Asmi & Smiti's most epic Roadtrip to Leh


As August rolled along the long days of summer interspersed with brief spells of welcome monsoon showers gave way to bright autumnal days with a nip in the air come evening. Life in our little village of Jagatsukh picked up pace with the apple picking in the orchards. We knew our time at Lagom stay -I have come to call it second home and the hosts brother-sister duo of Priyanka and Gandharv are now family- was coming to an end and it was almost time to head back to the city. As true gypsies though we believe in celebrating end of journeys and we decided to mark the end of our incredible summer with one last adventure- a road trip to Leh.

Day 1

Lagom Stay, Jagatsukh

Photo of Lagom Stay, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Apple Season at Lagom Stay, Jagatsukh

Photo of Lagom Stay, Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Our great Himalayan odyssey has been marked with just so many happy coincidences. As luck would have it at Lagom we were introduced to Prithvi Raj Sharma, a highly regarded Himalayan excursionist, cyclist and adventurer whose understanding of the land is unparalleled. As we flippantly talked of our still up in the air plan of a possible road trip to Leh, Raju Ji made us an offer we simply couldn't refuse.

We decided to drive to Leh in his hardy 4X4 Mahindra camper pick-up, setting up camp for the night at Sarchu- the high altitude plain after Baralacha La on the Manali-Leh highway. The drive to Leh is about 400 km from Manali. In summers the roads that are maintained by the Border Roads Organization are for the most part pretty good- making it a preferred route for bikers and auto enthusiasts. Given the challenges of the high altitude terrain, glacial springs that overflow on the roads unexpectedly and of course the 'shooting stones' and landslides that are part of arid Lahaul beyond Atal tunnel, one can still expect about 100 kms of off roading and rough riding. With Raju Ji in the driver's seat though we had nothing to worry about except of course whether we would have a cloudless night for Asmita to capture the night sky on her DSLR at Sarchu. And although we would be driving via Manali giving us ample time to acclimate high altitude sickness is very real and can strike without warning. We got our prescriptions for medications and checked in with our physician (Dad!) on symptoms and precautions well in advance. This is highly recommended since high altitude sickness can cause more than minor discomfort; in some cases it can be lethal unless an immediate evacuation is made. We started our from Jagatsukh Manali around 10 am on the morning of 19th Aug. 2021. We wanted to spread the journey over 2 days with leisurely halts and hence the early (ish) start. (We did intend to leave earlier but after 2 months bidding adieu is hard- tears were involved and also we had to turn back twice having forgotten stuff at home).

This is the route we took and some glimpses of our journey.

Atal Tunnel: this engineering marvel operational since October 2020 has not only made Lahaul more accessible, but has also helped shave off approximately 3-4 hours of travel time between Manali and Keylong.

The sudden change in topography from languid green mountains to the stark arid brown and jagged peaks as soon as you cross Atal tunnel towards Lahaul never ceases to amaze me. Every time I cross Atal tunnel my heart soars and I feel a bit like Frodo leaving the comforts of the burrow to embark on an adventure of a lifetime towards Mordor.

Entryway to Atal Tunnel

Photo of Atal Tunnel, Atal Tunnel, Burwa, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Sissu- A gorgeous little town soon after the 10 km Atal tunnel. There are a number of homestay and hotel options here with the Sissu waterfall a popular tourist attraction.

Sissu Lake

Photo of Sissu, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Tandi: Another town beyond Sissu, in the river valley, it marks the confluence of the Chandra and Bagha rivers. It's also an important pit stop for bikers and motorists since the only petrol pump for a long, long time on the Manali-Leh highway is in this town.

Somewhere in Tandi

Photo of Tandi, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Keylong- A fairly large town after Tandi we stopped here to stock up on grocery and LPG for the stove for our camp out that night at Sarchu.

Stocking up on essentials in Keylong

Photo of Keylong, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Jispa and Darcha- the last populous villages this side of Himachal. As popular layovers for travelers to Ladakh there are a number of hotel and camp options along the river to halt here. We decided to push on towards Baralacha la however.


Photo of Jispa, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti


Photo of Darcha, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Zingzingbar- A tiny speck of habitation with Dhabas for travelers, army convoys and trucks that also offer basic accommodation just before the steep ascent towards Baralacha La. We stopped here for Maggi and some honey lemon and ginger in hot water.

Maggie at one of the Dhabas en route. The seats double up as cots for the night offering board to travellers

Photo of Zingzingbar, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Deepak Tal- we fell in love with the pretty turquoise lake that perfectly mirrors the blue skies and neighboring peaks in it's still waters.

Photo of Deepak Tal, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Suraj Tal- this gorgeous lake is the source of the Bhaga river which joined Chandra river at Tandi. Fed by the glaciers and torrential streams this blue hued lake expands in the summer and monsoon, shriveling up come autumn.

Photo of Suraj Tal, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Baralacha La Pass- the first high altitude pass on this route (with Atal tunnel we no longer had to go via Rohtang pass). We got out of the vehicle for mandatory photo and the altitude and rarefied air at 16000 ft. began to hit us immediately. We hiked up a bit to reach the prayer flags and breathing was getting to be difficult.

Baralacha La

Photo of Baralacha La Pass, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Sarchu- beyond Baralacha La the road towards Sarchu can get pretty bad involving a fair bit of off roading for a good 100 kms. But Raju Ji and the pick up were upto the task. Sarchu has a large military base and a number of campsites as well for travelers. We camped for the night in the vicinity of a permanent camp but we had carried our own equipment. It was nearing sunset by the time we got to the campsite and at an altitude of 14000 ft nighttime temperatures really dip. But the ever resourceful Raju Ji had thought of everything including a bottle of Old Monk rum to help us stay warm as we cooked and listened to Raju Ji's adventures from his expeditions in the mountains.

Setting up the dining tent at our campsite at Sarchu

Photo of Sarchu Camp, Leh-Keylong Road, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti
Photo of Sarchu Camp, Leh-Keylong Road, Himachal Pradesh, India by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti
Day 2

Our sleeping tent

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Making scrambles eggs for breakfast

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Breakfast of Champions at Camp in Sarchu

Photo of Sarchu, Himachal Pradesh by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Gatta loops and the 2 passes- the next morning was a pretty intense drive. The road between Sarchu to Pang in Ladakh is possibly the most challenging stretch with off-roading, road repairs and a 500m steep ascent through 22 hairpin bends called the Gatta loops. We also passed through the picturesque Nakee La and Lachulung La passes both at an elevation of over 15000 ft.

Nakee La

Photo of Nakeela Pass, Keylong-Leh Road by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Lachalung La

Photo of Lachalung La by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

More Plains & Tanglang La Pass- beyond Pang the road towards Leh dramatically improves and is a particular relief after the hard driving between Sarchu and Pang. The More plains are a 40km stretch of plateau with a brilliant 2 lane highway at an altitude of over 14000 ft above sea level. Both Asmita and I took turns driving the pick up on this surprising flatland feature in the middle of the mountainous terrain. Watch the video on our Instagram handle @those_gypsygirls to watch the breathtaking views.

Photo of Tanglang La by ThoseGypsyGirls- Asmi & Smiti

Upshi- about 47km from Leh is the village of Upshi along the Indus Valley and Tanglang La pass. This pretty tree lined village with the river flowing by the road came as a welcome change after the stark, rugged beauty of the terrain we had just crossed over the last 2 days. All tourists entering Ladakh by road have to undergo a rapid antigen test for Covid-19 at the check post here or produce a valid RT PCR test result no older than 36 hours before the time of arrival. We had to wait about 10 minutes for the rapid antigen test result but it was all very smooth and well organized. From Upshi we made our way towards our Homestay at Leh- our roadtrip of a lifetime behind us but with all of Ladakh to explore in the coming days. For more of our travel adventures subscribe and follow our Instagram handle @those_gypsygirls.


#lehladakh #roadtrip #Manali #ManalitoLeh 

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