The Manali- Leh bike journey

16th Aug 2017
Photo of The Manali- Leh bike journey by Neha Ballal

It was around 1 in the noon, when we had to stop riding. The tire was now wobbling beyond control. We couldn't prolong it anymore. 12 spokes were broken. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Our friend's bike had gone ahead. We were wondering what to do next when we saw a bike coming from the opposite direction. Delighted we stopped him, asking him if he had seen our other rider somewhere ahead. He had, but almost an hour earlier.

No way of contacting the other bike, no towns spotted in the vicinity and no other riders for as far as we could see. This was not how I had planned my bike trip to go when we started 3 days ago.

They said it would take us three days to do it. We had rented our bikes in Manali from this place called Voice of Himalaya. It was in one of the gully roads in the main mall area. They helped us with the routes and gave us moral encouragement. Around 1300 - 1500/ per. We were excited.

We filled them up with fuel, carried extra fuel in cans and off we went.

Photo of Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India by Neha Ballal

The roads could get brutal, the climate could go from hot sunny mornings to mild showers where we were enveloped in clouds noon's and then to cool windy evenings.


With all our gears on we slowly rode out of Manali towards Rohtang pass. Our journey had begun. Rohtang is the first high altitude pass (3987 M) you encounter when you set off towards this Himalayan journey. We were initially cruising at a decent speed wondering why people take two-three days, as the roads though mountainous were well maintained.

Soon we reached the beginning of the pass and it was here we encountered how brutal the mountains can actually get.

As we started ascending the pass, the roads started deteriorating. Pretty soon they became non-existent.

Somewhere at the other side of Rohtang

Photo of Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh by Neha Ballal

All there was, was mud sloshed due to the slight rain which made it almost impossible to ride on, especially with a pillion. So two of us had to get off and walk down the road while the other two struggled to keep the bikes steady. The adventure had just begun. The muck which was almost 10 cm deep and your feet would go right in till the ankle.

The only people who were actually still cruising at their original speed were the truck drivers. At one point hitchhiked in the truck till a point where the roads got decent again which was after an easy half an hour.

We were riding with the clouds

Photo of The Manali- Leh bike journey by Neha Ballal

We made it past the pass and down to a nominal altitude by 4 pm. Which was where we realized we had only covered 80 km in 5 hours!

The other 40 KM of the day took us another 4 hours and by the time we reached Keylong it was pitch dark. We could hear the sound of a river flowing right next to us while the only source of light was from our bikes headlight. One wrong turn could leave us going down the cliff into the icy cold water or right into the rocky mountain on the other side.

Daylight was fast wading

Photo of The Manali- Leh bike journey by Neha Ballal

Dirty, exhausted we made it to the end of day one.

Quick dinner and off to our beds. Dreaming of how tomorrow would be.

DAY 2. KEYLONG-PANG (180kms):

Day 2

The next morning we were mentally prepared for what was ahead. We set out after a hot breakfast, cruising through the road for about an hour thinking we had gotten better after the previous day's experience.

Of course, it wasn't going to be that easy, we soon stopped at what was a waterfall flowing on the road. Rocks below, water flowing from the top. Even if the pillion got off, we still had to walk across the water and since we were not wearing gumboots the water went through our shoes. And our feet froze.

Somewhere after crossing many streams and dry rocky passes

Photo of Keylong, Himachal Pradesh, India by Neha Ballal

We rode past many such streams/ waterfalls which flowed right through the road, the occasional rocks which fell from a landslide here and there, the muddy slush, the sandy road, and rocky terrain that day.

After riding through one of the most beautiful landscapes with natural rock formation, clean blue skies, and yellow-brown rocky cliffs, we reached Pang by evening. Pang is just simply mesmerizing. It is a village with no phone connectivity at all. It did have an army base however which had a landline connection.

Near Pang

Photo of The Manali- Leh bike journey by Neha Ballal

Pang is a high altitude village located at almost 4200m above sea level. And at that attitude sleep was hard to come. The stars you see during the night from this village are mind-blowing. We saw almost one shooting star every ten minutes and galaxies to make up for the lack of sleep.

DAY 3. PANG-LEH :( 150kms)

Day 3

We started our final stretch riding through another high altitude pass where the lack of oxygen and us being tired due to lack of sleep made it hard for us to continue.

The other bike went further ahead while we were cruising at a slower pace. As we crossed around 40 KM, we came past an amazingly rare straight stretch with well-maintained road our spirit rose.

All was well when suddenly our tire started wobbling. It was here we stopped to find out 12 spokes were broken.

We then somehow pushed the bike and walked for about a Kilometer when luckily we found a small village with 10 houses.

A small shop owner told us we could stay there while waiting for vehicles which could give us a lift. After an hour of sitting by the road hoping for a vehicle to pass by we finally saw a minivan. The villager stopped the van, spoke to the driver, explained our problem and he finally agreed to haul our bike on the back and take us to Upshi, the next town 30 Km away with a mechanic.

Getting our bike on the van

Photo of Pang, Leh Manali Highway, Pang by Neha Ballal

We were saved. While we hopped on the van, the other bike which had gone ahead came back as they heard about us stuck here through another rider. Now all four of us were together and we were finally heading towards Leh.

When we reached the mechanic he did not have the spokes and he asked us to go look for the spare spokes in Leh and to get it repaired there. That was another 15Kms away.

So one bike entered Leh carrying the tire of the other bike, going from one shop to the other for almost 2 hours trying to find the spare parts.

By 5 in the evening we finally got them and by 6 we were back to the mechanic who told us to come back the next morning for the bike. So this was how we finally made it to the city of Leh at 7 in the night after 3 full days of the journey.

On the amazing 40 km stretch after Pang

Photo of The Manali- Leh bike journey by Neha Ballal

We started off with 2 bikes but reached the city with 1! The mighty Himalayas can change all your plans and teach us how insignificant we truly are in the big picture.

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