Day No. 7 & 8. Leh – Nubra Valley – Leh
Face No. 6 – Gold Standard Hospitality
Face No. 7 – Courageous Perseverance
When I came from Pangong Tso Lake, I thought I had seen it all and nothing can match its beauty. But when you are in Ladakh, be ready to be bedazzled, every single moment. The breath-taking Ladakh highways are the real highway to paradise that can only be described when you are riding on a Bullet on the highest passes in the world.
One thing unique about Ladakhis is they have Gold Standard of Hospitality, in spite of staying in the most inhospitable land. I wanted to have a Royal Enfield experience on the highest motorable road of the world. And James made sure I experience it.
After a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast of Samosa Cholla and Aloo ka parantha at Skara Punjabi Dhaba, near Leh Petrol Pump, I headed off to Nubra Valley. The route that I took from Leh to Nubra Valley is as follows:
Leh – Khardung La - Khalsar – Diskit - Hunder
Around 150 kms from Leh (5 hours), the route went through extreme ups and downs. The road was well maintained with no potholes in sight. I passed a bunch of cyclists, mostly foreigners, on their way up, huffing and puffing but persevering. Within an hour I reached South Pullu check post, at the base of Khardungla.
Leh is at approx. 11,500 feet elevation and Khardung La at 18,500 feet. The distance between the two places is just 40 kms. So, you gain a lot of altitude in a very short span of time. Hence it is prone to getting altitude sickness! But thankfully I had no such problem. The climb suddenly became steep and hazardous. However, the Enfield purred on effortlessly, leaving a cloud of dust.
BRO guys were doing road maintenance. So we had to wait for half an hour. I utilised the time to give rest to my bum and soak myself in the incredible beauty of the breathtakingly marvelous landscape.
After a bumpy ride, I was literally at the highest point of my trip. The excitement levels were higher than 18,500 feet height. Khardung La Top towered over its neighbours and the valleys around looked dangerously deep. Lesser peaks played peek-a-boo around the clouds. Snow clad mountains were shining like diamonds. All around me, were naked mountains with no greenery. Rocks of various colours - pitch black, browns, bottle green, blue, grey, yellow and white.
So clear was the air, so large the canvas, so vivid the colours, any photograph taken here was bound to look a masterpiece. I was shivering but I couldn't stop capturing the beauty around me. Finally James told me that we are advised not to stay there for more than half an hour as AMS can strike us anytime. So after a quick pee break at a messy loo, I headed to Rinchen cafeteria.
A warm cosy restaurant run by Army, supposedly the highest cafeteria in the world, offers you soupy Maggi and hot black tea. Tibetan lamps, flags and curtains adorned the little café. By the sheer number of mountain bikes and Royal Enfield Bullets it seemed like Khardungla Top was adventurers’ paradise. There is an also a small mandir and souvenirs shop run by army here.
After Pee-Tea-Maggi-photo break, we started descending on to the northern side of Khardungla towards Nubra valley. The road suddenly became hazardous and dusty. The glacial melts had washed away the tar of the road and boulders of various sizes were strewn all over the path. However, the descent opened up the picturesque sights of a wide river basin. The Nubra River, a tributary of the Shyok River, meandered in a shallow delta over sands. I was mesmerised by the magic of the Master Weaver.
Few kms ahead from Khalsar the road bifurcated into two, road on the left led to Diskit while the road on the right went to Panamik. After paying the entry fee of Rupees Forty towards the Wildlife Protection, the National Park/Sanctuary, we moved ahead to Diskit. A group of 10-15 bikers all in 40+ age group from Karnataka joined us.
We were famished. So we halted at CHO Café & Restaurant, Diskit for a lunch break. It was the first place that offered variety but the long wait made the haathi ghoda bhook more acute. We could do nothing but salivate at our foreign counterparts’ food plates. Anyway, after feeding ourselves and the Himalayan dogs, we moved ahead towards Hunder Village.
Nubra Valley is a land of contrasts. It is one of the few fertile green places in Ladakh. Paradoxically, it also has the only sand dunes in Ladakh. Spread over a few hectares on my right, I passed large breast-shaped sand dunes. On my left were spikey pinnacles of mountains of different shades of purple, yellow, brown, green and white rock.
After reaching Hunder, I started looking for a place to stay over. After knocking at few doors, I settled for Jamshed Guesthouse. It turned out to be my Home Away from Home. The owner of the house, Jamshed, was extremely sweet and warm. He offered me the room with the best view.
After freshening up and having the much-needed garma-garam chai, I was out to explore the much famous Sand Dunes and Double Hump Camel Safari. But I was shocked to see the plight of the poor Bacterian Camels. The place looked like a fish market. There were huge queues for the ride. Camels were not even given a moment's rest between the rides. So I decided to give camel ride a miss and instead marveled at the brilliant view.
After photo-ops, we headed towards the Hunder village. But we didn’t park ourselves at our guesthouse, we kept riding in the interiors. Everywhere there was a sweet fragrance of ripped apricots and apples. Adjacent to the serpent like road, an irrigation canal was flowing. The gurgling water was clear, icy cold brought straight from the glaciers nearby. We decided to ride through the cobbled streets. The beautiful kids with porcelain skin and blues eyes waved at us. The Sunset was an enchanting affair. The high mountains cast brilliant dark shadows, while the mountain tips were lit up in orange hues. It was like an amalgamation of day and night. The sound of music played on by dhug-dhug-dhug of the Royal Enfield, gurgling sound of the canal and twittering of birds.
After roaming around till the end of the village, where the pakka road gave way to kaccha road, we returned to our Guesthouse. And I was exposed to the most humane side of Nubra. The staff was extremely courteous and generous. ‘No’ didn't exist in their dictionary. They practised Gold Standard Hospitality in the most inhospitable land. When I requested for an apple and apricot from their kitchen garden, they gave me kilos of them. I had never tasted tastier fruit than those.
The young boy Musa, owner's son, was a charmer. He had startling blue eyes, black hair and ruddy cheeks. Staying in Nubra by no means meant he was less fashionable. He wore a Nirvana T-shirt, a neck wrap and a fake Rayban sunglasses, which he bought for 1000 bucks thinking he was buying an original one.
After indulging in small talks with the staff, we ordered the dinner. All vegetables were organic and freshly plucked from the kitchen garden. Musa, the smiling assassin, brought our dinner and as he unveiled the covered plates, I almost had an orgasm! The palak paneer looked absolutely fresh and fabulous. The navratna korma was too appetising. I was fully satiated. Sleep came easy on a full stomach and a tired body.
However, in the middle of the night when I woke up and looked out of the window, I saw the night sky studded with sapphires. I could just reach out and grab a fistful. But the cosy bed was too cosy to allow me to get out of it. I happily retreated to my dreamland.
Next morning, as I crawled out of my cosy bed and opened the door, the fragrance of fresh air filled my lungs. I went out and sat on the garden plastic chair. Took a deep breath of the fresh air and felt it surging into each tiny pocket of my lungs. After a hearty breakfast of gobhi ka parantha, we went about doing the usual visitor business – visiting Diskit Monastery, Panamik village hot springs and Yarab Tso Lake.
After tick marking all the places, we headed towards Leh. Had a tea-pee-Maggi break again at Rinchen cafeteria. There I met two KIWI girls who had specially come from New Zealand to do mountain biking in Ladakh. In mere nine days they had covered the journey from Manali-Leh-Khardungla. I was mighty impressed by their courage and perseverance.
So on my 7th and 8th day in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, I discovered two lovely faces of humanity:
- Gold Standard Hospitality
- Courageous Perseverance
End of Chapter 6 and 7 /11
To be continued…
Old Chapters from '11 DAYS IN LADAKH. 11 FACES OF BEAUTY.' If you haven't read them before, Here are the links:
- Travel Season: May to August is the peak tourist season. But if you really want to see the Nubra Valley in full bloom without the hustle bustle of tourists, then visit in September
- How to Reach Nubra: by road. Best is to ride an Enfield which can be hired for INR 1000/1200/1500 depending on the Engine CC you choose. In case you want yo avoid the dust then you can book shared taxis and private taxis from Leh itself. They charge 2200 per head. And can even arrange for your stay at Hunder.
- Food & Accommodation: There are few Dhabas in Khardoong & Diskit Villages. You must stay over for a night in either Hunder or Diskit. Hunder has guest houses and campsites. Diskit has homestays option. Check with Himalayan-homestays.com, or www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com
- Things to see in Nubra Valley
- Diskit has a monastery which is largest and oldest Buddhist monastery in Nubra Valley and houses a 106 feet tall Maitrey Buddha statue. There is Lachung Temple as well which is quite close to monastery.
- Hunder is famous for its sand dunes and double humped Bacterian Camel Safari.
- Sumur: Somewhere between Sumur and Kyagar, you can visit Samstanling monastery.
- Panamik has hot water springs and a sacred Yarab Tso lake nearby the entrance of the village
- Turtuk: About 95 KMs from Diskit, was opened in 2010 for domestic tourists and in 2013 for foreign tourists. Since it was earlier in Pakistan therefore it is quite different landscape wise and culture wise from the rest of the landscape in Nubra Valley