After a decade of designing adventures in the Himalayas, I think I’ve finally cracked it. When I put the call out in 2021 for riders to join me in 2022 on a reconnaissance ride to attempt the new highest road in the world – Umlingla at 5898m, 6 crazy guys put their hand up. At the time, the world was realising Covid wasn’t all it was cracked up to be so we were confident we’d at least get to Leh Ladakh and have a blast. What happened was beyond our dreams.
We applied for permits to attempt the ascent and were eventually permitted to go to Hanle, home to the world’s highest observatory at an elevation of 4500m but not to ascend the pass. We weren’t going to let that stop us so we proceeded with the plan to see how far we could go. When we got to the military checkpoint after 160 km in the saddle, they denied us entry into the district even though we had permits! They weren’t going to allow us into Hanle because they thought a group of foreigners would try and go to the top of Umlingla. They weren’t wrong.
After some sweet talking, they agreed to cut our permit from two nights to one night in Hanle because they thought there was no way we could get to the top and then back to our accommodation before dark. Time was against us so we made a beeline for the peak. If the military stopped us in a restricted area, we’d just say we were lost. 10 minutes later we were waist-deep in an epic river crossing. A couple of hours later we were the first foreigners to ascend Umlingla (which is a few metres taller than Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa!). Arriving back into Hanle as the sun set, we were all too exhausted to think about going to the observatory. It was celebrations all around.
It was from this reconnaissance trip, that the idea of an adventure that crossed not only the highest mountain passes in the world but the most spectacular, was formed. If there is a motorcycle adventure that needs to be added to your bucket list, this is the one. There is simply no other Himalayan motorcycle adventure as audacious as 12 Passes.
I’ve designed a route that has you starting smack bang in the middle of the Himalayas. We jump right in and crisscross the mountains and take on three 5300m+ passes in 2 days. The route takes us along the border with Tibet to the remote city of Hanle. The next 2 days are spent exploring the most remote part of the Himalayas that few foreigners have seen. Not only will we attempt Umlingla, but we will attempt an even higher mountain pass that no one knows about…yet.
We’ll spend most of the next three days along the tourist trail where we’ll see less adventurous motorcycle groups following each other in a line and asking permission to smile. The scenery is spectacular and we know a few shortcuts to make the riding challenging. After we leave the “highway”, we trek a short distance to a monastery that was built into the side of a mountain. We then enter the Zanskar Valley which was an old trekking route and has only recently become accessible to vehicles. In sections, you’ll be on narrow, dusty mountain roads more akin to 4WD tracks, ride through deep gorges and wide-open valleys, and cross axle-deep cold glacial streams. We cross our final two 5000m+ passes before we head home to Leh….but we take the long way home through a gorge with perfect tarmac.
By the end of your adventure, you’ve crossed 12 mountain passes over 4700m, with 10 of them over 5000m including the 6 highest in the world!
|New Delhi, India
|2024 – May, Friday 24th to June, Wednesday 5th
|This adventure is also available as a private adventure for solo adventurers, a couple, a club, or even just a group of mates. This can be any combination of riders, pillions, or even family in one of our expedition support vehicles. The adventure can be shortened or lengthened to suit your desires. Please contact us to discuss your needs.
The best months are June, July, August, and September
|Rider: US$4,290 per person
Pillion: US$3,290 per person
| Transfers to/from Airport and Hotel
All internal transfers and other travel for the duration of the adventure
Royal Enfield Himalayan or Scram 411
Quality Accommodation on a twin share basis (Comfort hotels/Guest houses/Camps)
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for the entire adventure
English speaking guides
Medical kit available and Oxygen on high-altitude adventures
Mechanics with all necessary spare parts
Support vehicles to carry your luggage (and tired riders)
Bottled mineral water throughout the adventure
Permits for restricted areas
All entrance fees en-route
VISA (details sent with rider pack)
NOTE: The prices above are based on a twin share basis. If you’d like your own room, then there is a US$650 supplement.
Payment terms: A US$500 deposit must be made at the time of booking. Balance payment must be paid 8 weeks before the adventure start date. Payment plans are available upon request.Terms & Conditions What To Bring Price Guarantee
NOTE 1: This is an epic adventure so please read carefully and make sure you understand what you’re in for. The sole purpose of this route is to attempt to cross the highest roads in the world. This means we will be in remote areas and off the tourist trail. We are on the go for the full 12 days. While the roads are challenging, they could be done by a confident road rider or someone with a year or two of dirt road experience. The main challenge is physical as we never go under 3500m and we cross 9 passes over 5000m. Don’t let that put you off, we’ve been doing this safely for over a decade.
NOTE 2: There is no definitive source of accurate information regarding the heights of the passes we cross. We saw Khardung La with a sign saying it was 5602m and the following year the sign said 5359m. Often you will see multiple signs next to each other with different altitudes.
NOTE 3: I have tried to use accurate place names but it is extremely challenging. Google Maps will spell names differently to physical maps. I have used the local name for a mountain pass which is La, so instead of writing Khardungla Pass, I have written Khardung La. I have done the same with the word for lake, which is Tso and for river which is Chu. Instead of writing Lake Moriri, I have written Tso Moriri.
NOTE 4: The itinerary below is the planned route, however, things can change very quickly in this region. A landslide can block a road, a storm can wash a bridge away, political tensions could flare up and roads could be blocked. Weather can change extremely quickly. We will err on the side of safety if a situation like the above arises and make alternative plans. The Itinerary should be used as a general guide only.
Fly into New Delhi (IGIA – Indira Gandhi International Airport) and head to the hotel. Relax at the bar or in the pool or go for a wander in the secure community. Make sure you hit the sack early as we’ve got an early start the next day. You’ll be transferred to the domestic airport to catch the flight to Leh. As Leh is at altitude, we suggest taking precautions for altitude 24 hours before you land.
Consider arriving early and doing a 1-day tour of Old and New Delhi. You could even do a 1 to 3 golden triangle tour of Agra and the Taj Mahal. Let us know when you book and we’ll arrange everything.
We catch an early morning flight to Leh where we are greeted by a Himalayan Heroes rep and taken to our hotel for breakfast. We ask everyone to take it easy and acclimatise to the altitude while we secure the permits that we need to visit the restricted areas that we visit. If everyone is feeling good then we’ll have a rider briefing where we explain what is expected of you, give you a run-down on road safety, and check everyone’s equipment. If mirrors, pegs, or levers need adjusting, now is the time to mention it. We’ll jump on the bikes in the afternoon and go for a ride around town and to a monastery close to the city. In the evening we get back to the hotel for dinner and rest before the adventure starts proper.
We head north out of Leh straight to the top of what many tour companies advertise as the highest motorable road in the world – Khardung La 5359m. It was the highest once but has been surpassed by 7 others in India (6 of which we’ll cross). It is still a fantastic road and should be on every motorcyclist’s bucket list, even if it is just to share the moment with the scores of people at the top taking photos. We’ll take a quick break for a warm chai before heading down the other side into the Nubra valley towards Diskit where we’ll visit a huge 35m colourful statue of Buddha. We follow the Shyok River back before heading over a much quieter but in my opinion, a far better motorcycle road in Wari La at 5312m. It’s a silky smooth strip of licorice that snakes its way down the mountain, descending into Sakti to an eco-resort run by Buddhist monks.
We take the back roads out of Sakti and then hit the main road up towards Chang La – 5391m. At around the 20km mark, there is a small sign that points to the most challenging mountain pass in the Himalayas. Not only is it huge at 5669m but it is mostly unpaved. It will depend on the weather conditions, and the skill of the riders and we’ll assess the rider’s attitude in the morning to determine if we’ll attempt it. Hardly anyone knows the pass is there, let alone attempt it. Whichever route we take, we’ll end up at the same lunch spot before heading through a valley where, if we’re lucky, we might see a Himalayan Marmot. The view of the lake appears in the distance and it becomes abundantly clear why it is such a popular spot with local tourists. Pangong Tso is militarily significant as the Chinese border dissects its nearly 140km length and 700 km2 area. There have been skirmishes between the Indian & Chinese armies as recently as 2021 just a few kilometres to the north.
PANGONG TO HANLE (140kms – 190kms | 5-7 hrs | Maximum altitude 4851m + 5440m + 4966m)
A stunning ride along the lake and into Chushul where we’ll decide to take the challenging three-pass route or take the shorter South Eastern route. If the group chooses the shorter route, we’ll visit a war memorial that commemorates the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Both routes will see us converge upon Loma Bridge where we’ll head south to Hanle. The military presence becomes more visible the closer we get to the border. If the guards at the military checkpoint are in a good mood, we’ll continue to our accommodation at Hanle and rest before heading to the observatory in the evening. Get your cameras out for some amazing time-lapse photos of the Milky Way spiraling over the Himalayas.
HANLE TO UMLING LA LOOP (150kms | 5-6 hrs | Maximum altitude 5524m + 5898m + 5281m)
This is the day that you’ve been waiting for, to conquer the highest road in the world. We have two options, we can take the sealed road over the third-highest road in the itinerary or we cross a waist-deep river and head through a valley with no roads. Again, it’ll depend on weather, skills and attitude. The bikes will definitely feel the lack of oxygen as you climb the switchbacks towards the top of Umling La. You’ll pass a sign on the side of the road that says “You are now higher than Everest base camp”. When we get to the top, we’ll grab some oxygen and have a coffee. We’ll grab some photos next to the sign before heading back down to the river briefly before heading over the last pass of the day. Nowhere else on Earth can you cross three 5000m+ passes in just a few hours.
HANLE TO KORZOK ( 140 – 160km | 7-8 hours | Maximum altitude 4960m)
Once again we’ll have a choice to take it easy along the sealed road to Loma Bridge or take the desolate restricted dirt road between two of the highest lakes in the world at 5000m+. We cross the Indus River and head up a beautiful valley towards the sacred Tso Moriri. We stay the night in the small village and have time to visit the handful of shops and the monastery. A dip in the lake is invigorating, to say the least!
KORZOK TO SARCHU (230kms | 7-8 hrs | Maximum altitude 5064m)
We’ll backtrack to the Puga Valley where the smell of sulphur will fill your nostrils. We then hit the More Plains where we go flat out on the flattest and straightest road in the Himalayas. It doesn’t last long though as we come across two mountain passes before descending the 22 hairpins that make up the Gata Loops. It’s been a big day so we’ll relax with a beer once we pull into our campsite. With no lights as far as the eye can see, the star-filled sky will look like nothing you’ve seen before.
SARCHU TO PURNE (150kms | 5-6 hrs | Maximum altitude 5053m)
We cross Baralacha La and head to the Zing Zing bar for a chai stop. It’s not a big day so we take it easy As we roll past the 360m long Barsi Bridge and head North towards home. We cross Shinku La which is the border between the state of Himachal Pradesh and the state of Ladakh. We follow the Kurgiak Chu towards our destination for the evening, a beautiful campsite on the confluence of two rivers; Tsarap and Kurgiak. It’s a shorter day so you’ll have plenty of time to go for a dip in the ice-cold, clear blue water.
PURNE TO PADDAM (50kms | 3-4 hrs on the road | Maximum altitude 3600m | Trek is 2-3 hours and 6kms return)
We have breakfast and then for those who are feeling good, we’ll put our walking shoes on and trek up the valley to Phuktal Monastery which is built into the side of the mountain and has a history dating back 2500 years. It is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed. Upon our return, we’ll have lunch before continuing the short distance to Padum. We stay in an amazing spot overlooking the entire valley but if you want to head into town and get a haircut or a coffee and a pastry then it’s a great place to walk the streets.
PADUM TO LAMAYURU (230kms / 8-9 hours | Maximum Altitude 5056m)
While other groups shy away from the Zanskar Valley due to its difficulty, we endeavour to include it in as many adventures as we can. It is undeniably the prettiest valley that is accessible by motorbike and provides the best mix of challenging roads. It is extremely remote and until 2021, it was a simple trekking track. The road has been completed and will soon be sealed so make the most of it while you can. It includes challenging water crossings, open valleys, lots of shortcuts between hairpins, and 2 very high 5000m+ passes. It’s a huge day, probably our biggest but you’ve done so much already, you’ll handle it just fine.
LAMAYURU TO LEH (80kms / 3-4 hours | Maximum Altitude 3600m)
We’ll take it easy today but not before taking a new road that no one knows about. It’s perfect tarmac that hardly sees any other vehicles. A great way to finish our riding before heading into Leh and enjoy the afternoon sightseeing, visiting the markets, and Leh Palace and picking up some souvenirs.
LEH TO DELHI (160kms / 4-5 hours)
We take an early morning flight to New Delhi and we’ll transfer you to the hotel where you can shower and relax. If you have a late flight then you are free to shop or explore some of the many interesting sightseeing options, for example: seeing old Delhi by bicycle rickshaw, exploring the spice market, India Gate, the houses of parliament, the legendary Red Fort, walk-in Lodi Gardens and much more.
Time to board the flight back to Delhi and head home. On the plane, it will hit you, what an insane adventure you’ve just been on and you’ll be smiling in your sleep as you completely zonk out. Once home, you won’t be able to explain the scale of this journey; photographs and videos will fail to do justice to your extraordinary adventure. Your memories of this epic adventure will stay with you forever.
Optional Add-On – Taj Mahal
As most flights leave in the evening we have time for a quick day trip to see the Taj Mahal. We’ll travel via a private minibus to the Taj stopping for lunch along the way. An English speaking guide, an air conditioned mini bus, Entry fees and lunch is included in the price of US$250
INSURANCE IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
(INDIA, NEPAL, BHUTAN, TIBET, MONGOLIA, PAKISTAN and SRI LANKA)
In the countries where we conduct adventures, commercial insurance on motor vehicles is either not available or is of questionable value. 3rd party insurance will usually not cover foreigners and even if it does, it is generally worthless if one needs to make a claim. In the event of an accident in these countries, the situation is usually settled on the spot without the “assistance” of insurance companies. If insurance companies are involved, it can take days, weeks and even months before there is a resolution.
Damage Cap Option “DCO”
Himalayan Heroes offers its riders the option of capping the cost of their damage bill on the motorcycle they are riding. The cost of this damage cap option “DCO” is US$195, paid as a lump sum before the tour starts. In the event you damage the motorcycle, the DCO will cap your damage bill at US$200.
- If, like most of our riders, you do not damage the motorcycle then the total cost to you is only the cost of the DCO = US$195.
- If, like some of our riders, you put the bike down at slow speed and damage mirrors, levers, foot pegs etc and the damage bill is say, US$120 then you pay the US$120. The total cost to you is US$315 (US$195 DCO + US$120 damage bill)
- If you have a big off and damage the tank, forks etc and the damage bill is say US$750 then your damage bill is capped at US$200. The total cost to you is US$395 (US$195 DCO + US$200 damage bill).
The DCO is optional, so if you would like to carry the risk yourself, you are welcome to. After the tour, you will be presented with an itemised bill for the damage to the bike. Approximately 50% of our riders do not damage the bikes and of the 50% that do receive a damage bill, the majority of the bills are less than $300. Please send us an email if you have any questions about the DCO.
The DCO is not an insurance policy and therefore any costs related to it cannot be claimed on a travel insurance claim.