The mighty Himalayas, one of the toughest and unforgiving, yet among the most beautiful terrains in the world.
For those adrenaline junkies taking to their motorcycles and cars each year wanting to scale highest altitudes in the Himalayas each season, here are the highest motorable roads that should be on your list!
We often find discrepancies in altitudes of the passes in India, and a lot of argument about which pass is motorable and which isn’t.
While the former is mainly due to discrepancies in the government listed altitudes and various GPS readings, the latter is because of the different definitions that exist of a “motorable road”.
So, I will attempt to define a “motorable road” here on the basis of which I have listed the below passes/roads:
> A road /pass that a driver/rider can drive/ride on with a vehicle having high ground clearance or an average powered motorcycle
> The road may in some cases require army permits, and in other, may only be allowed for the local inhabitants with prior permits (but is motorable nonetheless)
> The road may be metaled/tarred or may just be a dirt track with loose stones and gravel (but is traversible)
1. MANA PASS OR DUNGRI LA, UTTARAKHAND
Mana Pass, also known as Dungri La is a high altitude road in the Indo- Tibet border in Uttarakhand. At a daunting altitude of 5610 metres (18406 feet), Mana Pass is the second highest motorable road in the world. One can reach here by an extention of NH-58 Delhi to Badrinath. The road ahead of Badrinath is, however quite landslide prone.
It is the source of River Saraswathi. Although there have been enthusiastic motorcyclists and adventure motorists who have scaled this pass, gettting permits to reach here is quite tricky. There is no set process or permit issued for Mana La, which is why having some contacts or pulling some strings might do the trick :P
You can read more about Mana Pass here.
2. MARSIMIK LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
Marsimik La or Marsimek La in the Chang-Chemno range of Ladakh, at an altitude of 5582 metres (18314 feet) is technically the highest motorable ‘pass’ in the world, since Mana Pass or the road to Uturunku (highest motorable road in the world) are not passes but roads.
Although it is less tricky to get permits to take civilian vehicles to Marsimik La compared to Mana Pass, permits would be given strictly to Indian nationals only.
Marsimik La is a short distance from Lukung, the start point of the beautiful and famous Pangong Tso.
You can reach about Marsimik La here.
3. PHOTI LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
A much less known name in the famous list of high altitude passes in India is Photi La. And yes, this too is higher than the more famous Khardung La or Chang La! Located in the Changthang region of Ladakh, Photi La is an extremely less traversed path. At an altitude of 5524 metres (18124 feet), Photi La lies about 16 kms south-east the beautiful village Hanle. Photi La can be reached from the north by driving along the Pangong Tso upto Chushul and further towards Hanle via Koyul.
4. DONKIA LA OR DONGKHA LA, SIKKIM
Donkia La or Dongkha La is situated in northern Sikkim at an altitude of 18000 feet (5500 metres). It connects Sikkim in India to Tibet. It is located at about 13 kms from the famous Gurudongmar Lake and 3–4 kms from Cholamu Lake. However, like Mana Pass, it is controlled by the Indian Army and is very difficult if not impossible to get permits to drive/ride to Dongkha La, due to its proximity to Tibet.
You can read more about Dongkha La here.
5. KAKSANG LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
Kaksang La situated at an altitude of 17841 feet (5438 metres) in the Changthang area of Ladakh is possibly the highest motorable road open for foreigners in India. Kaksang La is quite a remote pass despite having good roads, as it is not located enroute to any of the famous spots in the region. One can reach Kaksang La by travelling further from Spangmik (along Pangong Tso) upto Chushul and turn south from there towards Mirpal Tso and Yayi Tso. However, this could be a great route to reach Tso Moriri from Pangong Tso side.
Getting to Kaksang La requires Inner Line permits, which can be got from Ladakh. However, it is not completely unheard of that the army men guarding the post may still send you back despite the permits you have! So just in case, have a back up plan!
6. CHANG LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
Yes, Chang La comes 6th in the list of highest motorable roads in India, and not second as it has been falsely claimed. As per SRTM and GPS reading, Chang La is at an altitude of 17586 feet (5360 metres) enroute the very famous Pangong Tso lake when approached from Leh. Although not as high as the other passes, the steep ascend and terrible road condition towards the top and the equally steep descend from it make Chang La one of the most difficult passes to ride on.
As against the popular belief, Chang La is not named after Chang La baba or the mandir on top of the pass, but means “Pass to the South”; Chang=South and La=Pass.
A small peice of trivia: Chang La has the world’s highest research station, and is established by DRDO.
You can reach more about Chang La here.
7. KHARDUNG LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
Sorry about bursting the bubble here, but no sir it isn’t the highest motorable road in the world, and yes sir it is at a lower altitude than Chang La! This said, Khardung La at an altitude of 17582 feet (5359 metres) should still be on your list of roads to ride on, for its absolute beauty and mindblowing panoramic views it offers. And if you are riding here, please don’t miss going to the Hunder Sand Dunes and Panamik hot springs, Khardung La being the gateway to Shyok and Nubra valley. As against the popular belief that Khardung La is the highest road and thus would be extremely difficult to scale, it actually is scaled with ease by most four and two wheelers. I have infact even seen age-old scooters here! :D
One used to need to get an Inner Line permit to go to Khardung La, but now Indians only need an ID proof to get here. You can read more about Khardung La here.
8. TANGLANG LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
If you are travelling on the famous Manali-Leh highway, Tanglang La is one of the 5 passes you will ride on. At an altitude of 17480 feet (5328 metres), Tanglang La lies 61 kms from Upshi. The roads a well paved for the most part, but can be quite dusty! So stay well covered if you are riding here.
9. WARI LA, JAMMU & KASHMIR
Wari La is situated in Lakadh at an altitude of 17428 feet (5312 metres) and is a direct road connection from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso. If one does nto wish to ride back to Leh from Nubra and then head to Pangong Tso, the alternate route would take you from Nubra to Pangong via Agham, Wari La, Sakti village and Chang La.
Wari La is a road less taken in the truest sense, giving the feel of being lost while travelling through it. It is a very desolated pass, and there might be times when you may not see a single person on this entire journey!