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Famous High Mountain Passes in India
The great Indian Himalayan range has the highest snow clad peaks in the world. Many tribes and cultures developed in these inaccessible peaks which remained isolated from the world due to brutal cold conditions and international border related issues. In spite of harsh weather and dangers involved, some areas in these ranges have attracted tourists from all over the world due to numerous challenges available for trekking and mountaineering.
High mountain passes provided opportunities for the tourists to peep into both sides of the world and experience magnificence of snowy peaks, towering glacier cliffs, deep ravines and rarefied air. The thrill of reaching the top of the world kept them motivated and venture out.
In this Hub three highest passes connected with motorable roads are presented. These famous mountain passes are Khardung La, Taglang La and Chang La.
In addition, Rohtang Pass, one of the most frequented passes by tourists in Himachal Pradesh is also presented.
#1. Khardung La Pass (Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir)
The thrill of being at the top of the world
At 18380 ft (5602 m), Khardung La is considered to be the highest motorable mountain pass in the world, though the height is disputed due to different measurement systems adopted by various agencies. Apart from height the Pass is important to India as it has been a supply line for Siachen Glacier. It connects Shyok and Nubra valleys and is in the limelight since 1988 because it has been used for expeditions by motorists and bikers. Earlier, it has been used to transport goods and men by camels and horses to Central Asia.
It may be quite strenuous to cover the 40 kms journey from Leh as gives the feeling of rustic and rugging. It is advisable not to stay at the top for a longer period (may be not more than 20 minutes) due to thin air.
How to reach
Leh is capital of Ladakh, which is connected by road both from Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) as well as from Manali (Himachal Pradesh). A daily bus service is available from Leh to reach Khardung La, which is at a distance of about 40 kms. One can reach by taxi or bike. Also daily flight to Leh is available from Delhi.
The road approaching the Pass is not open for whole of the year. Depending upon the weather it is normally closed from October to April, the months during which there is snow fall. Traffic congestion in certain sections due to traffic control in narrow sections, movement of army convoys or sometimes landslides may cause delays. It is always advisable to stick to the traffic control timings.
Those having travel sickness on high altitudes may not enjoy the trip without medicines support.
U-Shaped valleys on the way
The colourful world of the Tibetan
There are amazing views as one approaches Khardung La. Some parts of the valley are U-shaped. At many places the road winding views are exciting.
The colourful stamp of Tibetan is always there to cheer up people who venture out to such heights.
In the South of Khardung La
How does it look like while driving up? Have a look.
#2. Taglang La Pass, Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir)
The Second Highest
Great Himalayas has yet another Pass which is claimed to be the second highest in Ladakh region, at a height of 17480 ft (5328 meters). The light and shade makes it a mesmerizing site while crossing this Pass.
It is difficult to believe that the winding narrow roads in the valley will lead to such a beautiful place. In fact, one experiences going up and down without gaining any height for sufficiently long time. Ascents are gradual and patience is required to cross some areas due to road repairing which continues to be a normal feature. Mountain sickness is not uncommon.
Surprisingly, the Pass is being used as a resting place by the nomadic herdsmen called Changpa. They can be seen around with their flocks of goats and sheep.
#3. Chang La Pass
At 17,794 ft (5425 m), Chang La is considered to be the third highest motorable Pass. Though a difficult Pass, yet important as it connects Indua velley to Pangong Lake region.
Known to be named after a saint called Changla Baba, this Pass is on the route to Pangong Lake from Leh. It is called gateway to Changthang Plateau in the Himalayas.
Some tourists call it a test of lungs to reach there and they heave a sigh of relief when Indian Army presents a complimentary cup of hot black tea. There is a fast wind and many tourists do not prefer to stay there for a longer period, though the views from the top are quite fascinating.
March and April may be suitable for journey. Sunglasses will help in viewing this white valley and snow-tyre chains will be useful for safety while driving.
There is a Yak ride available here. Permits may be required for visiting this place.
#4. Rohtang Pass (Himachal Pradesh)
Dividing two Worlds
This is one of very popular and the most frequented mountain passes in India. Mainly because it is easily accessible and relatively at low height (3978 meters or 13051 ft). It is a gateway to Lahaul and Spiti valley.
When I visited Rohtang Pass about 4 decades back, I was told that this Pass had a natural divide between two worlds. Basically, it was on two counts. Firstly, cultural. On the other side in the North was primarily Buddhist culture but it was mainly a Hindu culture in the South, the side from which I was travelling. The other major difference between the two sides was weather conditions. Approaching from Kullu valley side Rohtang Pass was humid but the Lahul and Spiti Valley on the other side was arid and at high altitude. It seldom rains in this valley. There is a marked difference in the vegetation on both sides.
A large number of tourists visit this Pass specially from June to October when it is cleared for vehicular traffic. Normally there is traffic congestion and those who leave Manali early make it faster to cross the Pass.
One comes across spectacular mountain views on the way. Rohtang Pass and nearby areas are also known for winter adventure sports. A few kms short of the Pass is a plateau at Marhi. It is picturesque and used as a stop over both in summer and autumn as also for winter during harsh weather. On the old route to Marhi one comes across Rohla Falls.
Another attraction in this area for tourists is Solang Valley which is used for camping, trekking skiing and paragliding. Certain areas from Manali on this route are also used for rock climbing.
So, Rohtang Pass and adjoining areas have many tourist attractions.
The place where I got stuck and missed the view on the other side
Your experience with mountain pass
Have you ever visited a high altitude mountain pass?
In order to have a look of the world on the other side of the Pass, I travelled from Manali to Rohtang Pass by a tourist bus. I was not allowed to cross the Pass, even on foot, as it was not opened for traffic at that time. The snow was being cleared. While travelling I found a couple following the bus on a motorbike. It was amazing to see them carrying a small baby also. While returning to the bus stand I happened to meet the couple. To my surprise they were known people (world is so small). Out of fun the gentleman took me to the spot and tried to reach a point from where we could possibly have a view on the other side of the Pass. We could not reach anywhere as the motorbike started skidding and we found it very dangerous. It was just a few yards before the spot shown in the picture above.