Driving in India is crazy by most western standards. Six cars in three lanes within an inch of each other, motorbikes seem to play Buckaroo with how many family members they can pile on and the roads aren’t always safe with potholes and gravel. But, the one that trumps all the road safety standards in India is the mighty Rohtang Pass.
The Rohtang pass is one of Indias highest and most dangerous roads which can be a challenge for any vehicle to pass through.
Winding bends, steep drops down with no barrier, rock falls and landslides all create a recipe for disaster. It’s only open from May to November due to changeable weather conditions and the government have even started a tunnel to cross underneath as an alternative to limit the amount of accidents!
I was a little scared at first to attempt it as I wasn’t sure what the roads would be like during monsoon season in August. Plus, I had heard the safety record wasn’t great, so was kind of bricking it! But, never one to give up a challenge I decided to go for it and head on up the mountain road.
Here’s a quick guide to tackling the Rohtang Pass.
Even the horse is saying…you fool! 😉
How to get here: choose your vehicle
The nearest town to the Rohtang Pass which is where the majority of tourists stop over is Manali, the hippie Himalayan town of Himachal Pradesh. This is also where people will hire motorbikes to take the long journey to Leh.
If you’re not planning to head to Leh Ladakh from here – you may miss out on seeing this fantastic bit of road way. I know a road sounds boring, but it’s the scenery surrounding the road which is the most beautiful!
It’s honestly jaw dropping with tall mountains, icy waterfalls, wild horses and Himalayan yaks which I was dying to meet.
If you did just want to head up to the Rohtang and back, you can hire a return taxi from the main Manali union stand. A private taxi should be no more than 3000 rupees.
If you head down Manali’s mall road to the travel booking offices, you can get a shared mini bus taxi up for 500 rupees per person. But, you won’t have the luxury of stopping off where you want to.
Of course you can take a more challenging route to self drive by hiring a car or motorbike! You will need a permit for the Rohtang Pass which you can apply for here. There is a checkpoint before you take on the road and the pass is mandatory.
You can also cycle up the Rohtang if that’s your bag. You’ll need a strong set of legs and lungs and it will take you a while but if you’re a cycling nut this should be no problem for you! The ride back down should be easy, peasy.
For more information on Manali to Leh by road, you can read my article ‘Manali to Leh by road: all you need to know’.
The road is crazy!
Well, this may be an obvious point but best to warn you. As you turn on the narrow chicanes up and around the hill, you’ll see amazing mountain views…and a steep drop down! Unlike western roads, there are absolutely no barriers and so its just a drop into the abyss. There were so many times it was just a single track road with massive boulders just hanging over the car roof.
The first time that we made our way up the hill in the morning time it was completely shrouded in mist. This sounds great as we couldn’t see the steep drops but it meant that we couldn’t see traffic coming the other way! Luckily, the sun put his hat on half way through the drive which made way for clear views.
Some of the road is just literally gravel and is quite dangerous to cross if there are vehicles on the other side. Luckily my anxious mind was put at ease as we were in safe hands with our driver. Most of the local drivers will know how to handle the pass as they have grown up here and driven along it for years as part of their job.
Make sure that you stop your driver to take a look at where you’ve got to – the views are stunning as you look down and all around you. Happy snapping!
The scenery is spectacular
This is what makes the drive so worth the money and the risk, on every turn I wanted to take a photo as the backdrop was simply stunning. There was green mountains as far as the eye could see.
The thing that I actually loved the most on this journey was all the colourful wildflowers which grew around and created a colourful blanket on top of the green dewy grass. Our driver told us that the strong grass here had medicinal properties and we could see people picking the wildflowers to make medicine and natural beauty products.
We stopped our driver so many times just to have a look and take pictures, it was so beautiful. You have to see it to believe it.
Stopping at Mahri
This is the last stop before the Rohtang so best make the most of it, if you want a steaming cup of chai or some breakfast before you head on up the pass.
It’s quite a colourful little village in amongst the green and pretty much only consists of Dhaba’s (restaurants) waiting to take your money. But, it does have some great characters who are trying to invite you into their restaurant.
Personally, I loved their colourful temple which was perched on the hill. It provided some amazing panoramic views of Mahri and it’s surroundings.
After you’ve finished your chai, you can carry on up the hill to make your way to the Rohtang Pass!
Mandatory photo stop (super tourist alert)
I guess this is any one with a smart phone’s dream to get a super tourist photo or selfie with the iconic sign as proof of your bravery of making it to the top of the Rohtang Pass. Although you’ll be queuing, it’s well worth getting a photo that you made it to just over 13,000 ft by road!
Here, you’ll also find people hiring manky fur coats and offering warm coffee or ‘coppee, coppe, coppee’ as they say. I guess this in India and you can make a business out of anything here – even in minus temperatures on a mountain pass!
We met some furry friends passing by too!
Exploring the top
When you get to the top, there is a little hill side place to explore the top of the Rohtang Pass. I say little, it’s actually massive with pretty much no signage or limit as to where you can explore. You’ll see some amazing views of the mountains here and you’ll burst with amazement.
I visited here during monsoon and luckily, the mist made way for some warm rays of sun and clear views for an hour or so. Of course, I came completely unprepared with sandals and a woollen blanket (what a combo!).
After a while, the mist came over and with it a cool breeze which shook my bones! The weather can change in a split second, maybe I should of got that fur coat after all.
We can’t stop here – this is yak country
The day I explored the Rohtang pass was the day my dreams came true – I met some wild Himalayan yaks!
As we were wandering around the pass, we spotted them from afar and so decided to come and meet them. Although they look like intimidating creatures due to their massive horns, they’re actually a little shy! My temptation got a little too great to stroke one and it flinched and ran (boo 🙁 ).
They are truly magnificent creatures and I had such a fun time hanging around with them. But, It was short lived as a tour group came running down the hill with their voices at full volume and chasing after them. They got scared and decided to flee which was a shame.
This was probably my highlight of the tour and if you can see some on your journey, it’s a real treat.
I may have gone a little overboard with my yak photoshoot, but they’re just SO cool…
The Rohtang Pass trip, for me, was a highlight for my journey through Himachal Pradesh. To say that I have now been on my fourth journey through (as I eventually did decide to brave the journey to Leh) is pretty incredible as I was completely against it before. I guess that’s the beauty of the unknown, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Yay for Yak friends!
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