Destinations - India Mountains

Khardung La, Ladakh | On Top of the World!

Written by Poorna & Brinda
Khardung La – The name itself excites anyone who plans a trip to Ladakh. It is the highest motorable mountain pass in the world at 18380 feet! It is like driving over a summit!

We visited Khardung La first in 2010 and again in 2015 and 2016. We were on top of the world thrice. Here is our experience. Please read on…..

Awestruck at First sight – July, 2010
Travelling in Ladakh is exciting indeed. Being the first visit to Ladakh we are looking at the magnificence of the Himalayas with bated breath. The two days Manali – Leh road trip was a once in a life time experience. After a hectic gompa hopping in Leh we are getting ready for the journey of our life to the highest motorable pass in the world – Khardung La ( La in Tibetan means “Mountain pass”).
Zigmet – our driver – is to come at 8 AM and we are ready after a quick breakfast of cereal and omelette. The road to Khardung La is a steep climb. It is a short distance of only 40 KMs from Leh.  The crow fly distance from Leh would not be more than ten KMs.
The climb is steep as we go from 11,000 feet to 18,380 feet. The road is excellent as the Border roads organisation maintains this diligently. Khardung La is an important pass as the troops and supplies to Siachen is routed through this pass.
A steady climb over winding road gave us a panoramic view of Leh town below with Stok Kangri peak in the background. A stream has created lush green fields with houses around it. An isolated gompa on a small hill provided an enchanting picture as we climb up.
Please click on the pictures to see them in original size.
A small village in the valley as we start climbing.
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Notice the steady climb to the top. The landscape is spectacular with Ladakh ranges of Himalayas in the horizon khardung la
First glimpse of the snow as we climb. A vast valley with thick cover of snow on the top.
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Avalanche area. These are few kilometres where the road is bad. This is a landslide prone area. You can notice stones precariously balancing.
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We could see a huge glacier. There was lot of snow in the valley as well.
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We continue to climb. The road from North Pullu till the summit is bad. It is nothing but small boulders all the way!
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A huge snow wall!! 
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We could see natural rock garden surrounded by snow! We could see nature sculpted figures when seen through binoculars. 
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Hurray! We are on top of the world’s highest motorable pass – Khardung La
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The summit had fair amount of snow. In fact, it started snowing a bit when we left.
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We come down.
We are now excited with next place of visit. We are to go to Pangong Tso – the largest brackish lake in Asia – made more popular after it was shot beautifully in the climax scenes of the Hindi Blockbuster “ 3 Idiots”.
Zigmet asked us to be ready at sunrise to travel to the beautiful lake.
We can’t wait to go there.
Mountains never ceae to surprise – August 2014
The main reason for us to visit Ladakh in 2014 was the Markha Valley trek. We reached few days in advance which helped us to acclimatize better before we started our trek. In 2010, we did not go to Nubra Valley. This time, Poorna’s batchmate was commanding the Siachen Brigade and had invited us to visit the base camp. (Check out our spectacular drive to Siachen Base Camp here –
Our plan was to visit Khardung la and then stay over at Patarpur army camp and then do a day trip to Siachen base camp.
Mountains in Ladakh never cease to throw surprises. Though we had done Khardung la in 2010, this time around it was a different experience.
The first was the roads. What a dramatic improvement. The black top roads were fantastic throughout the journey except for few kilometres of rocky surface. Along with good roads, we could also see huge influx of tourists, even though it was in August.
Fortunately there was snow on the top. But not to the extent we had seen in 2010.
The climb starts….
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This time, we could savour the majestic view of Shanti Stupa with rugged mountains as back drop. 
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The mountains were more or less devoid of the except for tall peaks. The one on the extreme right is the tallest mountain in Ladakh ranges – Stok Kangri
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We continue to climb. Unlike the other roads in Ladakh, the road to Khardung la is a sheer climb all the way till the top
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We are reaching a vantage point for photography. A cliff on the roadside provides a spectacular backdrop for photographs. You will find everyone stopping over here.
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This is the landscape you see from the photo shoot point!!
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Cyclists on the climb. Tough guys indeed!
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This time took time to capture these surreal rocks. Amazing sculpture by nature!
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A small patch of glacier. Still the valley looked lovely!
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The avalanche prone stretch continues to be a challenge. The road is narrow and tough.
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Tricolour on top of the highest motorable pass in the world – Khardung La
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A small stupa on the pass. The locals offer prayers when they pass through the pass.
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On top of the world! There was no snow at all!! ( A few days after we returned from Ladakh, it had snowed heavily in Khardung La)
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Lovely view of the ranges on the other side of the pass with some snow.
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You will never get satiated – June 2016
Last year, we were in Ladakh. We finished the gruelling “Hell Race – 5 Days, 5 Passes, 5 Marathons in Himalayas” on Manali – Leh highway. We visited Leh, Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley as we had a friend who had joined us in leh directly from Bangalore.
The roads continued to be great condition except for few kilometres on either side of the pass. These small stretches are heavy landslide and avalanche prone areas. The Border Roads Organisation which builds and maintains roads on Indian borders continue to work on making these stretches safe and good.
This time around we could actually feel the steep climb. Nuwang, our driver was sensible and drove cautiously. Good roads mens more number of vehicles. many bikers. Driving rashly on these tough roads.
When we reached on top, there was no Snow ate all. This was in mid June! We could not believe our eyes. We had seen same situation in Rohtang pass.
Nice view of Shanti Stupa
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Stok Kangri and other peaks as seen from the road.
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Zoomed up view….
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You never cease to get surprised! A lovely loop!
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The snow was better than in Aug 2015. But we are in June and this is hardly anything. 
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Spectacular view of the valley towards Nubra….
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Surprisingly we saw a lot of snow when we drove down hill towards Nubra valley……
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Getting there
Khardung La can be reached comfortably from Leh by car. It is also an easy ride by Bike which can be hired in Leh.
Travel Tips
a) Don’t stay for more than ten minutes on the top. You can actually feel getting exhausted.
b) Don’t play around with snow and exert physically. AMS may hit you badly.
c) Ladakh Scouts – An army unit – has a nice store selling memorabilia. Pick one if you wish to.
d) Generally Khardung La is a planned as a transit to go to Nubra which actually makes sense. Visitors normally spends a night or two in Nubra and then return to Leh.
e) Drive safely. The roads are excellent except for few kilometres in Avalanche prone area which is bad. One has to be extra careful while driving on this stretch.
f) Local drivers drive very fast. Please ensure that your driver drives safe.
g) If you find anyone in your group breathless because of the height, drive down immediately. Take the help of the army medical centre.
h) The pass may get crazily crowded during season. Start at dawn to beat the crowds.
What has been your Khardung La experience? Please share it with us.

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About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

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