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20 Deadliest and highest mountain passes of Ladakh

by travelmynation
Highest mountain passes

Ladakh is known as the Land of High passes and for good reason too! It has some of the world’s highest mountain passes, the world’s highest motorable roads, and so on. Some of these treacherous roads are motorable, some can be reached by trekking and some are off-limits for the general public. But do you know about the highest mountain passes of Ladakh?

We have a list of 20 of the highest mountain passes in Ladakh and are putting them in the descending order of their altitude. Also, find out which of these highest mountain passes is motorable!

Umlingla Top Pass (19,300 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
Indian Army at the Umling La. Photo Courtesy - The Tribune

This is the new kid on the block! Umling La has surpassed the Mana Pass and Khardung La to become the highest motorable road in India and is amongst the highest mountain passes in the world. The villages of Demchok and Chisumle are connected via this mountain pass and is not easily accessible. Umling La pass is located very close to the LAC (Line of Actual Control) and getting a permit is very difficult. Especially in times of discord between the Indian Army and the PLA.

Marsimik La (18,953 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
The treacherous Marsimik La. Pic courtesy - Youtube

It is situated in the Chang-Chemno range and, 20 kms from the gorgeous Pangong Tso. You will be required to get an Inner Line Permit for visiting Marsimik La. When traveling to this pass, make sure you have an off-road capable vehicle and spares for your vehicle as well. The terrain is quite bumpy, and if you suffer a breakdown, you are on your own.

Lanak La (17,933 feet) - Not motorable

highest mountain passes
The gorgeous Lanak pass. Photo courtesy - Flickr

Now, this is a disputed location as China claims this to be part of Tibet! However, India considers Lanak Pass to be its boundary with China and does have records to prove the same. In 1959, the Indian army crossed Kongka La and tried to establish a post in Lanak Pass but was met with resistance from the PLA.

Kaksang La (17,880 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
The Kaksang La landscape. Photo courtesy - Flickr

Located in the Changthang area of Ladakh and is relatively unknown since it doesn’t connect major tourist spots. To reach Kaksang La, you will have to go beyond Spangmik along the shores of Pangong Tso towards Chushul. You can reach Tso Moriri via this route but the road is not in very good condition.

Chang La (17,585 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
Oxygen levels were really low that day. But Archana still managed to put on a smile

A lot of us have crossed Chang La during our Ladakh tour! And most will be surprised that it is included in the list of the world’s highest mountain passes! Recent research has put Chang La at an altitude higher than even Khardung La! You will encounter this pass while traveling to Pangong Tso and even though it’s an off-road stretch, it ain’t as bad as Rohtang La or Khardung La.

Taglang La (17,583) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
The best roads were on this pass. Average speeds of 90 mph

Another one higher than the might Khardung La, is Taglang La. Located on the Manali Leh highway the pass isn’t difficult to drive through unless there is heavy snowfall there. The drive is quite scenic so do stop on the pass for panoramic views of the landscape all around. When we went there in 2018, we were cruising at a 100 kmph on top of the pass!

Khardung La pass (17,582) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
There were hundreds of people here and it was tough not getting photo bombed.

Once considered to be the highest motorable road in the world, Khardung La now only features amongst the highest mountain passes of the world. The treacherous pass is known for broken dirt roads, icy conditions, steep climbs, and deadly weather. You will have to cross Khardung La while traveling from Leh city to Nubra Valley.

Sasser La (17,753) - Not motorable

highest mountain passes
Mountaineers camping near Sasser La. Pic courtesy - desnivel

It once connected a trade route from Leh to Northwest China and was one of the most dangerous mountain passes in the world! From the Nubra Valley, it takes you further up the Shyok valley, finally leading you to the Karakoram Pass. Featuring in our list of the highest mountain passes in Ladakh, Sasser La was so treacherous that even the Bactrian Camels couldn’t traverse through it!

Wari La (17,427 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
A rider traveling across the Wari La. Pic courtesy - YouTube

Unknown to many, Wari La connects Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso. It is one of the least know highest mountain passes of Ladakh and when you travel through it, you won’t find anybody there. It is the highest mountain pass in the Nubra region and is difficult to cover. The roads are in bad condition and the climb can get really steep. Unless you are an experienced driver, it’s better to stay away from Wari La.

Rezang La (17,057) - Not motorable

highest mountain passes
Rezang La pic taken during the Indo China war

Rezang La is a mountain pass on the south-eastern approach to Chushul Valley in Ladakh region. Among one of the highest mountain passes in the region, it was the site where the last stand of the 13 Kumaon regiment took place during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. It is said that while 114 of our soldiers lost their lives, the Chinese lost 1300 from their side!

Kongka La (16,965 feet) - Not Motorable

Mountaineous landscape around the Kongka La. Pic courtesy - Bike Aways

China seems to lay claims to a few of the highest mountain passes that actually belong to India. And Kongka La is one of them. It is located in the Chang-Chemno range on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. Even though the pass is almost at 17,000 feet, it was considered to be a small pass!!

Shingo La (16,615 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
The Shingo La or the Shinku La. Pic courtesy - 15 peaks

Also known as Shinku La, the pass at an altitude of over 16,500 feet is one of the most gorgeous, highest mountain passes in the world. It boasts of a small lake on top of the pass that is surrounded by icy peaks all around. Shingo La is located between Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, and it connects the Zanskar and Lahaul regions. The road is motorable, however, due to poor maintenance, it is constantly in bad shape and should be avoided. There are instances where parts of this route are submerged under the Zanskar river!

Lungalacha La (16,615 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
Standing tall...both of them!

Also known as Lachulung La, the pass is located between Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. The pass lies on the Manali Leh highway and is open for only 4 months in a year. Situated 55 kms from Sarchu, Lungalacha La is one of the highest mountain passes in North India.

Baralacha La (16,400 feet) - Motorable

The Duster doing pretty well in these conditions in Baralacha La

One of our favorites, Baralacha La is often covered in sheets of ice! The flat roads on top of the pass look easy to drive through but watch out for black ice. The pass in on the Leh Manali route and one of the most beautiful passes you will come across. Baralacha La has a summit with crossroads from Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar, and Lahaul meet here and in ancient times it was part of a trade route. 

Nakee La (15,547 feet) - Motorable

highest mountain passes
Too tired to smile for the camera? It was a long day!

Many of you would have crossed it, but it is not a very popular pass. It is the third and one of the highest mountain passes between Leh to Manali. The roads to Naki La are usually strewn with small, sharp rocks but getting to the top is a lovely drive. The board on top is a great spot for taking really nice photos.

Pensi La (14,436) - Motorable

Top of the Pensi Pass. Pic courtesy - YouTube

I bet you haven’t heard about this one! It is known to be the gateway to Zanskar and is in the Ladakh region. The Pensi La connects the breath-taking Suru Valley to Zanskar Valley. If you want to travel from Kargil to Padum, then you will have to cross the Pensi La on your way.

Fotu La pass (13,479 feet) - Motorable

A small photo op while crossing the Fotu La pass in 2018

Another not so popular one, Fotu La lies on the Srinagar Leh circuit and is higher than the Zojila pass. It is one of the two highest mountain passes in the region and one of two mountain passes between Leh and Kargil. While traveling on the Kargil Leh route, you will cross Fotu La to get to Lamayuru village.

Hambuting La (13,202 feet) - Motorable

On our way to Batalik, the scene of a fierce battle!

Lost in the shadows of other passes is the Hambuting La. Not a lot of people know about it they don’t explore Kargil. It lies on the dirt track that goes from Kargil to Batalik. Full of hairpin bends and curves it’s fun to ride on when the tarmac is in good condition. For those who have car sickness, do go slow and take lots of breaks.

Zoji La (12,400 feet) - Motorable

Highest mountain passes
Us crossing the Zojila pass in 2018

Zoji La means Mountain pass of Blizzards! It is the gateway to the Ladakh region and one of the most stunning passes. With 10-foot high ice walls, the pass looks ominous! However, the landscape around the pass is mind-blowing and some of the best scenes you will encounter in the region. Zoji La is located in Drass and lies on National Highway 1.

Namik La (12,198 feet) - Motorable

Archana and Suparna trying to strike a pose

It is located on the Srinagar Leh highway and dotted with mountains and deep valleys. All passes including Namik La are excellent places to take pictures and this one has a range of snow mountains visible from the top. The roads on the pass are usually in good condition except during peak monsoons.

We really hope you enjoyed reading our list of the highest mountain passes in the Ladakh region. A lot of people take it as a personal challenge to travel through these mountain passes, you need to exercise extreme caution. You can easily contract AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) in high altitudes so while driving through these passes, please be very careful.

All figures have been taken from Wikipedia, and from boards planted on top of the passes. We do not claim the accuracy of the altitude figures posted here.

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2 comments

Pauline August 2, 2020 - 12:45 PM

My god. I didn’t know there wer so many of such passes. Thanks for sharing

Reply

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