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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

Last updated on: October 11, 2011 18:09 IST

Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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Ajay Jain, Kunzum.com

God gave us the Himalayas. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) gave us the roads to navigate these lofty ranges. Driving on these can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world -- the landscape and the sights have nothing to compare in this world.

The most awesome moments come when you cross the passes -- these are points where you cross mountain ranges or ridges. And are the highest places amongst the surroundings -- you ascend to get to one and then descend after that.

Thanks to the BRO, roads have been laid out on some of the highest ranges on this planet. When you stand on these passes, you are literally at the top of the world.

The views are stunning, the air is as pure as it can get, and it is always cold here.

These passes are motorable only during summers -- and one should not spend more than half an hour at any of these places due to low oxygen levels.

Rev up your four-wheel, and head out to the highest mountain passes in the world.

Click on NEXT to read on...

Want to share your travel story and pictures? Simply write in to getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'My Travel Story'), along with pictures of the destination you're writing about. We'll publish the best ones right here on rediff.com!

Ajay Jain is a leading travel writer and photographer and shares his travel experiences at http://kunzum.com.


Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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1. KhardungLa: The highest motorable pass in the world

It is not very often that one gets to drive on a road at an altitude of 18,380 feet. That is where KhardungLa, meaning the 'Pass of Lower Castle,' is located on the way from Leh to the Nubra Valley in Ladakh.

It is the highest motorable road in the world as signs put up by the BRO proudly proclaim.

Opened to traffic in 1973, it was by no means an easy task building this -- and many an engineer and worker lost their lives in the process. How did the Indian Army come good in this challenge?

Work started in August 1972 after a earlier failed attempt in 1963. Not much progress was made initially, and the challenge rose manifold in the winters with the danger of frostbite setting in besides other risks.

Work finally started in full swing in April 1973. Helicopters lifted jeeps, coal tar cans and other supplies to the site as there was no other way to do so.

Note: The word 'La' means Pass in Tibetan.

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Image: A view from KhardungLa
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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According to an Army document, "A glaciated patch of hard frozen ice 500 metres ahead of the pass was spanned by a 110 foot Bailey bridge launched by the Border Roads Organisation. It became the highest bridge in the world. It was also unique in that its ends rested on hard ice.

After being repeatedly swept away by avalanches, and being re-launched, this path was finally overcome by constructing a wire crated stone masonry causeway in 1994."

On an unfortunate note, 18 men lost their lives while building the road.

The Marsimikla Pass, at 18,632 feet, in eastern Ladakh has missed out on the top honours as it allows for only some kinds of four wheeled vehicles across it.

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Image: Khardung La is the highest motorable road in Ladakh.
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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2. BaralachaLa: On the Manali-Leh Road

The signpost at BaralachaLa between Jispa and Sarchu on the way to Ladakh reads 16,500 feet above sea level -- at this altitude, you never know what to expect.

The landscape was brown during one summer; exactly a year later, the entire area including a temple and a three-storeyed shed were under snow.

Snow walls encroached upon the slippery, glass-top road, reducing traffic to a one-way crawl. You can never be too careful on these passes.

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Image: The Baralach La is located on the Manali Leh highway.
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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This place is also the source of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, which merge at Tandi to become the Chandrabhaga and flow on as the Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district.

Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind. Small stacks of stones, local religious symbols, dot the area. These are common sights at all high passes in the Himalayas.

Always cold and windy, this isn't a place to linger in for altitude sickness may hit you. Yet the landscape gives you reason to feel blissful.

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Image: Baralacha La. Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind.
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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3. TaglangLa: Is it the second highest pass in the world?

TaglangLa between Pang and Leh in Ladakh is proud to be the world's second highest motorable road at 17,586 feet, after KhardungLa (18,380 feet).

A sign there even reads, 'You are passing through the second highest pass of the­ Unbelievable is not it?'

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Image: View from the TaglangLa
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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I recently heard of a boy who died at TaglangLa -- he was hit was acute altitude sickness when a traffic jam caused a delay.

These passes usually have temples to protective deities, like TaglangLa Baba and ChangLa Baba. But sometimes you need more than God to survive.

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Image: The temple to the protective deity TaglangLa Baba
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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4. ChangLa: The second highest pass in the world

Chang La pass between Leh and Pangong Tso proclaims itself as the world's third highest.

Only, no one told ChangLa that it's actually second, topping Tanglang La by four feet. Someone swapped silver and bronze medals.­ Who is to blame? Tough ask.

Chang La at 17,586 feet, on the way to Pangong Tso (lake) in Ladakh, is certainly the friendlier and welcoming of most passes.

Army men here serve you delicious hot masala tea and administer first-aid if needed. You can shop for ChangLa branded T-shirts, coffee mugs, bookmarks and refrigerator magnets (cum keychains cum bottle opener) at the souvenir shop in Lukung, at the edge of Pangong Tso.

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Image: ChangLa is the second highest pass at 17,586 feet
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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Pics: Driving in the Himalayas, over the highest passes

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5. Kunzum La: In Lahaul Spiti

The road leading to and away from Kunzum La at 14,932 feet is one of the most beautiful and stunning in the world.

Located in the Lahaul Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, it can be approached from either Manali via Rohtang Pass or from Simla via the Kinnaur region.

Even though there are higher passes, Kunzum La is one of the coldest and windiest of them all. And you will always see snow here; in fact, the snow-capped peaks are almost within touching distance from here.

How many of these passes have you driven over? Time to hit the road to the top of the world?

Travel tips when driving on high altitude roads

  • These roads are accessible in summers only. There is too much snow for any vehicle to drive on these for 7-8 months of the years.
  • Always check the weather and road conditions in advance.
  • These passes are best driven over in 4-wheeled vehicles.
  • Always carry a tow rope, and extra food, water, woolens and blankets should you get stuck.
  • Do not stay at the high passes for more than 30 minutes. Altitude sickness can hit very fast here. When at these passes, keep yourself warm and keep your head and ears covered too.

Want to share your travel story and pictures? Simply write in to getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'My Travel Story'), along with pictures of the destination you're writing about. We'll publish the best ones right here on rediff.com!


Image: The Kunzum La
Photographs: Ajay Jain
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