From Turtuk we headed south, following the Shyok River back towards Leh. On our way out to Turtuk we had passed through an area called the Nubra Valley. In this valley is the world’s highest desert. The sand dunes feel pretty out of place wedged down there between the snowy mountain tops of the Himalayas, but they are there nonetheless. The drive into the valley is pretty striking:
Nubra Valley & The Silk Road
Roaming this valley are Bactrian camels. When I found this out, I immediately found myself wondering how the hell they got all the way up there. As it turns out, these camels’ ancestors were left over from the legendary Silk Road, which passed through the Nubra Valley on its way to the Orient. The route of the Silk Road has been in use since before 200 B.C.E. as the major trading route. It was Silk Road that allowed ancient civilizations to have trade with one another. Traders, merchants, monks, soldiers, you name it, they all traveled by this road, and they all used camels exactly like the ones I was about to ride.
Today these camels are available for riding in a little town called Hunder. The majority of what you will see in Nubra is military related, but there are also some small towns. The biggest 2 are called Hunder, and Diskit, which we will get to later on.
Arriving In Nubra
We rolled into town, seeing a variety of different options for accommodations on our way in. If we hadn’t stayed in Turtuk the previous night then we probably would have stayed here. We didn’t make it to the main drag of the town though. We made an early right turn towards the sand dunes that stretched off into the mountainous distance.
We got out of the jeep, hopped over a little stream, and there they were. Dozens of camels sat lazily and unceremoniously in the sunlight. These were the first camels I’d seen, so let me share with you my first impression: camels are disgusting animals. They might look cute and cuddly, but they STINK! It probably has something to do with the fact that there is almost always a huge, smelly turd hanging halfway out of their buttholes. I don’t want write off camels entirely though just based on the personal hygiene of this particular group of them.
Then one of the camels yawned. I was transfixed with horror as I stared into it's gaping maw. Its mouth was so gross. From what I could tell, it didn’t have many teeth, but the ones that it did have were sharp and yellow. It’s breath was so bad, I could almost see a little green cloud come out as it exhaled. They were cute though. From a distance.
It was going to cost us 350 INR (5.35 USD) to ride a camel for 30 minutes. Aside from the 30 minutes, we had 3 other options. Option 1 was to ride for only 15 minutes, but that seemed to be far too short. Option 2 was to ride for 1 hour, but based on my experience riding elephants in Thailand, that was going to be longer than I wanted. Option 3 was to ride the camel through Nubra Valley, all the way from Hunder to Diskit. It would have been a cool trek, but we didn’t have the time for such an endeavor.
Putting my disgust aside, I did as I was instructed and hopped onto my camel. From there I’ll just let you watch the video for yourself:
By the time we arrived back in Hunder I’m pretty sure that my testicles had re-ascended. My camel lurched to its knees, and I hopped off, giving myself a quick feel to ensure that none of my damage felt permanent.
Our third musketeer on this trip was an Indian man who had been raised in the military. He had skipped the camels because of back issues, so when we de-cameled, we found him talking to the Indian troops from the base. Some of them were hanging around the camels on “official business”. I suspect that they were just trying to relax, but they did have some sort of purpose for being there. He introduced us to the soldiers, and many of them asked to take pictures with us. This seemed an odd move for them because Indian soldiers are forbidden from interacting with foreign nationals. I guess as long as the pictures never found their way to the Internet they would be fine though. Rules are made to be broken.
We stopped through the 2nd town in Nubra Valley, Diskit, for lunch. There wasn’t much there other than a Buddhist Monastery, but that was nothing we hadn’t already seen in Leh. Here are the pictures from Diskit, and the road out of the Nubra Valley.
It would be a few hours of driving before we made it back to Khardungla Pass: the highest motorable road in the world. If you missed that post, you can see that trip both on the way to and from Turtuk right HERE.
From there it was back to Leh. The Internet never did come back, but I got a travel agent to call his friend in New Delhi to get me a ticket and text over the confirmation number. The morning I left I gave my newly purchased gloves and hat to the 17-year-old that was working in our guesthouse. A native to the much warmer New Delhi, he was pretty excited for the gift. I smiled and went on my way. He would need the warm clothes much more than me. It won’t be long before Leh turns into a frozen hell.
Actually I'm sure it's going to be beautiful, but it's gonna be a wasteland. I was glad to be escaping before that point. I showed up to the airport, tip-toed past soldiers with machine guns to the ticket counter, got my ticket, and got on my flight back to New Delhi. I was profoundly excited to be warm again.