During my 10 days Ladakh trip, I stayed in Leh for the first 3 days. There are a lot of things to see in Leh and it’s surrounding area. The main reason for staying in Leh was to get acclimatized with the high altitude. On the 4th day, I traveled from Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardungla pass.
Most of the people live in the plains of India. I, myself traveled from Delhi which is at an altitude of 216 meters, whereas Leh is at 3,500 meters. I was not very comfortable for the first two days. Though I had no issue or illness due to altitude, still I was not comfortable taking long walks or climbing stairs. I woke up a couple of times at night due to the uncomfortable feeling.
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Here I want to mention that the Khardungla pass is at 5359 meters and the amount of oxygen here is very less. Even though I was not going to stay at Khardungla pass for long, still it is advisable to acclimatize body with the high altitude.
Leh to Khardungla Pass
At one point of time Khardungla pass was considered the world’s highest motorable road but it has lost this place after recalculation of height by latest GPS technology. There are mostly barren mountains on both sides of the road till Khardungla pass from Leh, we drove on a narrow road with the high mountain on one side and the deep valley on another side. It was the end of August still, I saw snow clad mountains on the way, the white tips of mountains were adding another dimension to the grey color mountains.
There was no vegetation and there were no villages on the way till Khardungla pass from Leh. On the way, there was no mobile signal so if in case you get stuck due to vehicle fail then you have to wait for another vehicle to take your message. I noticed that most of the vehicles drive in groups of 2-3 or more to handle these situations.
My driver was a young guy but he was a very skilled driver to drive in these conditions. As our car got near the Khardungla pass, the air got thin and I can feel it while breathing. Finally, my driver showed a big rock on the left side toward the valley and he informed that we reached “India Gate”.
The India gate is a big rock and local people gave this name to it. Somehow over the years this rock before Khardungla pass became a landmark to inform that we about to reach the highest point of the journey. From India Gate onwards, I started getting a signal in mobile.
At Khardungla Pass
We reached Kardungla pass after driving for another couple of Kms. It was the end of August so there was no snow on road or hill at Khardungla pass. There were already few vehicles at the top and I noticed everyone was busy clicking photographs in front of the board claiming “Highest motorable road”. Well, it is not the highest motor-able road as claimed for years.
My driver declared that we will stop here only 15 minutes because it is not recommended to stay longer. It was cold and very windy at Khardungla pass.
There is a canteen at Khardungla pass which is run by the Indian army. Other than this there is an army dispensary, Gompa and washroom facility at the pass. I also clicked a few pictures here before heading to the canteen. The canteen serves black tea (Lal/red tea), Maggi noodles and momos. In the canteen, people were talking how some of the folks get unwell on Khardungla pass.
At this altitude, my lungs were screaming for oxygen and after the initial excitement of reaching at one of the highest motorable points, my brain started going dizzy and the cold was making me somewhat numb.
My driver told that some people feel nauseous and throw up. Some of them get so unwell that they require oxygen and that’s why the army has a dispensary at Khardunla pass. I lost my appetite and didn’t felt like eating but my driver encourages me to eat & drink whatever I can.
Finally, I clicked a few more photographs and said goodbye to Khardungla pass and started for Nubra Valley.
From Khardungla Pass to Nubra Valley
We drove only half a Km and came across a snowy patch on the road. I checked with my driver, how risky it is to drive on snow at this height. He replied very coolly that it’s not at all difficult and he just needs to fix chains on car’s tyres for protection against skidding for safety. The only issue for him was starting the car when it gets extremely cold after snow and temperature drops many degrees below “0” centigrade.
After driving for more than 2 hours we crossed North Pullu and reached a village after Khardung. There were few houses and shops around the road. After climbing down and reaching an altitude of approx 3,200 meters, my stomach starting growling because I was hungry.
We stopped in the village and ordered Maggi noodles with tea from a shop. Interestingly Maggie is an easily available food whenever I traveled to north Indian hills stations from Delhi.
There were no washrooms for public use in this village and in case of emergency one has to relieve themselves in an open area (There are lots of big boulders which work as a wall).
The mountains and valleys on the side of roads were mostly barren but created a beautiful dramatic landscape with blue sky.
As we moved closer to the Nubra Valley landscape started changing. Now we were driving on a road, which has a high mountain on one side and a river fast flowing on the other side. Finally, I saw some greenery after a long drive. The Yaks and goats were grazing in these meadows. Surrounded by high mountains Nubra Valley is one of the most fertile regions of Ladakh.
My driver announced that we reached another popular point of this journey from Leh to Nubra Valley. It is not a monument or a natural attraction. The main attraction of this secluded area is this patch of the road, which runs absolutely straight for a couple of Km. Even if you remove the hands from steering wheel car will drive on road.
As we came closer to the Hunder village in Nubra valley, the landscape changed dramatically. There were sand dunes on side of roads and I felt as I reached Jaisalmer.
There were sand dunes and high barren mountains for few km, then suddenly we reached the green valley with a stream flowing.
I stayed in a hotel just before the second part of Hundar sand dunes and there were so many fruit trees in the hotel’s compound.
I went to Hundar sand dunes and visited few other places in Nubra valley before returning to Leh.
While I was coming back, I came across a fast flowing stream (In local language they call it Nullah) just before Khardungla pass. It was not there when I traveled from Leh to Nubra valley yesterday. This “Nullah” suddenly appeared due to the melting of the glacier in the upper region.
My driver informed that it mostly happens when the temperature gets a bit warm suddenly. At times these Nullah’s flow for few hours and if water flow is strong then the road in that area disappear. This causes the blockage of traffic between Leh and Nubra valley.
Fortunately, the Himank (Which manages roads in the high altitude of Himalayas) work very swiftly and repair the road promptly to avoid disruption of traffic. I was fortunate to return back without any issue.
Travel tips for traveling from Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass
* Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardungla is only 124 Km but it takes at least 5 to 6 hours because of road conditions and high altitude driving.
* Keep hydrated during the trip, it helps in combating high altitude sickness and its effects.
* There are limited washrooms on the way. So be prepared to use the open area behind a boulder. It may sound unethical but at times that’s the only option.
* On the way you will get tea, Maggie noodles, and momos. Don’t expect proper meals, maybe carry a packed lunch.
* Don’t stay for more than half an hour at Khardungla pass.
* There is an army dispensary and first aid center at Khardungla pass and they have a basic arrangement to deal with AMS.
* Sometimes due to the sudden melting of glacier water starts flowing from mountains and roads get washed away. This can create delay but the army and HIMANK repair the road on priority.
* Roads are rough and winding if you have motion sickness problem then take the medication before traveling.
* The area is so beautiful so don’t fall asleep during the journey, you will miss something beautiful.