Ladakh, the very word creates an image in our minds of a mysterious land and people who have been there would agree that it certainly lives up to the expectations. Centuries ago Shah Jahan said that if there is a paradise on earth then it’s in Kashmir. To that I say that he did not visit Ladakh or would certainly have changed his opinion. Or maybe he did and included Ladakh as well when he said the word “Kashmir”. Out of the several enchanting places in Ladakh, there is one that has mystified people for long and still continues to do so. It is a small stretch of road located about 30 kilometers from Leh towards Kargil and known as Magnetic Hill of Ladakh.
On this particular part of the Srinagar – Leh highway, you would clearly see the road ahead going uphill. Yet if you turned off the engine and let your vehicle stand in neutral, it will slowly start moving and can go up to a speed of 20 kilometers per hour on its own. Mysterious? I agree.
What is believed to be at work behind this mysterious phenomenon is a magnetic force so strong that it can pull cars uphill. It is in fact so notorious that even the airplanes that fly over this region increase their altitude in order to avoid magnetic interference. Every tourist driver that passes through here would kill the engine to let the tourists experience how the car still kept moving. Some people are not aware about Magnetic Hill and just pass through here; but the ones who do know stop their cars to verify whether what they heard was true or merely a made-up tale.
If you however would speak to the locals about it, villagers in particular, they would tell you a different version of the story. As per them, here once lied a pathway that led straight to heaven. People who were deserving of it would automatically get pulled up; however the undeserving ones could never make it up the path; no matter how hard they tried. For them, this entire concept and area is supernatural.
As it usually happens with all places that have this kind of phenomenon attached to, some people believe it and some just waive it as merely a story. Some people blame the drivers for duping them stating that the vehicle was still in motion when he killed the engine. So it was quite obvious that it will continue to move. Some other people did not realize where this exact part of the road was hence they stopped elsewhere. And when their vehicles remained still, they believed the story of Magnetic Hill to be a fake one.
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But let me clarify first that it does work. If you are at the right spot, which is in fact marked by BRO, your vehicle will start to move very slowly even after you killed the engine. I was there on my Royal Enfield and upon reaching here, I bought the speed to bare minimum so I don’t have to put my feet down and then turned off ignition yet the motorcycle continued to move. We stopped and then waited for a car to arrive. The folks in a Safari brought it to a complete halt but moments later their TATA Safari; a vehicle completely loaded with luggage and passengers; still slowly gained momentum. So yes it definitely works but how and why is a different story altogether; that has nothing to do with a magnetic field and definitely not supernatural stuff.
Truth Behind Magnetic Hill
There is a concept of optical illusion in neuroscience; which in layman’s language means that you either see something that is not there at all; or you see things different than how they physically are. Out of the numerous optical illusions recorded, there is one of Gravity Hill; which means that a very slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope.
Why it appears that way can actually be attributed to obstructed horizon, either completely or mostly. Our eyes and minds are used to using the horizon as a reliable reference; to be able to tell if a particular slope is straight or if there is a slant. Without the horizon, we will not be able to tell for sure. The same concept works in aviation as well. Pilots up in the sky cannot see the horizon; and if it weren’t for the electronic equipment and gadgets; they would never be able to tell if the plane is flying straight, upwards or downwards.
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If the horizon is obstructed, our minds get confused and can often perceive things to be horizontal or vertical when they are actually not. This illusion is much similar to that of Moon Illusion; where the moon appears to be much large to the horizon. Or Ames room Illusion where balls can appear to roll against gravity.
Other Similar Phenomenon
There are several such mistakenly characterized Gravity Hills all over the world. Several roads that appear to be going uphill while the slant is actually downhill. There are rivers that appear to be defying gravity and flowing uphill; which is again an optical illusion because the water is in fact flowing downhill. Tulsishyam in Gujarat, Electric Brae in Scotland and Gansu in China are just a few examples of such places.
This same concept applies to our Magnetic Hill in Ladakh. This is purely a natural optical effect caused by the specific layout of hills that obstruct the horizon. That short stretch of the road that appears to be uphill as a matter of fact is downhill; and this is the reason why cars slowly gain momentum. The hills in front of your eyes at this stretch are naturally laid out in such a manner that they will deceive your mind; and lead it to believe that you are going up. Since your eyes cannot clearly see the horizon, there is no way for your mind to contradict.
So when you visit Leh, stop at Magnetic Hill and be amazed but not by the fact that your vehicle is moving on its own but by how your mind is getting tricked into seeing something exactly opposite to how it actually is. If you have been there and would like to share your experience, please feel free to do so either at our Community Forum; or in comments section below.