Amazing Places – All About the Nubra Valley

Nubra Valley

A trip to Ladakh in the Kashmir region is not complete without visiting the mysterious Nubra valley, also known as the Hidden Valley. In the past, there was only one caravan road to Nubra, which was passable only in the summer months. For the rest of the year, the valley was utterly cut off from the rest of the world.

Nubra Valley is a magical place at about 10,000 feet above sea level and one of the major tourist attractions of Ladakh with its breathtaking scenery and friendly people.

You can also get to the Nubra Valley by camel trekking, an extraordinary adventure into an imposing area behind the highest pass in the world, the Khardung La Pass.

This Area of the Himalayas offers Incomparable Beauty and Unique Nature.

Where is Nubra Valley located?

The Nubra Valley is located in the northern part of Jammu and Kashmir and is known for its orchards, great views, two-humped camels and monasteries. Diskit is the capital of this fork-shaped valley located northeast of Ladakh.

Situated about 150 km north of Leh, the Shyok River meets the Siachen River to form this large valley and separate Ladakh and Karakoram. About 3,050 m above sea level, Nubra is surrounded by the shining, snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas between Tibet and Kashmir.

In winter, the entire valley appears like a moonscape, while it is lush and green in summer. There are several Buddhist schools in the predominantly Buddhist region. Ensa, Samstemling, Diskit and Hundur are well-known Buddhist monasteries.

Nubra - The Valley of Flowers, Ladakh, India
Nubra - The Valley of Flowers, Ladakh, India

How to Reach Nubra Valey?

In principle, three routes lead from Leh to the Nubra Valley. Via the Khardung La Pass, The Wari La Route and the Agham Shyok Road.

The route over the Khardung La Pass is undoubtedly considered the most comfortable and spectacular for tourists. It has long been considered the highest passable road in the world*, and the view from up here is simply breathtaking.

From Leh (3500 m), the mostly paved road winds for 39 kilometers to the Kardung Pass, which connects the Indus Valley with the Nubra Valley, through which the Shyok River flows.

Because of India’s border conflict with Pakistan and China and the strategic importance of the Siachen Glacier in the Karakorum, the road is cleared and kept open almost year-round, especially for military vehicles.

Halfway along the road, you will pass an Indian army checkpoint where the traveler will be asked for his entry documents. You can obtain the permit or travel authorization for about 100 rupees from various travel agencies in Leh.

The road continues up to the top of the pass, the highest elevation of Khardung La is 5,359 m (17,582 ft), where you can get the first spectacular view of the Karakorum. 

The first section of the north ramp of the pass is cut into a snow and ice flank in winter.

After a short drive, you reach the North Pullu, another army checkpoint. After several kilometers, at about 4300 m above sea level, the green of the barley fields around the Village of Khardong, to which the pass owes its name, begins to glow.

Further down the valley, after about half an hour’s drive, you reach the village of Khalsar on the wild Shyok River with another military checkpoint.

From there, the road leads along the Shyok River to the Koyak Bridge, where the road forks. Upwards towards Panamik into the Nubra Valley and the Siachen Glacier and on the other hand towards Diskit – the main town and administrative center of the Nubra valley.

Map:  Leh - Khardung La Pass - Nubra Valley

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Entering Nubra Valley

After crossing the Kandung La pass, you finally reach the Single Entrance to the Nubra Valley. Peacefully Nubra – “The Valley of Flowers” spreads out in impressive size.

Suddenly a completely different landscape is presented in the most remote and difficult to access area of Ladakh.

One would not believe that this Valley is very fertile, despite its high altitude of more than 3000 meters. Especially for tasty walnuts and fruity apricots, Nubra is known.

At the main village  Diskit a gigantic 32 meters high statue of the Buddha of the FutureBuddha Maitreya watches over the Nubra Valley. His view is directed towards the Siachen Glacier and Pakistan. He is supposed to prevent future wars.

Diskit is the administrative center of the Nubra Valley and is best known for its ancient Monastery (Diskit Gompa). This monastery dates back to the 14th century and is considered the largest and oldest monastery in the Nubra Valley.

The most famous attraction of the monastery is, of course, the gigantic Maitreya Buddha Statue on the top, which was solemnly inaugurated by the Dalai-Lama.

From the statue’s base, you can get an excellent panoramic view of the Nubra Valley. The monastery was built by Changzen Tserab Zangpo in the 14th century and is located on a hill overlooking the plains of the Shyok River.

You should also visit the monastery for its vast collection of wall paintings and exhibition of frescoes.

Nubra Valley

The name of the Nubra Valley comes from the word Ldumra, which means “Valley of Flowers.” Nubra is a wide valley with the gravel beds of meandering rivers, impressively green oases with poplars and grain fields on wide alluvial fans.

There are also dune landscapes and rustic villages with flat houses, prayer flags, mani walls, gompas and monasteries. The Nubra Valley is also home to numerous Camels, the Snow Leopard and the Eurasian Eagle Owl.

The two defining rivers are the Shyok and the Nubra. They form a wide valley and separate the Ladakh Range from the Karakoram Range.

The descent into the Nubra Valley is like a journey back in time, passing numerous picturesque villages, army posts and lonely gompas.

Old ladies in traditional Ladakhi dresses carry bundles of firewood. Children with rosy cheeks wave cheerfully along the way, jet-black furry donkeys loaded with all kinds of goods trot by.

Giant Himalayan crows with bright yellow beaks circled loudly, and you feel as if you have been transported to another time.

At first glance, of course, the mighty mountain ranges of the Karakoram leave the most impression.

 

In the past, the Nubra Valley was an important stopover for traders on the ancient Silk Road. In the summer months, ten thousand animals passed through the region – loaded with Chinese silk, Indian jewelry, spices, cashmere, and other treasures.

Located halfway between the route of South and Central Asia, Nubra was an important trading center for the camel caravans.

The inhabitants of the small villages of Nubra traded mainly wheat, peas, mustard, fruit, and nuts grown in the fertile valley for hand-woven fabrics and clothing from Srinagar.

The magnificence of the Nubra Valley can only be described as surreal and extraordinary, offering one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the region.

The best time to visit the valley is from June to September because in these months the weather is pleasant and you can admire the flora and fauna best.

The People of The Nubra Valley

Most of the Nubra Valley inhabitants are Ladakhi people. The language they speak, Ladakhi, is a Western Tibetan dialect. The majority of Ladakhi are Tibetan Buddhists, but a minority are adherents of Shiite Islam.

In the lowest part of the valley around the town of Khaplu, the residents are Baltis. They speak Balti, another Western Tibetan dialect closely related to Ladakhi.

Speakers of these two languages can reasonably follow each other. The Baltis are majority Muslim. Most belong to elsewhere rare currents within Shiism or Sufism, such as Isma’ilism and the Sufia Nurbakhshia.

 

The village of Bogdang just before Turtuk is also located in the Nubra Valley – it used to be called Baigdandu.

According to a report by Colonel John Taylor, who was with the Ladakh Scouts since 1969, Bogdang is famous for its inhabitants who have striking blue eyes, chestnut hair and reddish cheeks compared to the typical Mongoloid features of Ladakhis.1

Local folklore has it that they were a Greek tribe who came and settled here in search of the tomb of Jesus Christ. One theory also states that Jesus Christ died near Srinagar and was buried somewhere between Dras and Kargil.

One cannot simply brush aside the folklore and the Colonel’s hypothesis since Greeks were present in significant numbers in Punjab and Kashmir even before Christ. Still, the more likely explanation for the non-Mongoloid features is that the local population is of Indo-Aryan origin.

Dards, who have similar origins, also live near the village of Bogdang. However, the inhabitants of Bogdang have managed to preserve their racial characteristics, probably because of their relatively rare belief in the Shiite sect of Noorbakshiai.

Bogdang is also known for a breed of Cashmere Goats (Changthangi) from which the valuable wool for Pashmina shawls is obtained.

In any case, during our visit, we did not find any striking blue eyes among the Baltic population, but chestnut hair, Caucasian features and reddish cheeks were clearly visible.

The Flora and Fauna of the Nubra Valley

 

The Nubra Valley is also popular for the Hippophae Shrub Forest (Leh Berry)

If you are lucky, you can spot White-browed Tit-warblers, Tibetan larks, Hume’s short-toed larks and Hume’s whitethroats in the Nubra Valley.

Besides, there live numerous Waterfowl Species such as: Ruddy ShelduckGarganeyNorthern Pintail, and Mallard.

Apart from these, you can observe wading birds such as Black-tailed GodwitCommon Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Green Sandpiper, and Ruff Bird in the Nubra Valley.2

The Nubra Valley is also a habitat for the Snow Leopard and the Eurasian Eagle Owl.

Approximately 78-80% of the plant species in the Nubra Valley are restricted to the valley floor. Over 400 species of vascular plants have been recorded. These belong to about 50 families and over 200 genera.

Of these, over 100 species are used in traditional Amchis medicine, and over 80 species are largely associated with cultivated fields and human settlements.

Of these, nearly 50 species have been cultivated, including several varieties of crops, especially barley and buckwheat.3

Categories

PLACES TO SEE IN NUBRA VALLEY

Nubra valley is famous for its beautiful scenic views, religious places, Bactrian camels, and orchards. The Valley is full of beautiful places to visit. It’s a fantastic spot for nature enthusiasts.

Due to the diverse flora and fauna, the Nubra Valley is also a brilliant place for macro photographers. The contrast between the sand dunes and fertile green landscape with the giant Buddha statue.

In the background – the sunlit mountains of Karakoram – an excellent backdrop for brilliant photography

Nubra Valley Sunset

Hunder - the former capital of the Nubra Kingdom.

Only 10 miles after Diskit you reach Hunder. Hunder, formerly known as Hundar, was the capital of the Nubra Kingdom until the 17th century. Hunder is the largest village of Nubra, with about 200 houses and 1000 inhabitants.

It is located on the Hunder River, used to irrigate the gardens and fields through many small canals.

Hunder belongs to the unforgettable landscapes, which have no equal on this earth. Once you have passed Diskit, the golden sand becomes denser and denser until you reach the bottom of the valley.

If you didn’t have the snow-covered mountain ranges in the background, you might think you had been transported to the Sahara.

Between Hundar and Diskit, there are many kilometers of Sand-Dune Landscape. A lot of Buckthorn grows there, and there are Bactrian Camels – these are hairier than their siblings in Morocco, and their humps are really soft. But that is what makes them so unique.4

Visiting the Samstanling Monastery in Sumur

Samstanling Monastery is located in Sumur village, on the way to Panamik. Samstanling Monastery is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Nubra Valley. It is also very important for the locals, as it is the main monastery in the Nubra Valley.

Samstanling Monastery was founded by Lama Tsultim Nima almost 140 years ago and is home to about 50 monks.

Inside the monastery, two meeting rooms are decorated with murals, Buddha paintings, four heavenly kings, and other guardians.

The seclusion of the place adds to the aura and mysticism of the monastery. Furthermore, the monastery is located amidst pleasant scenic beauty and with its golden, red and white hues, it is very recognizable even from a distance.

As this monastery is subject to the strict rules of Ridzong, the monks are not allowed to eat solid food after 12 o’clock, but Butter Tea, the salty fat soup with tea, is allowed.

In the village of Sumur, the residents’ need for protection is evident. On all houses, red-painted stones, ghost traps, skulls and horns protect against evil demons.

The greatest danger probably comes from the water. That is why the water god has his dwelling in the village temple.

In strange contrast to the paradisiacal environment of the village is the white, pure sandy desert that begins only a few miles from the village.

Hot Springs of Panamik and Yarab Tso Holy Lake

The mountains at the edge of the Nubra Valley rise to an altitude of almost 7000 m. Like the entire mountain region, they grow by about 1 cm every year.

The Hot Springs of Panamik bear witness to this tremendous geological activity. The streams, colored by algae and minerals, are widely known for their healing properties.

The baths are said to be especially beneficial for digestive problems, skin rashes and rheumatic ailments.

In Panamik, you can also enjoy breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains of the Karakoram and the lush green Nubra Valley.

 

Hot Springs of Panamik and Yarab Tso Holy Lake

The sacred Lake Yarab Tso is a hidden lake near the picturesque village of Sumur. A hiking route leads to this remote and beautiful lake. It is surrounded by a beautiful rocky landscape and has pure, crystal clear water.

If you are looking for peace and seclusion, you can spend some quiet time here, taking pictures and exploring the area.

For the locals, this lake is sacred, and it is not recommended to bathe your feet in the holy water. However, you can sit on the rocks and enjoy peace and quietness while admiring the beauty of the lake and the landscape.

The Village of Turtuk - an isolated Paradies

Meeting Balti People in Turtuk

Turtuk was under Pakistani control until 1971. Then, the village was occupied by the Indian Army on the night of December 13, 1971, as part of the Third Indo-Pakistani War.

The Shimla Agreement of 1972 allowed India to retain these terrain gains. However, a dilemma was the takeover for all inhabitants who were in Baltistan, which is still part of Pakistan.

They were denied the opportunity to return to their homeland. Thus, entire families were divided. To reach the neighboring Pakistani village of Fraono, a detour of almost 2500 km has to be made via the Wagah border crossing. The line of control makes Turtuk an isolated paradise.

Since 2009 tourists have been allowed to revisit this area. A permit is required, which can be obtained in Leh.

The village inhabitants are Balti and belong to the “Noorbakshia” stream of Islam. Initially, they were a Sufi order with both Sunni and Shiite elements. The Balti are believed to have migrated from Persia in the 15th century.

They speak a Tibetan dialect. They build their houses from stone and wood. In the meantime, they also use solar energy. But the village’s pride is the handicraft, the independent culture and the mosque with a wooden minaret.

The fields are irrigated with canals that carry the glacial water of the surrounding mountains through the labyrinthine alleys. Unlike in higher Ladakh, two harvests a year are possible here.

There are many children in the village, and the number of older people is also exceptionally high. The inhabitants of the village seem to lead a very healthy life. Buckwheat is the basis of Balti cuisine.

Although it seems absurd given the total remoteness, the region is of geostrategic importance. Two roads lead directly to heavily guarded border posts. The only way leads back to the Nubra Valley and from there to Leh. Military bases that are difficult to see make it clear that, despite the current détente, people here are always ready for emergencies.

Turtuk is a thriving oasis, and the idyll is all the more astonishing when you consider the location. The village is in a stranglehold of mountains, the Sheyok is a raging torrent, and the military presence significantly restricts movement.

Therefore, it is difficult to gauge how the onset of tourism will change the village. Hopefully, due to the remoteness, not too many tourists will come, and the culture of the Balti will be preserved.

Interesting Knowledge about the Nubra Valley

Nubra lies about 1500 feet lower than Leh at an average elevation of about 10,000 feet. Due to its valley location, the climate is much milder than in Leh, the soil is very fertile, and the vegetation is comparatively denser than in other areas of Ladakh.

In the summer months (March to May), the weather in the Nubra Valley is somewhat cool but friendly. Temperatures range from 4°C at night and rise to a maximum of 30°C during the day.

The winter months in Nubra fall in the months of October to May. Temperatures drop to between -10°C and 15°C. Snowfall is also a common sight during these months.

According to the 2011 census of India, 16,754 people live in Nubra Valley. There are about 28 villages with a total of over 3600 houses in the Nubra Valley.5

Since Kardung La Pass is a military road, it is cleared all year round and is the highest year-round pass in the world. It is open most of the time, but during heavy snowdrifts or snowfall, buses cannot travel due to the slippery roads.

The Kardung La Pass is undoubtedly one of the wonders of Leh, but you still have to be careful. The highest point, "Khardung La" is located at 5,359 m (17,582 ft).

Staying at such heights is not without danger for people who are not acclimatized. Please be careful.

Make sure you have enough warm clothes with you, and also cover your ears and head. Take plenty of water to keep your body hydrated, as this is the only way to keep your blood adequately oxygenated.

If you are untrained or not acclimatized enough, then please take portable oxygen tanks with you. If you feel unsteady or dizzy, go to the Army Camp as soon as possible and ask for first aid.

The Nubra Valley is blessed with a unique landscape where you can see deserts, meadows and mountains at the same time and place. However, temperatures can sometimes fluctuate drastically in the Nubra Valley.

However, the months from April to June and September to October are the best seasons to visit the Nubra Valley.

From April to June, the sun shines very strongly and provides warm daytime temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius. From September to October, it is a little cooler in the Nubra Valley but still very pleasant.

After October, the Khardung La Pass is often temporarily closed due to excessive snowfall or rainfall.

Guesthouses open for tourists as early as April, while the peak tourist season is from May to early August.

Nubra occupies the northeastern part of Ladakh, bordering Baltistan and Chinese Turkestan to the north and the Aksai Chin Plateau and Tibet to the east.

The Nubra Valley encompasses the entire area drained by the Nubra and Shyok rivers. It is about 128 miles long and 72 miles wide and covers an area of 9,200 square miles. The valley extends south to Lake Pangong.

The Nubra region is divided into the "Diskit Nubra" in the north and the "Darbuk region" in the south, both of which are considered subdivisions of the Leh district.

The Diskit Nubra region includes the village of Turtuk, which was captured by Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, and the Siachen glacier region.

The settled part of Nubra is often described as "The Three-Armed Valley":

  • Nubra River Valley (Yarma, Tśurka, and Farka).
  • The Upper Shyok Valley: from the southern bending of the Shyok River to the confluence with the Nubra River.
  • The lower Shyok valley from the confluence to the Chorbat area

The eastern Shyok Valley is largely uninhabited, although there are numerous campsites that were used by trade caravans.

What is an Inner Line Permit?

An Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued and stamped by the Indian authorities. This document is mandatory for visiting restricted areas. The permits are issued by the Deputy Commissioner's Office in Leh and are valid for a maximum of 15 days for foreigners and three weeks for Indian citizens.

You will need an inner line permit to visit the following places:

  • Khardung La Pass, Nubra Valley and Shayok.
  • Chang La Pass, Tangtse and Pangong Lake
  • Chumathang, Tsaga La and Tso Moriri Lake
  • Dha Hanu Valley and Batalik


How to get a permit for the inner line?

You can get the Inner Line Permit from the Deputy Commissioner's Office in Leh - office address 5H6Q+J9W, Leh, 194101.

  • Allow one business day for your application to be processed.
  • The permit office is open Monday through Saturday. It is also open on Sundays during the summer.
  • Indian citizens must present valid proof of identity (driver's license, passport, electoral card, Aadhar card, Pan card).
  • Foreigners must present a valid passport with a Visa or OCI card.


You can also apply for Inner Line Permit (ILP) online at the official Website:

www.lahdclehpermit.in.

All tourists can apply for inner line permits through this Website.

The Internal Line Permit (ILP) cost for Nubra Valley can be broken down as follows.

Environmental fee: ₹ 400 ($5.30)
Red Cross donation: ₹ 100 ($1.30)
Wildlife conservation fee: ₹ 20/day ($0.25)

For example, a permit valid for three days costs ₹ 560 ($7.40).

There is also a small processing fee of about 200 ₹ ($2,70) unless you go to the Deputy Commissioner's office yourself to get the permit stamped.


Exchange rates may vary!

Sangan Bar, situated in Diskit Village, is Nubra's lone bar. It's a fantastic venue for party animals, with plenty of places to relax.

The bar will exceed your expectations by presenting a diverse selection of drinks, beers, and wines, as well as a distinctive and gorgeous décor.

Situated right next to the Sten Del Hotel entrance lane, this pub is a must-see for anybody exploring Nubra Valley.

Best Places to Stay
in Nubra Valley

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  1. Chung Tash: The Last Frontier -The Rediff Special/ Colonel John Taylor (retd)
  2. Khan, Asif (2016). "Ladakh: The Land Beyond". Buceros. 21 (3)
  3. Joshi, P. & Rawat, Gopal & Padilya, H. & Roy, Parth. (2006). Biodiversity Characterization in Nubra Valley, Ladakh with Special Reference to Plant Resource Conservation and Bioprospecting. Biodiversity and Conservation. 15. 4253-4270. 10.1007/s10531-005-3578-y.
  4. An archaeological survey of the Nubra Region (Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India)
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Census_of_India

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