The magical landscape in the Ladakh area
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I reach Leh by bus from Keylong (paid 485 rupees or about 6 €). I continue the journey with Guy and Hadar, 2 Israeli brothers met on the way.
We arrive in Leh at 7 pm after leaving at 5 in the morning (total 14 hours). The road for many kilometres is paved, while for others it is full of sand and stones. Once arrived at the bus station we take a taxi with 2 other boys (in total 200 rupees - 40 each) and we head towards the area of the Main Bazar.
Here we ask locals for accommodation and we find a Guesthouse named Yokma. We pay 500 rupees for a bedroom with a double bed to share in 3 (166 rupees each - one of the cheaper rooms so far). The property is a house with several rooms and a shared bathroom. There is Wi-Fi and hot water that works with solar panels.
Leh is a city located in the high desert in the Himalayas; is the capital of the Leh region, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in northern India. Originally a stop for caravan trade, Leh is now known for its Buddhist sites and nearby trekking areas. The massive 17th-century Leh Palace, inspired by the ancient home of the Dalai Lama (the Tibetan Palace of Potala), overlooks the old city bazaar. The city is located at an altitude of 3,500 m.
We rent a scooter for 600 rupees and explore the surroundings. We visit the Shanti Stupa, a pagoda founded in the 80s (you can also reach it by walking twenty minutes from the centre).
Then we visit the monasteries of Shey (old capital of Ladakh) and Thikse (admission 30 rupees) only about twenty kilometres from Leh. In the latter monastery, there is a Nepalese pharmacy with a monk where you can find a wide range of natural medicines. For example, I bought a powder to remove gas from my stomach (Indian food is delicious but just as heavy).
In the city of Leh, there is a pedestrian area full of shops called Main Bazar where you can find many winter clothes produced with the skin of the Yak (widespread animal in northern India) or camping equipment at a very low price (of course negotiation is the rule).
In the surroundings of Shey, I also do rock climbing along with Hadar. It was very funny and I paid 1,700 rupees - about 20 €. We started at 11 am and returned around 5 pm. Lunch and transport are included. I recommend it if you like this kind of sport because the landscape is really great.
In the following days we request the permission to visit Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley. A special permit is required to visit these places between Pakistan and China. Just go to one of the many tourist agencies to get it and you have to be in a group. We request 5 days of permit for a price of 600 rupees or you can get permission for up to 7 days paying 650 rupees. This is the cheapest price we have found. Some other offer 700-800 rupees. In addition, you must go to the agency at least a day before and with an original passport (they don’t accept copy). If you go in the morning the permit will be ready in the late afternoon. You also need several copies of the permit to leave at the various checkpoints. Our agency has done everything for us.
The following day we take the local bus from Leh that goes to Pangong Lake. It is always better to book it the day before (bus price 310 rupees - about 4 €). We leave at 7 in the morning and arrive at about 5 pm in Spangmik. We are right in front of the beautiful lake.
We meet two other English guys with whom we share a tent paying 1,300 rupees in total, or about € 3 per person. Not bad for being in such an incredible place.
Pangong Lake or Pangong Tso is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas located at a height of about 4,350 m. It is 134 km long and extends from India to China. What an extraordinary experience!
Here the dinner consists of vegetables, legumes, rice and bread for 250 rupees, if you want to have dinner at the restaurant of the same owner of our accommodation. In total, in Spangmik there are about 5-6 restaurant options being a very small village.
After admiring this lake and seeing the many stars at night, the next morning we try to find a private car that goes to Nubra Valley (we try to do hitchhiking).
Nubra is a three-armed valley located north-east of the Ladakh valley. Diskit, the capital of Nubra, is located about 150 km north of the city of Leh. Local scholars claim that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). The river Shyok meets the river Nubra or Siachan to form a large valley that separates Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river. The average altitude of the valley is about 3048 meters above sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from the city of Leh.
An option would be to take the local bus at 7:30pm, return to Leh and the next morning take another local bus heading towards Numbra Valley (6:30 every morning and arrive at 4 in the afternoon - 400 rupees). Or another option would be to take the local bus from Pangong Lake and get off at the intersection (in Durbuk), where the two roads meet: one going to Leh and the other going to Diskit (Numbra Valley) and from there you have to either wait for the bus that comes from Leh or try to do hitchhiking.
But we decide that we want to go directly from the Lake to Numbra Valley so luck is on our side and we find 2 Indian guys headed there. After about 5 hours’ drive, we arrive at Diskit where we decide to spend the night. We stay in a Guesthouse on the main road heading to Hunter where we pay 300 rupees each - € 3.75 - sharing a double bed in 3. The building is new and there is also hot water.
The next morning we decide to go and see the sand dunes at Hunter. We take a shared taxi that we pay 20 rupees for 7km. At Hunter we spend a few hours, admiring the several camels on the way ( it is also possible to buy a camel tour paying 250 rupees for 15 mins but I'm not inclined to do so).
After having lunch at one of the local restaurants we wait for the local bus leads to Turtuk. The bus leaves at 2:30 pm from Diskit and goes at 3 pm from Hunter. We book the bus in the morning to secure the seat and pay 110 rupees - 66 km, 3 and a half hours. We would like to visit Turtuk because it is an authentic village. It is located on the border with Pakistan and is the northernmost village of India. In fact, once we arrive here we find ourselves immersed among Muslims and all very amazed to see us. They also call it "Little Pakistan". We stay at Kharmang Guesthouse (you have to do some stairs after the bus leaves you in the village); we pay 400 rupees per person for a double room with breakfast and dinner: not bad! There is no hot water here but the guys working there are very willing to warm up a bucket of water to take a shower. The village is very special: there are several caves, the royal palace and a mosque. There are also some "cafes" with panoramic views. The landscape here continues to be beautiful even more because there is the yellow colour of the grain that contrasts with the green/grey of the mountains and the blue colour of the sky.
The next day we wake up late and the only bus that returns to Diskit is at 6 am so we try to hitchhike. All the locals tell us that we have no chance to find a private car at that time of the day heading towards Diskit. But we do not give up; after about 1 hour and a half we find 3 guys who are headed to the border with Pakistan and then to Diskit. We, as foreigners, cannot go to the border. We arrive at Diskit around 3 pm and after half an hour we find two other guys who are headed to Leh. Oh yes, it was our lucky!
We arrive at 9 pm; in total from Turtuk to Leh we take about 8 hours and are only about 200 km. In this last stretch, we cross the Khardungla Pass: the highest mountain of Nubra Valley (5.359 m 17,582 ft.) The guys are really nice and available.
This new way of exploring India proved to be very interesting and I got to know many local people. Our daily budget ranges between 500 and 600 rupees (7-8 €). Obviously, the option above mentioned such as to take local buses and do hitchhiking was my choice of travel that I found quite safe even though we were only two girls. Another option is to share a taxi with other people; example: if you want to visit Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake in 2 nights and 3 days you would cost about 3,600 rupees each if you are in 5 in a jeep - around 45 €. Or you can use the local buses as described above but there is usually just once per day so you have to plan everything in advance. Or a third option is to use both local buses and taxis; once on the spot it is easy to find several taxis that go wherever you want (obviously the prices are more expensive than normal since it is a remote area).
In conclusion, the landscapes visited in this last itinerary have really fascinated me as it has already happened for the Spiti Valley (https://www.marsontheroad.com/en/destinazioni/102/da-manali-a-spiti-valley). The landscapes are somehow very similar but at the same time unique since there is always something that distinguishes them. In my personal travel experience so far, I think this northern Indian landscape between Spiti Valley and Ladakh was the most beautiful in absolute.