The Journey: Delhi – Manali – Leh and back via the same route
Ideal Time to Visit: My entourage travelled in the best months possible. Travel to Leh in the first or second week of June in case you want to soak in the idyllic beauty of the place. Around that time, you’ll see snow and glaciers melting all around. In case you don’t want to bump into too many tourists, visit Leh in the month of September.
Please note: The Rohtang Pass and the Baralacha, a little way ahead, opens up for visitors by the 30th or 31st of May, but these days because of the climatic shifts there,delays ranging from 7 to 10 days can be expected.
Entourage Strength: The first time ever I went to Leh, it was in a group of five people and almost all of us were rookies.
Preps: Every seasoned rider remembers to service their bikes to ensure that it is in good condition before undertaking a long journey. Out of personal experience I know that when travelling long distances in groups, it is a good practice to take a car or jeep along – what you call the ‘fall’. On our travels, we always have a 4-wheeler along with us, loaded with spares, luggage and supplies. This vehicle is also extremely expedient if someone goes down and needs medical attention. Such vehicles are also available on hire these days. Most important of all, though, is that you need to be mentally prepared for your expeditions. Proper planning makes everything much simpler.
Assistive Gizmos: No. I don’t use any gadgets. By and large I feel that reaching your destination is fairly simple and you don’t go wrong because the roads are few. It’s hardly like a city with a crazy crisscross network of roads. Also, now after having visited Leh a couple of times, I’m quite familiar with the roads and ensure no one wanders off, if they are travelling with me.
Road & Traffic Conditions: Since we first visited Leh Ladakh in 1999, there was nobody and nothing on that route in 1999 and it was a revelation to us. There were only rocks and boulders and hardly any roads where forty to fifty per cent is now tarmac. Riding up proper roads saves a lot of time and energy and the vista is so beautiful that despite having visited the place 9 times in the last 14 years, it still remains my favourite.
Best & Worst Stretches: The best part of the journey is the 500 kilometers stretch from Manali to Leh which takes two days to cover. On crossing the 200-220 kilometers mark, groups can stop over for a camp, like most people do, at Sarchu. In case you are carrying adequate supplies and camp-tents, you could also consider setting up camp before reaching Sarchu. When you reach 150-200 kilometers beyond Manali, there are private camps where you can pay and stay. Once you reach Leh, you’ll discover that the most scenic locales are beyond the Khardung La pass to Nubra Valley. Plan to camp at Pangong Tso and soak in the beauty of the place.
Weather Encountered: Only in the month of June, you will see glaciers and snow melting all around. The terrain becomes a little risky to ride on because the ice makes the path slippery and there are plenty of knee-deep streams with icy cold water that can make your body feel quite numb. You could easily be surrounded by walls of 8 to 10 feet of snow which you might have to drive through.
Food Joints & Stopovers: Years back, the route to Leh was trying and quite barren. There was just a small, solitary tea stall at Darcha which is still there and has now become one of the better known places to stay over while on a trip to Leh. Today, there are are so many places where you can stop for a bite. Among the places I would recommend are – Grand Willow on Fort Road, which is a quaint and cosy place. Many bakeries located in and around the hotel serve delectable continental fare. There’s also a place close by where authentic Chinese food is served.
Bike Care: It is paramount to ensure that you and your machine remain in perfect working condition. Keep a routine check on your machine and have a four-wheeler carrying supplies with you at all times, especially for emergency situations.
Locals: Back in 1999, there was no civilisation, no proper roads in Leh and it was not as popular a destination as it is today. However, we were fortunate to have met army men at Patseo – an army camp near Sarchu. They made a special allowance for us and accommodated four of us for the night, rescuing us from the biting cold.