Cycling Route from Manali to Leh

Cycling Route from Manali to Leh

For the nature lovers and adventure seekers, cycling is one of the most rewarding means of traveling in the hills. That is mainly because bicycles are eco friendly and do not pollute the environment. Equally important is the fact that, such a mode of transport allows them to observe the surrounding more and to imbibe the natural and cultural uniqueness of the region far better.

Cycling in the Hills of Manali

Indeed, cycling in the hills of Manali opens up new horizon that no other modes of transport ever can. The extraordinary beauty of the region as well as the unique culture of the place can be best appreciated if you take up a cycling expedition across the hills into the remote valleys and dales.

There are quite a few popular bicycling trails in the Manali region. For example, you can take a bicycle trip to the Solang Valley, located at a distance of 13 km from the town. You may also take a trip to the Bhrigu Lake, just 18.3 km away from the town. Nearer home, there is the Manali National Park. However, the one that takes you from Manali to Leh is not only the most rewarding, but also by far more challenging.

Cycling Route from Manali to Leh

Cycling Route from Manali to Leh

Leh, located in the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir, was once an important stopover for the traders traveling to and from Tibet. Most of the travelers traveling from Tibet first reached Leh and from there they went off in different directions. One such route started from Punjab; it then ran through Mandi, Kullu Valley, Rothang Pass, Lauhul Spiti and finally via Leh to reach Tibet. Most of the cycling expeditions from Manali follow this route. This part of the ancient trade route is now a highway known as Leh Manali Highway.

The trail from Manali to Leh is around 590 km long and depending upon your stamina, it generally takes around 10 to 12 days to cover this distance. On the way, you cross a number of high passes including Rohtang Pass (3900 m), Baralacha La (4800 m), NakeeLa (4900 m), Lachung La (5050 m) and Tanglang La (5260 m). Incidentally, Tanglang La is also the world’s second highest motorable road.

Passes on Way to leh from Manali

Apart from high passes, the route also takes you across icy streams and remote hamlets. The views range from lush green forests in the lower region to semi desert condition in the higher altitude. However, one good thing about this route is that the road condition is more or less satisfactory. While around 25% of the road is mud packed the rest of the trail constitutes of metalled road. The best time undertake this tour is from June to October.

Probable Itinerary of Manali Leh Cycling Tour

Manali is the starting point of this tour. Depending upon the terrain and length of the tour, one is expected to cycle for 22 to 60 km per day. That is why it is advisable to reach Manali one day in advance and spend the day acclimatizing. You can cycle to nearby places to have a feel of what lies ahead.

Day 1:  From Manali to Marhi (37 km)

First day’s trail runs through forests of deodar and pine trees intercepted by little hamlets and apple orchards.  Kothi is the last village in this route. Soon one gets accustomed to many hairpin bends and switchbacks.  Higher up one comes across number of streams tumbling down the mountain side.  The treeline starts diminishing from Gulaba. The ride ends at Marhi, located at a distance of 14 km from Gulaba and around 37 km from Manali.  The average altitude of this palace is around 3312 meter.

Day 2:  From Marhi to Sissu (59 km)

From Marhi to Sissu

The 2nd day’s ride takes you to Sissu, located at an altitude of 3120 meters. One has to start early to reach the destination on time. The trail takes you across Rohtang Pass, located at a distance of 12 km from Marhi. From there, the route goes downhill for 22 km to Khoksa. From there it is an easy ride to Sissu. Incidentally, as we cross Rothang pass, we leave Manali Valley behind to enter Lahul Valley.

Day 3: From Sissu to Jispa (59 km)

From Sissu to Jispa

The day starts with 14 km of uphill ride to Gondla. From there, a dusty but downhill ride along River Chandra takes us to Tandi. Rivers Chandra and Bhaga meet here to form Chandrabhaga or Chenub.
Keylong is another 8 km of tough ride from Tandi. From there, a level ride for 7 km takes you Stingri. From there, Jispa Top is 6 km of uphill ride. The last phase to Jispa is 16km of downhill ride.

Day 4: From Jispa to Patseo (22 km)

From Jispa to Patseo

Patseo is located at an elevation of 4000 meters and at a distance of 22 km from Jispa.  This span is usually kept short so as to allow more time for acclimatization for tougher ride ahead.  6 km of ride along tarmac road takes you to Darcha and Patseo is another 16 km from there.

Day 5: From Patseo to Srachu (63 km)

On this phase you cross Baralacha La (4800 m), the second of the five passes you cross on the way. ‘Baralacha’ is translated to 'a pass with crossroads'. True to its name, different trails from Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahaul and Spiti come together to meet at this very point. It offers an amazing view of  snow-covered peaks like Barashigri, Chandrabhaga and Mulkila.

From Patseo to Sarchu

Cycling from Patseo to Sarchu is quite tough.  It involves constant upward ride up Baralacha La.  Zingzangbar, located at a distance of 10km from Patseo, is the first major landmark. 4 km of upward ride takes you to Zinzangbar Top. The Baralacha La is 15 km from here. On the way, just 3 km from the pass, you see the stunning Suraj Tal Lake.

Many travelers make a break at Zingzanbar. They spend the night there and head for Brandy Nullah, which lies beyond Sarchu, the next day. We will however, cycle straight to Sarchu and spend the night there. It is a downward ride of 22 km.

Day 6: From Sarchu to Whiskey Nullah (54km)

From Sarchu to Whisky Nalluh

Sarchu is located on the border of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. Therefore, as we leave Sarchu behind, we enter the magical land of Ladakh. The day starts with an easy ride; but soon enough it becomes harder and harder.   In the first phase of this trail, you have twenty one zig-zags, together known as Ghata Loops, to negotiate. The environment too is arid and windswept.  However, once we reach Nakee La (4900 m), the third pass on the way, the going becomes comparatively easier.  One goes downhill to reach Whiskey Nullah. Incidentally, some also call this Wispy Nallah. If you look for them you may also see a few wild animals such as high altitude goats on the way.

Day 7: From Whiskey Nallah to Pang (30 km)

From whiskey Nallah to Pang

Many cyclists do not stop at Whiskey Nullah, but head straight for Pang. However, that may be a little hectic for some. The route from Whiskey Nullah to Pang lies through Lachung La (5050 m), the fourth pass on this route.  Initially the climb is uphill. Once we reach Lachung La, the ride becomes easier. One goes downhill through an amazing canyon. Take time to admire the rock formation at this stage.

Day 8:  From Pang to Tsokar Lake (44 km)

A short climb from Pang takes you to Mori Plains.  From there, you enter Rupshu, which is a waterless high altitude desert and part of Tibetan Plateau. A nomadic tribe of Tibetan origin known as Changpa lives in this area.  They are shepherds; you will see them gazing huge flocks of goats and sheep. You will also notice that their tents are made out of yak hair.

From Pang to Tsokar Lake

After crossing this region, you leave the main highway to enter a sandy diversion. It ends at Tsokar Lake. The word ‘Tsokar’ means white; you will notice white salt deposits around the water. You may also come across a hard of wild asses known as Kiang. You may also see lots of rare birds around this lake. The place is a paradise for bird watchers.

Day 9: from Tsokar to Rumptse (80 Km)

Today we cross the last pass on this route. However, for that we will have to cycle back to the Manali Leh Highway once again. The climb is long and steep from this point. Once you reach Tanglang La (5260 m) stop for a while to enjoy the view. One can see both the Himalayas and the Karakoram from this spot. From Tanglang La, the road goes downwards in a zigzag pattern. Very soon we come across villages with potato and barley fields. Soon we reach Rumptse and rest for the night.

Day 10: From Rumptse to Leh (82 km)

From Ruptse to Leh

Unless you want to visit Khardung La, this is the last phase of the tour. The first stage of the ride follows the Kyamnar River down to Upshi. The Indus Valley starts from here and we follow River all the way to Leh. However, you can take a diversion to visit Hemis Monastery, located 7 km away from the Manali Leh Highway. It is the biggest and richest Monastery in Ladakh; but it would involve a ride of extra 14 km.

As we follow the Manali Leh Highway, we first cross Karo and then reach Tikse. If you feel like you may stop here to see the big statue of Future Buddha and also the Shey Palace.  Otherwise, you can continue cycling to reach your destination Leh.

To Khardang La from Leh (80 km)

From Leh to Khardang La

If you have energy left, you may as well take up another challenge. A visit to Khardng La (5602meters), located at a distance of 40 km from Leh, is something few cyclists would like to miss. This pass has been christened as the ‘Mount Everest of Cycling’. However, such an expedition require a lots of resolve and after this long expedition, you should have lots of it.

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