This article “Tourist Places on Manali Leh Highway” is in continuation with the previous article in Manali Leh Highway Travel Guide. Last article covered the various accommodation options available on Manali to Leh route. In this article, I will provide some information on some of the major tourist attractions on Manali Leh highway.
Best Time to Travel from Manali to Leh
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
Traveling to Ladakh : The hows, dos and don’ts
The meaning of going out on a trip or vacation is different for all of us. While some people manage to visit Ladakh several times, not all of us would want to do that or maybe find time to do so each year. When I receive a query from someone asking for my help with their travel plan, one of the most common questions is, “Did I miss anything here?” or “Is there any other place or tourist attraction that I should add in this plan?”
So what do you see on Manali Leh highway? Every tourist destination, every hill station, every city has something special to offer, something that attracts thousands of tourists to it each year. What does Manali Leh highway offer? Where do you stop? Which place can you just pass through? Is there a list that you can keep handy to ensure that you did not miss anything?
Quite honestly, the entire Manali Leh highway is a tourist spot in itself. This entire 400 odd kilometers long road is a destination where every turn would dazzle you with its natural beauty. To point out one particular place that can be termed as “tourist attraction” is quite tough and not even fair in my opinion. But yes, I do agree on the part that some places deserve a little more time than others and the idea behind this article is to provide you information on what to keep your eye open for while passing through a certain area.
Below is a list of what Manali Leh Highway will offer you.
- Natural Beauty like no other: This definitely remains on top of the list. As I mentioned above, every turn here would leave you enchanted. From the lush green hills of Kullu Valley to the cold barren desert of Ladakh, every sigh is worth cherishing.
- Adventure: Need I say this? Driving on a road that is open for just 5 months in a year and completing the journey would fill your soul with a feeling of accomplishment that is going to last a lifetime.
- Solitude: In a country like ours, the second most populous in the world, Solitude is a little hard to find but you will get plenty of it while traveling from Manali to Leh.
- Peace: Imaging sitting on a hill with snow capped mountains all around, not a soul in sight, just the sound of cold wind, and you will get the idea.
- Culture: Experience and witness culture and customs of Ladakh, the monasteries, the food and wonderful people; things you will not find elsewhere in the country.
- High altitude passes: A total of 5 high altitude passes that you will cross in order to get to Leh, each one of which is an experience in itself.
- Nallahs: Ever driven through a stream of water with damaged road and rocks underneath, a hill on one side and straight fall on other? Get ready because you will be doing it several times on Manali Leh highway.
With this being said, there still remains the question of what do you see? Where do you stop and spend a little more time than other. Below are a few places that in my opinion are the star of this journey. A detailed description of these places is further in this article.
- Rohtang La
- Deepak Taal
- Baralacha La
- Suraj Taal
- Shaheed Sainik Bhawan
- Gata Loops
- Lachulung La
- Moore Plains
- Tso Kar
- Tanglang La
I will also list down all the places on Manali Leh highway below with a brief description. You can take a printout of this while on the journey, more like a check list, to ensure that you did not miss visiting some place that was worth a visit.
One of the major tourist destinations of our country, Manali needs no introduction. At a height of 2,050 m (6,726 ft), this small town is a beauty in itself, though in my opinion it is getting way too crowded these days. Traveling from Manali to Leh would mean that you will be in Manali between the months of June till September, of which June and July also happen to be the tourist season here so be prepared for a swarm of tourists. Hotels and guest houses are in plenty here so finding a place to stay will not be any problem at all If you want, you can spend a day in Manali before beginning your journey to Leh. This way you can get a final check done on your motorcycles, car and will also provide you with ample time to obtain Rohtang Permits. Read below for more details on obtaining the permits and restrictions that apply to getting across Rohtang La.
Ascent to Rohtang:
A task in itself, the ascent to the mighty Rohtang Pass will give you the taste of what you are in for right at the beginning of your journey. Start as early as possible from Manali, well before sunrise. Rohtang top is located at roughly around 55 kms from Manali, the first 40 kms of which are a feast for eyes. Numerous water streams, waterfalls, enthralling landscapes, best of which you will witness at sunrise. You will not really see the sun rise but that hue at top of the peaks is a sight in itself. This road really gets crowded as the day grows and you do not want to get stuck in traffic hence it’s very important that you start early. Last 10-15 kilometers near the top are a mix of muddy slush, pebbles and water crossings that will both scare and thrill you at the same time. Below is a breakdown of places that you will come across while ascending Rohtang La.
1. Palchhan – Just a small village on the route, good enough for a cup of tea or breakfast if you started from Manali without having breakfast. No tourist spot here as such.
2. Kothi – Another small village like Palchhan.
3. Gulaba – Gulaba is at a distance of about 20 kilometers and also known as lower winter snow point after the road to Rohtang Pass gets closed in Winter. Nothing to see here in July except for its natural beauty.
4. Marhi – Also known as highest snow point in Winters, Marhi has a few dhabas where you can stop and eat, and that is pretty much it.
5. Rani Nallah – Just a few kilometers ahead of Marhi, Rani Nala is a glacier point and also a spot where you need to be careful while riding or driving. No matter which time of the year you reach here, you will always find snow at Rani Nala and something the snow walls can be several feet high. Once the snow starts melting, the entire stretch near Rani Nallah gets prone to landslides and road always remains in pathetic condition. If you failed to start early from Manali, this is the spot where you may encounter a traffic jam.
This will be your first high altitude pass of the journey. 90% chances are that you will find snow at the top. Spend some time on your first high altitude pass of the journey and revere the sight that you will never forget for the rest of your life, if this is your first time at Rohtang. Literal meaning of Rohtang is “a pile of corpses”, why it is called that is anybody’s guess but do not let this scare you. Beguiling landscapes consisting of fierce wind, chilling temperature, snow capped peaks and lush green valley’s around is what Rohtang Pass is famous for. At the top, total elevation from sea level is 3,979 m (13,051 ft) and total distance between Manali and Rohtang Pass is approximately 51 kilometers. The road across this mighty hilltop connects the valley of Lahaul and Spiti to Kullu valley and remains closed for about 6 months in a year, from sometime in November to April. If this is your first time at such high altitude, it will also be the place where you may or may not feel high altitude sickness. If you do then do not spend too much time at the top and start descending on the other side immediately. As you gradually get to a lower altitude, effects of AMS will also subside.
This is the spot where a road bifurcates towards Spiti valley. There is nothing here except for a small Dhaba which also works as a Chadar tent, offering a bed for as low as Rs. 200 – Rs. 300. If it wasn’t for this Dhaba and the road bifurcation, you probably wouldn’t even notice that you have crossed Gramphu.
Right after Gramphu, you will start travelling with River Chandra until Jispa. There is a beautiful legend related to this river. Click HERE to read about it.
A few kilometers ahead of Gramphu, Kokhsar is famous as being the first settlement in Lahaul Valley. Kokhsar has several small dhabas that also operate as Chadar tents and a few mechanic shops as well. There is also a PWD guest house in Kokhsar but you really need to book in advance to stay at this guest house.
Also known as Khagling, this is another small village located on the banks of Chandra River. The chopper service from Lahaul to Kullu valley operates out of Sissu in Winters. Locals use this service to get on the other side of Rohtang Pass, to Manali, after the roads close in Winter due to snowfall. There are a few Dhabas/Chadar tents and a PWD guest house in Sissu but like Kokhsar, you will have to book in advance to stay in this guest house as well.
This small town is famous for two things. The first one is that it has the last petrol pump on Manali Leh highway. After Tandi, next gas station is another 365 kms away as you get closer to Leh so ensure that you fuel up here. Second thing that this town is famous for is the confluence of River Chandra, originating from Chandratal Lake, and River Bhaga, origination from Surajtal lake. Together these rivers become one here and form Chandrabhaga river which , after entering Jammu & Kashmir, is called River Chenab. Stop for a while when you cross Tandi and witness the confluence.
Keylong is the administrative headquarter of Lahaul & Spiti Valley and the largest town on Manali Leh highway. It is also home to Kardang Monastery, the largest and most important monastery of Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Being a major town, place is filled with ample amount of hotels and guest houses, fitting in to any budget. HRTC and HPTDC buses too halt here for the night before continuing to Leh the next day. There is a high possibility that you may get signal here if you are using a postpaid BSNL or MTNL cell phone connections. There is also an ATM at Keylong in case you forgot to withdraw cash from Manali.
Another small town on Manali Leh highway and my favorite place to stay. Accommodation is in form of 2 cemented hotels and a few camp sites as detailed in the previous post. There is also a mechanic shop at Jispa which happens to be the last mechanic shop on route. I must recommend spending the night in Jispa and it will be worth every single penny.
The only thing worth mentioning about Darcha is that it is the end or starting point of the famous Zanskar trek. There are a few chadar tents here if you would like to stay for the night.
Right after Darcha and before the ascent of Baralacha La, it is a very small lake but do not let the size deceive you. It may be smaller in size but a giant when it comes to natural beauty. There are a couple of Dhabas / Chadar tents right next to the lake. It also works as a camping spot if you are planning to pitch your own tent. Talk to the Dhaba owner and they can arrange your food and will let you use their washrooms in exchange of a small charge.
Nothing too great about Patseo. It is just a small place with a few Army camps.
I really wonder who came up with this name but this is the spot where the ascent of Baralacha La starts. Roads can start to deteriorate post this point and there will be a few Nallahs to cross, formed by the melting snow atop Baralacha La.
This will be your second high altitude pass on Manali Leh highway. Ironically, though Tanglang La is at a higher altitude, it is actually Baralacha La that remains covered with snow for a longer duration and receives way more snow than Tanglang La. If you are travelling in June or early July, chances are that you will find a lot of snow atop Baralacha La.
Also known as Surya Taal, it is a small lake at the top of Baralacha La Pass. It is the source of the Bhaga River and presents a stunning view amidst the mighty hill tops all around. There is also a trek between Suraj Taal and Chandratal that originates from here. If luck favored you, you may find the lake completely frozen even in July. The legend related to River Chandra is also relevant to Suraj Taal. Click HERE to read about it.
Shaheed Sainik Bhawan:
Time to get a little taste of Supernatural. The ruins of Shaheed Sainik Bhawan at the top of Baralacha La are considered to be a haunted site. Click Here to read in detail about the haunting story. Not sure how true this is but sounds like just a made up story to me.
Another weird name but the road conditions here will be mostly bad, terrible as a matter of fact and this is why I guess the name.
Also known as Bharatpur City ( I am not sure why) this is a small location for camp sites and Chadar Tents. If you were planning to camp at Sarchu, you may want to consider Bharatpur City as well because camps here are way cheaper than Sarchu.
Sarchu is the point where the state of Himachal Pradesh ends and Jammu & Kashmir starts. It is like the center point of Manali Leh highway and a famous camping site. A lot of people chose to stay at Sarchu, either in a camp site, or a Chadar tent or camp on their own. If you are planning to pitch your own tent, it is recommended that you do so closer to a camp site. For a small charge, the camp site can give you a spot to camp and will also let you use their washroom facilities.
A series of 21 hairpin bends that will take you to the third high altitude pass of the journey, Nakeela. It is also reported to be a haunted site. Click here to read about the ghost that haunts Gata Loops.
Your third high altitude pass, located at a height of 15,547 ft. If you are lucky, you may even see some wildlife here.
Your fourth high altitude pass, located at a height of 16,616 ft. This is also the second highest pass on Manali Leh highway.
This is another major camping site on route. There is an entire series of Chadar tents here as mentioned in the previous post. The entire location of Pang is quite scenic with a river flowing while you approach Pang from Manali Side and More plains on Leh side.
A plateau in the lap of Himalayas, Moore Plains are a sight to treasure. Do not however make the mistake of speeding as the road can get a lot bumpy without warning. Stay on the road and do not wander off. If you are lucky, you may spot a Kiyang or blue sheep here.
This is the place where a road bifurcates towards Tso Kar. There are a few Chadar tens and Dhabas at Debring.
If you are ready to Leh the road for a little while, you may take the road towards Tso Kar which is about 20-25 kilometers from Debring. I do not really think that Tso Kar is that scenic but worth a visit. There are few Chadar Tents at Tso Kar if you want to stay. Leave the Manali Leh highway, go to the lake, spend some time there and return to Debring.
Your fifth and last high altitude pass on this road, located at a height of 17,582 ft. In my opinion, it is also the toughest because of the severely damaged road leading to it. This pass is the highest on Manali Leh highway and also considered as second highest motorable pass in the world (this claims is disputed though, it may have been such once upon a time but not anymore). You will definitely feel the effects of AMS here and low levels of Oxygen. I recommend that you do not spend too much time at the top. Just stop, take a few pictures and be on your way.
While approaching Rumste and even after this small town, notice how the hills start to become colorful and even the vegetation starts to appear once again. There is a trek to Tso Kar and Tso Moriri, further to Spiti valley, that starts from Rumtse.
Nothing worth mentioning about Upshi, just another town on the way as you start to get closer to Leh.
Karu is a beautiful village on the Manali to Leh highway, just a few kilometers before Leh. The location of the village presents quit a vivid display of colors, the white on top of the hills, the green of trees, the colors of flowers and strangely in the stones as well.
This is the town where you have been thriving to reach. A heaven on earth in each and every way.
These are however just the highlights. As I mentioned above, this entire road is an attraction of the journey so go ahead, take the challenge and cherish it for life as there will be no time like the first time, no matter how many times you travel on it after.