We can’t post a series about our favorite routes without mentioning the famous Leh to Manali route, as well as the Kargil to Leh route in the Indian Himalayas. The region of Ladakh is a high altitude disputed territory which boarders Pakistan and China and is full of monasteries and Tibetan monks, desolate dry mountains, and a few beautiful rivers. Ladakh is a wonderful place to cycle for those of you who enjoy isolation, endless high altitude passes, and easy camping.
Distance: 700km (Kargil to Leh: 200km, Leh to Manali: 500km).
Time needed: 2 weeks (with extra time in Leh if you want to rest or visit the area, and extra time for treks if you are looking for an off the bike adventure).
Highlights: Beautiful monasteries, the feeling of accomplishment on top of passes over 5,000m, desolation.
Road surface: Some rough, some paved, it depends on the year as there is always road work going on.
Traffic: Quite a lot between Leh and Manali, all tourist 4X4’s. Less in the shoulder seasons.
Best season: May-October. Completed alone September/October 2013, and again with Kevin June/July 2014.
Water/food availability: Need to carry food from Leh to Manali (heavy), water is no problem.
Solo female: Reasonably safe. Though this is one of the safest region in all of India for girls, they are still very confused by the fact that you are alone so don’t flaunt it and be smart about where you camp.
Overall difficulty: Moderate.
We never had trouble camping along this route as we were always able to pull off a bit and find a flatish spot. That being said, there are sections which are very steep without camping options so it is important to plan your passes a bit each day (try and end up in between two passes).
As with all of India, it is easy to travel through this region on 5-10$/day, especially since there is absolutely nowhere to spend your money along this route as once you leave Leh, you don’t encounter another town until Manali.
From Leh there are many side trips such as cycling up “the highest road” (which isn’t actually the highest pass) or up and over the “third highest pass” (which for me was one of the most difficult passes) in the world to a lake, but unless you have unlimited patience for passes and a whole lot of time, I would suggest skipping these and going through Spiti valley instead.
There are a surprising amount of cyclists who cycle Ladakh every summer, so be prepared to make some friends!
Many cyclists have the book (or copies/photos of the book) Himalaya By Bike which is a great resource. I used the web site the author of the book created which also has great information, and can be found through this link.
My blog entries throughout this route:
– Mountains, Camping, and a Whole Lot of Cyclists
– Mountains, Camping, and a Whole Lot of Cyclists: Part 2
– Cycling on the Moon
Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, corrections, or updates in order to help others looking to complete this route too.