I’ve recently returned from the annual off-roading vacation in Ladakh. This post is about the highest point of the trip, quite literally, at 18,124ft—Photi La—a mountain pass through Zanskar range on the under-construction Hanle-Photi Le road. This altitude will make it the highest motorable road once it is open for normal traffic.
This climb is in the same league as Marsimik La through Chang-Chenmo range and beats Khardungla of the Karakorams by several hundred feets. Khardungla is incorrectly publicized as the highest at 18300ft, however it’s actual height is not more than 17,600ft as per the Survey of India maps as well as GPS readings.
The road from Hanle to Photi La top has barely been leveled and tarmac laying process is ongoing. While the section from the top to Photi Le, near China border, is being blasted and aligned. This 55km road is like a marathon hurdle race that only a capable 4wd vehicle can finish without falling as a victim to the extreme thrashing. This September we passed this self-imposed test in our Tata Safari, finishing the distance in 8 hours. Three hours out of this were spent waiting for GREF workers to clear certain sections of boulders and landslides and the rest were spent carefully and patiently maneuvering the car through huge rocks, and taking tight hairpin bends through sand and slush.
The bends are too narrow for anything larger than a hatchback to finish in one go. I had the luxury of 4Low gear ratio. At every bend I would – take as much of the hairpin in one go. Engage 4L, reverse in the mud, and complete the bend. Although at some places, we had the front bumper over the edge, but 4L always did the trick.