Nubra Valley lies in the old Silk Route from South to Central Asia. Traders and their caravans used to traverse this route from areas in Ladakh and Kashmir to Central Asian places like Yarkand and Baltistan. Now it is a military area because this region is bordered by Pakistan and China, with whom India does not have very cordial relationship. The valley is relatively warm during summers but temperature goes down to -40 °C during winters.
This region is fed by two rivers, one is Shyok and other one is Nubra. When descending from Khardungla pass, one encounters Shyok river and continues on its left bank. The river's entire basin is visible from road. The river is not full of water so, it has many channels. The basin is filled with sand, stones and occasional green patches of trees, shrubs and sometimes cultivated fields. Same is the case with Nubra river which originates at Siachen Glacier. They both meet near a place called Khalsar.
Diskit is one of the main towns in Nubra famous for its apricot plantations and a 350 year-old monastery.
Panamik is a village approximately 150 km from Leh. It is quite a scenic village. The road to Panamik is well laid. People are friendly and helpful. The color of the trees during the months of Sep and Oct turns to yellowish red and is a treat to watch. The gentle Nubra enhance the charm. The mountains just rise from the valley as some child has made them of mud. Snow can be seen on the peaks. There is minimal public transport available in Panamik or nearby areas. Most people (tourists) have their own vehicles. There is some movement of trucks and military vehicles, which can be of help in times of need.
Turtuk is a remote village of about 4,000 residents, inhabited by ethnic Muslims, a few kilometres from the 'line of control' (the de facto border) between India and Pakistan, on the Indian side. Until 1971 a part of Baltistan, shared strong economic and cultural ties with Tibet.
Turtuk is the penultimate village open to foreign tourists before Pakistan. You can go on for a few km to the village of Shaksey (with a single guesthouse). There is another village before the Line of Control, closed off to foreigners as of August 2012. Turtuk is on the edge of the Shyok Valley, in popular understanding a part of the Nubra Valley. The village is on the plateau above the Shyok river, not the houses around the road.
It can be extremely pleasurable to stroll around this picturesque village.
The people here speak Ladakhi or Balti and their dialects but they also speak and understand Hindi fairly well and know a bit of English, mostly due to the number of foreign tourists who visit this region.
Foreign visitors will need an Inner Line Permit to visit Nubra. These permits are easily issued via any of the many travel agencies in Leh, or directly via the Magistrate Office in Leh. You will need your passport, passport copies and ₹300-450. Before setting off to Nubra, prepare photocopies of the permit, as the checkpoints you will encounter will usually ask you to deposit a photocopy with them.
Nubra is serviced by a local bus service from Leh a few times a week, and back. Enquire at the New Bus Stand in Leh for detailed schedule. It is a long and bumpy ride, although the road is well-paved almost all the way from Leh, apart from Khardung La, as of August 2012.
Most people, however, opt to share a jeep for a 2-3 day trip to the entire valley, organised in Leh. Hitchhiking might be hard since there is very little traffic going on the Diskit-Turtuk road, apart from the multitude of military trucks and tourist jeeps. It can be very pleasant to motor-cycle or bicycle in here, but don't expect to buy any provisions on the ~90 km way from Diskit.
The valley is connected by road from the town of Leh, which is one of the two capitals of Ladakh. One has to climb the Khardung La pass (also known as K\Top), popularly but wrongly claimed to be the highest motorable pass in the world and descend into the valley further beyond. The road forks at a place called Khalsar, one of which goes towards towns Diskit and Hunder and further up to Turtuk and the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. The other road goes to towns like Sumur and Panamik and further up to Sosoma check point and Siachen base camp but tourists cannot go beyond Panamik.
Public transport is very intermittent and unpredictable due to remoteness and difficult terrain of the place, so your best bet is to go by your own vehicle.
The major attractions apart from the mountain scenery and Shyok river basin to this region are cold desert and bactrian camels of Hunder and hot water springs of Panamik. Yes, there is a desert with sand dunes around Diskit and Hunder which host bactrian camels who have two humps reminding us of old times when this region was a part of Silk Route to Central Asia.
- 1 Diskit Monastery. The oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (gompa) in the Nubra Valley.
- 2 Samtanling Gompa, Sumur. Samtanling Gompa has a good collection of tangkhas, Buddha idols and frescoes.
- Shyok Valley. The area of the Shyok river past Hunder, including the three villages of Changmar, Bogdan and Turtuk, were only opened to foreign tourists in 2010, so they are still quite new in their contact with tourists and the West, and feel rather unexplored.
Leh -> Diskit -> Hunder -> Panamik -> Leh is a possible itinerary with overnight stay at Diskit and Panamik.
Lay around and roam around the bank of the Nubra.
Turtuk: You might be able to purchase some stone carvings (of animals) in the tea shop near the mosque.
Enjoying a typical Ladakhi meal in Nubra is quite a delightful experience. Chang, a local brew (type of ale or beer) and butter tea are must-haves in Nubra. Camel safaris are yet another way to see the valley. Bactrian camels, which were once used as pack animals, are quite popular today as a convenient mode of transport for the locals. There are a row of shops in Diskit. Trekking to gompas and villages rewards with endless scenic vistas from snow-covered mountains to gorges and deep valleys for the adventure buffs. Saboo to Khalsar and beyond is a good trek option to start with. Close to the village of Sumur, lies a beautiful camp site by the river. Camping is suggested for a day or two.
Turtuk: There is a restaurant on the "main drag" and also a tea shop near the mosque. Otherwise just rely on your guesthouse or homestay family for the freshest meals. Remember that if visiting in the summer, you could well be here during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan (or Ramzan to the locals), in which the locals don't eat from sunrise to sunset. Your host family or guesthouse will still serve you lunch, but don't expect too much.
Dotted with guest houses and budget hotels, Diskit is a major stop for tourists.
- The easiest and cheapest option is probably staying with a home-stay, e.g. Kashmiri Homestay or Issue Homestay. In August 2012, this cost ₹300 per night per person, including supper and breakfast, with very nice conditions. These home-stays are easily found once up in the main part of the village.
- There is a government guesthouse on the right as you enter the village.
- The "Maha Guesthouse" is very nice and on the side of the village before you cross the river.
- "Balti Residency" is a homestay run by Abdullah, and is in the side of the village after crossing the river. It's unmarked, and there are no signs, so it's best to ask. If you find the mosque, you are close and someone will show you the rest of the way.
- There is a tent camp on the right as you enter the village but it's quite expensive (₹2800 min.
The only way out is to go back to Leh.