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|Length||428 km (266 mi)|
|North end||Leh, Ladakh|
|South end||Manali, Himachal Pradesh|
|States||Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh|
The Leh–Manali Highway is a 428 km (266 mi) long highway in northernmost India connecting Leh, one of the two capitals of the union territory of Ladakh, to Manali in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It connects the Manali Solang valley to the Lahaul and Spiti valleys in Himachal Pradesh and the Zanskar valley in Ladakh. It is open for only about five months in a year, from mid-May or June (when the snow is cleared from the highway) to October, when snowfall again blocks the high passes on the highway. However, the Lahaul valley will now remain connected to Manali for most part of the year through already completed Atal tunnel. With the completion of under-construction Shingo La Tunnel, targeted to be completed by 2024, the whole Leh-Manali route will become all-weather road.
The Leh–Manali Highway which acts as a trunk route for various India-China Border Roads in Ladakh and Himachal has been designed, built and being maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) of the Indian army. It supports the heaviest army vehicles.
The average elevation of Leh-Manali highway is more than 4,000 m (13,000 feet) and its highest elevation is 5,328 m (17,480 ft) at the Taglang La mountain pass. It is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides, featuring stunning sand and natural rock formations. The landscape changes after getting past the Atal tunnel and the greenery starts receding upon entering the Chandra river valley in the Lahaul region that lies in the rain-shadow. After crossing Darcha, the greenery completely disappears and the mountain slopes on the leeward side become brown and arid. Most of the mountain peaks and highway Passes north of Darcha remains covered by snow even in summer and shine brightly in the sun. Adjacent glaciers melt (more so as the day wears on) and water overruns the highway in many places. This water is ice-cold and travellers should avoid situations where they might have to wade through it.
The Leh-Manali highway is generally two lanes wide (one lane in each direction) without a road divider, but has only one or one and a half lanes at some stretches. Snow and rain can make the highway slushy or too slippery to travel. Past precipitation can also create travel hazards. It has over a dozen Bailey bridges and many of them are now being upgraded to two-lane steel bridges. The highway crosses many small streams of ice-cold water from snow-capped mountains and glacial melts without a bridge and it requires driving skill to negotiate fast-flowing streams. The highway has many damaged stretches and under-maintained portions, where even a little rainfall can trigger dangerous landslides. The road quality is poor from Zingzingbar to Pang and high speed can cause discomfort.
Ladakh is a cold semi-arid desert. It is cold along the highway even in summer (June onwards); the days are warm in bright sunshine but the nights are very cold. Light woollens are required during the day and thick woollens are required at night. There is no rainfall between Darcha and Leh even during the monsoon season in July–September as the entire region lies in rain shadow.
Length of highway
The total length of the highway is about 428 km (266 mi). It has 178 km (111 mi) in Himachal Pradesh as the length in Himachal Pradesh is shorten by about 45 km (28 mi) after opening of the Atal Tunnel avoiding the Rohtang Pass , and 250 km (156 mi) in Ladakh. The state line is at Sarchu. 
In Himachal Pradesh:
- 1: Manali (altitude 1,950 m (6,400 ft)) to Marhi at 3,300 m (10,800 ft) elevation 33 km (21 mi). It is a steady climb. 
- 2: Marhi to Rohtang Pass at 3,980 m (13,060 ft) elevation 18 km (11 mi). It is a steady climb.
- 3: Rohtang to Gramphu at 3,200 m (10,500 ft) elevation 15 km (9.3 mi). It is a steady descent. The right turn (towards east) at Gramphu leads to Spiti valley, Batal, Kunzum La and Kaza on a road along Chandra river that is unpaved upto Kunzum Pass and beyond.
- 4: Gramphu to Kokhsar, the first village north of Rohtang Pass 5 km (3.1 mi). Foreign nationals have to show their passports with valid visa at the police check post here.
- 5: Kokhsar to Sissu at 3,130 m (10,270 ft) elevation 15 km (9.3 mi). The highway runs along the left (south) bank of the Chandra River, with a beautiful waterfall on the other side of the river. There is a helipad at Sissu with service to Manali during the winter.
Alternative route from Manali to Sissu runs via Palchan-Solang Valley road, then through Atal Tunnel bypassing the Rohtang pass and towards Sissu. The distance from Manali to Sissu via Atal tunnel is only 41 km. Further, the distance from Manali to Gramphu via Atal Tunnel is only 47 km for Spiti valley bound travelers.
- 6: Sissu to Tandi at 2,570 m (8,430 ft) elevation 22 km (14 mi). Tandi is at the bottom of a river valley, where the Chandra River and the Bhaga River (flowing from the north) merge to form the Chandra-Bhaga river (which becomes the Chenab downstream in Ladakh). Cross the Bhaga river over the bridge towards the right, take the right turn at the fork, and the road again starts climbing.
- 7: Tandi to Keylong at 3,080 m (10,100 ft) elevation 8 km (5.0 mi). Keylong is District HQ of Lahaul and Spiti.
- 8: Keylong to Jispa at 3,310 m (10,860 ft) elevation 22 km (14 mi). Jispa is a village where two nullahs (small streams) join the Bhaga River.
- 9: Jispa to Darcha at 3,360 m (11,020 ft) elevation 6 km (3.7 mi). All tourists have to register at the police check post here.
- 10: Darcha to Zingzingbar 4,270 m (14,010 ft) elevation 25 km (16 mi). Zingzingbar is the South Portal for the proposed Baralacha La Tunnel. The steep ascent to Baralacha La starts at Zingzingbar.
- 11: Zingzingbar to Baralacha La pass at 5,030 m (16,500 ft) elevation 22 km (14 mi). It is a steady climb.
A stream (from a glacial melt) flows across the highway just after Zingzingbar. It is advisable to cross the stream before noon because the flow of ice-cold water increases as the temperature rises. If the flow of water is too powerful for a vehicle to cross, or if the weather worsens en route to Baralacha La, turn back to Zingzingbar or Darcha, and seek accommodation before trying on the next day.
- 12: Baralacha La to Keylong Sarai 13 km (8.1 mi). It is a steady descent. Keylong Sarai is the North Portal for the proposed Baralacha La tunnel. The Bhaga river and the Chandra river originate from melting snow at opposite sides of Baralacha La, the former flowing southwest and the latter flowing first southeast and then northwest to merge at Tandi.
- 13: Keylong Sarai to Sarchu at 4,300 m (14,100 ft) elevation 20 km (12 mi). Sarchu is a military base and has a police check post. Register at the police check post here.
In the union territory of Ladakh:
- 14: Sarchu to Pang 4,600 m (15,100 ft) elevation 76 km (47 mi) climbing 500 m through the Gata loops (22 hairpin bends) at 4,190 m (13,750 ft) elevation and traversing through Nakee La at 4,739 m (15,547 ft) and Lachulung La at 5,065 m (16,616 ft) elevations. Register at the check post at Pang.
The 130 km drive from Zingzingbar to Pang is the toughest part of the journey on the highway and a nightmare at times. During best of the season, without any blockade and traffic jams, it can take upto 5-7 hrs to cover this stretch with at least one halt enroute.
- 15: Pang to Taglang La pass at 5,328 metres (17,480 ft) elevation, 66 km (41 mi). This stretch crosses a plateau at 4,700 m (15,400 ft) called the More plains or Morey plains. A flat stretch of 40 km on Morey plane is a driving paradise at such elevation and comes as a huge relief for motorists.
- 16: Taglang La to Upshi 61 km (38 mi). The highway crosses the Indus river to reach Upshi village on the north.
- 17: Upshi to Karu 14 km (8.7 mi) After crossing the Indus river at Upshi, the highway bears left for Karu. The right turn is an ancient trading road heading east toward Pangong Lake and Tibet. There is a helipad on this road.
- 18: Karu to Leh at 3,500 metres (11,483 ft) elevation, 34 km (21 mi) Staying to the left and following the Indus River leads toward Leh. There is another turn-off to the right that goes to Shyok, Pangong Lake, and Tibet.
The 175 km long road from Pang to Leh via Morey plains and Taglang La, is in excellent condition and generally takes less than 5 hours to cover. Visiting some locations beyond Leh requires special permission, which can be obtained at Leh.
After opening of Atal Tunnel, the journey from Manali to Leh normally requires one overnight stay en-route (Overnight accommodations are described below). Travel time is unpredictable since the weather and road conditions can change suddenly. However, it is now possible to cover the entire journey from Manali to Leh in 14-16 hrs in a single day, if there are no road blockades and traffic jams en-route.
The peak travel season is during May-June and September-October, when tourists visit Atal tunnel, Rohtang pass and Lahaul valley. Most domestic tourists return to Manali on the same day. The Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) and the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) both operate buses that travel the entire highway in two days. Buses start from Manali at 4 am until 6 pm. The travel time from Manali to Keylong is now approximately 2 hours via Atal tunnel. Private four-wheel drive taxis are available. Shared taxis are cheap as they charge per person, but they may be full of local residents who will prevent good views of the scenery outside. The tourist cannot stop either a bus or a shared taxi for sightseeing. Many Bikers travel from Manali to Leh and elsewhere in Ladakh on motorcycles, generally in a group.
There are no fuel station for 330 kilometres (210 mi) between Tandi and Karu. A new fuel station at Jispa is planned to come up in future. Vehicles should fill up at the start of this stretch, and motorcycles and vehicles with small tanks should carry additional fuel in cans. In an emergency, fuel may be available at small towns and camp-sites en route ( Keylong, Sarchu, Pang etc.), but this fuel may be adulterated.
At high altitudes, the air is thinner and contains less oxygen. Acute mountain sickness is possible, whose symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. It can be fatal. If reaching the area by air from lower terrain, the traveller should acclimate to the high altitude by staying at least one night at the starting point (typically Manali), and plan to stay over at either Keylong, Jispa or Darcha before ascending to the highway's highest passes and plains after Darcha. Travellers should minimise the time spent at the high altitudes and therefore not stay over at Sarchu or Pang. They should carry chocolates, glucose or other high-energy food on the journey.
There are a variety of hotels to suit all budgets at the highway's endpoints, Manali and Leh. There are also hotels and PWD rest houses at Sissu and at Keylong (a district headquarter). There is one luxury hotel at Jispa.
Guesthouses are available at Sissu, Keylong, Jispa, Rumtse, Upshi and Karu.
The remaining option is to sleep in a tent which are generally basic and inexpensive. Luxury and comfortable tents (Swiss-cottage tents) are available in Jispa and Sarchu. Tent accommodations are also available in Darcha, Zingzingbar, Bharatpur (below Baralacha La pass, inhabited only during tourist season) and Pang. In India, a dhaba is a roadside eatery with low prices and no frills. These are found at some otherwise uninhabited places along the highway. Dhabas are not motels, but many let customers lie down and rest, and some can provide an inexpensive dormitory bed (without private toilet).
- Defence ministry clears the BRO tunnel under Shinkun La in Ladakh, Hindustan Times, 19 May 2021.
- Series U502, U.S. Army Map Service, map of quadrant ni-43-12
- "Hundreds stranded on Manali-Leh highway". The Hindu. 23 September 2008. Archived from the original on 26 September 2008.
- Other. "Atal Tunnel opens". The Tribune. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- "All you need to know about Atal Tunnel: Manali to Leh by road, 365 days a year". auto.hindustantimes.com. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- Dheeraj Sharma (15 July 2019). "Manali to Leh Bus Service - Timings, Rates & FAQs". DevilOnWheels.com. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
- Leh–Manali Highway on OpenStreetMap
- Mountain Passes along the route
- Riding on the Manali-Leh route
- Leh-Manali Highway
- Manali-Leh Highway on Bikemap (with GPS-track)
- Photos of a bike tour along the Highway from 1996.
- Ladakh detailed map
- U.S. Army Map Service
- Manali to leh motorcycle tour map
- 55 Spectacular Pictures of Leh Manali Highway
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leh–Manali Highway.|