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Leh-Manali Highway

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The ride was to drive North from Delhi and up to the Ladakh region via the Leh-Manali Highway and the Rhotang Pass. I completed this ride last season in summer when the road was open on my Suzuki DRZ400S as part of a longer RTW trip. 




After experiencing some truly terrible traffic, one of my favourite monuments in India quickly came to be the wide NH1 National Highway.  It ran straight up from Delhi to the North and having had so many near misses in the cities I was glad to cruise up to Chandigarh and onto Manali which was a welcome relief from the heat and crowds in the south.


Manali was the gateway to the Himalayas with fantastic curving roads through mountain forests. After being run off the road by a suicidal truck driver I stopped here a few days to sew up my panniers and acclimatize to the altitude.  






Leaving Manali and riding over the Rohtang Pass towards Keylong the step up in altitude was quick. The weather was good and the riding great with Rohtang not living up to its name - "Pile of Corpses"  


 Passing Sarchu the road turned into a succession of hairpins over the Lachlung-la (16,616 feet) and Nakee-la (15,547 feet) passes. This was the gateway to Ladakh – “The land of high passes”.




I had heard much about the variable condition of the road but there weren’t many landslides and nothing was worse than anything I’d previously encountered. I was grateful for the Safari tank though as the petrol stations were few and far between. I was frequently passing broken down enfields with jerry cans strapped to the back to increase their range. 




The whole region is a sparsely populated high altitude desert with plenty of opportunities to camp and after a night in the tent I crossed Taglangla early the next morning. Taglangla is the second highest motorable pass in the world according to the sign – although the Indians have a tendency to exaggerate their altitudes so this claim is debated.




There was a huge military presence in the area due to the proximity to the border with China/ Tibet and Pakistan. At first stopping at every checkpoint was interesting to have a chat to the guards and fill out some superfluous paperwork however I soon got sick of stopping every 20 minutes so I began “Steve McQueening” checkpoints. If the barrier was open or I could go around, I would (it's important to slow down when approaching the checkpoint so they don't drop the barrier - or pull a length of rope across the road). A friendly wave at the military frantically gesturing for you to stop as you accelerate away but since no one bothered to chase me I guess they didn’t consider the paperwork that important either.


Arriving in Leh I was reminded more of Tibet than India and it was quite peaceful and idyllic among the mountains

After a day of relaxing, I obtained the permit to drive up to Khardungla and into the Nubra valley. One of my goals on this trip had been to drive over the Khardungla Pass – one of the highest in the world.




Khardungla is another example of exaggerated altitude. The pass is listed in the Guinness Book of records as the highest in the World. It is locally claimed to be 5,602m (18,380 feet), however this has been disproved by modern GPS which measures it closer to 5,359m (17,582 feet). It was still the same height as Everest Base Camp.



There are passes out there that are higher, but the debate rages on whether they are “motorable”. The few higher ones I managed to find were either in restricted military zones or weren’t deemed motorable so I was content with Khardung La.


Regardless of the “highest” claims I was still going to drive up it and after a false start – failing to look at the map properly and following my GPS up a walking track; I got on the road and headed towards the summit.

The Suzuki is a simple bike and not fuel injected, so for a long while I had been worried about how the carburetor would handle the altitude. I lost a little power towards the top but otherwise it persevered amazingly well and we eventually got there.


It was a great ride to the top of the World and the scenery was stunning. I was glad to have made it and was enjoying feeling adventurous again. Almost at the top of the world it was all down hill from here.. 




Here's a short video of the road conditions 





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