When you visit Leh, you cannot miss out on the opportunity to visit Nubra Valley. After spending a couple days of days in Leh, enjoying the beauty of the place and visiting famous monuments such as Shanti Stupa, it was time to move on to next stage of our journey. The Road trip from Leh to Nubra Valley, our journey would take us through many unique places such as Khardung La – which is the highest motorable pass in the world, Hunder with its marvelous white sand dunes, Diskit monastery – the largest and the oldest in the Nubra valley, Sumur, Panamik with its famous hot springs and many more wondrous experiences.
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We left Leh, after being advised by the locals, for Khardung La. We got an early start to avoid the peak of the traffic that results from the tourists, army and other supply trucks on a narrow and steep road. It is an approximate distance of 40 kilometers. Khardung La is the self proclaimed highest motorable road in the world, though that claim is questioned by many. But it is undoubtedly an astounding place and a must stop on the way to Nubra. It is not advised to spend much time here as it is at an altitude of 18380ft and it can become hard to breath for many people. There is an army shop that sells souvenirs such as hats, caps, t-shirts and kitchenware, all proudly proclaiming Khardung La. We made a stop at a local café for some much needed snacks and tea. There are signs in place that identify the place as “Khardung La, 18,380 ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world”. They are perfect for memorabilia selfies and group photos to mark your road trip from Leh to Nubra valley.
The next point on our itinerary was to head forward towards Nubra valley with a stop at Diskit and Hunder. While due to our early start the journey till Khardung La was relatively easy but the roads became rougher as we headed towards North Pallu. Tough roads and heavy traffic due to tourist season, does not make for a pleasant driving experience. We did not stop at Pallu and continued towards the Khardung village which presented us with beautiful scenes of small green fields in midst of naked snow capped desert mountains. Instead of stopping the car repeatedly to take pictures of the beautiful scenery, we made a stop at a local eatery. While it did not have much to offer in the menu, the break allowed us to stretch our legs and click numerous photos to capture the breathtaking view. After that we continued our journey towards Khalsar which was about 30 kilometers from Khardung village. The roads were smooth and the atmosphere pleasant. It didn’t take long to cross khalsar and come across the bifurcation that divides the road. Moving towards the right road would take us towards Panamik and towards the left road would take us towards Diskit and Hunder. Keeping up with our plan, we headed towards Diskit.
As we proceed towards Diskit, the splendor of the Nubra valley starts to become apparent. The dashes of greenery in the cold barren desert start to become more frequent, reminiscent of the beginning of an oasis. Diskit has a mild climate as it is situated at a lower altitude. This allows for abundant vegetation to flourish. The air becomes lighter in comparison to Khardung La and it becomes easier to acclimatize. Till now, we have covered about 150 km from Leh and it is just the half of our journey. Diskit is the capital of Nubra with a few army bases and plenty of hotels. It is the largest town in Nubra and well connected by road. A few locals also take in tourists as paying guests for reasonable charge. There are also a few scattered payphones available here to make national as well as internal calls. Travel agencies also offer camping facilities for tourists, for many tourists opt for a road trip from Leh to Nubra Valley.
The main attraction of Diskit though is an ancient Gompa or monastery. The Diskit monastery was built in the 14th century and is the oldest and the largest Buddhist monastery in Nubra Valley. There is no way for a car to travel up to the monastery which is located at the edge of the road on the hilltop above the plains of Shyok river. We had to trek for about half an hour to the hilltop where the Gompa is located. The trek wasn’t really strenuous and with the pleasant scenery and frequent stops to take pictures, we reached the Gompa in no time. The flight of stone stairs led us to the prayer hall.
The Gompa in itself is a marvelous structure. An architectural feat that displays a 106ft tall Maitrey Buddha statue which is said to hold the mummified remains of a human forearm and head in its hands. It is believed that the remains belonged to a Mongol warrior. Situated below the monastery it faces down the Shyok River towards Pakistan. The vibrant monastery thrums with energy as tourists shuffle around clicking pictures and enjoying the view of Diskit from the monastery. From the Gompa, you get to experience the mesmerizing panoramic view of the stunning beauty of Diskit in all its glory. The lush green plains are bordered by stark snow capped mountains. From the top, we were able to scout the entire area and even make out the luxury camps where we were staying. The landscape of Diskit is magnificent and one can’t help but gaze at long at its stunning beauty.
About 8 kilometers on a moderate road from Diskit is Hunder, another village in Nubra valley famous for its white sand dunes. Hundar was the capital of the erstwhile Nubra kingdom in the 17th century, and is home to the Chamba Gompa. It is marked by flourishing vegetation which is dominated by apricot trees and the valley is, therefore, called the “Orchard of Ladakh”. Between Diskit and Hunder lie sand dunes and the camels can be seen grazing on the thick vegetation of seabuckthorn. We were suggested by a local to get a view of the entire valley from a small monastery up a hill. Once we reached the monastery, the whole view of Hunder was available to us. In the Hunder Village, the forest seemed to have grown out of rich and moist residues brought down from the mountains that surround it. The solitude and the tranquillity of the village makes it look vacant. But houses here are sparsely built and scattered throughout the region spaciously. The villagers have learned to live with their surroundings; in harmony with each other and the nature. Hunder looks like a perfect example of people adapting themselves to the landscape rather than shaping it for their living. Locals seemed to live a peaceful life though modestly. There are many guest houses hidden between trees and bushes to house the tourists that wander through the area. It is a perfect place to get away from the busy life and noise of city. Such privacy and peace is a welcome relief.
Here at Hunder, one cannot miss the opportunity to ride on the famous double humped camels or Bactrian camels. These camels are a critically endangered species, believed to be extinct in the wild. Bactrian camel ride is one of the most exciting moments of the Nubra valley trip. It was getting close to sunset and the wisps of clouds hanging in sky filled with colors of a Ladakhi sunset is one of the most tranquil experiences of the trip. Back at Diskit, after a leisure dinner we settled in for the night. But the night at the Nubra valley isn’t an ordinary one for us urban dwellers. The sky is filled with glittering stars that sparkle like diamonds on a velvety night sky. Being at a high altitude, you feel as if you can just reach out and touch them. Surrounded by the stark beauty of Nubra and gazing at the starry sky, you feel as if you are in heaven.
The next day we bid Diskit adieu and travelled back to the bifurcation at Khalsar. Some tourists that were with us continued on towards Leh. But if you have time, it is definitely recommended that you don’t miss out on Sumur and Panamik which are an integral part of the road trip from Leh to Nubra valley. We took the road towards the right and headed towards Sumur. Sumur is again a village filled with beautiful green vegetation which is unique to Nubra valley. The main attraction of Sumur is 150 year old Samstening Gompa that this village is famous for. Its regal entrance and structure distinguishes it from other Gompas in the region. The village itself is an oasis of greenery in the middle of harsh desert. Take a huge memory card with you because you’ll want to capture every moment of the exquisiteness of Nubra valley.
Moving along further about 20 kilometers on a well maintained road, we travelled to the village of Panamik which was the last stop on our itinerary. This is the last point in the valley where tourists are allowed to visit since it is so close to the line of control. There is a barricade on the road that only allows Army vehicles to pass. Due to heavy presence of army here, you might even be asked to show your travel permit which is issued to every tourist for Nubra valley trip. There is an impressive Ensa Gompa that is an over 250 years old monastery in the Nubra valley. Located on the hilltop, the monastery treasures a rich collection of Buddhist murals and rock engravings. The hot water springs in Panamik village are highly well-regarded by the people. People here believe that the hot springs here possess many medicinal properties which are very effective in healing skin ailments. Locals have constructed bathrooms around the springs and there are proper bathing arrangements. Taking a dip in the hot springs of Panamik is highly recommended. It melts away all the tension accumulated in your body from the earlier sightseeing through Nubra valley leaving you refreshed. Panamik has several guest houses for a night stay. After having delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we packed the car to travel back to Leh, from where our journey began taking the same route back.
A two day trip to Nubra valley is an intense experience, espcially ifit is a road trip from Leh to Nubra valley. Filled with lush forests, snow covered mountains, white sand dunes, stark barren desert and a unique culture that has developed for thousands in this landlocked region, one must visit this wonderful place at least once because a road trip from Leh to Nubra valley is an experience of a lifetime.