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.
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.