Welcome back for the third and last travel blog about Ladakh. Here we will be addressing the key tourist attractions that put Ladakh on the travel map - Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso. The itinerary for the next three days was to reach Nubra valley via Khardung La on the first day, drive to Pangong Tso the next day and drive back to Leh via Chang La.
We started our journey early morning to cover the travel distance within estimated time while also accommodating the traffic we might encounter at Khardung La top. Khardung La is one of the highest motorable pass on the Ladakh range, north of Leh and it connects the Indus (Sindhu) and Shyok river valleys. This pass was constructed in 1976 but opened for public in 1988.
Khardung La a,k.a Khardzong La (La is a Tibetan word for pass) has been identified as one of the key destinations in Ladakh due to its coveted title 'Highest motorable pass in the world' But did you know, this is one of the misguiding facts?
Why is Khardung La not the highest motorable pass? As per the sign installed atop Khardung La (K-Top) , the pass stands at an elevation of 18380 feet or 5602 meters whereas the actual height of the pass is 5359 m as confirmed by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) which is responsible for the road construction in the UT. The now under construction Umling La at an elevation of ~19,000 feet above sea level is now identified as the 'Highest motorable pass in the world' . Umling La is expected to connect Chisumle and Demchok villages, both of which are in close proximity to the Indo-China border.
High altitude and harsh weather conditions could often trigger breathlessness or unconsciousness due to low oxygen and can lead to oxygen drop in your body, It is strongly advised to carry required medications to avoid altitude sickness and also carry enough thermal wear to sustain the cold weather atop. Lucky for us, it was snowing the day we showed up, making the temperatures bearable.
The picturesque landscape of the route to Nubra Valley is nothing less than breathtaking! The beautiful mountains surrounding the small towns on the way while the snow capped mountains linger at the back playing hide and seek, river streams flowing all along with hints of grasslands where animals come to graze.
We drove through Shyok village on the beautiful roads carved over the hills surrounding the Shyok river to reach Nubra. One peculiar thing to notice about the drive through these mountains is the color of the rocks, These colors are a result of high mineral reserves in Ladakh.
Our first destination of the day was the Diskit Monastery and Future Buddha.
The Diskit Monastery is one of the oldest monastery located in Nubra Valley founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa in the 14th century. It is a sub-gompa or branch of Thiksey Monastery. Diskit attracts a high amount of tourists due to the 106 m tall statue of the Future Buddha also known as Maitreya Buddha.
This statue made of gold stands tall atop the hill facing Pakistan, This was consecrated by Dalai Lama in 2010 with three major principles - protection of Diskit village, prevention of further war and establishing peace between India and Pakistan and establishing world peace.
One of the peculiarities of the location where this statue is located is the surrounding terrain. Facing the statue is the beautiful Shyok valley and about 75 kms from the monastery lies the last village of India on the Pakistan side- Turtuk which is sandwiched between Karakoram and the Himalayan range.
Did you know? Turtuk lies in the Baltistan region and is one of 4 villages, other three being Tyakshi, Chalunkha and Thang. Turtuk is the last Indian outpost at Thang post which the Pakistan-occupied Baltistan begins
To the left of the statue lies the Diskit monastery atop a hill on the edge of a road that connect Parthapur and Those. On the right lies the Siachen province where the river originates from. The Siachen river merges with the Shyok river in the valley that flows in Pakistan as the Siachen river. And on the back lie these beautiful snowcapped mountains that appear to guard the monastery.
Additionally, all the way over our drive and especially at the monastery, we came across multiple such stacks of stones, It is understood that there are myths associated with it. It is said that stacking stones could bring good fortune for the stacker or that these stone are stacked in remembrance of a last wish of someone deceased recently
Our stay in the Nubra Valley was at the Hunder village in a beautiful camping set-up amidst the mountains and close to the desert.
Post our quick lunch break at the campsite, we headed to desert for the safari. The terrain that hosts the safari has a beautiful landscape with sand, river and mountain all in one place.
Did you know? Ladakh region receives low rainfall every year. Excess rainfall during a particular year leads to dust and gravel from the mountains to flow down to the bottom ending up as the sand. Also, these rains would often lead to flooding. The last flood recorded was in 2016
The desert here is famous for the double-humpback camels. Nubra valley is the only place in India where these camels are found.
Did you know? Ladakh was a popular trade route between Punjab and Central Asia for commodities such as pashmina shawls, saffron, spices, silk etc. and hence called the "Great Silk Route". This trade was done at the back of these camels. The injured camels during the trade ended up staying back in India, were bred by the locals and are now used for the safari
Did you know? Nubra valley is also one of the most famous tourist destination for ATV ride and also astrophotography because of the beautiful night sky and the scintillating starry covers
Next up was a travel day to the final destination of the trip - Pangong Tso. Our travel next day was yet again through the desert all across the hills along the Shyok river.
And right behind these rocky mountains were the beautiful peaking Himalayas.
And finally, after a long day of travel, we finally approached the lake
Pangong Tso (Tso is Tibetan for lake) is one the most famous lakes located at high altitude about ~14,000 ft above sea level. Despite being one of the most popular attraction that experiences heavy influx of tourists, the lake continues to be a conflicted area.
Did you know? Pangong Tso is a 134 km long lake with India having control over only 40% of the length. About 50% of the length lies with China controlled Tibet and the rest 10% continues to be a conflicted area as a buffer zone between India and China around the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that crosses over the lake and right after Hanle village- the last India village on the China side
Pangong Tso is a saltwater lake that supports no aquatic life. The water is said to brackish due to higher content of minerals that are washed off the surrounding mountains.
Did you know? The lake provides access to public only from one side, while the other side is reserved only for military. Across the mountains lies the Ind0-China border and the recently in dispute Galwan district which is a heavily guarded military area.
Nubra valley and Pangong Tso both are located at an altitude higher than that of Leh which is why the weather could be little more harsh and can also trigger altitude sickness. Nubra valley tends to be sunny but windy during the day and the mercury can drop to negative during the night. So is the case with camping at the lake. The vicinity is windy throughout the day and gets cold during the night. Hence it is advised to carry enough warmers and thermals during your stay at these places.
We returned to Leh the next day via the Chang La route. The roads at Chang La continue to be built under the guidance of BRO. Chang La is known to be the second highest motorable pass, but statistically speaking, this pass is 5360m above sea-level making it even higher that Khardung La.
Spending almost over a week in this newly formed Union Territory was a genuine eye-opener to vast geopgraphical and cultural horizons India encompasses. Ladakh was brought to the touism limelight through its bollywood connection that baffled everyone every other Indian citizen and continues to be one of the most sought after summer travel destination after Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Ladakh was earlier a part of J&K which continues to host huge amount of tourists every year. Despite being a popular tourist destination, the fund allotted to the state was used to improve the infrastructure only in the prime parts of the state leaving Ladakh will minimal funds which hampered the development. Post declaring Ladakh a Union Territory, the locals are finding it easier to sustain and are hopeful of better developments in the coming years to meet the tourism demands.
Ladakh governance strongly adheres to and practices sustainability to protect the terrain and its people from harm. But its prominence as a tourist destination is leading to plastic pollution all around. Despite multiple efforts from the government and of course under the guidance one of brilliant minds of the country - Sonam Wangchuk, the people are working toward a solution to mitigate such problems. Additionally, it is also the duty of the tourists to be aware and practice hygiene practices to help people preserve the beauty the region.
The amount of geographical variation that Ladakh has to offer is uncomparable. Right from low lands to hills, from lakes to rivers, from deserts to icy mountains, the range is absolutely bewildering. The cultural roots and deep penetration of Buddhism is worth exploring. The architectural beauty of monasteries, the traditional celebrations, the beautiful Goncha (traditional dress of Ladakh), their religious stories and beliefs, the co-existence of multiple religions all together paints a surreal painting with deep meaning. The sheer diversity across every aspect is worth exploring and an experience worth remembering. Calling J&K (and Ladakh) the 'Switzerland of India' is definitely an understatement to the beauty it has to offer.
That is all about my Ladakh trip that I wanted to share with all of you. Hope you have enjoyed the pictures and of course the surprising facts. Lastly, I would again like to extend my gratitude to Veena World team who ensured a safe trip with a heart full of experiences and memories.