Complete Guide to Nubra Valley: If you love adventure and want to get off the beaten track, then a visit to the secluded Nubra Valley will be one of the highlights of your trip to high altitude Ladakh. This interesting, remote region is notable for connecting India to the southern branch of the old Silk Road trade route from China via the Karakoram Pass. (The double-humped Bactrian camels that live in the Nubra Valley are a legacy brought by traders from the Gobi Desert in China to carry heavy loads).
Until China closed the border in 1949, traders traveled between Yarkand (present-day Xinjiang in China) and Kashmir in India via Ladakh.
The Nubra Valley is a sensitive border area, tourism is strictly controlled and its footprint is minimal. Some places remained off-limits until less than a decade ago, adding to the destination’s notability. The widespread presence of the Indian Army against the harsh, arid landscape is yet another reminder of its position.
This complete guide to the Nubra Valley of Ladakh will help you plan your trip there.
Complete Guide to Nubra Valley
Until recently (the first formal survey took place in 1992) not much archaeological research had been done in the Nubra Valley. As a result, little is known about the history of the region prior to the construction of the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Diskit in 1420. However, several fort ruins indicate that the Nubra Valley was divided and presided over by local chieftains. Actually, villagers say that Diskit Math is located on the premises of an ancient fort.
Although Buddhism spread from Kashmir to western Ladakh in the 2nd century, the religion is believed to have been introduced to the Nubra Valley from neighboring Tibet in the 8th century when the Tibetan Empire was expanding. Unlike the earlier inscriptions in other parts of Ladakh, all the inscriptions found in the Nubra Valley are in Tibetan.
Local chieftains continued to rule the Nubra Valley autonomously until the 16th century when the Islamic invader Mirza Haider Duglat entered Ladakh through the region and defeated them. After this, in the middle of the 16th century, the Nubra Valley, along with the rest of Ladakh, came under the Namgyal dynasty. This new dynasty was founded by a Ladakhi king and ruled the entire region. However, it allowed the chieftains of the Nubra Valley to remain.
Unfortunately, Ladakh’s relations with Tibet took a turn for the worse in the late 17th century. This resulted in an attempted invasion by Tibet, forcing Ladakh to seek help from the Mughals in Kashmir. A peace treaty in 1684 settled the dispute (among other things, it set the boundary between Ladakh and Tibet at Pangong Lake) but the fall of Ladakh as an independent state began.
Ladakh, including the Nubra Valley, was between the mighty Kashmir and Tibet. The Sikhs ousted the Mughals and took control of Kashmir in the early 19th century. They also wanted to control the lucrative Pashmina wool trade that included Ladakh. Therefore, he arranged for the Dogras (who ruled the adjacent Jammu region) to launch an aggressive military offensive. Ladakh surrendered, and eventually joined Jammu and Kashmir. It became a separate union territory of India in October 2019.
During the partition, Ladakh was divided unequally between India and Pakistan. Border disputes and national security concerns arose, forcing the area to be closed to outsiders.
The Muslim-majority province of Baltistan was a place in the Nubra Valley that was merged with Pakistan. However, India recovered a part of it during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. It consisted of four villages – Chalunkha, Turtuk, Tyakshi, and Thang. The process literally happened overnight. Residents of Pakistan fell asleep and woke up in India!
All the decades of fighting stifled economic development in Ladakh and tourism provided the region with an opportunity to recover. To facilitate this, the Indian government reopened parts of Ladakh in 1974. However, the Nubra Valley remained off-limits until 1994, and no one could visit Turtuk until 2010, as tourists were not allowed into the Nubra Valley beyond Panamik and Hander.
Recently, following pressure from the local people, the last access points for tourists were shifted from Panmik to Warshi (in the direction of Siachen Base Camp) and from Turtuk further to Tyakshi village (from where you can see the Indian and Pakistani border lines). They went. In October 2019, the Indian government announced that tourists can now visit the Siachen Glacier, which is also the world’s highest battlefield.
The Nubra Valley is located in the northernmost part of Ladakh at an altitude of 3,000 meters (about 10,000 ft) above sea level. It is located about 150 kilometers (93 mi) north of Leh across the Khardung La mountain pass, between the mighty Karakoram and Ladakh mountain ranges.
The region is actually made up of two valleys – the Nubra and Shyok – which are formed by the rivers of the same name. These rivers originate from the Siachen Glacier on either side of the Karakoram Range. The Nubra River joins the Shyok River near Diskit (headquarters of Nubra Valley).
Apart from Diskit, popular destinations Hunder, Turtuk, and Tyakshi lie along the Shyok River, which joins the Indus River in Pakistan. The banks of the Nubra River are Sumur, Tiggur, Panamik, and Varshi.
How to Get There
It takes five to six hours to reach Diskit from Leh in Ladakh. The main route to reach there is Khardung La, which passes over the Ladakh mountain range. At an elevation of 5,602 meters (18,380 ft) above sea level, it is often incorrectly claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world. However, the Indian government has given its actual height as only 5,359 meters (17,582 ft). Regardless, you won’t want to spend more than about 15 minutes there because of the altitude, or you’re likely to feel lightheaded.
An alternative, more difficult route is in the Nubra Valley, east of Khardung La. It crosses the Wari La at Shakti and connects to the main road via Agham and Khalsar along the Shyok river. You can also reach Nubra Valley from Pangong Lake, via Durbuk and Shyok villages. This route is growing in popularity.
Public transport is running intermittently. Hence, it is most convenient to travel by private vehicle. This may not be possible for budget travelers, as a taxi will usually charge Rs 10,000-15,000 for a two-day trip from Leh to Nubra Valley.
Fortunately, buses ply from Leh Bus Stand to Diskit thrice a week – departing early in the morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You can expect to pay around Rs 500 for a round trip by bus, which is quite a difference! Also, a bus runs from Leh to Turtuk on Saturday mornings and from Leh to Panmik on Tuesday mornings.
Taking a shared jeep from Leh to Diskit, Hunder or Sumur is another budget option, costing Rs 400-500 one way per person.
Foreigners should make transport arrangements through a registered travel agent in Leh, as it is necessary to obtain a Protected Area Permit (PAP) to travel to Nubra Valley. As per the rules, at least two foreigners need to be in a group to apply for the PAP. However, travel agents will add single travelers to other groups (so, you can share their taxis as well). You don’t need to join the group though. Travelers go alone after obtaining a permit and are rarely questioned (you can always say that your partner is sick or is due to arrive later).
Note that citizens of Afghanistan, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China need permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi for PAP, and should apply through the Indian consulate in their home country.
Indian citizens must have an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to travel to Nubra Valley. The requirements are less strict and it is now possible to apply for a permit online here. It can also be accessed from the Tourist Information Center near Jammu and Kashmir Bank in the main market of Leh.
Khardung La is open throughout the year. However, the tourist season in Nubra Valley lasts from May to October, peaking in July and August. Visit in late September or early October to avoid the crowds. Nubra Valley is at a lower altitude than Leh, so it is not as cold.
What to Do There
The Nubra Valley, at the “cultural crossroads” of Tibet and Central Asia, is a fascinating meeting place of two religions – Buddhism and Islam. The main tourist spots and attractions can be covered in three days, although there are trekking and camping options for those who want to stay longer.
To get acquainted with the Buddhist heritage of the Nubra Valley, visit its major Buddhist monasteries. The largest is located on a hill above Diskit. If you’re willing to get up early and reach the dawn, you’ll be able to catch the monks’ daily morning prayers to the tune of chants, horns, and cymbals. Walk past the monastery and upstairs for spectacular views of the Shyok Valley below.
For an unforgettable experience, try and attend the monastery’s annual 2-day Diskit Gaster festival in October, where monks perform masked dances. Another attraction in Diskit is the 100 feet tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, which overlooks the valley. This more recent addition was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010.
You will find more Buddhist monasteries around Hunder, Sumur, and Panamik. The Chamba Gompa in Hunder has a huge gold Maitreya Buddha statue, vibrant frescoes, and interesting Buddhist sites all around it. Samstanling Monastery, near Sumur, was built relatively recently in the 19th century but is beautifully decorated with paintings and wall hangings. From Panamik, it’s worth visiting the little-known Ensa Monastery on the other side of the Nubra River, where an elderly monk lives in solitude.
There is a curious footprint in the prayer hall of the monastery. It is believed that this Dachompa belonged to a monk named Nyima Gungpa, whose religious clothing gave him the power to fly. The ancient and remote Yarma Gombo Monastery is further on towards Warashi and is now accessible by tourists.
Panamik is known for its natural therapeutic hot water sulfur spring, which can relieve aches and pains. Despite there being a new bath, some tourists find it overwhelming. More rewarding is a short 10-minute walk to the sacred Yarb Tso Lake in the mountains near the village entrance.
The atmospheric Tiggur village (also known as Tegar or Tiger) between Sumur and Panamik is developing into a tourist destination. It is home to the Zimshang Gompa, the ruins of a local chieftain’s palace. There are ruins of more forts and palaces in nearby Charisma.
In the sand dunes between Diskit and Hunder, a sunset ride on a Bactrian camel is an iconic thing. This barren expanse was formed by a major flood in 1929, which swept away a dense forest of sea buckthorn. The wind blew sand from across the valley and deposited it there. Camel rides are also possible in Sumur, although the mounds are less impressive.
Allocate a day to visit Balti Muslim villages beyond Hunder, with their distinct landscape and culture. The Balti Heritage Museum in Turtuk provides insight into local history, from the time the village was inhabited by the Brokpa tribe and later captured by warriors from Central Asia. You can also meet Yabgo Mohammed Khan Kacho, the “king” of Turtuk, a descendant of the Yabgo dynasty that ruled Baltistan for 2,000 years.
It still occupies the former palace and has converted a portion of it into a museum to display memorabilia of the dynasty. Old wooden mosques that have stood the test of time are another attraction in Turtuk. While you’re there, dine on authentic Balti cuisine at Balti Kitchen near the Maha Guest House or at Balti Farms at Turtuk Holiday Resort.
Although the Siachen Glacier is now open for tourism, it is controlled by the Indian Army and requires a permit. At an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, only those people who are deemed fit enough to tackle the glacier end will be allowed.
Various accommodation in Nubra Valley includes tent camps for shining, guesthouses, and homestays. Most are only open during the tourist season from May to October.
Chamba Camp Diskit is ideal for luxury travelers. Butler service, gourmet food, bespoke itineraries, and immersive experiences are all part of the package. Expect to pay 68,000 rupees per night for a double, with discounts for two- and three-night stays.
For a less expensive glow in the disc, try Desert Himalaya Resort. Three categories of tents, plus trailer accommodation, are spread over six acres. Rates for a double start at around Rs 8,000 per night.
Alternatively, the Hotel Stan Dale in Diskit comes recommended. The rooms are clean and attractive, and the property has a relaxing garden. Doubles cost around Rs 5,000 per night.
There are plenty of accommodations to choose from in Hunder. Himalayan Eco Resort is popular with 20 cottages and five tents. Rates start from around Rs 4,000 per night. Nubra Organic Retreat has 20 deluxe tents on its lush organic farm. Expect to pay around 7,000 rupees for a double per night. Hunder has a cheaper but still comfortable Swiss tent at Apple Nubra Cottage from around 3,000 rupees per night.
Want to get away from the crowd? The modern, family-run Nubra Eco Lodge is located in a beautiful and tranquil setting near Sumur. It has four tents, two cottages, and three rooms. Rates start at Rs 5,000 per night for a double. Or, in Tegar, a restored Ladakhi home at Hotel Yarab Tso has rooms that cost around Rs 6,000 per night. Lachang Nang Retreat is another exceptional place to stay in Tegger. It offers Ayurvedic and wellness treatments. Expect to pay 10,000 rupees per night for a double.
Important Links to Complete Guide to Nubra Valley
- Nubra valley temperature (Link)
- Leh to nubra valley distance (Link)
- Pangong lake to Nubra valley distance (Link)
- Nubra valley weather (Link)
- Nubra valley hotels (Link)
- Nubra valley map (Link)
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