Khardung La is a difficult drive up to the top of a mountain

Khardung La is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 5.359m (17,582ft) above the sea level located in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. It’s one of the highest roads in the world.

Khardung La

Is Khardung La the world's highest motorable road?

Contrary to popular belief fueled by Guinness World Records, social media posts, and even the signage at the mountain peak, the road to Khardung La is not the highest road on Earth. Recent GPS measurements have revealed that the reported elevation of 5,682m (18,641ft) is entirely inaccurate. To explore the genuinely highest roads on our planet, take a glimpse at the following list.

Where is Khardung La?

The pass is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The road to the summit, also known as Khardong La and Khardzong La, is not paved and with the frozen mix of ice and dirt for a road it makes one slippery and narrow trail with very deep valleys right next to you. Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier. Due to the proximity of the Pakistani and Chinese borders, army truck convoys are a regular hazard, however that’s nothing compared to what the altitude can do. 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. 

When was the road to Khardung La built?

The narrow dirt road to the summit was built in 1976 and opened to motor vehicles in 1988. Usually there are potential long travel delays due to traffic congestion on narrow one-lane sections, washouts, landslides and road accidents. The pass has been historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia and is situated 39 km by road from Leh.

Is Khardung La dangerous?

The road is very well maintained (except in a very few places where washouts or falling rock occur). It is often subject to long delays due to traffic congestion on narrow one-lane sections, washouts, landslides and road accidents. Massive Indian military presence in the area and associated military convoys cause additional problems. It’s one of the highest roads of the country.

Is altitude sickness a risk on the road to Khardung La?

The pass features on many a die-hard cyclist’s bucket list. Anyone game enough to ride this ultra-long slog is likely to regret it as soon as they start pedalling. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can start to affect people over 2,400m. Khardung Pass rises to well over double that, making those final kilometres absolutely agonizing. Altitude sickness is a serious health concern for travellers not previously acclimatized to high altitudes. Altitude sickness is guaranteed on this journey and there is no medical support along the route. It is recommended to take deep breaths here as there is very less oxygen supply. Do not plan to spend more than 1-2 hours here. Don’t use the bathrooms at the summit. Extremely poor public conveniences and very gross toilets. Don’t even think about it.

Is Khardung La open?

The road is closed annually from approximately October to May due to snow. The road is primarily loose rock, dirt, and usually covered in snow. A military-check point on the road requires passport and a respective permit to ride the pass. It is a difficult journey during monsoons or during winters because there is always risk of getting hit by the avalanches. 
Pic: Saurabh Arora