This year has not been good at all for anyone planning a trip to either Ladakh or Spiti via Manali. First the opening of the roads was delayed and then there was unrest in Srinagar. ILP was reintroduced in Ladakh with revised charges in May; then there was a dispute between Len and Manali rental unions; and if that wasn’t enough, a new restriction has now been implemented for permits to cross Rohtang Pass; limiting the number to only 800 per day.
Why this was done? Well the reason is to stop people from misusing the Rohtang Tourist permits. To give a brief background, two kind of permits are issued for Rohtang Pass. One is the tourist permit which is applicable for anyone wanting to visit Rohtang from Manali and return the same day. There was a daily limit for this kind of permit; limiting the number of daily vehicles to 1200 per day; broken down in to 800 petrol vehicles and 400 Diesel run engines.
The second one is called Travel Permit. This one applied to anyone wanting to cross over Rohtang towards Lahaul & Spiti valley or heading towards Ladakh. There was no daily limit for this kind of permit and these were issued on daily basis, as many as required. This decision was taken by NGT a few years ago in order to control the number of vehicles traveling the Rohtang La and to keep pollution level in check.
Now the number of vehicles traveling to Rohtang for tourism purpose was way higher than the number of vehicles crossing over. Last year, on a daily basis about 600-700 vehicles crossed Rohtang towards Lahaul or Spiti valley. The number of vehicles visiting Rohtang Pass however was well over 1200 per day.
This resulted in a complete chaos and proved to be a hard blow for local taxis operators. Tourist permits were issued on first come first served basis and a lot of people had to wait sometimes more than a day in order to get a permit. What this eventually led to was misuse of Travel permits. Anyone was not able to get a tourist permit will just get a travel permit; posing as wanting to cross Rohtang. After getting the permit, they will just travel to Rohtang Pass and return back to Manali. Number of vehicles traveling towards the pass thus remained the same as before and they very purpose of the permit was defeated.
So to avoid this misuse, this year onward, the number of travel of permits too will be limited. Now on a daily basis, 1200 tourist permits and 800 travel permits will be issued. Both will be on first come first served basis and if you missed your chance; you will have to wait in Manali an entire day or maybe two before you could get a permit. A friend of mine was in Manali this Monday and had to wait two days. He finally managed to get a permit on Tuesday afternoon and crossed Rohtang over on Wednesday. He was on a motorcycle so this 800 number includes both cars and motorcycles as well as private and commercial vehicles as well.
The complete chaos in Manali post which Section 144 was implemented was due to this only. Several of the local taxi operators were found misusing the travel permits post which their vehicles were barred from traveling towards Rohtang altogether. This is what the taxi union was on a strike against.
For other details on the permits, read Rohtang Pass Permit Status 2017
I am not sure who does this impact more, the local tourism industry or travelers like you and I. For now. if you are planning a trip to either Ladakh or Spiti in near future; my honest advice would be to avoid traveling via Manali. Take the Srinagar route to reach Leh; Shimla route to reach Spiti and return via Manali. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.