Among the top 13 highest motorable roads globally, nine are in India. The highest motorable road is Uming La, 235 Kms from Leh, which connects Chisumle and Demchok village. All the highest motorable roads or passes in the world are thrilling, adventurous and a real test for a motorcyclist and drivers.
The dream of each adventure enthusiast and rider of the Himalayan region is to drive through the highest motorable roads in the world. Most of the highest motorable roads and passes in the world are above an elevation of 5,000meters.
It is always advised to take time to acclimatise and take previous measures for altitude sickness. Planning well-ahead, researching required permits and carrying essential medicine is always advised.
Here are the top 13 highest motorable roads in the world.
1. Uming La
The Highest Motorable road in the world in Ladakh Uming La at an elevation of 5,799m was inaugurated around August 2021. Uming La, connected to Chimsula-Demchok road, was built strategically for military convenience. It connects important roads of the Chumar sector of Ladakh and has created a 52-km long faster route from Chimsula and Demchok.
The strategic importance benefits the armed forces and the tourism of Ladakh, and socio-economic condition as Uming La pass holds the Guinness book of world records for being the highest motorable road in the world.
How to reach Uming La?
First, you have to reach the Hanle Valley from Leh and hanle village; Uming La is 105 km away. There are three routes you can take to reach Uming La. You can take the route to Photi La village, and Uming La is 50km from Photi La.
Another route is Loma- Koyul- Dungti- Demchok- Uming La, but you will require a permit to travel through Koyul. Another unusual route is driving via Ukdungle from Hanle to UMing La.
Permits Required to Drive:
Depending upon the route you take, you will require an inner line permit for Hanle, which you can acquire online and get stamped in the tourist information centre in Leh. From any direction, the permit will be required for Hanle, and From Hanle, the Koyul- Demchok route will require another ILP from the checkpoint.
2. Road to Cerro Uturuncu, Potosi, Bolivia
Utruncu Potosi is a dormant volcano in southwest Bolivia, and the road to the volcano is a dirt track. It has held the record of being one of the highest motorable roads in the world before Uming La for the longest time. The peak of the stunning volcano is at 6008 meters.
The road connects two saddles between the two summits of the double-peaked volcano Utruncuand has a maximum elevation of 5,768meters. The gigantic scenery is quite spectacular, and through the ride through, you will experience the unique landscape, colourful lagoons and active volcanos.
How to reach the top of Cerro Utrunchu?
Whether travelling from the Argentinian border or Chilean border, you have to drive to the Sur Lipez province and from there to the summit. As the road gets grimy and dusty, it is best to drive in a heavy-duty car.
The road is exceptionally sandy in the lower part as the elevation increases more than 5,000 meters, most travellers find it hard to reach to push the car due to lack of oxygen. There is a steep drop on your left, and the road is narrow and steep in some places.
3. Dungri La, Uttarakhand, India
Dungri La or Mana pass, also known as Chirbitya on the Indo-Tibet border, is in the Uttarakhand state of India. Dungri La pass is at an elevation of 5,632meters. It was also built by the border road organisation from 2005 to 2010 by BRO (Border Road Organization).
Dungri La connects Uttarakhand and Tibet along with the Himalayan range of the Nanda Devi biosphere.
How to reach Dungri La?
You have to drive from the south as the road is extended from NH58, the same highway that connects Delhi and Badrinath. Mana pass is at a lower elevation of 5582, but the road extends up to 5,632 meters.
Safety Tips: While driving, you should be on the lookout for loose gravels along the side of the road and frost heaves in the months of winter. Always make sure to get a weather report and the condition of the road before you drive up there.
Along with the standard ILP, permits from local police, local army and the district court is required to drive up to Mana pass, and most of the tourists are not allocated the permits. Even after acquiring all the permits border army can restrict, you in the protected area.
4. Marsimik La, Ladakh
Marsimik La is on an elevation of 5,590meters in Ladakh, and the mountain pass is in the Chang Chenmo Range in the border area. It has traversed from Leh-Manali highway, and the pass is in the proximity of 4km west of the Indo-China border. Marsimik La is an attractive spot for Kashmir tourists. It is advised to drive four-wheelers to the unpaved road of Marsimik La.
How to reach Marsimik La?
You have to reach from Leh to Tso moriri with the break of Leh-Upshi-Mahe-Sumdo-Karzok. From Tso moriri you travel to Hanle via Chumur and drive from Hanle to Spangmik. The road up to Upshi is relatively smooth and tarred, while further along, it is a mix of untarred dirt track and smooth unpaved road. The entire road can be covered in Sedan or Hatchback.
The road has loose gravel and is not paved to drive, and hence only experienced four-wheelers are recommended to drive.
As a domestic traveller, you will require an inner line permit, and as a foreigner, you will need a protected area permit. If you drive through Hanle you will have to collect your permit for Hanle village which you can arrange in the tourist centre in Leh.
In the final section of the road, when you hit the settlement of Tablang, you will require to submit your ILP at the check post.
5. Semo La central Tibet
Semo La in Tibet is at an elevation of 5,578meters, and one of the highest passes in China. The road to the summit Semo La or Sung mo La is called 206 Provincial roads, and almost 150km of the stretch of the road is above 5000meters.
The landscape is exceptionally bear with the plateau’s insight. Semo La road is paved in 2015, and the ride is relatively smooth except for the problem of altitude sickness. Many travellers use 206 provincial roads as an alternative to western Tibet and mountain Kailash.
How to go to Semo La?
Semo Pass is in Tsochen county of Ngari prefecture in Tibet, China. Semo La road is tarmacked quite well and you can reach by four-wheeler to the pas via the Tibet Provincial Road S206, or the so-called Northern route.
If you have respiratory problems and altitude sickness, it’s best to avoid the drive to Semo la. Other than that, the well-maintained and constructed road is better than other highest motorable roads in the world.
6. Photi La, Ladakh
In the same region of Uming La, Photi La is a barren mountain pass in southwestern Ladakh and have an untrailed mountain road. It can be a once in a lifetime experience for experienced wheelers. This 30 km road offers implausible scenery of the hanle valley. The Photi la pass is at an elevation of 5,524meters and the road to the pass is dusty unpaved, and steep.
How to reach Photi La?
The road to Photi La starts from Hanle village in Ladakh. You can either travel by bike or four-wheelers. Photo La is around 105km from Hanle and takes around an hour.
As the road is unpaved, avoid rainy seasons to avoid muddy roads. In the winters, the road is impassable.
Take time to acclimatise to the altitude.
7. Dongkha La, Sikkim, India
Donkia pass or Dongkha La in Sikkim at an elevation of 5,534meters and the pass connects Sikkim in India with Tibet. Donkia La starts at the East Himalayas and opens at the plateau of Tibet. Donkha La in Sikkim is near Zero point in Yumthang to Tso Lhamo lake and only experienced trekkers trek to the pass.
There are accounts of drivers driving up to the pass, but it’s infrequent. Only avid trekkers take the 8 to 9 km trek at one of the highest trekkable passes. But the breathtaking view of the Tibetan plateau at the top summit is worth the trek.
Dzongkha La road up to which four-wheelers go is smooth and asphalted. But it still is not recommended for people with altitude sickness and weak heart conditions. The area experiences extreme weather, and high winds blow all year round.
8. Kaksang La, Ladak
Kaksang La is one of the most dangerous roads in Leh at an elevation of 5,436 meters. Locals describe it as the road to hell. Kaksang La falls en route from Mahe- Nama- Chusul- Pangong Tso (40 km) is a challenging road even for the skilled drivers. Kaksang La in the Changthang region is a narrow road with a steep slope, twist and turns.
A general ILP / Protected Area Pass is required for domestic and foreign tourists.
9. Suge La west, Ladakh
In the Nyenchen Dangla mountains, Suge La is one of the highest motorable roads in the world in Ladakh at an elevation of 5453 meters. The climb in Suge La is not only notoriously challenging but also put your body to the test. The view of the Quingmo Kangri glacial peak is the main attraction of this high-altitude drive.
How to get to Suge La?
The road to Suge la is traversed from Provincial Road 304, and it is at the end of Nyenchen Tanglha mountain and the road is drivable and decent.
Unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards can cause driving harder. The road is quite exigent with the steepness and twists. People with breathing trouble or heart problems are advised to climb up to a comfortable altitude.
10. Chang La, Ladakh
Chang La is at an elevation of 5,390meters is located in between Leh to Shiyok valley. The scenario from Leh to Pangong Tso valley is the main attraction in the vicinity. The pass is named after the local hermit Changla baba, and you will see a temple of Changla baba along the way.
How to reach Chang La?
You have to drive through the Leh-Manali highway or National Highway 21 , and the extended road is covered with rocks.
The road to Chang La is covered with rock surface, and the steep road is adjacent to the cliff. Nausea and altitude sickness, breathing troubles are typical in some people.
11. Khardung La, Ladakh
Khardung La is one of the most important mountains passes in Ladakh and at an elevation of 5359meters. Khardung La was built in 1976 by BRO (Borders Road Association) and was open for vehicular use in 1988. Khardung La is situated near the Indo-China border and is vital for carrying supplies to the Siachen glacier, where one of the highest army camps in India is located.
How to reach??
You have to rent a car or bike to reach one of the most visited and popular highest motorable passes in the world, Khardung La from Leh. It takes around one hour and 15 minutes from Leh to Khardung La pass. You have to drive up towards Diskit on the Leh-Manali highway, and the distance between Leh and Khardung La is around 40km.
Travel to Khardung La during summer seasons (March to May). Rainy seasons and winter seasons present challenges like snowfalls, incessant rainfall making the road inaccessible and challenging.
The road from the South Pullu checkpoint gets rough and rocky. Drive carefully as there may be broken rocks, snow, and landslides.
12. Tanglang La
Tanglang La mountain pass paved south from Manali-Leh highway to Upshi and the elevation of Tangla La is above 5,328meters above sea level. The Manali-Leh highway reaches the mountain pass. The road to the pass will greet you with a varying landscape of mountains and scenic plains.
How to reach?
Tanglang La can be reached by Leh-Manali highway and the twist and turn in the altitude to reach Tanglang La. You can take the road south from Upshi to Tanglang La and the distance to cover by road is 61km.
Planning your trips in Summer will prevent you from facing a roadblock through snowfall. Carry medicine for altitude sickness.
13. Wari La, Ladakh
Wari La is a high mountain pass on the eastside of Ladakh at an elevation of 5312meters. Wari La is an excellent trail for experienced wheelers, and the trail is pretty steep.
How to reach?
Wari La is the road in between Nubra valley to Pangong Tso. On the Manali -Leh highway you have to take a turn towards Sakti from Karu. From Sakti, drive up to Tathok and then up to Wari La. The distance from Karu to Wari La is total 39km.
Avalanches, heavy snowfall and roadblocks are often seen on the way to Wari La. Wet seasons should be avoided to avoid muddy roads and increased accidents.
Though there are controversies about which motorable road is higher than the other, the list includes all the highest motorable roads in the world. When you plan to drive to any of the highest motorable roads in the world, here are a few things to always keep in mind.
Get a certificate of fitness before travelling and check the doctor for physical fitness. Always carry medicine for altitude sickness and water. Get a detailed map route and plan your journey well to avoid unwanted difficulties. Lastly, enjoy your road trips and adventurous journeys to the fullest.