Cycling

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Go to your bedroom window right now. What do you see?

Is it an ancient glacier?

No?

Well, what about a timeless village hidden in a birch forest? Or a waterfall thundering at 4,000 meters, towering snow capped peaks and a kaleidoscope of blooming flowers?

Chances are, the answer is still no, but I bring you good news:

We can change that to a yes.

All you have to do is choose your campsite.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Trekking in India offers some of the rarest, most-stunning views on this miraculous planet of ours, but one journey in particular boasts campsites that are truly the best of the best.

The route from Manali to Leh on a bicycle takes you on 11 unforgettable (I repeat, unforgettable) days, but at the end of each of those days is a truly spectacular place to rest your head. Our campsites, our temporary home on this journey, never failed to leave me speechless with their beauty and uniqueness - something few trek itineraries can claim.

So what makes the campsites of Manali-Leh Cycling the stuff of legends?

Let’s go on a little tour…

 

Marhi

Marhi is your first night’s stop of your 11-day journey, and it’s a sight for sore eyes. About halfway up the mountainside to Rohtang Pass from Manali far below, Marhi is a seasonal cluster of dhabas that come alive during the summer months. Since you’re halfway up the slope, dropoffs plunge on three of your four sides, revealing endless valley views.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Our favorite part of this little paradise though, was the temple perched above us, reachable by prayer flag-adorned stairs, against the backdrop of Himachal Pradesh’s finest work. As I sat on the steps, just saying thank you for being where I am, a little dog came up and curled up right next to me. A new friend, and magnificent view at 3,330 meters.

 

Sissu Camp

Day 3 takes you to the tiny camp of Goldrop nestled in a grove of lush trees along the Chandra River just outside the town of Sissu. We arrived there after our exhilarating descent from Rohtang Pass, and acted like little kids on Christmas morning as we threw off our shoes and laid down in the soft grass. The sun was just beginning to set, so that golden low light was streaming through the healthy forest as we peeled freshly-grown, local peas for our evening meal.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Something about a beautiful camp can make the 50 kilometers you cycled that day evaporate, leaving you with a newfound energy to explore your temporary home. Almost giddy, we ran back to the tents after a quick survey of the area nearby, informing everyone of the river viewpoint we found. From there, a magnificent view of Palden Lhamo Dhar, a waterfall erupting from the heights of the mountain across the water, could be seen and admired.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

The only problem with finding heaven in a campsite of course, is that you have to move on in the morning (which of course just means you’re on to your next adventure).

 

Tso Kar

This place on Day 8 is truly on its own in every sense of the word. Physically, it’s isolated by what feels like hundreds of kilometers from any other trace of humanity. And then of course, there’s also the fact that it just doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before. In the cold high-altitude desert lands of Ladakh, this massive salt lake hides down an off-road path from the More Plains. For years, the local nomadic Changpa people exported the lake’s salt to Tibet as a major part of their livelihood.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Passing under fluttering prayer flags strung high above our heads en-route, we rounded the corner to find our night’s settlement doused in blinding sunshine between an ancient temple and stupa in this Mars-like land. For the first time in five days, we found ourselves sunbathing in t-shirts, happily welcoming warmth back into our bodies. A 45-minute walk along these alien roads, and we were at the banks of this lonesome but great lake beneath the mountains.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Passing under fluttering prayer flags strung high above our heads en-route, we rounded the corner to find our night’s settlement doused in blinding sunshine between an ancient temple and stupa in this Mars-like land. For the first time in five days, we found ourselves sunbathing in t-shirts, happily welcoming warmth back into our bodies. A 45-minute walk along these alien roads, and we were at the banks of this lonesome but great lake beneath the mountains.

 

Lato

Personally my all-time favorite camp I’ve ever stayed in (and I’ve stayed a lot of places y’all), Lato will win your heart before you even get there.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

For days, you’ve cycled in a strange, plantless, shocking land. Suddenly, as you fly down from the heights of Tanglang La Pass, the riverside village reminds you what fresh grass smells like and the sudden splash of green is a welcome stranger. You pass by shepherds, towering Buddhist stupas, riverside agriculture and ancient monasteries.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

After cycling all day, every day, for 9 days, we couldn’t help ourselves but take a three-hour walk to explore this Ladakhi gem at sunset.

And of course, right in the middle of it all, is your tent.

Perfect.

 

And last but not least…

 

Leh

Okay, so technically this one isn’t a campsite, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.

This ancient convergence for trade routes is a sight to behold, and truly an adventure of its own. Happy to be sleeping in a bed after what felt like a lifetime since our departure and amazing journey from Manali, I pulled back my curtain to reveal a beaming sun, mountains and a ageless monastery directly outside my window.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

Yet again, immense culture and natural beauty, right outside my front door (this one just didn’t have a zipper like all the other ones). Check out our serious Leh exploration bucket list here.

The Manali-Leh Cycling Campsites are Legendary, Here's Why

If you ask me, there are fewer things in life to hold closer to your heart than a hot meal shared under mountain peaks with a good crew. And if the view out your window in the city just doesn’t make the cut any more, well…

 

...you know what to do.

Cambria Sawyer

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