Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World

Photo of Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World 1/5 by Karishma Shaikh
The highest Motorable way (c) The Hindu

The Border Road Organisation (BRO) has inaugurated a new pass in Eastern Ladakh beating the previously highest Khardung La pass. The Umling La pass takes its riders at 19,300 feet above sea level making it the highest motorable road in the world. The Umling La pass connects the Chisumle and Demchok villages, both of which lie in proximity to the Indo-China border of Eastern Ladakh

The 86 km-long road has been attracting adventure enthusiasts since the day it was opened to the world. The Umling La Pass sits higher than the Everest Base Camp; the south base camp in Nepal is at an altitude of 17,598 feet, while the north base camp in Tibet is at 16,900 feet. It sees extreme weather conditions, in winters the temperatures drop to as low as -40°C with alarmingly low oxygen level, up to 50% lesser than sea level. This was not an easy feat to achieve, so kudos to the team of BRO! 

Why was the Umling La Pass constructed?

Photo of Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World 2/5 by Karishma Shaikh
Umling La (c) Cartoq

The road requires strong nerves to navigate it and there is no room for error on this road. This breath-taking route ranks as the most inhospitable terrain with no trace of civilisation. The feat was achieved under “Project Himank” of the BRO. The strategic road was constructed to help the Indian army connect the sensitive Demchok zone in consideration of the recent disputes with the Chinese military’s advances along the Indo-Chinese border. As it is a sensitive area, the visits from tourists may be limited and restricted by the Army.

How to reach Umling La Pass?

There are three routes to reach the Umling La Pass and each offers a unique experience. Here are the three routes that you can explore to quench your thirst for adventure.

Route 1 : Fukche-Koyul-Demchok-Umling La

Photo of Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World 3/5 by Karishma Shaikh
The Indus River and the colourful mountains accompany you (c) Drive Spark

The first route will take you through Fukche, Koyul and Demchok. The Demchok village was divided into two during the 1962 Indo-China war and the other half was lost to our neighbours. This route is considered one of the most beautiful routes, and the views from Fukche post to Demchok will leave you speechless. The Indus River and colourful mountains accompany you through your drive making this once in a lifetime experience. The scenic route will also offer you a view of China as the border is at a stone's throw distance.


- The pass requires a special permit signed by the District Magistrate of Leh. The permit can be refused for many reasons.

- Even with a permit you can be turned around due to ongoing conflicts.

- Certain routes lead directly into China, so make sure you travel with someone who has in-depth knowledge of the area.

Route 2: Hanle-Photi La-Umling La

Photo of Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World 4/5 by Karishma Shaikh
Mountains are calling me and I must go (c) Mohit Chauhan Tripoto

This is the most preferred route by travellers to reach the Umling pass. Head straight from Leh to Photi La via Hanle to follow this route. Hanle is home to the famous Indian Astronomical Observatory and one of the few places in India where you can observe the Milky Way galaxy.

The regular permit obtained for Leh is enough to cross this path but travellers will not be allowed to decent to Demchok as it requires a special permit.

Route 3: Hanle-Ukdungle-Umling La Pass

Photo of Forget Khardung La, India’s Umling La Is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World 5/5 by Karishma Shaikh
Beauty all around you(c) DriveSpark

This route takes you directly to the second river crossing and skips the first bridge. Once again, the normal permit is enough to cross this route.

Best time to visit the Umling la

The route is opened during the months of summer i.e. June to October. Be wary in the peak summer months when the flow of the Indus River is at its strongest and some stream crossings can be treacherous. Visiting the month of October, right before the path closes is the best time. Another benefit would be lesser tourists leaving the places all for you.

Things to keep in mind before setting out for this adventure

- Given the altitude of the pass at 19,300 ft, the air is extremely thin and makes breathing difficult. So in case you are suffering from respiratory problems or any other kind of heart issues, it is advisable to avoid this pass completely.

- AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is very common in high altitudes and hence do be acclimatised properly before attempting this feat.

- The nearest petrol pump is in Karu, which is nearer to Leh, So make sure to fill up your reserves. 

- Make sure you have all the proper permits before you start your journey.

It is a stunning journey that has a fearsome reputation. The adrenaline-pumping route is not for ones with a faint heart. So all you strong-willed travellers, when are you heading out?

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