Day 8 – 9: Nubra Valley – The Desert among Mountains
We woke up early the next morning to get an early head-start to Nubra Valley. The conditions of the mountain roads can change within minutes, if the weather decides to play spoilsport. Leaving early is always beneficial, especially in-case of road blocks. The highlight of this trip is crossing the world’s highest motorable pass, ‘Khardung La’. We had already clocked 4 main passes in our journey to Leh, therefore traversing mountain passes had become a regular feature for inter-destination travel in the region. It took us about 3 to 4 hours to reach summit of the mountain pass. At an altitude of 18,000 ft above sea level; the panoramic views of the snowcapped mountain ranges are truly spectacular. The sight of the multicoloured prayer flags fluttering in the cool mountain winds is not one to be missed. There is a small monastery to visit, if you’re up for some climbing activity. For those who aren’t acclimatized yet, breathing will be a challenge in this mountain pass. Unfortunately, like most of the mountain passes, there is no makeshift medical camp at the pass itself if you begin to feel unwell. Most vehicles take a short pit-stop here to grab a bite to eat at a hotel at this pass, which has rightfully earned the unique honour of being the only hotel at the world’s highest mountain pass. It serves piping hot Maggi noodles (shouldn’t be a surprise by now) and hot ginger lemon tea. On our journey down the mountain pass; we were stalled for half an hour due to a major road block. It’s truly incredible the way the border roads organisation (BRO) works relentlessly to clear road blocks in these mountains. The line of vehicles had among them many army trucks and the soldiers stepped out to enjoy the scenery for a while. After many minutes, we finally proceeded further. Once again the scenery changed dramatically. As we entered Diskit in Hunder, the terrain turned sandy with pale brown mountains in the distance. Coupled with the clear blue skies and pockets of white clouds; the landscape resembled a painting. The distances are vast in the valley with few transport options. The locals generally hitch rides with tourist vehicles or depend on those who have transport. On our way we gave a lift to three cheery women who were more than happy to get a free ride.
We stopped at the serene Buddhist monastery dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava. Set across a backdrop of the surreal mountains and near-white sands; the giant statue of the presiding deity forms an imposing structure. As with most monasteries, it is believed circling the sanctum sanctorum clockwise is auspicious. Situated in a rocky mountain; the monks quarters were intriguing. While I stayed back in the car conversing with the driver, Basil ventured further to discover the often hidden chambers of the monks. Located a few kilometres further were the sand dunes and the Bactarian camels in the Nubra Valley. We decided to check-in our camp in the village before heading back to the dunes. Royal Camps is a collection of tents pitched along a fast flowing rivulet which supplies water to the village. Our tent was adjacent to the rivulet and a hammock strung between two trees, was inviting. The sand dunes turned out to be buzzing with tourists. The otherwise quite mountainscapes were now polluted with a lot of noisy tourists. Camel rides were quite popular among the excited travellers. After soaking up the mountains; we decided to walk to our camp. On the way we met a small girl with her mother. The little girl couldn’t stop staring at me and I asked her mum if I could take her picture. By the time we reached the camp, it was late evening . The temperature had dropped significantly and the water seemed to be gushing rapidly down the rivulet. After dinner we sat near the rivulet to admire the starless sky. The moon was spectacular among the white clouds.
Day 10: Local Sightseeing Thiksey Monastery and She Palace
Day 11 Pangong