Between the sleepy backpacker town of Manali and the high mountainous dwellings of Leh lies one of the biggest adventures you can have in India, and for a country of over three million square kilometres, that’s no mean feat. The Leh – Manali Highway crossing offers up some of the most spectacular views, and the odd challenge or two along the way of course. This is India.
Arrive in Manali at the beginning of what is simply known locally as ‘the season’, (or the end of May to you and I) and you’ll be confronted with dozens of intrepid travellers waiting for the road to thaw enough to make the crossing passable. This usually happens around mid-June but varies year on year, and what one traveller may see as passable may not be an entirely comfortable experience for another.
For the road is frozen solid for most of the year, with gargantuan snowfalls which bury it deep underground. The short summer brings some long-awaited heat back to this remote area between June and September, and mostly clear days which show off the sheer natural beauty in all its glory. But explorers beware! This is no ordinary journey on the M25. Drivers can expect to be confronted with glacial melts, snow-covered passes, landslides and rough or slippery surfaces which can lead to a blown out tyre or two. The road also passes over 5,000 metres above sea level so those prone to altitude sickness may wish to stock up on medicine beforehand.
Still, over 300 miles and three or four days at a good pace, those brave enough to take on this challenge will be rewarded beyond all measure, and all of the trials of the journey will seem truly insignificant. With mountain and valley views stretching as far as the eye can see, as well as adobe villages dotted along the winding road, it’s a rare treat to behold which only a few lucky travellers will ever get to see.
As the lush green landscape of Manali peels back to reveal the arid desert mountains beyond the Rohtang Pass, you’ll start to wonder how this place ever came to exist in the first place. Every bend in the road is a new photo opportunity and you’ll let your foot ease off the gas so you can enjoy every last moment. After all, as the snow-capped peaks glint in the afternoon sun, you’ll soon come to realise that it’s not the destination but the journey that really matters.