Mana Pass – Highest Motorable Road In The World At 18,399 Feet!


I am officially addicted. I am always hungry for more and more driving through terrains that would be considered risky, unpredictable or even suicidal! During one of my drives to Uttarakhand with my dear friend Sanjay, we visited Mana village. It is the last Indian Village on the Indo China border. Everything in Mana Village is marketing as ‘last’. The ‘last’ post office, the ‘last’ tea stall, the ‘last’ police check post, the ‘last’ school etc. I think they should rename Mana Village as the ‘Last’ village! While driving back from Mana Village, we crossed a sign post on our left which said, ‘This road leads to Mana Pass. Worlds’ Highest Motorable Road constructed by BRO. Height 18,399 feet. Distance 53 km’.

Our collective instant reaction was, “Can we drive to Mana Pass?”. We went to the nearby Army post to find out.

“Not allowed. You need special permits from the Army and District Magistrate’s office”, one of the officers’ at the post said bluntly. We left Mana and started driving back towards Delhi. It was a long 16 hour drive during which all we talked about was Mana Pass and resolved that we will come back armed with the permits and become the first civilian team to drive up the Highest Motorable Road in the World.

The record breaking journey began on a pleasant October morning. I reached Sanjays’ place at 3 AM, we loaded his Land Cruiser and hit the road towards Joshimath.

We reached Joshimath by evening, got the necessary permits from the District Magistrate and Police, and headed towards Badrinath, the pilgrimage town which is only 4 km before Mana Village.

“Tomorrow morning, we will become the first civilians to drive to the highest motorable road in the world”.

The morning sun felt warm and we were in high spirits. We packed the Land Cruiser, applied sun screen on our faces, had our breakfast and took a deep breath as we took our seats in the car and started the engine. The Mana Pass sign post was only 3 km away from our hotel.

In 15 minutes we reached the post from where we had to start ascending towards Mana Pass but unfortunately the Army refused to let us go any further.

“Sorry, we cannot give you permission to go to Mana Pass as there is an exercise going on in that region”, the Commanding Officer declared firmly. Our hearts sank.

“But, sir, we have the permission from the District Magistrate. Why can’t we go?” Sanjay asked

“Sorry, permission is denied. If you want, you can go to the Army G1 office in Joshimath and see if they will give you permission. If you get permission from there, come back and then we will let you go. Have a good day.” He said and walked away as we stood there almost frozen. For a few seconds, none of us said anything.

Disappointed, we drove back to Joshimath and went to the G1 officer to for help where we were directed to meet the Colonel in charge. We narrated the whole story starting from the District Magistrates’ permits to being refused entry by the CO in Mana Village. After 3 hours of questioning, once he was convinced that we were determined, passionate and almost obsessed with the idea of driving to Mana Pass, he said:

“Let me see what I can do”. That one line was a glimmer of hope for us. He found out the name of the CO who had denied permission to let us go to Mana Pass, picked up the phone and called him.

“Major, I believe this morning 3 gentlemen from Delhi met you requesting permission for Mana Pass. You denied them permission. Well done! You did a fine job. No one is allowed to go there during the exercise and you handed the situation perfectly!” he said.

Sanjay and I looked at each other feeling a little embarrassed.

“When do the birds fly away?” he asked on the phone

“Hmm, hmm, hmm” that’s all we could hear from him as the Major talked from the other end of the phone.

“OK, that’s perfect. I will tell them to come and see you again tomorrow. Jai Hind” he put the phone down.

“Right. Gentlemen. You can go back to Mana Village tomorrow and start driving up to Mana Pass after 10 AM tomorrow morning. Permission will be granted. Will that be ok?” he asked

We were shocked. Just like that, without any special permits, processes or permissions, the Colonel had got us the green signal for Mana Pass.

We were back in the game! Phew! We had the DM permits and we also had the consent from the Indian Army. Who could stop us now?

After spending the night in Joshimath, once again we drove to Mana Village in the morning and headed straight for the Army Post where we again met the same officer.

“Good Morning Gentlemen, so you all are back! We will let you go to Mana Pass today but it will be at your own risk. Is that acceptable to you?” he said cheerfully

“Of course! No problem! Thank you so much sir!” we all said in unison.

Mana Pass Road

We began our historic drive to the Mana Pass. Sanjay was at the wheel and he started driving slowly towards a barren, desolate and uninhabited region. As soon as the barrier was behind us, we realized that ours’ was the first civilian vehicle going up this route. We knew that this journey would leave us with everlasting memories. We were at 11,000 feet at the barrier and had to climb close to 7400 feet during the next 50 km drive. We had been warned that the road was treacherous. We crossed a bridge and in a few minutes a barren, remote and desolate terrain opened in front of us. All we could see were rocks, mountains and a dusty gravel road. There was no sound except the wind blowing gently. There was no hint of any life anywhere around us. No humans, no animals, not even any birds. There was an eerie silence around us and we were driving through it all by ourselves. We had barely driven 5 km from Mana Village and it was difficult to believe that life (or the non-existence of it) could be so different just a few km away.

We were swiftly climbing to higher altitudes and could feel the temperature going down. It was around 2 PM in the afternoon and the sun was still very bright which made it a bit easier for us to drive in this terrain. Slowly, the landscape started changing and the barren brown mountains turned white. We saw snow capped mountains ahead of us and down in the valley on our right side, we could see frozen water bodies. We could see glimpses of crystal blue and green waters through the little breaks and gaps in the lakes and rivers down in the valley.

The journey ahead was anything but smooth. All the time, the car was bouncing on the rocks and even though we were wearing seat belts, but the jumps and the jerks were exhausting. The road conditions were almost becoming unforgiving and the ice on the ground was not making our task any easier.

We carried on and a huge area opened up on our right where we saw a massive lake that was completely frozen. There was a sign board that read:


We parked the car and got out to take a closer look. Saraswati river is a mystery in itself. It is seen in only a few places and it mostly runs underground. To be able to see the origin of the river is a rare sight and not something that a lot of people can claim. We stopped to take a few pictures, admired the beauty of Deo Taal for a few minutes and drove off. We were not very far from Mana Pass. Another 1000 feet to go.

We were already feeling very tired, the weather had changed for the worse and it had already started snowing. The terrain on which we were driving was full of rocks. We had to look extremely carefully before we could drive on the rocks. The wipers were working hard to brush off the snow which was increasing by the minute. To make it worse, the snow fall was covering the rocks which was making it even more difficult to judge the road. We had only 10 more kilometres to go and Sanjay and I were having the time of our lives. We were finally going to accomplish another goal and we had begun to feel the excitement and the thrill of reaching the summit. I was monitoring the altimeter in my phone which was working very hard trying to tell us our current altitude. 17,980 feet. 18,000 feet. 18,050 feet. 18060 feet. Every few meters, the altitude would change and we would be a few feet higher. We were not very far now. We had already crossed the 18,000 feet barrier which is the highest altitude at which none of us had ever gone before. Sanjay and I were very excited on crossing the 18,000 feet barrier. We were on a high and were loving every moment of the drive.

18,100 feet. 18,200 feet. 18,300 feet.

We drove a few meters and finally reached a dead end. We were at Mana Pass. The dead end was the demarcation between India and China. There was a makeshift wall made out of rocks beyond which we could see China.

Sanjay stopped the car and turned off the ignition. We could hear the sound of the wind blowing and the gentle sound of snow falling on the car. Sanjay and I looked at each other and smiled.

Mana Pass

“Welcome to Mana Pass” I said to Sanjay

A high five later, we opened the doors and got out. The first thing I did was pull out my phone to check the altimeter.

18,399 feet.

It was confirmed. I took a screen shot of the phone to save the magic number forever.

“I can’t believe we are here. This is surreal. It is a dream come true.” I said to Sanjay as we took a small walk on Mana Pass.

“This feels like another planet. There is nothing up here. Hat’s off to our Army who drive here often and never make a big deal out of it.” Sanjay said.

We hugged once again and both of us just couldn’t stop smiling. The sense of achievement that we felt was completely unmatched.

“Sanjay, everything that we are doing, everything that we have done, it all comes down to one thing. It is to have that sense of achievement, it is to feel that pride, it is to experience that high, it is to be in that one moment…in which we are right now.” I said.

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