From the Plains to the Mountains: A Scenic Drive from Delhi to Manali

Delhi to Manali

Manali is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India and driving from Delhi to Manali is a thrilling experience in itself.  The Delhi to Manali trip is one of the most exciting, enjoyable and popular road trips in India as the journey takes you through scenic routes, diverse landscapes, cities and towns of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh making it an unforgettable experience.  I have been to Manali dozens of times mostly by HRTC (Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation) buses and even by air.  However I drove from Delhi to Manali for the first time in August 2021 and faced problems due to bad road conditions in Himachal Pradesh.  In Jan 2023 I again drove from Delhi (Greater Noida) to Manali and this time the drive was smooth.  My advise to people are never be in a rush and to take some precautions and do preparations for the long trip. These are some important things that I follow.

How to Prepare for the Trip in my Car

Pre-Trip Check-Up.  Mine is a new TATA Nexon car bought in 2021 and there was no issue with it. Besides I had got my car serviced few weeks before the trip. If your car is old, it advisable to get your car inspected by a mechanic before your trip to ensure that it is in good working condition and to identify any potential problems that may arise during the road trip.

Check Car’s Oil Levels.  It is important to ensure that car’s fluid levels like brake oil, coolant, and windshield wiper water are at the correct levels before your trip.

Maintain Tire Pressure.  One day before the trip I went to the nearest petrol pump and got my fuel tank filled to 3/4th of the capacity.  Also ensured that the care tires are properly inflated as this can improve car’s fuel efficiency and reduce the risk of a flat tire.

Packing.  Before the trip I ensured that the essentials like spare tire, jack and tool kit are in place.  Did all the packing one day in advance.

Planning the Route.  Thanks to the google navigator planning the route is quite easy.  On the navigator itself you can find out the exact route to be taken, time and the distance as well as traffic situation etc.

Driving Speed.  Avoid aggressive driving and excessive speeding, as this can put unnecessary strain on your car and increase the risk of an accident.

Take Breaks.  Over the years the road conditions all over India has drastically improved but so has the number of vehicles plying on these roads.  Taking regular breaks for tea, snacks will help you avoid fatigue and reduce the risk of an accident. Especially for the person driving it is important as it allows much needed stretching of legs and gives rest to the eyes.

Delhi to Manali Distance

Delhi to Manali distance is about 550 kms and takes about 12 to 14 hours.  The route that I took was Greater Noida to Sonipat via Delhi Meerut Expressway and then climbing on to Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), thence on to Sonipat, Panipat, Ambala, Chandigarh, Roopnagar, Kiratpur Sahib, Swarghat, Bilaspur, Mandi, Kullu and finally reaching Manali. For my own ease I have divided  the journey into four parts vis Greater Noida to Murthal where we halted for breakfast; Murthal to Swarghat halting there for lunch; Swarghat to Sundernagar where we halted for tea and refreshments; finally Sundernagar to Manali.  We also halted at one of two other places which we found interesting and worth taking few snaps.

In the first leg of the journey, I started from Greater Noida passing through Gaur Chowk in Greater Noida West and then going straight until hitting the Delhi Meerut Expressway.  The first toll gates comes as soon as you take left turn and hit the Eastern Peripheral Expressway.

Eastern Peripheral Expressway

The Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) is a 135-kilometer, six-lane expressway built to provide an alternative to traffic from the National Capital Region (NCR) that does not need to enter Delhi, thereby reducing the congestion in the city and improving air quality. The maximum speed for four wheeler here is 120 km per hour. The road is however bumpy at few places so you have to be careful.  What makes driving a pleasure on this road is thin traffic.

The Eastern Peripheral Expressway was inaugurated on 27th May 2018 by the then Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi and is considered India’s first smart and green expressway, equipped with features like solar power generation, rainwater harvesting, and central verge green belts.  During night, the expressway is well-lit and equipped with modern safety features, including CCTV cameras and a central control room for monitoring and management of the traffic on this road.


After driving for an hour or so it is time to exit the EPE and turn left towards Sonipat. You will already be notified to turn left on the google navigator and also the signboards on the expressway, so that you do not miss the exit.   Sonipat is an ancient city that has been a part of many historical events.  It has a rich cultural heritage and today is an industrial town as well as an educational hub.  The distance from Greater Noida to Sonipat is 110 kms and takes about 2 hours drive time.  Sonipat city is  known for its beautiful temples, lush green parks and various attractions that attract both tourists and locals alike. Some attractions are as follows :-

Jurassic Park Sonipat

Jurassic Park Sonipat is one of the most popular attractions in the city. This unique park showcases life-size models of various dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago.  It is an educational and fun experience for families.

Chokhi Dhani Sonipat

Another popular attraction is Chokhi Dhani Sonipat which is a traditional Rajasthani village-themed resort. Here you can enjoy traditional culture, hospitality, and entertainment, making it a perfect destination for families and tourists looking for a unique experience.

Sonipat Bus Stand

Sonipat Bus stand or the Sonipat Bus Terminus is located along State Highway No. 20, before Mama Bhanja Chowk. From here there are re regular bus services to neighbouring cities and towns. The Haryana Roadways enquiry number is dial : 0130-2201101, in case you need any assistance.

Sonipat Junction

Sonipat Junction is a major railway station that connects the city to other parts of India, especially Ambala, Chandigarh or  Delhi.  The station is located at a distance of 600 meters from the Sonipat Bus Stand on state highway No. 20, near ICICI Bank. Some of the important trains that pass through Sonipat Junction are Delhi-Chandigarh Shatabadi, Amritsar Express, Malwa Express, Jhelum Express and Himalayan Queen etc.


The next important place from Sonipat is Murthal, which is just 15 kms and takes just 15 mins. Murthal is famous for its delicious Punjabi cuisine especially Paranthas with a dollop of white butter on top.  There are scores of dhabas (roadside restaurants) to sample the delicious food.  Some famous dhabas are Haveli, Sukhdev, Dharam Garam and newly opened Khali Dhabha.  Sukhdev Dhabha was a bit crowded but still we stopped there for half an hour to get refreshed and then have breakfast consisting of Paranthas, curd and Lassi.


After some rest and filling our bellies we started on our journey.  The next important town on the way is Panipat which is 44 km from Murthal and takes about 50 mins drive.  Panipat is a city famous for its rich historical significance famous for its three battles fought during the 16th and 18th centuries. The city is also renowned for its traditional handloom carpets and textiles.

Panipat War

  • Three major battles were fought in Panipat that significantly changed the history of India. These battles are known as the First Battle of Panipat, the Second Battle of Panipat, and the Third Battle of Panipat.
  • The First Battle of Panipat was fought in 1526 between the Delhi Sultanate of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi and the invading army of Babur.  Ibrahim Lodhi was killed in this battle and Babur emerged victorious in this battle.  He established the Mughal Empire in India.
  • The Second Battle of Panipat was fought in 1556 between the forces of the Mughal emperor Akbar and the Hindu king Samrat Hemchandra Vikramaditya popularly known as Hemu.  Hemu was defeated and killed in the battle and Akbar emerged victorious.  
  • The Third Battle of Panipat was fought in 1761 between the Marathas and the Durranis Empire. The Maratha Empire was defeated by the Afghan invaders. The battle had far-reaching consequences leading eventually to the  establishment of British rule in India.


In no time we crossed Panipat and drove towards Kurukshetra bypassing the main town.  Panipat to Kurukshetra is 72 km distance and takes about our hour.  Kurukshetra city has great historical and religious significance. It is said to be the site where the legendary battle of Kurukshetra was fought between the forces of Pamdavas and Kauravas, as mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.


Kurukshetra to Karnal is 35 km and takes about 35 mins to cover the distance.  So far the drive has been smooth as we continue driving on National Highway 44.  Next we reached Karnal, the city known for its beautiful lakes and rich cultural heritage. Karnal is famous for many interesting historical monuments like Kos Minar, Kalander Shah’s Tomb, Karan Tal and Babar Masjid.

Ambala Haryana

Karnal to Ambala distance is about 82 km and takes about 1 hour 15 mins or so.  This stretch of the road is a bit boring but the road condition is excellent making the drive smooth and easy.  Soon we were in Ambala but instead of going through the main city, the highway bypasses the main city.  Ambala is famous for its sweets and street food. Ambala is also shopping hub with  large number of shopping malls and street markets. 

Beautiful Chandigarh

The next major city on our Delhi to Manali road trip is Chandigarh.  It is 46 km from Ambala and Ambala and 250 km from Delhi.  The beautiful Chandigarh city is the capital of two states ie Haryana and Punjab.  The city is famous world over for its modernist architecture and planned urban design of the city and the city was developed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Chandigarh city is know for a number of museums, art galleries, and theaters, showcasing a rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions of the region. The city also has major tourist attractions like the Rose Garden and Rock Garden and is also popular tourist destination for nature lovers. Chandigarh is often referred to as the “City Beautiful.”

Toll Tax Booths

While driving on national highways in the country, what irks us the most is the number of toll plazas.  While driving from Delhi (Greater Noida for that matter) to Chandigarh we encoured Toll Plazas at 5 places.  The total toll tax paid was almost Rs 400 whereas bus fare from Delhi to Chandigarh may be much less if you travel in ordinary us.


Rupnagar, which is also known as Ropar, in Punjab is our next destination.  The total distance from Chandigarh is 47 km and takes about an hour to reach.  Rupnagar is famous for its rich historical heritage as well as an important tourist destination in the region. Anandpur Sahib, which is a sacred site for Sikhs is located here.  Other popular attractions in the city include the Tibbi Sahib Gurudwara, the Baoli Sahib Gurudwara.  Another attraction is the Ropar Wetlands,  a popular destination for bird watchers and nature lovers.

Kiratpur Sahib 

The road conditions from Chandigarh to Rupnagar and then to Kiratpur Sahib is fantastic and you can drive with ease on these roads mooching a maximum speed of 90 km.  Rupnagar to Kiratpur Sahib is only 30 km and within 30 km you are passing through the holy town of Kiratpur Sahib. Kiratpur Sahib is known for its rich cultural and spiritual heritage and is an important pilgrimage destination for the Sikh people.  The town is named after 6th Sikh Guru, Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji who established the town as a center for Sikh worship and learning.

Kiratpur Sahib Gurudwara

There are a number of gurdwara in Kiratpur Sahib, the most famous being the Gurudwara Kiratpur Sahib, which is the site of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji’s residence. Then there are Gurudwara Bhora Sahib Gurudwara; and Gurdwara Manji Sahib, dedicated to Guru Hargobind  Sahib’s son Baba Gurditta Ji.  If you feel tired after a long drive, you can consider spending a night here at one of the gurdwara and leave the next morning.


Kiratpur Sahib to Swarghat is only 30 km and within no time you are entering Himachal Pradesh. At the Swarghat Toll Booth which divides Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, you have to pay toll tax in cash.  Swarghat is a very small town surrounded by lush green hills.  It seems to be an ideal spot for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Some popular places of interest in Swarghat are Laxmi-Narayan temple, Nalagarh Fort, Bhimakali Temple and the famous Naina Devi Temple (20 Km).


Now comes one of the most boring and tiring stretch of driving in the entire Delhi to Manali route.  The road distance from Swarghat to Bilaspur is about 55 km and it takes more than one and half hours to complete this stretch.  The road as on Jan 2023 was full of pot holes and bumpy.  Bilaspur is a town as well as District.  Some places of interest in Bilaspur Himachal Pradesh are the Kandrour Bridge, Naina Devi Ji Temple and Bhakra Dam.


The next important town is Sundernagar located 45 km from Bilaspur and takes one hour and fifteen minutes to cover this stretch.  The driving on this stretch of road was enjoyable with beautiful scenery as we passed through some small towns and villages. Sundernagar in pre independence days was known as Suket.  You know you are about to reach Sndernagar when the beautiful man made Sundernagar Lake is visible from far.  I remember, decades ago while coming in a bus from Manali to Chandigarh, this used to be halting point for lunch.  At that time Sundernagar was a very small town.  Today it has grown exponentially with shops stretching to half a km or so on both sides of the highway.


Sundernagar to Mandi is only 25 km and takes only 30 mins or so to reach Mandi.  The temple city of Mandi is renowned for its ancient temples and cultural significance. In fact it is known as Kashi of Himachal Pradesh as it has 81 stone built temples.  The city is situated on the banks of river Beas. As soon as you reach Mandi, the road diverts into two with left side going to Joginder Nagar and Dharamsala.  We remain on the right side of the highway passing through the Bus Terminus, we are on our way to Manali.  The next town is Pandoh.  You can also go to visit nearby places in Mandi like Rewalsar Lake (25 km) and Parashar Lake (40 km).

Pandoh and Aut

The distance from Mandi to Pandoh is 19 km that we covered in 35 mins and from Pandoh to Aut the distance it 22 km which we covered in 40 minutes.  Now comes the interesting but a bit scary part.  After Aut there is a tunnel which is 3 km long and yet to be fully completed.  Driving inside this tunnel is not easy as it is dark and the road is also not well laden.  I heaved a sigh of relief as soon as we exited from the other side.  From Aut, the next town is Bhuntar which is 25 km away.  


Bhuntar is located at the confluence of the Beas and Parvati River.  Bhuntar has an airport that serves as a gateway for tourists visiting Kullu and Manali.  Tourists can enjoy  white-water rafting here. From Bhuntar one can also go to Kasol, Manikaran and other beautiful villages in the Parvati Valley.  Manikaran is famous for hot water springs and Gurudwara Manikaran Sahib.  You have to take the road that goes towards the origin of Parvati river.   Bhuntar to Kullu is only 10 kms.


Kullu is a town as well as a District in Himachal Pradesh.  The beautiful valley of Kullu is known for its scenic beauty and is a popular tourist destination in India.  Kullu is famous for its Dussehra which is celebrated for 7 days.  Surrounded by towering mountains, lush green forests, and fast flowing Beas river, Kullu is an ideal destination for nature lovers. Some of the popular tourist attractions in Kullu Bijli Mahadev Temple, the Great Himalayan National Park, and the Raghunath Temple. Kullu is also famous for its local handicrafts like shawls, mufflers, kullu caps and other woolen products.


The distance from Kullu to Manali is 40 km approx.  From Kullu a new two way expressway has been built which makes driving from Kullu to Manali super smooth and fast. We had reached Kullu at around 7 pm and by the time we reached Manali it was around 830 pm and dark. Finally we were  in Manali but we hadn’t booked as yet.  We knew where to look for one.  The hotel we finally stayed in for 5 days was Day and Night near Civil Hospital.  The reason for choosing this location was that Mall Road is walking distance from here.  

We spent 5 days in Manali.  Some places that we visited were Hadimba Temple, Manu Rishi Temple in Old Manali, Vashisht Temple, Buddhist temples in Gompa Road.  We also went to Sissu passing through the Rohtang Tunnel which is 9 km long.  In Sussu we did a small trek going right upto the Sissu Waterfall.

We had covered a total distance of approximately 570 km driving from Delhi to Manali and it took around 14 hours to cover this distance.  The road conditions between Delhi and Manali were generally good except few stretches between Swarghat to Bilaspur.  However,work is going on at few places.  

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