Based on my experience while cycling the Manali - Leh highway (in Oct 2010) i have compiled a list of Food and Accommodation stops on the route. I hope this information would be useful to other cyclists who are planning to do this trip. For those who are attempting to do this trip during late September/October, I have also tried to include the approximate dates till which these establishments would remain open, but these days might change depending on the weather conditions. So be a little careful and stock up on extra food when you do this trip in October.
List of food and accommodation stops on the Manali - Leh highway (for cyclists)..
Manali being the starting point of this trip has a plethora of food and accommodation options for travelers. The hotels and guesthouses are located in 3 different areas. Central Manali, Old Manali and Vashist. While Vashist is probably the more quieter and chilled out location out of the three, its a bit far from Central Manali where all the major shops are located. So my pick for the aspiring cyclist would be to stay in Old Manali, which is just as charming albeit a little more congested with tourists.
Marhi (Food: Yes, Acco: Maybe)
Marhi is the base camp for the 19km climb to Rothang La. Rothang La is a popular day tripping spot for the Indian tourists and they all stop at Marhi to warm up with some hot food before going up to RothangLa. So obviously there are plenty of food Dhabas available at Marhi.
As far as accommodation options go. There is a government run PWD guest house at Marhi. The rooms have to be booked in advance at the Himachal Tourism office in Manali. Even otherwise you can talk to the caretaker (chowkidar) of the guest house and he maybe able to arrange a room/bed for you at 'extra' cost. Apart from the PWD guest house, there is no other guest house in the area. Your best option would be to camp by yourself or take some of the Dhaba owners into letting you in for the night. I found the people to be extremely kind and helpful in the area, so you should have no trouble finding a spot for the night.
Khoksar is the first stop on the other side of Rothang La. There is a police checkpost where foreigners need to register and there are couple of Dhabas here providing hot food and bed for the night.
In Sissu, Triveni Hotel and Restaurant is your best bet for a good nights stay. For a single traveller the price maybe a bit on the high side, at around 500Rs/night. But the views from the village are simply breathtaking.
Keylong being the district headquarters of the Lahul valley region has plenty of food and accommodation options. You will find cheaper options for stay in the main market street. If possible take a room on the terrace (most guesthouses have it) to enjoy the valley views. Since Keylong is the last major town before Leh, be sure to stock up on all your necessary supplies (especially medical) before you set off.
2017 - Update : The cheapest accommodation option in Keylong is the dormitory accommodation in one of the many hotels by the bus stand. You will get beds for as low as 50 to 100Rs a night.
Popular with Motorcycle tourists, pretty Jispa has a couple of high end hotels and a few camp sites by the Bagha river. The Hotel Ibex (around 1200/night) is the most popular hotel here and and the other one is called Hotel Jispa (not sure about the name though, it also looked similarly expensive). Both these hotels were closed when i was there on 27'th September 2010. And the camp sites were closed as well.
The only place open on 27'th-Sept was a small restaurant/convenience store called the Sunshine Cafe (again my memory fades me). I had my lunch there.
Darcha has a handful of Dhabas clustered around near the bridge over the Bagha river. A few of these Dhabas have beds for travelers to sleep in. There is also a small campsite in a green meadow alongside the river. Be warned that if you camp here, the villages will collect 100Rs as camping charges from you.
The main town of Darcha is situated about 1 to 1.5km away from the cluster of Dhabas. There are no accommodation options to be had inside the town (i tried).
But there is a small community medical center at the entrance to the town. The consultation and medicines are given free of charge to the patients. I owe immense gratitude to the staff at this medical center as i was suffering from toothache for a couple of days and if left untreated i might've had to call off the cycling trip and hitch a ride on a van on truck. Luckily the medicines they gave me helped and i was able to carry on cycling.
Patseo (Food: Maybe, Acco: Maybe)
Patseo has a PWD guest house where traveler might be able to find a place to stay. I also spotted a small cafe by the lake side but it was closed (on 28'th Sept 2010). So my recommendation is to not to bank on Patseo to be your food/accommodation spot.
additional comment by saramaca
"there was a dabha by the lake in 2008 which wasn't there in 2009. Very nice camping by the lake in 2008. The place was filled with road workers' tents in 2009. So things do change from year to year"
Zingzingbar - Low camp
There are two dhaba/campsites are Zingzingbar 7km apart from one other. So i'am gonna call these camps the low and the high camp respectively. Zingzingbar low camp is the perfect base for the climb up to the Baralacha La pass (22km away). The camp is run by a Nepali family and it consists of a mess tent and a sleeping tent (beds about 100-150Rs each).
The camp is located right next to a BRO gravel quarry and their business comes from the BRO workers who stop by for some hot Maggi and chai. As a result the camp stays open as long as the BRO quarry is operational. The BRO quarry is the reason why the Zingzingbar low camp stays open till October 15'th while the high camp closes by Oct 1'st.
Zingzingbar - High Camp
7kms above the Zingzing bar low camp and 15km before the Baralacha La pass lies the Zingzing bar high camp. Its reported to have two Dhabas which provide and accommodation. In 2010, the high camp was shut down on Sept 28'th. So i guess the chances of it staying open into October are pretty slim.
Bharatpur Tent City
10kms on the other side of the Baralacha La pass lie a cluster of parachute tent dhabas which are collectively called as Bharapur City. There are about 5-6 dhabas here which provide both food and accommodation.They are a welcome sight and a perfect lunch stop after completing the tough climb over Baralacha La.
As per the owner of one of the tents, the entire camp shuts down by October 1'st. So keep this under consideration.
Sarchu is a major stopping point for travelers on the Manali Leh highway, so there is no dearth of food and accommodation options here. Only tented accommodation is available but however you might be able to find more quality choices here. The different tented dhabas are run by people from Himachal, Ladakh and Nepal, so Sarchu is actually a nice place to indulge your taste buds before setting off to find more of the same dreary stuff.
Sandwiched between the Nakeela La and the Lachulung La passes lies the Whiskey Nullah camp. Its a welcome relief for weary cyclists after they negotiate the Gata Loops and the deceptively far Nakeela pass. Both food and accommodation is available at the dhabha in Whiskey Nullah.
Some cyclists are not aware of the existence of this camp, so they end up spending the night somewhere before Nakeela pass. But they needn't do that. The Dhaba should stay open atleast till Oct 15'th based on what its owner told me.
additional comments by saramaca
"there was a dabha in 2008 but it wasn't there in 2009. From your notes, it was here again in 2010. Not sure I would count on it if I were to cycle next summer..."
Pang is another major stopping point in the Manali-Leh highway. So you can be assured of both food and accommodation here. There are around 10 parachute tented camps here almost all of which are run by cheerful Ladakhi women. It is a very welcoming place where you can be assured of a comfortable nights stay before taking on the long stretch to Taglang La.
There is also a GREF (army engineer corps) camp nearby and you could possibly go there to get your electronic devices charged.
Debring marks the end of the Morey plains and the start of the long gradual climb up to Taglang La. The camp here is set up by the nomads from the nearby TsoKar lake (its their summer pasture, the entire village shifts here during the summer months) and you can get both food and accommodation here.
NOTE: In the unlikely case that you dont find any food or accommodation at Debring, you can take the road which branches off to the right and follow it for some 8-10kms where you'll come upon the Tukje village on the banks of the Tsokar lake. If there is no accommodation at Debring then you'll find it in Thukje and vice versa.
additional comments by saramaca:
"nothing in 2008, 1 dabha in 2009. A few nomad camps further up in the valleys on the left and on the right (several hundred meters away from the road). Plenty of Kyangs."
After Darcha, Rumtse is the first permanent settlement that you'll encounter on the Manali-Leh highway and here you'll find a few actual hotels and restaurants.
Lato (Food: Yes, Acco: Maybe)
Lato is a small camping ground situated on the road from Rumtse to Upshi. During the high tourist season you can find food and possibly some accommodation here.
additional comment by saramaca:
"1 small homestay on the right opposite the small shop"
Upshi (Food: Yes, Acco: Maybe)
Coming in from the Manali Highway, Upshi marks your encounter with the Indus river and from here on you'll ride alongside the river all the way to Leh which is about 50kms away. There are numerous restaurants available at Upshi but i do not remember seeing any accommodation options there. Although i was told by a couple of cyclists that they did spend a night at Upshi so you might be able to find a spot to sleep if you look around.
Leh being only 50km away makes it very tempting for one to push on through. But a word of warning.. the 10km stretch between Upshi and Karu has some of the most violent up/down (almost like a sine wave) gradients that i had encountered on the entire route from Manali. A few other cyclists felt the same way about it as well. The next available accommodation is at Thiksey (35km away).
Karu, Thiksey, Shey, Choglamsar, Leh
If you are not in a hurry to reach Leh, then i suggest a few days stay at either Thiksey or Shey. The villages in this location are just lovely and it is a wonderful feeling to behold a monastery in almost every direction you look. Here is a brief run down on the food and accommodation options on this route.
Karu: Many restaurants, No obvious places to stay.
Thiksey: Chamba hotel and Guesthouse (run by the monastery) also another private guest house nearby.
Shey: Besthang Guest house (opposite the Shey Palace)
Choglamsar: 4-5 hotels and many restaurants.
Leh: Hundreds, possibly even thousands of restaurants and accommodation options.