Thursday, 7 June 2007


KHARDUNGLA PASS: The road journey to Nubra valley leads through Khardung La Pass (The highest motorable road in the world). Situated at a height of 18,390 ft, Khardung La Pass is around 39 kms away from Leh. There are two checkpoints on the both sides of Khardung La pass. Khardung is the first village of Nubra valley at higher altitude than Deskit and other villages.

Khardung La (la means pass in Tibetan) (elevation 5359 m) is a high mountain pass located in the Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

The pass on the Ladakh Range lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies partway up the latter valley. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. Maintained by the Indian Army's Corps, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry essential supplies to the Siachen. Khardung La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen in the area north of the pass, mute witnesses to history. During World War II there was a futile attempt to transfer war material to China through this route.

Khardung La is situated 37 km by road from Leh. The first 24 km, as far as the South Pullu check point, are paved. From there to the North Pullu check point about 15 km beyond the pass the roadway is primarily loose rock, dirt, and occasional rivulets of snow melt. However, this pass is in better repair than many of the surrounding passes (Tanglang La, for example). From North Pullu into the Nubra Valley, the road is very well maintained (except in a very few places where washouts or falling rock occur). Hired vehicles (2 and 4-wheel-drive), heavy trucks, and motorcycles regularly travel into the Nubra Valley, though special permits may need to be arranged for travellers to make the journey.


The 5,359 m elevation given above is from a modern GPS survey by a team of Catalan researchers and is supported by a document supplied by the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia. It accurately matches SRTM data and Russian topographic mapping, and it is broadly consistent with several other independent travellers' GPS reports…

Several of these sources contain assertions by local people who claim that the 5,602 m (18,380 feet) height claimed by the summit signs has been inflated for the purpose of record breaking. The even higher elevation of 5,682 m (18,640 feet) given by Guinness World Records and the National Geographic Society, at the top of this article, is not supported by any evidence and may be rooted in a copying error from 5,602 m.

The coordinates and local SRTM elevation data are easily verifiable by clicking on 34°16′44″N, 77°36′17″E and following the Google Earth link, which leads to some excellent new high resolution satellite imagery. Readers who have not installed Google Earth can view images here and here.

The world's highest motorable pass?

Khardung La is widely, but incorrectly, believed to be the world's highest motorable pass. There are higher motorable passes at Suge La, west of Lhasa, 5,430 m (17,815 feet), and Semo La 5,565 m (18,258 feet), between Raka and Coqen in Central Tibet. Both these elevations are supported by GPS and SRTM evidence and the latter was also measured by the Catalans and supported by the CIC, see above. Vehicles have been driven over the 5,582 metres (18,314 ft) Marsimik La, in the Indian Karakoram to the north-east of Khardung La, but it is debatable whether this pass should be considered to be motorable. There may be higher motorable passes elsewhere in Tibet, but verification of these has not been possible because of lack of information and restricted access.

Getting to Khardung La

The nearest town is Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Leh is connected by road from Manali and Srinagar, and daily flights are operated from Delhi. From Leh, a daily bus service to Nubra Valley passes over Khardungla. The ideal method to get to Khardungla is by taxi or bike. The two bases on either side of Khardungla are North Pullu and South Pullu. Vehicles are allowed only in one direction at a time, from 9am - 1pm in the Leh - Khardungla Direction, and from 1 pm - 5 pm in the Nubra - Khardungla - Leh Direction.

Inner line permits are required to reach Khardungle, these can be procured at the DC's office in Leh. Make sure to have photocopies of your permits, as each checkpoint needs a copy to be deposited with them.

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