Khardung La is NOT the world's highest motorable road, not even highest in India!


I saw a lot of blogs on tripoto saying Khardungla is the highest motorable road in the world. Contrary to general public opinion, misinformed by Guinness World Records, local summit signs, social media posts and countless websites, the world's highest motorable road pass is NOT the Khardung La 5,359 m (17,582 ft) but Umling La 5,882 m (19,300 feet feet). According to Wikipedia, vehicles have been driven over the 5,582 meters (18,314 ft) Marsimik La, in the Indian Karakoram to the north-east of Khardung La. The road is motorable by skilled bikers and Indian Army jeeps but it is debatable whether this pass should be considered to be motorable. I have compiled the list of highest motorable roads or passes in India after Umling La, as per the SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) data.

Photo of Khardung La is NOT the world's highest motorable road, not even highest in India! 1/3 by Kunal Priyadarshi
Khardungla Top

1) Dungri La (Road) - 5,610 metres (18,406 ft)

Dungri La (Mana Pass) is situated at the border between Tibet and India in the state of Uttarakhand and is the second Highest Motorable Mountain Road in World, after Umling La. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 18,406 ft. It connects India to Tibet through the Zanskar mountain range. It was constructed in the 2005-2010 period for the Indian military by the Border Roads Organisation and visible on 2011 imagery on visual globe systems such as Google Earth. Civilians need special permits from the Army and District Magistrate’s office to drive through this road.

Photo of Khardung La is NOT the world's highest motorable road, not even highest in India! 2/3 by Kunal Priyadarshi
The Last Indian Village - Mana

2) Marsimik La (Pass) - 5,582 metres (18,314 ft)

A mountain pass in the Chang-Chemno Range in northern India 96 km east of Leh is the highest Motorable Mountain Pass in World. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 18,314 ft. Just before the start of Pangong Tso, a road turns north away from the lake and heads into the hills. 20 kilometres on that road lies the Marsimik La. Every year several skilled riders come here to conquer the highest motorable pass in the world to see the six-lane highway China has built all the way up to the LOC just 10 kilometers beyond the pass. You need permission from the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Leh to climb this pass.

3) Photi La - 5,524m (18,124 ft)

This high mountain pass is the latest entry in this list and is situtated in the Zanskar range of Ladakh region. It is around 30 km from the beautiful Hanle Monastery (Hanle village) on the Hanle-Photi Le road. The road to the pass is very dusty and you won't find any soul around due to very less oxygen. You need permission from the Army to conquer this pass.

4) Dongkha La - 5,500 m (18,000 ft)

The Dongkha la or Donkia Pass is a high mountain pass in the Himalaya connecting Sikkim in India with Tibet. Located in North Sikkim, the pass offers a picturesque view of the Tibetan Plateau. This pass is 5km from the Gurudongmar Lake (Buddhist Holy Lake). This lake is one of the highest lakes in the world. The pass is controlled by the Indian Army and civilians need special permits to visit the pass. Due to the closeness of this pass with the Tibetian border, the permits are mostly hard to get much like Mana Pass.

5) Kaksang La - 5,438 m (17,841 ft)

Kaksang La is a high mountain pass situated in the Ladakh region, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. It is located between Mahe (40km, 4,200m) and Chushul. The pass offers picturesque views of the fantastic lakes, mountains and valleys. Like all the passes mentioned above, you need Inner Line Permits and permission from the Indian Army to visit the pass. For Indian nationals, their are fair chances to get these permissions but for foreign nationals, it is quite tough.

6) Chang La - 5,360 m (17,586 ft)

Chan La is a high pass with an altitude of 17,586 ft from the sea level on SRTM. It is an amazing pass located on the way to majestic Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, India. Chang La has the world's highest research station established by the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). Changla Pass is the main gateway for the Changthang Plateau situated in the Himalayas.

7) Khardung La - 5,359 m (17,582 ft)

Often incorrectly claimed as the world's highest motorable pass, Khardung La comes 7th in our list. Khardung La is located in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This pass is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. This pass was built in 1976, opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and is maintained by the Border Road Organisation. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 17,582 ft. It is the 9th highest motorable pass in the world. Khardung La is an absolute beauty and offers mindblowing panoramic views. Indian Nationals don't need any special permit to traverse through this pass but foreign nationals need Inner Line permit for the same.

8) Taglang La - 5,328 m (17,480 ft)

A high mountain pass of Tanglang is located on the way to Leh from Manali at an elevation of 5,328 metres (17,480 ft). Tanglang La is the highest motorable pass among the five passes on the Manali-Leh highway. The roads are well paved for the most part with the exception of a very short (approx 500m) unpaved section just north of the pass.

Photo of Khardung La is NOT the world's highest motorable road, not even highest in India! 3/3 by Kunal Priyadarshi
Taglang La

9) Wari La - 5,312 m (17,428 ft)

A high altitude pass in Ladakh region, situated at an altitude of 17,400 feet and is a direct road connection from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso. Wari La is a barren pass in the Nubra Valley. You won't find any soul on this entire journey.

10) Lachalung La - 5,056 m (16588 ft)

Another high mountain pass located on the way to Leh from Manali at an elevation of 5,056 m (16588 ft). This is the second highest motorable pass among the five passes on the Manali-Leh highway. The roads are great through a rocky gorge. This pass is 100 km south of Taglang La.

How many of these have you conquered?

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Note: As per Wikipedia, Shipki La - a mountain pass and border post on the India-China border, is at an altitude of 5,669 m (18,599 ft) and is motorable. But people highly doubt on this data and there are no other sources on internet to verify the same. If the claim is true, then Shipki La is the highest motorable road in the world. It is located in Kinnaur district in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The border is no longer open for non-residents and the pass can be traversed by the National Highway 22.

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Originally posted here.

8 Comment(s)
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Shttle Radar Topographic Mission has Certain Errors in the Indian Region! i.e., anywhere out of USA where it was not Ground Caliberated. Please Go with Benchmarks of Survey of India Topographic Sheets! Minimum unit of SRTM DEM Recent Version is 30 m. So it will average with the Adjacent area of roads! You need atleast 9 pixels of homogeneous feature to decide its accurate height. Thats y SRTM Data is described as DEM and not DTM. You have to take a DTM of finer Resolution to do such comparitive study. Anyhow I appreciate your interest in cross checking Elevation with DEM...!
Wed 01 23 19, 13:38 · Reply · Report
I have "conquered" two of these passes on my mountain bike I road from Leh to Manali over the Tanglan La, Lachalung La, 'Rhotang, etc. Great 5 day bicycle ride. I live in Las Vegas NV Stacy
Wed 02 21 18, 00:20 · Reply · Report
Wasted article! the author seems to be doing research only via wikipedia instead of being there in real and checking the facts.. e.g. Mana pass is closed for traffic . Only point u can drive to is the mana village shown in the picture above which is far off from the Ancient Mana pass.. Get your facts correct author. Just doing research online and writing such misinformed articles is not fair!!!
Wed 10 04 17, 11:30 · Reply · Report
Thanks for the information. I would like to know in which rank Nathu La Pass (Indo-China Border in Sikkim) stands?
Mon 08 21 17, 14:26 · Reply · Report
The road to Uturuncu above col is situated in Potosi, Bolivia which is actually considered as world’s highest motorable road at a staggering altitude of 5,777 Mtrs or 18953 Feet.
Thu 08 03 17, 10:00 · Reply · Report
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