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Ladakh, India - the mighty Khardung La: Riding up to 5359m asl.

Updated: Apr 23, 2020


Khardung La on the Ladakh Range is north of Leh and easily accessible when you stay in town. Built in 1976, it was opened to public motor vehicles in 1988. While the first 20km are paved and riding is easy, the last 10km consist of a rough gravel road that makes climbing the last third of the pass at high altitude even more difficult.

Even before we had arrived in Leh, it was clear to us that we were going to climb Khardung La at all costs. Where else in the world did we have the possibility to climb from 3500m asl to 5359m asl by bike? After 3 days of acclimatization we had the feeling to be fit enough to tackle the ascent. In order to have clear views and little traffic and to avoid possible rain, we started early in the morning with "light" bikes without any luggage (what a weird feeling after carrying so much with us in Kyrgyzstan).

We had an ascent of about 30 km and 1900 meters of altitude ahead of us and no idea how our bodies would handle the altitude and how fast or slow we would be. How many breaks does it take at this altitude? Which snacks are best suited? Would one of us have to stop because of signs of altitude sickness? We asked ourselves these and other questions the evening before but were reassured by Sumit: "You are fit and experienced riders. Drink a lot of water and take some electrolytes with you, go slow and in a steady pace, don't race it!"

We followed his advice and rode up the first 20 km on pretty smooth tarmac with little traffic at a moderate but constant speed, with a dog accompanying us from kilometer 14 and indicating the pace. At the military checkpoint in South Pullu we had to show our Inner Line Permit before we could tackle the last third of the climb. It was much more exhausting to ride, not only because of the altitude (we had cracked the 4700m mark in the meantime), but also because of the rough ground and the increasing traffic. We were overtaken by innumerable military trucks, which stirred up dust and didn't make breathing easier because of bad exhaust fumes. But we also received so many "thumbs up" from the equally numerous motorcyclists and tourists in taxis and were photographed and filmed several times, which had a very motivating effect.

After 4 hours we reached the pass summit one after the other and enjoyed warming chai tea and sugary biscuits before we had the obligatory photo shooting in front of the pass sign and some smalltalk with other tourists, who could hardly believe that we had preferred to ride up the pass by bike than by car.

The descent was long and while we raced down the mountain, we could hardly believe that we had driven all this up ourselves. We were amazed by our bodies, which had apparently acclimatized well and took up this rather unusual challenge without any problems. Hungry and shaken by the bumpy road we had a noodle soup aka. "veg maggi" at the military checkpoint before continuing towards Leh.

Arriving in Leh we stopped by at Meta Cafe with smiling faces, where it seems to be a tradition that successful conquerors of Khardung La are rewarded with coffee. What a nice surprise! There was another nice surprise when we uploaded our rides to Strava and saw that we had done quite well that morning.

Elevation gain: 1889m

Time from Leh to the top: Sara 3h55min / Andreas 4h02min


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