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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 14 of 25: Shyok and Nubra Valleys

photo by Michael

Nubra Valley

The far side of KhardungLa Pass is much gentler and the road drops down a series of hair pin bends down a ĎUí shaped valley to North Pulla, where there is a police check point and several small cafes. The road improves beyond here. We had lost the snow and there were green pastures with Yak grazing. Males, females with no young and young yaks are left to graze here during the summer. We had occasional glimpses of big, fat marmots.

It is a pleasant drive along an old flood plain high above the river valley. On either side are tall bare mountains. Scattered settlements begin to appear, surrounded by fields. Many are only accessed by foot on rough tracks from the road. We drove through Khardung village with several small eating places along the road with plastic tables and chairs outside.

Leaving Khardung behind, there is no agriculture and the scenery changes to sandy desert. The river has cut down into a deep gorge (described as a Grand Canyon in some of the guide books). There are deep eroded gullies down the sides of the mountains which are made up of many different colours of rock. In places this gives a streaked appearance running down the sides of the mountain bluffs which guide books describe as "tigerís paw." With the eye of faith some do look like gigantic paws on the side of the mountain.

The road gradually descends through dry dusty desert above the gorge. The road is carved out on a ledge on the side of the mountain and there are many blind bends as it goes round spurs on the mountain side. The rocks are now deep purple in colour.

There is the first glimpse of the Shyok valley with Satti village far below. This is in a fertile oasis with wild roses, sea buckhorn and trees hiding fields and houses. The rocks on the far side of the valley are very pale in colour with with great fans of sand deposits washed down the gullies. At the edge of the oasis the sand has blown and covered the fields.

At the beginning of June, the Shyok river was pale turquoise in colour from melt water. The valley bottom is flat and sandy and the river flows through several different channels which join and divide over the flood plain.

The road drops steeply down the hillside to Khalsar village where we had to cross the river by a ford as the bridge is still being repaired after last yearís floods. There is a large army camp on the edge of the settlement. The huts are painted in squares of red, green and yellow. They look really bright close to but are well camouflaged against the desert scenery when seen from a distance.

The road branches here for the Nubra and Shyok valleys. The road to Nubra crosses the flood plain. The road to Diskit and Hundar runs along the side of the flood plain beneath very steep, bare jagged mountains. There are good views of both valleys which are a vast area of flat sand. The road climbs steeply round the side of the mountain to Diskit, with the Gompa and a statue of Buddha towering above the settlement.

The road contours along a ledge on the mountainside to Hundar above the sand dunes. These are best seen early morning or late afternoon when the low rays of the sun throw the ridges into sharp relief. In places there are trees and water. Camels graze here during the day.

The Nubra Valley was part of the great trade route between northern India and central Asia. In the 1930s it is estimated 10,000 pack animals passed through the valley. They brought silk, carpets, rugs, pashima and cannabis from Xinjian in exchange for spices, textiles, dyestuffs and tea. Trade stopped in 1949 and many of the bacterian camels were left behind. These now give rides to the tourists.

The camels are owned and looked after by the villagers as they are now regarded as a financial asset as camel rides are very popular with the tourists (no we didnít...).

Nubra Organic Retreat

We were booked two nights at the Nubra Organic Retreat in Hundar. It is reached down a narrow, muddy road with tall stone walls through the trees. It is a delightful spot surrounded by trees with the mountains towering above. There is a big old farmhouse with accommodation tents, larger dining tent and sun dried mud block toilet block with six loos (some with showers), two shower rooms and three outside basins.

There is a well tended vegetable patch with tiny fields surrounded by small earth banks in the centre of the site. The climate is mild and soil good so two crops can be grown a year. Cabbage, cauliflower, onions are used in guest meals.

The tents are surrounded by poplar and willow woodland with small paths and streams. Sitting areas were scattered round the site.

In June, white Aquilegia was growing under the trees and there were a few purple orchids along the water. Pink and yellow rose bushes were in flower.

The tents are very basic with two single beds pushed together and a bedside table. The floor is a concrete base with carpet on top. There is a small concrete area outside the tent with two plastic chairs. One fairly thin towel was provided each. Tents were not serviced during our stay.

There is a single electric light bulb, which does give reasonable illumination. Electricity is available between 7-11:30pm. Hot water is provided by a wood burning boiler behind shower block in the mornings.

Take a torch for midnight trips to the toilet block.

Meals were good - buffet style with a reasonable choice of dishes and a plentiful supply of black tea. Staff were excellent and very attentive.

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