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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 13 of 25: To Khardungla Pass for the Shyok and Nubra Valleys

photo by Michael

Prayer flags at KhardungLa Pass

These valleys are reached by a long drive from Leh, over KardungLa Pass. Guide books describe this as the world’s highest motorable pass at 5602m (18380ft). However a modern GPS survey now gives this an elevation of 5,359m, making it slightly lower than ChangLa Pass. There are also two higher passes in Tibet.

A well made road from Leh zig zags steeply up the mountain side with views down on Leh with views of fields and houses. The mountain side is very dry with a lot of dust. The remains of fields destroyed by last years floods and not yet repaired could be seen further up the valley. At the top of the valley is the green and fertile village of Ganglas.

South Pulla is a small army and police point where permits and passports have to be shown. Beyond the road surface is unpaved and quite rough in places. It gradually contours up the face of the mountain with the road bending round spurs. Anyone suffering from travel sickness may need to take a pill as you can be thrown from side to side during the bends.

There is quite a bit of scrubby vegetation in places. ‘Pastures’ referred to in the guide books are slightly greener areas with yak grazing. It is quite a gradual climb up to Kardungla Pass, until just before the top where there are several tight bends and a sharp corner to the pass.

Guide books suggest there is a control on the direction of traffic with a one way system with traffic from Leh allowed between 9-12 and traffic from Nubra between 1-5. If so, it wasn’t in operation the days we did the trip. There was quite a bit of downward traffic as we climbed to the pass. There are no safety barriers along the side of the road which drops away into the valley far below. Drivers don’t look for wider passing areas and always seem to pass on the narrowest bits of the roads. Shrines along the roadside and the remains of two lorries below the road on the approach to the pass are a reminder that accidents do happen.

The pass is well above the snow line and there are amazing views across the mountains. Groups of Indians were getting very excited by the patches of snow above the road and scrambling up to throw snowballs at each other.

The pass was busy with cars and people. There is a small restaurant, temple, very basic toilets (with an amazing view) as well as assorted police and army buildings with an emergency medical centre. White scarfs and prayer flags were fluttering in the wind. We were given scarves and prayer flags to tie up. Because of the altitude, tourists are advised to spend no longer than 20 minutes at the pass.

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