The day four of our tour was a highly anticipated one- we were leaving the town of Leh and beginning of journey into the interiors of Ladakh. We were going to climb up to the highest motorable road of the world- the Khardung-la and then enter the famous Nubra (NuFra as the locals say) valley.
Our attempts of getting a bike with us were foiled, as practically every single bullet in Leh was pre-booked, owing to the peak season. Kind of sad, as our chance of experiencing the thrill in riding upto Khardung-la was Kaputt, but good in a way as that gave a chance to really sit back and enjoy the roads, which is essentially what you do in Ladakh.
The journey began from Leh and we started climbing up. These roads built by BRO have been given names. The road from Srinagar to Leh is called the project Vijayak, while the roads from Leh to Nubra valley and Leh to Pangong-tso are named as Project Himank. Appropriate with Vijayak reminding of the operation Vijay in Kargil,and Himank representing the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges.
Our climb up on Himank was as smooth as it could get, ignoring a couple of uneven patches in between. A very important thing to be mentioned while traversing through Ladakh is the unpredictability of Journey. The roads are constantly being worked upon, so a bulldozer or a JCB can suddenly pop up and make you halt for an hour. Or the traffic can be manually controlled with only one side operating at a time, or at least a land-slide can occur if nothing else. We had heard of these things beforehand, but were lucky enough to escape it until now. (we did not know that it did await us within next couple of days!)
You know, Leh is somewhere around 11500 feet, and still you can see mountain peaks, high up in the sky from Leh city. As we started climbing up, gradually the level difference between us and the peaks started reducing. The joy of seeing the overbearing peaks at your eye level is unforgettable. I will never forget a particular point, where our car took a turn and a whole valley came into our sight, with the tall peak overbearing it and we being at the level of that peak. A line called ‘Abhalachi Chhaya tuzi samindarachi maya’ was playing in the background, and at that moment, the meaning of ‘abhalachi chhaya’ struck me like never before. I could see the infinite vastness that is meant in these lines, and could not help but shedding a couple of tears.
Reaching Khardung-la was a moment of gratification, of experiencing the thrill of being at 18650 ft, as high as a vehicle can get you. We of course shot the customary pictures, had steaming black tea in the army canteen, AND went up to the army men posted here for a quick chat. We had brought some Pune-specials like Amba Barfi and Bakarwadi for them, as a small token of appreciation, which they were happy to receive!
Descend from K-top into the Nubra was spectacular, with the changing terrain. I can not believe that surrounding mountains can change their colours, patterns and surfaces so rapidly.At certain points I would rate this descend into valley even higher than the grand Canyon, exhibiting deep-cut gorges, sudden flow of river and infinite shades of earth.
Our foray into the valley and the time we spent has two highlights- the otherwise non-specific little village of Diskit, with a hill-top monastery and a statue of giant, golden Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya is also on a hillock, more than 100 feet in height, adorned with colourful engraved ornaments and peace in his being. He overlooks the giant valley, a 360 degree panorama of peaks, gorges, sand, sudden belt of greenery and river Shyok- a subsidiary of Indus. It is a location out of this world, I am unable to describe it in words.
A little away from the village Diskit are the famous sand dunes of Hunder. They are your regular dunes, with white sand and ups-downs, just like in Rann of Kutchh. To top it all, they also have camels! That too double-humped. These camels are native of this place, and can be found only here.Now understand the uniqueness of this place- a single place with mountains, barren land, river, green bushes, desert and camels, at 10000 feet!!
These dunes offer you camel-rides as usual, but we preferred not taking it and encountering the dunes in different way. We actually perched ourselves atop a sand dune, and just let us roll on that slope. Yes, a childish act, and sand is so fine that its stuck at all places possible, but what a liberating exercise and what a way to feel those dunes! :)
Sunset saw us driving around the valley to our camp site- Mystique Meadows- and stopping at N number of places for wonderful pictures. We were put up in a pretty little set up, in comfortable tents, and spent a quiet night there. One of the highlights of this trip happened there though- we sat outside the tent on mini-lawn, and just sat looking at the sky- so full of stars- so brilliantly lit up- so serenely beautiful and mystifying!
Next day was mostly spent rather uneventfully, with our travel back, checking in at Angmo's Green Villa, and exploring Leh Market. And except the excellent home- cooked, authentic Ladakhi food that Angmo served us, not much to say about it :)