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Khardung La pass or the “Pass of Lower Castle” at a height of 18,380 ft from the mean sea level lies on the road between Nubra valley and Leh in Ladakh. According to reports of Border Roads Organisation, this is the world’s topmost motorable road.
Connecting Leh with Nubra valley this pass serves as a gateway to the famous Siachen Glacier. Siachen lies on the north of Leh and about 40 Kms away by road to the Nubra valley.
Why the Khardung La Pass was built:
Lt. General T.B.Nanda (retired) who was the Chief Engineer of Northern Command and was given the charge of constructing this road told that post-1971 war against Pakistan an exchange of territory took place in the mountainous terrain of the north of the Himalayas. India acquired about 400 square miles area, there was the Turtok sector by the Shyok river which housed nearly 200 families. Earlier Pakistan used to maintain them from the west; but now the need was to arrange supplies to them from the east. Out of 35 Kms. for 16 Kms. between Chalunka and Thoise actually, there was no track. Also, the Shyok river ran for several kilometers through a very narrow and steep gorge which was earlier thought to be impassable.
[Check out the fascinating views of Ladakh on a road trip]
The main base of supplies to this Ladakh area was situated at an altitude of 11,500 ft at Leh. On the northern side, a Forward Supply Depot (FSD) provided deployment up to the Siachen and Turtok sectors via the Nubra valley. Before, supplies from Leh to the FSD were carried out through pack transport over Ladakh range and through airlifting to Thoise which had only a gravel airstrip. During winter season pack transport through Khardung La pass became difficult and the Air Force also was extremely reluctant to use the Thoise airstrip as the engines of the Avro aircraft which were mounted low sucked grit and dust.
In order to solve the Ladakh region’s supply problem and also to construct a road connecting Chalunka and Thoise the decision to build a motorable road through Khardung La was taken. On 17th August 1972 the 201 Engineer Regiment, Madras Sappers belonging to the Indian Army started work on the project and on 27th August 1973 the road was completed and opened for traffic.
For visiting the Nubra valley one requires a permit. This can be collected from travel agents in Leh on payment of a nominal fee of about two hundred rupees. But even without any permit, one can enjoy the exhilarating trek above the pass. The journey offers you a good view of Leh. From the top one can spot the Karakoram range lying in the north and directly opposite the mighty Himalayas towards Leh. The descent from check post is also quite picturesque.
Weather conditions on the pass:
During winters temperatures drop to -40 degrees Celsius with almost 10 feet of snowfall. During the summer temperatures hover around 20 degrees Celsius but the freaky weather could suddenly turn worse and it may be bitterly cold.
The beauty of Khardung La Pass:
With the Ladakh range spreading towards the south and the Karakoram range to the north the views are simply magnificent with the white snow-capped mountain peaks all around at an almost touching distance. Just have a leisurely stroll with the cool refreshing mountain air caressing your face. You will feel rejuvenated. The thrill of visiting the highest pass in the world will churn up your emotions. But it’s better to be safe than sorry and hence do not expose yourself too much and for too long at such high altitudes.