Ladakh is also known as ‘Land of Passes’, offering spectacular views that truly are a lifetime experience. In the medieval ages, the Himalayan mountain passes were used as vital trade routes by the South-Asian nations for the trading of goods like silk, spices etc. These passes act as ways of the Indian subcontinent to stay connected to the rest of the world. Here I am trying to discuss Mountain passes of Ladakh Part 1.
Today these mountain passes hold immense significance for the military as the help in moving of several military facilities like ammunition, fuel and food. These passes also offer support in the development of the tourism industry of the country with Ladakh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhad. However, some of these passes become inaccessible in winters due to heavy snowfall.
1. Khardung La
Khardung La is a high mountain pass in Ladakh Union Territory. It serves as the entry to Shyok and Nubra Valley. Khardung La is popular as the highest motorable road in India at an elevation of 5602 metres( though this is not true). However, contrary to the belief, its actual elevation is 5359 metres making Umling La the highest motorable road pass in India.
Khardung La pass is an ideal getaway for adventure enthusiasts, peace seekers and mountain bikers. An Inner Line Permit is compulsory by the tourists to go in the pass and travel through it. Due to heavy rains and snow, the Khardung La pass remains closed from October to May.
Khardung La was built in 1976 and was opened for civic in 1988. The pass is very significant for India as it is used to carry goods to Siachen glacier. From the top, you can get striking views of the Karakoram Range and the Himalayas.
2. Chang La
Ladakh is abode to the most famous high altitude mountain passes in India, and Chang La Pass is one of them. The third highest motorable mountain pass in the world, it lies en route to Pangong Tso Lake, an admired tourist attraction in Ladakh & is a must visit during a tour in Ladakh.
Chang La Pass is situated at a height of almost 5,360 meters, and gets its name after a well-known saint called Changla Baba. A temple which stands here is devoted to him. The pass itself is about 15 kilometers long, and is maintained by the Indian Army.
The foremost attraction of Chang La Pass is it’s out of this world beauty & the stunning views everywhere. There is also a tea junction maintained by Indian Army where one can rest & enjoy various snacks.
3. Umling La
Umling La situated in Ladakh and The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has constructed this world’s highest motorable road. The road is higher than Khardung La (17,582ft) and passes through Umling La Top, at an elevation of over 19,301ft. Before the creation of this road, Bolivia is believed to have held the record for its road to the dormant volcano Uturuncu at 18,953ft.
BRO’s Project Himank completed this 86km long road. Located about 230km from Leh it connects Chismule and Demchok villages, both close to the Indo-China border. Demchok is a military camp that has the Line of Actual Control (LAC) pass through the southeast section of the village.
Construction of the road itself has been quite an achievement. Fundamental logistics were a great challenge as their equipment faced multiple breakdowns and construction workforce had to be acclimatized at three stages—in Leh, Shakti and then Numa before being inducted into the site. In the past, Project Himank has the experience of constructing roads such as Khardung La and Changla Pass in Leh.
4. Taglang La
Taglang La is one of the highest mountain pass in Ladakh. Situated at an altitude of 5,328m above sea level, it’s the abode of nomadic Changpa herdsmen who are primarily cattle and goat herders. Taglang La Pass is located adjacent to the Leh-Manali highway. Two of the adjacent settlements to Taglang La Pass are Sarchu towards Manali and Upshi towards Leh. At Upshi, this is a stopover on the route to Leh, tourists stop for a cup of tea.
During winters, it’s about impossible to cross this road. However, for those who are experienced, this pass can present an exciting challenge. Taglang Pass should be avoided by those who are unfamiliar to driving on unpaved mountain roads. Wet surroundings make driving along this road even more challenging. It should also be remembered that in Taglang Pass, oxygen is in short supply and people start feeling altitude sickness. It’s important to get ready yourself thoroughly in order to have a pleasant trip on the road.
5. Rezang La
Rezang La is a mountain pass on the Line of Actual Control separating the Indian-administered Ladakh and the Chinese administered, but Indian-claimed, Spanggur Lake basin, administered as part of the Rutog. It has a height of 5,199 metres (17,060 ft), and forms the source of the Rezang Lungpa watercourse that drains into the Spanggur Lake.
Rezang La was the spot of the 13 Kumaon, during the Sino-Indian War in 1962. The company was led by Major Shaitan Singh, who won a posthumous Param Vir Chakra for his vravery. In this act on 18 November 1962, 114 Indian soldiers out of a total of 120 were killed. A memorial in Rewari, where most of the soldiers came from, mentions that 1,300 Chinese soldiers were killed in the clash.
6. Bilafond La
Bilafond La is a pass situated on Saltoro Ridge, sitting immediately west of the vast Siachen Glacier, some 40 km from Line of Control between Pakistan and India as a part of the Simla Agreement. Bilafond La is on the traditional Silk Route linking the Indian Subcontinent and China.
Bilafond La was famous during the 1984 start of military action within the Siachen Conflict between India and Pakistan. The Indian Army captured the pass in 1984 along side Sia La to the north and, Gyong La to the south, in 1987. India currently maintains a fortified military base at Bilafond La.
7. Fotu La
Fotu La is the top point on the Srinagar Leh Highway, but is counted among the tourist attractions of Ladakh for its magnificent photography opportunities. It’s situated at an elevation of 4,108 meters on the way from Heniskot to Lamayuru.
Although the pass itself is paved with a thick layer of pitch, it can get pretty challenging at some points. On the way towards the Fotu La Pass, you’ll pass the type of landscape which you’ll have seen in pictures of the moon. As you drive further, the outstanding views of the Snowclad Mountain greet your eyes. A Prasar Bharti television relay station is additionally situated on the pass.
8. Gyong La
Gyong La is a pass located on southwest of the vast Siachen Glacier, about 20 km from the road of Control between India and Pakistan. With Pakistan controlling areas just to the west along Chumik Glacier, Gyong La area has been under India’s control since 1989.
There was military action at Gyong La, and nearby passes Sia La and Bilafond La, starting in 1984 during Operation Meghdoot. In March 1989 Operation Ibex by the Indian Army attempted to require hold of the Pakistani post overlooking the Chumik Glacier. The operation was ineffective at dislodging Pakistani troops from their positions.
The Indian Army under Brig. R. K. Nanavatty then launched an missiles attack on Kauser Base, the Pakistani logistical node on Chumik Glacier. The destruction of Kauser Base induced Pakistani troops to go away their Chumik posts just west of Gyong La, and Operation Ibex finished.
9. Indira Col
The Indira Col is located at the height of 5,764 metres or 18,911 ft in the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram . There are two Col in this area; one is eastern and another is western. Eastern Col was named Indira Col in 1912 by Bullock Workman. Indira Col is situated in the west from 3 km of Sia Kangri, the peak has the boundary of India, Pakistan, and China.
Colonel Narendra “Bull” Kumar reached West Indira Col in 1981. The typical winter snowfall is quite 35 ft and temperatures can drop upto −50 °C in this region. The land to the north of Indira Col is a part of the Trans-Karakoram Tract, controlled by China under a 1963 border agreement with Pakistan but claimed by India.