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I could have sworn I drove the highest road in the world. Amongst the snow-capped Himalaya’s, at the top of India’s “Khardung La” pass I snapped a photo of a sign that said “Highest Motorable Road in the World: 18,380 feet.” There’s only one problem, it was a complete lie.

This one-lane mountain pass, crowded with Indian army trucks and 4WD taxis connects Leh, the capital of Ladakh India, with a remote mountain valley near the Tibetan border. And it is certainly high up there. But with a maximum elevation of 17,582 feet, it is not the highest road in the world. It’s not even in the top 10.

Here’s what’s bizarre: the actual highest road in the world is also in Ladakh, India. So lying about the elevation of “Khardung La” isn’t some patriotic attempt to take the record from Bolivia or China. Perhaps it’s just a marketing ploy by the tiny gift shop hut at the top.

Bright orange sign for the "Khardung La" pass at 18,380 feet.
Khardung La pass sign | Henry Cesari via MotorBiscuit

For years, India claimed the highest road in the world. But its army tends to build one-lane mountain passes. So traffic goes one way, swapping every day. If you decide to drive in to one of these remote valleys, plan to stay overnight! Other countries (such as Bolivia) were quick to claim the highest “two lane” road, or highest “paved road.” This further complicated who got the crown of “highest road.”

In 2017, the Border Roads Organization department of the Indian Army finished the “Umling La” pass. This is a proper two-lane paved road with a maximum elevation of 19,300 feet. Without dispute, it is the highest road in the world. Here’s how the others stack up (according to Deviton Wheels).

Cars driving through the Himalay in Ladakh, India
Khardung La Pass | Zzvet via iStockPhoto
  1. Umling La Pass. Ladakh India – 19,300 feet
  2. Road to Uturuncu Potosi. Bolivia – 18,953 feet
  3. Dungri La. Uttarakhand, India – 18,406 feet
  4. Marsimik La. Ladakh, India – 18,313 feet
  5. Semo La. Central Tibet – 18,258 feet
  6. Photi La. Ladakh, India — 18,124 feet
  7. Dongkha La. North Sikkim, India — 17,999 feet
  8. Kasang La. Ladakh, India — 17,841 feet
  9. Suge La. West of Lhasa, Tibet — 17,815 feet
  10. Chang La. Ladakh, India — 17,586 feet
  11. Khardung La. Ladakh, India — 17,582 feet

The Indian Army has begun work on another mountain pass to connect more villages. The planned “Mig La” pass will have a maximum elevation of 19,400 feet and thus become the new highest road in the world.

Next, find out how a 1986 Suzuki Jimny recently stole the world record for highest elevation achieved by an off-road vehicle, or you can see an expedition over Umling La in the video below: