Rohtang Pass And Manali – Rohtang road review

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During our recent trip to Keylong/Lahaul, we came (or went, as you like) across Rohtang pass twice in as many days. Having spent a couple of hours up there and bearing witness to the grand, unabashed jollification all around, I realised that Rohtang Pass is much more than a mere pass. It is a full fledged, inescapable ‘destination’ for tourists from Manali and elsewhere.
At 3977 mtrs ASL, it may not be as high, as exclusive or as imitable as its bigger brothers in the area (viz. Khardung La, Kunzum La etc), but Rohtang Pass is certainly more celebrated. This is probably the only pass where a larger crowd goes ‘to’ it rather than ‘through’ it. We saw hundreds of 4×4 tourist vehicles, spread like snowflakes all over the barren landscape on both the days; and remember – this was supposedly the lean time at end of season! Reason enough, I tell myself, for Rohtang Pass to deserve an independent account rather than being clubbed among incidentals of larger journeys to Lahaul/ Spiti or Leh.
Rohtang Road

Background
Rohtang Pass (or La, Tibetan word for pass), located at a distance of 51 Kms from Manali gives access to Lahaul, Spiti and Leh sectors. The pass is open to traffic during approx. May/Jun to Oct/Nov every year, beyond which thick layers of ice devour the roads making it impossible to cross it. The pass has traditionally been an important route linking Kullu Valley to Lahaul/Spiti and further to Tibet for a long time. Rohtang in Tibetan means ‘place of dead bodies’ – signifying large number of deaths which have taken place here due to numerous skirmishes across the centuries for its occupation. In its current disposition, Rohtang Pass signifies crossover point from Kullu valley/district to Lahaul & Spiti district.

In terms of religious significance, it is revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. An igloo shaped temple, ‘Beas Kund’, denotes the origin of Beas. This Beas Kund is not to be confused with another one, at 4-6 hours trek from Palchan where Beas Kund is to be found in the form of a lake. These two sources of Beas give rise to two streams, which meet up at Palchan (Solang Valley) to form Beas. The place is also of religious significance for Buddhists.

Foreground
Rohtang Pass has almost become a ‘must do’ for visitors to Manali. The pass can be reached by numerous state buses plying to Lahaul/Spiti or Leh (that is, when the roads are open). Else hire an SUV from Manali (full or sharing), which takes 2-3 hours to reach the pass, spend a few hours and then get back to Manali by evening.
The dazzlingly barren landscape of Rohtang Top comprises a very large flat area with abundant roadside parking space and maggi-pakora-tea providing dhabas.

The landscape alternates between rude rocky and serene snowy, depending upon which period of year one is looking at it. Expect real freezing, high speed wind throughout the year. This being October, no ice was to be seen (reportedly though, there were some isolated chunks tucked away in faraway crannies; the horsewallahs were doing a brisk business of taking the tourists for a ride (?) to seek out such spots). Then there is temple ‘Beas Kund’, being visited by many tourists. If one moves further down the road, there is a Buddhist shrine with colourful flags fluttering invitingly.

And of course, the Dhabas! A plate of Maggi for 50 bucks and a chai at 20 bucks may be a bit steep, but so is the place. Admittedly, the rampant crowd, jostling vehicles, hordes of animals, irrepressible mob of shilajeet sellers and such other elements do rob the place of exclusivity befitting a Himalayan pass at 3900+ mtrs – but that is how it comes, unfortunately. My advise to those unable to bear the melee of multitudes would be to drive further down the road, a few kilometres beyond and you are at your own solitudionous best.

Relief Settings
I cannot but resist myself from mentioning this – a 10 x 15 feet area enclosed by a prefab structure, on which someone has thoughtfully scribbled ‘Toilet’. Don’t get fooled by the pic below, usually you’ll find a long queue of relief seekers awaiting entry into the door – more so after all the jerks and jolts one endures arriving Rohtang. Hats off and a loud ‘JAI HIND’ to BRO for having thought of this detail.

Road Review Manali-Rohtang
We undertook the trip (Delhi-Manali-Keylong) during first week of Oct 2011. The road conditions described or depicted here are conforming to this period. One should keep in mind that the condition and status of roads keeps varying through the year.

Route
Manali – 12 kms – Palchn – 5 kms – Kothi – 20 kms – Marhi – 10 kms – Rohtang Top.
The ascent starts soon after leaving Manali. Quality of road is excellent till Marhi. Kothi offers the last commercial stay option (a resort right on the roadside), after which the only stay options are PWD/Forest Guest Houses. Try to move out early from Manali for two reasons, firstly you can avoid the maddening traffic heading to Rohtang and secondly, you can travel at a leisurely pace through the stretch (it would be criminal to do a full throttle fly-past through this beautiful region). Thanks to the large touristy traffic, the route sees incessant flow of vehicles throughout the day (typically Rohtang bound traffic during first half of the day and Manali bound vehicles in second half). The green landscape starts giving way to raw, barren features from somewhere before Marhi.

Marhi is a largish and last outpost on this route, comprising a number of dhabas and a temple. This is also the point where the action starts – the good roads end here. Now on, you are left to your will power and your vehicle’s shocker power to take you through sand-filled tracks, belly-scraping rocks and hairpin bends. Well I hastily add that any discomfort is adequately compensated by gratifying views of mountains brooding all around you.

This state of road continues till about 2 kms short of Rohtang top, where extremely well maintained roads miraculously appear underneath to accompany you till the top. There are generally three types of road conditions one could expect in this area, as follows
1. Dry sandy and rocky route, which we encountered (October) and by far the best condition for small vehicles.
2. Wet and slushy (rocks hidden beneath slush). This happens during monsoons seasons, subsequent to prolonged rains and during opening of the pass. This is a tricky condition especially for bikers and low GC cars. In fact during middle of September, there was about a meter deep slush in some patches and only SUVs were running on this route.
3. Ice laden, somewhat similar to above condition, with small vehicles being more prone to skidding.
Another important feature in Marhi is the POLICE CHECK POST – current orders do not permit non-Himachal registered vehicles (any vehicle, hired or personal, whose number plate does not start with ‘HP’) across the check post. And the police are quite strict about it. In order to be allowed to pass, you need to have permission from SDM, Manali. This is a mandatory requisite for non-HP vehicles, which must be completed at Manali, prior to commencement of journey to Rohtang.
Though Marhi-Rohtang patch is difficult for small vehicles, quite a few Alto cars run by local taxi drivers were negotiating the passage (October – dry road conditions). Other point is that major part of the route is wide enough, so no scary passes/ heart-wrenching overtakes are necessary. Rani Nallah, located a few kilometres before Rohtang has a waterfall and could be considered for a brief stopover.

ENTIRE STRETCH FROM KOTHI TO ROHTANG IS CLOSED TO TOURIST TRAFFIC ON TUESDAYS. ‘ The rule is followed succinctly as no tourist vehicles, even local ones, plied on that day.

Snowscape
The pass is closed sometimes in Oct/Nov each year, as heavy snowfall starts clogging the area. There is no need for worry, yet (at least for them who want a tryst with boundless snow). After blockage of the top areas (viz Rohtang pass and surroundings), the snow gradually starts to cover lower reaches along the route. Thereon, Manali tour operators take tourists to such point up to which the road is open. Enticingly dubbed as ‘Snow Points’, they generally keeps shifting closer to Manali as winter deepens. On many occasions, guileless tourists are made to believe that snow point itself is Rohtang Pass or perhaps very close to it. Our first trip, we realised later, was not much beyond Kothi, where the roads were closed. However, on enquiry, taxi drivers had told nonchalantly, ‘ Rohtang pass to yahi hai, bilkul pass, par gadi nahi ja sakti.’

Futurescape
Work on Rohtang tunnel is in full swing and it is expected to be open by 2015. This tunnel, starting from Solang Nallah area will open somewhere near Sissu (short of Keylong) thus bypassing Rohtang Pass altogether.
Will Rohatng Pass still remain on tourist’s roadmap, or will it recede among numerous other, relatively unknown passes dotting the Himalayas. I won’t ever will so, if only for the sake of collective memory of all those who have been enthralled by the pass; dreams of those who would like to make a pass at Rohtang, not to mention the lives lost over centuries, which have earned it the epithet ‘Pile of dead bodies’.

– Auro

39 Comments

  • Nandan says:

    There was no post, as far as I remember, dedicated to Rohtang and you very rightly noted that we need one, so thanks for posting that.

    The melee at the pass is really a large large melee, may be we should call this place as ‘Rohtang Stop’.

    Regarding non-HP vehicles, you mean one can not go through Rohtang to beyond or is it more about some place in Marhi, a detour from the main highway.

    • Sahil Sethi says:

      @ Nandan Ji,
      From the start of 2011, any Non HP Vehicle who wish to cross Rohtang La will require a permit issued by the SDM Office in Manali.

      @ Aurojit Da, I went to Rohtang last year in April. The roads were a hell that time full of mud and slush. My little car’s belly was just scraping badly on those bad roads. Rani Nallah was Ok that time.
      Actually Rohatang remains mostly like this every year. Above all this the traffic jams. Its trademark is the mud and slush and traffic jam…. but in the monsoon, I beleive you know the deadly condition of Rohtang particularly for small cars.

      Sahil

    • Well, yes from this year onward Non-HP vehicles are not allowed to ply on Manali-Rohtang road. Though the rules itself are dubious to authorities I guess. If you are coming from Spiti or Keylong side then no permit is required, you do not need permits for bikes only cars or other vehicles, leaving early and sometimes you can manage without permits etc etc. (More info here including contacts of SDM office and other stuff: http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/non-hp-vehicles-need-permit-on-manali-rohtang-pass-road/)

      The step was taken as authorities believe that people from other states are less skilled and causes traffic jams. But, in my several trips to Rohtang or other parts of Himachal, I rarely find an incident when outside vehicles are source of Jams. It is mostly the local drivers who overtake insanely, break queues, break rules and what not. However, that is the sadness of how things work in our country. Well, it is definitely a source of other business opportunities because if they wanted to regulate traffic then they must have started few fixed schedule tourist buses and should have banned the local taxis going to Rohtang as well. It would have improved the traffic alot and made life of people going to Leh, Spiti, Lahaul much easier :) …

      Nevertheless, Aurojit: buddy it is a great account of Rohtang Pass. Perhaps the best for it I have come across over the net for a long long time. You pictures are too good as well, nice share.
      However, for me Rohtang Pass is one of the most ugliest of the passes and I really hate this place and wish that I could just bypass it one day through that tunnel once it is completed (2015 seems too optimistic as of now). Too much toruists rush, brown colored snow, slush, hours of traffic jams doesn;t sound good just to spend a vacation :) … but these are just my personal views and I do stick to it. Even when I visited this oveerhyped place for the first time, I was so disappointed that we didn’t even stepped out to have a picture :(

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi Nandan,

      ‘Rohtang Stop’ seems to be the right idea :-)

      The rule is applicable to all vehicles going towards Rohtang and beyond; the checkpoint was at Marhi (perhaps this point is not fixed, but is established somewhere in the same area).

      The matter has been discussed in detail by other in subsequent responses.
      Thanks,
      Auro.

  • Shivya says:

    Your pictures are really good, Auro. I first visited Rohtang Pass around 6 years ago and remember loving it. It was beautiful, not crowded at all, very clean, with only a dhaba or 2 serving that delicious maggi.

    I passed by it again this summer, on my way back from Spiti, and was disappointed & saddened by its state. It was a fest of cars, people & litter. The roads were completely broken and there were massive jams. Maybe after Kunzum La, I had higher expectations, but hope things will only go uphill from here.

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi Shivya,

      thanks for liking the post.

      Yes, it is a sad reality indeed – perhaps opening of Rohtang tunnel will take some load off the place….

      Auro.

  • Vibha says:

    Thanks for the detailed look at the Rohtang Pass Auro.

    The place almost has the feel of a local picnic spot. If it wan’t for the majestic mountains all around, one could be easily fooled. If it is this crowded during the ‘lean season’ I wonder what it would be like at the peak of the tourist season.

    About the permission from the SDM, is it easy to obtain? Are there any conditions or safety requirements?

    • Yes, Vibha permissions are easily obtained. I guess the thought behind is to force people spend an extra day in Manali which mostly people use as stop over place for the night on the way to Leh. No precautions are required, you just need a valid DL and vehicle registration number or its RC/papers. Nothing else. You can check more details including contacts of SDM, documents, fees, alternate ways, etc on the link here: http://devilonwheels.com/index.php/non-hp-vehicles-need-permit-on-manali-rohtang-pass-road/

    • pops8906 says:

      It is quite easy to get permission from SDM only thing is he should be in his office. So if any one wants to go to Rohtang and beyond he should cater this in mind. The road near Rani nalla was a living hell in mid of july we encountered this stretch while coming back from Ladakh. It was fit only for SUVs and bigger vehicles even trucks were finding it difficult to cross and were many times pushed by the bulldozer positioned there.

      • Vibha says:

        Thanks for the useful information. Surely SDM would not leave his office for an entire day without making alternate arrangements. Else it is a very scary scenario and a potential plan-spoiler…

      • AUROJIT says:

        Hi pops,

        Yes, as I mentioned above, even in mid of September, the slush was supposedly a meter deep. And we also came across a lot of bulldozer and other funny vehicles, but since the route was dry we faced dust instead of slush (of course a better proposition),
        thanks
        Auro.

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi Vibha,

      Actually I did not personally obtain the permission, so would not comment on procedures involved. However, the entire thing is queer — Ok, let me bring out one more important aspect (sorry, reminded of it now, will see if Nandan does his trick of inserting it in the main text) – ENTIRE STRETCH FROM KOTHI TO ROHTANG IS CLOSED TO TOURIST TRAFFIC ON TUESDAYS. Again, the rule is followed succinctly as no tourist vehicles, even local ones, plied on that day.

      Now look at the bugging part from our perspective – a person leaves Delhi on a weekend (Sat/Sunday) and reaches Manali after the long haul by evening. Now permission can be obtained only on Monday (I don’t expect SDM office to work on Sundays). Now if somehow, Monday permission is missed, one’s wait extends till Wednesday.

      A funny set-up and whosoever has thought this up, well, deserves to be awarded for ‘innovative ideas on how to create snarls for hapless tourists’.

      Other issues have been addressed below.

      Thanks,
      Auro.

  • pictures of the way to Rohtang Pass And Manali are really good i think you enjoyed trip alto

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    informative post with beautiful pictures !!!!

  • zeevie says:

    mast mast,very informative,thnx

  • ram dhall says:

    I went to Rohtang Pass about six years back. Going with you to Rotang Pass has been enthralling experience.

    Thanks for the detailed account and some scantilatting pictures.

  • Naveen says:

    Hello,

    I am going to Manali on 1st of November and will be there for couple of days. I read that the road to Rohtang pass will be closed after 31st of OCT. Does anyone here have the experience of going to rohtang after the roads closed, sometime in the past? This is my first time and do not want to miss it. If you have any information please let me know.

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi Naveen,

      The date of closure is not sacrosanct as it depends on Rain/snowfall in the area. You could preferably keep options open till you reach Manali. And being 01 Nov, if at all, probably a very less portion of the route would have closed.
      After the roads are closed, usually vehicles are not permitted. However, you will have options of going on horsebacks etc which may be explored locally.
      Thanks,
      Auro.

  • Stone says:

    Very informative post and comments Auro and that ‘No tourists on Tuesday” bit should be included in bold in the main article.

    I went there 14 years back, when I was young and company was also not too bad ;-)
    Hope my wife doesn’t read this :-)

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Stone,

    thanks for comments. Will get that information inserted in the main text.

    Nice to hear about your trip 14 years back, sounds interesting :-)

    Here’s to our preciously held memories –

    Auro.

  • majaa aa gaya ……………………………

    superb excellent ……………….

    keep travelling and posting…………….

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Vishal,

    thanks…..Happy Deepavali…..to you and all other Ghumakkar friends

    Auro.

  • ADI says:

    Hi Auro,
    Your photographs are breathtaking. I can imagine up to what effort you have put to get these frames. Seeing these i have the urge of going there and have a feel of the place which is seeming to be an almost no mans land. I believe that you must have some extreme urge towards exploring these unseen unknown geographies but how you access these areas are a big question. It is hopefully by your strong will and wish … i suppose…
    keep posting… i enjoyed a lot …

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi Adi,

      thanks for your appreciation. I am overwhelmed by such phrases as ‘ extreme urge’, ‘unseen unknown geographies’, ‘strong will’ etc.

      I won’t say it’s that complicated – its just that feel of Amal in Dakghar (referring to Ghumakkar interview) which we all have, to move out, to see things beyond the horizon…
      Auro.

  • MN says:

    Hi Aurojit,

    Nice post on Rohtang & photos. Some of the slushy roads look dangerous and cars tend to skid and dont go in a straight line where you want to go. In-experienced drivers will find it very dangerous. The sheer drop from the hills is a long way down.

    The phots Rode to Eternity & Bottom Pinching speak it all. Most Indian cars have a Ground Clerance of 160 to 170mm and these cars will find it very difficult in such terrain. Only any car/SUV that have GC of above 190/200mm might find the drive easy.

    Keep blogging.. WR, MN

    • AUROJIT says:

      Hi MN,

      Thanks.

      Actually GC of my ‘B’ segment car is supposedly 165 mm, but when I sat down with that plastic scale extracted from my daughter’s geometry box, I realised that its far less. So I try to drive accordingly, i.e. any big piece of rock is best circumvented than driven over.

      SUVs GC should not be generalised because INNOVA GC is just about 10mm more.

      Grateful that you liked the post.

      Driving along…
      Auro.

  • RB says:

    The pics look really good. It looks a little crowded though close to the Rohtang Pass. Nonetheless a great road trip!

  • sanket says:

    hi

    i am sanket

    your information is very helpful,but i want to ask is that getting a permit to go to rotang and also a permit to cross it, is it difficult to get it from sdm in manali or it is easy to get a permit for any vehicle.
    i have a honda city and we have decided to go ahead rotang and setup a tent and spend night their and have a adventure but after i heard about this permit thing all our planing for this adventure is spoiled we are on a budget we cant hire taxi from manali and go ahead rotang, we will go as far as our car is capable please help if you have any suggestions

    thankyou

  • Manish Kumar says:

    Interesting to read the tales of those who sang at the Rohtang! I was there, on a bike, 28 years ago. Left Delhi early, at 4:00 am, had a wonderful ride to Chandigarh and than the adventure began. The road hugged the hills, curved and slithered as night descended and the cold wind bit into me.
    Had a flat, rode anyway for another 30 km’s without any damage, hauled the bike ultimately on a truck, which hit a cow, which the owner claimed was pregnant, neraly torched the truck and my bike with it, till the wise truker paid them off.
    It was pitch dark by 7.00 pm when I had the flat repaired and rode on, reaching Kullu at 10.00 pm, all tired and exhausted.
    The next day I was on my way to the pass. Riding on what looked like the moon, reached the Pass, which had a bus and a Trekker parked near a cluster of tea shack. The palce was quiet, isolated and a fierce wind blew through the pass. The air was thin, cold and the snow was visible. I trekked on to the snow line, returned, sat there with a cup of tea and snacks, marvelled at the beuty, the splendid isolation and the gushing wind.
    Looks like the pass has changed just like everything else. But thanks for the memory, for a brief time, I was back there, once again, all alone, cold but enjoying the beauty, with my bike parked next to me, both of us bruised and tired, but than life was coming back to us, bit by bit, as the wind howled, we bowed to it’s might and rode back, into the darkness, through the arms of the Rohtang Pass.

  • Hi Sanket.. Thanks for the nice article.. please find the latest and updated details of how to get the rohtang pass permit here
    https://www.altitudeadventureindia.com/how-to-get-the-rohtang-pass-permit/

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