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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ladakh - Visiting Nubra Valley

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Nubra Valley)
Panoramic view of famed Khardungla Pass
  We were in high spirits, having had a wonderful day at the Hemis Monastery and on the next day when we were to visit the Nubra valley, we started early in the morning and the weather was at its’ best.  Nubra is a tri-armed valley located to the north east of Ladakh valley. Diskit the capital of Nubra is about 150 km north from Leh town, the capital of Ladakh district, India. Local scholars say that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok River is a tributary of the Sindhu/Indus River.  Like the rest of Ladakh, Nubra too is a high altitude cold desert with scanty precipitation and vegetation, except along river beds. The villages are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard and a variety of fruits and nuts, including blood apples, walnuts, apricots and even a few almond trees. Most of the Nubra Valley residents speak Nubra dialect or are Nubra Skat speakers, which is a different dialect from the one used in Leh. The majority of the residents are Buddhists. In the western or lowest altitude end of Nubra Valley near the Line of Control i.e. the Indo-Pak border, along the Shyok River, the inhabitants belong to the Balti community of the Gilgit-Baltistan origin, who speak Balti, and are predominantly Shia & Sufia Nurbakshia Muslims.
View of Shanti Stupa from road to Khardungla

The approach road to Khanrdungla
Panoramic view of Leh from road to Khardungla
Icicles handing on road leading to Khardungla
As my daughter described it - Black forest cake like - near Khardungla top
Atop Khardungla - World's highest motorable pass
Posing for a family portrait at Khardungla top
         Geographically the Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley. The Sasser Pass and the famous Karakoran Pas lie to the northwest of the valley and connect Nubra with the Muslim dominated region of China known as Ughyur.  During the ancient times there was much trade passing through the area with western China's Ughyur/presently Xinjiang province of China and Central Asia.  In order to access the Nubra valley from Leh one has to cross the famed Khardung La Pass and the route takes you as Leh – Phyang – Khardung La (40 kms).  We started early in the morning so as to avoid encountering traffic at the Khardung La top. Despite all the hype surrounding Khardung La, drive/ride to the summit was relatively easy and we did not face any difficulty regarding altitude sickness etc.  The road beyond South Pullu (check post where one needs to submit the permits) was in a bad condition, probably because of the heavy snowfall during the previous few days.  Once we reached the summit, we got out of the vehicle and took some time out to get our photo gears out and shot pictures next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world”. For those famished, there is a café at the summit, where one can have a much needed break for cup of tea/coffee along with some snacks. There is also a souvenir shop selling Khardung La memorabilia and a lot of tourists could be seen flocking there.  However, if the intense cold loosens your bladders, there is adequate arrangement to empty the same.  As we had to travel further to Nubra Valley, we proceeded ahead after spending some time at Khardung La.
Vistas from the car windscreen - as we move down from Khardungla towards Nubra
Another one for the record - check out the minuscule snow flakes
Past North Pullu - heading towards Nubra valley
The Shyok River valley - Nubra
Khalasar - from here road bi-furcates towards Siachin glacier
A waterfall en-route to Hundar
         After, descending through the north face of the pass, we again faced a grinding and bumpy ride/drive till North Pullu (check post where one needs to again submit the permits) and one should carry ample copies of the Inner lines permits, as you will require them everywhere in Ladakh.  Roughly about 30 kms. from the Khardung La pass is the Khardung Village, it is quite a small settlement and there are only a few restaurants here, a quick stop here for photos is recommended due to the lovely mountainous backdrop.  Since we had started early and did not partake anything at Khardung La top, due to the heavy rush of traffic there, we halted at Khardung village for B’fast.   Here I had an interesting conversation with a solo Bike rider, he is born in Brazil, brought up in Israel and currently staying in New York and a freelance photographer, he shared his experience riding the bike in Ladakh and his horrendous experience in Zansakar region, where sudden rains had totally cut off the route and he had to load his bike atop a Truck to cross the road.  After having had a hearty B’fast of local Momos, we proceeded on the next leg of the journey to Hundar.  As the road descended further, we met the Shyok River Valley and traveled alongside the river, till we crossed it and reached Khalsar after traversing 28 kms.  further ahead from Khardung village and the road here was is excellent condition.
Running along the Shyok River valley - headed for Hundar
Another view of the famed Shyok River Valley
A Mane - rock cut prayer stones in Buddhist monasteries
Going past Diskit Village - headed for Hundar
From Khalsar the road bifurcates, one towards the left leads to Diskit, which is about 20 kms. from Khalsar, while the road on the right goes to Panamik. This is also the place where you first experience the changing vistas Nubra Valley is famous for, few kilometers further ahead on the road leading to Diskit, the scenery changes from arid desert to a small oasis.  As we were anticipating the culmination of the journey for the day, we were in for a shock, as due to road building activity a major traffic jam awaited us, just before reaching Diskit.  After waiting impatiently for about 30-40 minutes, we were able to cross this hurdle and went past Diskit.  Many people choose to stay at Diskit, as there are phone facilities available here as well as hotels and guest houses and an archaic Petrol pump too.  As we were to stay at Hundar/Hunder, which was further 8 Kms. away, we pushed on further and after descending from the hill side, we reached the plains/desert stretch, where Hundar lies alongside the Shyok River bed.  Hunder is an oasis in the desolate landscape, set amidst fields of rye and barley and surrounded by fruit orchids and sand dunes.  
Reached Hundar - author clicked in front of the tent in a camp by his son Joyendra Roy Biswas
The wide vistas of Nubra Valley
The double humped Camel - a concept shot by my son - Joyendra Roy Biswas
The double humped Bactrian Camel - found only in Nubra Valley in India - a native of Mongolia
Ride of a lifetime - Author's son and better half in Hundar, Nubra Valley
         We had reached Hundar late in the afternoon and immediately checked into the luxury tents facility ‘Sand dune leisure tents’ and were offered tea/coffee as welcome drinks alongwith some snacks.  Children wanted to have some fast food only, as the normal lunch time was over and therefore, we ordered some Noodles and soup.  Having rested our bones, which had borne the brunt of jerking on the road, we went out for the Double humped of Bactrian camel ride, for which Hundar is famous.  The rides are officially controlled and there is an entry fee of Rs.20/- for all vehicles entering the area and the rides are offered twice in a day, during the morning from 8.00 A.M to 10.00 A.M and during the evening from 4.30 P.M. to 6.30 P.M.  The rates fixed for a ride of 10 minutes duration across the sand dunes is Rs.150/- per Camel, which takes only one person at a time.  After having enjoyed the ‘ride of lifetime’, we enjoyed roaming around and photographing the scenic beauty of the region and some of the photographs, not bearing my copyright, were shot by my 15 year old son.  We returned back to the camp late in the evening and the stars were sparkling in the crystal clear sky above.  After having had the dinner, as included in the plan, we retired for the night, but the constant howling of the dogs throughout the night, which at times appeared to emanate from inside the tent itself, because of the proximity, really scared the kids and they had a tumultuous sleepless night.
Panoramic view of the famed cold desert in Nubra Valley, Ladakh
As they had a disturbed night of sleep, the kids continued sleeping and I got up early and went out with my gear to click a few photographs of the birds.  Since I was not aware about the proximity of the place, I did not venture very far but found a large number of birds and could also photograph a few.  By the time I returned, the staff had served morning tea and I chatted up a group of young men from Pune, who had just finished their engineering degree and were on a biking expedition to the region and one amongst them was an enthusiastic budding wildlife photographer.  We moved out of the camp at around 9.30 A.M. and headed for Diskit Monastery, about which I will narrate in a separate blog.
On the return leg - reflections in the placid waters of Nubra Valley
       Apart from Diskit & Hundar, the other places visited by tourists are Sumur, which is about 40 Kms. from Diskit and one has to retrace upto the point near Khalasar, wherefrom the road bifurcates.  Sumur’s main attraction is stated to be the 150 year old Samstening Gompa and apart from that the village itself is an oasis in the middle of a desert.  Further, down the road from Sumur, at a distance of 20 Kms. is the village of Panamik, famous for 250 year old Ensa Gompa and hot water springs. This is also the last point tourists are allowed.  Due to paucity of time I did not visit this sector.
Watch a video of the destination -

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