Khardung La once was the mightiest of all the passes. It stood proud wearing the crown of a king, and the title of being the highest motorable pass in the world. A 39 kilometers long winding stretch Leh to Khardung La would bring you to the top of this mighty high-altitude pass, through some eye-catching vistas all around.
The title may have been lost to other passes but Khardung La still remains to be one of the most visited places in all of Ladakh. It is located quite close to the city and gets visited by almost every tourist who arrives in Leh. From the top of the pass and on the way, you get a spectacular view of the snow-capped peaks, the valley around, and the Leh City.
On the top of the pass is a board that still claims Khardung La to be the highest motorable pass in the world. Getting a picture clicked in front of this board is like a souvenir or something that you show to your friends and family proudly. Such is the tourist rush at the pass these days that you have to get in a queue to get a picture clicked in front of the board.
About Khardung La
Khardung La is located at 5,602 meters per the local summit but 5,359 meters per the modern measurements. It connects the beautiful Nubra and Shyok Valleys in the Ladakh region with the rest of the country.
It is a historical Pass in the Karakoram Range to the north of Leh that still works as the lifeline for the Indian Army posted in Siachen Glacier and is used to carry supplies.
At the top of the pass, you will be presented with amazing views of the surrounding mountain range and the valley in between. The winding road to the top, the feeling of standing atop a mountain that is often considered as the world’s highest motorable pass, the clean air, scenic vistas have made Khardung La a popular tourist attraction.
Leh to Khardung La
A visit from Leh to Khardung La top and back is roughly around 80 km, round trip. Some people cross the pass to travel to Nubra valley while others return after spending some time at the top.
In recent years, traffic towards Khardung La has increased drastically. The pass has started seeing tourists so much that on occasions, timings had to be allotted for vehicles coming from both sides of Khardung La.
Vehicles from Leh to Khardung La were allowed only from 9 AM to 1 PM and the traffic from Nubra Valley to Khardung La was allowed from 1 PM to 5 PM. This however happened only a few times during the peak tourist season and that too for a day or two.
Leh to Khardung La Map
Below is a road map showing the route that you can take to reach Khardung La. It actually shows the entire region of Nubra Valley. Depending on the time you have in hand, you can either visit the pass and return or continue to Nubra. If you need a map of all of Ladakh, please take a look at the Comprehensive Road Map of Leh Ladakh.
Let me now run you down the details on how you can plan your trip to Khardung La Pass from Leh.
Leh to Khardung La Road
The route from Leh to Khardung La is as mentioned below.
Leh – Phyang – South Pullu – Khardung La = 39 kms
If you just want to visit Khardung La Pass, a return journey can easily be made in 2-3 hours. During my last trip, we started from Leh at 4 PM and were comfortably back before sundown. The road from Leh to South Pullu is quite good but from there until Khardung La top is all gravel and dirt track.
If you are going towards Nubra Valley though, the journey can be anywhere between 6 to 8 hours, depending on your destination in the valley.
I will recommend starting early from Leh to avoid the tourist rush. Take the road towards Khardung La and if you weren’t sure, you can ask any of the locals for directions. The road will continue climbing up and you will arrive at South Pullu where your permits will be checked.
After South Pullu, the climb will be even steeper and you will shortly arrive at Khardung La Pass.
Khardung La to Nubra Valley
Mostly, Khardung La gets added to an itinerary to visit Nubra valley. The road from Leh climbs up to Khardung La top and then descends down into Nubra valley, crossing the village of Khardung and Khalsar on the way.
This same road further continues to Siachen Glacier via Panamik and Warshi. Distances from Khardung La top to Turtuk and Warshi, the last villages that civilians are allowed until on both sides of the valley, are 164 kilometers and about 140 kilometers respectively. Diskit is at a distance of 75 kilometers from the top of the pass.
For more information on this, please take a look at Nubra Valley – A Complete Travel Guide.
Leh to Khardung La Road Conditions
Road conditions from Leh to Khardung La are mostly smooth for about 25 kilometers until South Pullu. There are some bad patches in between but the real bad section starts for the last 14 kilometers, from South Pullu to Khardung top.
The road will continue to deteriorate and as you approach the top. You will find it to be badly broken in some places with a lot of slush and water streams caused by melting snow. Towards Nubra valley, the road will again be bad until North Pullu. After that, it is again smooth throughout Nubra Valley.
Leh to Khardung La Permit
An inner line permit is required to visit Khardung La and Nubra valley. You can get the permit either in person from the DC office in Leh or can also apply for it online. For more details, please take a look at How to get an Inner Line Permit in Ladakh.
Once you have the permit, please make several photocopies of it as you will have to submit a copy at each check post. While visiting Khardung La, the check post is at South Pullu where you will have to stop, register yourself, submit a copy of the permit and continue towards the pass.
If you were also visiting Nubra Valley, you will again have to submit a photocopy of your permit at the North Pullu check post, on the other side of Khardung La.
Leh to Khardung La Taxi Fare
Depending on the type of cab you hire, a drive from Leh to Khardung La and back will cost you between Rs. 2,300 to Rs. 2,600. For including Nubra valley as well, the fare will increase according to the places you wish to cover. For more detail, please take a look at Updated Taxi Rates in Leh Ladakh.
There is also a second option of the shared cab that you can get from Leh Bus stand. They all start in the morning and go all the way to Nubra Valley. The fare per person will be a couple hundred bucks. The catch with this option is that the cab will drop you at the pass and you will have to either hitchhike or wait for another cab for the return journey.
Leh to Khardung La Bus
If you are traveling by public transport, there are several buses that travel to Nubra valley from Leh that you can board. For the return journey as well, you can catch the bus coming from Nubra valley towards Leh. However, the timing can be a little problematic.
Another way to do this is you take a bus from Leh to Khardung La top, and hitchhike for the return journey. In peak tourist season, you will have no problem finding a ride back home.
For details on which days the bus is available from Leh to Nubra Valley, please take a look at Leh to Nubra Valley Bus Service.
Leh to Khardung La by Bike
If you do not wish to hire a taxi and would rather have the fun of riding the bike up the mountain, you can rent one in Leh. Depending on the type of bike you rent, you can expect the fare per day to be anywhere between Rs. 800 to Rs. 2000. For more details, please take a look at Leh Ladakh Bike Rental Rates List.
If you were traveling by your own bike, then the only thing you need to make sure of is that you are carrying all the required documents. The bike must be registered in your own name. If it is not, you will be stopped in between and sent back to Leh. You will have to leave your bike parked at the hotel and rent another one for local sightseeing.
Leh to Khardungla Cycling
This of course is for someone who is into cycling and has plenty of stamina and experience. If you have never ridden a bicycle in the hills, it will be extremely tough. Though the distance may seem short at 39 kilometers, the ascent is quite steep and it is uphill all the way. Add that with a low oxygen level and you will start to huff and puff in no time.
But if you have experience in cycling, you can also rent one in Leh for Khardung La. Take a look at Ladakh Bicycle Rental Rate List to know how much it will cost you.
Please only attempt this if you have enough cycling experience, both in plains and hills. If you haven’t ridden a bicycle in months or are just a casual rider, you will not be able to do it. A friend of mine did a cycling trip in Ladakh. If you want, you can read about his experience at Cycling Trip to Leh Ladakh.
Best Time to Visit Khardung La Pass
The best time to visit Khardung La Pass is from June to September. The weather at this time is pleasant and road conditions are considerably better. October onwards, it starts to snow which increases the chance of a person getting stranded. In case the road gets blocked, you may not be able to reach the top and return halfway to Leh.
Contrary to common belief, the road from Leh to Khardung La top actually remains open throughout the year. Both Army and locals use it to cross over towards either Leh or Nubra Valley.
In peak winter, months of January and February, it may get buried under deep snow after a heavy snowfall. But even if that happy, Army clears the road and opens it as soon as they are able to. A lot of people make a winter trip to Ladakh and visit Nubra valley as well. It is the question of reaching Leh in Winter which can only be done by Air.
Places Near Khardung La to Visit
Khardung La is actually a tourist attraction in itself and so is the road that takes you from Leh to Khardung La top. The journey offers a great mix of adventure and beautiful sights on the way.
At the top of Khardung La are an army base and a small canteen, that offers free black tea to the tourists. It is a good place to sit with a cup in your hand and beautiful Himalayan peaks all around you. There is also an Army souvenir shop selling hats, caps, t-shirts, and kitchenware noted “Khardung La”; in case you want to buy something that would remind you of the visit.
Khardung La remains covered in snow throughout the year. If you were traveling early in the season, chances are that you will get to see a lot of it but even in the months of summer, there will still be plenty of snow left for you to enjoy.
It starts to snow at the pass after September 15th. So if you were traveling late in the season and luck favored you, you may even catch a live snowfall.
There is also the Khardung la frog carved out in a rock that is quite a sight in itself. Other than that, it is mostly riding to the top and return.
On the other hand, if you were going towards Nubra Valley, there is a whole lot of places to see. It will in fact take you 2-3 days to cover them all. For a more detailed version of this information, please take a look at Places to Visit in Nubra Valley & Things to Do.
Like the rest of the high altitude passes, weather at Khardung La can only be termed as unpredictable. Days can be pretty warm in the town of Leh but as you start climbing up Khardung La, there will be a noticeable chill in the air.
The weather at top of the pass always remains to be cold and windy. You will find snow here in all 12 months and a chance of a snowfall always remains, even in summer.
Though Ladakh is in a rain shadow area, there was quite some rain at Khardung La in 2017 causing landslides. This resulted in tourists getting stranded in Nubra valley for days before they could return to Leh. In the following years as well, Khardung La received rain during the monsoon season.
Clothes to Pack
You do not really need any special clothes for the trip. Just wear a thermal inside, put on your regular cotton clothes and a thick heavy windproof jacket on top of all. Do carry a monkey cap to protect your face from cold winds and a pair of gloves.
To be quite honest, I have never come across anyone with having a problem breathing at Khardung La top in all my years of Ladakh travels. Some people do suffer from altitude sickness but that subsides as they start to descend towards either Leh or Nubra valley.
If you however have breathing-related problems, like Asthma, it is best advised to avoid traveling towards Khardung La (even the entire Ladakh for that matter) without consulting your doctor.
Hotel at Khardung La Pass
There are no hotels at Khardung La, because of the extreme weather conditions. The nearest place where you may find accommodation is either in Leh or at Nubra valley.
If you are planning to camp on your own, I would strongly advise against camping anywhere near the top. Take a look at Camping In Ladakh – Self camping & Campsites.
Though an SUV with good ground clearance will better suit the need, you can easily take a Sedan or Hatchback as well to the Khardung La top. Just be careful after South Pullu until the top of the pass because the roads here will be a little bad.
In terms of a bike, any bike will do. If you were however riding a smaller engine bike, like 125CC, you should travel solo and as light as possible. Do not carry any unnecessary luggage.
In Leh, no matter which network you are on, your mobile phone will work normally, as long as it is a postpaid connection. As you leave the town and travel towards Khardung La, your phone may go out of network a few kilometers after. You will not be back online until your reach either back to Leh or Nubra Valley.
This is however improving slowly. In my recent travels to Ladakh, I was able to get network at the top with Airtel, Jio, and BSNL.
For more details on this topic, please read Mobile Phone Services in Leh & Other Areas of Ladakh.
Once you leave Leh, there is no petrol pump either on the way towards Khardung La top or in Nubra valley as well. Please ensure that you tank you up in Leh according to your itinerary. There is a petrol pump in Diskit but I have never found it functional.
If only Khardung La is the destination, you do not have to worry about petrol. The distance covered will be just 80 kilometers round trip.
If the plan however is to go to Nubra valley or to continue towards Pangong or Wari La from there, please calculate kilometers with your vehicle’s mileage and carry fuel accordingly.
For more information on this topic, please take a look at Fuel Availability in Ladakh – How to Manage.
Due to its staggering height, a lot of people suffer from acute mountain sickness at Khardung La. It is best advised to avoid drinking, smoking, or exhausting yourself while you are at top of the pass. There is even a board put up there by the Indian Army advising people of the same.
This risk is more for people who flew into Leh and their bodies are still acclimatizing to the sudden increase in height. If you are still suffering from AMS, avoid traveling towards Khardung La and wait for the symptoms to subside.
If you were OK in Leh but start to notice AMS again as you start climbing up, best to give up the idea and descend back down. For more details, please take a look at How to Handle Acute Mountain Sickness in Leh Ladakh.
Snow at Khardung La Pass
Snow towards the top of Khardung La usually remains throughout the year, no matter which month you are traveling in. Chances of finding a lot of snow are more towards the opening months of tourist season, in May or early June.
As summer arrives, snow starts to melt, and only some remains in the month of July and August. It starts to snow at the top again in the latter half of September.
Khardung La Altitude
The elevation of Khardung La is 5,359 m (17,582 ft). Until a few years ago, it was incorrectly cited as 5,602 m (18,379 ft, claiming it to be the world’s highest motorable road. Local summit signs at top of the pass still make this claim. You will find dozens of stores in Leh selling clothes with a Khardung La printed as the world’s highest motorable pass.
Mentioned below are a few other tips that can be of help in planning a trip to Khardung La Pass.
Khardung La Temperature
During the months of summer, the temperature at Khardung La Pass during the day remains around 10 degrees Celsius. At night it drops down to several degrees below 0.
During winter, it can drop down to as far as -20 degrees Celsius at the pass even during the day.
Leh to Khardung La Distance
The total distance between the town of Leh and Khardung La top is about 39 kilometers.
Leh to Khardung La Travel Time
The journey from Leh to Khardung La top can be easily done in a couple of hours; considering the bad sections of road, winding road, and breaks that you may take in between. A round trip with some time spent at top of the pass will be between 3-4 hours; unless you are planning to continue to Nubra valley from there.
Khardung La to Wari La
Another high but even difficult pass that people try to cross after Khardung La is Wari La. This too usually gets included with the Nubra valley itinerary. You can reach the valley via Khardung La and returning via Wari La.
If such is your plan, then the turn towards Wari La is between the villages of Khardung and Khalsar. Take the diversion and continue towards Agham village.
From Agham, once again take the diversion towards Tangyar village. After that, it is a straight climb to Wari La top. On the other side of Wari La, you will descend down to the village of Tathok and then Sakti.
For more details on the route, please read Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Wari La.
Khardung La to Pangong Tso
A few years ago, if you want to visit Pangong Tso after Nubra valley, the only way to do this was to come back to Leh first and go to the lake the next day. Now you can take a direct route, thus saving a day in the journey.
There are in fact two routes that you can take, one is longer and the other one considerably shorter. The longer route is via Wari La that I explained above. You will descend down to Sakti and from there can continue to Pangong via Chang La.
Another shorter route is via Agham Shyok road. To travel this way, from the village of Agham, continue towards Shyok village. You will be traveling right next to the Shyok river for this part of the journey. From Shyok village, take the road to Durbuk and then to Pangong Tso.
Travel time via the Wari La route will be way too long, approximately 10-11 hours. By Agham Shyok road, this journey can be completed within 5-6 hours. For more details, please take a look at Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Agham Shyok Road.
I think this pretty much covers most of what you need to know about making a trip from Leh to Khardung La. I hope this information was of help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum, and I will be happy to answer.