Nubra Valley: Holidaying
The journey to Nubra Valley is studded with breathtaking views, while the destination itself will overwhelm you with its complementing magnanimity and tranquility
Ladakh is spread across an area encompassing all of 96,701 sq km, with a population of just two lakh. Visitors to the region are first hypnotised by stark, desolate landscape and a fascinating cultural milieu that is completely different from anywhere else in India. Everything about the Ladakhi people is unique – their clothes, dialects, religious practices, folklore and tradition have all been subject to deep introspection. Ladakh is often referred to as 'Little Tibet' due to a shared cultural and environmental heritage with mountainous Tibet. The villages and hamlets are replete with Buddhist Gompas where thousands of monks and hermits are engaged in meditation.
The gates have been opened by the government and Ladakh today is easily accessible. The picturesque city of Leh has witnessed rapid growth – from a sleepy Himalayan town to the present day hub of discerning international tourists seeking the harmonious balm of Buddhism complimented by pristine Alpine flora and fauna. The intrepid thrill seekers have found in Ladakh's desolate landscape a much-needed escape from the gruelling rigour of modern-day living and scorching heat of the plains.
The breathtaking 150 km road journey from Leh to Nubra Valley provides the ultimate thrill of an adrenalin-pumping mountain drive. Though the distance is short, it takes 6.5 to 7 hours to cover the stretch due largely to the very steep gradients of the road. As you embark on your journey to Nubra Valley via the world's highest motorable Pass – Khardungla Pass, located at an awesome height of 18,380 feet above sea level while passing the Shyok River – you encounter everything overwhelming about the Himalayas. A word of advice to those with little or no prior driving experience in very high altitudes – allow yourself at least two to three days to become acclimatised in Leh.
The picturesque city of Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is located at an altitude of 3,505 m. This enchanting Himalayan city spreads out from the bottom of a typical Tibetan palace replete with a labyrinth of brick and concrete. On one side, there is the desolate cold desert-like surrounding, while, on the other, there are verdant farmlands.
As you approach the city of Leh, crossing dangerous hairpin bends, you will have an idea of how the Trans-Himalayan mountain trade was conducted in the days of yore. Legend has it that the then emperor of Ladakh – King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century – took the initiative to relocate his royal court from Shey to Leh and, post-relocation, Leh witnessed unparalleled growth and prosperity as a hub of the Silk Route trading zone.
Leh's prosperity as a trading hub received a rude jolt when the Chinese border was sealed in the year 1950. Leh being a strategic point on the Indo-Chinese front, the presence of the Indian Army is very conspicuous. In fact, the Army and Air Force base are the foundation around which the local economy sustains. Most visitors to Leh consider it as an ideal base point from which to explore the hitherto rarefied places like Nubra Valley, Dha-Hanu Valley, the high altitude lakes like Pangong Tso and the Tso Moriri Kar, Suru Valley and Zanskar Valley.
What to See
Leh Palace, Stok Palace, Tsemo Gompa, General Zorwar's Fort, Yung Drung Gompa, Shanti Stupa, the monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, Hemis, Stakna and Matho as well as the monasteries west of Leh.
Where to Stay
India's pioneer Mobile Luxury Mountain Camp run by The Ultimate Travelling Camp offers super luxurious high altitude camps. TUTC's camps in Ladakh (Thiksey and Diskit) are set up in idyllic Himalayan settings – the mesmerising Great Ladakh Range and the invincible Stok Mountain Range are your constant companions.
The Diskit Camp is on the road north of Leh. The ethereal view of the confluence of India's two ancient rivers – the Nubra and the Shyok – is absolutely otherworldly. Mingle with Buddhists monks (Lamas), trek on high-altitude Himalayan sand dunes and immerse yourself in utter contemplation.
Where to Eat
Of late, Leh indeed has come of age when it comes to world cuisine. After two decades of sustained tourism with a significant number of international visitors every year, a variety of fashionable eateries and restaurants have come up that offer the very best of world cuisines at very competitive rates.
For Tibetan, drop in at Tibetan Kitchen or Amdo Café. For Continental and Mughlai fare, Summer Harvest is a good option. For mouth-watering Kashmiri fare, there is Budshah Inn near Jamia Masjid. For light snacks and tea/coffee, Pumpernickel German Bakery at Zangsty Road and Penguin Café in the Main Bazar are good options.
What to Buy
While in Leh, most visitors are fascinated by the indigenously manufactured handicraft items and Tibetan jewellery. Carpets and rugs too are a rage. A thriving fake antiquities racket is in existence at Leh and one must be very careful. LEDEG Handicraft Shop is reliable and during the peak tourist season, an exclusive market (Tibetan Market) is set up on the Fort Road where one can buy authentic Tibetan goods and curios.
Ascent to Nubra Valley
To get the most of your mountain journey from Leh to Nubra Valley, a 4 Wheel Drive is ideal. TATA Safari, Scorpios and TATA Sumos are perfect. You have to travel 150 km to reach Nubra Valley. Take the road North-East of Leh and go past Khardungla Pass.
Khardungla Pass is famous for being the world's highest motorable road and is located 50 km away from Leh. After crossing this high altitude pass, you will come across three intriguing Ladakhi villages of Nubra Valley – Khardong, Khalser and Deskit. There is also the enchanting Hundar village which is accessible by camel safari.
The Nubra Valley nestles between two impressive mountain ranges with peaks reaching heights in excess of 6,000 m on both sides of the valley. The valley is replete with alpine desert-like landscape and verdant village hamlets. Every now and then you will come across herds of Yaks and double-humped Bactrian Camels wading past.
Try becoming friendly with the simple Ladakhi folk. Chances are that you will be ushered into their modest mountain huts and offered the traditional brew – Chang. The more courteous ones offer a sumptuous Ladhaki meal.
It is believed that the kitchen is surprisingly the most important place in any Ladakhi house. It is not only a place to warm yourself from the freezing cold but also where the entire family meets and offers prayers.
Centuries back, Nubra Valley was an integral part of the overland trade route to Tibet and present-day Turkmenistan. If you are travelling to the valley in the summer months, the entire valley is bedecked with many-hued roses, while in the month of August the valley is swathed with lavenders.
At Nubra Valley, you have the choice of visiting two famous high altitude lakes – the Pangong Tso and the Tso Moriri Kar lakes. You need to stay overnight if you intend to visit these two lakes. While Pangong Tso extends to 40 miles and large parts of it lies in China, the Tso Moriri is all of 15.5 miles and is home to endangered bird species. The lucky ones may even sight the rare and elusive Himalayan Wild Ass, Kyang.
Guidelines for Visitors
Inner Line Permits to be obtained from the District Magistrate, Leh.
Carry spare fuel as there are no petrol pumps.
Warm clothing is a must. Carry heavy woolens, jackets with cover up cap, snow goggles, gloves, spare woolen socks and a hardy pair of shoes with good grip to see you through the harsh weather conditions and landscape.
A weather proof Swiss Tent is an absolute must, since there are no accommodations like hotels and resorts at Nubra Valley.
Carry foodstuff like noodles and fresh vegetables/meat/fish according to preference. A porter cum cook can be hired for convenience.
First aid box with enough remedies for mountain sickness. Non-narcotic pain relievers (acetaminophen or paracetamol, ibuprofen) as well as throat lozenges.
Vehicle Registration and Insurance Papers.
Carry sleeping bag and sleeping mat.
A pair of torch light with good visibility.
Binoculars for mountain viewing.