Located at the western end of the Himalayas with four mighty mountain ranges (the Himalayas, Zanskar, Karakoram and the Ladakh range) running through it, a road trip to Ladakh cannot be called ordinary by any stretch of imagination. A veritable maze of High Mountain passes (quite a few of them stretching well above 16000 ft), snow covered peaks and glaciers interspersed with beautiful valleys, the drive to Ladakh is as picturesque as it is challenging.
The word Ladakh itself is a combination of two words, “La” meaning pass and “Dakh” meaning many which makes Ladakh the land of many passes, some of them laying claim to fame as the site of the highest motorable road in the world. An adventure travel that takes you through dirt covered roads, hair pin bends and steep slopes culminates with a breath taking view of the Himalayas perched atop the highest point of the Pass. The beauty is indescribable, no words or even pictures can do justice to the sheer grandeur of the vistas visible from atop the passes. Below is a brief overview of some of the must visit passes at Ladakh
Located at an altitude of 5,359 m, Khardung La is located 40 kms away from Leh on the way to Nubra Valley. A narrow dirt road built in 1976 by the BRO for military use was opened to the public in 1988 and is the only way to access Khardungla, also known as the “Pass of Lower Castle”. Widely regarded as the highest motorable road in the world, the journey of passing Khardung La is as challenging as it is rewarding. If you want a summary view of what makes a trip to Ladakh so special, the view from Khardung La should leave you more than satisfied. Khardung La has always been of strategic importance, earlier for the ancient trade routes linking Eastern Asia to the Central Asia and now to the Indian army, the only road connecting Leh to the Siachen glacier is through Khardung La.
Best time to visit the pass is between May and October, as in winters the pass remains mostly closed due to heavy snowfall.
Tanglang La pass
Located at a height of 5328 m above sea level, in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, Tanglangla pass lies on the Manali Leh highway, just outside Leh. Widely regarded as the second highest pass after Khardung La, a road journey through Tanglang La is twice as difficult but just as rewarding. A steeply ascending slope and a road that turns into unpaved dirt and stone path coupled with the near absence of oxygen makes the journey a physically challenging one for even the most experienced driver or tourist. Buddhist prayer flags and a panoramic view of snow covered peaks and beautiful valleys beneath greet you at the top, the beautiful canvas spread around makes all the rigors of the journey disappear as you soak in the beauty around. The two nearest settlements to this pass are Sarchu towards Manali and Upshi towards Leh.
Located at an altitude of 5360 meters above sea level, Chang La is the third highest motorable mountain pass in the world and is located on the route to Pangong Tso from Leh. Due to its proximity to the Indo-China border, Chang La is guarded and maintained by the Indian army and remains open throughout the year unless covered by snow. Extremely cold and chilly winds greet you at the top of Chang La, but brave it for a couple of minutes to catch an unparalleled view of the Trans Himalayan region before quickly making your way down. The nearest settlement is at Tangste, the best time to visit is between May to October.
Baralacha La Pass
Located at an altitude of 4833 meters above sea level, Baralacha La pass is located on the Manali – Leh highway and connects Lahaul to Ladakh. The starting point of several well-known Himalayan treks including the Suraj Tal Trek and the Chandra Tal Trek, crossing the Bara-la-cha is not easy by any means. Also known as the Pass of death, crossing Bara –la-cha in the evening is an absolute no for even the most seasoned Himalayan drivers. The roads are slippery and the slopes steep but the beauty that accompanies you every step of the way makes the journey an adventure of a lifetime.
Located at an altitude of 3528 m, Zojila Pass lies on the Srinagar Leh Highway, approximately 9 Km away from Sonmarg. Widely regarded as the gateway to Ladakh a road trip across the Zojila pass will take you past green valleys to dry mountains in the Drass area. Considered and not without reason to be one of the riskiest passes in Ladakh, with a one-lane broken dirt trail in the name of road that deteriorates into complete mud trail during rains, the long steep drive up the Zojila is like flirting with death itself. But the view from above with snow covered mountain summits and dense stretches of jungles in the Drass region make the adventure well worth it. This pass can be used in only summers because it remains closed for nearly six months of the year due to heavy snow fall.
Laying claim to fame as the highest point on the Srinagar Leh highway, Fotu La is located at an altitude of 4108 m above sea level in the Zanskar region of Ladakh. Although lying at an higher altitude than Zoji La pass which also lies along the Srinagar Leh highway, the drive up the Fotu La is relatively comfortable giving you a chance to appreciate the beauty of the Himalayas spread out before your eyes.