Well, this is one of the most important parts of your trip, if you plan well, it will go smoothly. Here are a few important tips....
- Dehra Dun to Manali
Can be done in a day, involves a relaxed drive of 12 hours, stopping at Panchquila for breakfast and any roadside dhabba for lunch. As you approach Manali the traffic gets denser and denser and when we went, there were traffic jams around 200 kms before Manali.
- Manali to Leh or Srinagar to Leh
Manali to Leh is adventure, beauty and thrill all rolled in one. Acclamatization is better as Manali is higher than Srinagar and if you do the Manali Leh drive in two days, chances of your falling sick are minimal. We did Dehra Dun -> Manali -> Leh -> Srinagar -> Jammu -> Dehra Dun circuit. Some people prefer to return from Leh back to Manali, which I personally feel is very very tough though it has the advantage of being a shorter trip.
- Manali to Leh
Most important : In 2011 the administration stopped plying of all vehicles across Rohtang Pass, except government buses, on Tuesdays to facilitate repairs of the road. Please check if this is carried on or discontinued before you plan your journey. They also introduced a pass which is needed to go to Rohtang, the pass is available at DCs office, behind Hotel Kunzum La on the main Mall Road. Keep 3 -4 hours spare for getting a pass.
Some people do what is called a cannonball run...leave Manali at midnight and drive non stop till Leh, reaching there in 23 hours. Personally, I think it is ridiculous because in your hurry, you will hardly enjoy the beauty on the way. The only advantage of this is that since you are not spending any night above 3000 meters, there are no chances of your developing Mountain Sickness. A number of buses also leave Manali around midnight for the non stop journey to Leh. My advice is that since most probably this is the only time you will be driving to Leh, forget it !
Then there is the debate of how to do Manali to Leh, in two or three days. After leaving Manali the first stop is either Keylong or Jispa, which are, theoritically speaking, 5 and 6 hours drive from Manali. If you make it in that time you are lucky because 5 kms short of Rohtang Pass, is Rani Nallah, a site of perpetual traffic jams. We got stuck there for 8 hours, making our 6 hr journey into 14 hours. From Keylong / Jispa, you can either drive down to Leh in 13 - 14 hours or spend the night either at Sarchu or Pang, both of which are above 4000 meters and most people do develop some degree of altitude sickness in both the places. Therefore, it is recommended that you do the Manali Leh drive in 2 days, spending a night either in Keylong or Jispa.
Between Keylong and Jispa, I would prefer to stay in Jispa because it is 20 kms or 1 hour drive ahead of Keylong, therefore your second day drive becomes shorter. Plus it is much more beautiful and serene than Keylong, which is almost like a small town.
One most important thing to remember is that after leaving Jispa / Keylong, you can never be sure if you are able to reach Leh in a day, because traffic jams can throw your entire plan into a spin. People have had to spend nights stuck in nowhere. So, be prepared.
- Leh to Srinagar
Can also be done in a day, though the 14 hour drive is not recommended, as it is too tiring and in your hurry to reach Srinagar, you will miss out all the beautiful spots on the way. The only place to stop in between is at Kargil.
- Srinagar to Jammu & then to Dehra Dun
Two legs of the journey, requiring a day each of around 12 - 14 hours driving. Srinagar - Jammu is totally hilly drive, while Jammu to Doon is a comfortable one.
- Preparing your car
- You need an SUV. Do not try it in any other vehicle as you will get stuck in the way with no one to help you. Of the SUV's, it is best to go in Bolero or Scorpio as they have the maximum ground clearance. Innova gets stuck very easily in bad roads due to much lower ground clearance.
- Keep two spare tyres, as finding someone to repair a punctured tyre between Manali and Leh is a tough job.
- Keep adequate number of spares.
- Get it serviced about a week before you leave, so that if there are any adjustments to be made after the service, you have plenty of time.
- Carry a 20 litre Bisleri bottle for fuel, you must carry extra fuel and Bisleri bottles are really spill proof.
- Cover all our baggage with cloth as the entire road is very very dusty and dust gets into almost everything.
- Hyrdaulic jack is good, because at high altitude, using a conventional jack will blow your brains out.
- Tow chain and jump start wires (if possible)
- Other things to carry
- Good quanlity sun screen
- Plenty of things to eat. It is very nice when you leave a hotel, ask them to pack plenty of boiled eggs for you. They are very helpful, especially if you get stuck. You should have enough food and water to tide over an unscheduled overnight halt in a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere.
- Sleeping Bags
- Road map
- Good quality torch
- Post paid BSNL connection if you can, as only post paid SIMs work in J&K and BSNL has a good network in the region.
- Enough cash. ATM machines are rare and unreliable.
- Preparing yourself
Make sure you are physically fit. When you reach Manali, it is advisable to start Tab Diamox (250 mg) 1/2 Tab twice a day atleast 24 hours before you leave Manali. It is a harmless medicine but do consult your doctor for any interactions with medicines you may be taking. It may prove to be a life saver if you are stuck overnight in a high altitude pass due to a jam.
- Other resourses on the net
Do read these two links carefully: