This is a post by guest blogger, Fazil Abbas.
Leh – Manali highway. A 469 kilometer journey, considered as the holy pilgrimage by bikers, both from India and abroad. A journey that tests you as a rider, your ability to brace odds and your patience in hardships. It tests your resolve to reach your destination. Either it makes you or, guess what, breaks you. Because it is one of the world’s most extreme roads trips, as well as one of the most spectacular and scenic drives in the world.
I was introduced to this route seven years ago when i watched a documentary about this highway. Since then, it had been my dream. Come July 2014, and i began preparing for this ride, which soon turned out to the ride of my life.
Here are my top 10 tips to plan your trip. (Read how to plan a trip to a country – Mexico)
1. Do your Homework: Research
The first step is the most important one. There are 1000 different things that can go wrong and one has to be prepared to handle them. And the best way to be prepared is through research. Research about the routes, read as much as possible about the route and places you plan to visit. I relied upon these websites, like DevilOnWheels, BCMTouring, and a host of other sites.
2. Your Physical Fitness
The preparation for this ride is mostly mental as those conditions cannot be experienced in Hyderabad or other plain areas. The key is to study what you are going to face and be mentally prepared for it. (Read about Thailand story on Endurance here) Also i would recommend taking up stamina building activities before your trip. The trip requires a lot of effort if you are going on a bike and my advice is to try and build stamina as the conditions on the trip demand a lot of energy. Doe to the high altitude, there are chances of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS affects our body due to low oxygen levels and makes our body difficult to adjust and adapt to the weather and height. Headache, vomiting, nose bleeding, nausea, breathlessness are common side effects.
3. Route to Choose
The most common route to Leh is via Manali. Most of the bikers choose this route, especially when number of days for the trip is less. The starting point is usually Delhi from where a biker typically heads to Manali via Chandigarh. The Manali – Leh highway is done in two days with a stopover at Sarchu and the return journey is similar.
However this route has its own drawbacks. Till Manali, altitude is not a worrying factor. Beyond Manali, it may become difficult for body to acclimatize within a short period of trip. Therefore you will find many bikers down with AMS when they reach Sarchu. As a result, they are forced to take a day off from the trip to acclimatize to the changed environment. Rest of the trip gets impacted as one needs to be extra careful even after recovering from AMS.
Due to the risk of AMS, bikers like me prefer the alternate route to Leh. The alternate route is via Delhi, Pathankot or Amritsar, Srinagar, Kargil, Leh, Sarchu, Manali, Chandigarh and then back to Delhi. The alternate route takes a few more days but is relatively safe as the altitude increases gradually until you reach the heights of Leh, Khardung La and other places. This gives sufficient time (and days) to bikers for acclimatization, and the risk of AMS is reduced to a large extent.
Let me share an instance. Our plan for day 7 of the trip was to go to Nubra Valley from Leh via Khardung La, and stay there for the night. (Read about a trip to another beautiful Valley – Araku Valley ) Then from Nubra Valley, we were supposed to travel to Pangong Tso via Agham and Shyok village. After reaching Leh, we came to know that the Agham and Shyok route is not only impossible but would take twice the time it takes from Leh to Pangong Tso. We had no option but to skip Nubra. This was a result of poor research by me. If i had done enough research on this route, i could have done Nubra.
4. Number of Days
Always keep a few buffer days, considering factors like AMS, landslides, unpredictable weather, snowfall or even rain. There could be mechanical failures in bikes or flat tires. All of these may force you to abandon the travel plan for that day. We had to rush on the 11th night (riding from Manali to Chandigarh at night) as we were running behind schedule due to a flat tire on Leh – Manali Highway, and two of our fellow bikers were suffering from AMS.
We completed our motorcycle trip in 12 days. But I would recommend to have at least 15 days for the trip. Don’t forget a day off in Manali on return to celebrate your success. Cheers guys!
Plan for a day or two off in Leh if you are coming from Srinagar. The climate in Leh helps a great deal in acclimatization for the further journey.
Leh – Manali route is at above 4000 feet and reaches its highest altitude at Tanglang Mountain Pass. Weather may vary from sunny in Leh to extreme cold in Zingzing Bar and rainy in Manali (if travelling in August). The only consistency en route Leh – Manali is the high altitude, bringing its own set of challenges, including low in oxygen levels. What do you do when you encounter temperature of -30 degree Celsius – A photo story.
6. Clothes & Accessories
Now that you are aware of the climate you will encounter during the trip, let me give you some tips on what to pack.
- Riding gear or Jacket, gloves, knee guards, helmet and balaclava
- Extra thermal liners as you will experience bone chilling cold in some places
- Rain covers for all bags and rain clothes.
- Toiletries like Soaps, sunscreen, toothpaste and brush
- Extra pair of shoes (do not carry sandals or chappals as its very cold out there)
I relied on the following brands of clothing and accessories.
- Spartan Helios Riding Jacket
- Cramster TRG 2 Gloves
- Cramster bionic Knee guards
- Studds Ninja 3G dual visor helmet
- Viaterra Claw Bag
- Cramster Turtle Tank Bag
7. Take Care of your Motorcycle
Get your bikes serviced in Leh before starting on Leh – Manali Highway. Carry your prefered oil as you might not get it in Leh as they have limited stocks. I will post details of mechanics and shops i visited in the next few blogs.
Keep a pipe during the trip to drain petrol. Also, keep a funnel, cutter, a pair of torches that run on batteries, extra pair of bungee cords and petrol container.
You may also be required to keep some of the spare parts for bikes like tubes, spark plugs, clutch cables, accelerator cables, portable charger or bike chargers and most important – a toolkit.
8. Keep Documents intact
During this trip, you are expected to be in possession of the following documents: valid driving license, registration documents of bike, insurance papers of bike, class 10th certificate for date of birth, and identity proof document. Take a set of photocopy of all these documents.
It is advisable to keep laminated maps of all the places and highways you will encounter during your trip. .
9. Electronic Items and Gadgets
Do keep spare batteries for your cellphones and cameras. It is also recommended to carry a mobile mount if relying on GPS for tracking purpose. Have spare memory cards or pen drives with connector as probability is you may run out of memory space while clicking the photographs of the stunning landscape. Of course, you will definitely carry your camera & photography kit, without any doubt.
10. Finally, a Medical Kit
A medical kit with tablets for headache, cold, fever, muscle and joint pains etc. I will recommend to carry glucose packets as well.
Next few articles will focus on the experiences during the actual trip itself. Stay tuned. 🙂
Now you are now all set to undertake your lifetime trip. See you soon, enjoying the picturesque landscapes.
All the Best!!!
About Guest Blogger
Fazil Abbas Banatwala, or Fazil, calls himself a simpleton. He is a asal Hyderabadi surviving on mouth-watering Hyderabadi biryani, and prides himself on the culture of this beautiful city with Char Minar. He is an active member of a non-profit organization, Aashayein Foundation, and enjoys working towards the education of young children and students. Connect @fazil_abbas24
Read another guest blog here – on Bali.
Do you have a similar experience to share? Let us know about it. If you would like to write a guest blog for my site, drop a mail to me or tweet @suyashchopra1. I will be glad to share your experience with my readers. Till then Happy Traveling!!!