Since it opened to foreign tourists in 1989, the famous Manali–Leh Highway has replaced the old Srinagar–Kargil route as the most popular approach to Ladakh. In summer, a stream of vehicles set off from the Kullu Valley to travel along the second-highest road in the world, which reaches a dizzying altitude of 5328m at Tanglang La. Its surface varies wildly from fairly smooth asphalt through potholes of differing depths to dirt tracks sliced by glacial streams, traversing a starkly beautiful lunar wilderness. Depending on road conditions and type of vehicle, the 485km journey can take anything from seventeen to thirty hours’ actual driving. Bus drivers invariably stop for a short and chilly night in one of the spartan tent camps along the route. These, however, are few and far between after September 15, when the highway officially closes; in practice, all this means is that the Indian government won’t airlift you out if you get trapped in snow. Yet some companies run regardless of this until the passes become blocked by snowfall in late October. Note also that if it’s a heavy monsoon the unpaved parts of the road can get extremely muddy in July and August especially and that landslides can cut off sections of road and cause severe delays.

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