Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardung La with Scout My Trip & OYO Rooms: Incredible India!
This blog is the part of my series on the 12 days long road trip through Ladakh in Incredible India on invitation by Scout My Trip and OYO Rooms. The road from Leh to Nubra valley passes through picturesque Khardung La pass, Diskit and Hundar.
Diskit is not very far from Leh, the capital of Ladakh region. Yet it qualifies as a remote village, tucked away in a corner. The hustle and bustle of Leh, 120 kilometers away from Diskit, fails to spill on to the quaint Diskit, famed for its ancient monastery and the colossal Buddha statue.
The route from Leh to Diskit is picturesque. I left Leh along with Scout My Trip and OYO rooms team and more than a dozen travel bloggers early morning. The agenda ahead was to reach Diskit and Hundar after attempting Highest Blogger Meet about which I posted in my last blog. As the SUV started climbing the rough mountains near Leh, I stayed glued to the window seat or Soul Window as I call it.
My eyes transfixed on the bird’s eye view of the surreal landscape of Leh city, bathed in the early morning Sun. The Shanti Stupa, perched on a hill in Leh was the only identifiable building. Its white dome glistened under direct sun rays. I last time I was in Leh, I had spent quality time at Shanti Stupa, soaking in the breathtaking views of mountains and a closer panoramic view of the Leh City. It is one of the many Peace Pagodas which are built around the world as a symbol of peace. I found it quite similar to the Peace Pagodas I saw in Rajgir, Darjeeling and Pokhara (Nepal).
The Shanti Stupa at Leh was built by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura in collaboration with locals. Relics of Buddha are housed at its base. As night fell, I circumbulated around the Stupa silently, as cool breeze caressed me! I carefully studied the many stages of the life of Buddha, as depicted on its walls. Inaugurated by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in August 1991, the Stupa commemorates 2500 years of Buddhist history.
The astounding view of Leh city from the window of my SUV belies the urban mess that it has become off late. As the SUV progressed towards Khardungla pass, views of Stok Kangri, the highest mountain in Ladakh, Shanti Stupa and serpentine roads vied for my attention. Convoy of Indian army trucks passed by, so did few cyclists who braved to pedal the uphill route, despite the lack of oxygen. Impressively dressed Motorcyclists negotiated the rough patches with elan.
As we approached Khardungla Pass, a sudden commotion of tourists welcomed us. Touted disputably as ‘The highest motorable road of the world’ at 18,380 feet, it attracts people from across the world for pictures worthy of bragging rights. Fresh snow had covered the mountains and temples at the pass. As prayer flags fluttered, enthusiasts lined up with selfie sticks near the touristy board which read, ‘Khardungla Pass’, easily one of the most photographed place in Ladakh. The last time I was here, I stole some time and ordered instant noodles, steamed momos and piping hot tea in a canteen run by the army. It was a solace from the unruly windy and cold weather.
Many people return back to Leh after a photo session at Khardungla Pass. Our plan was to move further to Diskit, Hundar and sand dunes of Nubra Valley after assembling for the Highest Blogger Meet. Read about it in my previous blogs.
The change of sceneries every few minutes delighted me. The mountains were unusual colors- brown, black, green. Even purple. The ice blue Shyok river as seen in my September 2016 trip gave way to a muddy and ordinary looking river in current trip (I went in July)
The river ran haphazardly through the white sands, forming bewitching landscapes I had never seen before. The views of dramatic skies competed with water puddles reflecting them. Thanks to the sensitive border area we were treading in, the army camps often interrupted the barren landscape.
As I leave Leh behind and proceeded towards Diskit, Islam takes over dominant Buddhist demographics of region. Diskit is close to Turtuk, small village near Indian Pakistan border. While we were still driving, from a distance, I could see the silhouette of a huge human figure perched on top of the mountain. I knew that it was the famous Maitreya Buddha statue Diskit is most famous for.
Inaugurated in 2010 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the modern statue is strategically built near the ancient Diskit Gompa. Different vantage points and different time of the day give enchanting views of the statue. My favourite was the view of the statue bathed in the evening light.
Thanks to its sheer size and a lack of urbanization, the statue is visible even from the sand dunes of Nubra Valley, some 12 kilometers away. We accessed the campus of statue via a serpentine road flecked with white chortens and prayer flags. The first thing which caught my attention was the sweeping views of the sparsely populated Diskit village below in the backdrop of nude mountains and sprawling valleys. The village is like an oasis in kilometers of vast uninhabited hinterlands of Ladakh.
The few houses which I saw from the top were mostly home stays, cafes and hotels catering to the tourists. A recent influx of curious travelers has changed the landscape and demographics of Ladakh in past few years. Many hotels are run by migrants from across India, who move to Goa once the tourist season ends in Ladakh towards September end. The crowds thin out during September. However most of the hotels, cafes and tourist amenities are still available, making it a pleasant time to visit Ladakh.
The Maitreya Buddha, according to Buddhism, is a bodhisattva, who will descend on Earth in future, gain enlightenment and educate people about pure dharma. The 32 metres tall frame of the statue dwarfed me, as I admire its details, agape mouthed. The dramatic sky in the background enhanced its aura.
I circumbulated around the statue, my neck permanently craned, to view it from different angles. The Diskit Gompa on the adjoining hill demanded my attention. Before the statue existed, the Gompa was Diskit’s only claim to fame. Built on the site of a 15th century palace founded by Lama Sharap Zangpo from the Gelugpa lineage, it is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the region. Overlooking the flood plains of Shyok river, Diskit Gompa is affiliated to the Thiksey monastery near Leh city. It also houses a school catering to the Tibetan children in the region.
Sand Dunes Of Hundar:
I move to Hundar, home to the famous sand dunes, imagining the times when this was an important region of the ancient silk route. It was hard to believe that merchants and traders of different ethnicity once dominated this region. The trans-Himalayan trade mostly occurred through dangerous passes between Leh in India and Yarkand in China. After decades of neglect, the region again claims its importance thanks to the recent surge in tourism, which is the major economy in the region these days.
Few minutes into the drive, beguiling views of the famous sand dunes of Nubra valley welcomed us on the right. The sand dunes are sandwiched between Diskit and Hundar. The Bactrian camels, the iconic face of the Nubra valley were no-where to be seen. The double humped camels are the vestiges of the ancient silk route.
I was told none of them are found in wild and will be visible only as we descend further. Fields of barley peeped from the tall Poplar trees as we entered the Hundar village. Once the capital of Nubra kingdom, it now is a ghostly town of ancient ruins (including King’s palace), few homes, monasteries, mosque and plethora of hotels, home stays and tourist camps.
PLEASE LEAVE THE BACTRIAN CAMELS ALONE:
As I approached the sand dunes, I was both delighted and disappointed. The first sighting of double humped Bactrian camel intrigued me and I observed their curious behavior for a long time. However, I was crestfallen to see that all the camels were employed for rides on the dunes and subjected to the tomfoolery of unruly tourists. The calves were trained to chase the trail of camels which carried selfie obsessed noisy tourists. This dampened my spirit and I instead moved to explore the dunes on foot. The When I navigated the same terrain in September 20116, I came across scores of bright red sea buckthorn berries embellishing thorny shrubs. Its juice is a rich resource of Vitamin A, C, E, beta carotene and carotinoids, hence popular with locals. I sampled its distinct dense taste in one of the shops in Leh City. I picked some berries and sat on the sand. I set my feet tenderly on the loose sand, strolled aimlessly for some time and then settled on a dune along with my co traveler Raza. We ruminated in silence, away from the noisy tourists as sun decided to set against colossal mountains.
The OYO Room experience:
It was dark when we arrived at our gorgeous OYO Room Nubra property a bit away from the sand dunes. The sprawling property had numerous cottages set across a landscaped garden. Me and Raza shared a room which faced a garden and swimming pool. The room was spacious and had a separate living room and space for bonfire. It was a pleasure walking along the pathways of the property late night and early morning. Tall mountains could be seen from the lawns. The wi-fi worked even at the remote location that Hundar is. But who need wi fi when you have great company. Read on…
Pics above: Oyo Rooms Nubra
The spontaneous fun filled night in the middle of nowhere. Who would have expected?
It was this night in Nubra when the scouts from Scout My Trip team and the bloggers really had a great time. The pressure of attempting the Highest Blogger Trip was off every one’s head. All we wanted to do was let our hair down. We partied hard and it turned out to be a big leveler and ice breaker. Many of us had met each other for the first time in person. This night helped us forge a lifetime bond, I guess!
The star of the evening was Samarth Sankhla, the scout assigned to me through the most of 12 days epic trip through Ladakh. His spontaneous mimicry and exceptional dancing and singing skills had us in splits. We laughed our lungs away as he performed one antic after another. The talented singer that Neha is, she gave him good company. Deepak regaled us with unprintable stories. The rest of us just sat back, laughed and had fun. I have been to so many media trips but this was my best night, I guess. As much as a memorable travel experience is about destination, a lot also depends upon the company. We just got lucky. We got the best of both the worlds!
The views from my #SoulWindow will be etched on my mind for a long time!
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