Haven’t you ever wanted to go on a Dil Chahta Hai-style road trip with your friends? With the windows down, the breeze blowing through your hair, that nostalgic playlist lined up on the car stereo as you and your friends hurtle down a highway en route to the holiday of your lifetime. Sounds like an absolute blast, doesn’t it? Well, there are some roads in India where you can’t really afford to live out this fantasy. This country of ours is home to some of the most dangerous motorways in the world that require the utmost focus, even from seasoned drivers who live and breathe the ways of the tarmac. Here are our top picks for the most dangerous roads in India:
Umling La (Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir)
If you thought Khardung La was the world’s highest motorable road, you’d be wrong. There is a new contender on the list, and it officially dethroned Khardung La in 2017. Umling La situated in Ladakh stands at a height of 19,300-ft according to the Border Roads Organisation and is one of the most difficult roads to traverse in the country. Forget the fact that breathing here is difficult due to low oxygen and there is a severe risk of altitude sickness if you haven’t properly acclimatised, the term ‘road’ itself is a bit of a stretch considering most of it is unpaved. You will also have to negotiate a few water crossings on the way, which will not only test your nerves but also your driving ability. This road is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Tip: Since the pass is located close to the Indo-China border, you will require special permits to visit the area.
Zoji La (Jammu and Kashmir)
What’s protecting you from a fatal 12,000-ft drop off a narrow, uneven road when a truck is barrelling straight towards you? If your answer is a resounding ‘absolutely nothing’, then you’re probably talking about Zoji La. This dangerous mountain pass is located on the Srinagar-Leh Highway (NH1A) and is often used by trucks to transport goods to the remote region. The road — one of only two roads into Ladakh (the other is from Manali) — is a dreadful nightmare in summer, but when it rains, it becomes even worse and has been witness to countless accidents over the years. The road is impassable in winter months and is extremely prone to landslides. The government has now planned to construct a tunnel in the area, which will connect Sonmarg in Kashmir to Dras in Kargil, so that this highway can be avoided by commuters. The tunnel is expected to be operational by 2023. Till then, maybe just fly to Leh.
Sach Pass(Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh)
Connecting the beautiful Chamba Valley with the Pangi Valley of Himachal Pradesh is one of the toughest roads to navigate — the Sach Pass. Only open between June and October, this road is extremely narrow and completely unmetalled. And the cherry on top of this perilous cake? The sheer drop on one side leading straight into the freezing waters of the Chenab River! On the way, one will need to steer through several water crossings and absolutely nightmarish road conditions. Here’s a handy hair-raising video of bikers conquering the infamous pass, with ominous music to boot, to give you a little idea about what you will encounter here.
At an impressive elevation of over 14,000-ft, Nathu La is located on the Indo-China border in the East Sikkim district. This road becomes risky to travel through during rain and snowfall when its condition severely deteriorates and landslides and avalanches are far too common. However, even in summer months, the road should only be traversed by seasoned motorists. Those with motion sickness should steer clear; this road has many twists and turns that can make anyone’s stomach turn. Though you will pass by pristine Tsomgo Lake, it will make you wonder whether the risk is really worth this reward.
Tip: You will need special permission to visit Nathu La, which can be obtained at Gangtok. Nathu La is closed to Indian tourists on Saturdays and Sundays, so keep that in mind when you plan your trip.
Mumbai-Goa Highway (NH66)(Maharashtra)
Yep, that’s right. The road connecting India’s sunshine state to the commercial capital is a downright risk to your life. The highway, erstwhile known as NH17, is only two lanes wide, has no dividers for the most part, and is host to a number of blind turns. Between 2006 and 2011, around 1,500 people lost their lives travelling this route. Accidents including pile-ups and head-on collisions are scarily common, so most commuters from Mumbai tend to take the expressway to Pune, which then connects to Satara, Kolhapur and then Goa. This is a much longer route, but definitely safer. The widening of this highway is set to be completed by 2019 according to Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways. However, until then, this will remain the road less travelled and for good reason.
If you have a thirst for adventure, a heart that knows no fear, a cultured left foot (there’s a good chance your clutch will take severe damage on these roads), and the off-road skills to see you emerge safe on the other sides, these daredevil routes may just be right up your alley. Don’t forget to carry your trusty toolbox and some spares because the rock-strewn passes will wreak havoc on your car’s unprotected underbelly. And remember, wrenching at the side of narrow paths is a herculean task, especially since there’s scarcely any oxygen to breathe on many of these roads! It’s your choice — either err on the side of caution and stay put on that couch, or fasten that seatbelt and get ready for the ride of your lifetime. You have been warned.