From the orchards and greenery through the rugged mountains into an unearthly desert. Not trying to be poetic or philosophical. After our one of a kind journey to Leh, we set out from from our guesthouse covered in orange trees through more incredible Ladakh terrain towards Nubra Valley for a night. It was another clear sunny day that made for magnificent viewing of the mountain scape as we embarked upon an uphill journey gaining altitude at a rapid rate towards Khardung La. On our way we were taken aback to see travellers (only foreigners) taking a bike ride up and down this extremely steep low altitude stretch between Leh & Khardung La. This was before the days of Redbull F1 car drive in this very stretch. However I made a mental note of it on the to-do list when I return to Ladakh.
In a few hours we had approached Khardung La, which is incorrectly claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world at 5602m (18,379ft) as per the signboard. Actual height measured by DGPS is closer to 5,359 m (17,582 ft). We stopped there to take in the location, the elevated view and the rarified atmosphere. We had a hot coffee (or tea, dont remember exactly) from “the highest cafeteria in the world”.
In the midst of all this we got a glimpse of the worst of “Indian tourist” behaviour. For the uninititiated, typical Indian tourists, especially families, are a pet peeve of mine. Their behaviour and habits as tourists i think can be quite disgraceful often and the fact that it in a way reflects on me due to being of the same nationality bothers me to no end. This is a theme that we shall return in this travellogue often enough. In this particular case we had a large-ish Indian couples group who were taking the case of the guide very aggressively making a scene. And for what. Insufficient quantity of “aloo” in their nicely packed warm sandwiches! This also brought to mind and concurred with what our cook back in our guesthouse in Leh, Ram Singh, had mentioned. He was quite appreciative of the foreign tourists who appreciated the service provided to them contrary to their Indian counterparts. He also longed for the days before Bollywood movie – 3 Idiots had released which boosted domestic tourism to this place switching foreigner to Indian tourist ratio from 90:10 to 50:50.
After our coffee / tea we made the most of little bit of snow that Khardung La could offer. I consider no trip of mine to be complete without that snow moment and wasted no time sliding in.
As we descended into Ldumra (the valley of flowers), the original name of the Nubra Valley once again we were awestruck by the landscape that left us spellbound. The sandy desert soil in the midst of stunning formations that has formed over thousands of years told us why this place was popularly known as Moonland.
At Hunder, we got to to stroll around in the desert to our hearts content and for those so inclined there was the opportunity to explore the desert or even head out all the way to Diskit on a bactrian (double humped) camel. As the story goes these camels ended up here from Mongolia a few decades ago and given they are very well suited to the weather and terrain have been around ever since.
After a fun night with friends under a moonlight sky, we set out on the wat back the next day. First we headed out to Diskit to visit the Gompa (monastery). One of the landmarks of this region, it is the oldest and largest monastery in Nubra Valley and is spectacularly positioned on the hillside facing the valley. With spectacular view of endless terrain it made for a serene setting for monks to meditate peacefully I am sure.
Heading out from Diskit towards Leh, we were to encounter another stunning moment, a recurring feature in this trip, when we spotted a double circular rainbow. For a while we were too wonderstruck and baffled wondering how it even possible before flipping out our cameras to capture the sight but with very little success.
After this shock and awe moment we headed out in relative peace to Leh once again passing through Khardung La and reaching by evening. We ventured out into see the town and do a bit of souvenir shopping as next day we were to head out towards Pangong Tso.
Leh – Phyang – Khardung La – Khardung – Khalsar – Diskit – Hunder and back
P.S: Special thanks to my friends Bijesh & Dhanraj for capturing some of the most spectacular shots during the full trip and also to Shreelan whose detailed FB album helped me recap the trip before writing it down.