The Complete Biker’s Guide: Manali-Ladakh Road Trip

Leh-Ladakh beckons bikers from all over the world. Partly 'tis the beauty of the mountains and partly the charm of scaling the world’s highest motorable highway that attracts bikers to vroom into the tough terrain. It is easily one of the most difficult routes and challenges your body, your mind and of course your bike to the extreme. Yet the most intrepid bikers set off on this journey of a lifetime every year. This is a road trip that has transformed many bikers and continues to charm anyone who loves adventure and bike trips.

But what’s the best way to go? What’s the best strategy, bike and gear that you'd need? These questions quiz every first-timer who makes up his mind about this bike trip. Honestly, there’s no one perfect strategy. This is a road trip that’s most unpredictably exciting. Expect detours. Expect change of plans. Expect bike break down. Or as Morgan Matson (Author of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour) puts it, “We can’t know what’s going to happen, we can just try to figure it out as we go along.” 

Our biker's guide makes sure you're prepared to face this unpredictability. This is how you could begin - 

Biking through the spectacular landscape to Leh

Biking through the spectacular landscape to Leh

What kind of bike do you need?

  • Get a 200-CC plus bike with tubeless tyres. The terrain especially the Manali-Leh highway after Rohtang Pass gets rougher.
  • Get a portable air pump that can work on 12 DC.
  • Do not forget the bike tool kit to deal with sudden break-downs.

TIP: Carry 4-5 litre empty plastic bottle since the stretch from Manali-Leh, especially after Tandi, has a dearth of petrol pumps. And since the bikes will mostly be ridden on first or second gear on the mountains, your mileage will not be able to sustain petrol for a longer time.

On the way to Leh

On the way to Leh

What must your bike gear contain?

  • Wear clothes that are red or brighter in colour so that you should be visible to truck drivers at low visibility conditions or at night.
  • An additional pair of clothes
  • Rain Gear
  • Road map since you may not get signals at several places
  • Swiss army knife and helmet
  • Personal bag containing things like toothbrush, wallet etc.

TIP: Carry juice cans with at least 6-month long expiry dates. They would keep you hydrated.

What’s the distance and the best route?

The distance between New Delhi to Ladakh is 1262 km. There are two routes - 

Delhi to Ladakh via Manali – open from June to mid October.

Delhi to Ladakh via Srinagar – open from April to mid October.  

TIP: Go by Srinagar-Leh Highway for better acclimatization and avoiding touristy traffic. Come back via Manali-Leh Highway.

Crossing mountain streams at Satorisaga with the help of locals

Crossing mountain streams at Satorisaga with the help of locals


What are the acclimatization challenges?

The biggest ghost for this ride would be Acute Mountain Sickness that involves headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, exertion and vomiting. Since you would be heading to world’s highest motorable highway which is around 17,582 feet above sea level, your body would need a lot of adjusting. You will need to carry lots of Disprin to minimize headaches and control fever. It’s also safe to carry Acetazolamide (Diamox) that helps in getting back to normal breathing.

TIP: If you keep your ears and hands warm through mufflers and gloves, you will be able to do fine. Avoid soaking your feet in the running streams on the road.

At the Khardung La Top

At the Khardung La Top


How many days do you need and what’s the route-map?

Remember that this bike trip is to experience Leh-Ladakh and the whole mountain biking. So try not waste a lot of time on the plains. Cover Delhi-Patnitop in 13 hours i.e in one day considering that you may take a night halt. On the second day head to Srinagar, a distance of 219 km. On the third day, head to Sonamarg which is only 90 km away from Srinagar but the mountain trail takes longer. Your next destination would be Kargil followed by Leh. You may want to head to Sarchu on the fifth day. Spend at least 3-5 days at Leh and Ladakh and then head towards Manali from Sarchu. This would take at least a day and a half. You can go from Manali to Chandigarh via Mandi and then back to Delhi and can cover these in 2-3 days time.

A lot of things will go wrong, your body will want to give up, your spirit would wear out. But don’t give up until you have seen one of the most beautiful natural splendors of the earth called Leh and Ladakh. It’s possible and it’s achievable.

By Mukti Masih

The rugged snow covered terrain

The rugged snow covered terrain


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