Contrary to general public opinion, misinformed by Guinness World Records, local summit signs, social media posts and countless websites, the world’s highest motorable road pass is NOT the Khardung La 5,359 m (17,582 ft) but Umlingla Pass 5,882 m (19,300 feet). According to Wikipedia, vehicles have been driven over the 5,582 meters (18,314 ft) Marsimik La, in the Indian Karakoram to the north-east of Khardung La.
The road is motorable by skilled bikers and Indian Army jeeps but it is debatable whether this pass should be considered to be motorable. We have compiled the list of top 10 highest motorable roads or passes in India as per the SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) data. Most of these also qualify for the highest motorable roads or passes in the world.
The higher you go, the colder it gets, and at the end of the road you barely have any horsepower left
1) Umlingla Top (Pass) – 5,882 metres (19,300 ft)
Umlingla Pass near the India-China border in Jammu & Kashmir is the highest motorable road in the world. The 86km road constructed by BRO goes up to an elevation of 19,300 ft connecting Chisumle and Demchok villages in the Ladakh region. The oxygen level at Umlingla Top is 50% less than at normal places. Civilians need special permits from the Indian Army to drive through this road.
2) Dungri La (Road) – 5,610 metres (18,406 ft)
Dungri La (Mana Pass) is situated at the border between Tibet and India in the state of Uttarakhand and is the Highest Motorable Mountain Road in World. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 18,406 ft. It connects India to Tibet through the Zanskar mountain range. It was constructed in the 2005-2010 period for the Indian military by the Border Roads Organisation and visible on 2011 imagery on visual globe systems such as Google Earth. Civilians need special permits from the Army and District Magistrate’s office to drive through this road.
3) Marsimik La (Pass) – 5,582 metres (18,314 ft)
A mountain pass in the Chang-Chemno Range in northern India 96 km east of Leh is the second highest Motorable Mountain Pass in World. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 18,314 ft. Just before the start of Pangong Tso, a road turns north away from the lake and heads into the hills. 20 kilometres on that road lies the Marsimik La. Every year several skilled riders come here to conquer the highest motorable pass in the world to see the six-lane highway China has built all the way up to the LOC just 10 kilometers beyond the pass. You need permission from the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Leh to climb this pass.
4) Photi La – 5,524m (18,124 ft)
This high mountain pass is the latest entry in this list and is situtated in the Zanskar range of Ladakh region. It is around 30 km from the beautiful Hanle Monastery (Hanle village) on the Hanle-Photi Le road. The road to the pass is very dusty and you won’t find any soul around due to very less oxygen. You need permission from the Army to conquer this pass.
5) Dongkha La – 5,500 m (18,000 ft)
The Dongkha la or Donkia Pass is a high mountain pass in the Himalaya connecting Sikkim in India with Tibet. Located in North Sikkim, the pass offers a picturesque view of the Tibetan Plateau. This pass is 5km from the Gurudongmar Lake (Buddhist Holy Lake). This lake is one of the highest lakes in the world. The pass is controlled by the Indian Army and civilians need special permits to visit the pass. Due to the closeness of this pass with the Tibetian border, the permits are mostly hard to get much like Mana Pass.
6) Kaksang La – 5,438 m (17,841 ft)
Kaksang La is a high mountain pass situated in the Ladakh region, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. It is located between Mahe (40km, 4,200m) and Chushul. The pass offers picturesque views of the fantastic lakes, mountains and valleys. Like all the passes mentioned above, you need Inner Line Permits and permission from the Indian Army to visit the pass. For Indian nationals, their are fair chances to get these permissions but for foreign nationals, it is quite tough.
7) Chang La – 5,360 m (17,586 ft)
Chan La is a high pass with an altitude of 17,586 ft from the sea level on SRTM. It is an amazing pass located on the way to majestic Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, India. Chang La has the world’s highest research station established by the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). Changla Pass is the main gateway for the Changthang Plateau situated in the Himalayas.
8) Khardung La – 5,359 m (17,582 ft)
Often incorrectly claimed as the world’s highest motorable pass, Khardung La comes 8th in our list. Khardung La is located in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This pass is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. This pass was built in 1976, opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and is maintained by the Border Road Organisation. On SRTM data, it is at an elevation of 17,582 ft. It is the 9th highest motorable pass in the world. Khardung La is an absolute beauty and offers mindblowing panoramic views. Indian Nationals don’t need any special permit to traverse through this pass but foreign nationals need Inner Line permit for the same.
9) Taglang La – 5,328 m (17,480 ft)
A high mountain pass of Tanglang is located on the way to Leh from Manali at an elevation of 5,328 metres (17,480 ft). Tanglang La is the highest motorable pass among the five passes on the Manali-Leh highway. The roads are well paved for the most part with the exception of a very short (approx 500m) unpaved section just north of the pass.
10) Wari La – 5,312 m (17,428 ft)
A high altitude pass in Ladakh region, situated at an altitude of 17,400 feet and is a direct road connection from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso. Wari La is a barren pass in the Nubra Valley. You won’t find any soul on this entire journey.
11) Lachalung La – 5,056 m (16588 ft)
Another high mountain pass located on the way to Leh from Manali at an elevation of 5,056 m (16588 ft). This is the second highest motorable pass among the five passes on the Manali-Leh highway. The roads are great through a rocky gorge. This pass is 100 km south of Taglang La.
How many of these have you conquered?