Ladakh is fondly known as ‘Land of Passes’, offering breathtaking views and vistas that truly are a lifetime experience. In the medieval ages, the Himalayan mountain passes were used as important trade routes by the South-Asian nations for the trading of goods like silk, spices etc. These passes were a way of the Indian subcontinent to stay connected to the rest of the world.
Today these mountain passes hold great importance for the military as the help in transportation of several military facilities like ammunition, fuel and food. These passes also offer assistance in the development of the tourism industry of the country with Ladakh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhad state being important participants.
There are mountain passes that are on the way to Leh and in Leh. However, some of these passes become inaccessible in winters due to heavy snowfall. Two of the very important mountain passes in Ladakh are Khardung La and Chang La.
Khardung La Pass
Claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world by Border Road Organization (BRO), Khardung La is the gateway to Shyok and Nubra valleys. Placed on the Ladakh range, it is around 40 km from the Leh town. Also called the ‘Pass of Lower Castle’, this pass lies at an altitude of 18, 379 feet above the sea level, and offers stunning views of the surrounding valleys. The fluttering colorful Tibetan prayer flags add to the charm.
Easily accessible between May and October, this pass is highly important as it is placed on a caravan road from Leh up to Kashgar. In the earlier days, traders travelled on horses and camels to supply valuable and goods. In the present times, this pass holds great logical value to the Indian Army as it helps in carrying supplies to the Siachen Glacier. Leh is the nearest town that is accessible, linked to Srinagar and Manali.
Biking enthusiasts from all around the globe enjoy mountain biking on this pass and consider it to be a challenging but lifetime experience. The road also has a souvenir shop and an army canteen serving tea and refreshments.
One of the highest mountain passes in the world, Chang La is the third highest motorable mountain pass and stands at an altitude of 5360 m. Named after a Sadhu Changla Baba, the pass also has a temple dedicated to him. The place has been blessed with immense natural beauty, alluring travelers from all around. Tangste village is the nearest accessible settlement and the pass is a doorway to the Changthang plateau.
Barren landscape, snow-clad peaks and mesmerizing views from the high-elevated passes are real charmers of Ladakh road trips. Tourists can also enjoy Yak riding here. The pass also has a tea point managed by the Indian Army where one can relish hot tea. In comparison to other Ladakhi passes, public convenience is also available here. To reach one of India’s largest high- altitude lakes, Pangong Tso, this pass needs to be crossed, which is opened between the months of May and October.
A high mountain pass in the Zanskar ranges of Jammu and Kashmir, Baralacha La Pass is positioned an altitude of 16, 040 feet. This pass is a high altitude that is the confluence of 3 different mountain ranges at the height of 16,000 feet- the Great Himalayas, Pir Panjal and Zanskar. Located at a distance of around 75 km from Keylong (on the Manali-Leh road), it is easily accessible between April and October.
Baralacha La mountain pass is also the starting point of a number of treks including the popular Suraj Tal trek and Chandra Tal trek. In the winter months, the pass is covered with heavy snow. It is recommended that you cross the pass before noon as when the now starts melts, water streams gets created making it difficult for you to pass the route. In case, the currents are strong, it is advisable that one must return to Jispa.
Taglang La Pass
The second highest mountain pass in Ladakh, Tanlang La pass is placed in the Zanskar range at an altitude of 17582 feet above the sea level. Positioned as a neighbor of the Leh-Manali highway, this pass is the house of wanders Changpa herdsman. Spot them herding their goats and cattle. The pass is accessible through 21 Gata loops. Upshi towards Leh and Sarchu towards Manali are the 2 nearest towns. On the way to Leh that is just half an hour drive away, many tourists stop at Upshi to enjoy tea.
From Taglang La pass, savor breathtaking views of the surroundings. The as it is chilly air is furthered by abundant vegetation on both the sides. The hair-pinning road bends offer ample adrenaline push. If you are driving for the first time on this road, it is advisable that are accompanied by a person who has already driven on this road. There are a few sign boards assisting you about details such as the passes’ altitude and other details including the distance of Leh that is 11 km away. A temple can also be found here.
Fotu La Pass
Standing at a height of13, 478 ft above the sea level, Fotu La Pass is placed on the Srinagar-Leh highway of the Himalayan Zanskar. Also known to be the highest point on this highway, it leads to the Zoji La pass. During your journey through this pass, relish amazing views of the snow-covered mountain peaks.
Fotu La and Namila are two high mountain passes between Leh and Kargil regions. As you move eastwards, the altitude starts declining towards Lamayuru town, after Fotu La pass. The pass also has Prasar Bharati television relay station, serving Lamayuru.
Sandwiched between the Tsarap Chu Chu valley and the Tozay valley, Lachulung La pass is placed at an altitude of 16,600 feet and lies close to Pangong Lake and Sarchu. Placed on the Leh-Manali highway, the pass is 8 km from La Nakee, around 24 km northwards of Pang.
The slender gap of Lachulung Lungpa make Lachulung La easily available. Tourist taxis and buses stop halt at this road so that the tourists can savor lovely views of the beautiful nature. The pass is pretty popular amid trekkers and hikers.
Connecting the Srinagar-Leh highway, Manikala pass lies in the Zanskar range. Referred to as the ‘pillar of the sky’, this pass stands at an altitude of 12, 139 feet above the sea level. The pass is on the way to the valley of Mulbek and offers panoramic views of the rock carvings of Maitreya Buddha and a nearby Gompa.
Namikala pass is the entry gate to Kargil region and is also one of the most prominent passes in Ladakh. Extensive barren lands, snow-clad peaks and superb views make your journey on this pass worth-while.
Lying in the western part of the Himalayan mountain ranges, Zojila pass lies on National Highway 1 between Srinagar and Leh. Located at an altitude of 11, 649 feet above the sea level, this pass form an important connect between Kashmir and Ladakh, and is just 9 km from Sonamarg. After Fotu La, it is the second highest pass on this highway. During peak winter months, most of the time, this pass is inaccessible but BRO extends traffic during most of the part of the year. A unit of BRO, the Beacon Force manages maintaining and clearing of the road in the winter months.
It was during the Indo-Pakistani War in the year 1947 that pass was detained by the Pakistani soldiers in 1948 while trying to capture Ladakh. Then on 1st November, Zojila pass was seized back by the Indian army under Operation Bison.
On reach the pass that opens in April end, admire the breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayan Mountains. Due to heavy rainfall, the pass remains closed for almost 6 months in a year. Acting like the lifeline of Ladakh, this pass stretches for around 434 km. After Kargil war in the year 1999, government started full-paced construction of the road due to its strategic significance.
Constructed by ITBP, Marsimek-La pass stands at an altitude 18634 feet above the sea level. One of the world’s highest mountain passes, it stands on the northern-most end of the Plateau, around 35 km away from Pangong Lake.