#7 Khardung La, A Fascinating Drive

The Khardung La is famed for being the highest motorable pass in the world. “La” means a Mountain Pass in Tibetan. It’s cradled at 17582 Ft or 5359 m, however, the boards at the Pass notes it is nestled at 18380 ft. The jury is out on it and this article is not the one to pass a judgement.  The Pass lies to the north of Leh City and is the gateway to Shyok, Nubra Valleys and the Siachen Glacier. The two-hour drive covering about 40 km between Leh City to Khardung La, is a continuous climb of about 6000 dizzying feet. The experience at Khardung La is breath-taking, literally.

With negligible vegetation, the soil has nothing to cling on to. Some grass strands are visible, their roots having inadequate strength to hold the surface soil and just enough to hold for their own life. From a distance, the slopes look like several dumps of sand at a construction site with clear signs of soil ceding to gravity. Boulders, rocks and pebbles find their way down, leaving their tracks behind. The elements have been on a relentless venture to break them further. A landscape being sculpted by the forces of nature, millions of years in the making.

The road to Khardung La is serpentine on the arid slopes of the mountains. It is metaled and well maintained, making the drive smooth and comfortable. The City of Leh is visible for a large part of the drive. The grandeur of the valley is revealed as we gain in altitude one turn at a time. Keen observers will find that the only greenery the place has is where flowing water has touched the land. The Indus & Zanskar rivers are the region’s lifeline.

The land running along the rivers support the flora & fauna of the place. There are several points which are perfect spots for photography. The snow caps in the distance, the valley below, the road on the slopes are great for landscapes and can form a beautiful backdrop for portraits. The water trickling from the melting ice negotiates its way through the rocks racing down, meeting other streams; gathers into rivulets and finally converges into the river below.

As we progress towards Khardung La, a few streams and ponds accompany alongside. There’s some vegetation along the streams. A welcome sight in the otherwise naked landscape. These are grazing grounds for yaks and mountain goats and you can luckily spot a few. Stop and take a short trek down to the water bodies for some great photographs. Use a tripod and try slow shutter speed. You might require an ND filter to cut the light. Remember, at those altitudes, the sun is harsh. For the jugadu ones, your goggles might compensate for the lack of ND filter.

The metaled road ends about 10 km short of Khardung La and fattened crushed rock is all we have as a road to cover the rest of the drive. This section of the drive is slow and can rattle your body like a rattler in a toddler’s hand as the vehicle bounces on the rocks.

All vehicles make a mandatory stop at South Pullu a few kilometres short of Khardung La , a police outpost where travel permissions are checked. The travel agents handle all permissions. It’s hassle-free. Remember to carry at least two photo ID-cards. With less than a kilometre to go, our vehicle crawled slowly through the slush of soil and melted snow. Sections of the mountains which get very little sun retain the snow on those sides all through the year.

khardung la

It is rather unannounced that a right turn on the top reveals the arrival at the pass. The realization fills with a rush of excitement. A tin shed on the left declares itself to be a restaurant, closed most of the times. But if it’s open, a hot Kawha is a great beverage to sip and get some comfort in the biting cold. One can also order Maggie and a few basic preparations.

The Indian army runs a small unit comprising a photo museum focusing on the history of the Pass. It also runs a medical center to support its staff and tourist and living quarters for about ten Soldiers. Few gen-sets supply electricity, their sound a continuous hum in the background.

For better or for worse, the place has mobile connectivity and you can call your family members back home to share the moment or with friends to make them jealous. All the spots are great photo points. Pull that extra energy from within to resist the cold. Your photographs will stay with you forever and those frames will refresh some lovely memories later in life.

khardung la
khardung la

It is not advisable to spend more than 15 minutes at the top. Any longer and one can get disoriented, develop nausea, headache, shortness of breath and other symptoms. I’ve been to Khardung La five times and every time I’ve been up there, the weather has been different each time. I have even experienced snow fall on one of my trips.

On the right is a board with statistics of the place. Everybody clicks a picture to frame their date with the mighty Khardung La. Behind the board is a flight of stairs carved into the side of the hill, covered with prayer flags all over. The path leads to a small monastery on the top. The spirits of Khardung La spellbound you. The music from the top evokes a sense of a spiritual calm and that experience is a story in itself. But then, that’s a tale for another time.

khardung la

Follow PhotoStory section of this blog for more such photography stories and perspectives from our authors on various photographs.

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Ravikant Upadrasta

Ravikant Upadrasta

Places, People and Perspectives is what makes the world interesting. A Sales & Marketing Profession is exactly the kind of work that makes it possible to have fun, observe & experience. Add a camera to it and I get to capture a few frames of visual memory. As a hobbyist I enjoy capturing Patterns, landscapes and experimental photography.

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Abeer & Aahan Gogoi
Abeer & Aahan Gogoi
1 year ago

I like it 👍🏻

Chetana Gosavi-Dandekar
Chetana Gosavi-Dandekar
1 year ago

Wow Ravikant😮 So vivid. Reliving the Khardungla experience. You made the memories comeback and I was in the jeep climbing the steep twists and turns, taking photos. Great job 👍🏻

Milind T
Milind T
1 year ago

Useful piece of information !While reading this blog ,I can feel the beauty of place with Adventurous Journey…. Nice pictures, outstanding photography.👍

Sailaja Upadrasta
Sailaja Upadrasta
1 year ago

Beautifully written and takes you on a journey with the author. I’m not much of and outdoorsy person but this definitely advocates for a trip to the region.

Ravikant Upadrasta
Ravikant Upadrasta
Reply to  Sailaja Upadrasta
1 year ago

It’s certainly is a place worth going at least once.

Neha Washikar
Neha Washikar
1 year ago

Loved reading this piece!

Dr sagar
Dr sagar
1 year ago

@Ravi
Amazing write up we had been there last 4 yrs before You have made me live my memories again Supr place to visit
Thanks for sharing

Vivek
1 year ago

Hi Ravi, it is really amazing how you have been able to recall and recollect the details of this trip. Such a trip can often overwhelm, but am glad to know that it also leaves one with such vivid memories.

Abdul Nabi Shaikh
Abdul Nabi Shaikh
1 year ago

Very well writen. Made me feel part of your trip. Awaiting to read more of your travel memories….. All the best

Ritesh
Ritesh
1 year ago

Looks so serene!Thanks for sharing these amazing pics!!

Shilpa Deshpande
Shilpa Deshpande
1 year ago

Wonderful description ..felt like actually traversing through Khardung La.

Pallavi Phirange
Pallavi Phirange
1 year ago

Very well written, feeling like I am also travelling at the same time.

Bhagya Raju
Bhagya Raju
1 year ago

Picture taken and the way ur experience is been described makes any person tempted to visit this place. Some good insights of the place with the caution..! Hope to see more of your travel guide dories ! Best part is your photography and to tell you a fact is I have been inspired by your photography and have tried taking some clicks which has been shared with you. All the best Ravi .Good luck! 👍🏻😊💐

Seema B
Seema B
1 year ago

Wonderful travellogue, tempted to go there now. Wish the Pandemic disappears and we can travel again. This is sooo beautiful. The pictures are beautiful. Do add a few more.

Seema
Seema
1 year ago

Very well written Ravi. Its so well articulated, at some point I felt I was alsotravelling with you. The Kahwa and maggie is a life saver for all of us in these trips, resonates with us. Your clicks are amazing, every picture is unique and has a story to tell. Thanks for sharing.

Nandkishore verma
Nandkishore verma
1 year ago

Beautiful photograph and informative article of Khardung La.

nandkishore verma
nandkishore verma
1 year ago

Beautiful photography and informative article of Khardung La…Awesome memory!!

Sandhya Washikar
Sandhya Washikar
1 year ago

Great story and amazing pictures. Good work.

Deepak Malhotra
Deepak Malhotra
1 year ago

Wonderful insight Ravi

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