Khardung La (Khardung Pass, la means pass in Tibetan) is a high mountain pass located in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The local pronunciation is "Khardong La" or "Khardzong La," but, as with most names in Ladakh, the romanised spelling varies.
The pass on the Ladakh Range lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies part way up the latter valley. Built in 1976, it was opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen much truck, automobile, motorbike and mountain bike travel. Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.
The elevation of Khardung La is 5,359 m (17,582 ft)   Local summit signs and dozens of stores selling shirts in Leh incorrectly claim that its elevation is in the vicinity of 18,380 feet and, also incorrectly, that it is the world's highest motorable pass.
Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hunder, 35 km north of the pass in the Nubra Valley. During World War II there was an attempt to transfer war material to China through this route.
Khardung La is situated 39 km by road from Leh. The first 24 km by road, as far as the South Pullu check point, are paved. From there to the North Pullu check point 16 km by road beyond the pass, the roadway is primarily loose rock, dirt, and occasional rivulets of snow melt. However, this pass is in better repair than many of the surrounding passes (nearby Tanglang La or Chang La, for example). From North Pullu a further 15 km northwards to Khardong village and then into the Nubra Valley, the road is very well maintained (except in a very few places where washouts or falling rock occur). Hired vehicles (2 and 4-wheel-drive), heavy trucks, and motorcycles regularly travel into the Nubra Valley, though special permits may need to be arranged for travellers to make the journey.
The 5,359 m (17,582 ft) elevation measure from hundreds of GPS surveys accurately matches SRTM data, ASTER GDEM data, and Russian topographic mapping, and it is broadly consistent with numerous GPS reports and an article by noted Himalayan expert Chris Bonington.
The world's highest motorable claim
Khardung La is widely but incorrectly touted as the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world. A well-graded Indian military road (visible on imagery on visual globe systems such as Google Earth) reaches 5,610 metres (18,406 ft) 250 meters west of the 5,545 metres (18,192 ft) Mana Pass on the India - Tibet border. It connects with an equally well-constructed, slightly lower Chinese military road based on SRTM data at posting intervals of 30 meters. A similarly visible well-graded road crosses the 5,582 metres (18,314 ft) Marsimik La in Lakakh just four km west of the Line of Actual Control. There are also higher motorable passes at Suge La, west of Lhasa, 5,430 m (17,815 feet), and Semo La 5,565 m (18,258 feet), between Raka and Coqen in Central Tibet. Modern GPS and SRTM data confirms these elevations; the latter was also measured by a Catalan expedition supported by the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia.
The nearest sizable town is Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Leh is connected by road from Manali and Srinagar, and daily flights are operated from Delhi. From Leh, a daily bus service to Nubra Valley passes over Khardung La. The two bases on either side of Khardong La are North Pullu and South Pullu. An Inner Line Permit (ILP) which can be acquired at the DC's office in Leh is required for foreign, not domestic tourists. Travelers are required to check in en route and must provide photocopies of the permits to be deposited at each checkpoint. Altitude sickness is a serious health concern for travellers not previously acclimatized to high altitudes. Prophylactic altitude-sickness medication like acetazolamide may be necessary for some travellers as there are no emergency medical facilities to treat altitude sickness along the route. The road is closed annually from approximately October to May due to snow and is often subject to long travel delays due to traffic congestion on narrow one-lane sections, washouts, landslides and road accidents.
- DGPS Document supplied by the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia
- Local SRTM data
- Extract from 100K Russian Topographic map. Confusingly, this shows "Khardung" (in Cyrillic) further east, but the road pass is accurately mapped.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Khardung La.|
- Riding in Ladakh/Motorcycling FAQ
- Documentary on Marsimek-La, highest motorable pass
- A Firsthand Experience
- Photo gallery of Khardung La, 1280x960
- Khardung La Pass, travelogue and pictures.