Special road conditions report: Manali-Leh, KKH and Pamir Highway

in Road conditions by on August 10th, 2010

As we couldn’t find any real up to date road condition reports prior to our departure for the above 3 high altitude routes, here a brief summary of their conditions as of July 2010 (it goes without saying that one massive rain can alter the landscape and conditions of these roads over night, so the below is only what we experienced). Please feel free to email us for specific questions.


We did it in two days, Manali to Sarchu, and then Sarchu to Leh; most do it in three days, Manali to Keylong, Keylong to Sarchu then Sarchu to Leh. Both days were long days with 10-12 hours on the bike each day as the road doesn’t allow for faster speeds. The first pass right out of Manali, Rohtang La, was particularly bad as it had just seen a massive landslide. The downhill part was equally slow with endless potholes and little rivers crossing the road at most turns. This is followed by an ok section of tarmac for a while before the gravel and potholes begin again. The many curves (and oncoming trucks) requires constant braking, slow turning and much honking as the trucks don’t really care what comes around the next corner.

Rohtang La pass when it was closed by a landslide

The other three passes were ok, with intermittent gravel, dirt and tarmac. Several deep water sections had to be crossed as well. Don’t forget we did this part of our trip on an old Enfield (as the AT was stuck in Indian customs)¬†which was definitely not suited for this type of terrain. I would strongly recommend an enduro type bike. The suspension on an Enfield was not up to par and so our backs and the bike rack took the brunt of the thousands of potholes and gravel road punches.

The conditions would certainly get worse if you were riding after a couple of days of rain or snow fall.

Karakoram Highway

Please refer to our earlier post about this section.

Pamir Highway

Leaving Sary-Tash the road is gravel and some tarmac to the Kyrgyz border post. No problems, about 65kmh average is possible. ¬†After the border post, one enters “no man’s land” for about 25km. It is mostly tarmac with potholes throughout but good riding. Unless of course, a section of the road gets washed away as was the case with us (see report here). Coming over the pass the road becomes dirt but as long as there wasn’t a a major downpour earlier should be straightforward.

Beautiful tarmac on the Pamir

After entering Tajikistan, more gravel and potholes and the occasional stretch of tarmac. The last bit to Karakul is mostly tarmac and flat, we managed this in the dark with only our headlights. From Karakul towards Murgab, it is mostly tarmac with some great stretches (100km/h) as there is hardly any oncoming traffic (and if a truck comes you can see him well in advance). Usually about 10km before and after a pass the road is gravel or very stoney, prior and after it is mostly tarmac and good riding. Overall the Pamir is about 75% tarmac and 25% gravel/stones. Of all the three highways, certainly the best in terms of road conditions.

For the road from Khorog to Dushanbe, we took the shorter (and more challenging) route via Tavildara. Click here for our account.

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