Sikh biker’s solo trip to world’s highest motorable road

Sarabjit Hansra on his solo bike ride to Umling La, overlooking Pangong Lake made famous in the movie Three Idiots

By Sarabjit Hansra | Australia |

On the Sept 7, 2023 at around 9:15am, I, successfully made it to the Highest Motorable Road in the world – Umling La situated at an elevation of 19,024 ft (5,798m) Solo, a feat not many foreigners have achieved.

Umling La is a high mountain pass located on the Eastern part of Ladakh close to Indo-Tibetan border. This strategic road was constructed in 2017 and was totally paved in the year 2021. The Guiness Book of World Records in November 2021 verified Umling La to be world’s highest mountain pass.

I arrived in Leh, Ladakh on Saturday, Sept 2, 2023. The first 2 days I spent In Leh acclimatizing to the high altitude which is highly advisable for tourist flying into Leh as the town sits at an elevation of 11,562 ft (3,524m). As this is my second visit to Leh, I was well aware of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and prepared for it months prior. My contact in Leh organised the motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Himalayan 411cc and the necessary documentations and permits for this road trip.

On Monday, Sept 4, I started my journey from Leh to Hundar, Nubra Valley via Khardung La pass (once claimed to be highest motorable road in the world) covering a distance of 115 kms. This is a busy route as many tourists visit Nubra Valley known for its marvellous sand dunes and Bactrian camels. On the second day, I left Hundar for Pangong covering a distance of 180 kms. I filled up my petrol tank and also two 5 litre petrol canisters in Nubra Valley as there will be no access to petrol stations the next 3 day or around 450 kms. I reached Pangong Tso, the lake made famous by the movie 3 Idiots at around 3pm and spent the night in Man (a village along Pangong Lake)

The following day, I was up and ready by 7am. I had my breakfast facing the beautiful Pangong Lake and was ready to start my journey to Hanle at 8.30am. I left Man Village and reached Chusul where I came across a military check post not knowing I will be allowed to continue on this route as it is not allowed to foreigners.  After checking my permit and seeing me as someone with an Indian background, I was allowed to continue.

Sarabjit Hansra on his solo bike ride to Umling La

At this stage, I was literally riding along Indo-China Line of Control (LOC) on a dirt road where an accidental left turn would have taken me to China border which was just about 10 to 15 kms away. I had to ride slow as the bike was skidding on the sand and loose gravel. I came across Rezang La war memorial dedicated to the Indian soldiers who fought the India-China war in 1962. I was by myself on this track for a long period of time until I crossed paths with an army patrol whom I stopped and asked for directions. I reached Hanle Village at about 4pm and found the homestay I was recommended by my contact in Leh. Hanle village is one of the high-altitude villages at a staggering altitude of close to 4,300m. The picturesque Hanle village houses the Indian Astronomical Observatory, which is currently the second highest optical observatory in the world. Hanle Village is the entry point and base for many adventurers that plan to ride or drive up to Umling La pass.

On Thursday, Sept 7, at about 7.30 am, I left the homestay for Umling La. I chose to ride up to Umling La via Photila Pass which is the sixth Highest Motorable pass in the world at an elevation of 18,124ft (5,532m) covering a distance of 90kms. The hairpin bends really tested my motorcycling skills. At around 9.15am, I reached Umling La. I was the only one there for about 15 minutes till a local arrived on a motorcycle followed by a group of New Zealanders in an organised motorcycle group. I was surprised, I lasted at that altitude for about 45 minutes which gave me enough time to set up my tripod and take picture and videos. At around 10am, I started descending back to Hanle via a Norbula route, picked up luggage from the homestay and continued my journey back to Leh.

I travelled for 4 days and covered a distance of approximately 600kms from Leh to Umling La. I had no support, no mobile connectivity and no access to GPS from the first day onwards. I had printouts of maps which I carried along but I came across a lot of road diversions. My ability to converse in Hindi and Punjabi was key in me being able reach my destination as I was able to communicate effectively with the locals when seeking directions.

Sarabjit Hansra on his solo bike ride to Umling La

I was back in Leh on Friday, Sept 8, at around 4pm. This is an achievement that I could have not imagined being possible given the fact I travelled Solo in a foreign land with no support riding in one of the most difficult terrains in the world. I clocked an approximate of 1,000 kms in five days from Leh – Umling La – Leh. This was a proud moment.

I inherited the passion of motorcycling from my late father, Harjit Singh Hansra s/o Mahan Singh. Since at the age of 17, I have participated in Sikh Community organised motorcycle rides and have over 25 years of riding experience. Over the years I have completed motorcycle trips in Malaysia notably a solo motorcycle road trip along Peninsular Malaysia in 7 days in 2020, Ladakh (India) in 2018 and 2023, Spiti Valley (Himachal Pradesh, India) in 2019, and Lo Manthang (Nepal) in 2022. I hope to continue my motorcycling adventure in the near future mainly covering the mountainous ranges in the Asian continent.

(Sarabjit Hansra, who hails from Petaling Jaya,Malaysia, is a Deputy Chief Medical Imaging Technologist at private hospital in Melbourne, Australia)


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