If you are an adventure buff, you have probably known it all your life, Khardung La is the highest motorable road in the world and its located in Ladakh and is the holy grail of mountain bikers. Khardung La is also one of the most important attractions as to why people come to Ladakh in the first place and is the gateway to the all beautiful Shyok and Nubra valleys.
But what if I told you that Khardung La is NOT the highest motorable road in the world or not even the second! According to some data and disputed measurements, Khardung La is not even considered in the top 5 highest mountain roads in the world. Across the internet, Khardung La is said to have an elevation of 5360 meters or 17585 feet above the sea level which makes it the 8th highest road in the world. But the Border Road Organization of India claims that Khardung La is situated at an altitude of 5602 meters or 18380 feet. Now this is the data used by many to crown Khardung La as the king of high roads. But even then, there are two other mountain passes that are slightly higher than Khardung La and recently have been made into motorable roads.
So what are they?
1. Shipki La
Shipki La is a high mountain pass and border post on the India-China border, at an elevation of 5669m (18599 ft) above the sea level. The border is no longer open for non-residents. The pass is traversed by the National Highway 22.
This road, located in the Himachal Pradesh, a northern Indian state in the Himalayas, is usually open all year, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. Avalanches and heavy snowfalls can sometimes block some sections of the road and can be extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. It's located in Kinnaur district in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India, and Tibet Autonomous Region in People's Republic of China. The pass is India's third border post for trade with China after Nathula in Sikkim, and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand. The pass is close to town of Khab. It’s one of the highest mountain roads of the country.
The road over the pass is an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road. The surface of the road is asphalted, gravel and sand. The river Sutlej enters India (from Tibet) through this pass. The road is impassable in winters. It is a great trail for experienced wheelers but one should avoid driving in this area if unpaved mountain roads aren't your strong point. Full of trails that are pretty steep, wet conditions may make for tough driving along the muddy road. The climb is simply terrible, with a notorious lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters. Near the pass, oxygen is in short supply.
2. Mana Pass or Dungri La or Chirbitya La
Mana Pass (elevation 5608 m or 18399 ft), alternatively Māna La, Chirbitya, Chirbitya-la, or Dungri La, is a mountain pass in the Himalayas on the border between India and Tibet in the state of Uttarakhand. It appears to now be the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world, containing a road constructed in the 2005-2010 period for the Indian military by the Border Roads Organisation and visible on 2011 imagery on visual globe systems such as Google Earth. The well-graded gravel-dirt road is higher on the Indian side than the new road on the Tibetan side, and rises to 5610 meters (18,406 ft) on the Indian side of the border, 250m west of the low point of the 5,608 meters (18,399 ft) Mana Pass.
Tucked away in the rugged stretches of Himalayan Range in Uttarakhand, Mana Pass alias Dungri La stands out like a winner leading with an example among several competitors. Situated on the border between India and Tibet, the pass is located within the periphery of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Shake off the images of barren landscapes from your mind and leave behind those shaky rides, an expedition to Mana Pass is full of breathtaking sceneries of Uttarakhand. That’s why it is not wrong to call it the most beautiful mountain pass of Indian Himalaya.