thought that sometimes even crossing Rohtang becomes a problem in August after rain starts to create havoc. Landslides towards Rohtang top in Monsoon is quite common.
September: A lot of people consider September to be the best month to travel on Manali Leh highway. Road conditions are as good as they can ever be with bad stretches limited to only a few and for short distances. With Monsoon gone, no chance of rain anywhere on the route including Manali as well. Since the tourist season is towards its end, there is not a lot of rush at this time however all the accommodation options are open and fully functional. The entire route is filled with colors, from green grass to red stones to deep blue water. This is also the time when winter starts to settle in so it will be a bit cold, especially at nights.
October: Winter has arrived and the month of October is of uncertainty. Tourist season would have ended and this is the time when all the camp sites/chadar tents start to wrap up, limiting the accommodations choices drastically. Temperature can drop to freezing levels at night. Chances of snowfall at the passes and road getting closed temporarily are high. October is not the month when you should plan a journey on Manali Leh highway but if you must, keep you plans towards the beginning of the month rather than towards the end. Take a look at the post below where I have explained in detail things that you should keep in mind while planning a trip to Ladakh in October.
In the end, I would say that July and September are probably the best time to travel from Manali to Leh but again, all this depends on what your preference is and when can you afford to be out on vacation. If you can, plan your journey in either of these months and you will definitely enjoy your trip. Please CLICK HERE or at the link below to take you to the next article in this series, providing information on how many days you should have at minimum or maximum to travel on Manali Leh highway.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments sections and I would be glad to answer.