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 the following five high mountain passes in different parts of India are presented.
1. Khardung La
2. Taglang or Tanglang La
3. Chang La
4. Goecha La
5. Rohtang Pass
1. La means Pass in Tibetan
2. Heights mentioned against each of the Passes in the description below may vary because of variations in method of calculation.
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.
U-Shaped valleys on the way
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 Prayer Flags, colourful stamp of Tibetan, is always there to cheer up people who venture out to such heights.
How does it look like while driving up? Have a look.
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 a humble start. But an adventurist spirit is triggered with the increasing altitude. The landscapes go on changing. Rocky and barren mountains slowly start burying in white snow. There are breath-taking scenes all along.
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.
At 5,391.3024 m or 17,688.000 ft, Chang La is considered to be the third highest motorable Pass. Though a difficult Pass, yet important as it connects Indus valley 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.
Permits may be required for visiting this place.
Goecha La (4940 mt or 16,207 ft) is a high mountain pass in Sikkim in the Himalaya range. The Pass provides an opportunity to have a grand view of the southeast face of the world’s third highest mountain, Mt. Kanchenjunga along with 14 big summits. Trekking through Kanchenjunga National Park is quite challenging as it requires covering long distance with changing altitudes. But there is an allurement of numerous species of unusual flora and fauna, beautiful orchards and grand ambience, which attracts the tourist to this place.
Dividing the 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 (3980 meters or 13058 ft). It is a gateway to Lahaul and Spiti valley.
When I visited Rohtang Pass in June, 1980, 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
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 and it was full of snow.
Rohtang Pass is blocked by snow from November to May. Now a tunnel called Atal Tunnel has been excavated which is operational from October 2020. While it takes 4 to 6 hours to ascend, negotiate and descend the Rohtang Pass, travel through the Atal Tunnel takes only about 30 minutes.
Your experience with mountain pass
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on February 09, 2014:
tanveerbadyari , I am glad you liked the hub. Khardugla is really a beautiful place. Thanks for visiting. Have a nice weekend!
tanveerbadyari on February 09, 2014:
beautiful hub, liked the pics. the mountain scenery from khardungla is breathtaking.
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 27, 2013:
Toytasting, So heaven is on the earth. Let us taste it. Whenever one gets time we should be in a look for it in whatever corner of the world possible. In fact, we can find many such heavens. Thanks for visiting and liking the Hub. Have a wonderful time.
Toy Tasting from Mumbai on November 27, 2013:
Amazing hub with beautiful pictures. Your hub actually took me to heaven. Thanks for sharing your hub. :)
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 10, 2013:
JPSO138, I am glad you are interested in climbing. It always is a unique experience with everlasting impressions on reaching the top. I wish you best of luck.
JPSO138 from Cebu, Philippines, International on November 09, 2013:
Very nice and well research hub. I have not climbed any mountain pass yet but will surely do if given the chance.
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 09, 2013:
Susan, I am glad you liked the trip. Thanks for visiting and have a nice day!
Susan from India on November 09, 2013:
Thanks for taking us to a beautiful trip. Great hub with beautiful pics. Voted up.
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 08, 2013:
Sunil, I visited only one of these, the Rohtang Pass and I cannot forget the type of images which are imbibed in my mind permanently. It is worth visiting some of these at least once with all precautions that one could take as a tourists. Thanks for visiting and have a nice time!
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on November 08, 2013:
Mel Carriere, There are many tourists who come to India to enjoy visits or for expeditions on these routes and Passes. India has a vast line of Himalayas and there are many more. I am glad you liked these Passes. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice weekend!
Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on November 08, 2013:
So spectacular and that makes our nation the most vibrant and diverse. You have taken great pain to describe it well. But your efforts are worth and well reflected on this hub. I wish to visit some of these in the near future. Though I had visited JK some years back I could not climb anyone. Excellent article. thank you for writing.
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 08, 2013:
These places appear to be spectacular. We have nothing here in the US to compare it to. Our highest pass I think is the Vail Pass in Colorado at 10,000 feet. Great hub!