Although the number of bikers to Ladakh is constantly increasing every year, but even then biking to this terrain is no mean business. It is physically challenging and psychologically draining. The human & the machine, both need to be best of fitness. This journey can be divided in different parts. Although few bikers would try to do it the other way by taking off from Srinagar to Leh and then returning from Manali side, but still Manali-Leh is the most favoured route; and, there are various reason for this to be.
First part of the journey is from Manali to uphill Rohtang La and to downhill Gramphoo on the other side. Rohtang La at 13050 feet is the first mountain pass en route Leh.
Between Manali and Marhi, you may find some little waterfalls emerging out of melting snow and many tourists enjoying them, but bikers rarely get interested in them.
You will find many shops on the way renting out woollens, jackets, gloves and shoes to tourists going to Rohtang and wishing to play some games on snow. Though there is nothing for bikers in it, but it might still remind few of us to check, whether they have rain covers to protect from intermittent rains and shoes to steer them through some running streams on roads.
Soon you reach to intersection which dissects road to two directions, one to Rohtang (towards the right in the image below) and another to Solang (one going straight in image below).
Thereafter starts the steady climb. Its gradual till the top and enjoyable.
Rohtang is a favourite excursion for all tourists coming to Manali. This has often resulted in an unabated mess at the pass. With things going out of control, NGT (National Green Tribunal) has stepped in. It has made some strict regulations, permits are necessary and green tax has been imposed.
Check post is at Gulaba, which is roughly 24 kms from Manali. After this point, you can’t move ahead to Rohtang without a permit. But for bikers, permits are not issued here, it has to be obtained from Manali itself. Permit is issued for a fees of Rs 100 and you need a photo id card, PUCC for your vehicle, vehicle registration papers and valid driving license. Permits are separate for Lahaul valley (towards Leh) and Spiti valley (towards Kunjum and Kaza). Route has to be mentioned in application form. Permit for four wheelers can be obtained either from Manali or from Gulaba check post. Bikers going to Leh should be very careful about obtaining the permit, other wise one can loose precious time, energy and petrol, as I accidentally did. I missed the permit, was not allowed to go past Gulaba, had to go back to Manali to get permit. I lost almost four hours in the process and as a result could not reach my planned destination of the day.
From Gulaba we move towards Marhi. Manali-Rohtang is a scenic route of 52 kms and roads are perfect atleast till Marhi.
Marhi is an ideal point to have seem break before serious climb to Rohtang starts. You can even see the top from here. There are number of food joints here and lot of things to kill your time. People wary of cold, weather and thin air at Rohtang, like to spend more time in Marhi.
After that roads start to deteriorate as we approach close to pass. AT many places, road is also being widened. Lot of construction activity makes riding challenging. Lets see what happens when the roads open this year.
Stretch from Marhi to Rohtang is also known for its traffic jams, prompting authorities to regulate movement of traffic. Narrow roads, high cliffs, bigger vehicles, potholes, streams, all these some times compound the chaos and for bikers it is a challenge to go past this mess.
It feels quite satisfying once we reach the Rohtang top, as it is first of the great passes on way to Leh.
Its quite an atmosphere here with people all around, having fun.
Way to Rohtang is just prelude to the actual tough journey ahead. But it is still a major milestone.
After Rohtang only the locals going ahead or the adventures move ahead. Picnickers normally return from here.
Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top. Road from Rohtang top till 4-5 kms was good in condition but next ten odd kilometres to Gramphoo were terrible last year (2016) due to widening of road and large scale repair work.
One also needs to understand that road conditions on these two stretches is lot dependent on weather as well as month of travel. Early in the season (June) roads will be worse than what one will find towards the end (September-October). Month of travel will also decide the amount of snow and running water (nallahs) one might find on roads. Thats the reason, September end is considered to be one of the safest time to ride or drive on these roads.
Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. Those going to Leh continue to move straight towards Keylong. And those going to either Kunjum Pass and Kaza or towards Chandratal lake take right turn at Gramphoo along the Chandra River. My final destination was Leh, but I also wanted to cover Chandratal lake, hence I took the road to Spiti valley.
Want to see a video of the route. Please click to the link below-