North of Leh across the Khardung La (pass) at 5,578 metres along the highest motorable road in the world is the Nubra Valley. Fed by the Nubra and Shyok Rivers, the valley was once thought to be under a huge glacier. What remains left today are stretches of sand dunes and stark boulder-strewn plains that look almost extra-terrestrial. Bound by the Karakoram Range in the north and east, this land was once traversed by traders from China with camel caravans. The Nubra valley opened to tourists only in 1994 and is still virgin territory for travelers. At present, the valley is directly under the control of the Indian Army as the region borders both Pakistan and China. Foreign nationals are required to get a Protected area permit to visit the Nubra Valley. Since 1 May 2014 Indian citizens are no longer required to get an Inner Line Permit to visit the valley.
Local communities once prospered on an extraordinary trans-Himalayan trade which originated with the Silk Road. Comprising huge mountains, yawning valleys and vast uninhabited hinterlands, most of Ladakh’s boundaries may look almost impenetrable on a map. Yet for centuries, great caravans of wool and cloth, opium, spices and skins, coral and turquoise, gold and indigo negotiated several routes and their hazardous passes mainly between Leh and Yarkand (in China). The already withering trade finally died in the late 1950s when China largely sealed its borders. Currently it is a military area because both Pakistan and China borders touch this region with whom India does not have very cordial relationship.
Things To Do
The list of things to do in Nubra Valley includes visiting various Gompas, or taking a trip to Panamik. Trekking and camping are other activities that you can enjoy here. Shop for stuff like handmade Kashmiri carpets, Pashmina shawls or savour the local delicacies like butter tea. Tibetan statues, souvenirs and clothing can also be purchased. If you don’t want to be ripped off by local shopkeepers, make sure your bargaining skills are polished while purchasing any items from the local bazaars in Nubra Valley.
Revel in the festive spirit of Losar Mela or Dosmoche Festival as you let the ethereal beauty of this place captivate you.
There is also a smaller market at Diskit, the site of a holy monastery for the future Buddha, from where you can purchase some beautiful thangkas and other items that make for some great souvenirs to take back home.
Native scholars of the region claims that Nubra Valley’s original name was ‘Ldumra’ which when translated, meant the ‘Valley of Flowers’.
Panamik, a region in Nubra Valley, is India’s answer to the world’s hot springs, healing those who are brave enough to immerse themselves in its remedial waters.
Tourists can also spot herds of Pashmina Goats in this valley, from whose wool the popular Pashmina Shawls are made.
Bactrian Camels (Shaggy double humped Camels) can be sighted around sand dunes, Diskit and Samstanling monasteries. These camels are the only reminders of the ancient trade post and the history that graced the valley floor.
Samstem Ling Gompa
Sumur is home to the Nubra valley’s most important monastery, Samstem Ling Gompa, 45 minutes’ walk behind the village. Built in 1841, the Gompa is home to over a hundred Gelugpa monks, aged between seven and seventy. Action centres on the large Du-khang, which is hung with Thangkas and dominated by a huge gilded statue of Shakyamuni, accompanied by Maitreya and the protector deity Mahakala. Across the courtyard, the long, low Gon-Khang is guarded by statues of fierce protector deities strung with wide-eyed skulls and figurines of the 84 Mahasiddhas, the venerated Tantric saints.
Ensa Gompa is a 250 year-old monastery situated at a distance of 27 kms from Nubra Valley. This ancient gompa is being expanded and while construction work has, for now, diminished the atmosphere, its original small hall remains intact. Located amidst a spring-fed hollow greened by dwarf willows, it’s still a ravishing spot. Two slender trails connect the gompa with the main valley road far below and, at least for the southern route, you’ll need to tread very carefully while descending the increasingly vertiginous path.
Hundar, the land of sand dunes, is a vast stretch of barren wasteland with unearthly looking stone outcroppings that is home to the two humped Bactrian camel. It is located at a distance of 42 kms from Nubra Valley. Hundar was once the capital of former Nubra kingdom. There are several ruined buildings, including the ruins of the King’s palace, the Langchen Khar (“Elephant Palace”). There is a fort at the top of the hill, called Gula. Hundar also has two Buddhist temples: white temple (Lhakhang Karpo) and the red temple (Lhakhang Marpo)
Khardung La pass
The main road access to the Nubra Valley is over Khardung La pass which is open throughout the year. Its status as the highest motorable road in the world is no longer accepted by most authorities. Built in 1976, it was opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar.
Trekking to gompas and villages rewards with endless picturesque panorama from snow-capped mountains to gorges and deep valley for the adventure buffs. The best option to start a trek is Sabo to Khalsar and beyond. The best time to trek is from June to September.
Camping can be done at a beautiful campsite by the near, close to the village of Sumur. Hunder also offers plenty of camping options. Tour operators in Leh sell packaged tours for round-trip. For one night two days trip, covering Diskit, Hunder, Panamik and Sumur, the quote may be between Rs.2200 to Rs.2500 per person with four person sharing.
Hot water springs
One of the best activities that can be indulged in besides camping or trekking is taking a dip in the hot water springs of Panamik. The waters are rich in sulphur content and their curative properties are known to treat people affected with rheumatism. Camel safaris are yet another activity you can indulge in to explore the beautiful place.
Diskit Monastery is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. The monastery has statue of Cho Rinpoche (Crowned Buddha) in the prayer hall, a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. An elevated cupola of the monastery depicts a fresco of the Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet. A popular festival known as Dosmoche or the “Festival of the Scapegoat” is held in the precincts of the monastery in February during the winter season.
Another interesting place you may visit near Nubra Valley is Panamik that is renowned for the Panamik hot springs. Located at a distance of about 20 kms from the Nubra Valley, the hot springs are known for their healing properties. Panamik is also important as it is the northernmost part of India where foreigners are allowed. Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, the green valley of Panamik is a sight to behold. Panamik is the last civilian settlement before Siachen base camp. Panamik is also famous for its Bactrian camels and Pashmina goats. Wool from the Pashmina goats are used to weave the famous Pashmina Shawl.
Turtuk is a remote village of about 4,000 residents, inhabited by ethnic Muslims, a few kilometres from the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border) between India and Pakistan, on the Indian side. The residents speak Baltistani, and some Ladakhi and English. Turtuk was opened to tourists in 2009. The village offers views of Beautiful Valley, part of the Shyok Valley. Though a Muslim village, there are a few gompas located on the plateau above the Shyok River and there is an old royal house to see in the village. Turtuk is one of the few places in India where one can witness Balti culture, and one can find a few homestays and guest houses in the village.
How to get there by Air
The closest airport to Nubra valley is Leh Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport which is situated 120 Kms away in Leh. Jet airways, Kingfisher Airlines, GoAir and Air India are some of the connecting carriers which serve this domestic airport. Due to the weather conditions, all flights arrive and depart at 7:00 in the morning and for security reasons, hand baggage isn’t permitted.
In order to reach Nubra valley after you get down at the airport, the best option is to hire a jeep or board a bus which will take you to your destination.
How to get there by Rail
As there are no railheads in Ladakh, travelling via rail is not a smart move to reach Nubra Valley. The nearest train station to this region is the Jammu Tawi Railway Station which is situated 620 kms from the valley.
How to get there by Road
The best way to reach Nubra Valley is by road. It is a wise idea to first arrive via air at the domestic airport situated in Leh. From there, you can book a jeep which will take you to Nubra Valley along the Srinagar-Leh National Highway. Public buses in Leh which are run by the state government also form a great alternative if you are looking to reach Diskit in Nubra valley. More information