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10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure

Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure by Riyanka Roy

“The open road is there, it will always be there. You just have to decide when to take it.” - Chris Humphrey

If you are passionate about holidays packed with adventure, you will agree that a road trip is the most convenient way to explore the unexplored. Once you decide where you wish to go, you can pack your bags and leave whenever you want. You get to see small little towns you otherwise would never have been able to. You can stop wherever you want, for as long as you want. The experience is unparalleled.

For the inquisitive traveller, what’s better than our country’s Himalayan roads for a road trip? But exploring aside, road trippers should also take the initiative to give back to the places that reward them with experiences to cherish for a lifetime. Recently, 20 Jeep SUVs and 12 customers joined hands with over 300 locals to promote responsible adventures by cleaning up more than 1.5 tons of plastic waste from the Himalayas. How’s that for some inspiration?!

If you are a hodophile planning your next road trip, here is a list of 10 gorgeous places that you and your car need to explore together.

1. Zanskar Valley, Ladakh

Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure 1/6 by Riyanka Roy

With magnificent scenic beauty and remote villages surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Zanskar Valley is home to the mighty Zanskar River, Pensi La (one of the highest mountain passes in the country), and Drang Drung Glacier. There are numerous monasteries to visit as well, Stongdey Monastery and Phuktal Monastery being my favorites. Pensi La, being flanked by glaciers on both sides, is a sight to behold, best visited between May and September.

2. Changthang, Ladakh

Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure 2/6 by Riyanka Roy

Home to the Changpas (nomadic pastoralists who predominantly rear sheep and cashmere goats), Changthang in Ladakh is a part of the western region of the Tibetan Plateau. Located at 14,500 ft, Changthang is best known for its lakes such as Tso Moriri, Tso Kar, and Pangong Tso. A tour of Ladakh just to explore these lakes will surely meet your annual quota of adventure.

3. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure 3/6 by Riyanka Roy

Spiti Valley is popular for its majestic desert mountains devoid of vegetation, rough terrain, and perilous roads. Numerous waterfalls, rivulets, monasteries, and warm people further its case as the best destination for a mountainous road trip.

However, due to over-tourism in the last few years, Spiti Valley has been through immense damage and degradation owing majorly to plastic waste.

Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure 4/6 by Riyanka Roy
Courtesy: Jeep India
Photo of 10 Alternatives to the Manali-Leh Road Trip That'll Take You on an Epic Himalayan Adventure 5/6 by Riyanka Roy
Courtesy: Jeep India

To help curb this problem, Jeep India came up with Mission One Earth (MOE), an initiative to encourage and promote responsible adventures. Jeep placed digitally-enabled ‘Reverse Vending Machines’ in high-footfall tourist locations like Tabo, Kaza, and other parts of Lahaul and Spiti districts. The collected plastic waste is intended to be recycled into Jeep merchandise.

4. Gurez Valley, Kashmir

Once you land up in Gurez Valley, you will realise that this place is a hidden paradise plucked straight out of a whimsical folktale. Located at 8,000 feet, about 120 km from Srinagar, the valley is surrounded by lush and gargantuan mountains typical of Kashmir. The Kishanganga River, which merges with Jhelum in Pakistan, also flows through the valley. The road from Srinagar to Gurez, through Razdan Pass, is absolutely stunning, with postcard-perfect villages forcing you to make frequent pit stops: either to admire the scenic beauty or to capture the landscape for your Instagram!

5. Munsiyari, Uttarakhand

One of the furthest destinations to reach in Uttarakhand, Munsiyari is a gorgeous little hill station that offers stunning views of the Panchachuli range. It is an ideal holiday destination for nature lovers and bird watchers. The roads to Munsiyari will enchant you with the unspoiled natural beauty of pine and deodar forests, and sights of rare Himalayan birds.

6. Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh

An area that used to be the hunting spot of the royal family of Rampur Bushahr, this lesser-known wildlife sanctuary is on the way to Chitkul from Shimla. It is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts seeking an offbeat holiday. While there are no designated safari tours, you can go offroading and spot some rare species in the wilderness – barking deer, musk deer, red foxes, leopards, brown bears, and flying squirrels to name a few.

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Courtesy: Jeep India

As part of Mission One Earth (MOE), the Jeep community went on cleaning drives and collected a huge amount of plastic waste from various regions in and around Chitkul as well, just showing how far and wide their efforts of conserving the mountains have been.

7. Sainj Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Sainj Valley is one of the few destinations in Himachal that still hold on to their unscathed beauty and ruggedness. Part of the Great Himalayan National Park, this valley is home to pristine meadows and villages yet to be breached by the general public. It'll surely be an epic adventure to drive to the valley via Shimla, crossing the tricky hairpin bends of Jalori Pass!

8. Pabbar Valley, Himachal Pradesh

This gorgeous valley, on the banks of the Pabbar River, is located about 80 km from Shimla. Nature is seen thriving in abundance in this quaint region of Himachal, offering something for every visitor who lands up here. Driving past its vibrant orchards and scenic hamlets, you'll cross rapid brooks and get to see the Chanshal Mountain Range as well as dense oak and deodar forests.

9. Niti Valley, Uttarakhand

You must have heard of Mana village, the last village on the Indo-China border in Uttarakhand. But very few people have heard of Niti Valley, situated to the east of Mana Valley in the hinterland of Joshimath. Azure blue skies, crystal-clear streams, and blooming orchards of apples, mulberries, and apricots create a perfect ambiance to experience serenity at its best. The roads to Niti Valley will leave you enthralled as you get to witness the majestic Nanda Devi and Dronagiri mountains.

10. Chopta Valley, Uttarakhand

Chopta Valley is a slice of paradise tucked away in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. It is highlighted by numerous bugyals (meadows) and views of pristine snow-capped peaks. The roads are silky-smooth and driving here is a joyful experience. You must keep an eye out for the splendid views of Trishul, Nanda Devi, Neelkanth, Kedarnath, and Chaukhamba when here. Your mornings will begin with the chirping of birds and assured sightings of Himalayan monals, Himalayan swiftlets, Himalayan griffons, scarlet finch, hill partridges.

As explorers, we should be aware of our actions and try to protect the flora and fauna thriving in the Himalayas. While exploring the great outdoors is important for personal discovery, it's equally crucial to take small steps to protect the environment. In the same stride, it is encouraging to see Jeep India motivating people to join their Mission One Earth initiative to preserve the Himalayan biodiversity.

Now that you have ten fresh recommendations, where are you setting out for your next road trip?

In association with Jeep India. Click here to know more about Jeep India - Mission One Earth.

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