The way the idea of our bike trip through Nubra Valley from Leh was born, was a testament itself of what was about to ensue. I woke up late one morning in the dorms of a hostel in Leh with my dormmates groggily discussing the idea of biking to Nubra Valley – a plan that was made in passing during the drinking and merrymaking of the night before. Not having anything else planned for me, and three more days ahead of me before my flight from Leh to Delhi, I agreed to join in.
By the time everyone was dressed and ready, it was already noon. After fueling up on some hearty brunch, we went in search of ways to procure an Inner Line Permit (ILP) for Nubra Valley in the quickest way possible. Due to its close proximity to the Indo-Chinese border, domestic tourists need to obtain an Inner Line Permit against a valid government ID and foreign tourists need a Protected Area Permit (PAR) against their passports. So we found a travel agency who would get these permits for us from the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Office for a nominal fee, while we went ahead and rented ourselves some bikes for the journey.
Visiting in the off-season may have its perks like lesser crowds and quieter streets when it comes to ~touristy~ things, options can be rather scarce. Most bike rentals in Leh were shut for the season since it was 29 September already. Luckily found a Royal Enfield Classic 350 and a Royal Enfield Himalayan to do the job for the fours of us. Once we finished the paperwork, collected our permits, off on our Nubra Valley bike trip we went!
When Khardung La refused to show up
I was the only one who had a working Jammu and Kashmir SIM card and so was elected the navigator by default. With the Nubra Valley region downloaded on Google Maps, we set off with a fair idea from a local man who told us to take the route towards Karu since it is “better”. Despite Google Maps telling us otherwise, we decided to follow the man’s advice.
Needless to say, the drive was incredibly scenic. We passed monasteries after monasteries surrounded by yellowing willow and poplar trees and Eurasian Magpies flittering about. We crossed villages like Shey, Thiksey, and Stakna – villages that I had only seen on Instagram, and had since vowed to be there someday. That someday was happening!
We bid adieu to the Indus and its greenery at Karu and left the Pangong Lake Road to carry on towards Diskit through what we thought would be Khardung La. As we progressed, the trees became scarce, and so did the human population. As we kept moving on, a storm seemed to be brewing up on the horizon. After a series of switchbacks, we finally saw a riot of prayer flags fluttering wild in the wind and the typical Border Roads Organization (BRO) yellow stone standing upright. Khardung La, here we are we thought silently in unison – only to find “Wari La; 17,216 feet (5,247.5 meters)” written across the stone. Thinking of this as a lesser-known pass towards Khardung La, we didn’t make much of it. Little did we know, we were actually running parallel to Khardung La, a few mountains away from us to the west.
We couldn’t stop at the Wari La pass for much time since the icy cold winds were beating down on us, so we decided to head further ahead in with our noses red and dry from the cold desert mountain winds. Soon, the weather cleared up and a vast valley for kilometers at a stretch unfolded itself in front of us. We didn’t see another human being for 30 kilometers or so, only wild Himalayan yaks grazing silently in the sparse bushes. We didn’t know where in the world we were – but that was all alright by us.
On the other side of Wari La was…a whole other world. We met a small stream coming from the Shyok River that followed us till we reached Agham village. The roads lined with yellow-orange trees. As I sat pillion on the RE Himalayan, watching this world go by, I spied with my little eye seabuckthorn berries. Bushes and bushes of them! Until then I had only drunk seabuckthorn tea, juice, and had eaten the jam – but it was the first time that I was plucking them fresh from the bushes and shoving fistfuls in my mouth. The slightly sweet but extremely tangy flavour felt like a riot on my tongue!
At Agham, the famous Shyok River of Nubra Valley joined and kept us company till we reached Diskit well past sundown around 8:30 pm. The mesmerizing autumn sunset, one bazillion photo stops, and a near-accident in the dark involving a reckless truck driver and our Himalayan bike ensured that we don’t reach our destination for the day during daylight hours. Once in the village, we put camp at the first homestay we found, stuffed our hungry faces with piping hot rajma rice, momos and chai before calling it a night after completing an adventurous 150 kilometers in about 7 hours!
Coming up: “Bike Ride to Nubra Valley: Diskit-Hunder-Turtuk”
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.