This article is in continuation with the previous article, a travelogue by Komal detailing her first Solo trip to Ladakh. This part details her travels around Nubra valley, from Leh to Turtuk and Panamik; and provides vital information for anyone planning to travel by Public transport.
I have broken the travelogue down in 4 pages, links to which are provided below.
Day 5 – Shared taxi to Panamik – Hot Springs – Stay at Baltipa homestay
The Diskit shared public taxi stand is next to Polo ground. Most taxis leave between 7 – 8 am every morning to Diskit or Panamik. Fare is Rs. 400 per person. The taxi started at 7.45 am for Panamik. The shared taxi is extremely comfortable if you don’t mind sitting in close contact with people. I had no hassle. I am a minimalist and enjoy local people’s company, therefore thoroughly enjoyed them.
The driver was very friendly as he tried to humor a four-year-old Ladakhi girl throughout the drive while her mother happily slept off having found someone to entertain her daughter. And finally I listened to some Ladakhi songs too.
The taxi crosses Khardung La Pass and you can ask the driver to stop for a short while. Actually my driver stopped himself a little further from Khardung La top. I was hesitant to ask him to stop as it would delay other local people. That is why I don’t have the mandatory photograph at Khardung La!!
It was snowing on the top and was pretty cold. I had slight headache on the ascent which vanished on its own as we descended to Khardung village. The cab stops at a dhaba in Khardung village for breakfast (Rs.50-80) at around 11 am. The drive from there was enchanting with well-laid waterways to the fields and the wonderful landscaping by Shyok River.
The taxi reached Panamik around 1.30 pm. The driver helped me getting Baltipa homestay on the main road. Its price was Rs.600 including breakfast and dinner. They welcomed me with tea and homemade biscuits. I got along very well with the young teenage daughter of the house who accompanied me to Hot spring. At the Spring, water is diverted into bathrooms and it can be used by paying Rs.30. it is being maintained by the women of that village.
The girl also took me around the village, Siachen River, their old house and fields. On their own initiative, they made me wear the local dress – Goncha and Perak – and clicked photographs. It might have been inspired by my curiosity about their cultural practices. The lady of the house cooked the local dish Chutagiee for the dinner on my request. It is made of wheat and home-grown vegetables all cooked together. I was my first homestay and I was overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity. No amount of money can ever buy that experience.
There is also a small lake Yarab which is 2-3 kilometers away which you can walk up to if you feel like. I was too tired to do it that day.
Day 6 – Panamik to Diskit to Turtuk – Stay at Khan Homestay
Boarded the daily morning 7.30 am bus to Diskit monastery along with my host. The monastery had asked local people mainly women to come with their hoes to prepare the place for the visit of Dalai Lama in the month of July. The bus was full of women who were carrying their hoes and chatting happily. It is a beautiful drive as Siachen river changes it spread and the turn on the bridge took us on the other side of the Nubra Valley to Diskit. The landscape changes as I encountered a few kilometer long flat road surrounded by sand. The bus went up till monastery.
The monastery is still at a height so I climbed up to visit it. It houses the mummified arm and head of a Mongolian soldier. I felt it is rather grotesque thing to put up in a peaceful monastery, a symbol of violence in the abode of non-violence. The remnants of Mon religion are all visible in the monasteries as their local stories and Gods have been co-opted during the indigenisation of Buddhism in Ladakh. Right opposite the monastery is large statue of Maitreya Buddha which is constructed in last 10 years before only.
As I sat outside the monastery to pen my trip memoirs, a local person suggested me to go to Turtuk, a beautiful place to write ‘stories’. It finally fimed m decision to travel to Turtuk and spend a night at least there.
The Diskit bus stand was down in the town from where the bus to Turtuk leaves at 2.30 pm. I started the climb down and a local person offered the drive down graciously. He also shared that we ‘Indians’ are to be thanked as roads conditions have changed in last 10 years due to them. Earlier they had only foreigners which did not bring much change in infrastructure. They may soon have an airport at army camp at Thoise.
The local shared taxis to Leh go from the bus stand. The last taxi leaves around 10 am depending on whether they have enough passengers to fill the cab. I bought my ticket in advance to Turtuk for Rs.100 so as to get better seat.They happily agreed to keep my bag in the bus as I wanted to walk around the city. It is a small city and most houses were closed since people had gone for work. Like in Delhi and other cities, I see that people have made small religious structures in every street of the town! So I walked along the main market of the town. Eating lunch was an interesting experience as the individual shopowners made me shuttle between couple of eateries so that I finally reached one which served thukpa for Rs. 80. The shop is being run by a Nepali woman. There are many small eateries nothing worth mentioning. People are nice and just let you sit and read if you want to!!
The bus ride was awe-inspiring – mountains changing their hues at every turn. It is more adventurous to go by bus as the road is really narrow and bus takes quite many breath-stopping, sharp turns.The bus played Hindi songs which was a surprise. There are not many villages on the way. The bus also acts like courier service for local people as many handed over goods to pass on to people in other villages on the way. People would be waiting on the road to just handover their parcels or receive their parcels. There is quite a bonhomie which exists between the bus staff and the local people. Before Bondang village, the bus stops at a check point where one needs to submit the permit to visit Turtuk.
The bus reached around 6 pm covering around 80 kms. You have to walk up to it the wooden bridge and cross it over to reach Phurool village where homestays are available. Befriended three young girls who guided me to Khan Homestay (Rs.600 including dinner and breakfast with common bathrooms).
The room was dusty. On being asked, the owner cleaned it up while I chatted with him and he provided me information about its history and places to visit in the village. Also I made some overtures to the women of the household and finally had food in their kitchen. I could experience a stark difference between the women in Buddhist–dominated towns and the Balti women here. Other places the homestays were run by women and they interacted freely while here the men were more in control of money while women do farming, cooking and other household work. Even my host Sher Khan also told me men don’t do anything. Only after farming they take the produce to market. I also met a government school social science teacher posted in Turtuk from Stok village who was also part of the household. She shared that people here have better community ties than her village in Stok as their people have more modern jobs. For people like us in cities even that is far superior to the relationships we have with our next door neighbors.
Day 7 – Turtuk to Hunder – Stay at Skizling homestay at Hunder
My window opened to the lush green fields, brown mountains and a river song. I went up the monastery in the morning and enjoyed the silence of the valley and the roar of the river. The army helicopter like a screechy bird could be heard patrolling above. There is also a waterfall after a little climb which can also be explored.I could not visit it as people advised me not to go alone as I may get lost. And the children had all gone to school! So trudged back to the homestay and a nice breakfast of Khisir, a local wheat bread made at home served with raita.
Visited the local museum run by a descendant of former Baltistan king. The wooden bridge needs to be crossed over to reach the Koul village where the museum is located. Sometimes the streets may be deserted if it is noon time and no one maybe able to guide you. This is what happened with me! It can be identified by a big iron bird perched on a wooden door. The door knob can be turned to enter unlike me who has to loudly bang doors to gain entrance! It is actually the personal collection of his forefathers that has been put up for exhibition in the palace which had been substantially destroyed by the receding Pakistan army in 1971. Before that it was part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The curator is very gracious and takes you down the history of his family.Apparently the government does not even know the existence of such a place though he was full of praise for Indian Army.
The lunch in the only café in Turtuk was pretty ordinary chowmein for Rs. 100-120. Other variety of food is also available. Also the ubiquitous Maggi. Since the only bus to Diskit leaves daily at 6 in the morning, I decided to try my luck and waited on the main road where bus had dropped me. A shop owner graciously let me sit in the shade of his shop. He asked me to wait inside but I did not want to take any chance. In half an hour, a Mumbai family generously accommodated me in their car. Notwithstanding their generosity towards me, they were usual tourists with scant regard for local geography. They tried to throw the water bottle out of the window when I promptly intervened or taking photographs of prohibited places.
My bus ticket really helped as they checked the permit on the return also. They keep a track of people crossing over to the border village. Finally reached Hunder around 5 pm.
I home-stayed at Skilzing where the initial offer was Rs.1200 and negotiated for Rs.800 including dinner and breakfast. This was a bigger room with an attached bath. Other homestays had common bathrooms. Hot water in all homestays comes in a bucket separately generally for a solar water heater unconnected to any tap. The water is filled manually in it.
Saw the famed double-humped Bactrian camel in the opposite house. Meanwhile the host’s 10-year-old daughter and one of her friends became friendly and got permission from their mother to walk till sand dunes. It took us almost an hour to reach by foot. I have not met any child in Delhi who would so readily agree to it!! We claimed one dune and slid down and climbed up it till the sky turned ash.In between we lost one footwear in the sand. Then we dug around everywhere for sometime till we found the lost shoe! They also told me local folklore and a story about a rugged hill on the opposite side as being scratches of a monster defeated by their God. On return, we went through a shortcut route back home behind the camps and found a stream to quench our thirst! We were all very tired of walking and again hitched a hike from tempo to reach home.
Continued: Hitchhiking to Pangong, and Back to Leh
If you are planning a trip to Ladakh and have questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.