Exploring Nubra Valley in Leh Ladakh
Travelmynation did a 6-month tour of the Northern Himalayas and one of the parts we enjoyed the most was our journey from Leh Ladakh to Nubra Valley. We read that more than 50 million years back, the Indian-Australian plate split away from Gondwanaland, floated upwards and crashed into Eurasia.
The Tethys Ocean, which once isolated the two landmasses, was pushed up by the diving Indo-Australian plate, and today is the huge Tibetan Plateau. Also, as the Indo-Australian plate flooded upward, with layers of mainland covering blaming and collapsing into mountain ranges, framed the most noteworthy point on the earth, the Himalayas. Interesting isn’t it!!
Nubra valley is a high altitude cold desert. The towns are flooded and ripe, delivering wheat, grain, peas, mustard and an assortment of foods grown from the ground, including blood apples, pecans, apricots, and even a couple of almond trees. Hunder has become home to a few Bactrian (two-humped) camels, who are currently utilized to give tourists short rides over the high-height sand dunes. Following the suspension of the silk course in 1950, few Bactrian were left in the tri-furnished Nubra valley in Ladakh.
Hotels in Nubra Valley
Since this is now a tourist place, there are plenty of accommodation options – from homestays to hotels and resorts. Diskit and Hunder have the major concentration of the best stays and as you move towards Thang, the concentration of these hotels reduces. So, it’s a good idea to stay either at Diskit or at Hunder since Panamik can be quite far from the Turtuk side.
We chose to stay in Lotus Eco resort, located in Hunder and close to the Diskit Turtuk highway. The resort is tucked away in a quaint little corner of the valley with no interference and away from the crowds of the village. Situated in the heart of Nubra Valley at a walking distance from the famous sand dunes.
Lotus Eco Resort – The Mud House is spread in a sprawling green area of about 4 acres amidst Apricot, willow and poplar trees. Lotus Eco Resort has a well-furnished 12 suites embedded with all the modern facilities and yet traditional in all ways, each of the suites is equipped with a beautiful fireplace and couches to sit around.
The green area has views of the mountains behind and you will often hear the murmuring of the Shyok river flowing behind it. We hadn’t made any reservations when we reached during the month of May. But since the maddening crowds hadn’t invaded Nubra yet, we easily got a room for the 3 of us here. Tired after a long drive from Leh Ladakh to Nubra valley, we quickly checked in and ordered some hot lunch. It was cold but the sun was out.
The rooms are very comfortable and surprisingly equipped with facilities you wouldn’t expect in this part of the world. We got an extra bed put in and soon were sipping on a hot cup of tea in their beautiful garden outside. Our plan was the day was to take rest and then explore the local market in the evening.
Around 5 pm, we drove to the market area, a tiny section near the resort that had some bars and restaurants and a few shops for daily essentials. Since we were on a 6-month driving tour of the Himalayas, we had stocked up quite a bit of stuff but to beat the cold needed some alcohol to keep us warm. There are very few shops that serve alcohol here and not always would you end up paying at the MRP. Be prepared to shell out extra amounts, otherwise carry some from Leh Ladakh to Nubra valley.
Over the next 3 days, we made the resort our base and covered destinations like Diskit, Hunder, Turtuk, and Thang from here. Food was surprisingly good as well as the staff at the resort was happy to serve us some local as well as lip-smacking north Indian food.
Permits for Nubra Valley
Since Nubra Valley is located close to the border you will require an inner line permit to enter the area. For foreign nationals, a Protected Area permit has to be procured before they can travel from Leh Ladakh to Nubra Valley. Inner line permit can either be applied for and obtained in person from DM office Leh or online. Protected area permit, however, needs to be obtained through a registered travel agent.
I had to first go to an internet parlour to print the form, and if you don’t want to go through this trouble make sure you have a couple of copies of the form with you. Carry IDs that have your photo identification, address, etc along with all vehicle documents. All originals copies and along with these carry about 10 passport size photographs. If the line isn’t too long, then you should be able to get the permit in about 1-2 hours maximum. This is the link to the online application.
Places to visit in Nubra Valley
The Sole Petrol Bunk
Well, you will have to make this pitstop since this is the only petrol bunk in the valley! If you are traveling from Leh Ladakh To Nubra valley, chances are you’ve consumed a lot of fuel and for your way back or for your onwards journey to Pangong Tso, you will need to fuel up. The prices here are decided by the owners I guess and are a little higher than the rest of the state. Make sure you are carrying enough cash since they might not accept cards. Tank up because if the bunk runs out of fuel you might be stuck for a few days!
Located 31 kilometres from Diskit, Sumur is a small village and a popular base for exploring the valley. At an elevation of just 3,100m, it’s one of the lowest points in Ladakh, and you can feel the difference. In Sumur itself there is a small monastery – The Samstanling Gompa, a traditional Ladakhi house that dates back hundreds of years and is open to visitors. You can find out unique collection of idols, frescos and tangkhas (painted and embroidered scrolls) here.
A good number of Buddhist monasteries are seen in Nubra Valley. One of them is the Ensa Gompa, built near the Panamik village in Leh. A 6 hour long trek from this village is required to see this 250-year old monastery. The beautiful Buddhist murals in Ensa Gompa are really rewarding after the long trek.
Yarab Tso Lake
Tucked away near the Sumur Village, Yarab Tso is Ladakh’s best kept secret. This picturesque lake is situated 15 kms from Diskit Region and is one of the holiest and highest located lakes in the region.
Located at a distance of about 150 kms from Leh Ladakh and 56 kms from Diskit, Panamik hamlet is the final frontier village of India. People love to experience a sizzling bath at the hot springs in the outskirts of Panamik. These springs are believed to have some medicinal powers in their waters.
Thang is located 100 kms from Diskit and has replaced Turtuk to be the last Indian village near the border that is accessible to tourists. It’s a tiny little hamlet and just before the border view point you will be joined by personnel from the armed forces who will escort you to the vantage point. Located close by are the Pakistani bunkers and you can clearly see their posts.
Hunder comes just after Diskit and is popular for its beautiful sand dunes and exotic double humped camels. Also referred to as ‘the desert in the Sky’ the mesmerizing village of Hunder is perched as an oasis surrounded by cold desert and stark Himalayas in Nubra Valley in Ladakh.
Diskit Village, located on the edge of a desert on the Shyok Valley, is an administrative centre of the Nubra Valley. The village is thronged by tourists who come to visit the Diskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa and is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh perched at an altitude of 10,300 feet.
Best time to visit Nubra Valley
Summers in Nubra Valley are pleasant and the best time to travel. The temperatures from April to July ranges between 8 – 20-degree Celsius making summers welcoming for tourists. When visiting Nubra during summer, do attend the Hemis Festival that is held at the end of June or the beginning of July and can be hosted throughout the Guru Padmasambhava. This is also a peak season for bikers, campers and trekkers.
The winter season is the least advisable time for a visit to Nubra Valley, owing to extremely cold temperature and inhospitable roads. With temperatures falling as low as -10 degree Celsius, Nubra valley receives heavy snowfall.
How to reach Nubra Valley
By Bus – There are no buses to Nubra Valley. Even if there are, they are not very regular. Public transport is very intermittent and you’ll need to have your own car or cab to drive there.
By road – This is the best way to get to Nubra Valley. Leh City is well connected by road to Nubra Valley. One has to take the route via Khardung La, world’s highest motorable pass to reach Nubra.
By air – Nubra Valley’s closest airport is situated at Leh Ladakh and is known as Bakula Rimpoche Airport. It is also one of the highest commercial airports in the world. From Leh Ladakh, one has to take a cab, tempo traveller or a state run bus to Nubra Valley
By rail – The nearest railhead to Nubra Valley would be at Jammu Tawi, which is around 750 kms away. In order to reach Nubra by train, one has to first travel from Jammu to Leh and then from there to Nubra.