The Worlds Highest Motorable pass – Umling La or Umling Pass

Umling La or Umling Pass – How to get there? Where is it? what route should I take?

This blog is dedicated to Umling-La, The place, the plan, Days required, Geo Location, Things to keep in mind, pictures, my experience and much more. Read on!

The dream of riding trhough the picturesque landscapes of Leh, Ladakh  is a dream for many travel & Adventure enthusiast not only pan India but across the world. Geographically, Ladakh or the Land of passes is situated in lap of Himalayas thus making it one of the most challenging and thrilling journeys to explore.

Until late 2016/2017, there were several passes in Ladakh which claimed to be the Highest Motorable pass but Indian Border Road Organisation(B.R.O) did something spectacular in 2017 and that was to construct a one of a kind road through Umling-La which pips all the Highest motorable passes across the world including the very own Indian state - uttarkhand's Mana pass and Bolivia thus presenting Ladakh, India with the title of hosting the "World's Highest Motorable Pass - The UMLING Pass or in ladakhi, UMLING LA.

Before I share my experience on how I got there, I would want to share the vital details such as routes, weather forecast, tentative plan and other things below:

Where is the worlds Highest motorable pass - Umling la or Umlingla or Umling pass located?

Umlingla is located towards the Indo-china border village of Demochok. It connects 2 villages i.e. Chisumle and Demchok

  1. Distance from Leh: approx ~350 -375 kms
  2. Distance from Hanle around 105-110 kms
What are the routes that lead to Umling la?

Recommended Route: Hanle - Ukdungle - Umling La or Umling Pass. We did this route during September 2017 ride and about 40-45 kms of the 105-110 kms was good but rest was just trails. Per the latest updates, complete road has been built!

2 others exist:

  1. Hanle-Photi La - Photile village -Umling La
  2. Fukche-Koyul-Demchok-Umling La - This route hasn't been traversed by any of the folks as far as I know owing Demchok's proximity to china border and presence of army.
UMLING LA UMLING PASS TOuragrapher Umling la
UMLING LA UMLING PASS TOuragrapher
Detailed route:
Hanle - Ukdungle - Nurbu La - Umling La or Umling Pass

Exit towards Punguk from Hanle village and at the exit, you will see the first BRO bridge about 6 kms from Hanle village. From here you will ride through the village eastwards and then about 3 kms of riding through, the village will end and you will now be presented with a serene landscape which is almost surreal! You are all by yourself with literally no one around and this is where the true adventure begins! You keep continuing on this road (conditions more or less bad with most of stretch being trails left by BRO trucks) and eventually arrive at a mini BRO garage which is used as stockyard for all ongoing road works. from here [GPS Co -ordinate: 32.6005729, 78.9674743], you take left and not head straight! If you see the map, here there's a road which heads straight and this will take towards an unmarked Chinese border. We unfortunately or fortunately went on this road and reached an ITBP camp and had deviated further and missed the camp then we would have headed straight into China and eventually been jailed! Once you take the left, the road is flat out and you continue towards Koyul village and enroute Koyul, you will reach a BRO camp [GPS co-ordinate 32.6669243, 79.1689955] . You will not be asked to show permissions here however they do make a formal entry and here you will find some of the nicest army folks. Here you will come across a river stream and a New bridge is under construction which should be completed this year or may already have been! crossing the stream is a challenge as the water hits as high as your motorcycle tank/half door of your car. Once you cross this, you enter the Umling area where the landscape continuously changes and you encounter a second bridge which was also under construction (august 2017). Crossing this is also a challenge considering the steepness however post this you will need to ride about  35-40 kms to reach Umling la top. From here you can exit via the Demchok area however you cannot do this unless escorted by an army personnel who hold high command as these are Indo-China border area and under heavy surveillance. In fact during our journey, we too were sent back from Nyoma.

Here's a quick video of road:

Hanle-Photi La - Photile village -Umling La:

This route is challenging enough with bad roads for 80% of the stretch . Hanle to Photila is 34.7 kms from here you  This route exists on google and follow the co-ordinates [32.7704003, 79.1578778]. At this junction road split to two - one to the left which is towards Koyul and the second to the right which passes through Photile village and eventually to Umling la or Umling pass. when you take the right from the co ordinates, about an hour of ride/drive, you will reach a BRO camp [GPS co-ordinate 32.6669243, 79.1689955] by the Indus river. From here you 'have to' take the left by crossing the river which is quite challenging as described in route 1 or my recommended route. From here follow the same route described above.

Note: From the BRO camp, do not head straight as the road towards left leads to Umling La.

Nyoma - Fukche-Koyul-Demchok-Umling La - as stated above, no one whom I know of has come across this and should any of you get through this route, do let me know.

To help fellow travelers, I have made a route plan: feel free to use this.

GPS co-ordinates of Umlingla

As on March 2018, the pass is yet to be mapped on google hence dropping  the GPS coordinates of the pass which I captured off my cell phone altimeter

    1. 32°41'44.2"N 79°17'00.0"E
What are the permits required to reach umling la?
  • During our September 2017 ride, our regular inner line permit (ILP) sufficed (it covered permits of Hanle too) however since this was inception of Umling la, there were hardly any check posts but this might not be the case this year on. In fact  we too were stopped at a Nyoma check post and were asked to take a different route as this route lead to demchok, the border town near Indo-china border.
  • If you are traversing Koyul and Demchock then as stated above you certainly need a permit plus an army escort
  • You can visit the online portal to get info on requirements - http://www.lahdclehpermit.in/
  • Some claim that a legal permit is available at the Leh D C office at Leh city however we got mixed feedback on this hence it would better to add your intention to visit Hanle and Umling la or Umling pass in your request form
  • Papers! ensure you carry at least one original document of your ID such as a PAN card or Driving license and its a must to carry ownership papers of the vehicle you are driving/riding. Additional documents such as Insurance and emission is not sought at many places but better to carry these as well
Any Itinerary from LEH?

One would roughly need about 2 days if the intent is to reach  only Umling la or umling pass 

  1. Day 1: Leh to Hanle
  2. Day 2: Hanle to Umling la via any of the routes 

or you can choose some more places enroute which certainly is worth it!

    • Leh – Khardungla – Nubra – Shyok – Pangong – Man, Merak – Chushul – Hanle – Ukdungle – Umling La – Hanle – Debring – Keylong – Manali
      DayStarting pointDestinationKilometersTime required
      Day 1LehKhardung la401 hour
      Day 1Khardung laNubra Valley1223.5 hours
      Day 2Nubra ValleyTurtuk1644-5 hours
      Day 3Nubra ValleyPangong Tso274upto 8 hours
      Day 4Pangong TsoHanle3118-10 hours
      Day 6HanleUmling la via route 1 back to Hanle1054-5 hours
      Day 7HanleTso Moriri1604.5 hours
      Day 8Tso MoririJispa or preferably Keylong33710-11 hours
      Day 9KeylongManali1163 hours

The above schedule is laid out plan with no buffer days in between but you may add days/skip days basis your needs.

Nubra Valley:

Weather condition?
  • Per my experience, the weather keeps changing from every mountain you traverse en route Umling la or Umling pass and mostly on the colder side - We experienced snow, rain and sun in a span of an hour so you can gauge!
Best time to visit?

My suggestion is to late august or early September. During this period you get to reap the below advantages:

  1. Seasonal travelers or tourist's would have almost disappeared during this time which means less chaos on and off the road
  2. Weather would be transitioning from monsoon to winters which means that less chance of rain and snow(we did encounter everything and be prepared for snow)
  3. Since its off season of sorts, you get stay at almost throw away prices!
  4. Almost all of the roads would be open/motorable with no special needs such as snow chains
Road conditions?
  • Per the latest update, the roads that lead to Umling la are in excellent conditions as they are newly laid roads however you will encounter bad roads in the range especially before Nyoma and some segments post Hanle. It's best to be preppared that road conditions may be bad owing various factors such as rain, snow, landslide etc. hence:
    • If you are travelling by car, please travel via SUV with a good ground clearance and preferably with less electronics as any break down here will leave you stranded and if the issues are complex then towing is another challenge and you are talking about towing to atleast 100 kms
    • Motorcycle: Get a ride which has good torque, ground clearance, is in good condition with a new oil, knobby tires basically a good reliable vehicle. A friend on a 350cc bullet had issues owing low combustion resulting from less availability of oxygen. Very soon scooters too find its way but better to be prepped!

Other factors to be looked upon:
  • Umling la pass is located at mammoth altitude of 5882.64 Meters or 19,300 Feet  which you means the oxygen is almost 50% thinner than normal/sea level. This also means that people with pre-breathing issues or chest congestion issues may find it difficult to breathe and may be cause of concern. We had a rider who unfortunately couldn't ride with us owing Acute mountain sickness (AMS). Before you plan to ride to such high altitude rides, please ensure your check your feritin level and your general health.
    • Tip:  For every 1000 ft you gain post 9k FT, its best to spend time acclimatizing in the open than staying inside your room or vehicle
What to carry? 
  • Since these are remote regions of ladakh/Himalayas, you barely find anything that you may have forgotten hence its best to do a pre trip checklist and cross check it before leaving
    • There are no ATM's and digital cash wont work owing poor/no network hence do carry ample cash to suffice your needs and ensure you pack them in a zip lock pouch if travelling by motorcycle
    • No departmental or super markets or normal stores! People in these regions live a minimalist life and stock their needs basis their visit to Leh or Manali. Hence sometimes even finding a rain coat can be an herculean task hence pick everything you need in advance!
    • Clothes: Body warmers are certainly needed and basis my experience, the decathlon ones do not work well hence its recommended that you get an even better quality warmers such as North face. Ensure you carry enough clothes for change over and to keep you warm as the weather has a mind of its own and changes every hour
    • Petrol: The last petrol bunk you will find is near Nubra valley which operates from 8 am to 6 pm hence carry fuel basis your need. These guys do not stock up petrol cans hence buying it from Leh city is a must. I needed a range of 800 kms before I could hit the petrol bunk hence i loaded my Dirtsack Frogman saddle bags with 2 cans of 10 ltrs and 5 ltrs each thus giving me around 30 liters of petrol which basis the mileage of my Kawasaki Versys 650 meant a range of 630 kilometer's. You can however get petrol in black at various places however it may be adulterated and may screw up injectors!
    • Food: Its literally 'Anda maggie zindabaad' en route from Pangong to Hanle and near Umling la you do not have any eateries hence stock up some light food
    • Tabs: Do refer to my earlier blog on Motorcycle First aid Kit on what to pack in your first aid kit as there's literally no facility should something go wrong! Army camps do have medicines but again you never know how far you are from one
    • Offline maps: Do download the map i have shared above and download it offline as mobile networks dont work here let alone snap chatting or instagramming!
Place to stay:

There are several options of stay at Hanle however my strong suggestion is to stay at Padma Home stay. They offer online booking and the owner cum friend Sonam Dorjay knows the terrain and can give you some excellent information which you wont find otherwise. In fact he was able to help us with 5 ltrs of petrol for 6 bikes and that was a great favor considering we were running low on fuel!
Below are his contact details:

Name: Sonam Dorjay
Street: Shakbar
Village: Hanle-Khaldho
Block / (Post Office): Nyoma
District: Leh Ladakh
Pin Code: 194102
Booking Helpline: +91-9469224302/9419834944
Email: sonamdorjay19@gmail.com
http://padmahomestay.in 

Availability of spares?

I'm sure by now you know that Umling la isnt for the faint hearted and any break down means you are stuck! hence carry the basic spares your ride requires. if you need more info read my blog on motorcycle tool kit

Sign off

To conclude, Umling la requires one to plan not only in terms of days but physically by being in the best of health. People needing true adventure, this is one of the most epic trips you can embark on and is quite challenging. Since this region is yet to be explored by many, the beauty of this place is serene and some places are almost magical! I strongly suggest to do this circuit not to mark a bucket-list item off but to experience true endurance and experience yourself.  As one of the famous saying go - Not in achievement, but in endurance, of the human soul, does it show its divine grandeur and its alliance with the infinite. 

I leave you with few pictures of my trip. I will add more shortly!

Touragrapher_Umlingla_Versys Umling la

We made it to the papers!!!Umling la or umling pass Umling la or umling pass

When I achieved this, i was elated with joy infact the board had been knocked down! had to put in quite an effort to find and then re-erect the board again. The below photo though shot at Pangong emulates the kind of joy i experienced!

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