The Nubra Valley trip is where the journey is as or more exciting than the destination. The road drive from Leh to Nubra features some of the most stunning sights of snow-covered mountains and passes, meandering rivers, deserts with black sand dunes, valleys with vegetation and monasteries on hills. The landscape changes every few kilometres and the enchanting sights will leave a lasting impression on you. A lot of travellers think that Ladakh is only about snowcapped mountains but it is far from the truth. It is the diversity in landscapes which are its surprise package.
Thankfully our daughter has recovered. The rest and sleep have done her good. After exploring Leh and the attractions in and around it, we decide to now move further. A day trip to Nubra Valley with an overnight stay is the next on the cards. We have a heavy breakfast and wear an extra layer of warm clothes since we were going to pass through Khardungla pass.
Khardungla at an altitude of 18,380 ft is the world’s highest motorable road and the gateway to Nubra and Shyok Valleys. For the army, it provides a vital pass to the Siachen Glacier. The temperature at the pass is sub-freezing, and the air is thinner, all of which make travel here a test of endurance and strength. Dozens of colourful Buddhist prayer flags are festooned everywhere. The wind is blowing hard on our faces, and despite wearing jackets and gloves and shawls and caps and woollen socks, we are shaking and shivering. The kids refuse to play in the snow. We thought they would make snowballs and have a good time throwing them on each other. We scarcely manage to click some pictures, and the kids rush to the car as it is warmer, and the heater is turned on.
Highest Cafeteria in the World
The Rinchen Cafeteria here is the ‘Highest Cafeteria in the World’. It is here that the tourists rush to have some hot coffee and a bowl of Maggi. The ‘Story of Maggi’ is printed on a board. Rafiq grabs a cup of tea as the kids are happy holding an icicle in their hands and watch it melt slowly. The kids compare the brown mountains covered with white snow to Mc Donald’s’ Chocolate Oreo Mc Flurry! We have a hearty laugh at the metaphor they choose.
Staying at Khardungla for long can make some people nauseous and sick due to low oxygen levels, so we drive again. The road during the descent is winding. We have left the snowclad mountains behind and are now on flatter terrain. A herd of black hairy yaks is walking on a path parallel to the road. We are currently in Shyok valley which gets its name from the Shyok river a tributary of the Indus river. The meandering river between barren hills and the blue sky above is inviting, and we soon get off the car and rush to it. We stand on the pebbles in the river and click pictures, but my husband, with his daredevil spirit, decides to remove his shoes and wade in the icy waters. We head back to our car and travel further.
Soon the landscape changes, and we now see sand dunes with chiselled mountains in monochromes of brown and grey. We are now in what we learnt in our geography textbooks as the ‘cold desert.’ The Hundar settlement resides here in an oasis that has some thorny shrubs and prickly trees with green grass sprouting here and there. A caravan of two-humped Bactrian camels or Mongolian camels; that are native to Central Asia including Ladakh; are seen resting around.
The kids and I are excited yet nervous about going on a camel safari. The camel driver asks us to get on to the sitting camels. We do the needful and hold on tight to the colourful saddles. The camels get up, and there are butterflies in my stomach, and I scream nervously. Soon we are enjoying the camel safari over the sand dunes with the rugged mountains around us and the blue sky over our heads. Immediately we are transported back in time and get the feeling that we are part of a caravan on the Ancient Silk Route!
Back in the car, we drive on the highway and see a monastery on a hill with the trademark white walls and brown roofs. The Diskit Monastery was founded in the 14th century and is one of Ladakh’s oldest monasteries. Close by, we see a giant brightly-hued statue of Maitreya Buddha on a high podium. We climb the stairs and admire the figure and click pictures. This is a vantage point from where we can see the entire landscape of Diskit, including the monastery.
We head back to the car and are again on the road. A herd of mountain goats are coming in the opposite direction, and we stop and slow down. Oh, the simple pleasures of life as we find joy in the ordinary. In the hustle and bustle of urban life, we miss out on these experiences.
Nubra Valley Campsite
At the campsite we see a line of tents pitched with trees around it and a field which has been freshly ploughed perhaps to sow some seeds. The kids are excited at spending a night in a tent. In the evening we spend some time reflecting on the day that has gone. We can hear the silence and a sense of peace and serenity descend on me something I can connect to till this day after so many years! It is moments like these; when one learns to slow down and just ‘be’; that one cherishes for a lifetime.
Panamik Hot Water Springs
The next day we set off to see a village called Panamik, which is known for its hot water springs. On the way, we see children in uniforms walking to school. They readily smile and pose for the camera. We reach the springs which have yellow patches around them due to the high sulphur content. Rafiq gets busy trying to capture some of the aquatic and land birds near the springs.
We now head back to Leh passing en route some more villages, Shylok river and Khardungla. We spot wildlife unique to Ladakh like Yaks, Chukar Partridge and Himalayan Marmot. The Chukar Partridge has a plump beige body with black bars on the side. It walks away from us. We see a small beige coloured creature scampering near the ground as we approach Khardungla. It is a Himalayan Marmot with a furry body and looks like a cross between a squirrel and a hare.
We are back in Khardungla, and this time the kids happily venture and play in the snow. The sun is shining, and so it is slightly warmer. We notice an epitaph for the martyrs of Operation Meghdoot which we had missed earlier.
The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery on a hill is what we see next. We are told it provides an aerial view of the Leh city.
We are back in our hotel Leh, and it feels like home. Earlier I preferred travelling by train to having a road trip. But all that changed after the road trip to Nubra Valley. The Nubra Valley experience made me realize that the journeys can be as exciting as the destination. I had learnt to ‘Enjoy the Journey’, as they say!
Read our next travelogue Lamayuru- The Moon Land of Ladakh next.