Best driving routes: Leh to the Nubra Valley
India is infamous for its shabby roads, but at the same time there are many fantastic driving roads spread through the length and width of our beautiful country. OVERDRIVE has been fortunate enough to experience quite a few of these roads, and we want to share the joy with a weekly feature of a fantastic road that you should aspire to experience someday.
For this edition of the best driving roads, we return to the mystical land of Ladakh and its surrounding regions. We've already talked about the breathtaking but treacherous road from Manali to Leh, as well as the Leh to Srinagar route, that has some of the best driving roads in the world. This week, we'll take the route from Leh to the gorgeous Nubra Valley.
There are many memorable aspects to this road - one of them being that you have to cross the formidable Khardung La to get to Nubra. Khardung La is a huge mountain pass that you begin to climb soon outside Leh, and it takes well over an hour to get to the top on a good day when there are no landslides or adverse weather conditions to slow progress. What makes Khardungla La special is that it is the world's highest motorable road at a claimed elevation of 18,380ft. However, this is a widely debated number, and there are a few roads in the same Indo-Sino region which are supposedly even higher. Still, there's no discounting the fact that this is a difficult pass to get over, and there's always a strong sense of accomplishment when you pose for the obligatory photographs at the summit.
Khardung La is a cruel road where it is a never-ending battle for the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) whose job is to build and maintain the roads at our border regions. Every year the harsh winter destroys the road, and every year the BRO has to rebuild it pretty much from scratch. As of mid August, when we were riding scooters up the road, we discovered that it was a beautiful smooth ribbon of tarmac up to South Pullu, an army checkpoint about halfway up the pass on the Leh side. Beyond that is a bumpy, rutted mess of rubble all the way to the top and down to North Pullu on the other side. Khardung La then is less about driving pleasure and more an amazing experience.
The real joy, however, begins on the other side. As the road descends, it begins to flow more, and soon you come to a crossroad down in the valley. Straight will take you to Siachen base camp, and of course, us civilians aren't allowed down that road. Instead, take the left towards Hundar and prepare to be blown away.
Before your eyes will stretch a long, arrow-straight sliver of tarmac that slices through a high-altitude desert. That's right, about an hour ago you were on the 'world's highest motorable road' and now, still at an altitude of about 10,000ft, you find yourself surrounded by white sand dunes. The road soon begins to wind again but stays smooth for kilometers as it cuts along the surreal landscape of the Nubra Valley.
Diskit is a good place to stay, thanks to luxury campsites like the Desert Himalaya resort or the few other small hotels that have popped up in the past few years. Diskit has two major attractions - the beautiful Diskit Monastery which was built in the 14th century and is certainly worth a visit. The other touristy thing to do is go for a ride on the double-humped Bactrian camel that calls this place home. If you're feeling adventurous, you can make the 70-odd-kilometre drive to the town of Turtuk which is the final border town that civilians are allowed to short of the Pakistan border.
No matter what you do, a drive or a ride to this region will remain a lifetime memory.
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