Traveler

Nubra Valley – India’s Real Shangri-La

By Saurabh Mahanta

Nubra Valley is about 150 km north of Leh, the capital town of Ladakh, India. Local scholars say that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). Like the rest of Ladakh, Nubra is a high-altitude desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation except along river-beds, where irrigated, and on high slopes. I really did not want too many people to find out about it. It is one of those places I stupidly, selfishly want to stay forever as naturally unspoiled as it was when i visited almost two years ago in 2010.

Tourists need a permit to visit Nubra Valley and the maximum length of stay the permit allows is seven days. Nubra Valley was once on the trading route that connected eastern Tibet with Turkistan via the famous Karakoram Pass. Nubra invites you to a trip back in time into a nearly forgotten ‘Shangri La’. With breathtaking views and delightfully hospitable inhabitants, it is quite an experience.

Diskit is the administrative center of the Nubra Valley. It is nestled on the edge of a desert on the Shyok-side valley, eight hours away, on the other side of the Khardong La (La means Pass). There are Buddhist gompas (monasteries) from the more famous gompa in Diskit to small whitewashed monastery buildings perched on brown rocky mountainsides. There are mani walls: long walls made out of mani or prayer stones inscribed with Buddhist prayers. There are giant prayer wheels in the most unexpected places; white Buddhist stupas line the roads; there are miles of high-altitude desert and there are camels and sand dunes. It is definitely one of the last treasures of our planet, living in sheer isolation for most of the year in the heart of the great Himalayas.

Travel tips for bikers:

Do’s

  • Carry plenty of water, because the increase in altitude by over 2,000 meters can give anybody severe headache and nausea
  • It is advisable to take a mechanic with you as there are no workshops or mechanics till Diskit
  • Do not forget riding boots, raincoat, and gloves; without these you won't be able to ride as roads are grubby and it's freezing cold in some places.
  • Must-do: A ride on the Bactrian (Double-humped) Camels.

Don’ts

  • Don’t rush back to Ladakh from Nubra Valley the same day as it is very risky to ride after sunset.
  • Do not ride hastily as the roads are narrow and slippery and may cause serious injuries.

Saurabh Mahanta has been travelling on and off for about eight years and believes his life can be divided into three parts: travel, discovery and photography. He is a landscape photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.