After spending 3 days exploring the city of Leh, we set out to further afield to Nubra valley and beyond by crossing the second highest motorable pass in the world – The Khardung La pass. During our trip to Nubra valley we travelled to the edge of Indian territory for a glimps of Baltistan - the village of Turtuk. This is our Ladakh travel diary of Nubra valley and Pangong lake.
Our travel though the Nubra valley, Batlistan and Pangong Tso
Day 4 – Journey To Nubra Valley From Leh By Crossing Khardungla Pass:
Situated at an altitude of 17,982 feet, and nearly 40 kilometres from the city of Leh, Khardungla pass is world’s second highest motorable mountain pass located in Ladakh mountain range and maintained by BRO – Border Roads Organisation of India. This pass connects the Indus River valley with the Shyok River valley and the Nubra valley. The journey through winding roads to Khardung La pass from Leh takes around an hour or sometimes more depending on the traffic towards the pass.
Khardung La - World's thrid highest motorable pass
At the top of the Khardung La pass there is a sign post/landmark stone from BRO where the altitude of the place is written. Quite a touristy stop for taking a picture but you will need to queue up with all other visitors. The pass has a café and a medical centre to assist anyone feeling sick due to high altitude and toilets which you should avoid! The pass is under the control of the Indian army and a notable presence of army is visible at the pass. It is recommended not to spend more than 10-15 minutes at this location at this altitude as the oxygen saturation in the air is very low and the body gets stressed quickly. We spent around 5 minutes at the top, took some pictures and continued our journey towards Nubra valley.
Diskit monastery on the slop of the mountain
The Diskit Monastery is located at an elevation of over 10,300 feet on the slope of mountain adjacent to Shyok River valley, near the village of Diskit in Nubra valley. Diskit monastery is the oldest and the largest monastery in the valley and belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Built during the 14th century, it is famous for its 106 feet tall Maitreya Buddha statue. The statue is located on a hilltop just below the monastery and the view of the Shyok River and the valley from the foot of the statue is breathtaking. The statue was inaugurated by His Holiness Dalai Lama during 2010.
The 106 feet all Maitreya Buddha statue of Diskit monastery
View of Diskit village and Nubra valley from hill of Diskit monastery Buddha statue
The monastery houses a notable collection of paintings and murals. The monastery also runs a school for Tibetan children which is located below the hill where the statue is located.
Hunder Sand Dunes and Double-Humped Camels
Just outside the sleepy village of Hunder, 10 kilometres from the village of Diskit at an elevation of over 10,000 feet by the bank of Shyok river is the cold desert of Nubra valley and the sand dunes of Hunder. The Hunder sand dunes is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Nubra valley and famous for its unique white-silvery sand, scattered bushes of sea buckthorns and the rugged mountainous backdrop. Everyday hundreds of tourists visit the sand dunes early morning or in the evening to enjoy the spectacular view nature has to offer.
Cold desert - Sand dunes of Hunder
The main attraction of Hunder sand dunes is its resident – double-humped Bactrian camels. Native to central Asia, double-humped camels are the remnants of the glorious past – Silk Route. Due to its location at the crossroads of silk route, tradesmen for centuries used to carry silk, nuts, dry fruits etc. on the back of these double-humped camels. Many that were left behind during the epic journey survived which lead to the hundred odd population of these camels in Nubra valley. These camels carry tourist on their backs now, a bit of a change from the ancestral profession!
Riding double-humped Bactrian camels is the most popular activity at Hunder
We arrived at the sand dunes when the sun started going down behind the mountains in the west. The sky was painted in hues of red and violet with mountains creating the perfect backdrop for the sand dunes. We walked a good distance away from the crowds interested in camel ride to find the peace and quiet to compliment the beautiful surrounding, the slightly cold breeze and the colourful sky.
Our Resort And The Village of Hunder:
Mud-walled Mongolian chalets at Chalet Sea Buckthorn
In Hunder our refuge for the night was a picturesque resort called Chalet Sea Buckthorn. Located just next to the main road off the village of Hunder. The resort has about a dozen of circular shaped mud-walled Mongolian chalets scattered around the vegetable patches and flower beds. The view of the surrounding mountains emphasized the closeness to nature. By some stroke of luck, we were the only guests that night and received all the attention and hospitality of the resort staff.
Local villagers form Hunder selling vegetables in the village market
Campfire at Chalet Sea Buckthorn elevating the ambience in the evening
Just before the sunset we went for a stroll on the main street and ended up in the middle of the hustle-bustle of the small market. Local women were selling their home-grown vegetables and fruits, we checked out few shops, clicked few photos and were offered fresh apples by the friendly sellers. We took a few apples and paid the lovely lady who refused to take the money initially and walked back to our resort. When we arrived, we were pleased to find firepit with roaring flames providing much needed warmth and ambience to wrap up the day.
Day 5 – Glimpses Of Baltistan In The Village Of Turtuk And ATV Ride At Bollywood Movie Location:
Turtuk – The Last Village Of India:
We started early as the journey from Hunder to the village of Turtuk was going to take us through long winding mountain roads and valleys. Turtuk is Located 85 kilometres from the village of Hunder and sits around 10 kilometres from Pakistan Line Of Control (LOC) and nestled in the Karakoram range at the edge of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. It is considered as one of the remotest villages of India and therefore often referred to as ‘the last village of India’, though Thang, a small village which is around 9 kilometres from the Turtuk is technically the last village of India.
The picturesque village and its buckwheat fields of Turtuk
Before 1947, Turtuk was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir ruled by the Dogras. From the time of Independence of India in 1947 until 1971, the village of Turtuk was part of Pakistan. During the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 India recaptured the territory from Pakistan and the village of Turtuk and its residents became part of India overnight.
The inhabitants of Turtuk village are from the Balti community and are culturally and ethnically part of Gilgit-Batlistan. Balti peoples are Tibetan Ethnic group and follow Islam. Their culture, lifestyle, customs, rituals all are quite different from rest of Ladakh.
The glacier stream that divides Yul from Farool of Turtuk village
The village is mainly divided into three areas. The area near the Shyok River is known as Chutang where local schools, health centres and other modern facilities are located. The two other parts are called Yul and Farool which are also sometime called as upper and lower Turtuk respectively. Yul and Farool are separated by a glacier stream and are connected by a wooded hanging bridge. Yul is the oldest part of the village which has many old houses, museum and Royal palace. The Farool part of the village has several homestays and guest houses for visitors, some popular restaurants serving Balti cuisine to visitors and also has a number of buckwheat and apricot fields which are accessible to visitors. Buckwheat is one of the main ingredients of Balti cuisine.
The narrow lanes and traditional Balti house of Turtuk village
For about half of the year, the village remains cut off from the other parts of Ladakh due to heavy snowfall. Very recently, in around 2010, the village was opened to tourists to boost its economy. Since the village opened-up to tourists and visitors, people from Balti community have also tried to preserve their culture and showcase it. Most of the old houses in the village are almost two centuries old and have wood carvings done by craftsman who came from all over Gilgit-Baltistan and from central Asia. The traditional heritage houses in the village have preserved original Balti artifacts dating nearly 400 years back. We spent the entire morning and afternoon in the village of Turtuk and explored Yul and Farool. A glimpse of what we did during our half day visit to the village.
Walking through the narrow lanes of Farool
On arriving at the Turtuk we decided to visit the Farool first. Stopping and clicking some pictures on the wooden bridge we climbed a few steps towards lower Turtuk. Soon we stepped inside the maze of narrow alleyways lined on either side by old traditional Balti style houses made of wood and stone. We occasionally saw small vegetable patches between houses as well as apricot orchards with few fruits still hanging from the branches. The surroundings were quiet and peaceful and every now and then we passed along a very narrow stream of fresh ice-cold water for the glaciers. We saw villagers drying apricots on rooftop terraces of their houses. Livestock – hens, roosters, goats and cows roamed freely in the backyards of many houses – a typical village setting and minus the fast paced craziness of our world today!
View of Chutang from the buckwheat field of Farool
The buckwheat fields of Farool, Turtuk Village
The narrow alleyways soon took us to the buckwheat fields at the edge of the village. The view from this part of the village was truly majestic where on one side we could see village houses, agricultural fields with towering mountains in the backdrop and on other side we could see huge buckwheat fields that ran till the very end of a cliff. We could also see the Shyok river and mountains at a distance. The steep cliff overlooked the Chutang part of the village and Shyok river. The time of year when we went to Ladakh (August) it was just about the time for buckwheat harvest. The fields looked glorious with blooming white flowers. The local women were busy harvesting the crop under the midday sun. We walked over the narrow path between to buckwheat fields until the cliff which revealed a stunning view of the Karakoram range, the valley and Shyok river flowing through it.
Balti heritage house museum and some of exhibits
Sitting at the edge of the Farool part of the village inside a narrow alleyway, this traditional Balti house turned museum showcases some of the well preserved old Batli artefacts – storage pots, cooking utensils, furniture and old traditional Baltic costumes. The house was built and reconstructed during the end of 19th century by Ghulam Haider Ashourpa from Ashourpa subclan of Yangdrungpa clan. Yangdrung was one of the two founders of the present-day settlement of Turtuk. During his lifetime, Ghulam Haider Ashourpa carried out notable social work for which he was later recognised by the government of the region. Today, the current generation of Ghulam Haider Ashourpa resides in the house and maintain the museum. As we entered the house, we were greeted by a friendly young lady who is the youngest generation of Ashourpa. She explained the history of the house and Batli culture and customs in detail, showed us around the house museum. There were large stone pots that were used for storing grains. The kitchen had a collection of century old brass pots and plates and other tableware. In one of the bedrooms, old traditional Balti real fur robes, dresses and shawls were kept. The house had an old charm and definitely worth a visit for a glimpse of the traditional Balti life of the by gone era.
Seating area of the Balti Kitchen restaurant in the middle of kitchen garden
It would have been sinister to leave the village of Turtuk without eating authentic Batli cuisine, especially when there were some options of family-run restaurants that cooks up authentic Baltic meals. One such restaurant is the Batli Kitchen which opened its door to hungry travellers during the year 2015. The owners Rahim Khan and Hajira Khan prepare and serve wholesome and flavourful ancient Balti recipes using fresh and organically grown ingredients in the restaurant’s backyard. Through their food the restaurant gives a flavour of the history and culture of Baltistan. The restaurant sits in the middle of a lush green kitchen garden growing seasonal vegetable, fruits and flowers which adds to the experience.
Balti food from the Balti Kitchen restaurant
We ordered few items from the short menu the restaurant offers along with fresh apricot juice. Every dish we ordered was unique with delicately balanced flavours. Read more about Baltic cuisine and food we tried during our trip to Ladakh here.
The courtyard of Yogba palace
The museum turned kitchen of Yogba palace
Located in Yul part of Turtuk, the Royal palace or the Yagbo palace is a two storey larger than normal traditional Balti house – it doesn’t fit the image of a palace perhaps closer in appearance to the residence of the village chief. The palace is the current residence of the King of Turtuk, Yagbo Mohammad Khan Kacho who is the descendant of the Yagbo Dynasty of Chorbat-Khaplu, a region of Baltistan that falls on the other side of the line of control. Though the present king does not have any power and is not officially recognised as royalty, he is referred to as the king in this part of the world. Yagbo Dynasty ruled the lands of Khaplu for centuries and expanded to region of Ladakh before the Dynasty came to an end when Dorgas took charge of Jammu and Kashmir and expanded their kingdom during the mid-19th century.
Yogba dynasty lineage written of a wall of the palace
The present king Yagbo Mohammad Khan Kacho
The entrance to the Yagbo palace leads up in a courtyard. The rooms on the ground floor serve as a museum where many of the artifacts from the Yagbo family are in display including large cooking utensils in the kitchen area. A staircase at a corner of the courtyard takes you to the first floor where the present-day king resides and greet visitors. The present king Yagbo Mohammad Khan Kacho speaks very passionately about his past, his family and the Balti culture. In the room where he entertains his guest, the lineage of the dynasty is written on one of the walls. The King carries a sceptre with a metallic serpent head attached to it – perhaps a nod to his royal past! Apart from the family tree in the room many other items are in display including bows and arrows, swords, jewellery and photographs from the past. The king explains the significance and history of most of the items on display with great detail to his audience. We spent a good amount of time with the king in his palace listening to him, took a family photo with him before bidding farewell and continued our Ladakh adventure.
ATV Riding In The Dunes Of Desert Himalaya Adventure Park - Khalsar
ATV riding in Desert Himalaya Adventure at Khalsar
We left Turtuk late afternoon and set off to return to Terith for the evening. After crossing Distik, we arrived at the Desert Himalaya Adventure Park by the bank of Shyok river. It is famous for ATV riding for adventure seekers. Travellers take the ATV rides over the sand dunes and enjoy the open vastness of the surroundings. A ride typically lasts for around 15 minutes. We also had small groups of Buddhist monks having some fun! The area where the ATV rides takes place is also famous as a shooting location for a well-known Bollywood movie, so a favourite stopover of Bollywood fans.
Our Stay At A Picturesque Echo Resort in Terith
We called it a day after reaching our refuge for the next two nights, a picturesque eco resort ‘Osay Khar’ in the small village of Terith in the Nubra valley. We arrived at the resort while the sun was still looming over the surrounding mountains.
Vegetable garden at Osay Khar echo resort
The resort is spread over an area of 25 acres of farmland in a remote location at the edge of the village. The resort is dotted with stone and concrete cottages. There is plenty of open space between two cottages to give the sense of peaceful seclusion in the lap of nature. The resort grows its own produce in large vegetable and fruit gardens which is worth a visit. We spent a good amount of time exploring the vegetable gardens during our stay. Our son (then 9 years) was thrilled to explore the vegetable patches and suggested we do something similar in our small back garden at home.
Potato fileds at Osay Khar echo resort
Outdoor seating area of at Osay Khar echo resort
The dining area had indoor and outdoor setup for the visitors to enjoy and relax. The open-air outdoor dining area and traditional ‘lounges’ under the apricot trees was one of the highlights of the resort. We spent the entire evening lazing around and sipping masala chai and devouring onion and vegetable pakodas (fritters). Additionally, the staffs were friendly with a great sense of hospitality for the guests.
Day 6 – Sumur, Tiger and Panamik (Along The Bank of Nubra River)
Panamik Hot Spring
Located around 30 kilometres towards north from the village of Terith lies the small village of Pamanic along the bank of Nubra river which is known for its natural hot spring. Located at an altitude of over 10,400 feet, the village of Panamik is the one of the last settlements before the Siachen glacier towards the Indo-Tibetan border. The hot spring at Panamik is located on a hill side above the village. The water of the hot spring is rich in sulphur and is believed to carry medicinal properties for curing skin related diseases.
The source of the hot spring on the slope of mountain at Panamik
The source of the hot spring is at the slope of the mountain from where a small stream runs downhill. Part of this water stream is diverted into a small hot spring ‘bath’- a facility with separate pools for men and women. There is a minimal entry fee (around 20 Indian rupees when we went) for visiting the source of the hot spring and getting into the pool. When we visited the pool lacked basic maintenance and upkeep. The temperature of the water inside the pool was quite warm. The pool area was not particularly clean. There were few changing rooms next to the pool which were not in usable condition. We tried to take a dip in the pool, but the water was too hot for that. There were a couple of buckets and jugs left next to the pool for the visitors to use. We did a quick splash and headed out.
Panamik hot spring with Panamik village in the backdrop
The view of the Nubra river valley and surrounding hills from outside the hot spring pool building was truly magnificent like other landscapes of Ladakh. Due to its location and hot springs the place could have had great potential to be one of the top tourist attractions of Ladakh but unfortunately lies in an abysmal state today.
Local Tibetan Food From The Kitchen Of Village Women Co-Operative
Kitchen of the village women co-operative at Panamik
With a bowl of Chutagi from the kitchen of the village women co-operative at Panamik
Adjacent to the hot spring, you can experience local Ladakhi food at a nominal cost from the kitchen run by the women co-operative from the village of Panamik. The place has a kitchen and a traditional Ladakhi style dining area. We were warmly welcomed inside the kitchen when we asked if we could take a look! The women take turns to cook simple yet flavourful food from scratch. They also demonstrated their cooking techniques. We ordered chutagi, khambir and butter tea. Chutagi – a kind of vegetable soup along with bowtie shape noodles in it, was a light flavourful dish. To know more about what food to try in Ladakh, please check our blog on Ladakh food here.
Intricately drawn Tibetan thangka on the wall of assembly hall of Samstanling monastery
Tibetan thangka from Samstanling monastery
Established during the early part of the 19th Century, Samstanling monastery is a relatively new monastery in the region of Ladakh. Located near the village of Sumur in Nubra valley, on a hilltop by the bank of Nubra river, Samstanling monastery holds significant importance to the local Buddhist community. The monastery has two assembly halls and houses 50 monks. Inside the assembly halls, visitors can find intricately made and well-preserved Buddhist paintings and thangkas.
Sumur Sand Dunes and Freshwater Spring
Sumur freshwater spring
A dip in the icecold fresh spring water in Sumur
Located in between the villages of Sumur and Terith in Nubra valley, the Sumur sand dunes is overshadowed by the popularity of the sand dunes in Hunder. When we arrived at Sumer sand dunes during late afternoon we were the only ‘tourists’. There were some local school kids enjoying themselves and taking a dip in the freshwater spring adjacent to the sand dunes. We also took a refreshing dip in the ice-cold water under the warm sun, at the foot of the mountains.
Day 7 – Pangong Tso And Homestay at Man village:
We started the day early as we had a very long road ahead of us. It turned out to be the most treacherous roads on our Ladakh trip so far and took us around 6 hours to cover the distance between Terith and starting point of Pangong Tso. Some parts of the road were non-existent as we drove over the dried-up bed of the Shyok river.
Picturesque vast marshy grassland near Pangong Tso
The picturesque marshy grassland worth few camera clicks
Once we arrived near Pangong Tso we found a huge and picturesque marshy grassland by the road. Beauty of that place was worth a break to soak in the surroundings and take a few pictures.
Breath-taking view of Pangong Tso
We continued our journey towards the mighty Pangong Tso and after a few twists and turns and bends through mountain roads, the lake revealed itself. Located at an altitude of nearing 14250 feet, Pangong Tso is one of the high-altitude lakes of Ladakh and world’s highest saltwater lake. The name Pangong translates to narrow and enchanted lake which precisely describes its shape as Pangong Tso is around 140-150 kilometres in length with an average width of 3 km. Situated along the actual line of control between India and China, majority (two thirds) of the lake belongs to China. The lake is also known for changing its colour from deep blue to green to red. When we arrived by the bank of the Pangong lake we were blown away by its vastness and beauty. The deep blue colour of the lake and surrounding arid brownish coloured mountains created a contrasting picturesque view.
Shooting Location For The Movie ‘3-Idiots’:
By the shore of Pangong Tso at Bollywood movie shooting location
The lake gained immense popularity among domestic tourists a decade back though a popular Bollywood movie ‘3 Idiots’ where the climax scene drama unfolded by the bank of Pangong Tso. At present a battalion of yellow scooters stand by the bank of the lake representing the yellow scooter used in the movie for visitors to take some snaps (paid of course). We spent some time by the lake and started for our final destination of the day – Man village, a small sleepy village by the bank of Pangong Tso.
Man village by the bank of PangongTso
A small picturesque village by the bank of the Pangong Tso, Man village is home to around 30 families mainly from Changpas, the semi-nomadic tribe of Ladakh. Until very recently, before the tourism boom in this part of the world, the villagers livelihood mostly depended on farming and livestock. Even today the villagers depend on their own harvest due to the remoteness of this place. So there still are a number of wheat and vegetable fields dotted around the village. Various small freshwater streams coming from the mountains behind the village provides sufficient water for irrigation and domestic use. Now with more and more tourists coming, most of the villagers have also started offering homestays for travellers. However new tourist camps are popping up by the bank of the lake as well which may soon overwhelm the place and take a toll on its beauty and delicate balance with nature.
Local Ladakhi couple from Man village harvesting crop
We stayed in a homestay hosted by a Ladakhi family and were delighted by the hospitality we received. Once we checked into our homestay, we re-energised ourselves by sipping a cup of hot tea with some biscuits and went walking to explore the village. We came across and chatted with an elderly couple who just finished harvesting wheat from their field. Life in this part of the world is simple, technology free and slow paced.
Watching the sunset by the bank of Pangong Tso almost gives zen like feeling
We strolled to the bank of the lake just before sunset and enjoyed the quiet and peaceful nature around us. The setting sun, the cold breeze and the silence of the surrounding area almost gave a zen like feeling. Sitting by the bank of a lake and doing nothing is a novel and unforgettable experience for city dwellers like us. With the sun sent, we headed back to the homestay and were greeted with another cup of hot tea. A simple and hearty home cooked dinner followed soon – rice, lentils and vegetables. The remote location and lack of internet access worked like a technology detox for us and we quietly enjoyed the night sky from the courtyard of the house and went to sleep.
Day 8 – Bank to Leh passing through the third highest motorable pass – Chang La pass:
After spending a day in the lap of nature in a remote location in Ladakh it was time for us to get back to of the cities and technology. After breakfast we started our journey back to the city of Leh. The distance between Man village and Leh is around 170 kilometres which can be covered in 4 to 5 hours depending on the condition of the road and traffic. During our visit to Ladakh, part of the road from Pangong to Leh via Chang La pass was under construction, this added an hour to our journey due to slow moving traffic on the already narrow mountain roads. However few kilometres after Chang La pass where the construction had completed, the road was wide and smooth until we reached the city of Leh.
Chang La Pass
Situated around 78 kilometres from the city of Leh, at an altitude of 17,586 feet from sea level, Chang La pass is the third highest motorable pass in the world. Chang La pass is named after the saint Changla Baba and meaning ‘Pass towards the South’. The local nomad inhabitants of the area around the pass are known as Changspa. The pass is open for travellers from the month of May until October and is maintained by the Indian Armed Force due to the proximity to the ‘Actual line of control’ between India and China. Chang La pass connects the city of Leh with the Pangong lake towards north and is known for its breathtaking beauty. The view of the valley beneath and the mountain ranges around the pass present a spectacular view. Apart from its natural beauty, the pass has significant historical and ecological importance. The pass is believed to be a part of the ancient silk route that stretched from China to Europe and North Africa via Central Asia. And recent discovery of Jurassic ammonoids in this area has enhanced its ecological significance.
Chang la pass, world's third highest motorable pass
The pass has a post for travellers indicating its altitude and significance – a popular point of pictures. There is also a temple of Changla baba for travellers to pay their respect. The pass has basic amenities like toilets and a cafe for travellers. As the pass is located at a high altitude, travellers are advised not to spend more than 15 to 20 minutes at the top of the pass to avoid falling to altitude sickness. As we had stayed at high elevation in Ladakh for past 8 days by this time, we did not feel anything different. We spent around 10 minutes at the top, had a cup of tea and started our descend towards the city of Leh.
Leh market is the best place to buy local handicrafts
After the long road trip, our journey came to an end from where we had started 8 days ago, the city of Leh. We checked back into the same hotel and after resting a bit, headed out to explore the explore the famous Leh market to buy Ladakhi handicrafts to take back with us – a reminder of our trip to the land of lamas for years to come. Leh market is considered as the heartbeat of the city where thousands of tourists come every evening to shop and eat and experience the local vibe. We visited a few shops and settled on a mask of Mahakal (Tibetan Buddhism) and a hand painted thangka of Vajrasattva from a handicraft shop. Leh also has a number of rooftop restaurants on the main market road. We headed back to our favourite rooftop restaurant with its charming view of the city and delicious food and with that dinner and evening, our Ladakh adventure came to an end.
Day 9 – End of our Ladakh Adventure and bank to the plains of Indian capital – Delhi:
After completing an unforgettable journey through the mountains and valleys of Ladakh, it was time for us to bid farewell to this magical land and fly back to the plains of Indian capital – Delhi. Our stay at Leh on our last day of the trip was brief as we headed to the airport just after breakfast to catch our flight. While we took off from Leh airport, the surrounding landscape of rugged mountains and valleys dotted with green pocket and the Indus River flowing through it mesmerised us for one final time. The flight was on time, and we touched down to Delhi just after midday.
Ladakh is place that leaves a very visual memory – the vastness of the place, the unique topography and for us the nonstop Buddhist chanting our driver played made us feel like we had gone on a journey to reflect, though some of the non-existent roads and questionable toilets jarred us back to reality occasionally! We hope the place retains its charm and culture and its delicate relationship with nature.