Khardung La in Winter : Part 1

Although the lure of becoming the first official tourist to explore the other side of Nubra Valley was immense, murky skies had necessitated that I take a logical decision and go back to Leh. We were only allowed till Ensa Gompa earlier on the Panamik and Sumur side, the district administration in Diskit informed me that tourists could now go as far as Stongstet.

First view from the homestay in Diskit.

The mention of obscure and unpronounceable names of places has always fascinated me and the villagers egged me on, my heart beat wild with excitement. This was turning out to be a winter to remember and almost held the happiness of spring with it.

Shades of nature’s monochrome : The Shayok flows into Baltistan.

An air of nonchalance hung across the entire Nubra Valley, locals were gung-ho and drunk on chhang after the final match of a big 20-20 tournament had just concluded. The winning team and supporters sang boisterously and danced while playing loud Ladakhi music in the cavalcade of vehicles that was being paraded around Diskit.

First click while hitchhiking from Diskit to Leh.

I weighed my options, on one hand was the chance of becoming an explorer and see an unknown land in the midst of an unknown people magically dotted with timeless Gompas – while the storm clouds that gathered in the far distance told me that I had better make an escape, and also make it soon. After all, Khardung La is an unforgiving pass and any sort of mistake in the winter would mean certain death.

Signs of the impending storm : I hold my heart in my mouth.

I was alone, but yet it seemed like the entire force of the universe was with me. No road had seemed too difficult, and rides – courtesy of locals came easily, I had travelled to all parts of Ladakh in the winters : Surviving on the banks of the frozen Pangong Tso, reaching the 15th Century village of Phiyang Gompa, marvelling at the Masked Lamas dancing at the Spituk Gustor, walking like a lunatic to the Snow Leopard country of Hemis National Park, then stumbling, slipping and falling across a frozen river while trekking from Rumbak to Yurutse and was returning after having explored Turtuk : A small part of Indian Baltistan reclaimed from Pakistan in 1971.

Gateway to Khardung La, prayer flags let us pass through this narrow alley.

It hadn’t been all good as it may seem, a stupid decision to alight in Hunder from the Turtuk – Diskit (solitary bus of the day) meant I was very hungry after having explored Hunder Gompa and the ancient looking chortens on a nearby hillock on a relatively empty stomach. On top of that no vehicle came and I had to walk for 10 kilometres along the sand dunes (minus the Bactrian camels) to somehow make it to Diskit in one piece. I couldn’t find a guest house that was keen to serve a lone traveller and finally collapsed in happiness when I found refuge at a homestay located at the far end of Diskit town.

A blanket of white all around, I can’t remember if I was happy or sad. It felt like a crazy adventure.

At around 7 in the morning I stood on the road in anticipation, and prayed. A messiah in the form of a Maruti Dzire stopped and a hand indicated me to get in for the usual price of 400 Rupees. I shall let the pictures do the talking now🙂

No editing : This is an actual scene on the way to Khardung La in the winters.

The gentleman giving me the ride had kept a bag of sand in the car, to be used if the car got stuck in the snow.

For a brief period of time, we raced with the gypsy on the world’s highest road. (Ok, disputed and probably incorrect)
First sight of Khardung Village at the altitude of around 4000m perfectly juxtaposed with a humongous peak in the background.

It was all gloom and doom; it is only in retrospect I realise how lucky I was to get a ride at the right time in the right car with the right person. Life is a glorious mix of uncertainties. Maybe I am alive because of some good karma. 

A BRO signboard shines bright in yellow as our halting place for breakfast comes closer. Food was never as important as it was now.
Traffic jam in the Himalayas!

Just after crossing Khardung Village, the full fury of the snowstorm was to be unleashed upon us. We munched apples sitting in the car at 5000m when life had come to a standstill.

Dzo (Cross between cow and yak) run amidst ancient looking chortens in frozen Ladakh of winter.
A typical winter landscape of a village in Ladakh, pardon the blurred image. It was taken from inside the car.

Nothing seemed more important than the present moment. I could listen to my heart beat. Although the local was supremely confident of making across Khardung La to Leh safely, in my mind I had almost began to say my last prayers.

I could only wonder how everyone survived in the extreme cold. Here I was, dressed like a buffoon in 7-8 layers of clothing, and yet felt as it my bones were going to freeze.

Sometimes it felt like a dream. Everything was white, like a fairytale. We were stuck for what seemed like an eternity when a vehicle had got stuck with its tyres deep in snow. Furious winds blew and carried powdered snow with it. I came out of the vehicle and nearly died in happiness.

While we ambled closer to North Pullu : our vehicle shifted dangerously in the snow. It was business as usual for the locals.

Did the army allow us to go ahead from North Pullu and across the Khardung La pass to Leh? For more photographs and snippets from my diary do not forget to tune in to Part 2 of Khardung La in Winter. (That was cheesy, ain’t it!)

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. arv! says:

    Stunning winter landscapes! Ladakh is actually much more beautiful in winters!


    1. Thank you so much Arvind bhai. Hehe, I would say Ladakh has all the colours and is best visit in every season😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. arv! says:

        I’ll take your words on ladakh!🙂


  2. Hi Shubham,
    I was fascinated by your words and photographs. In the matter of fact, I can feel how you would have been there and your experiences. It is really an amazing share and instantly you made me want to go there. Please do share some other experiences, so that I can put it in my bucket list…
    Happy traveling bro….


    1. Thank you so much ji. Jullay. Feel free to read some other posts on my blog; I’m sure you will like them. Cheers and happy travels ji.


  3. Wrapped in silvery white! Beautiful….


    1. Beautiful summary in your words, Maniparna!🙂 Thanks, much.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, amazing. I have been to Khardung La last week (Sep 16) even that time it was damn cold out there.. Now, I can visualize how it would like in winter.


    1. Hehe, I can’t even begin to tell you how cold it was! Hope to go again this year.😀


  5. vjaligam says:

    Wow, Amazing. I have been to Khardung La last week (Sep 16) even that time it was damn cold because snowfall just started. Now, I can see how it looks in winter with snow-capped mountains.


  6. Such an epic adventure, Shubham..Eagerly waiting for part 2!


    1. Many thanks for the appreciation. I hope you like Part 2 too. It is out now😛


  7. Lovely Shades of nature’s monochrome as you no nicely stated🙂


    1. Thanks Vaibhav bhai for checking it out. How have you been? Hope the sickness has stayed away now and you are hale and hearty.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a few complications post Dengue. A nerve damage case (Pinched Nerve) that has put me unfit for outdoor travels. Requires rehabilitation. You may have seen my limited presence on the world wide web. This may take a while. Thank you for checking on me🙂


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