It’s a funny thing coming home from the Roadtrip. Nothing changes.
Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same.
You realize what’s changed is you
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cory Richards, an adventure photographer at National Geographic described his experience when he reached the Everest Summit, Highest peak in the world at 8,848 meters (nearly 5.5 miles). He said, “Allegorically, Everest is the point from which all else flows—at least that’s what I feel from here—and it’s from here that I had to go downhill. The things that looked impossible, if taken in small steps, usually aren’t.”
When we travelled to Khardung la, claimed to be world’s highest motorable road, I was thrilled. I know I am never going to climb Everest but travelling at the height of 18380 feet was the same feeling like climbing Everest especially for a height-phobic person like me. I had a thought when I was at the Khardung la summit, Most people wants to be at the top of the world but today, I am literally at the top of the world. Internally, I was scared to death while getting ready for the khardung la trip and it is not easy to travel at 18000+ feet as the high altitude and thin air can make your experience hell if you can’t cope with it. So, this post is for the people who wants to explore and see Highest Lakes in the world or Highest Motorable Mountain Passes in the world or Highest Motorable Roads in the world, etc;
First, you may like to take a sneak peek to Khardung la Journey:
When I returned from Leh Ladakh, it was a self discovery journey. Then, I started to plan my next travel destination in the mountains and was looking for my new classroom when I got to know some facts about highest motorpasses in the world.
Before we dig in, first, we must understand the meaning of “motorpass”.
What is motorpass?
There are many definition of motorable pass or road but we will stick to the more generic: A road or pass where an average skilled driver, with permits from army if required, can take an SUV car having high ground clearance (4×2 or 4×4) or an average powered motor bike irrespective of the fact whether the road is metaled / tarred or unpaved / dirt track as long as such a vehicle can be driven and maintain decent connectivity.
What are the methods to measure altitude data points?
Now, going by the above definition, let’s brief ourselves with Top Highest Motorable Passes or Roads in the world whose altitude data points are measured in compliance with the latest SRTM or with modern age GPS systems. I have tried to collect the videos and pictures from different sources to give you the little insight into what it feels like driving at such an altitude?
1. Road to Uturuncu – 5,777 Mtrs (18,953 feets), Bolivia
As per the above measurement methods, the road to Uturuncu,Potosi, Bolivia is actually considered as the world’s highest motorable road at a staggering altitude of 18953 Feet (5,777 Mtrs). This route is very popular among the cyclists all over the world. The road was built to service a sulphur mine.
2. Shipki La Pass in Himachal – 5,669 Mtrs(18,599 Feet), India
Shipki La Pass is situated at the border between Tibet and India in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Unfortunately, civilians are not allowed to travel up to Shipki La and getting the permit from army to travel to it is extremely difficult. If we believe Wikipedia about its altitude is true, then it can be called as India’s Highest Motorable road (not Khardungla) and second highest motorable road in the world, also provided if we assume Uturuncu road as motor vehicle motorable with landslide cleared as per the report shared in the link. Otherwise, this road to Shipki La Pass is highest motorable road in the world.
3. Mana Pass or Dungri La – 5,610 Mtrs (18,406 Feet), India
Mana Pass or Dungri La is situated at the border between Tibet and India in the state of Uttarakhand. Civilians with prior permits from the army can travel up there and be at India’s second Highest Motorable road and third highest motorable road in the world. Mana Pass or Dungri La, in itself is at an altitude of 5,545 Mtrs or 18,192 Feet which is less than the altitude of Marsimik La (number 4 below). However, as per the wikipedia “The well-graded gravel-dirt road is higher on the Indian side than the new road on the Tibetan side, and rises to 5,610 Mtrs (18,406 feet) on the Indian side of the border, 250 Mtrs west of the low point of the 5,545 metres (18,192 ft) Mana Pass”. Hence, it can be considered as India’s second Highest motorable road and world’s third highest motorable road after the road to Uturuncu based on above assumption that it is still open.
4. Marsimek La or Marsimik La – 5,582 Mtrs (18,313 Feet), India
Marsimek La or Marsimik La is situated in Ladakh, India. Again, Civilian will require prior permits from the army to travel and scale this daunting pass at an altitude of 5,582 Mtrs. The road to Marsimik La bifurcates through Pobrang on the way to Pangong Tso Lake and is about 20 odd KMs from there at a steep climb. People have scaled Marsimik La by their own normal SUVs (4×2) or average powered bikes in the past. The altitude mentioned here is according to SRTM.
5. Semo La – 5,565 Mtrs (18,258 Feet), Tibet
Semo La, Central Tibet
SemoLa pass, Tibet
Semo La is situated in the central part of Tibet and boasts an altitude of 5,565 Mtrs or 18,258 Feet. According to wikipedia, “Travellers use this route as an alternative access route to western Tibet and Mount Kailash, especially when mud makes access by the more southern route difficult”.
6. Photi La – 5,524 Mtrs (18,124 Feet), India
Photi La is about 30 odd kilometers from an amazingly beautiful place on this earth called Hanle that present in Changthang region of Ladakh further away from Tso Moriri lake.
7. Dongkha La or Donkia La Pass – 5,486 Mtrs (17,999 feet), India
On number 7, we have Dongkha La or Donkia Pass situated at an altitude of 5,486 Mtrs connecting Sikkim in India with Tibet. This pass is located in North Sikkim having Tso Lhamo Lake or Cholamu Lake (14th Highest lake in the world) very near to it. The pass is basically controlled by Indian Army and you need to get special permits in order to visit the pass and due to the proximity of this pass with the Tibet border, the permits are mostly hard to get much like Mana Pass. Also, the roads are not best in shape towards this pass so a High GC vehicle, preferably 4×4 is required to drive up there with good driving skills.
8. Kaksang La– 5,438 Mtrs (17,841 Feet), India
Kaksang La, Ladakh, India
Kaksang La, Ladakh
Kaksang La, Ladakh
Next in the list, we have another least known surprise entry by the name “Kaksang La” pass which is situated in Changthang region of Ladakh at an altitude of 5,438 Mtrs. It comes on the route from Mahe to Nama – Chusul – Pangong Tso when going over Hora La Pass that comes first as you start ascending from Mahe ahead of Chumathang near Tso Moriri lake. Please note at times, even after having permits, the army does not allow you to travel on this route and can send you back from the checkpoint in case they deem unsafe to travel further for civilians.
9. Suge La – 5,430 Mtrs (17,815 feet), Tibet
Suge La pass
Suge La pass
Top of Suge La
Suge La is situated at an altitude of 5,430 Mtrs or 17,815 Feet present in Tibet about 110 KMs north-west of Lhasa. The road to the top is in decent condition and after reaching the top, you get an amazing view of Chomo Gangtse mountain which boasts an altitude of 7,048 Mtrs.
10. Chang La – 5,360 Mtrs or 17,586 Feet, India
Those of you who have been to Ladakh will be in a surprise to know that Changla pass is higher than Khardung La too as per the GPS systems. Chang La is quite a beautifully located pass on the way to majestic Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, India which is visited by thousands of tourist every year as soon as the season in May – June starts after opening of Manali – Leh Highway or Srinagar – Leh Highway.
11. Khardung La – 5,359 Mtrs (17,582 feet), India
Number 11 on the list is the Khardung La pass, Yes, you read it right. According to new measurement methods SRTM it counted 5,359 Mtrs or 17,582 Feet. It may be one of the most clicked passes in the world with thousands of photographs clicked every year by tourists. Almost, everyone who visits Ladakh, do visit Khardung La pass and get a picture clicked up there with its sign board.
12. Taglang La – 5,328 Mtrs (17,480 Feet), India
Second last on the list is Taglang La or Tanglang La pass at an altitude of 5,328 Mtrs which is located in Ladakh, India. It comes on one of the most beautiful & adventurous road of the world that is Manali – Leh Highway.
13. Wari La – 5,312 Mtrs or 17,428 Feet, India
Last on the list is a desolated pass situated in Ladakh, India which is connecting the direct route from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso and falls under Nubra Valley at an altitude of 5,312 Mtrs or 17,428 Feet. The climb to Wari La is so desolated that one can feel completely disconnected or lost from the civilized world while traversing the route all the way from Agham village to Sakti village at the base of Chang La pass. Not even a single human soul to spot in miles.
There are other highest altitude road passes in China / Tibet / Andes like Ojos del Salado (6,646 Mtrs), Aucanquilcha (6,176 Mtrs), road to Luo La (5,593 Mtrs), Bodpo La (5,767 Mtrs), Jang Rang La (5761 Mtrs), etc; However, many of them are either abandoned or not allowed for travel.