We had left from Leh early in the morning and our destination for the night was Hunder. But first, bigger things awaited a bunch of us travel and lifestyle bloggers. While we were nearing 5000m on the way to ‘the highest motorable pass in the world’, I felt dizzy with excitement; don’t know if it was the altitude or the thrill of becoming a part of history in the record books. The distance from Leh to Khardung La is hardly 40 kms and we made it in quick time. Special thanks to Scout My Trip and OYO Rooms for inviting me to be a part of the #HighestBloggerMeet at Khardung La.
While most bloggers had chosen to take the overland route to reach Leh from Srinagar; I was among the 4 people who had opted to fly into Leh. It meant two days of acclimatising in Leh, roaming around and documenting a few offbeat sights. Check the earlier post on this : Offbeat Explorations in Leh
Also, a visual journey for some nostalgia : Srinagar – Leh Highway, in Pictures
After the photo-ops with the Indian flag on the top of Khardung La, we moved to Tsolding Buddha Park for further discussions with regards to travel and blogging. All of us gave our quirky introductions and spoke on various topics close to our heart. It was a very fruitful conversation with interesting insights about the past, present scenario and future of the hitherto nascent blogging industry.
Imagine the setting : A lovely green meadow with a stream flowing, fluttering prayer flags ringed with an array of dazzling snowy mountains in the far distance and yaks grazing around a Buddha statue in a park that was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama himself.
A big announcement by OYO Rooms at the Highest Blogger Meet was OYOnauts; an interesting platform for travel bloggers to share their experiences and get hosted by OYO Rooms. A contest is currently going on where participants have the opportunity to go on all expense paid trips to Malaysia & Nepal. More details on oyorooms.com/oyonauts.
After the meet was over, most of us had a lingering heaviness in our head having spent more than 2 hours at these serious altitudes (A minor AMS issue; which is understandable at Khardung La). The Bolero driven by Pratik bhai (aka Nanu Seth) sprinted to reach Khardung Village and it was time for some old fashioned chai and aloo paranthas + dal at a roadside dhaba.
We can go to the fanciest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, but the joy of eating aloo parantha on an empty stomach can only be felt; and no amount of words can compare the two experiences.
With our bellies content and the niggling headache gone, the speedometer touched new highs as we rapidly crossed Khalsar and moved on the bolt straight road to Diskit in Nubra Valley. A signboard in the wilderness indicated that it was the Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary. The straight road is also surrounded by sparse sand dunes on both sides. We went straight toward the huge Maitreya Buddha Statue overlooking Diskit. I reminisced about my time at Diskit Monastery 2 years ago.
Since there was a paucity of time and evening was approaching fast, it was decided to not make the detour to Diskit Monastery and to head straight to Hunder. The distance between Diskit and Hunder is hardly 10 kms. After crossing Diskit town, we could spot the rolling sand dunes on the right side of the road. It was a fascinating sight, especially with the sun casting huge shadows of the clouds on the sand dunes.
After a bit of a wild goose chase which took us to all parts of Hunder, we were finally at our spectacular abode for the night. The Oyo Rooms Nubra at Hunder was at a stunning location. A small stream flowed through the property which meant that our cottages were surrounded with lots of greenery. Hunder is located at a considerably lower altitude (around 3000m) and summer temperatures are quite warm as compared to Leh. A few adventurous souls (read : Yayawar dada) jumped in the small pool in the hotel.
Some of the bloggers chose to make use of the wifi internet and I opted to head toward the sand dunes. The light in Ladakh can be misleading; it was almost 7 in the evening and yet the sun was sufficiently bright. We scrambled to make sure so as to reach the Hunder sand dunes in time for sunset. I was returning to this place in the summer after 8-9 years and how it had changed!
The modest sand dunes seemed to have attracted the fancy of tourists and it resembled like a village fair. Even Hunder had grown manifold and had turned into the most popular resort town with a plethora of hotels in Nubra Valley. There were more resorts and tents catering to tourists than perhaps the local population. After manoeuvring past the crowds gathered at the beginning of the water stream near the sand dunes, we chose to walk ahead with the double humped bactrian camels.
Double Humped Bactrian Camels
Nubra Valley lies on the famous Silk Route on which the caravan trade across Central Asia plied. The Bactrian camels have two humps which enables them to have a high tolerance to the cold, drought and high altitudes to help in the arduous journey across Karakoram Pass. Locals were quick to spot the tourist potential and have begun organising camel rides on the modest sand dunes in Hunder. A 15-20 minute ride can set you back by anything from 300 to 500 Rupees.
It was a dazzling landscape : Sand dunes like the ones in a desert, green poplar trees, Shayok river flowing by, picturesque bare mountains and snowy peaks to top it off. And then glowing sunset colours to complete the fairytale. I clicked a few photographs and kept walking so that we could avoid the crowds. In hindsight, we happened to enjoy the experience because we had chosen to be away from the crowds.
The camels were a cute little bunch and it was quite cool to see entire families posing for photographs while on camel rides. I didn’t like the camel ride in Jaisalmer and made sure of not even bothering to get into the hassle. A cool breeze blew as the sun went down, the weather had suddenly become pleasant and we were overjoyed. For a brief while I dreamed if we could go to Turtuk from Hunder and check if the apricots were ready to be eaten! (The distance from Hunder to Turtuk is only 80 kms and the road is excellent.)
When we were back at our resort in Hunder, there was an impromptu drinking session organised to celebrate the successful culmination of the Highest Blogger Meet at Khardung La. I was quite apprehensive of sitting with such a huge gathering but Johann and others proved to be excellent company and it was a wonderful evening gulping down a few glasses of whiskey. Thanks Karan for the after dinner laughs!
Although I have been guilty of not yet having written even one post on my last winter trip to Ladakh – from December 2016 / January 2017; I think it is time to set things right and pen down some crazy experiences on roads people shudder to traverse even in the summer months. On that trip, it was hitchhiking and being lucky, at its best!
In a half drunken state, we yelled and jumped at the possibility of taking either the Agham-Shyok route or the Wari La route to reach Pangong Tso directly from Hunder, the next day. It would save us a lot of time, plus we wouldn’t have to cross the traffic of Leh again. The Shayok river was in spate though and that meant the Agham route was out of question. In hindsight, better sense prevailed and we decided not to take the Wari La route.
We were supposed to have our longest and most difficult day, the next morning. Did we make it across Khardung La and Chang La to reach Pangong Tso? With the champions of roadtrips – Scout My Trip, you bet we did!
Some interesting experiences in Ladakh :