Leh to Nubra valley : an amazing journey from snow to sand !!


It was a bright Wednesday morning, and even though the temperature on our phone showed 4 degrees in peak summers (June 2019 it was), the weather was clear, and the sun was shining with all its might.

The day had arrived!!! One of the most anticipated drive on our 9 days Ladakh itinerary – driving from Leh to Nubra valey through supposedly world’s highest motorable pass – The mighty Khardungla

The road from Leh to Nubra valley?

Leh -> Khardungla -> Nubra

Leh city

At an elevation of around 11400 ft, Leh city is the main city in the newly formed Union Territory of Ladakh. A small town in the Indus river valley, lying in the lap of Himalayas, the picturesque town of Leh is the ideal place for a halt for several reasons in your Ladakh itinerary.

AMS in Leh Ladakh Trip
Spend a day in Beautiful Leh City
Leh city
Gompa in Leh city

At an elevation of around 11400 ft, Leh city is the main city in the newly formed Union Territory of Ladakh. A small town in the Indus river valley, lying in the lap of Himalayas, the picturesque town of Leh is the ideal place for a halt for several reasons in your Ladakh itinerary.

You can reach Leh both by road and by air.

ü  By Air

Flights operate year-round from Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, the only commercial airport in the Ladakh region from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu, Chandīgarh and Mumbai. During winters, flying to Leh is the only option as roads are closed due to heavy snowfall.

ü  By Road

There are two roads that gets you into Leh.

The famous Manali – Leh highway (NH3) and the picturesque Srinagar – Leh highway (NH1)

Considered as a dream road trip by many, the drive to Leh from both the highways is spectacular, picturesque and breath-taking.

The Manali -Leh highway runs for around 470kms at an average altitude of 13000ft and is every biker’s dream. One of the most sought after roadtrips, the highway crosses through several high passes, the highest being Tanglang La at an elevation of whooping 17,500 ft. hands down an adventure Junkie’s paradise. The highway is usually open for about 4 months in a year between June – September and is closed rest of the year due to heavy snowfall and extreme weather conditions.

The Srinagar Leh highway runs rather at lower altitude and covers around 430 kms. The average altitude here is 11,000 ft. The highway is known to offer one of the most picturesque drives as it passes through beautiful hamlets, farmlands and river streams.

We landed at Srinagar and drove through the Srinagar leh highway with an overnight stop at Kargil..

#TEE Tip: No matter what mode of transport you take for Leh, make sure to stay at least one day in Leh to acclimatize to the weather. Since Leh is in higher altitude and if you are going from Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardungla, its very important to give time to your body to adapt.

Leh to Khardung la

The most awaited leg of our Ladakh road trip was undoubtedly the drive through Leh to Nubra valley via Khardungla Pass. Imagine going as high as 17500 ft from 11000 ft just in about 40kms. Exciting isn’t it!!

We left at 10 in the morning for the journey from Leh to Nubra valley which is around 160kms and takes around 4-5 hours to reach depending upon the traffic and weather conditions at Khardungla top. As we drove out of Leh, with every kilometer and altitude gain, we lost sight of any shade of green that we could possibly see. The landscape changed from slightly green to shades of brown to marshmallow-y white. Within half an hour of our drive, from the foothills of the Ladakh range, our driver pointed at a faint peak, covered in clouds and said – That’s where we are going. That’s the Khardungla Top. Trust us even as we write this, it sends chills down our spine. That was the exact feeling then as well.

We stopped at a viewpoint halfway where it started snowing. Snowflakes from above and a breath-taking view of the valley below, views that are beyond words.

There are two checkpoints on both sides of Khardungla. South Pullu is where you ll stop on the way up and show the inner line permit and north pullu on the other side where you’ll have to register your exit. One interesting thing here is that during winters, the wheels are chained in order to necessary grip as the trail tends to go very slippery because of snow.As we drove even higher, every other colour vanished as the white wilderness took over. Covered with snow, driving through a gust of wind we finally reached the Khardungla Top.

Leh to Nubra valley
AMS in Leh Ladakh trip

Standing at the Khardungla Gompa, as far as your eye sight goes, you see snow and Tibetan prayer flags. Wind so strong that you can not even open your eyes properly. Weather so cold that your hand and feet goes numb, altitude so high that every breath of oxygen intake makes you feel tired. All of this, and it still feels like a dream! Can never explain how it felt to experience nature’s magnificence. Along with the cold what also gave us chills was the Indian Army. Stationed at such a high altitude in extreme weather conditions, the Indian army not only manages the Khardungla top but also takes care of safety proceedings there.

We stopped for a while, had hot chocolate and Maggie and started our drive down to Nubra Valley.

Khardungla Gompa
Khardungla Gompa

Khardungla to Nubra valley

In the last leg of your Leh to Nubra valley trip, as you start descending from Khardungla, the landscape dramatically changes from snowy mountains to arid desert.  What left us speechless was the diversity of terrain that we saw in just one day, in fact in just few hours. It literally was like driving from snow to sand. Winding through the mountains as you descend from Khardungla, gushing shyok river welcome you to the Nubra Valley – A high altitude cold desert.

Leh to Nubra valley
Th vast cold desert

As we drove towards Hunder – A small village in Nubra district where majority of the inhabitants live, we saw sand dunes, golden and glittering cause of the sun shining right above. The temperature went a little warm inside the car although it was still cold outside as the winds were so strong and chilly.

We stayed in Nubra for two days and did the famous double humped camel safari in the cold desert, rode an ATV right over the sand dunes, met the last heir of the King of Baltistan, visited Turtuk – The famed last village of India from where you can see POK. Nubra valley is so remote that even electricity is a luxury there. People have their own cultivation, the shyok river mercifully irrigates the entire valley and tourism helps 

Nubra Valley
Nubra Valley, Leh Ladakh
Nubra valley
Double hump camels of Nubra

It’s strange how nature surprises in ways you cannot imagine. At every leg of our road trip we felt so privileged to have access to everything we need and at the same time felt sad as clearly, we are so deprived of nature’s warmth and surprises. Something we do not get in city life, something for which thousands of travellers come this far to experience. The Journey from Leh to Nubra valley or as we fondly called “snow to sand” was truly breathtaking !!

Leh to Nubra valley

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The Exploring Eyes

To him it is his oxygen, to her it is the way of living. Travelling has helped us evolve so much as a person, giving us an entirely different perspective to see the world!

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