Everyone loves going via Manali – Leh Highway and why not, it offers you the most mesmerizing views, least time to reach Leh by road and extreme adventure. But, once the season gets over that is by late September and October one should definitely think at least once before venturing the journey on Manali – Leh Highway as it could be risky and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere for couple of days. Below I enlist my thoughts or risks which you must consider before starting any journey on Manali – Leh Highway in late September or October:
1. Being Stranded & Likely Snowfall: Firstly, by late September winter season starts to set in Trans Himalayas and all high passes in Himalayas starts receiving snowfall at frequent intervals. The chances of road closure due to the same starts increasing. Although the BRO tries to maintain the Manali – Leh road open by end of October but you can surely get stuck or delayed for a day or two or may be more due snowfall. So, it depends upon weather altogether and if lucky you may get through without any single blockage. The point is there is risk of 2-3 days delay which must be kept in mind before planning any journey to Manali – Leh Highway in late September or early October.
2. Lack of Accommodation or Stay options: Secondly, the tented accommodation options or food joints and dhabhas starts to pack up from late September onward at places like Sarchu, Pang, Bhartapur City etc. This leaves you with very limited choice on bargaining as well as options of stay. These places may require you to stop in case there is snow on some adjoining mountain passes or other reasons of road closure. The point is risk of running out of the limited accommodation options in case you get stuck at some unplanned place. So, better carry your own tent and camping kit so that you are not stranded in the middle of nowhere without a place to stay.
3. Buses on Manali – Leh Highway: Thirdly, the HPTDC Manali – Leh Luxury Bus Service also stops plying after second week of September. And if you are looking for public transport then shared taxis comes the other option which does the cannon ball run from Manali to Leh in one day. At any day I will avoid going in a shared taxi which does cannon ball run of about 16-18 Hrs from Manali to Leh. HRTC does run the buses till the roads are open as suggested by Vistet here but again although they are definite options of travel but not as comfortable as HPTDC buses which are for tourists and does sightseeing on the way too.
4. Motor Rallies: Fourthly, October (generally first week) is when Raid De Himalaya rally is carried out at Manali – Leh Highway due to which you may find various road sections to be closed for their smooth run. Moreover, finding an accommodation among the limited open options also becomes a huge challenge as most of the hotels/stay options are pre-booked for participants. This further means trouble and delays.
5. Cold Conditions: Finally, you will need to bear some really cold conditions and at night almost sub-zero temperatures as almost 250+ KMs (beyond Darcha) section of Manali – Leh Highway runs above 4000 Mtrs in altitude. In day time the it could be warmer than expected though but strong cold winds will always leave you numb especially when biking. So, go prepared with proper gears..
Having said that in late September and being close to end of season, you will find least crowd, best roads and best bargains on taxis/hotels 🙂 (of course except Raid De Himalayas time)
In Late September or first week of October, if you do have couple of days of buffer time and you are OK with some definite cold conditions especially at nights then only consider going via Manali – Leh Highway. It is STRONGLY suggested NOT TO attempt any travel on Manali – Leh Highway after second week of October or be ready to either get stuck for much longer time or sell/leave your vehicle then and there itself and bear a huge loss.
“Weather changes both gradually and suddenly and September can mean real problems as well . In 2009 the road was out two or three times before mid -September, and mid-September 2008 meant among other things eight people killed in an avalanche on the road. More examples could be mentioned. The practical approach : keep track of updates on the road conditions, always plan at least a buffer day before mid-September , and two later in the season”
I hope you will take into consideration the above five points rather risks before planning your journey on Manali – Leh Highway in late September or early October. Looking forward for your inputs as well and especially from the ones who have travelled in late September or October to get get an account of their experience.