My car drove through like it was defying death. The path winded as the tall snow-capped mountains seemed to get more and more huge. It was like I was travelling through paradise, yet in this paradise, the danger was real.
I was driving through the highest motorable road in the world – Khardung La Pass, located at 5,600 m above sea level. The very height even on paper is scary to fathom, imagine driving on it. Yet, the sheer pleasure and joy and the unique thrill that one gets there is something unimaginable in itself. It is like an achievement unlocked or a victory conquered.
My tryst with the Khardung La Pass started while I was in Leh. For a long time, I wanted to do something so adventures that I could recount stories about it. That’s when I made up my mind to head up to the Pass, which basically serves as a connection between Leh, Nubra and Shyok valleys.
This wonderful yet risky road is located almost 40 km away from Leh, and one can easily drive till there, or even take their bike if you feeling really adventurous.
I have always been more inclined towards driving rather than riding, so I rented a car after a sculpts breakfast and headed out.
The path is actually pretty well and smoothes till the South Pullu checkpoint, it would even have been monotonous if Ladakh wasn’t so pretty in every nook and corner.
After the checkpoint, the road starts to get rough and is filled with sharp rocks and soil. There new actually several checkpoints along the way, and you must have the Inner Line Permit if you want to reach the road. At every checkpoint, you have to give them a copy of your Permit, which they keep and unluckily I had made sufficient amount of copies to give.
As I started to drive higher and higher I could feel the altitude bearing on me, but what really surprised me was an amazing beauty that starts unfolding. Everything was calm and serene, there weren’t many cars, and there I was driving paste mountains that dwarfed me, trying to brave the altitude. The entire landscape started to change, and all of sudden I couldn’t see the town anymore. There were grey mountains all around me, and not a single vegetation in sight. A queer kind of quiet descended, and while I thought nothing more in Ladakh can impress me, I find that I was dead wrong.
I started feeling a little breathing difficulty, and that’s when I realised how fiercely close I was to the top. Everything around me was dry and arid. Usually, the Pass is always filled with tourists all looking to liking pictures of their achievement, and small little souvenir shops covered with colourful prayer flags that sway with the chilly wind.
I stepped out of my car and straight away headed towards the cafe to enjoy a hot cup of tea while looking at the magnificent view that lay in front of me. As I took my first sip of the steaming cup of elixir, I was transported to paradise. The mountains looked heavenly and my mind started to calm down. My entire body started relaxing and I felt rejuvenated.
There are several signposts that warn people not to stay from that 20 min since the altitude isn’t too easy to get acclimatised to. But, being some kind of a travel rebel, I stayed for one hour and came back with a headache. While the headache does go away quickly once you reach a normal altitude, it is still recommended not to push your luck.
While I could only sip tea and admire the views from this mesmerising Pass, there are many other things that you can actually do, which can make your experience even more amazing:
Khardung La Pass also has the highest cafeteria in the world, and the one thing you must to there is sample there delicious Pahado wali chai and Maggi. A hugely popular dish, this will make your mouth salivate and fill your body with a kind of pleasure that very few things can give you.
Camping under the stars at the top of the Khardung La Pass is something that should be on your bucket list. Just find a nice spot to pitch your tent and then admire the sky which glitters with stars. Most popular point for camping here is the Buddha point. While you can surely go back on the same day to Leh, but staying under the stars and roasting marshmallows is something that would truly make your experience beautiful.
Another thing that you can do is rather than go back to Leh, head over to one of the most picturesque places in Ladakh – Nubra Valley. The splendid and enchanting valley is covered with lush green meadows, azure rivers, and traditionally rich culture.