It is in Northern India that one can drive or ride the highest passes on earth. China also has built roads over very high passes in Tibet, but most are in restricted military areas and anyway it’s very complicated to drive in China: a guide is required and a special permit is needed for visiting the Tibet autonomous area. So details about those passes are scarce.
Nepal and Pakistan do not have any passes higher than 5000 m. And in all of South America you’ll find only a handful of more or less well maintained mine roads that end up in a dead end over 5000 m (Cerro Uturuncu, Refugio Tejos, Ollagüe); but no proper passes that link one valley to another at this altitude.
So here’s the list of all motorable passes of India that are higher than 5000m, including those that lay at the border with China and therefore are restricted to military personal only. Others are accessible by Indian National only, and most require a permit which is readily available and easy to get in Leh, the Ladakh capital, for visitors of any nationality.
|Umling La||Ladakh||5798||Indians only||Paved|
|Ke La||Ladakh||5670||All with permit||Dirt|
|Marsimik La||Ladakh||5580||Indians only|
|Photi La||Ladakh||5524||All with permit||Paved|
|Kaksang La||Ladakh||5430||All with permit|
|Chang La||Ladakh||5387||All with permit||Paved|
|Saser La||Ladakh||5370||Indians only|
|Khardung La||Ladakh||5359||All with permit||Paved|
|Nurbula||Ladakh||5313||All with permit||Paved|
|Wari La||Ladakh||5312||All with permit||Paved|
|Salsal La||Ladakh||5201||All with permit||Gravel|
|Nidar La||Ladakh||5107||All with permit||Gravel|
The fabled Khardung La, which everybody seems to want to go to, is only 12th in the list, so maybe not even in the top 20 if we take in account the Tibetan passes ! The misconception comes from a sign on top which claims it to stand at 18380 feet (5602 m), which is clearly wrong, as will be shown by your GPS if you get there.
Some of the higher passes are also very popular and crowded (Chang La, on the way to Pangong Too), some are becoming increasingly popular because they are so easily accessible (Umling La), but some are almost completely ignored by the tour agencies, because they’re too remote or too difficult (Ke La, Kaksang La).