In medieval times, the Himalayan mountain passes used to be the major trade routes of the South- Asian countries. The great Himalayan passes were the means through which a larger part of the Indian subcontinent along with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan was connected to the rest of the world. In India, these routes were used for the trading of silk, spices and other goods. At present, these passes have immense military importance as a mode of supply for various military facilities such as food, fuel and ammunition. These high mountain passes play a major role in the growth of the tourism industry as major tourist destinations such as Ladakh, major areas in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim are approachable through these high mountain passes. Not all high mountain passes are accessible for a regular tourist due to unfavorable weather conditions.
Ladakh is renowned as the ‘Land of High Passes’ and there is no dearth of mountain passes. These picture perfect destinations are not too easy to reach but are worthy enough to visit. You can get breathtaking views from the passes and satiate your adventure loving soul. There are dozens of passes in Ladakh but only a few of them are open for tourists. If you are traveling from Srinagar to Ladakh or Manali to Ladakh, you will cross several high altitude mountain passes and while visiting Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso in Ladakh you will cross some of the world’s highest mountain passes. On several passes, you can also indulge in adventure activities.
Here are some of the popular passes in Ladakh that one should visit once in a lifetime.
Khardung La Pass
A dream destination for bikers and adventure lovers, Khardung La Pass is one of the highest motorable passes in Ladakh. It is also among the highest mountain passes in the world. Perched at an altitude of 5,602 m above sea level, Khardung La Pass is a gateway to Nubra and Shyok Valleys.
Situated at 40 km from Leh, Khardung La holds strategic importance for the country as it is the road that goes to Siachen Glacier base camp. It was once claimed to be the world’s highest motorable pass but Umling La Pass surpasses Khardung La in elevation.
Chang La Pass
Among the highest mountain passes in Ladakh, Chang La Pass is situated at an elevation of 5,391 m above sea level. It connects Leh with the Shyok Valley. Those who visit Pangong Tso from Leh, cross this mountain pass along the way. Named after a famous Saint Changla Baba, Chang La Pass houses a temple dedicated to the saint. The prime attraction of the mountain pass is the breathtaking views from the top of the pass.
Baralacha La Pass
Situated in the Zanskar mountain range, Baralacha La Pass is among the important passes of Leh Ladakh that connect Lahaul Valley with Ladakh. This 8 km long pass is also the meeting point of Pir Panjal, Zanskar & the Great Himalayan Mountain Ranges. Baralacha La means summit with crossroads from Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar, and Lahaul, which meet here, and in ancient times it was part of a trade route. On the North West lies the Bhaga River while the Chandra flows south-east. Near the Baralacha La, there is a beautiful emerald lake called the Suraj Tal (Sun lake), the source of the river Bhaga.
Tanglang La Pass
Nestled at an elevation of 5,328 m above sea level, Tanglang La Pass is among the highest road passes in Ladakh. It offers an incredible view of the surroundings and crossing the pass is no less than a thrilling activity. Tanglang La Pass is located on the way from Debring to Gya. You can see the snow-clad peaks at a distance from the pass. This pass was once claimed to be the world’s second highest motorable pass, but it is actually the 12th highest motorable pass in the world.
Fotu La Pass
Located on the Srinagar Leh Highway in the Zanskar range of mountains in the Himalayas, Fotu La Pass is nestled on the 4,108 m above sea level. It is the highest point on the Srinagar Leh Highway and offers a majestic view of the snow clad peaks of Ladakh. The drive through one of the most beautiful mountain passes of Ladakh is an amazing journey where you can stop to get an enthralling view of the snow-clad mountain ranges. The pass sits on the way from Heniskot towards Lamayuru.
Lachung La Pass
One of the highest motorable passes in the world, Lachung La Pass is situated on the Leh Manali Highway at 54 km from Sarchu. Nestled at an elevation of 5,059 m above sea level, Lachung La Pass offers gorgeous views of the surroundings. This pass is open for only a few months in summer and for the rest of the year, it remains closed due to heavy snowfall. Lachung La Pass separates the valleys of Tsarap Chu and Tozay and is decorated with Buddhist flags.
Namika La Pass
One of the two highest mountain passes on the Leh Kargil Highway, Namika La is situated at an altitude of 3,823 m above sea level. It is among the most impressive and important passes of Ladakh where you can reach by traveling on winding turns and rough terrains. Also known as ‘Pillar of the Sky Pass’, Namika La Pass comprises a landscape with brown mountains and serpentine trails. You can admire the breathtaking view of the lush green surroundings and snow-covered peaks from the pass. The twist and turns of the Namika La Pass pose a challenge to the experienced drivers as well.
Zoji La Pass
Connecting Kashmir Valley with the Drass and Suru Valleys, Zoji La Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3,528 m above sea level. This is the second highest pass on NH 1 from Srinagar to Leh after Fotu La Pass. The hairpin bends of this mountain pass offer spectacular views of the surroundings. This is one of the most difficult and challenging passes. The dirt trails and curvy roads pose a challenge to the most experienced drivers. For adventure seekers, Zoji La Pass is an experience they would never want to miss out on.
Umling La Pass
Located near Hanle in Ladakh, Umling La Pass nestles at an elevation of 5,883 m above sea level. It is the world's highest motorable pass, which connects Chismule and Demchok villages. The road is a mix of smooth metal road and a dirt trail but a regular 4×4 vehicle can easily make it to the top without any problem. The road over the pass is 86 km long and with an endless expanse of barren terrain with no trace of civilization, Umling La Pass is among the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. However, the breathtaking scenery of the pass makes the visit worthwhile.
Wari La Pass
Situated at an elevation of 5,312 m above sea level, Wari La Pass connects Pangong Tso with Leh. Located in the Nubra Valley, Wari La Pass is among the highest mountain passes in Leh Ladakh. From the top, you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the snow clad peaks. There is a steep ascent for the Wari La Pass, make sure you will travel in a vehicle that has a powerful engine. The road from Tangyar up till the top of the pass is all gravel and broken tarmac with quite a few water crossings; mainly due to melting snow. The path to the pass is not easy but it will allow you to enjoy the once in a lifetime journey.
Pensi La Pass
Renowned as the gateway to Zanskar Valley, Pensi La Pass is nestled at an elevation of 4,400 m above sea level, which makes it among the highest passes in Ladakh. This pass connects the Suru Valley to the Zanskar Valley. Drang Drung glacier is situated on the eastern side of Pensi La, which is the source of the Doda River, and on the west side, the Suru River flows which is an important tributary of Indus. This pass opens for only three months in the year due to heavy snowfall.
Nakee La Pass
This is the third of the five passes which one needs to cross while traveling from Manali to Leh. Situated at an altitude of 4,769 m above sea level, Nakee La Pass experiences harsh cold conditions throughout the year. In the winter season, it remains covered with snow. The expert drivers also find it challenging to climb past the uneven, rugged, and off-road path of Nakee La Pass. However, crossing this high altitude mountain pass is a once in a lifetime opportunity that fills adventure lovers with excitement and thrill.
Marsimik La Pass - mountain Passes in Leh ladakh
Popularly known as Lankar La, Marsimik La Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in the world. Nestled at an elevation of 5,590 m above sea level, this pass is situated in the Chang Chenmo range of the Himalayas. Located at the northeast top of Pangong Lake, Marsimik La divides the basin of the Pangong Lake to the south from that of the Chang Chenmo River to the north. In the winters, the mountain pass is covered with snow and is not accessible.
List of Mountain Passes in Leh ladakh
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