Sunday 10 April 2016

A 14th century monastery, giant Buddha statue, Dalai Lama's bedroom, desert at 10,000ft and endangered double-humped camels; Nubra Valley's got it all

Maitreya Buddha as seen from the Diskit Monastery

Nubra Valley is situated at an altitude of 10,000ft while Leh is at a height of almost 11,500ft above the sea level. Hence, the climate of Nubra Valley is much more pleasant compared to that of Leh's. Even at night, you can roam around in your comfort wear - shorts/track pants and tee. In fact, for this very reason during summer months, they send the yaks to higher altitude.

I woke up to a glorious morning in the town of Diskit. First order of the day was to call my family back home and inform them that I've safely reached Diskit. I had seen an STD booth next to my hotel, the night before. But it was closed at that time. To my surprise, it was closed next morning as well. Luckily, I found a cyber cafe. I messaged my cousins on Facebook to inform my parents about my safety. 

I had planned three activities on that day - Diskit Monastery, Maitreya Buddha statue and desert safari atop the double-humped camels in Hunder. Since the best time to do the camel safari is in the evening (taking a stroll in the desert during afternoon is not a great idea), I decided to check out the monastery and the statue first. Also, given the fact that both the places are practically next to each other, it made sense to cross these two off the list together.

The majestic Diskit Monastery

Diskit Monastery
A view to die for
Diskit Monastery
Founded in the 14th century, the Diskit Monastery is one of the oldest and most majestic structures in the whole of Ladakh. From the top of the monastery, you can get sweeping views of the entire Nubra Valley as far as your eye can see. Being situated on the other side of Khardung La, it's not as easily accessible as other monasteries such as Shey and Thiksey. For this reason, the peace and tranquility of the Diskit Monastery is maintained. You can even spend an entire afternoon sitting on those colourful carpets and meditating. 

View of the Maitreya Buddha from inside the Diskit Monastery
A peaceful place to sit and meditate

Maitreya Buddha 

The monastery overlooks the 32 meter tall Maitreya Buddha. Both the structures are situated in the same compound and hence it's advisable to keep about 2 hours and get done with both the spots. Next to the statue is a two-storey structure. The ground floor is a museum dedicated to the Panchen Lama. Here, you will see fabric paintings from as late as 18th and 17th centuries. But the more interesting part is the floor above this museum.

Maitreya Buddha

Dalai Lama's residence in Diskit

Since it was afternoon time (about 3.30 pm), there was nobody besides me checking out the museum. Such scenarios give you a chance to have a one-on-one discussions with the caretaker and know more about the rich history of the place. As it turns out, the floor above the museum is used as a residence of His Holiness Dalai Lama whenever he visits Diskit. I was keen on checking out his rooms and the caretaker, Lama Lasang Keudok, was more than happy to show me around. Dalai Lama's meditation room, his bedroom, meeting room, the living room where he receives guests and meets devotees  I saw it all.

Lama Lasang Keudok, caretaker of the museum as well as of Dalai Lama's Diskit residence


Post 4pm, I left for Hunder, a 7km ride from Diskit. Hunder is a desert situated at an altitude of 10,000ft. The story goes that almost a hundred years ago, there were floods in these plains and the water dragged all the silt down here. Hence, the sand dunes. 

Sand dunes at Hunder
The approach road from the main road to the desert safari is not the easiest road to ride on. It's laid out from rocks and pebbles reclaimed from the nearby river. This misery lasts only for a couple of hundred meters but in case you've chosen to stay at one of the riverside accommodations, this hellish ride can continue for more than a kilometer depending on where your camp is located. 

Double-hump camel at Hunder
The desert safari is less of a safari and more like a ride on a sandy beach. The biggest attraction is not the sand dunes but the rare and endangered double-humped camels. There were camels of all sizes - from the young ones, the size of ponies, to the elder ones, slightly bigger than zebras. I couldn't find a single full grown majestic double-humped camel, the kinds I've seen in pictures. However, my eyes were on that one particular camel which was the largest of them all. Thankfully, when my turn came, I was assigned the same guy who happened to be the biggest of them all. There was a group of friends who were also taking turns on other camels. I gave my camera to one of the guys and requested him to click my pictures while I was on the camel. After I was done with the ride, I thanked him and we got talking. He was part of a group of about 8-9 bikers from Delhi. They asked me if I wanted to join them to Diskit Monastery. Again? Well, since I had nothing else to do after the safari, I joined them to go to the Diskit Monastery once again. To be honest, the real reason was that I wanted to see the sunset from the top of the monastery and since I had their company, I thought, why not. 

Diskit Monastery by dusk

River-side camping

By the end of the evening, they invited me to join them at their river-side camping. There was no reason for me to turn down that offer. The camp was located in Hunder and this was my second return trip of the day between Diskit and Hunder. This camping place was a setup of about dozen odd tents, each one with a capacity for upto 3-4 individuals. We had three tents to ourselves. I was already starving from the day's excursions and the cook had prepared some delicious Indian food. By the time we got done with dinner, the weather gods had also decided to join the party. Thunderstorm at this time of the year (June-July) in Nubra was unheard of. If it's raining in Nubra, it means, there's surely snowfall on Khardung La. Luckily for me, unlike this Delhi group, I had no plans to leave the next day. 

Next morning, post the breakfast, I thanked my new friends for letting me be a part of their group and bid adieu to them. These guys started riding down south towards the Khardung La while I headed further north towards Turtuk.

My single-day visit to Turtuk was one of the most memorable events of the entire journey. More on that, later...

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Comprehensive account! Thanks for sharing:)

    1. Thank you, Divsi. Glad you liked it. :)


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