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ADV RidesSearching for the World’s Highest Motorable Road

Searching for the World’s Highest Motorable Road

 Two Riders discover the world's highest motorable pass is an elusive target.

Published on 08.29.2014
Khardung Pass in India is often incorrectly labeled the world's highest motorable road. (Courtesy overlandmotorcycleadventure.blogspot.com)

Setting out from Kathmandu, Daniel on his BMW F650GS Dakar and Brian on his KTM 990 Adventure, were on a quest to ride the highest motorable road in the world. They would need to ride on some of the toughest roads in the Himalayas to make it across Khardung La, a pass that many claim to be the highest motorable road at 18,380 ft (5,602 m).

Along their journey, they would endure flat tires, a cracked sub-frame and fueling problems. The difficult roads were made even harder with deep water crossings, freezing rain and the constant threat of falling boulders.The high elevation and thin air made the climb difficult for both man and machine, but they would successfully complete their goal of reaching Khardung Pass.

However, their elation was short lived as they reached the top and checked the elevation on their GPS. It confirmed what they had heard a few days earlier from some locals. The pass wasn’t 18,380 ft (5,602 m) as advertised, but instead 17,615 ft (5,369 m).


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They also learned that a higher road existed only 124 miles (200 kilometers) to the East called Marsimik La. This military road is used to supply the remote posts along the India-Tibet border. They would attempt to get permission to access the road, but their request was denied by the District Police Office. Authorities told them they were mad to even attempt the difficult road.

This would no dissuade them from their goal of riding the world’s highest road and they pressed on anyway, hoping they might get a little luck.The road conditions getting to Marsimik La were even worse than Kardung La and they were unsure if the road was even motorable on a motorcycle at all.

Soon they came across a military checkpoint and their hopes dropped as they were told they could not pass. Undeterred they continued to negotiate. The checkpoint guards finally agreed to let them pass, as long as they could carry a military escort on the back of their bike.

Riding 2-up on a climb of roughly 4,000 feet to the summit would be no easy task as both rider and bike were already struggling in thin air. They decided to put the soldier on the back of the more powerful KTM 990 Adventure, but they still struggled on the steep switchbacks and rough roads. The power of the KTM 990 Adventure prevailed though and they were able to finally achieve their goal.

Check out the video highlights of Daniel and Brian’s ride up two of the highest motorable roads in the world. You can also follow their journey through the Himalayas on their blog

Was It Really The Highest Motorable Road?
It’s a great accomplishment to have ridden Marsimik La, but they may not have actually reached the highest motorable road in the world. There is another Indian military road 250 meters west of Mana Pass on the Indian-Tibet border that is said to reach as high as 5,610 metres (18,406 ft). Another road in Bolivia that travels up the Uturunca Volcano may be even higher at 18,923 feet (5768 meters).

Author: Rob Dabney
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