Surreal Beauty & Calming Reflections of Nubra Valley Ladakh

First Published on August 29, 2017

The soft tinkle of the singing bowl echoed across the valley adding to the mystic aura that I felt as I stared at the fluffy clouds floating in the blue sky. The brown, white, and black mountains framed the perfectly still landscape. 
 Bewitched - I kept looking until the first ripple finally - broke the spell - the one that was cast by the surreal beauty & the calming reflections of Nubra Valley Ladakh.

If you are in Leh, the one thing that most people recommend that you do is take an overnight trip to Nubra valley Ladakh. Before I hit Ladakh, that is exactly what a lot of people told me to do. And when I did, I ended up discovering a land of surreal beauty and calming reflections. Traveling through Nubra Valley in Ladakh felt as if I were watching a movie on one of the travel channels like National Geographic. And that is what you will be experiencing through this Nubra Valley Tour.

A glimpse of surreal beauty of Nubra Valley Ladakh
A glimpse of surreal beauty of Nubra Valley Ladakh

Nubra Valley Travel Guide

This Nubra valley travel guide has answers to most of your questions pertaining to your proposed visit here. From things to see in Nubra Valley to how to get there, where to stay, what to pack – you have it all in this mega post. However, while you get all that information, you will also, be treated to the best of Nubra Valley sightseeing through my own experience here. Hope you are ready for this whirlwind of a tour through Nubra valley Ladakh.

Facts about Nubra Valley Ladakh

The diverse landscape of Nubra Valley in Ladakh
The diverse landscape of Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Located along the Northern border of India, a little below the famed Siachen glacier, is the Nubra Valley. A tributary of Indus – Shyok river and the Nubra river (Siachen river) slices through this vale creating three arms between the Ladakh and Karakorum range of mountains. This valley is quite unlike the valleys that one has heard of – green in some parts but a cold desert in many others and a little rocky in some, Nubra Valley in Ladakh surprised me with its textures and colors.

Shyok river - also called the river of death flowing through Nubra Valley Ladakh
Shyok river – also called the river of death flowing through Nubra Valley Ladakh

The name Nubra in Ladakhi means Western. The valley was originally called Ldumra which in Tibetan means “Valley of Flowers” – on account of the blossoms that still spring between June to August. The strange contrast of landforms has some interesting facts attached to them. Here are some of those facts about Nubra Valley.

  • Nubra Valley Ladakh is 3000m about sea level – which places it at a lower altitude as compared to Leh. This makes acclimatization to Ladakh much easier.
  • The valley has earned the sobriquet of being the Orchard of Ladakh owing to its numerous plantations -especially those of Apricots.
  • Shyok river that flows through this cold desert valley is called the river of death. This is because it originates from a part of the Siachen glacier called the Rimo glacier and flows extremely fast – making it impossible for people to cross it.

History of Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Nubra Valley in Ladakh was an important place in the yesteryears for it was one of the key places that lay along the historic silk route. The area used to be under local chieftains and had a huge Tibetan and Buddhist influence. This is evident from the number of monasteries that are still functional in the Nubra Valley – the oldest one being the 15th-century Diskit Monastery. During the 16th century, the valley was ruled by the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh.

Diskit Monastery - the oldest living part of the Nubra Valley history
Diskit Monastery – the oldest living part of the Nubra Valley history

During the partition in 1947, there were parts of Nubra Valley that were included in Pakistan. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, India reclaimed four of the villages of Nubra Valley. These included Turtuk, Chalunkha, Tyakshi and Thang. These villages remained out of bounds for tourists until 2010. Now with a special Nubra Valley Permit, you can visit Turtuk and experience the Muslim – rather Balti culture in the hamlet.

The Siachen Glacier in Nubra Valley is another point that has a battle history. In fact, it has earned the term of being the highest battlefield in the world. Until 2019, no one was allowed here except for the Indian army. Now, with the relevant permits, you can trek up to a certain level of the Siachen glacier.

Things to do in Nubra Valley | The ultimate Nubra Valley Sightseeing List

The Nubra Valley sightseeing list is as varied as the landscapes in this region. As you go through this section on the best things to do in Nubra Valley, you will notice that it has something for everyone. From experiencing unique cultures to capturing surreal beauty and getting a dose of adrenaline through adventure activities, there is plenty to do in Nubra Valley Ladakh. There are five major areas that I will cover through this section of the Nubra Valley Travel Guide –

  • Diskit
  • Hunder
  • Sumur
  • Turtuk
  • Panamik

So let’s begin.

Make a brief stop at the Khardung La pass

Snowy peaks seen at one of the highest passes in the world - Khardung La
Snowy peaks seen at one of the highest passes in the world – Khardung La

At an elevation of 5,359 m above sea level, Khardung La is one of the highest motorable passes in the world. When I had visited it first, it head the record of being the highest one but later records showed that the claim was erroneous. Either way, it is worthwhile a visit – and one that you cannot avoid when traveling from Leh to Nubra Valley. A quick hop out of the car to capture the snowy peaks of Ladakh is highly recommended.

Tsolding Buddha park - just a few km below the Khardungla pass
Tsolding Buddha park – just a few km below the Khardungla pass

However, do not spend more than 10 minutes here lest you get hit by AMS (Read about AMS right here). As you bundle in and drive down the pass, watch out for the green patch with a beautiful stream. This is the Tsolding Buddha park in Ladakh and this too, is a great place to spend a few minutes. You might even catch Yaks crossing the stream just as I did.

Yaks crossing across the stream at the Tsolding Buddha Park
Yaks crossing across the stream at the Tsolding Buddha Park

Experience the barren mountains and calming reflections

You don’t have to go to specific vantage points to experience the beauty of Nubra Valley Ladakh. From the time begin your journey from Leh to Nubra Valley, you will witness the uncanny charm of the land.

The colors of Nubra Valley Ladakh with Shyok river flowing through it
The colors of Nubra Valley Ladakh with Shyok river flowing through it

A few kilometers past Khardung La (one of the highest motorable passes of the world) had me turn back constantly, I kept trying to reassure myself that there were indeed some snow-capped mountains that we had crossed. I pinched myself over and over again for the whole landscape had suddenly turned rocky with some streams flowing around here and there. Patches of blooms would just appear to interrupt the otherwise, sandy yet artistic landscape.

Capturing the calming reflections - one of the things to do in Nubra Valley Ladakh
Capturing the calming reflections – one of the things to do in Nubra Valley Ladakh
The White Sands of Hunder in Nubra Valley
The White Sands of Hunder in Nubra Valley

There is a certain beauty in these barren mountains that you are bound to gasp over. It seems unearthly and even more for me when I captured the most amazing reflections on the water that we passed by. Be it just the calm beauty of those barren mountains or the stunning beasts that they shelter.

Visit Diskit Monastery in Nubra Valley Ladakh

Visit the Diskit Monastery - a key part of any Nubra Valley sightseeing list
Visit the Diskit Monastery – a key part of any Nubra Valley sightseeing list

One of your major stops on your Nubra Valley Tour (not counting the photo stops) will be the Diskit monastery. The monastery atop a hill looks quite impressive and naturally, so given that it was the largest one in Nubra Valley. I had heard that the place had a very impressive prayer hall, a Maitreya Buddha statue within and some unusual Buddhist guardian statues within. Sadly, time was short and I could not really explore the place to discover these on my own. However, we did visit another of its landmarks – another Maitreya Buddha statue and this one, was really gigantic.

Jhampa statue of Maitreya Buddha at Diskit in Nubra Valley
Jhampa statue of Maitreya Buddha at Diskit in Nubra Valley

This 32 feet statue dominates the sky and faced the Shyok river. The Jhampa statue is a recent addition to this old monastery and was constructed in 2010 with all the donations that the place got. The statue is said to be a symbol of world peace and specifically, aims at preventing a clash with Pakistan. Hence, it has been built to face the country. It is said to bring peace and protection to the Nubra Valley below.

The windows along the side of Maitreya Buddha at Diskit, Nubra Valley Ladakh
The windows along the side of Maitreya Buddha at Diskit, Nubra Valley Ladakh

The day being clear, I got multiple shots of this statue from every possible angle. It might sound crazy but each angle gave me something new to admire in this statue. Like the side view showcases a building with windows – I wonder if you caught that at the first glance 😉

Feel the Nubra Valley sand dunes at Hunder

The cold desert at Nubra Valley in Ladakh
The cold desert at Nubra Valley in Ladakh

If barren mountains were not a distinct enough landscape, you suddenly, encounter sand dunes. The cold desert of Ladakh makes its appearance in Nubra valley in the most bizarre manner as one leaves Diskit monastery and heads to Hunder, Gone were the rocky formations and all you could see were miles of free flowing, ever-shifting sand dunes. It was as if nature was showcasing its best all in one place.

The barren mountains and sand dunes of Nubra Valley
The barren mountains and sand dunes of Nubra Valley

Meet the cutest animals – the bactrian camels of Nubra Valley

Bactrian camels are native to Nubra Valley in Ladakh
Bactrian camels are native to Nubra Valley in Ladakh

Where there are dunes, there have to be camels. And not just any camels, but the cutest ones with double humps. The Bactrian camels of Nubra Valley Ladakh stole my heart, especially this guy as he stared back at me in the eye to say – “Yo there! What are you upto?”.

Camel rides in Hunder, Nubra Valley Ladakh
Camel rides in Hunder, Nubra Valley Ladakh

The Bactrian double-humped camels have been the chief mode of transport and living for the people of Nubra Valley. They were the prime means of crossing the Nubra Valley desert for the tradesmen on the silk route. Sadly these camels now are all tagged for tourist activities which include camel riding. Even the babies are strung along.

Head to Turtuk – the last village of India

Add Turtuk to your Leh Nubra road trip
Add Turtuk to your Leh Nubra road trip

This is one major regret that I have when it comes to my trip to Nubra Valley Ladakh. I could not visit the Balti settlement at Turtuk. Turtuk as I mentioned earlier, was closed for tourists till 2010. The village along with three others became a part of India in 1971. The change was literally overnight and there are tons of stories floating around on how some of its natives slept in Pakistan but woke up in India.

Turtuk is a cultural hub where a unique culture called Balti prevails. The people speak a different language that has no script and practice Islam. The village is full of apricot orchards and a night stay here is highly recommended to enjoy its folk dances and to learn about their unique rituals.

Explore the Samstanling Monastery in Sumur

My journey in Nubra Valley in Ladakh ended at Hunder . That does not mean that your list of things to do in Nubra Valley ends with that. Besides Turtuk that I mentioned above, I have three more interesting Nubra Valley sightseeing options. Sumur and the Samstanling monastery is one of them.

Samstaling monastery is the 2nd largest monastery in Nubra Valley and is renowned for its gorgeous murals. A visit here entails a trek – an activity that most of my adventure-loving readers would totally enjoy. While in Sumur, you can even plan to visit the Yarab Tso Lake – a tranquil water body that captures the most amazing reflections of the landscape.

Dip into the Panamik hot spring in Nubra Valley Ladakh

Panamik is one of the key villages in Nubra Valley Ladakh and is famous for its hot sulphur springs. It is believed that a dip in these waters cures rheumatism. Ensa Monastery is the other Nubra Valley attraction that is located in this village. It is 250 years old and is home to ancient Buddhist scripts and murals

Add a drive to Siachen Glacier in your Nubra Valley tour

Until 2019, Siachen glacier was out of bounds for tourists. The closest you could go was Panamik village in Nubra Valley. Now, with the Nubra Valley permit, you can get to the base camp of Siachen Glacier and see some bit of what is called the highest battlefield in the world.

Suggested Nubra Valley itinerary

A one-day Nubra valley itinerary is possible but is not ideal
A one-day Nubra valley itinerary is possible but is not ideal

Is it possible to do a day trip to Nubra Valley? – This is a common question that I get from most of my readers. My answer is – Yes, you can but it will just be a tick mark on your Ladakh attraction. You can never get the full flavor of Nubra Valley Ladakh unless you have spent at least one night here. Ideally, I would recommend two nights. It is a good idea even from the perspective of your health. Given that this is at a lower altitude as compared to Leh, the acclimatization is much better in Nubra Valley.

Here is my recommended Nubra Valley itinerary for 2 nights –

  • Leave Leh in the morning and cross Khardung La to start your journey towards Diskit monastery. Have lunch in Diskit and explore the Maitreyi Buddha
  • Stay the night at Diskit or continue onto Hunder to spend the night there. You can stop at the various sand dunes on the way.
  • If time is of the essence, you can head back to Leh or Pangong the next day. Else, continue towards Turtuk the next day and check into a home stay here. Experience the Balti culture before heading back to Leh.
  • An alternative to the above itinerary would be to head to Panamik via Sumur and visit the hot springs.

If you wish to include all of it, then you would need at least 3 – 4 nights in Nubra Valley Ladakh, especially if you are opting for one of those treks.

How to get to Nubra Valley in Ladakh?

The road between Leh and Nubra Valley

The closest airport to Nubra Valley is in Leh. The airport has plenty of flights connecting it to the rest of India. There is no rail connection to Ladakh. The only other way of getting to Leh is by road.

Once in Leh, you can either hire a vehicle or get a cab to get to Nubra Valley. The route that you will need to follow is as below
Leh – Khardung La Pass – Khalsar – Diskit
The total distance from Leh to Nubra Valley (Diskit ) is 116 km. The drive will take you at least 5 hours. You will have to travel through Khardung La – which is one of the world’s highest passes. The roads from Leh to Nubra Valley are pretty smooth and the drive pleasant.

There are quite a few buses and shared cabs available at the Leh Bus stand that go all the way to Diskit and Hunder. You can use these as well to get to Nubra Valley Ladakh

What is the best time to visit Nubra Valley?

May to September is the best time to visit Nubra Valley. If you happen to go in the early part of May, then you will be able to see the apricot orchards in full bloom.

During winter, most of the hotels and Nubra Valley camps shut down and your stay options become limited to homestays.

Where can you stay in Nubra Valley Ladakh?

The Nubra Valley camp that I stayed in

Diskit and Hunder have quite a few hotels, homestays and even, camps set in the midst of the Nubra Valley sand dunes. You can look them up using the booking resources below.

I stayed at a very charming property called the Lotus Eco resort. The property with its little cottages has a small stream flowing through it. The cottages are really comfortable and though it is not next to the sand dunes, it is not too far from them either.

Where can you eat at Nubra Valley in Ladakh?

When on the road from Leh to Nubra Valley, you can stop for a food break at Khalsar. Once you reach any of the villages in Nubra Valley, you can head to the homestays or hotels for your meals. They serve a variety from Indian to Continental and Chinese dishes. Try some Thukpa when here.

Do you need a permit to visit Nubra Valley in Ladakh?

Yes, whether you are an Indian or a foreign national visiting Nubra Valley in Ladakh, you will have to get a permit to visit this region. Indians have to get the Inner Line Permits and the foreigners need the Protected Area Permits. The process for both is similar. You can either apply online through this website, print the form and get it stamped at the Leh office. Alternatively, you can go directly to the Leh office and get it. You need to provide your Government ID and pay INR 420 for the same. Most of the cab operators and hotels in Leh also, help you out with these permits. Check out more details through this Ladakh travel guide

What should I pack for a Nubra Valley Tour?

Though it will not be as cold as Leh, you will still need to dress in layers. Here is a list that I think will help you pack for a Nubra Valley Tour
Clothes – Carry thermals, a down jacket, caps to protect your ears, gloves, all weather shoes and socks. Dress in layers as it is cold all through the year.
Cameras – A wide angle lens and a regular prime lens should be good enough
Sunglasses
Snacks – Carry dry fruits or energy bars. Lots of water for the road and also, a few snacks.
Medicines – Besides your regular medications, carry a few diamox tablets to help with any possible AMS. If you are prone to motion sickness, carry a few tablets for the same.

What are the important travel tips for a visit to Nubra valley?

– It is better to spend a day in Leh acclimatizing to the altitude before you head to Nubra Valley. This is to avoid AMS as you climb atop Khardung La. Staying in Nubra Valley will further assist your acclimatization as this is at a lower altitude.
– Ensure that you book your hotel or tent well in advance as these places are often quite full during the season – June to September.
– The entrance fees for Diskit monastery is INR 30 and you can visit it anytime between 7 am-1pm & 2-7 pm
– There are no ATMs in Nubra Valley
– There are no petrol bunks on the way from Leh to Nubra Valley. Once you reach Diskit, you will find the only one that is available in this region.
– Phone signals are limited to Airtel Postpaid and BSNL. No other networks work in Nubra Valley. Even with these two connections, you will have patches of no signal.

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Booking resources

  • Booking.com has good listings for stays and Nubra valley camps . You can use this link to book one for yourself. 
  • For any of your travel needs or general shopping, consider using Amazon through this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

P.S: I experienced Nubra Valley as a part of the Highest Blogger Meet organized by ScoutMyTrip and OYO Rooms

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63 thoughts on “Surreal Beauty & Calming Reflections of Nubra Valley Ladakh”

  1. The pictures are worthy of being postcards. Beautiful captures. Truly!! The camels are way too cute! 🙂 What a delightful post this is. The dunes actually look like how they show on travel shows.

    Reply
  2. No doubt you beautifully captured the reflections and calmness of Nubra that justifying the mentioned title. More of the above I love the ‘Dude’, camel with spikes. he has such an innocent face.

    Reply
  3. The pictures are lovely Ami. I got back to Bangalore this weekend after a road trip in Ladakh. We stayed at Turtuk and it was also out of the world. If I get to go next time, Hunder it will be.

    Reply
  4. By seeing the pictures on your blog i can imagine the beauty of this place. Leh ladakh is amazing place like a wonder.

    Reply
  5. Hi Ami..l am simply speechless. I just want do a solo backpacking in that surreal yet incredibly beautiful place. I want to walk next to the patches of blooms and see the snow capped mountains. I want to go to that lake, see the mirror reflection and sit there with an empty mind. This place is definitely on my “must visit” travel destinations list. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
  6. Inspiring picture gallery. I never visited in Leh Ladakh yet but i can stop myself to visit Nubra valley at least once. Which is the best time to visit there?

    Reply
  7. You shared some really well clicked pictures here. The way to Nubra Valley from Leh is gorgeous. No wonder we ended up making so many pit stops. An early morning walk in the villages of Hundar is so therapeutic. Wish we spent more time here.

    Reply
  8. The scenery in your pictures is amazing! What a great place to explore and take in nature. Seems you had the place almost to yourself. That’s always a plus when traveling! Awesome you got to enjoy the beauty of this place.

    Reply
  9. My goodness, Ami! I think this post on the Nubra Valley might be my most favourite yet! It is so breathtaking and so surreal. Thx for sharing.

    Reply
  10. I know what you mean, Nubra can’t be described in words. When I visited Nubra I felt the same. I can’t believe sand and snow is literally existing at the same point! I felt weird, it was nothing like the rest of India!

    Reply
  11. I have to comment you on your photos. The photos you took of Nubra Valley are incredible. It seems like I could spend an entire day just taking photos of it!

    Reply
  12. How lovely Ami! I am falling in love with Nubra Valley all over again after reading your post. I must admit, you have nailed the art of capturing reflections 🙂

    Reply
  13. Wow..thanks for the wonderful virtual tour Ami. The pictures themselves are speaking volumes about the beauty of Nubra valley. And that particular one with the horse and it’s reflection – that’s my favorite..captured with perfection!

    Reply
  14. The Nubra valley looks really out of the world. The beautiful landscapes are really the kind of stuffs you see in those surreal dreams that you sometimes have. The sand dunes look like poetry etched by nature. Love the look of the camels, they look so innocent and vulnerable.

    Reply
  15. I cannot say enough about your photography! Some of your shots were truly breathtaking! The reflection of the mountains on the water, or the horse drinking. You truly have an eye for your shots! Keep it up!

    Reply
  16. Your this post and pictures brought back so many memories of my own trip to Ladakh. The valley is simply mind blowing and how the snow capped mountains are taken over by sand dunes is just amazing. The double hunped camels are really cute. Even we were sad seeing them tagged

    Reply
  17. Nubra valley seems like an awesome place for trekking. The scenery is so picturesque! How many days would you recommend staying there?

    Reply
  18. Me and my friends always very exited to visit different-different places in India. Recently We had been visit a new place in ladakh and we have plane to visit this. You inform very deeply about Ladakh thanks to inform it.

    Reply

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