Ladakh: Road Trip to Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso

It has been a while since we hit the road, so we decided that we would head out on a road trip once we reach Leh. While the choice of road trips across Ladakh is ridiculously tempting and might pull you into choosing a couple of them, we carefully chose our destination- Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso. Majority of our luggage would stay tucked in our hotel room at Leh and we would fit our basic belongings into our backpacks and drive along the mysterious mountains for 2 days. The hotel manager at Hotel Pangong made sure that we had the required permits in place to be able to complete our trip smoothly. Foreign nationals are required to get a Protected area permit to visit the Nubra Valley. Since 1st April 2017, Indian citizens are also required to get an Inner Line Permit to visit the valley. And just like that, Nurbu’s Innova became our home for two days.

Nubra is a valley located to the north east of Ladakh valley. The capital of Nubra is Diskit which is about 150 km north from Leh town. Local scholars say that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. above the sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from Leh town.

Our day started at 5.00 AM as we were supposed to have our breakfast and meet Nurbu at 6. And bang on! We were right on time. In an hours’ time, we found ourselves climbing the serene mountains, and at one point of time, we could see the snowcapped mountain peaks at the same level. It was indeed a steep climb.

Every now and then, we would stop to admire the beauty of the enticing region of Ladakh. Nothing was ordinary around us, as if we were trapped in a magical world where mountains spoke to the clouds and the clouds danced with the sun. Ladakh to me, is a state of trance. It’s that place where magic is real and you would happily play along.

Very soon, we found ourselves driving along the snow piled road. That day, it was an indication of our proximity to Khardungla. Data reveals that the pass is at the height of 17,582 ft, while summit signs claim it to be at a height of 18,379 ft and that Khardungla is often believed to be the highest motorable pass.

Whatever be the height of this pass, it sure was the coldest we have ever been to. I stepped out of the car to look around and within  a few minutes, my hands were numb. The winds were rough and numbed every part of our body that stayed exposed. Nurbu said, it was about to snow. Since we had a lot to cover and snowfall might make our drive a nightmare, we quickly got into the car and continued with our journey. This time, we would be moving downhill.

The view only got better. Once we reached the valley, we saw yaks grazing sideways, streams coming out of nowhere and merging with the river, and mountains of various colors.

At around 2.30 PM, we reached Diskit. This is where we would stay for the night but only after exploring the Diskit Gompa (Monastery) and Hundar.

Diskit monastery is a historic monastery that dates back to 15th century and is situated above the village overlooking the entire valley. There is a huge 32-meter-high Maitreya Buddha statue below the monastery and trust me, you would be amazed when you see it.

After spending sometime here, we took the road leading out of the village to the Hundar, where we had a real close encounter with the double-humped camels, also called Bactrian Camels. This route is very scenic and can you believe it, we got pictures like these-

Hundar is a very beautiful and quiet place; and you can even choose this place for the night-stay instead of Diskit. The road to Hundar runs into a desert and for a while, you might wonder if you have been teleport-ed to the Thar desert of Rajasthan. Surrounded by rugged mountains, the sand dunes seem like a different world altogether. You can explore a good stretch of the desert on the camels. Prateek took the camel ride while I decided to stay back in the camel farm and pet the camels. It was a wonderful experience.

We did not even realize when the sun went down. It was time to grab some snacks and check into Hotel Siachen in Diskit for the night. It was a decent hotel with freshly cooked food and hot water. Our room offered us a wonderful view of the mountains and while I watched the starry sky from my bed, I did not realize when I fell asleep.

We again woke up ahead of the sun. The hotel manager insisted that we carry our breakfast and we are glad we did, for there was no open restaurant/dhaba on the way for a long time.

As soon as we left Diskit, we started driving along river Shyok. At one point of time, we even drove on the riverbed. The red and yellow colored shrubs and trees turned the landscape into a painting. River Shyok is so beautiful, I had a hard time leaving the spot on the river bank where we stopped for almost an hour for our packed breakfast. We were headed to the very popular Pangong lake.

We drove along the beautiful valley- grassy slopes, tiny waterfalls and the colorful prayer flags, and a couple of army quarters to reach Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake. We reached the lake at around noon time, and the water was deep blue. It was crazy. As if someone spilled gallons of ink in the lake. The color changes during the day time and right in front of us, it went from golden to pale purple to deep blue. The reflection of the stark mountains only adds beauty to the already alluring lake. There are several food joints here where you can refuel yourselves for the rest of the journey. We spent 2-3 hours here and headed out to Leh. This time, we had to drive through Chang La (Pass). Chang La was pretty cold too but not as cold as Khardung La. This part of Ladakh is again a delight to watch. The landscape is so diverse, you wouldn’t be bored.

We drove for hours at a stretch and needless to say, the eyes never got tired of looking at the beauty around us. At around 8 PM, we reached Leh city. There were so many things that we would explore in the coming days, but the fact that these two days trip came to an end, made us a bit nostalgic and we ended up checking into a café for dinner, talking incessantly about our adventure and going through the pictures on the camera. It was indeed, an EPIC road trip.

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