Khardungla Pass is the highest motorable road in the world. Really? Well, factually the answer is 'No' but it is still believed to be the one. I don’t really want to get drawn into this controversy or debate as I don’t understand on what basis it was earlier proclaimed to be the highest motorable road in the world. But we now know, for sure, that there are many higher motorable roads than the Khardungla Pass of Ladakh. It is more like the case of proclaiming Drass as the coldest place on earth, when it does not even features in the top 10 list. The locals would boast about it and take pride in it. But that is not the entire truth.
Khardungla Pass is at an altitude of 5,359 meters and is 39.7 km from Leh. Journey from Leh to Khardungla was a painful 3 hours drive up on a winding road, interrupted by minor landslides and avalanches. Higher up, the mountains were still covered with sheet of snow that melts slowly into slush of mud. The army maintains this road through out the day.
Khardungla Pass is an important gateway to the Nubra and Shyok Valley. The pass is another important gateway to Siachen Glacier. Construction work for the pass began in 1976 and was first opened in 1988. Today, it is a two way road. Though motorable road came late, it has long been navigated by traders. A caravan of about 10,000 horses and camels navigated this road annually on their way to Kashgar in Central Asia. The pass is strategically important because of the tense Indo-China relation.
Hundreds of bikers take this road daily. Some more adventurous travellers drive up to Khardungla and paddle back on their bicycles. The idea of conquering the highest motorable road seems to be on many people’s agenda while traversing this pass.
Sadly, Khardungla Pass being the highest motorable road is questionable. Well built roads have been known to exist at higher altitudes in India and Tibet, namely, Mana Pass (5,454 m), Semo La (5,565 m), Suge La (5,430 m), etc. Perhaps, Khardungla Pass has an advantage because it is open year round. The strategic importance and the recurring tension with neighbouring country China makes this an important pass for India. It is also the most popular and frequently travelled road among all of these high altitude passes.
The pass has an Indian Army post and a temple. Travellers often stop to have their photo taken along with the signboard that proclaims Khardungla Pass to be the highest motorable pass in the world. The pass cuts through the mountain peak and so it offers amazing view of Leh and mountains surrounding the valley.
Before entering the pass we stopped at two check posts. All tourists need a travel permit to enter Nubra Valley, as is the case for other places while travelling in Ladakh. Travel permits are issued by the tourism department. One can easily get permit made at travel agencies, though they charge a little bit more.
The road between Khardungla Pass and the North of Pullu has some of the thickest clumps of snow I had ever seen. Most vehicles made a stop at North of Pullu for tea and some snacks.
Khardungla Pass is the highest place I had been to so far!