Ladakh Odyssey – Part 3 of 4 (Nubra Valley)

10th Aug (Leh – Diskit)
We start behind schedule for Nubra Valley. While I was waiting for others to fill up their petrol tanks, I made a visit to prayer wheels close by and rotated them to wish best of journey for Nubra.

From the word go, we started ascending towards Khardungla Pass also known as K-TOP which is 40 km from Leh town. Eventually it turns out that Leh town is almost visible from K-TOP. The road went up to Ganglas and then South Pullu where we had to submit a copy of ILP. From here we got involved in an army convoy which was taking fuel to border area camps.

Army convoy of trucks

Me at the K-TOP

Souvneir shop and temple at K-TOP

The road from 15 km before K-TOP was very bad with potholes with water, gravel, loose mud and stones all thrown in at random. Our progress was slow due to army convoy trucks as well. Finally after 2.5 hours from start we reached the K-TOP. It has a souvenir shop, temple and a canteen apart from various structures declaring the height and might of K-TOP. There was snow at K-TOP because of which it was chilly out there. I bought a hat and 5 key chains. After some coffee and smoke, we started down. Again the road was bad till North Pullu. The story of S&N Pullu is that earlier Yaks and caravan and now even army convoy cross over from North to South or vice-versa across K-TOP in a single day and rest for night after. From North Pullu, good road started but no respite from army trucks. Most of them were generous enough to give sides and we used to wave them to say thanks using left hand. In between we saw some yaks grazing in whatever green patches they could find.

View beyond K-TOP

Soon we reached Khardung village and settled in a tea shop. After laborious and lousy way of ordering we almost spent 2 hours there. I was insisting on leaving for Diskit but others were just passing time with nonsensical talks. We left Khardung village and continued from Khalsar village towards Diskit. After Khardung, the terrain started changing. We were loosing height in a great amount and soon saw Shyok river and its basin. The Shyok river is not one monolithic stream but several streams within its basin. It was quite below and we eventually had to come to its level. The river basin is basically the entire valley between two parallel mountain range. There were some green patches with trees, field and few houses among them.

Green patch around Shyok river

Cold desert

Sandy desert on the way to Diskit. Notice the road in between

Confluence of Shyok and Nubra rivers

The patch was actually around a tributary stream coming from high up from the mountain and meeting the Shyok river. We continued on the left bank of Shyok river which meets Nubra river coming from Siachen glacier. The confluence is not clear due to huge basin of both rivers meeting. Its hard to make out where the rivers meet. The basin otherwise is full of many streams, sand, stones and occasional greenery. After some driving close to Diskit we came to a location where we had to cross a flat patch of valley full of sand. When seen from top the road is just a think black strip among the field of sand. That stretch itself would be 2-3 kms. If we take out the mountains the road will look like coming directly from Jaisalmer in Thar desert.

We eventually reached Diskit and after seeing 2-3 hotel checked into Sand Dunes guest house. The guest house was quite comfortable with gorgeous flowers in full bloom and nice spread of food.

Diskit town itself was quite impressive. It has a Gompa high up in the mountain visible from everywhere but we did not visit it.

Apart from that Diskit had a road dotted with shops selling clothes, groceries, tailor, AV center and restaurants as well. There were cars and two-wheelers and lady drivers. It had school, hospital and even internet connection though it was not working. Surprisingly the shop-keepers were from plains a Rajasthani and Haryanvi. Prosperity of town could be attributed to presence of army as well. Due to army the roads to these towns are good and mostly accessible. Sometimes army adopts these border towns and villages which bolster the prosperity of town. Also these town are the only place for army personnel to come in contact with non-serviceman people. After a good nice dinner in the open, it was time to sleep.

11th Aug (Diskit to Panamik)
We got up late as we knew that ride is going to be short one to either Panamik or Leh. Due to some snag in bikes and general laziness and urge to fill up our tummies we left the hotel only at 12:30PM. First we decided to see Yak farm but road to it was broken and one local told us that there are no Yaks at this time. All of them are at high mountain Pasteur lands like the one we found close to North Pullu. So we decided to go to Hunder and check out the double-humped Bactrian camels. These camels were used by caravans to carry men and material. After some going up and down the army camp in Hunder, we were directed towards Sand dunes and shrub growth where we could spot camels loittering around. But when we got there, there were no camels to be seen. After asking a shepherd, he told that some 7-8 camels are owned by a guy who has gone to mosque for namaz but where has he tied up the camels is not known. We looked around a bit but could not find any. After some time, the camel guy appeared and asked for Rs. 50/- to show the camels. Since we did not want to waste our visit to Hunder specially for camels, we decided to pay. The guy took us to a growth of thorny shrubs where some 7-8 camels were sitting inside. After some clicking we came out and camel guy brought one camel out side.
Soon we left Hunder and came to Diskit. Here, there is a hand lever operated petrol pump of Indian oil though there is no building or any other paraphernalia.
Others filled up from there and soon we were on the way to Panamik. From Khalsar, we took a left to go over the bridge on the way to Panamik via Sumur. It was 35 kms from there. Panamik is a village with few guest house and 2-3 shops unlike Diskit. We stayed in the Pamaral guest house with a slightly mad host. Along with his wife he had two lovely kids. Whole family was our host.

Kids at Pamaral guest house

At the dinner in Sezer restaurant we met a couple from Italy who were also staying in the same guesthouse. We talked a bit about India, Rajasthan and Ladakh region. The host was calling us people from India which I didn’t like as if they are not Indians. They also have a term from down for people coming from plains. After waiting for others for sometime, I decided to visit the hot springs myself. It was some 1/2 km down and some 100 mts up the hill. There were few concrete rooms and barricades. But neither was there anybody and the whole place was dirty, uninspiring and water was flowing everywhere. There was brown-green algae or Sulphur deposits that I didn’t know. The water was around 60-70 deg Celsius.

Sulphur deposit around spring at Panamik

12th Aug (Panamik – Alchi)

We woke up early as we had decided to go up to Lamayuru today which makes it like 150+70 km more. But due to laziness of others, we left at around 9:30 AM. But before leaving I had glorious view of high mountains shrouded in clouds and flowers in full bloom in the courtyard.

Morning view from Pamaral guest house

Sunflower in full bloom at Pamaral guest house

In the morning, I was contemplating going to hot spring and taking bath there. But as it came out the host was getting hot water for our bath from one of the channels out of hot spring itself. Then I changed my mind and decided to have my bath at guest house only. I did accompany the host to the place from where he was fetching warm water. There I met a guy from Varanasi whose accent was more bihari. He was employed in ITBP in intelligence section. He was telling stories of how they feel glad on meeting people from down. He also came to the guesthouse and met others. He says the temp in winter drops to -35% C and how they sill feel cold. Some people suffer from HAPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Odeama) and they are sent back. When he heard that I came from Hyderabad he got interested as his brother was studying in CCMB (Center for Cellular Microbiology). He was asking how were the prospects & my opinion whether he should send the brother abroad. He told us that Panamik is on the road to Siachen base camp which is some 50 km away.

We left guesthouse in the late morning. We reached Khalsar among mountains with ominous looking clouds and mild rain.

Mountain covered with clouds

And from there to Khardung, the same teashop where had tea while coming. From Khardung up to North Pullu, road was good but from there onwards road was bad also bolstered by army convoy. We reached K-TOP around 2PM. Descent from there was uneventful and generally easy. We went straight to Padmaling hotel where Vicky and Sandy had to settle bills. The host had promised to keep a room vacant for them on coming back from Nubra and that is why he did not take money when they left for Nubra. This stop delayed things. We further got delayed due to my companion went to make STD calls. By the time we left for Lamayuru, it was getting dark. We made a stop at Pathar Sahib Gurudwara hoping to get to eat in langar but it happens only on Sundays and today was Saturday. We left after getting darshan and prasad. We did not spot the magnetic strip on the Leh-Kargil road where vehicles are known to go up against gravity as it was dark. It was really dark and driving was getting difficult. It was pitch dark except occasional vehicle from other side and only headlights from our bikes piercing the dark. Once or twice we had to come back in search of each other. There was a problem in chain getting lose in my companion’s bike so we decided to take halt for night. We were at Saspol where there was no hotel. A shopkeeper directed us to go to Alchi which was just 6-7 kms. We heeded his advice and settled in a guesthouse in Alchi with a plan that we will start early and go all the way to Srinagar. There was a caveat that Zojila can be passed only up to 1 PM and is closed on Monday. The host of the guest house was nice as he woke up the cook who cooked a meal of fried rice which we gulped down and went to sleep.


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