13 June, 2021 | Reccy Guide
Ask any serious cyclist about their top five bucket list rides, and Manali to Leh Cycling Expedition is sure to be on the list. Challenging, remote, and staggeringly beautiful, the 580km route is one of the most exciting in the world. It crosses not one, but five Himalayan passes, including Lachung La, Baralacha La, and the legendary Rohtang pass, taking cyclists to the heart of India’s iconic Ladakh region. This combination of breathtaking mountain views and ruthless high-altitude climbs has earned the region the nickname “biker’s paradise”, attracting hundreds of fearless cyclists every year.
But before you start loading up your gear, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Although the route provides relatively simple access to the Himilayan wilds, by no means is it an easy ride. You will need significant experience of cross-country cycling, a clear itinerary, and an understanding of the terrain.
Before beginning the 10-day expedition, most travelers opt to spend a few nights acclimatizing to the altitude in Manali. This high-altitude resort town is a hub for adventurers heading for the mountains and offers a wide selection of hotels, hostels, and chalets. There are also countless tour agencies here, making it an ideal place to start your trip to Leh. In many cases, the price of the trip includes an airport transfer and dinner.
On day one, most people cycle around 35 k from Manali to Marhi, stopping a short distance from the Rohtang Pass. The terrain on this initial section is relatively easy, traversing lush green valleys and fragrant pine forests. On the way, you will pass through a handful of small villages until you arrive at the lower reaches of Rohtang Pass. You will climb for around 11km before reaching the campsite, offering incredible views of the Pir Panjal Mountain range.
After a night under the stars, day two kicks off with a 12 km climb to reach the Rohtang Pass. The roads in this section are rudimentary and scarred with potholes thanks to HGV traffic. It’s a tough ascent, but once you reach the pass you’ll be glad you stuck it out. The views are breathtaking, with snow often sprinkling the pass even in the summer, and as you make your way across you’ll be treated to 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding peaks. From here it’s a refreshing descent to the camping site at Sissu.
The third day of cycling involves around 70 kilometers of ascending and descending trails, making it one of the longest sections of the trip. That being said, the terrain is relatively level, spanning vast, isolated areas of Himalayan wilderness and offering clear views of the upper Himalayan peaks. As you follow the Bagha river into Lamas territory, you will see that traffic thins out and villages become few and far between.
After a night in the small village of Patseo, day four opens with a sharp ascent to the Baralacha La Pass. It’s a grueling uphill ride over unforgiving terrain, but the view from the top is well worth the effort. This pass is heavily rooted in mythology and offers a breathtaking view of the mountains surrounding it. Viewing the deserted landscape from such a height, it is easy to understand why the pass is so prominent in local folklore. The descent from Baralach La offers a refreshing end to the day, taking you through to the campground at Sarchu.
On the fifth day of the trip, you will traverse the hairpin bends of the Gata Loops, taking in views of the surrounding peaks as you approach the Lachulung la pass. This challenging section is followed by a bumpy downhill stretch to the village of Pang, which offers incredible glimpses of the vast Moray Plains. The plains are a sight to behold, with rolling red dunes and craggy stone cliffs that resemble movie depictions of Mars. The final stretch of this section offers a welcome break from the rough terrain of earlier days and remains hospitable through until the campground at Whisky Nallah.
On day six you will return to civilization as you cross the Tanglang La Pass. From here you will take a steep uphill route to Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world. The ride to the summit is challenging, with rough terrain that can make the climb treacherous, especially in wet weather. Once you reach the top, however, you will be rewarded with incredible views of the Zanskar and Ladakh mountain ranged. The day ends with an easy downhill ride to the village of Rumptse.
The last section of the trip will take you through to Leh, via an easy route through green valleys and rolling farmland. On the way, you will have the opportunity to visit the Thiksey Monastery and Chortens Garden, before arriving at your final destination.