Nubra Valley shaonlee bose & saurabh ganguli

“Mum, I feel like Genghis Khan” grinned Ahaan, as he settled in happily between the two humps of his Bactrian camel. Bikki laughed nervously from his camel a little ahead. I was given the Papa camel, I think - this one was reserved and majestic and incredibly large. He led the pack rather slowly allowing us to savor the Central Asian landmass that stretched languidly ahead of us.

We have never seen anything like this; the vast uninhabited hinterland lay in a valley, arid, flat and breathtakingly beautiful. The Shyok river flowed close by but did nothing to make the land arable. We walked over white gold like sands, surrounded by snow capped mountains bare and glittering on all sides. The sun was delicate yet bright. The cold was mild. We were in the silk valley now.

For centuries, mighty men from Central Asia and Europe have sought riches that trailed through these lands to prosperous empires. Great caravans of leather, wool, cotton, silk, opium, spices, gold, coral and turquoise have made its way into the coffers of mighty kings that have shaped civilization. They rested on these lands, made makeshift camps to sleep in the night, lit fires and told each other stories that kept them warm.

The many passes that arise out of Nubra have given us rich history, folklores, and fables of great kingdoms built of silk and gold, of ruthless tyrants that ruled with hearts of steel and by words of their swords, of dreamers who dreamt of one nation that stretched from the far east to the west, despite differences. The lands have enabled many indigenous communities to thrive by facilitating trade, and these routes were used by many as recently as the 1950s. However, the trade gradually withered off when China closed its borders displacing several communities from their traditional way of life.

Nubra fell into obscurity after that and remained unknown to the world for many years. The unique position of the place made it vulnerable to various political disturbances and for a period after, it continued to be a sensitive border area, accessed only by the Indian Army. The road to Siachen Glacier is through Nubra and while it is the world’s second longest glacier outside the polar regions, a tourist is unlikely to get access to it as it remains a battlefield for India and Pakistan at 6000 m-plus altitudes, since 2003.

However, Nubra has received some attention lately when tourists who come to Ladakh to go to Pangong Tso tend to spend a night here.

Our journey from Leh to Nubra was brutal. We crossed the world’s highest motorable pass - Khardungla to get here, fighting breathlessness, mountain sickness, inclement weather, and roads which were even worse than the weather.

Even at the end of May, Khardungla was completely frozen with temperatures below freezing point and frequent snowfall and blizzards.

We started for Nubra when the high of reaching Ladakh hadn’t settled. We were buzzing with excitement, and the kids did their best to acclimatize quickly. We set off for Nubra which is around 145 km away from Leh on a crisp morning - the cold was the delicate and welcoming kind, after 46 degrees of torture at Delhi earlier. By the time we reached Khardungla - we were shivering in our fleece jackets and parkas, barely managing to breathe as the air got thinner and thinner. After multiple stops to attempt acclimatization and fight off nausea, the Hunder valley seemed warm and inviting. We covered this distance in about 5 1/2 hours and checked into our comfortably appointed hotel called the Nubra Resort. We devoted the remaining part of the day to some well-earned rest and focused on stabilizing our buzzing heads.

We explored Hunder(Nubra) leisurely the day after. The Bactrian camel camping on the sand unattended and almost wild was perhaps the most intriguing part of this trip for the boys.

They roamed around these gentle giants for hours, watching them with breathless excitement from a distance. A baby camel whining for his/her mother every 10 minutes seemed to startle them at first, but it amused them to see how it would cling to his/her mommy constantly. They clapped in glee as a young adolescent camel flipped over his back to scratch it and watched in amazement as they ate thorny shrubs with great relish.

Between time in the camel camp and ATV rides a little distance away, we managed to drag them to the Samstanling Gompa. Both our boys have no real interest for places of worship. They groan and complain every time we mention a temple or mosque or a church. We steer away from these places in our many trips, but I had seen a picture once of the Samstanling and for many days after, it haunted me. The morning light in the photograph seemed to have made it into a place where ethereal creatures came to seek nirvana.

The boys went for many camel rides - apprehensively at first, their ease and camaraderie increased with every step.

The drive to the monastery did not disappoint - we saw some gorgeous Ibexes bounding about in the slope of the mountains nearby - they seemed oblivious to us and continued frisking about in the golden sunlight.

Samstaling Gompa is located at Sumur, a small village somewhat spread-out, dotted with ancient houses built traditionally. The Samstanling Gompa stood behind the village, at the foot of mountains. The boys reluctantly climbed many steps to reach the inner sanctum but immediately quietened down as we walked through the atmospheric halls. We sat quietly in the prayer hall, which was filled with ancient books written on parchment, neatly folded in cotton and carefully tagged. The monastery was built in the 1840s but is wonderfully maintained, and has preserved its peace and tranquility that bound us all in infinite grace.

On popular demand, we went back to the camel camp before heading back to the hotel that day. But instead of the idyllic, playful camels lazing around blissfully, we found the place bustling with tourists and some three different groups of Bollywood crew practicing group gyrations on the sand. The tour operators clogged the road with their buses and let their customers loose on these hapless camels who were now making 50 trips an hour to satiate the urban need for that perfect camel selfie. Most of these tourists yanked the camels' hair, clutched their hump, and yelled in fright as the camels shakily stood up to take them for their next ‘safari.' Some grabbed the bewildered calves and forced their children on their backs to make thrifty use of some free time as the camel owners took the mothers for another harrowing trip. The calves cried endlessly for their mothers, but aggressive and callous bullies held onto them tight. Tourism comes at such a high cost in our country, and ironically those who end up paying for it have nothing at all. We were grateful for nightfall; it meant that the camels got to go back to another patch away from prying hands of humans who bring such little to celebrate.

We ended our trip to Nubra, with a visit to the Diskit Monastery. Diskit is Nubra’s commercial hub - a small place with only a handful of stores and a modest market. The much-photographed monastery has been drawing some attention ever since the construction of the new structure on a parallel hill. It is the official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra and is home to the magnificent Maitreya Buddha. This impressive 106-foot gold statue sits atop the new monastery, facing the Shyok River towards Pakistan.

The craftsmanship is mindboggling and leaves one overwhelmed with its grandeur. It looms large over an entirely barren landscape dotted with craggy peaks on one side and sand dunes on the other and still inspires a strange sense of fulfillment when you recover from its massive span. The statue was consecrated by H.H. the Dalai Lama in 2010 and seeks to protect the valley from political turmoil and invasions and hopes to be the harbinger of peace and harmony for the region. Amen to that.

about the authors

Some of our friends and family call us a clan of restless, wandering souls. We are always either making travel plans or living them. Sometimes we fight about the choice of destination – as each one of us has a list, and we are all vociferously arguing our case. Rarely does all our choice coincide, but we are still a buzzing happy clan when we are out on the road, all feverish and impatient to see the unseen.

Created By
Shaonlee Bose


Saurabh Ganguli

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.