It was a late evening in Leh and we thought of renting a bike for our next day ride to Hemis Monastery, to add some more thrill to our Leh Ladakh road trip. Without the second thought, we reached a bike shop and the first question bike lender asked us was – Are you going to take the bike to the Valley of flowers! We looked at each other and the quick open mouth response was, what are you saying? Are you kidding, the valley of flowers in Ladakh? Where is this and how can we reach there? He gave smile, handed the bike and left us with all the questions unanswered. The keenness was on our head and we started exploring more from the locals. After no answer, we surfed about it further on the internet and found that he was referring to the none other than the famous Nubra Valley.
But the question was why is this barren cold desert at 10,000 feet known as Valley of Flowers? And the answer is because the name Nubra originated from the word Ldumra which itself means Valley of flowers. So, after taking the inner line permit, visiting Hemis monastery and the local attractions like Leh Palace and other Palaces of Ladakh, we left on the second day from Leh to the Nubra valley.
Nubra Valley is one of the sub-districts of Ladakh and lies 116 kilometers from Leh. It is located on the North East side and has Diskit Village as its headquarters. The valley can be reached from Leh by crossing the highest motorable road and the Khardung La lying at an 18,380 feet altitude, in just 5-6 hours.
The route for Nubra Valley:
The Nubra valley was once the important part of the traditional silk route and now it is well known by the famous Siachen Glacier. It is a sensitive and border zone and has been opened to the public only in 2010.
As, we crossed the snow-capped peaks of Khardongla and moved towards North Pullu, the shades and artistic landscapes of valley left us stunned. The landscapes of Nubra valley are truly bewitching. There are huge barren shaded mountains, dozing valleys, and partially inhabited borderlands with the musical Shyok River (a tributary of Indus River) flowing in between the desert. Roads are unnoticeable from a distance and some are even unmarked on the Google map. The clouds float in the deep blue sky giving the whole valley a miraculous look.
The distant hamlets in between the valley have beautiful patchwork fields of polar, barley, mustard, and pea; along the river and in between houses giving the green and yellow shading to the barren valley. There are apricot and almond plantations too, which during the bloom might leave the valley truly vibrant and magical. In fact, it is one of the greenest valleys of Ladakh and is also known as the Food Bowl of Ladakh.
There are plenty of mud and stone houses, with few pukka houses in the in-between village. The stupas, monasteries, Mani stone walls, and Tibetan flags reflect the typical Tibetan Buddhist culture. The people of Nubra valley have distinct Ladakhi features and are quite humble and friendly.
Best time to Visit Nubra Valley
Nubra valley usually closes down from November to April. The peak tourist seasons are May to August. Whereas in September and October, there are fewer tourists but the chill starts biting the valley.
In summers i.e. from May to July – temperature varies between 8 to 20 degree Celsius whereas August is considered to be the monsoon season, so rains can bring the temperature really down too. Despite days being hotter, nights are bit cooler and pleasant in the valley.
Winters in Nubra valley are really cold and dry. They last from November till April and the temperature vary between -4 to -24 degree Celsius.
Charms of the Nubra Valley
Diskit is the administrative center of Nubra valley and lies 116 km from Leh on the Shyok River. As we approached the Diskit village, the vibes of Tibetan culture and serenity in the wild engulfed us. The village seemed like a commercial hub of the whole valley. The village is well known for its dramatically positioned 15th century Diskit Monastery and 32 meters tall Maitreya Buddha statue.
Diskit Monastery can be reached by driving or by walking along the Mani stones and white chortens. But we preferred driving only, as we were in short of time and it was too hot. Entrance Fee: Rs 30/- and timings are from 7am-1pm and from 2 pm -7 pm.
The 32-meter high statue, placed on the hillock is a standing glory and the perfect example of skilled craftsmanship. The Maitreya Buddha statue faces down the Shyok River, facing towards the Pakistan. The statue is a symbol of protection of Diskit Village, prevention of further war with Pakistan and to promote the world peace.
Close to the monastery is also Lachung temple, the oldest temple of Nubra Valley.
Reflections of the Nubra Valley
Just as we left further towards the Hunder Village, there was something more holding or captivating than the barren landscapes and wide valleys. And it was the reflections of these majestic peaks with the clouds hovering in the deep blue sky and wild horses gazing around.
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Sand Dunes, Bactrian Camels, Seabuckthorn forests and Silhouette shots of Nubra Valley
Just a few kilometers ahead, we saw another astounding face of the valley. The barren landscapes were taken away by the Rocky Mountains on one side and grayish white sand dunes on another extending in kilometers till Village Hunder. The patterns of these sand dunes seemed bizarre and ever-changing. So, Hunder is all about the white cold desert. And if there is desert there have to be camels too. But what is so special about these camels?
In Hunder, there are double-humped Bactrian camels, which apart from here are only found in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. These camels can be seen in the dunes between 9 am -12 pm; 3 pm -7 pm or grazing in the nearby sea buckthorn forests. The Bactrian camels including their children are tagged for reference and tourism purpose. One can opt for Safari on these during the mentioned hours by just paying Rs.300/- per person. We didn’t feel like going ahead with it as we were more interested in admiring the valley and taking the silhouette images.
Mani stone walls of Hunder Village
At village Hunder, there is a small roadside monastery known as Chamba. Just from there opposite of the Gompa, runs along Mani stone wall extending to the hills. Follow it clockwise and you will run to the watchtower on the height giving some terrific views.
The last Village – Turtuk
Turtuk, predominantly a Muslim Village lies 90 km ahead from Hunder and is the last outpost in India. The roads to Turtuk are well paved and it can be done as a day trip. The village is virgin and an apt place to interact with the Balti community of Ladakh.
Accommodation at Nubra Valley
There are multiple home stays, guest houses, camps and resorts at Diskit and Hunder for the stay. We opt to stay at Hunder with Apple Cottage resort. The resort had multiple tents among the apple orchards. Remember to negotiate, the pricing for these cottages varies with season.
Points to Remember while traveling to Nubra Valley
- Inner Line permit is required for traveling to Nubra Valley. Click the link to read about it.
- Days are really hot in the valley but evenings are still cooler. So, one needs a thin jacket for the evenings.
- Remember to cross the Mani stones always in the clockwise direction.
- Try to visit Pangong Tso, after Nubra Valley as it helps in better acclimatization.
- Follow the paths carefully while diversion from Khalsar; otherwise, you may enter the army bases as we did by mistake.
- Carry enough cash as there are no ATM’s.
- Only postpaid BSNL connections work in the Nubra Valley.
Note: Apart from this, there are few more accessible areas and places to visit in Nubra Valley like Sumur, Hot springs at Panamik, Yarab Tso, Samstanling Monastery, Zamskhang Palace, and Terisha Tso.