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Highest Motorable Road

Discussion in 'Travel advice' started by MickVerma, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. MickVerma

    MickVerma New Member

    I have recently bought a new SUV and as I love driving I want to be a bit adventurous and drive on the highest motorable road.
    I think that the highest motorable road in India is somewhere in Jammu and Kashmir, but I am not too sure, so need some correct advice on which is the highest motorable road.

    I would like to know about the road condition, the route to take from Delhi and any other information which would be relevant for me to know.

    I will be taking along with me my two friends, and we would probably take turns in driving so that it doesn't become too tiring.

  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hello, welcome to the forum!


    What truly defines a motorable road? There are various parameters that are used to define a high motorable road. But for this guide, let us define it in simple terms. To qualify as a high motorable road, vehicles such as four-wheelers or SUVs can traverse through it without any issues. Similarly, lower ground clearance vehicles such as sedans or hatchbacks should also be able to traverse through the roads, though an experienced driver would be necessary for the journey. Tough bicycles that are made for off roading should also be able to traverse through the roads. The roads could be well-laid with tarmac, but they could also be patchy and bumpy. The roads could also be highly restricted for entry of civilians but are regularly used by army personnel which usually have bigger vehicles. In this guide, we would highlight the top ten highest motorable roads in India, including some of the details you might need for them.

    The Highest Motorable Roads in India

    1. Dungri La or Mana La - Situated at about 5,610 metres above sea level, the Dungri La, also known as Mana La, is India's highest motorable road. The pass is located in the Indo-Tibet Border of Uttarakhand, just 52 kilometres away from Badrinath. The pass is in a restricted access area guarded 24/7 by the Indian Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police. It is possible to access the area, especially for Buddhist pilgrims who want to reach Tibet. For the true blue road trip individuals, you can also try and obtain a permit for just driving along the pass, possibly including the Deo Tal and village of Jadhung in the itinerary. For instance, the renowned group involved in various mountaineering and biking expeditions in India, Where Eagles Dare, was the first ones to have conquered the highest motorable road in India. Their adventure for conquering the Dungri La occurred in 2015, with a team of around 20 persons completing the circuit. A combination of four-wheelers and motorcycles were used for the journey. The same goes for seven female motorcycle riders lead by Sheetal Bidaye who also conquered the rough terrains unto Dungri La last year. Aside from the rough roads, partly stones in many stretches, the lower climates can render one a bit uncomfortable. Plus, the presence of snow in most areas means that you have to drive slowly, or else you risk in skidding your vehicle or motorcycle. Once you reach the Mana Village, you would be required to be accompanied by the army on further trips to Deo Tal or other areas. If you have the physical ability for it, the Indian Army can also accompany you in trekking to Zero Point, the last frontier before China, situated at an altitude of 5,634 metres above sea level.
    • Elevation - 5,610 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - High
    • Access - Pilgrims and Tourists (Tough to Get Permit)
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Rishikesh > Joshimath > Gauchar > Badrinath > Ghastoli > Rattakona > Jagraon > Dungri La
    Roads to Dungri La (Image from Tushar Agarwal)

    2. Marsimik La - Next is the Marsimik La, which is located in Ladakh, just 20 kilometres away from the famed Pangong Tso. Unlike the former motorable road in Uttarakhand, getting a permit for Marsimik La is relatively easy. You only need to register yourself plus your vehicle in the Indo Tibetan Border Police Office in Phobrang, just 25 kilometres away from the Marsimik La. Here, you have to deposit your gadgets such as cameras and mobile phones before continuing on your journey to Marsimik La. However, keep in mind that you are subject to the decision of the army leader, whether you can continue on for the pass, depending on the weather conditions or border conditions. From Phobrang, it can take around two to three hours to reach the pass because of the road conditions. Only a small part of the roads are in tarmac and at most points, you have to struggle driving in sharp stones and rough terrains. Once you reach the pass, you can pay your respect to the Old Shiva Temple located in it. Once done, you need to drive back to Phobrang, where you need to register again and obtain your deposited items from. As compared to the former pass, the Marsimik La has milder terrains and better climate conditions, so it's a good option for those who aren't used to off-road driving yet or to higher altitudes.
    • Elevation - 5,582 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists (Easier to Get Permit)
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Sarchu > Mahe > Phobrang > Marsimik La
    3. Photi La - Photi La is a newly created pass located close to the Hanle Village of Ladakh. The pass is located on the border area of Tibet and India which is why it is rarely frequented by tourists. Further, there are no major attractions after the pass, there are only small villages like Lekeng Yok and Koyul. From Hanle, Photi La is about 28 kilometres away and there's a General Reserve Engineer Force or Border Roads Organisation Camp here where you can inquire about your ascent. Though newer, the Photi La has about 18 kilometres of tarred road, while the remaining 10 kilometres are a mixture of sands and stones. Aside from that, the pass also has a couple of hairpin bends that you need to pass through. From Hanle, you would reach Photi La in around two hours, depending on the type of vehicle you drive. From the top, you would be rewarded by mountain and valley views. Once the road construction in Photi La is done, climbing the pass won't be as an arduous task, like it is now.
    • Elevation - 5,524 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Pang > Nyoma > Hanle > Photi La
    4. Dongkha La - Next on the list is Dongkha La, which is located on the northeastern part of Sikkim, close to its border with Tibet. Access to Dongkha La and the nearby Tso Lhamo, barely seven kilometres away from the pass, are restricted. The areas are under strict military control of the Indian Army. The nearby Gurudongmar Lake is popular amongst tourists, especially those reaching Yumthang Valley. Sadly, both the Dongkha La and Tso Lhamo receive less of the limelight because of the stricter procedures for visiting them. However, because of recent constructions around the the roads in the area, some individuals were able to bypass the Kerang Military Area and headed straight to Tso Lhamo. From Tso Lhamo, you can enjoy the view of the Dongkha La as well but it's almost impossible to reach the pass as the presence of the military is high there. If you have some connections, then you might be able to drive through this unknown terrain. The roads to reach Dongkha La aren't as meticulously laid though so only four-wheelers might be able to traverse through it.
    • Elevation - 5,486 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - High
    • Access - Military Only
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Agra > Lucknow > Darbhanga > Siliguri > Kalimpong > Gangtok > Chungthang > Lachen > Tso Lhamo > Dongkha La
    5. Kaksang La - Kaksang La is located between Mahe and Chushul in Jammu & Kashmir. This is one of the few passes where foreigners are permitted to drive in since there are no Indian Army Checkpoints prior to reaching it. Still, it's best to obtain an Inner Line Permit to avoid any issues in case there are any sudden checkpoints. Kaksang La is situated at an elevation of 5,610 metres yet it isn't as daunting as the other previous passes. From Hanle, Kaksang La is about 42 kilometres away. The first 26 kilometres are easy to drive on as there's freshly laid tarmac on that stretch. The last 16 kilometres are a mixture of good and bad stretches, but there are construction works all around so the idea of a smoother drive is not too far away. Once you reach the pass, there's a small shelter area where you can rest and enjoy the surrounding views. You can continue your journey to Chushul, the other village on the other side of the pass or just return to Mahe, specially if you're a foreigner.
    • Elevation - 5,438 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Ludhiana > Srinagar > Kargil > Leh > Tangste > Mahe > Kaksang La
    6. Chang La - Another contender from the Ladakh region is the Chang La, situated at an altitude of 5,360 metres above sea level. Some consider Chang La as the gateway to Pangong Tso, which is around 150 kilometres away from one another. You would find that the Indian Army has their post in the pass itself. The ascent from Kharu Village is steep so careful driving is mandatory. The good news is that most of the roads leading to the pass are in good conditions, laid with tarmac and quite smooth to drive in. Only the last 10 kilometres to the pass merits some bad points due to the bumpy approach. But once you reach the top, you can enjoy the mountain views and even have fun playing with snow. You can't stay for more than 20 minutes in the pass though as you might acquire AMS. There are tourist facilities on the top like a bathroom, a small cafe and a shrine dedicated to Changla Baba. You can continue on your journey to Pangong Tso, reaching the nearest village on the other side, Tangste.
    • Elevation - 5,360 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Pang > Leh > Kharu > Chang La
    Chang La (Image from Priti Gupta)

    7. Khardung La - Often falsely advertised as India's highest motorable road is the Khardung La. At about 5,359 metres above sea level, it doesn't hold the top spot for this list but it surely still deserves a mention. The pass is just 40 kilometres away from Leh and is sometimes referred to as the Gateway to the Nubra Valley. The best feature of the Khardung La is that it is regularly used by the Indian Army, hence it is well maintained. The roads are mostly smooth except for the last five kilometres to the top. There are numerous dhabas as well, from the approach to the pass until the pass itself. The Khardung La though is closed during winter season, the same time that the Rohtang La and Kunzum La are closed, from October until May. This is because the area has heavy snowfall during these times which can lead to landslides and road blocks. If you intend to visit during the first weeks of June, the roads might also have flooding due to snow melting so make sure you plan your trip accordingly.
    • Elevation - 5,359 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists (Easier to Get Permit)
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Pang > Leh > Khardung La
    8. Tanglang La - En route to Leh, if you're coming from the Manali side, you'd be passing by the Tanglang La. The pass is just a few kilometres away from the village of Debring. As compared to the popular Khardung La of the same route, Tanglang La is less frequented by tourists. The atmosphere is serene and the ride to reach it is very smooth. The roads are freshly laid by the Border Roads Organisation so they are easier to drive in either by motorcycle or car. The roads even qualify to be cycled in by avid bicycle riders. There are no tourist infrastructures at the top though you can bring your own snacks and tea. Colourful Tibetan Buddhist flags also flank the top, much like the other passes, which creates a spiritual vibe in the Tanglang La. Make sure you bring light to heavy woollens as the temperatures are almost always below zero here.
    • Elevation - 5,328 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Medium
    • Access - Tourists
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Pang > Debring > Tanglang La
    Tanglang La (Image from Boon India)

    9. Wari La - A lesser known pass that can be traversed en route to Pangong Tso is Wari La. This is touted as one of Ladakh's most difficult passes, primarily because of the steep ascent required to cross it. Not to mention the unpaved roads starting from Sakti to Wari La. Even if you have traversed many passes from before, the Wari La would test your skills. Only four-wheelers and SUVs are fit enough for this route. Heavy duty motorcycles like Enfields, minimum of 300 CC, can also attempt to pass through this route. But for smaller vehicles like sedans and hatchbacks, or lighter motorcycles, it's best to avoid driving in this route. The Wari La is also savaged by thick snow during winter, starting from September to May, so you cannot access it during these times. During early June, harsh and violent streams from the melting of the snow are your surefire enemies in crossing this route. Only experienced drivers are recommended for this route.
    • Elevation - 5,312 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Very High
    • Access - Tourists (No Permit Required)
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Pang > Leh > Kharu > Chang La > Sakti > Wari La
    10. Lachalung La - Last on this list is the Lachalung La, located on the Manali Leh Highway. The pass is situated at around 5,059 metres above sea level. It is also known as the Lachulung La and is one of the easier passes in the highway. It does remain close to tourists from the winter months of October to May. The pass is one of the twin passes of Ladakh, with Nakee La being the other pass, located just about a few kilometres away from one another. You first ascend to reach Nakee La and on your descent, you then climb again to reach the Lachalung La. The roads to the pass are well-maintained and very smooth. In fact, even cyclists can conquer this stretch without any issues. Relatively serene, the top of the pass offers some time for spirituality due to the presence of many Buddhist flags that give colour to the otherwise barren lands.
    • Elevation - 5,059 Metres
    • Difficulty of Driving - Low
    • Access - Tourists
    • Route from Delhi - Delhi > Manali > Keylong > Sarchu > Lachalung La

    So are you ready to take on the highest motorable roads of India? Most of these motorable roads are located in Jammu and Kashmir, specifically in the Ladakh region. There are a few though located in other areas, like Dungri La, which tops this list, which is in Uttarakhand or Dongkha La, which is located on Sikkim. All of them though are located in North India, which means that the highest motorable roads in the country are all in the north. Again, most of these roads require one to obtain a permit though a select few can be accessed without a permit. Good luck and enjoy your road trip to the highest points on Earth.