Nubra Valley in Leh, Jammu & Kashmir

Written by Sudhir Kumar

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 travellers.

About Nubra Valley :

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). The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and the Karakoram Ranges. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. above the sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over theKhardung La from Leh. Non-locals require an Inner Line Permit (obtainable in Leh town) to enter Nubra.

Geography :

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. The villages are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard for oil, and a variety of fruits and nuts, including apple, walnut, apricot and even a few almond trees. Most of the Nubra Valley is inhabited by Ladakhis who speak Ladakhi; the majority of them are Buddhist, with a minority of Shia and Sunni Muslims. In the western or lowest altitude end of Nubra Valley, along the Shyok River, the inhabitants are Balti, speak Balti, and are Shia and Sufia Nurbakhshia Muslims.

Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley. The Sasser Pass and the famous Karakoram Pass lie to the northwest of the valley and connect Nubra with Xinjiang. Previously there was much trade passing through the area with East Turkestan and Central Asia.

Tourists Attractions in Nubra Valley :

The main tourist attractions in the Nubra Valley are Diskit, Panamik, Samstanling monasteries and Khardung la Pass. People traveling to Nubra Valley are advised to take enough eatables and drinking Water etc. as people in the valley do not have much to offer you from their winter reserves. On the way most of the vehicles you meet are the Indian Army trucks.

Diskit :

Diskit is the main habitation and administrative center of the Nubra Valley. Sprawling over the floodplains on the south banks of the Shyok river, Diskit is situated on the edge of a desert on the Shyok-side valley. Due to unmatchable beauty of this valley, an excursion made here in unforgettable. The valley surrounded by the Himalaya mountains offers spectacular views. While descending into the valley after a few kilometers one would come into a surprisingly green landscape with high stone formations appearing like if sugar was poured over them. In the valley the landscape changes from the green oasis to desert. The main habitation, the town of Diskit makes an impression of being rather an empty town. There are several government offices in addition to the usual cluster of the whitewashed farmhouses. The Diskit village offers Guest Houses and lower budget hotels. The main attraction here is the 17h century Diskit Gompa, reached by the winding road or the dirt track starting near the stream in the middle of the village. Some stone steps climb to the main prayer hall, which enshrines a huge Maitreya statue and a giant drum. Upstairs is a dramatic lookout and a second chamber with effigies of demonic protectors. The gompa holds a major festival of Dosmoche in February. Downhill is the photang of the head lama of Nubra, dwarfed by the enormous statue of Chamba.

Hunder :

Beyond Diskit, the highway passes through a wide area of rolling sand dunes before reaching the sprawl of farmhouses and scrubby trees at Hunder. The foreigners can only travel as far as the bridge at the west end of the village. Immediately before the bridge is the squat Hunder Gompa, containing a large gilded statue of the Chamba. Across the road, a crude trail claims to two crumbling Buddhist temples and the ruins of a vast compound of pilgrims quarters. The fort at the top of the bridge offers inspirational views, but the exposed scramble up here is not for the fainthearted. The Camel safari can be organized from Diskit to Hunder village. The Safari takes around two hours. Hunder village has small monastery and it is located on ancient Silk Route.

Sumur :

On the far side of the valley, another dramatic gorge runs north along the Nubra river. Sumur is the largest village here, a pretty, green settlement with some interesting Buddhist relics. About 1 km uphill from Sumur is the huge Samstemling gompa, with a school full of friendly novice monks and a number of old and modern prayer halls full of quite distinguished murals. Further north on the main road is the small village of Tegar, with a small, adobe gompa enshrining a giant prayer wheel. Above the road are the burnt out ruins of the Zamskhang palace,a former residence of the kings of Nubra, surrounded by the tiny stupas filled with thousands of votive clay tablets left here by pilgrims on the Silk Road. There is another medieval gompa a few kilometres north at Pinchimik.

Panamik :

Panamik is situated about 28 ksm. north of Sumur. The farthest place the permit allows one to visit in the valley is Panamik, the last settlement of any size before the Tibetan border. Panamik is the most northern point open to foreigners in India. Further to that, the sensitive military area starts. The soldiers guarding the border are friendly and are happy to see the visitors too. The hot springs of Panamik are also worth visiting as to feel the warm water which is rare and valuable in the area.

Ensa Gompa :

The Ensa Gompa is 250 years old and lies on the top of a rock and overlooks the snow-peaked mountains of the valley. This Gompa seems not very far away but one needs to walk 6 to 7 hours to reach the Gompa.

Nubra River :

The Nubra River is a tributary of the Shyok River, which flows through the Nubra region of Ladakh, into theIndus River to the east of Skardu, Pakistan. The Siachen Glacier melts into this river.

Best Time to Visit Nubra Valley :

The Nubra Valley can be visited only during the summer months from mid of May till August. The Nubra valley itself lies at a lower elevation than the Leh which makes it fertile unlike most of the areas in Ladakh. In the valley, grains and fruits like peaches are being cultivated and grown here.

How to Reach Nubra Valley by Air :

The closest airport to Nubra valley is Leh Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airportwhich 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 Reach Nubra Valley 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 Reach Nubra Valley by Bus :

The best way to reach Nubra Valley is by road as there aren’t any train stations or airports situated in the region. 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.

All tourists coming in or going out of the Nubra valley has to take the Khardung La Pass where they need to submit the photocopies of their travel permits to soldiers stationed at North and South Pullu.

If you are going in the months of November to May, entry to Nubra Valley will only be permitted in the mornings of Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. However, you can only depart from the valley to Leh on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings. It’s better to avoid Mondays at all costs as the road closes for repairs.

Vehicles arriving in Nubra can only do so till 10:00 in the morning while those going towards Leh can access the roads exclusively from 1:00pm-6:00pm.

About the author

Sudhir Kumar

Leave a Comment