4th July 2011
It rains rarely in Ladakh as it falls in rain shadow region. The mighty Himalayas stop all monsoon clouds penetrating further. But on that day it was drizzling and the weather was cloudy.
Our driver was exactly on time at 7AM. After breakfast at the guesthouse, we departed for Nubra valley. Today, we will be going through Khardungla which is the highest motorable road in the world. The ascent starts as soon as we get out of Leh outskirts. The road was neatly maintained and the progress was quick. 24km from Leh was South Pullu check post where our permits were checked.
|Road to Khardungla from Leh|
The permit issued from DC Office at Leh has the names of the travelers and the places where permission is issued. It is required to take several photo copies as it is necessary to give a copy at each check post. It is also good to carry an ID card in case if the security people ask for it.
|Mermoot at Khardungla|
Now back to our trip. After South Pullu gradient increases and road conditions worsen. The road is very narrow at some places. What scared us a lot of a lorry fallen in a gorge. Involuntarily, my hand went to grab the camera but I stopped from taking any snap. There is no fun in taking snaps of a tragedy. A small mistake can be very costly in these hills areas.
|The road to Khardungla|
The road after Khardungla continuously goes down. At North Pullu, our permits were checked again. After North Pullu is a small village Khardung. The Nubra valley was now visible with river Shyok flowing majestically down in the valley. Unlike other parts of Ladakh, Nubra valley is filled with greenery. The beauty of the valley is simply difficult to describe in words. The photos taken don’t justify the beauty of this great place. It’s only the images in our memory that lasts forever.As we neared Khardungla, there was sudden drop in temperature. It also started snowing. We were overjoyed as this was our first experience (and also last one!!) with snowfall in our trip.
We were on top of Khardungla at 9AM. It had taken about two hours to reach the summit from Leh. We stopped for some time to have tea and for photo shoots.
This road is opened throughout the year as this is a vital link to Siachen Glacier. BRO claims this as the highest motorable road but this is contested by several people (Link here). It looks like someone messed up with GPS readings!! Anyway, it can still be safely said as the highest motorable road in India!!
|Other side of Khardungla|
We reach the base of Shyok River at Khalasar. Here the road splits into two. The left arm goes towards the town of Deskit, Hundar, Thoise and to Turtok. The right arm takes to Sumur and Panamik. We took the right arm towards Panamik by crossing the Shyok River. There is an army check post after the bridge where we had to give a copy of our permit.
The road after Khalasar goes along Shyok River bed. We are now in the valley with very little change in altitude. The river looks very wide though water flows only in few channels. The road is lined with flowers of various kinds. Naturally, number of photo stops increase with driver patiently obliging every request. And hence it takes a long time to cover the distance of 40km between Khalasar to Panamik. Panamik is the place known for hot springs. But the place is a letdown with only a small amount of water oozing from the ground. The water then comes through pipes which lead to bathrooms. There was a small queue of eagerly waiting people for bath. In Ladakh, the journey is more important than destination. And we can see Karakoram ranges!!
The road after Panamik leads to Siachen glacier which is out of bounds for civilians. With nothing else to do, we started back. All of us were hungry but could’ not find a good place to have food. On the way to Khalasar, we stopped at Sumur Monastery (Also known as Samstemling Monastery).
The restaurant at Sumur only served “Maggie noodles”. With no other options, we gobbled the food. A bike had developed a snag and the entire village was trying to work on it!!
We went back to Khalasar and took the other arm of Nubra valley. The road again goes along Shyok River. Within half an hour, we were in Deskit. Our immediate task was to search for a hotel to stay. We got rooms in a nice looking hotel. Dumped our luggage in the room and directly headed to Hundar. Hundar is just 7 km from Deskit and is famous for sand dunes. The double humped Bactrian camels are a major attraction here. The old silk route passed through this place. The route no longer exists but few of the camels from Central Asia stayed here!! Their job now is to carry tourists for a jolly ride!!
At this high altitude the sand dunes resembling a desert comes as a surprise. It may be due to the glacier deposit or the sand from the sea (considering that there was a sea between India and mainland Asia before India joined subcontinent). Purely my views and I may be completely wrong!!
We came back to Deskit and visited the Monastery and a big Buddha. Monastery is old but Buddha statue is a recent constructed. It may be constructed to attract tourists.
Our driver warned us about the non availability (or costly) of water bottles in the next part of the journey. We went to a general store and took water bottles available. I also found a STD booth and made a quick call to my Home to give a quick update of my trip.