Is Khardung La the Highest Motorable Road in the World?

Khardung La


Khardung La

KHARDUNGLA TOP 18380 FT WORLD’S HIGHEST MOTORABLE ROADclaims a signboard at the mountain pass in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The travel bug in me always pushes me to plan a trip to get Leh-ed and conquer Khardung La or KhardungPass, get clicked while posing like an achiever! But will that be a real achievement? Is Khardung La actually the highest motorable road in the world?

My dear friends who made me feel envious by posting their pictures boasting about this accomplishment, and everyone like me who wishes to go there for the same reason, sorry but this might pinch you a bit. Here are a few facts to break the myth and validate that Khardung La is NOT the world’s highest motorable road as it claims to be. Read on:

Fact #1: The actual elevation of Khardung La is 5,359 meters (17,582 ft) and not 18,380 feet as claimed

According to hundreds of GPS Surveys, whose data are consistent with the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data, Russian Topography Mapping and ASTER GDEM data which follow advanced, comprehensive techniques for such evaluations, confirm the elevation of Khardung La as 5,359 meters (17,582 ft).

Fact #2: Mana Pass or Māna La on the border between India and Tibet rises to 5,610 meters (18,406 ft) on the Indian side, approximately 800 ft higher than Khardung La

Mana Pass, also called the Dungri Pass and located on the India–Tibet border has a well-graded gravel-dirt road built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for the Indian Military. It was constructed during 2005-2010. It is even visible on 2011 imagery as Google Earth and other visual global system. Interestingly, in October 2015 seven passionate women motorcyclists undertook a ride to Mana Pass to make a record of being the first women’s biker group to cross the pass till date. Well, this fact ensures that the pass is accessible and definitely sits at a higher altitude than Khardung La Pass!

Fact #3: Road to Uturuncu in Bolivia sits at a stupefying altitude of 5,768 meters (18,924 ft)

Situated in Potosí Department, Bolivia, the road to Uturuncu volcano at an altitude of 5,768 meters is factually the highest motorable road in the world! It is said that more than 90% of the road is motorable but the key to maneuver there is acclimatisation. Until mid 1990s the road was used to access a sulphur mine. Uturuncu is classified as a dormant volcano and is one of the seven super volcanoes around the world that would cause a massive impact on the climate if it bursts.

Adding to the same point, there are other motorable passes around the world sitting at higher altitudes than Khardung La including Suge La in Lhasa (5,430 m) and Semo La (5,565 m) in Tibet.

Fact #4: Marsimik La, at an altitude of 18,953 feet (much higher than Khardung La), is the Highest Motorable Pass in the World

96 km from Leh, Marsimik La is a motorable pass that is accessible with prior permits from the Army. Civilians have reached the pass on bikes as well as normal SUVs.

P.S: The above mentioned facts are written considering the standard meaning of the word “motorable” as “usable or accessible by motor vehicles” for the brevity of the blog, without getting further in to the specifications of the roads and the vehicles, and the permits required to access these roads or passes.

This post is not intended to ruin any of your plans to visit Khardung La Pass but to break a myth and to get our facts right. With the Indian Army maintaining the pass throughout the year at such an altitude, the place surely deserves a proud visit, and the journey too is no less than an adventurous extravaganza. So, pack your bags to experience the ‘mother of all rides’ through the enthralling terrains, extreme and unpredictable climate conditions, take pictures with the same signboard, and do not forget to buy some souvenirs or tee-shirts of the controversial world’s highest motorable road from there. Bon Voyage!