December 30, 2017

Nubra Valley- The Pretty Land in Ladakh


From the snow clad mountains of Khardung La and North Pullu, the landscape changed to a low lying valley with the Shyok river flowing amidst it as I descended from the highest motorable road in the world. The road meandered its way around the mountains and so did the turquoise blue waters of Shyok river which snaked its way through the barren landscapes of Nubra Valley. Located close to Siachen Glacier, Nubra valley falls on the ancient trade route between India and Central Asia. Though it is referred as Nubra valley, the region is made of two valleys- Nubra valley and Shyok valley. The valley is popular for its sand dunes, bactrian camels and hot springs.

After gazing at the gorgeous landscape for a while I rode further to Diskit, one of the two main towns in the valley, the other being Hundar. Most travellers make Diskit their base and then travel to places such as Hundar, Panamik and Sumur. Checked into Kangloma retreat late in the afternoon and then headed to the 14th century Diskit gompa. Perched atop a hill, the monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect and is the oldest in Nubra valley. I walked around the monastery going up many steps and past numerous small structures. There were a couple of monks and one of them was kind enough to open the main prayer hall and also show me the protector room. The walls have mural works and the interiors are colourful with a huge statue of crowned Buddha amidst numerous religious scripts. The monastery also offers nice views of the surrounding plains and the mountains in the backdrop making it an ideal place to enjoy the sunset. The huge Maitreya statue can also be spotted from the monastery. 








Enroute the Maitreya statue, a monk enquired about my travel after seeing a Karnataka registration vehicle. Apparently he was in Namdroling monastery in Coorg for a few months and uttered a couple of words in Kannada to let me know that he hasn’t forgotten the language. The 32 feet tall Maitreya sits peacefully with a calm face staring at the vast landscapes in front of him. There are also three colourful chortens near the statue. I strolled around for a while gazing at the monastery atop the hill, the beautiful landscapes and the colourful statue amidst the serene setting. As the sun set, I headed back to Kangloma retreat.



Next day began early with a ride through the valley along the Shyok river. The blue waters looked breathtakingly beautiful making numerous small islets as it flowed through the valley. Each time I saw the blue waters, it reaffirmed that Shyok is the prettiest river in Ladakh. My guest house owner had recommended Sumur village for its Buddhist settlement and Panamik for the popular hot springs. More barren landscapes awaited as I crossed over Shyok river to Sumur. While the Zemskhang palace, amphitheatre and Charu monastery are more or less in a dilapidated condition, Samstanling monastery is quite well maintained and is home to a few monks and nuns. The large monastery has paintings on its walls and a colourful prayer hall. Though the monastery was devoid of visitors, a group of pilgrims walked in as I left the premises. The popular hot springs of Panamik did not excite me much and I skipped them to head back to Diskit through the panoramic landscapes of the valley.

 

 




A quick lunch later I was on my way further north of Diskit to Hundar, popular for its sand dunes and bactrian camels. The sand dunes are located a couple of kilometers before the town of Hundar and with gorgeous windswept designs, it gives a different perspective to the landscape. It seems like a fairy land amidst the otherwise barren landscape. The region also has seabuckthorn, a medicinal berry which can be seen across the landscape. The sand dunes are also home to the double humped bactrian camels with brown fur which are native to Central Asia. It is popularly believed that many bactrian camels were left here along the old trading route a few centuries ago and they have grown in numbers over the years. While most of them are domesticated, there are still a few out in the wild.




A large crowd waited patiently as the camels trudged through the landscape after a lazy afternoon meal. The brown furred camels lazed around for a while after which most of them had a enthusiastic rider atop and then they went away for rides as short as half an hour to the long ones which lasted one hour. As I was not keen on a ride, I walked up the sand dunes to see the camels walk away into the desert and envisaged the days when this stretch was an active trading route between India and Central Asia. The sun retired slowly as I gazed at the landscape for long, and I made my way back to Diskit.

 



Despite being a part of Ladakh, Nubra and Shyok valleys are quite contrasting from the common landscapes of Ladakh. While the valley and Shyok river are charming, the monasteries and sand dunes lend a sense of serenity to this mountain region.

Navigator:

Diskit is 117 Kms from Leh and can be covered in 5-6 hours. The closest airport is at Leh and there are also bus services between the two towns. Hundar is 12 Kms and Sumur is 32 Kms from Diskit.

Food and Accommodation:

There are a few small restaurants in Diskit town which serves both Indian and Tibetan cuisine. Diskit offers numerous guest houses and small hotels. I stayed at Kangloma retreat which is just before the town of Diskit. The place is nice and well recommended.

December 22, 2017

Popular Lakes of Ladakh


Ladakh is often referred as the land of high passes where gargantuan snow capped mountains offer encapsulating vistas. While the mountains can seem intimidating, numerous panoramic lakes which also form an integral part of Ladakh’s landscapes are absolutely serene and ethereal. Many of these high altitude lakes are sparsely populated and home to the nomadic Changpas who roam around with their yaks.  While Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri are the most popular ones, there are more lakes in Ladakh, some which are known only to the locals. With multiple shades of blue shimmering against the brown mountains and blue skies, these lakes look surreal and are a major attraction in Ladakh. Permits are required to visit Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar, and it can be obtained from DC office in Leh.

Pangong Tso:

Pangong Tso is probably the most visited lake in Ladakh and its popularity can be attributed to the movie, 3 Idiots which was shot here. With a length of 134 Kms and located at a height of 14,764 feet, it is the largest saltwater lake in Asia. Apparently, only one-third of the lake lies in India and the remaining two-third is geographically a part of Tibet. The electric blue colour of the lake stands out amidst the brown mountains in the background to form gorgeous frames from all angles. Pangong Tso comes under the Changthang cold desert sanctuary and is home to a few avian species. While coming from Leh, it is a strenuous climb to Chang La, the third highest mountain pass in Ladakh, and then descends through the mud tracks to Pangong Tso. The first glimpse of the lake through the barren mountains is an eye popping one, and slowly the humongous lake spreads out with myriad shades of blue and green. The first village you hit is Lukung and further ahead is Spangmik village. Both the places have numerous restaurants and options to stay. Pangong Tso is 170 Kms away from Leh and can also be covered in a day without a night halt.






Tso Ltak:

Tso Ltak can be spotted from a distance as you ride towards Pangong Tso. A speck of blue amidst the brown mountains is all that you can see, but slowly opens up as you near it. Located at a height of more than 16.600 feet, the lake is just a few kilometers ahead of Chang la pass and appears on the right as you ride down. The lake is small in comparison with the other popular lakes of Ladakh and is often skipped by visitors while heading to Pangong Tso. One can go boating in the waters and there is also a refreshment shop next to it. Accommodation options are also available here.



Tso Moriri:

Amidst the staggering 18,000 feet tall mountains, Tso Moriri sits peaceful with various shades of blue accentuating its charm. Stretching over 19 Kms, the brackish lake is located in the Changthang plateau and is the largest lake in Ladakh. With marshes and wetland areas, a part of the lake forms the Tso Moriri wetland conservation reserve. The wetlands are breeding ground to the endangered black necked crane and bar headed goose. Kiangs or wild asses are also sometimes found along the banks of the lake. Located 240 Kms to the south east of Leh, it is a long ride along Indus river and past villages such as Mahe and Sumdo to Korzok, the closest village to the lake. A couple of kilometers away, the open lands are home to the nomadic Changpas who live with their herd of yaks. Korzok village also has a monastery, Dupgyat Tantar Chhosling monastery which offers nice views of the lake and the surrounding areas. As the evening sets, moonrise over the expansive lake and the towering mountains look gorgeous.  Korzok village has numerous small eateries and budget options for stay. Temperature here plummets often to sub zero degrees at night.










Tso Kar:

Located at a height of more than 14,949 feet, Tso Kar is situated to the north of Tso Moriri. Another home ground for the Changpas, the lake gets its name from the salt pans present along its banks. Surrounded by mountains and salt pans, the light blue coloured salt water lake is 9 sq kms in size.  The lake is made up of two water bodies- Startsapuk Tso and Tso Kar, and is home to a variety of avian species such as brahminy duck, brown headed gull, bar headed goose etc. The route from Tso Moriri to Tso Kar runs through the Changthang wildlife sanctuary and the chances of spotting Kiangs (wild asses) are quite high. Himalayan blue sheep and marmots are also commonly found here. The region was used by Changpas to collect salt and even export them until a few decades ago.There are only a couple of options to stay near Tso Moriri. The monastery near the lake offers panoramic vistas of the surroundings. One is also likely to spot Kiangs near the monastery. Tso Kar is 185 Kms from Leh.








Kyagar Tso:

As you near Tso Moriri, Kyagar Tso slowly opens up in front of you and spreads itself as the road winds its way around it. This is a salt water lake and is usually given a miss as visitors are in a hurry to reach Tso Moriri. Sitauated at a height of more than 13,100 feet, Kyagar Tso is comparatively a smaller lake but that does not make it less beautiful by any means. The lake has a gorgeous location with snow clad mountains in the backdrop, and is home to nomadic tribes and fauna such as yaks, horses, marmots and sheep. There are no accommodation options available near Kyagar Tso.




There are more lakes in Ladakh apart from the ones above and many of them remain unknown.

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