Tag Archives: Rohtang La

The final test: Rohtang La


IMG_6656With some regret I cycled away from Keylong. I could quite happily have stayed for longer but the weather and bicycle would not let me. We set off mid morning along the lower road picking up mutton momo, indian sweets and mangos from local shops. A little climb out of the town to rejoin the highway and then down into a left curve. The road went East past the confluence of the Bhagu and Chandra rivers. IMG_6657

The road continued alongside the combined river of Chandrbhaga past the towns of Tandi and Thorang. In time we began to climb again as the road ran on a ledge high above the river. A driver stopped his vehicle to warn us of potential rockfalls from the cliffs above us.


IMG_6659We stopped for a thali and delicious thick honey pancake at Sissu. Once again the plan was to get as close as possible to the Pass and camp. Past the settlements of Damphug and Khoksar the road began to wind slowly upwards. We camped just beyond the dhabas at Gramphu. Clouds clung to the mountains and the road disappeared above through a long series of hairpin bends. It began to rain.


IMG_6670I awoke early the next day, cooked breakfast and began the long ride up towards the pass. The sky was clear and the sun began to heat up the road. Although at just under 4000 metres it was not the highest pass to cross it was to be the most difficult and longest climb. Rohtang literally means ‘piles of bodies’ and refers to the number of people that had died having been caught by the extreme changes of weather that can occur there. The road surface was fairly mixed with some sections reduced to rubble. Luckily, and as with the journey from Leh as a whole, the weather held up and the morning sun lifted the clouds away from the summit of the Pass. It was slow hard work and I rested about halfway and waited for Joachim but could still see his tent pitched far below. Once at the top and close to a Buddhist stupa I met an English cyclist heading to Leh on his Trek expedition bicycle. . I asked him to pass a message to Joachim that I was going to continue on past the summit and begin the ride down the other side towards Manali. The Rohtang La itself was extremely busy and crowded with Indian tourists many of whom were on day trips from Manali to visit and play in the snow.


The road down from the Rohtang pass was in a bad way. Extreme mud made the going difficult. However once past the initial few kilometres it became a smooth fast road leading down and joining the Beas river running towards Manali. At just 51 kilometres from the Rohtang La Manali, the final destination, was easily reachable before nightfall.
It was a great achievement to have completed the 11 day cycle ride from Leh to Manali but at the same time I was a little sad that it was over. It had been the bike ride of a lifetime and felt so, so lucky to have had the opportunity to make this trip.




20130702-132808.jpgInitial impressions of Manali are disappointing. It is, naturally, a huge draw for tourists seeking refuge from the heat of the Ganges plain and beyond. Manali has a seaside town atmosphere and is heaving with people. The main drag is a pedestrianised area awash with shops, restaurants and travel centres. However the surrounding scenery is nothing short of spectacular. The Beas river has carved through the rock and helped created a valley that extends over 80km South to the Pandoh Dam reservoir. At Manali it is fast flowing and loud. Himalayan ranges rise up in every direction and stand proud above alpine forests. To the north are the formidable mountain passes which lead to Ladakh, Pakistan and ‘Tibetan’ China.
I had the address of a hostel in old Manali. The road winds up past a pine forest, down over a river and then up once again towards the old town. The original village is very attractive with distinctively built wooden buildings.
The newly replaced Manu temple represents the story of how the ‘law maker’ Manu, a little like the biblical Noah, arrived here following a great flood.

On the opposite bank of the Beas lies the village of Vashist which boasts of hot water springs for bathing. Aside from the usual tourist shops, hotels and restaurants Vashist has developed a reputation for being a destination for ‘stoner’ Western tourists with a cafe culture to match. It also has a large number of motorcycle hire companies. Row upon row of Royal Enfields gleam brightly alongside the road leading up to the village.
New Manali and the commercial centre sprawls along the West Bank of the river Beas. It mixes working class suburbs with a Tibetan community, Buddhist monastery and temple. It is separated from the old town by ancient forests. The ‘nature walk’ is particularly pleasant and in the hill forests above is the Hidimba Devi temple containing a natural cave shrine. 20130702-152609.jpg20130702-152744.jpg






Beyond Manali is the Rohtang pass. Many Indian tourists find their first experience of snow there. It is also the gateway to Ladakh. At 2am one chilly morning I popped my bike on top of a minibus and left for Leh. I had been disappointed by my failure to get there from Srinagar. I was going there after all and cycle back to Manali via one of the most exciting and highest routes in the world. Wow.