Today was the day I would conquer the highest altitude point I have ever been to at 17, 982 feet – the Khardungla Pass, and boy was I uber excited! Khardungla is a mountain pass in the North Leh district on the Ladakh range. It connects the Indus River valley and the Shyok River and also forms the gateway to the Nubra Valley.
Mesmerized by the drive uphill, we could not stop staring at the snow-capped mountains across us and I was later told it was none other than the mighty Himalayan ranges! For those who know me, are aware of my obsession with the Himalayas and even my near-future adventure to climb them! Hence, the girls and I silently listened to pleasant music and stared at the mountain ranges across from us without wanting an involuntary blink so we could capture each moment and soak it all in! Although we were at 180-degree pin bend roads uphill and feeling slightly trippy, our gazes fixated on the pinnacle views made us oblivious to the lowering oxygen levels in the atmosphere and even the twists and turns we were taking!
We were informed en route that this place has even lesser oxygen than Leh and to ensure that if we feel dizzy and breathless we should get back into the car as soon as possible. Our actual toil there was 2 hours but our stay at the actual pass was no more than 30 minutes due to the above-mentioned reason and some women were actually feeling nauseous and one even threw up! However, I felt perfectly fine and almost leaped out of the car before it even stopped just to set foot on an almost 18, 000 feet altitude wondering what it would feel like! And, it felt absolutely breathtaking, pun-intended! The sudden realization that I was short-breathed, alerted my system to take deeper and calmer breaths and I thankfully quickly recovered and walked towards the infamous Khardungla Pass signage where everyone was taking pictures! I also climbed a little bit above some steps to witness a lovely small temple from where to my surprise, I discovered I was standing on a snow-capped mountain myself! Any place so close to the heavens is bound for believers to worship and hence you will find several colorful Tibetan prayer flags here from Buddhist reverence with mantras. After a short walk around, I found myself to be the last to go back to the car and thereon we went to explore Khardungla further!
Downhill and en route to Nubra Valley, we stopped at the Skyok River which exhibited a diamond-like reflection of its pure waters, filled with multi-sized pebbles. The slight echoes of the water flowing downstream with shallow watercourse, gave me the chance to put my hands and feet into it to become part of the rivulet momentarily! Sitting on a rock, I meditated for a few moments over the quiet and radiant existence of the place with a curiosity to hear the softer reverberations around these valley impasses. Post-which we traveled across to muddy lands, where I decided to apply my long-learned archery skills by the riverside, almost always failing to hit the mark!
Diksit Monastery or Diksit Gompa
We were then ushered to the Diksit Monastery, an absolutely serene yet divine place holding the stature of the oldest Buddhist Monastery in the Nubra Valley. The illustrious 32-meter Statue had colorful inscriptions and highly refined artistry, which took a few moments to register against its towering loft. Feeling extremely inspired by and literally tiny around the statue, like others, I captured this moment with me in it and headed to explore the rest of the monastery. This touristy spot was built on a hill overlooking the Shyok River and had 4-sided bells like all other monasteries to speak our hopes into and ring them until we believe it will come true! But what fascinated me most is the 3 colorful tombs facing south serving as north stars and protection to the Gompa. This entirely white-painted monastery also serves as a beautiful landmark distinguishing Nubra Valley as a righteous place for Buddhist devotees.
The remarkable yet diametrical landscapes of Leh never ceased to amaze me. From the highest altitude to its river streams and monasteries, our last stop was none other than a sand dune! Hunder village is an oasis in the cold desert of Nubra Valley of Jammu & Kashmir. Hunder is known for its sand dunes, the cold desert, Bactrian camels, and its affirmed disposition in nature! This high-altitude desert (can you believe it!), has barren landscapes and endless rolling expanses of sand dunes which we could not get enough of and still felt like we hadn’t covered any distance! While many joyrode camels across these dunes, I took quiet moments to walk barefoot, earth, and feel the sand on my hands and feet. I also sat in the surprising water stream passing by right in the midst of thick sand and wondered about this antipodal presence of wilderness, while being equally in awe of it! After clicking several pictures and videos of this unimaginably real place filled with mountains, sand dunes, camels and river streams, we headed back to our forest lodge.
The lodge had graciously organized a bonfire for us with blaring speakers, which is all 13 women needed to trance into the stars while dancing the night away!
Check out the Ladakh Part 1 blog:
Check out the Ladakh Part 2 blog:
Take a quick glance of our entire Ladakh travels on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cq2iOgsKl_o/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D
Also, check out our first YouTube short on Yogini's Ladakh adventure: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/eJIVj-7y018