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Ladakh: An Unforgettable Experience

By Dr Ggarima Pandde

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022

After imbibing the mesmerizing beauty of the Leh district and surroundings, it was time to move on to my next destinations towards interior parts of Leh Lakadkh. The feeling of excitement was difficult to contain within oneself as the impending journey of Leh and Ladakh trip was going to be quite enthralling.

As we drove away from Leh, the town's enchanting beauty gradually faded into the background. But that didn't stop me from feeling excited about what lay ahead. The journey took us through some of the most pristine and untouched areas of Ladakh. The scenery was constantly changing, with snow-capped mountains and gushing rivers providing a stunning backdrop. We were mesmerized by the natural beauty all around us, and it was hard to believe that such places still existed in this world.

Every twist and turn revealed something new and exciting, making my anticipation grow with each passing kilometer. We eventually touched upon Beacon highway, a stunning stretch of road that runs from Leh and enters the Nubra valley.

The Beacon Highway - a dream for motorists

Beacon highway in Ladakh is one of the highest motorable roads in the world, it's also a paradise for the driving enthusiasts and road trippers. The route runs through a scenic landscape of mountains and beautiful vegetation. This stretch of road has always been a perfect photography spot and has been a part of quite a few movies. It was usually quiet and the road was not busy which gave us an opportunity to capture pictures while sitting in the middle of the road. The spot is also popular for photographs during motorcycle group tours in Ladakh.

Beacon highway in Ladakh is a scenic route with beautiful snow capped mountains

Beacon highway in Ladakh is a scenic route with beautiful snow capped mountains - a paradise for photography enthusiast

Our next stop was Khalsar at 10,000 feet altitude, which is popular place for adventure activities in Ladakh. One of the most thrilling experiences one can have is an ATV ride in the cold desert of Ladakh. The sand dunes and the open territory is quite liberating. Despite the clear skies and the sun, the temperatures and wind were low enough to feel chilly and cool.

The quad bike going high and low over the sand dunes is an astounding experience. Due to the gusty winds a good pair of sunglasses and a bandana would always come handy. The optimum time for this activity would be around noon. The first time you ride an ATV, you will certainly get jitters, but the experience would be incomparable and you can feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins. A ride of 8-10 mins would feel with zest and enthusiasm. As the oxygen levels and atmospheric pressure are low in this area, you would be drained of your energy as well. You may experience a slight headache and breathlessness after a little physical activity, so be careful and consume as much energy as possible.

ATV in the sand dunes of Nubra Valley

Taking on the toughest terrain like a boss with my ATV in the sand dunes of Nubra Valley

The sand dunes of Hunder - Leh's own desert

After freezing cold at Khalsar, we moved to Hunder village, the location for white sand dunes. The village is located on the Shyok River. The sand dunes at Hunder village are a truly spectacular sight in Ladakh. Stretching for miles, these white dunes are a natural wonder that is well worth a place to visit in Leh and Ladakh.

The white sand dunes at Hunder village are a natural wonder

The white sand dunes at Hunder village are a natural wonder

The best time to see the dunes is early in the morning, when the sun casts a beautiful golden glow over the sand. As you walk through the dunes, you can't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder at their size and beauty. If you're lucky, you might even spot a camel or two! This village is also known for its Camel Safaris, a fun and entertaining activity. This safari is another way of exploring this place besides the ATV bike rides. This is very much similar to the Thar desert camel safari. Historically, camels were the main form of transportation due to the difficult terrain. At present, they are an important attraction for tourists and are used as a form of sightseeing.

The breathtaking sand dunes at Hunder village in Ladakh

Enjoying the breathtaking sand dunes at Hunder village in Ladakh in freezing temperatures

Nubra Valley Ladakh - the undiscovered empire of nature

We then drove to the interior of Nubra valley, which is around 150 km from Leh, a place where one has to cross the highest motorable road in the world, the Khardung La. "La" in Tibetan means pass. It is situated between the Leh and Shyok River valley. The weather in Khardung La is usually cool in summer and extreme cold in winter. Even in summer, temperatures can dip below freezing at times. Khardung La pass, which separates the Karakoram range from the Himalayan range, has an average height of 18,288 feet. It is one of the most challenging passes to drive due to the elevation.

Indian Army check post at the top of Khardung La pass

Indian Army check post at the top of Khardung La

Our trip took us through Tangtse, a pleasant village 35 km from Pangong Lake. There was a carpet of white and soft snow on the road. Witnessing snowfall for the first time is an experience that all visitors to hilly terrain should not miss. Having said that, I wouldn't recommend playing in the snow for an extended period of time since it would leave your hands numb. A good pair of mittens are a must wear while you are here.

The Nubra Valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains with Khardung La highway

The Nubra Valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the Khardung La highway runs through it

There are not many options for food on this trail, so it is advisable to carry dry snacks and dry fruits in order to compensate for lost energy and also to satiate hunger. Water is also scarce, so you should keep a lot of water bottles around. This destination can be explored in about 10-15 minutes.

The camels in Ladakh are different from the camels of the rest of India. Their distinctive feature is a double hump on their backs and thick fur covering their body. They are more commonly known as Bactrian camels. This variety of camels fall under the endangered species category.

The last remnant of the Silk Road trade in India is the double-humped camel in Ladakh

The last remnant of the Silk Road trade in India is the double-humped camel

Diskit Monastery - the oldest & largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery

Diskit Monastery, also known as Diskit Gompa is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nubra Valley. The largest and oldest monastery in Nubra Valley is located at 10,000 feet and offers a marvelous view of the Diskit Village in Ladakh. The crowned Buddha situated at this monastery is called 'Cho Rinpoche' in Tibetan. The Monastery has a rich history and is a great place to learn about Tibetan culture and religion. This place gives an immense sense of peace and tranquility to anyone who visits here.

Diskit monastery in Nubra Valley

Several of our ladies posing outside the Diskit monastery in Nubra Valley

Pangong Lake - Nature's Blue Nest

Our group tour of Ladakh finally reached our most desired destination, Pangong Tso. The first glance at magical Pangong Lake was breathtaking. The crystal-clear water sparkling in the sunlight, and the mountains provided the perfect backdrop. It's no wonder this place is so popular with tourists! Just a glimpse of this wonder will leave you speechless. You need to time your visit to Ladakh to witness magical Pangong Tso. About 30% of the lake is in India and 70% is in China. Pangong Lake is situated at a height of 13,000 feet and spans 134 km. This lake is considered to be one of the gems of the Ladakh region. The water is clear and greenish blue in color. It's an aesthetic delight one can ponder for hours. I enjoyed walking along its shores, feeling the cool and pure breeze, and being able to see the clear sky. City dwellers will definitely find this place a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.

The magnificent Pangong Lake from a distance

It seems like an ocean rippling with white caps when I viewed the magnificent Pangong Lake from a distance

There are plenty of accommodation options in Pangong Lake. The lake is surrounded by multiple cottages that are available to travelers for overnight stays. They are equipped with basic amenities and a pantry. Due to the difficult terrain, minimal electricity and water supplies are available in this area. The mesmerizing view of this lake can also be enjoyed while stargazing at night on its shores. The day at this place typically begins with a good breakfast provided by the camp owners. You would need a lot of energy at high altitude to explore this majestic place.

The famous scooter from "3 Idiots" movie near the cottages at Pangong Lake

Our gang poses with the famous scooter from "3 Idiots" movie near the cottages at Pangong Lake

This lake also serves as an important breeding site for migratory birds. There are a few small villages around here. One of these villages is Spangmik, situated on the banks of this lake where famous Pashmina wool is produced from the Changthangi goats. The nights are super chilly in this area as the temperature drops to -13 degrees in September. The supply of oxygen is also low, which can make sleep difficult at times. One should try to minimize the strenuous activities in order to conserve energy and consume less oxygen.

Taking a picture at Pangong Lake in freezing temparature

The freezing weather didn't stop me from taking a picture at Pangong Lake

I didn't realize how fast the days went by and it was time to head back to Leh as I had a flight from Leh to New Delhi, back home the next day. On our way back from Pangong Lake to Leh, we visited the Chang La or Chang La Pass which is situated at an altitude of 17,500 feet. These passes are usually narrow roads/passages bound by mountains on both sides. The mountains around here were all covered in snow welcoming the winters in this region.

It also offers stunning views of the Himalayan mountain range. It is home to a large number of Buddhist monasteries, making it a popular place for pilgrims. The pass is situated on the Leh-Manali highway, and is open from June to October. During other times, the pass is covered in snow and can be treacherous to drive on.

Chang La pass in Ladakh

The last picture with my travel companions at Chang La before we left for Leh

The adventure ends, memory remains...

What an amazing trip! Leh Ladakh was everything I hoped for and more. The landscape is unlike anywhere I've ever been - so vast and empty, with towering snow-covered mountains and deep valleys. The sky is huge and the stars are so bright at night. I loved exploring all the different villages and meeting the friendly locals. Every day felt like a new adventure. I'm so grateful to have had this experience and I can't wait to go back.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How to reach various places in Ladakh from Leh airport?

The interior parts of Leh Ladakh can be reached by different means of transportation from the Leh airport. These include buses, cars, and bikes. There are certain points that need to be kept in mind while choosing the means of transportation. The cars and bikes can be hired from the airport itself.

What are the visiting hours of Diskit monastery?

Diskit monastery is located in Nubra Valley, and is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in the region. The visiting hours are from 9am to 6pm. The monastery was founded in the 14th century, and is known for its grand architecture and beautiful murals. Visitors can explore the monastery grounds, admire the artwork, and learn about the history and culture of Tibetan Buddhism.

How much is the distance between Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley?

From Pangong Tso, the journey to Nubra Valley is about 130 kilometers. The road first winds its way northwards along the eastern shore of the lake. The scenery here is truly breathtaking, with towering mountains on one side and the beautiful turquoise waters of the lake on the other.

Why is Pangong Lake so enchanting and deserves a visit?

The picturesque Pangong Lake is a beautiful high-altitude lake in the Himalayan mountain range. The mesmerizing colors of the lake, the clear blue skies and the stunning mountain scenery make it a truly magical place. Pangong Tso is also home to a variety of wildlife, including migratory birds, Tibetan antelope, and kiangs. The best time to visit the lake is between May and September when the weather is warm and dry.

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Things To Consider

The summer months of April to July are ideal for the visit. It rains during Aug-Sep. It starts to snow by the first week of October, so traveling by bike during this time is not advisable.
Mostly influenced by Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Languages spoken are Ladakhi, Tibetan and Balti. Men wear Goucha whereas the women wear a robe called Kuntop and Bok. A long hat called Perak is also worn both by men and women.
Most famous dishes are Thenthuk, Skyu, Momo and Thukpa. Most loved beverages are Gur gur cha and cha ngarmo and local alcohol Chhang. Rice mutton and chicken dishes prepared by the locals. Yak meat is preferred during the winter season.
People touring Ladakh by bike should be careful of the roads as they are quite rocky and slippery during the end of September when it starts to snow there.
A trip to Leh Ladakh is now quite common, but for those looking for adventure there are a few treks to explore during the peak winter.
Hiking shoes, Sunscreen with SPF 50 and above, body lotion, torch, battery bank, dry snacks and dry fruits, Diamox tablets are must have items in your packing list. Woolens, thermals, petroleum jelly etc. would be good during the rainy season.

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