I was literally and metaphorically on top of the world. First was the extremely dangerous yet scenic roads. The second was the stretch of glacial snow on the sides. And the third was the majestic snow-clad mountains touching the mesmerizing blue sky that made me feel ecstatic. Yes, we were driving through Khardung La, the Pass which is the world’s highest motorable road. Khardung La Top is 18380 feet above sea level and 30kms from Leh (11500 feet), the capital of Ladakh. Khardung La is the gateway to the Y-shaped Nubra Valley (10000 feet). Today I am going to write about the best things to do in Nubra Valley.
Nubra Valley is formed at the meeting point of the Nubra River and the Shyok River, both flowing from the Siachen Glacier. This valley separates the Ladakh Range and the Karakoram. Diskit, the Head Quarters of Nubra, is 140 km from Leh. Inner Line Permit, issued at Leh, is required at the check posts on the way, mainly at North and South Pullu. These are the two check posts before and after Khardung La. Near both these check posts, we noticed lots of yaks.
The 5 hours’ hectic drive from Leh to Nubra could take much longer depending on the weather which keeps changing dramatically. Hence carrying ample warm clothes (dressing in layers), sunglasses, dry food, dry fruits, energy bar and water are absolute necessities. There is a dearth of oxygen at Khardung La. So even if one feels super excited, it is important to restrict the time and activities at the Khardung La Top, which is a mandatory halt for tourists. Getting a photograph at this iconic spot is definitely a compulsory activity.
There are 2 parts to the Nubra Valley as the road bifurcates from the village of Khalsar- one along the River Nubra with Sumer, Tiger and Pramanik, as villages of tourist interests and the other is the more popular route; the area along the Shyok River with Diskit, Hunder and Turtuk as the major places of interest.
Let me first take you along the more popular route and tell you about the things to do in Nubra Valley.
Explore Diskit, the Head Quarter of Nubra Valley. It is a lovely mountain village with patches of green. Colourful prayer flags flutter; the little houses have stone walls with ‘Aum Mani Padme Hum’ engraved. Chortens are seen here and there. And massive prayer wheels for community worship stand at various spots. This place has many homestays and hotels.
You can’t miss the 106 feet (32 metres) tall Maitreya Buddha statue on a hilltop, overseeing the Nubra Valley. The iconic statue stands like the guardian protecting the village; it faces Pakistan, symbolizing prevention of further war and world peace. His Holiness, Dalai Lama inaugurated the majestic statue in 2010. From the hilltop, one can have a 360-degree view of the picturesque valley.
Opposite to the statue, one can see the 14th-century Diskit Monastery which is the oldest and the largest monastery in Northern Ladakh. It is a perfect Tibetan box structured gompa, perched on the edges of the cliffs. The monastery houses ancient scriptures and sculptures, murals and thangkas. Visit the monastery to get the bird’s eye views of the village below.
Hunder, The Cold Desert
Drive to Hunder; it is 7kms (20 minutes’) drive from Diskit. Hunder is the only place in India where you can get snow-capped mountains and white sand dunes of a desert in one frame. Yes, Hunder is a cold desert. There is another thing absolutely unique to Hunder; the double-humped Bactrian camels.
In the pre-Christian era, Hunder used to be a part of the ancient trade route, the Old Silk Route. It was then that these camels started coming to India from Central Asia. Experience the Camel Safari. The panoramic view of the gigantic mountains against the sky, as blue as possible, and the white dunes; will reverberate in your mind for long. There are some tents to stay at Hunder. Besides camel ride, another attraction is to dress up like the locals. If you can fight the chilly bitter cold of the night; the starry night sky at Hunder will be etched in your memory forever.
Turtuk is the last outpost of India and is in the only Baltistan region under Indian Administration. It is a gateway to the Siachen Glacier. The culture of this village is different from that of the rest of Ladakh as they have Balti influence. This is why visiting Turtuk is one of the major things to do in Nubra Valley. The Turtuk Museum and Balti Heritage House and Museum are interesting places with exhibits telling ancient stories. The historic polo ground; the simple friendly people, especially the children; the apricots and the breathtaking views of the Shyok are intriguing. Turtuk has some homestays, but from my experience, it is best to make a day trip to Turtuk from Diskit.
To cover the route along Shyok River, inclusive of Turtuk, requires two nights. To add the route along the Nubra River would require another night at least
One of the best things to do in Nubra Valley is to visit the valley’s largest village, Sumur – along the Nubra River. Visit the Samstanling Monastery and further travel to Panamik to explore the hot springs and the sacred Lake. Summer is a picturesque village, with green fields of buckwheat, barley and mustard. Sumur has a decent number of accommodations. On the way to Panamik from Sumur; stop by the ruins of the enormous Zamskhang Palace at Tiger.
Soak into the beauty and therapeutic essence of the hot springs of Panamik. You can take a dip to rejuvenate your mind and body. Besides the sulphur springs, Panamik is famous for pashmina goats, apricots and apples.
Trekking to Ensa Gompa and Yarab Tso are some of the things to do in Nubra Valley. Yarab Tso is a serene lake with crystal clear water, revered by the locals. The trek from Panamik to Yarab Tso takes about 20 minutes uphill. While the trek to Ensa Gompa is long and takes about 6 hours.
One of the unique things to do in Nubra Valley is to take an ATV (All-terrain Vehicle) ride on the white sand dunes of Khalsar, the point from where the road to Nubra bifurcates. This is a lifetime experience. Sitting by the gurgling Shyok River at Khalsar one can experience tranquillity at its best.
Nubra Valley, the orchard of Ladakh, is one of the most scenic and interesting places in Ladakh. Ladakh means the land of high passes and it is well experienced when one travels from Leh to Nubra. This is one of the most dangerous roads and at the same time one of the most scenic roads in the world. The roads remain open for six months (May-October) and driving/riding on these roads is a car/biking enthusiast’s dream. We are grateful to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the Indian Army for maintenance of these roads and for fulfilling dreams of several travellers like us, all across the world.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.