Khardung La Challenge-A little over 72 km and 18000 feet

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.
-Jesse Owens

Almost evening, dust had settled on my sleeves and my nose skin had started to peel off. I had been on the road for over 12 hours. Sipping some water from the van nearby, I checked my phone. Mother had called twice. I dialled to return the call.

“I am fine, last few left to go,” I assured her even before she asked. “Have you eaten?” she asked. I remembered the warm bowl full of instant Maggie Masala noodles. The bowl sat comfortably in my cold palms. A luxury at South Pulu. It did taste like the best dish in the world back then.  “Yes,” I replied and hung up. I didn’t have to explain my brevity, she knew.

“Running 72 kms over Khar Dung La Pass? Have you lost your mind? People can’t walk there at 18000 feet. And you want to run?” This is how she had reacted when I told her first.


picture taken while approaching the top


Visiting Leh-Ladakh was high on my agenda for many years now. And to me the best way to experience a new place is to run there. What could be better than running the entire stretch on the man made marvel Khar Dung LA-the highest motoring pass in the world.

Getting to Leh was a task in itself as there was a cloud burst in Srinagar around the time when I was flying. Had to rebook my onward flight. I was flying from Mumbai into Leh at 13000 feet which also meant that my acclimatisation would be zero when I reached. I had to fix it quickly.


I had booked one hotel for 10 days near the market place in Leh. Having booked the hotel last minute, I was glad that I did managed to get the entire booking at only one place rather than having a divided stay split into many hotels. I was travelling by myself.

As soon as I landed,  my body had started giving into the high altitude. I had a nagging headache and loss of appetite. Altitude had started playing its role.

Getting to the hotel was easy, as there are various cabs available at reasonable rates from the airport.

Reaching the hotel, I unpacked. Running shoes first and running gear arranged neatly in my cupboard. I hadn’t taken any medicine for altitude.

The only agenda on my mind was to acclimatize as quickly as I could and decided to stay as outdoor as possible. Considering it was cold and cloudy outside, it seemed like bit of a challenge. I hadn’t signed up for any treks or activities either. But, I didn’t have to sign up in advance either.

Leh-Ladakh is an outdoor person’s paradise and all I had to do was walk around the market looking for signages that showed single seat available in a van or vehicle to the likes of Pang gong Tso, Stok Angri, Nubra Valley, etc. Cheap and convenient for a solo traveller. I shared rides for many monasteries and trees with strangers and foreign nationals. I made some friends too, whom I could meet  occasionally. I would go climbing to Shanti Stupa and visit Leh Palace with them as most of these places were close to my hotel.  Or we would simply catch up over mint tea!


Compulsory medical check before the race day

But these were all the side dishes. The main course was to be served over the weekend of my stay in Leh. A 72 km run that started from Khardung village (one of the highest villages in the world). All the participants were transferred to the village in a bus, where we stayed overnight. The stay at a local’s place was comfortable. The run started at 3 am. It was cold and windy.


Khar Dung Village where we stayed before the race

It was a 72 km run that took the runner all the way down to Leh after crossing the Khardung La Pass. Elevation, snow clad peaks, six layers of clothing, slipping on hard snow; everything added to the drama. Every time I had to go to the toilet I would curse my bladder!

And I was on the final few kilometres of this run when I spoke to my mother. The run took me and showed me so many things within a short span of the daytime. It revealed so much about me. From shivering hands while approaching the Khar Dung La top to almost giving up at one point in time during the race; to confident strides running downhill towards Leh.  And these last few kilometres to spare felt like forever!


Running Downhill towards Leh

The landscape, I had come here for walks, during my stay at Leh and it did seem close by yet the finish line seemed far away . I was happy that the ultimate test of my endurance was ending soon but I was sad that my beautiful time spent in Leh-Ladakh was coming to a conclusion too. At that point if anyone would have asked me, “Will you do it again?” My response would be, “Never!” But as soon as I crossed the finish line at this public school in Leh, I said to myself “When can I do it again?”

Just keep going like crazy and look back when it’s over. Otherwise you just get confused.
-Cliff Burton


Panoramic Image of the Village and the place where we stayed

1 thought on “Khardung La Challenge-A little over 72 km and 18000 feet

  1. Anshu gupta

    Hats off. Maam . Dream run for evry runner. My coach also dream for this beautifull la challenge 72km dr shweta . I always follow her . She also help me to see dreams like ladhak marathon . Hope …will do someday . Hats off maam keep inspirining .


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