If you're one of those for whom a motorcycle is an extension of self, then long distance road trips to Ladakh is definitely on your bucket-list. For the picturesque routes, surprising halts, and unexpected detours offer an experience unlike any other.
But there are some pit stops that are more memorable than others, Khardung La for instance. The drive up to the view point of one of Ladakh's highest and popular pass takes you through one of India’s most breath-taking landscapes. It also poses the best kind of a driver’s/biker’s dilemma: do you zip up the curvy roads or take your time to soak in the scenic views on your long bike ride.
Scroll through for a comprehensive guide to planning a road trip to the Khardung La.
Hello Khardung La!
Situated at an astonishing 17,982 feet, until 2017 Khardung La aka Khardong La (as the locals call it) was the world’s highest motorable road. However, its title was snatched by an 86-km road near the Indo-China border around November 2017. The latter, constructed under Border Road Organisation’s (BRO) Project Himank, is located between the Chisumle and Demchok villages and stands tall at a height of over 19,300 feet.
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The word ‘la’ in its name literally translates to ‘pass’ in Tibetan and hence, the place is also known as Khardung Pass. The road was built in 1987 to connects Nubra and Shyok Valley to Leh and the rest of the world. It was opened for motor bikers a year after and ever since, has been a popular motorbiking and road trip destination.
Khardung La is maintained by BRO and a motorway of great significance for the Indian armed forces since it paves the way for army convoys that supply commodities to the Siachen border. The road's political significance is also immense, Khardung La lies in close proximity to the China-Pakistan border and connects Leh to China’s Kashgar. During the World War 2, it was used to supply war equipment to China.
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Reaching Khardung La
There are three routes to get to Khardung La: from Leh (Ladakh), from Manali (Himachal Pradesh) and from Srinagar (Kashmir), which are the closest cities to the pass:
- The easiest way to reach this pass is by taking a direct flight to Leh and then a rented car or bike for a road trip; it is situated approx. 39kms from Leh. The Leh to Khardung La route will take you through Phyang village and South Pullu check point. Before you take on the journey, check with entry and exit timings to avoid any inconvenience.
- From Srinagar, Khardung La is over 400kms. You can take the Srinagar-Leh highway and it will take you approx. 11-12 hours to reach the viewpoint.
- As far as the Manali to Leh and Khardung La journey is concerned, one needs to follow the Leh-Manali highway via a private car/bike or get on a state transport bus from Keylong to Leh. If not that, you can travel from Manali to Jammu and then, a flight to Leh.
The Journey to Khardung La
It’s not just the destination but also the journey that draws people from all over the world. The gorgeous panoramas of Leh with its glistening lakes and cobalt blue skies rejuvenate the soul. It also treats you to the arid grey mountains of the Indo Valley and snow clad mountains when you reach the top. Khardung La also has a café, a tiny hospital, and a souvenir shop for tourists. However, army officials suggest not staying more than 20 minutes since the oxygen levels there are comparatively low.
Best Season to Visit
Khardung La is open for tourists from May to October. In summer, the temperature is approx. 20 degrees Celsius, while in winter it can drop as low as –40 degree Celsius.
Getting Into the Inner Line Permit
One of the first few things to do when you enter Ladakh on your road trip, is to get yourself an inner line permit, an official document issued by the Government of India, which gives you permission to enter restricted areas. You will have to submit the inner line permit form along with a couple of nationality and photo-identity proofs at the Ladakh DC office, open from 9:00 am-3:00 pm. For Indian tourists, this permit is valid for up to three weeks but for foreigners, it ends within a week. Additionally, you may also be required to pay the Environment Fees which may cost around INR 400.
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Things to Keep Handy
- Identity proof and permit
- Doctor prescribed medication for Acute Mountain Sickness.
- Chocolates, candies and energy bars
- Raincoats and woolen wear
- Pain relieving ointments
- Portable oxygen supply
- Fully charged camera with batteries
- Fuel containers
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Things to Keep in Mind
- Watch out for symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (dizziness, nausea, breathlessness and headache) that creeps in beyond 2400 m altitude. The sharp dips and hairpin routes only make it worse. It is essential for you to carry medications since there are no medical facilities on the route.
- Additionally, this narrow route can quickly get lined up with vehicles and military installments as landslides, snowstorms and road accidents are common occurrences.
- The pass remains closed between the months of October to May due to extreme weather conditions. Storms, blizzards and avalanches may also cause shutting down of the route.
Want to know more about Khardung La, Ladakh, and the Himalayas? Take a virtual tour with Ranveer Brar in LF's all-new Himalayas: The Offbeat Adventure
Images: Rohan Tulpule and Shutterstock.com