Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Khardung La

Day 10: July 2, 2012; Leh to Khardung La and Hunder:

Road to Khardung La

As I thought the night before, every rider was back in action – chirpy, set to ride – back with the bang! The band of brothers was briefed by the RE Leaders – Santhosh and Aakash on the route to Khardung La and Hunder, some tips about riding and the works. Soon after, we rode out of Leh in a formation of two, so as to add least disturbance to the locals – after all, 65 REs do make a hell lot of noise! As we ascended towards Khardung La, I could observe whole of Leh town and the homes built in the old Leh town too. The view was astonishing!

En route Khardung La – Magical Himalayas

Claimed to be at a height of 5602m AMSL, Khardung La is a high mountain pass situated 39 km by road North of Leh. An early start would ensure that one reaches Khardung La without encountering lot of traffic. You will need an Inner line permit to cross or visit Khardung La. With a brief stop at South Pullu check-post, we proceeded ahead, only to find bad roads for 14kms to the top. It is ironical that even on the other side, i.e. after crossing Khardung La, I found bad roads for exactly 14kms towards our descent to North Pullu!

Beware! Avalanche can hit you anytime!

On the way, I came across this rather scary signage; do read it carefully in the adjoining image!
Khardung La – here I come! Atop arguably the world’s highest motorable road! What a feeling it was! All riders were elated!

True and I atop Khardung La

You may visit the video I made here to gauge the feelings I experienced once I completed this feat!

Special mention to Mr. GR Krishnan – he was oldest of us riders at 62 years of age. The true dude! He was simply jubilant to arrive here, riding his Thunderbird! Some grit and determination it took and we all witnessed his passion all through the journey…

The Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey on Khardung La

At an age of 31 years now, I wonder would I be able to repeat the same feat when I turn his age…worth thinking!
I thanked Aakash – a superb team-leader, for all his guidance and support to us riders! He was the man behind many of us making it successfully to this place…truly remarkable guy with a great passion for riding!

GR Krishnan – the true dude!

Khardung La is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. There is some charm in riding atop what is claimed to be the highest motorable road of the world! Maintained by the BRO, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

Aakash Ahuja – the cool dude!

Saurabh and I atop Khardung La

The weather at Khardung La can be really tricky – we were there on an absolutely superb day – bright sun shining over our heads and very little chill to worry about. See me and my friend Saurabh basking in the glory of sun-rays!
Don’t you get conned by this, dear readers! I would like to remind you that only early this June, the Army and police rescued more than 400 people trapped at the Khardung La, between South and North Pullu, due to landslides triggered by heavy rains in Ladakh!

Also, once here, do follow the basics – do not stay for long and don’t exert too much in excitement. It can be fatal! Read on the signage …

Do read on…

Once I arrived at the Pass, it took me a while to get myself and True photographed next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world” – there were so many tourists around – I could see people from all part of the country and the world!

True and RRG and the Khardung La Signage…

Highest Cafeteria of the world!

You see the above colourful signage? It belongs to the café at the Pass, claiming itself to the highest café of the world; where one can have a much-needed cup of green tea along with some snacks.
The walls of this café speak about the story of Maggi! A very interesting read…

The Maggi Story…

Now, you’d be surprised – Airtel works here! After all the troubles I had with the network all through the journey, it was a pleasant surprise! Did you notice the tower in the adjoining image?
I also came across a souvenir shop selling Khardung La memorabilia, run by Army. The products are made in Karol Bagh, though! Worth buying, nonetheless, would be a small wooden plaque – it’d remind you that you were there! Like every other pass, there’s a temple at the Khardung La too – again run by the army. In the video I shot, you can hear the holy songs playing in the background!

Tower, Temple and Shop – Can’t miss the retail therapy anywhere!

Caveat: Well, the GPS and the Casio watch, both confirmed the newly spread believe that this pass is NOT really the world’s highest pass and that the elevations claimed by the signboards are rather inflated. The watch showed the elevation to be 5359m or 17582feet AMSL. This confirmed what I was being told for while by many other riders checking it on their GPS/watches.

Long ago, a rider friend shared his experience about Marsimek La, which is also in Ladakh. This pass, though largely not open to public, is also claimed to be arguably world’s highest motorable road at 5590m or 18634feet AMSL! In fact, there exists a plaque stating the same, mentioning the name of the BRO’s construction company! However, I am not sure if this pass can be really called motorable, as most of the army-men I have spoken with to confirm this stated otherwise. So, it is important to make a distinction between world’s highest motorable road and world’s highest pass!

Mana Pass – new highest motorable road of the world!

Most recently, during my trip to Badrinath, I came across a revelation – another signboard claiming that the Mana Pass is now the highest motorable road in the world, standing at an elevation of 5608m or 18399feet AMSL. Mana Pass, or Dungri La, is located between India and Tibet, about 50kms from village Mana on NH58, also known as the last village on Indo-Tibet border, close to 3kms ahead of the Badrinath Dham. However, I was told that this pass is not open to public as of now and is heavily guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

So, while it is safer to say that while Khardung La is a very high mountain pass and also possibly the highest pass with a motorable road open to public, both the claims of it being at a height of 5602m AMSL and being the world’s highest motorable road may not be accurate.

Interestingly, I found Khardung La to be the easiest ride! After doing Kunzum La, Nakee La, Baralacha La, Lachulung La and Taglang La, I can say that I found Taglang La the most difficult as well as most beautiful. I am told Chang La, en route to Pangong Lake, is really steep, tough and strenuous. However, so was I told about Jalori La; however, when I crossed it, I didn’t find it difficult at all.
Would surely like to visit Marsimek La, Chang La and Mana Pass some day along with True…
From hereon, we rode towards the Nubra Valley – the cold desert of Ladakh…

28 Comments

  • SilentSoul says:

    Very interesting description and grande photos.. although some fotos were so big they went out of my screen and I had to see them in pieces, yet the grandeur of the photos was beyond imagination.

    62 years old dude was the real hero of this crusade…. hope i will remain same active at this age.

    I have read most of the people go to Khardung la and come back… but you are going beyond to the other side of the valley, so I am waiting for some new and exciting fotos

    tks for sharing RRG

  • JATDEVTA says:

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  • D.L.Narayan says:

    As always, stunning Himalayan vistas and racy narrative. Keep it up, RRG.

    Great to see a 62 year old Mr. Krishnan driving as enthusiastically as guys half his age. He is an inspiration for people like me who have stopped biking over a couple of decades ago. .

    2 things I would have loved to see in this post:
    1. A screenshot of the GPS device showing that Khardung La is not as high as is said to be.
    2. A snapshot of the other hoarding at the Rinchen Cafeteria which gave some info about the Siachen glacier.

    • Narayan,
      Thanks. Glad you liked the post.
      Krishnan uncle is truly the real dude!

      I had heard a lot about the Khardung La height controversy. However, didn’t know how to check and corroborate. So, this time, first thing I checked was the altimeter of the 2 different Casio watches the fellow riders wore to the Top. I also checked the GPS installed on a tourist vehicle, which in fact showed 2 meters lesser than the watch! Forgot the photo-part in all excitement!
      However, whether or not the height of K’Top is accurate as claimed, the fact stays that the Mana pass is the highest motorable road now, by BRO’s own admission.
      Regards,
      RRG

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Nice Photos, good description. Highest Pass and Highest road nice to know about that.
    Thanks and regards

  • AUROJIT says:

    Enjoying the thrilling journey. Controversy about the highest motorable road has been going on for a long time. Variables include authenticity of the height claimed (as brought out by you), the ‘motorability’ factor, viz how is ‘motorable’ defined and then of course variation in account of those who scale the passes. A pass on Chinese side of Himalayas also lays claim to this credit.

    Regular use of GPS/ altimeters and some honest reporting (like the post here) will perhaps help to clear the air and establish facts in future.

    Thanks,

    Auro.

    • Auro, well said. In fact, very recently someone brought my attention to the data published by SRTM (http://www.sol.co.uk/v/viewfinder/khardung-la.txt), stating that Khardung La’s claimed height may not be accurate. Later, it was also measured & supported by the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia (http://www.viewfinderpanoramas.org/ICCSemoKhardung.pdf)

      I would encourage readers to go through these details.

      Also, it important to understand the distinction between ‘highest motorable pass’ and ‘high pass with highest motorable road’. Khardung La was certainly never claimed to be the former and as about latter, the claim is arguable – both in terms of its own actual height and that whether any other motorable pass is higher that it. BRO’s claim about Mana Pass is a testimony.

      Moreover, as accurately pointed out by you, one needs to understand how ‘motor ability’ is defined – I have ridden bikes on the worst possible patches; they may not be called motorable by BRO’s standards. Thus, Marsimek La can feature in this category.

      However, I am a simple rider and claim no authority towards this domain of measuring altitude. So, while it is safer to say that while Khardung La is a very high mountain pass and also possibly the highest pass with a motorable road open to public, both the claims of it being at a height of 5602m AMSL and being the worlds highest motorable road may not be accurate.

      RRG

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Great ride RRG. The photos have come out stunning. I have never been to Leh. Makes me remember Kaka’s song, Leh Jayenge Leh Jayenge.

    Regarding the height, may be the guy with tallest vehicle wins this.

  • venkatt says:

    Memorable moments for you all brave souls at Khardung La top. Thoroughly enjoyed your travelogue, Rishi.

  • Tarun Sahu says:

    Rishi ji i will planing to leh and khardula ,so just i want know best time to visit to leh and also i want know that i wanna go to khardula is there any permit or permission required from government or army????if yes where i can take this.

    • Tarun, best time to visit Leh is mid June to late August. You require passes to cross South Pullu. However, if you are going by taxi, travel agents will get it for you from the DC’s office. It is easily available.
      Regards,
      RRG

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Rishi, I have just come across this story about the Himalayan Odyssey. I am sure that you will enjoy reading it.

    http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article3678436.ece

  • Second photo ‘En route Khardung La Magical Himalayas’ is a winner one. Combination of TRUE and Himalayas in the background is looking amazing. I wish I could see such places some day.

  • Thank you, Narayan.

    Dependra, thanks! Himalayas are truly splendid and I am sure they will call you soon!

  • minchu says:

    3 of us were planning to go to ladakh from 5th august to 25th august and trek from leh to thirit village and trek back. can you please tell me whether we get some villages on the way where we can have some food? and any other advice you would like to give. please reply as soon as possible. thanks!

    • Minchu,
      Tirith is in Sumur, which is after Nubra Valley. Sumur, and Panamik, are two other villages in Nubra Valley, where tourists have started to travel to. A few kilometers after crossing Diskit, a road goes left to Sumur. I haven’t gone there, but I am aware of a place called Tirith Camps, which is supposedly a good stay option.

      You will find food at North Pullu, and then at Khardong Village, then at Khalsar and then at Diskit. In fact, there is an eatery 15km before Diskit too.

      However, I could not understand when you wrote about you trekking to Tirith. I guess the distance would be good 140kms from Leh. I haven’t heard anyone trying to do that in years!.

  • wajahat says:

    Hi.
    I liked you post very much. They were very useful. I would like to ask you that while on your trip to the , did you see any 150cc four stroke bike?
    Because I am planning to go this september on honda unicorn. Plz reply. Also if september is a hood month to go there.
    thanks.

  • ADIL says:

    Hi bro…I like all your posts…I want your contact no because me and my frnd are planning to visit leh ladakh in May on bikes…So, me and my frnds need some information and important tips from you to reach there easily and safely…So, pls bro share your contact no with me…It’s a request…I am waiting for your quick response…

  • ADIL says:

    Thanks Bro…I wl cl you after 7 pm on week offs…Ok

    Thanks a Ton….!

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