Continued from here
The next morning we proceeded to Nubra valley via one of the world’s highest motorable road at 17,582 ft of elevation- the Khardungla Pass. It is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier that is guarded by our armed forces.
The scene is quite breathtaking out here, and not just due to the lack of oxygen! The mountains still had significant snow cover in September much to the delight of the subset of the group for which it was their first experience of snow.
There is an absolute riot if prayer flags at this point perhaps in the hope that those prayers will protect the passers-by and those who stand guard. Further ahead and Skarma very kindly stopped to let us have a go at a snow fight. This was a terribly one-sided battle with all of us on one side with our snowballs getting powdered even before we threw them and him, the mountain dude on the other side aiming at us with lethal precision and robust snow missiles! With hands freezing and getting even more out of breath with laughter, we left the place swearing to get back at him on our way back.
A little ahead for all of us, we experienced our very first snow-fall- a trip with happy firsts makes it all seem worth it! We stopped for lunch at a place called New Punjab restaurant, and it was like many other places run by just a couple. However, they had something we hadn’t seen on any menu in Ladakh before – Chitranna (Lemon rice). Something that’s quintessentially Karnataka. Much amused we enquired with the owner and he said he had just learnt it online. We enjoyed all the other dishes too. When he came after we were done, he enquired about the dish and himself said that we may not have liked it because it missed one key ingredient- curry leaves. Finding yummy chitranna with peanuts when travelling the Himalayas was enough of a delicious miracle for us, expecting curry leaves was too much even for his level of dedication to try to cook it for us! Adding to the ambience was their cute daughter who spent the time playing peekaboo with us and the friendly dogs around who chilled out in the sun during the few hours of relative warmth.
Some of our views ahead were unreal- one could actually not tell if a photo had been inverted or not with the mountains getting replicated on the water better than a copier every could. Just a few meters before we reached the top to Deskit Gompa, a tire of our car decided to get punctured! Much to Skarma’s amusement, with everyone pitching in, we were done with the tyre change in just a few minutes. The 32-meter statue of the Maitreya Buddha in vivid colours is visible well before you reach the place in stark contrast to the surroundings in neutral hues. The monastery is one of the oldest and largest in the Nubra valley and while monasteries are almost always atop craggy hills, it still never fails to make you wonder how they were even constructed there.
We moved on from the statue and then climbed up the steps of the white-walled monastery. And despite its beauty, what was truly wondrous to me was a little kitten that came directly to me and like one’s supposed to, we proceeded to pet it for the rest of our time there. We spent some time in the prayer halls and temples within the monastery and slowly made our way back.
We soon reached the Hunder Sand dunes where we crossed a narrow stretch of the Shyok river and landed in probably the only place on our trip that had a significant number of people all in one location. What’s impossible to miss are the rows of Bactrian camels available to be ridden on. Incidentally, all of us in the group decided to skip that, and instead decided to do something that was even more fun, sliding down sand dunes and watching the evening change colours with the setting sun!
We stayed the night at a hotel Sten-Del which had excellent service and food- if you needed more incentive it even had Mani Ratnam stay there during the making of one of his movies. So well, that was our celebrity connection for this trip. But we didn’t really need it, after all, we had seen snowfall and sand dunes in the desert- all in one day- I wonder how many other places could boast of that!
We headed back to Leh the next day stopping for yet another round of snow-fights at Khardungla, however, I’m sorry to report that we were badly defeated yet again. Ah well , we’ll deal with Skarma when he comes to visit us in the warm plains on our own home ground – maybe in a dosa-eating contest, another battle for another time.