The highest motor-able road in the world

Semo La Semo La (La means “pass” in Tibetan) (el. 5,565 m/18,258 ft) is situated in the central part of Tibet and gives access to the Chang Tang region. It is found on the so-called Northern Route, north of Raka and south of Coqen in Central Tibet. Travellers use this route as an alternative access route to western Tibet and Mount Kailash, especially when mud makes access by the more southern route difficult.

Semo La Summit

The road crossing the pass is an old unsurfaced track traveled only by a weekly bus and trucks heading west to avoid the boggy parts of the south of the country. At 5,565 meters (18,258 ft), Semo La may be the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world. It is the highest that has been measured accurately. Khardung La, up to now thought to be the world record holder at 5,602 meters (18,379 ft), in reality, according to modern surveys, measures 5,359 m (17,582 ft), 243 m (797 ft) less than previously thought. There are other passes that may be higher but have yet to be surveyed properly and may not reasonably be considered “motor able”.

Trucks descending Semo La

Elevation The height of 5,565 m (18,258 ft) was calculated in 2005 by a team of researchers conducting a modern GPS survey. It accurately matches NASA SRTM data and is consistent with GPS measurements shown

The small piles of stones that can be seen by the roadside are used to maintain the road in motor able condition.

There has been some doubt about the actual highest road. Some thinking it may be Khardung La Khardung La Khardung La (Khardung Pass, la means pass in Tibetan) (elevation 5359 m) is a high mountain pass located in the Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India. The local pronunciation is “Khardong La” or “Khardzong La”, but, as with most names in Ladakh, the Romanized spelling varies.


The pass on the Ladakh Range lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier lies partway up the latter valley. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike, and mountain biking expeditions. Maintained by the Border Roads Organization, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry essential supplies to the Siachen. Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, in the area north of the pass. During World War II there was a futile attempt to transfer war material to China through this route. Location Khardung La is situated 39 km by road from Leh. The first 24 km, as far as the South Pullu checkpoint, are paved. From there to the North Pullu checkpoint about 15 km beyond the pass the roadway is primarily loose rock, dirt, and occasional rivulets of snowmelt. However, this pass is in better repair than many of the surrounding passes (Tanglang La, for example). From North Pullu into the Nubra Valley, the road is very well maintained (except in a very few places where washouts or falling rock occur). Hired vehicles (2 and 4-wheel-drive), heavy trucks, and motorcycles regularly travel into the Nubra Valley, though special permits may need to be arranged for travelers to make the journey. Elevation Unpaved and narrow. The 5,359 m elevation given above is from a modern GPS survey by a team of researchers. It accurately matches SRTM data and Russian topographic mapping, and it is broadly consistent with several other independent travelers reports and an article by Bonington.

Memoral Khadung-La

Several of these sources contain assertions by local people who claim that the 5,602 m (18,380 feet) height claimed by the summit signs has been inflated for the purpose of record breaking. The even higher elevation of 5,682 m (18,640 feet) that has been claimed by Guinness World Records and the National Geographic Society is not supported by any evidence and may be rooted in a copying error from 5,602 m. But it can be clearly seen on the survey map that the Khardung La was originally a mule track that followed a different, rather higher route, which appears on the map just to cross the 5,600m contour. It seems likely that when the road was built, the pass stone was moved from one to the other, although the road was rather lower. Pinnacle region Khardung La is widely, but incorrectly, believed to be the world’s highest motor able pass. There are higher motor able passes at Suge La, west of Lhasa, 5,430 m (17,815 feet), and Semo La 5,565 m (18,258 feet), between Raka and Coqen in Central Tibet. Both these elevations are supported by GPS and SRTM evidence and the latter was also measured by the Catalans and supported by the CIC, see above. Vehicles have been driven over the 5,582 meters (18,314 ft) Marsimik La, in the Indian Karakoram to the north-east of Khardung La, but it is debatable whether this pass should be considered to be motor able. There may be higher motor able passes elsewhere in Tibet, but verification of these has not been possible because of lack of information and restricted access. Getting to Khardung La Pass The nearest town is Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Leh is connected by road from Manali and Srinagar, and daily flights are operated from Delhi. From Leh, a daily bus service to Nubra Valley passes over Khardungla. The ideal method to get to Khardung-la is by taxi or bike. Taking an experienced driver with you is advisable. The two bases on either side of Khardong-la are North Pullu and South Pullu. Inner line permits are required to reach Khardung-la and can be procured at the DC’s office in Leh. Travelers must provide photocopies of the permits, to be deposited at each checkpoint.

Checkpoint Khardung-La


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