We started off late with me waking up first, at 9 AM. But by ten O'clock we'd had breakfast and were ready to roll. The cab came to us after picking up everybody else. After leaving Leh at around 10:30, we spent the next two hours steadily climbing uphill to 18,380 feetto the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Unfortunately, it has been converted into a touristy place with families and grandmothers climbing up melting snow or sliding down pulling down two sons, one holding each hand.
I did climb up to the top of the peak, nearby. The snow was slippery and I walked up by digging my heel in with each step into the snow. The way up was the easy part, as I would discover later. The view from the top wasn't that different, but I'm easy to please when mountains are concerned. I was feeling euphoric and was slowly making my way down when I realized that there was a faster path down than walking. I went down that hill sitting on my left foot and steering with my right heel. After all that excitement and a cup of cinnamon tea later, we headed downhill into Nubra valley.
The word Nubra means green and the valley was only slowly turning green under the bright summer sun. The glimpses of green in the valley was amazing after the dry desolation on the other side of the mountain range. We kept moving till we got to the village of Khalsar, which was our designated lunch spot.
In the village of Khalsar, I had the most amazing momos I have ever had. They were soya momos and with a simple chutney. I don't know if it was just because we were hungry, but we gobbled up as many momos as the lady could bake. After lunch, we headed out to the Shyok and Nubra confluence, which we would cross to reach Diskit. The bridge across the river is small, yet controlled by army personell.
Finally, we ended up in Diskit and dumped out bags and stuff at a slightly upmarket place called Olthang. While Vinayak & Co were visiting the gonpa nearby, I went walking along the streams which passed near our hotel. Rishi , on the other hand, was watching kids throw water at passing vehicles. One german lady who got wet, also got indignant. Probably needed a camera for the moment when she asked Rishi - are you a monk ?. After all this fun, we headed out for the dunes of Hundar before it became too dark.
Hundar is a stretch of sand dunes, with a stream (or river) flowing through the middle. After the standard shoes off operations, we had a few chases up the sheer slope of a dune. The sand was hard rock sand, quite unlike the beach sand I'm familiar with. Walking barefoot was probably a bad idea as I ended up hobbling across the thorny bushes on the way back. But more than compensated for that by just letting myself go into the warm (not cold) water. After a bit of splashing around, we headed back to the warm beds of the hotel.
27th June: At around 7 AM, I was woken up by the driver. He wasn't upto date with our plans and I was too sleepy to explain. Two hours later, all of us slowly started waking up. After a slush bowl of corn flakes with hot milk, we all pulled ourselves together and moved onto to the other side of the valley. We had to go halfway till Khalsar before we'd take the other fork in the road which would take us to Sumur and Pangmik.
After going down the Khalsar loops down to the valley floor, we passed through Sumur towards Panamik. Panamik is probably the northernmost point in Indian soil that I can put foot without a military permit and escort. The hot springs of Panamik, though were a disappointment. The springs were literally trickles down the hill with the smell of ammonia and algae covering the entire stream bed. But the top of the hill gave us an excellent view of the valley below.
After visiting the Sumur gonpa, we bid adieu to Nubra valley and began our return to Khardung La. We stopped over at Khalsar yet again to have lunch, but the momos had run out. As evening set in, the air was shimmering with the fading light of the summer day. We climbed up into the upper reaches of the mountain, racing against the clock. Since our plans had included a third day in Nubra valley intially, we were sort of cutting it close by shrinking it to a two day trip.
We went up Khardung la, just minutes before 5 'O clock. The entire snow cap was bright with the late evening light. As we watched the mountain grow bigger and bigger, we could see the thin line the hand of man had scratched on this mighty mountain - the scar line of a surfaced road. And up we went.
K-Top was nearly deserted when we arrived. There wasn't any of the swarms of tourists we had seen on the way up. After the customary cup of chai, we took our trip downwards and onto the warm comfy beds in Leh. Our trip to Nubra valley was a couple of hours short of completion. Not here the red and orange glows of the sea shore, but the the golden sun was turning the mountainside into a veritable feast for the eyes.
A dinner that went wrong, though the food was ok when it eventually arrived, and the day ended as it began - with me in a bed.--
If the grass is greener on the other side, there's obviously more shit there.