Our last major excursion from Leh was to the Nubra Valley, which lies about five hours’ drive northeast of Leh. The route takes you over the Khardung La pass, which is advertised and known as the “highest motorable road in the world” at 18,380′. )According to most everyone but the Indian tourism industry, that figure is inflated by some 800 feet and two roads in central Tibet actually reach greater altitudes. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?)
Leaving Leh in the early morning we drove up towards the pass when the rain drizzle began to turn into snow. By the time we reached at 16,000′ it was coming down in sizable chunks and accumulating on the road. This was very bad news, as the road is treacherous without inclement weather. As we reached a turn where several cars began to lose traction and get stuck, Rinzin pulled over and indicated he would put chains on the tires. At this point we all looked at each other, breathed a sigh of relief and reaffirmed that we had the best driver in all of Ladakh.
With chains we were able to make it over the pass without much trouble and we stopped at the top for photos and chai. According to my own measurements (i.e. how out of breath I was), the altitude was approximately really very super high.
Nubra Valley is the massive barren space between the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges. There is one town, Diskit, which is nothing more than a few guest houses, a tiny bazaar and multiple stray dogs. Nearby is a stretch of dunes where you can pay to ride two-hump camels. A few pictures of the valley:
The next day we explored one of the side valleys, then headed back up towards the pass. The snow coverage was still pretty thick and we were not more than 30 minutes from the top when traffic stopped. When it didn’t resume, we went walking to see what caused the delay. Around a bend we saw this bus, hanging rather precariously by two wheels on an icy stretch of road. After an hour or two, a backhoe came and shoved the vehicle back onto the road, and the passengers re-boarded and went on their way.
Everywhere we went in Ladakh, we saw signs reminding us that the roads were maintained by Border Roads Organization. But on each sign, they simply said “BRO” in the same font as the actual sign text, so everything had a very familial, friendly tone. As in, “Drive safely, bro.” In addition, BRO has gone to great lengths to give us clever reminders to drive safely.