Day 3 – Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass

We woke up real early in the morning, and had enough time to just freshen up before heading out with our bags. We had no time to take a shower because our driver wanted to leave for Nubra at 5:30 am, as narrated in the previous blog post. Our homestay cook was kind enough to provide us with tea/milk even at such an early hour. Surely, he must have woken up earlier than usual. Rigzin, our driver, did not disappoint. He was at the gate by 5:30 am. We quickly loaded up and drove straight to Khardungla road.

The weather was absolutely fantastic that day. There was no cloud in the sky and the roads were empty. There was no traffic whatsoever, and we realized why leaving early was a great decision. We were past the unmanned check-post in no time and started climbing the mountains via Khardungla road after a few minutes. Army convoys are known to drive along the Khardungla Pass and have a bit of a reputation for going slow while also releasing black smoke, which makes people nauseous. We did not have to deal with any of that thankfully. After a while, we started to spot snow. The higher we went, the denser was the snow cover. Then, a few kms from the top of the pass, the entire road was covered in snow. There must have been a good 2-3 inches of snow on the middle section of the road, as the tire marks had cleared the snow on the sides where cars would roll by. We saw icicles frozen on the sides, and the air temperature near the top was very cold.

driving to khardungla road

                                                    (driving towards Khardungla Pass early morning)

morning drive to khardungla

                                                    (winding roads on Khardungla Rd – early morning)

khardungla pass snow

                                                          (increasing snow cover as we head to K-top)

khardungla pass top

                                                                           (near K-top in April end)

icicles along khardungla pass

                                                             (lots of icicles along Khardungla Pass)

On reaching K-top or the top of Khardungla pass, we got out of the car and took some amazing pictures. It was extremely cold at the top, about -10 to -12C for sure. But the good thing was that there was no wind that early in the morning, and there was only 1 other car at the top besides us. So, the K-top area was not crowded as it normally is, and we could enjoy the surreal surroundings in peace and comfort. After about 10 minutes, we headed back inside the car and drove down. It is not advisable to stay at K-top for too long because the air at 18000+ feet is very thin. The roads during the descent are pretty winding and can make people nauseous. We felt a bit weird too, but still managed to hold ourselves pretty good. We reached Khardung village after driving for a few kms, and the driver decided to stop for a breakfast break. The ambience of the village was absolutely stunning. We met a 90-year-old lady on the road who walked for lots of kilometers to visit a shrine. She had a “malaa” in her hands and was praying as she was walking. We had brought some bread and snacks with us, and we ate some of that for breakfast. The sun was shining down and the air was very clean. It felt great.

khardungla pass top

                                              (at the top of Khardungla Pass, lots of snow everywhere)

khardungla top prayer flags

                                            (prayer flags and a temple at the top of Khardungla Pass)

khardungla top

                                                                  (K-top, at 18300 feet was very cold)

khardungla top sign

                                                    (sign marking the top point of Khardungla Pass)

khardungla village

                                                          (incredible setting of Khardungla Village)

khardungla village

                                                 (classic Himalayan surroundings of Khardungla Village)

The road beyond Khardungla village was very winding and within an hour, 2 members of our traveling party threw up. I was also feeling a bit dodgy but somehow managed to hold on. Once we were off the mountain pass and beyond Khalsar, the roads were flat and straight. Most of the drive from that point onwards ran along the beautiful greenish-blue Shyok river. The area between Khalsar and Diskit especially had special vibes. There was flat open terrain on one side with nothing but empty land till the mountains sprang up in the distance. But the joy and comfort of the straight roads was short-lived, as they turned winding again. About 5kms from Diskit, I also threw up as I could not hold it any longer. My advice from this experience is to not eat much when you travel to Nubra valley.

descending into nubra

                                                                     (driving towards Khalsar)

near nubra valley

                                             (Shayok river, making its way through the flat terrain)

nubra valley

                                                                         (what a place, what a road)

As we were driving to Diskit, we noticed sand dunes. There were little tents set up in the area, and they had ATVs for rides. One could pay Rs. 1200 for a few minutes of ATV fun. It seemed a little too expensive for 10-15 minutes of fun, and we decided to give it a pass. Upon reaching Diskit Village, we visited Diskit monastery, as the driver wanted us to finish all the Nubra related activities on Day 3 itself. That way, we have a totally free day the next day to visit Turtuk. So, even though we were a bit tired and had not showered, we drove up a hill to Diskit monastery. The monastery is situated on a hill along the highway and it has a big Buddha statue which is visible even from the highway at the foot of the hill. There was a temple at the monastery and a praying area outside, where the statue of Buddha was located. The locals who had come to pray were performing an interesting routine. There would stand on a wooden plank and then lie flat on their stomach and pray, then they would get up and pray and then lie down again. They would all do this about 3 times. I also decided to give it a try and performed the routine. It was good exercise too, getting up and lying down repeatedly. For those who aren’t that interested in the religious side of things, the Diskit monastery also has a viewing area near the statue which provides some stunning views of Nubra Valley.

nubra valley

                                                                          (driving towards Diskit)

view from diskit monastery

                                                  (taken while climbing up the hill of Diskit monastery)

diskit monastery

        (you cannot miss Diskit monastery as the statue if visible from far away)

buddha statue at diskit

                                    (at Diskit monastery)

pray at diskit monastery

                                                               (locals praying at Diskit monastery)

view from diskit

                                                              (spectacular view from Diskit monastery)

Next, we drove to Hunder village. Most of the hotels in Nubra Valley are located in Hunder, and most tourists also tend to stay there. It is a small village next to the sand dunes. We had not made any reservations in Hunder but knew a couple of hotel names from our research. One of our researched hotels was Snow Leopard. We headed there and decided to take a look at the rooms. We liked what we saw, and we just loved the front garden which the hotel had. There were apple and apricot trees and a glacier water stream running on the side. Since it was spring season, there were no fruits on the trees. But there were plenty of flowers and spring blossoms and the ambience was just awesome. Another good thing about Snow Leopard was that every room had a balcony. It was warm enough during daytime to be able to sit in the balcony and enjoy the amazing views of the Himalayas. So, Snow Leopard is a highly recommended hotel option if you visit Nubra Valley.

hotel snow leopard hunder

                                                                  (Hotel Snow Leopard in Hunder)

garden outside snow leopard

                   (front garden at Hotel Snow Leopard with glacial water stream running down the side)

balcony at hotel snow leopard hunder

                                                       (a balcony for every room at Hotel Snow Leopard)

view from hotel snow leopard hunder

                                                                  (view from the balcony of our room)

keys of hotel snow leopard hunder

                                                (Hotel Snow Leopard in Hunder)

Since we hadn’t bathed in the morning, we were desperate to do so. Hot water was available all day at Snow Leopard and it felt great to finally take a hot shower. After a shower, we went down for lunch, which was simple but adequate. There was an ingredient crunch going on because of low winter stock, and considering the circumstances, the lunch was good. After lunch, we rested for a bit and then met the driver at 3 pm. He drove us to the sand dunes, which was a short 5-minute ride from our hotel. Being on the dunes was absolutely incredible. Where else in the world would you see a dessert in a high altitude alpine region? The main attraction at the sand dunes is the Bactrian Camel. These are cold dessert camels which originally migrated from Mongolia. There are two unique features which allow you to differentiate them from a normal camel. Firstly, they have 2 humps on their back instead of 1, and secondly, they have thick fur in certain areas which allows them to withstand the cold weather. Most tourists like to enjoy a 20 minute ride on these camels.

sand dunes hunder

                                                              (the famous sand dunes of Hunder)

sand dunes hunder nubra

                                      (this sand did not stick to the body, it was different than normal sand)

bactrian camel nubra hunder

                                                                     (the two-humped Bactrian camel)

Besides the camel ride, there isn’t a whole lot to do at the dunes (or in Hunder for that matter). Someone had set up a volleyball net when we visited the dunes. So, one can join a game of volleyball if you are looking to spend more time at the dunes. The important thing when visiting the sand dunes is that it should not be windy. Only then will you be able to enjoy this place. If it is windy, there will be lots of sand blowing all over the place, and it won’t be as much fun as it would be on a clear day.

view from sand dunes nubra hunder

                                                                (the landscapes were incredible)

view from sand dunes nubra hunder

                                                                         (picture perfect postcard)

volleyball at sand dunes hunder

                                                       (someone set this up and were playing volleyball!)

We took some pictures, walked about in the dunes and then decided to head back to Hunder. Diskit Monastery and the sand dunes are the two most known attractions in Nubra Valley. Other than those two, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the area. Nubra Valley is more for relaxing in a peaceful calm environment, amidst nature. If you have some extra time or a spare day, then you can visit Sumur village and Panamik (known for its hot springs). We did not have any plans to visit Panamik or Sumur. So, we just relaxed at our hotel instead, sitting in the front garden and taking pictures of the blossoms.

apricot blossoms nubra

                                                      (the blossoms under the spring sun were just beautiful)

apple blossoms nubra

                                                                      (apple blossoms – so pretty)

Night time got pretty cold in Hunder. Electricity was available only from 7 pm to 11 pm and there was no heating/heater provided in the room. The dining hall of the hotel was by far the coldest place in the entire premises, because it was located on the ground floor with absolutely no sunlight penetration. Hence it would never warm up, not even during lunch. Eating dinner there was a freezing experience, and we ate with all our jackets and warm hats on. But the dinner provided was not bad – there was hot soup, two vegetables, roti, rice, dal and even a sweet dish. The staff at Snow Leopard Hunder did a wonderful job in providing decent food and service in such difficult weather.

After dinner, we stepped out to view the night sky. Due to the clean air and low light pollution, we could see lots of stars in the pitch black sky. It was fantastic. We were cold after a few minutes and so we headed back to our room. All hotel rooms had a TV and Tata Sky connection. We watched TV for a little bit before calling it a night, as we were scheduled to visit another highly rated destination the next day, Turtuk Village.

 

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