India on the Road
A Chilled Drive to Nubra Valley
Route: Leh To Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass
Distance: 150 Kms
Driving Time: 7-8 Hours
Notes: Ladakh lies between latitudes 30 degree to 36 degree east and longitudes76 degree to 79 degree north. It is spread out over an area encompassing all of 96,701 sq.Kms. with a population of just 2 Lakhs. First time visitors to the region are hypnotized by stark, desolate landscape and the fascinating cultural milieu that is completely different from anywhere else in India. Everything about the Ladhaki people is unique – their clothes, dialects, religious practices, folklore and tradition have all been the subject of deep introspection. Ladakh is often referred to as the “Little Tibet” due to its cultural and environmental similarities with Tibet. The villages and hamlets are replete with Buddhist Gompas wherein thousands of Buddhist monks and hermits are engaged in meditation.
The gates have now been opened by the government and Ladakh today is easily accessible to both the Indian and foreign tourists. The picturesque city of Leh has witnessed rapid growth from a sleepy Himalayan town to the present day hub of the 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 the much needed escape route from the grueling rigors of modern day living and the scorching heat of the plains. The breathtaking 150 Kms. road journey from Leh to the Nubra Valley provides the ultimate thrill for an adrenalin pumping mountain drive. Though the distance is small, just 150 Kms., it takes all of 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 and passing the Shyok River, you come face to face with everything that is grand and awesome about the Himalayas. A word of advise to those with little or no prior driving experience in very high altitudes – allow yourself at least 2 to 3 days to get yourself acclimatized in Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
The picturesque city of Leh is the capital of Ladakh and is located at an altitude, which is all of 3505 meters. 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 surroundings 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 used to be 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, thereby effectively ending its supremacy in the world of Himalayan trade. 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:
Leh STD: 01982
Gypsy Panorama (252660/750), Hotel Bijoo (252131), Hotel Caravan Center (252282), Hotel Dragon (252139), Hotel Green Land (253156), Hotel Ibex (252281), Hotel Kanglachen (252523/250909), Hotel Lharimo (252101), Hotel Skitsal (242051/23/49), Khangri Hotel (252311/051), Ladakh Sarai (244063), Lasermo Hotel (250778,251698), Moonland Guest House (252297), Oriental Guest House (253153, 250616), Sambhala (252607, 253500), Siachen Hotel (252586/057), Snow View (250153, 252504), Spic ‘N’ Span (252765, 251125), Tso Moriri Hotel (250112, 251456).
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 in the Leh landscape that offers the very best of world cuisines at very competitive rate. Apart from European and Tibetan cuisine, one is also likely to come across restaurants dishing out Israeli delicacies. For Tibetan cuisine drop in at Tibetan Kitchen or Amdo Café. For Continental and Mughlai fare, Summer Harvest is a good option. For mouth watering Kashmeri 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. The later is famed for its Pastas and Banana Pancakes.
What to Buy:
While in Leh, most visitors are fascinated by the indigenously manufactured handicraft items and Tibetan jewelry. Carpets and rugs too are a rage with the visitors. A thriving fake antiquities racket is in existence at Leh and so be very careful when it comes to purchasing carpets and Tibetan items. 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 curiosities.
On Your Ascent to Nubra Valley
To get the most out 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 Kms to reach Nubra Valley. Take the road North East of Leh and go past Khardungla Pass. You will encounter Shyok River After crossing the Shyok River, you will come across a bifurcation. If you take the road to the right, it will take you to the villages of Sumur, Tegar and Panamik while the road to the left extends all the way to the villages of Diskit and Hundar. Most visitors take the road to the left.
Khardungla Pass is famous for being the world’s highest motorable road and is located at a distance of 50 Kms. from Leh. After crossing this high altitude Pass, you will come across three intriguing Ladhaki 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 6000 metres 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 Ladhaki folks. Chances are that you will be ushered into their modest mountain huts and offered the traditional brew – “Chang”. The more courteous ones go that extra mile and offer a sumptuous Ladhaki meal. It is believed that the kitchen is surprisingly the most important place in any Ladhaki house. It is not only a place to warm yourself up from the freezing cold but also a place where the entire family meets and offers their prayers. Centuries back, Nubra Valley was an integral part of the overland trade route to Tibet and present day Turkmenistan and if you are traveling 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 lake extends to 40 miles and large parts of it lies in China, the Tso Moriri is all of 15/5 mile and is home to endangered bird species. The lucky ones may even sight the rare and elusive Himalayan Wild Ass “Kyang”.
Guidelines for Visitors
(1) Inner Line Permits to be obtained from the District Magistrate, Leh.
(2) Carry spare fuel as there are no petrol pumps.
(3) 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.
(4) A weather proof Swiss Tent is an absolute must, since there are no accommodations like hotels and resorts at Nubra Valley.
(5) Carry foodstuff like noodles and fresh vegetables/meat/fish etc… according to ones preference. A porter cum cook can be hired for the sake of convenience.
(6) First aid box with enough remedies for mountain sickness. Non-narcotic pain relievers (acetaminophen or paracetamol, ibuprofen) as well as throat lozenges.
(7) Vehicle Registration and Insurance Papers. Keep the Originals in your luggage while the photocopies may be kept in the vehicle’s dashboard.
(8) Carry Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Mat.
(9) A pair of torch light with good visibility.
(10) A binocular for mountain viewing.