Manali to Leh Travel Time & Ideal Itinerary
This article is part of the Manali Leh Highway travel guide and is in continuation of the previous article where I discussed the months when Manali Leh highway is open, when it closes and which will be the best month to travel on this beautiful road. In this article, we will talk about the minimum number of days required and how can you plan a journey with the time you have in hand.
Other articles in Manali Leh Highway Travel guide:
Best Time to Travel from Manali to Leh
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
How many days you need or should spend to travel on Manali Leh highway entirely depends on how you are travelling and what your itinerary is after you reach Ladakh but it is safer to assume that a minimum of 2 days is required if you are in a rush. A maximum of 4 days is what you need to give if you have time and want to enjoy your journey to the fullest. The option of completing the entire highway in a single days is indeed available which I will talk about later in this article however this is not something that I would recommend. The only exception to this is if you are bicycling from Manali to Leh in which case a minimum of 10 days will be required to reach Leh from Manali.
Manali to Leh in 1 Day
Competing the Manali Leh highway in a single days is called a “Canon ball run”. I am not really sure who coined this term but it is 100% accurate. This option is quite common among the locals here or people who are in a rush to reach Leh and the only way it can be completed is by getting aboard a shared taxi. It is neither possible nor recommended for a tourist to drive straight from Manali to Leh in one day on their own however the local taxi drivers here do that on a regular basis. This journey starts sometime at midnight from Manali from where you will be continuously traveling for next 16-18 hours, reaching Leh by next day evening. It will cost you anywhere between Rs. 2000 to Rs. 2500 per person. If it was me, I would simple call it a “bone breaking run” because you will be stuffed in a shared taxi with 7-8 other people (depending on which car it is) and will be traveling straight with breaks limited only to answer the nature call. The only upside to this is that you will reach Leh in a single day but there are several severe downsides. The first and the foremost is that you practically miss everything that you came to Manali Leh highway for. There is no time to enjoy the vistas and gaze upon the natural beauty of the region. You will only just be sitting inside a moving car and looking out of the window which I do not think is a fun idea if it is going to last 16-18 hours. The second and a more serious issue will be acute mountain sickness which you are bound to suffer from if you take your body to such extreme heights in a matter of hours. For those taxi drivers and locals it doesn’t matter because for them it is an everyday routine but for a tourist like us, it can cause some serious problems. Please take a look at the following post to read about what acute mountain sickness is, what it can do to you, what the symptoms are and how to handle it.
Manali to Leh in 2 Days
A two days journey on Manali Leh highway is the most preferred one. No matter how you are travelling, whether it is a motorcycle or a car or if you are using a public transport like a Bus, you can very easily reach Leh from Manali in 2 days. There are several variations of this plan depending once again on how you are travelling.
- If you are traveling in a state run bus, then you will start from Manali on day 1 and will break the journey at Keylong for the night. On day 2, you will start early from Keylong and reach Leh by evening.
- If you are traveling in a self-owned vehicle, be it a car or motorcycle, or a private taxi, then you can chose to stay for the night at three different places, depending on how early you started from Manali and which place is as per your taste. I will list these down below.
- Keylong: The only upside of staying at Keylong is that it has multiple choices in terms of accommodation. There are several hotels and guest houses here that can fit into any budget. Running hot water, good food are some of the other comforts that only Keylong will offer on Manali Leh highway. Downsides however are that it is a bit closer to Manali which means that if you stayed here, then you will have to start really early from Keylong on Day 2 in order to make it to Leh in time. Secondly, It is really a town and not that scenic to be honest which kind of kills the spirit of traveling on a picturesque Manali Leh highway.
- Jispa: This is my favorite place to stay. A small village on the road, barely 20-30 houses on the banks of River Chandrabhaga amidst the mighty Himalayas. The downside however is limited choice of accommodation. There is a cemented hotel in Jispa, one about a kilometer before Jispa that I have provided details of in the next article in this series and a few camp sites so you may have to get your bookings done in advance. Jispa is at a distance of about 30 kms from Keylong so if you stay here, make sure that you leave as early as you can in order to make it to Leh in time. Mornings will be cold but you got to make sure that you hit the road by first light of the day and do not take breaks too often or you will be completing the last lap of your journey to Leh in total dark.
- Sarchu: I will mention Sarchu in the list but it is not a place that I would recommend staying at. The only upside of staying at Sarchu is that the hours of journey get divided equally between Day 1 and Day 2. It is like the center point of Manali Leh highway and the distance on both sides, towards Manali and Leh, is almost equal so you do not end up driving for way too long on either of the two days. There are several downsides however. The first and the foremost is that the high chance of suffering from Acute mountain sickness. Sarchu is at a height of 4,290 m (14,070 ft) from sea level whereas Manali is at a height of 2,050 m (6,726 ft). So if you start from Manali in the morning and plan to stay at Sarchu for the night, you will take your body to more than double the height in a matter of few hours and will definitely suffer AMS. Second downside (and it is just my personal opinion) is that Sarchu is not even at a picturesque location. The only accommodation available is either chadar tents or camp sites.
- Pang: Not recommended at all and the only reason I am adding Pang here is because I want to advise against it. Pang is at a height of 4,600 m (15,100 ft)from sea level, higher than even Sarchu so you can rest assured that your night at Pang will be the most uncomfortable one of your entire life. If you go directly from Manali to Pang, you will torture your body and can forget about enjoying the journey at all. Pang is closer to Leh, merely a 6 hours journey at the most, so the only upside of staying at Pang is that you will not have to travel much on Day 2. On Day 1 however, it will prove to be a really rushed and long journey. You will suffer from AMS once you get to Pang so a long and tiring day will end in an even tiresome night.
Depending on my inputs above, you can chose a place to stay on Day 1 and your itinerary will look like following.
Day 1 . Manali to Keylong/Jispa/Sarchu
Day 2 . Keylong/Jispa/Sarchu to Leh
Manali to Leh in 3 Days
A 3 day journey on Manali Leh highway is my personal favorite. This is beneficial in several ways and I would always recommend that you give this journey a minimum of 3 days if you really want to enjoy it. Below are a few points that you should consider,
- Less tiring: This is the first and the foremost reason. You need to consider the fact that it is not your usual vacation. You will be travelling in extremely challenging conditions, away from civilization, away from basic amenities and all this is bound to take toll on your body. A 3 day journey will ensure that you do not travel for long hours, do not rush and in the process do not tire yourself.
- Better planning: If you have 3 days in hand, you will be able to plan better for unseen events. There will be no rush and in case you run into trouble, you will have some time in hand to handle the situation.
- Enough breaks: What is the point of Manali Leh highway if you like a vista and cannot even stop for some time to enjoy it? The road you will be travelling on is filled with such mesmerizing beauty that you would want to stop at every turn. A 3 days journey will give you ample time to do that.
- Enough photography: Click all that you want, doesn’t matter if you are a photography enthusiast or just a cell phone photographer.
- Less chances of AMS: This will be the most important reason. The increase in height will be a little gradual and chances of suffering from AMS will reduce significantly.
Having said that, what will be an ideal itinerary for travelling on Manali Leh highway in 3 days? Here is what I recommend.
- Manali to Keylong/Jispa : Of course I would recommend staying in Jispa over Keylong
- Keylong/Jispa to Sarchu/Pang: I would suggest staying at Pang because it will reduce your travel time on 3rd day. Starting from Pang in the morning by 7 will have you in Leh by maximum 3 PM, thus giving enough time for hotel hunt and settle down. Do note though that if it is your first time at such high altitude, then Pang is the place where you will most likely suffer from AMS so if that concerns you then you can consider staying at Sarchu however chances are that you will suffer AMS at Sarchu as well.
- Sarchu/Pang to Leh
Manali to Leh in 4 Days
A 4 days journey on Manali Leh highway is an extended and more relaxed version of 3 days journey. It is not really required and I would suggest that rather than spending 4 days on Manali to Leh, complete it in 3 days and use this extra day somewhere else in Ladakh. However if you want to dedicate 4 days to get from Manali to Leh, then below is the itinerary you can follow.
- Manali to Keylong/Jispa
- Keylong/Jispa to Sarchu
- Sarchu to Pang
- Pang to Leh
Manali to Leh Cycling Tour – Minimum days needed and sample Itinerary
What I stated above is if you are either riding a motorcycle or driving to Leh. The itinerary will however change if you are planning to cycle from Manali to Leh. Please know that I have just started to get into cycling and I am still limited to cycling around within the city. I am yet to take my bicycle out in the hills so my knowledge is severely limited in this aspect. If you are planning a bicycle trip on Manali Leh highway, I would assume that you are into cycling for long which means that you know more about it than I do. I can only suggest an itinerary that you can follow. As I stated above, this trip would require a minimum of 10 days including a day to reach Manali. I would suggest an Itinerary from Manali to Leh.
Day 1. Manali to Marhi
Day 2. Marhi to Sissu/Tandi
Day 3. Sissu/Tandi to Jispa
Day 4. Jispa to Patseo
Day 5. Patseo to Sarchu
Day 6. Sarchu to Pang
Day 7. Pang to Tso Kar
Day 8. Tso Kar to Rumtse/Üpshi
Day 9. Rumtse/Üpshi to Leh
Please CLICK HERE or at the link below to take you to the next part of this article discussing the several modes of transport available on Manali Leh Highway. The article also discusses necessary preparations if you are planning to drive on your own or riding a motorcycle.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I would be glad to help. If you have traversed on Manali Leh highway and would like to add more information to this article, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.