Story of Reclaiming Ladakh's Nubra Valley
Nubra Valley is among the best places to explore in Ladakh and is probably on every traveler’s bucket list. The beauty, the landscapes and the emotion of being in a surreal place invite thousands of travelers to the ‘Land of the High Passes’ every year.
The Nubra Valley is affectionately called the ‘Orchard of Ladakh’ and was originally called Ldumra, which means ‘Valley of Flowers’.
It had been a matter of minutes if I managed to reach the Nubra Valley, the place I was most looking forward to on my trip to Ladakh.
The rule is that for foreigners, a permit is needed to enter Nubra. Nubra stretches east to Pangong Lake, a stone’s throw from the currently tense and disputed border with China. And for said permission, you cannot travel alone. Which for me as a solo traveler was a problem.
The road from Leh to Nubra Valley is about 115 km and takes about 5-6 hours from Leh. The route takes you over the spectacular Khardung La Pass, along the world’s highest motorable road, and up to heights of 5,600m. To say that the views are impressive would be an understatement.
The Nubra Valley is mainly famous for its Bactrian camels, which have two humps, unlike other camels we have learned about. There is an organized Bactrian camel safari at Hunder Sand Dunes, which will make your trip here a memorable one.
After passing magnificent views and one of the highest motorable roads in the world, Khardung La, you will reach the Nubra Valley. If you look at the valley from afar, it looks parched and parched, which is not true. Also, this region is predominantly Buddhist and thus has several centers of Buddhist learning. For example, the Diskit Monastery and the Hundur Monastery.
Considering the volatile nature of the Ladakh region, an Inner Line permit must be obtained to visit Nubra Valley and other places in Ladakh from Indians.
Fortunately, the rules can often, erm, be bent a bit. But it took some effort. I initially approached a few travel agencies to ask if they could help me, but none of the ones I approached were willing to come up with a creative solution.
Not much archaeological research was carried out in the Nubra Valley until recently (the first formal study was carried out in 1992). As a result, little is known about the history of the area before the Tibetan Buddhist monastery at Diskit was built in 1420. However, numerous fortress ruins indicate that the Nubra Valley was divided and presided over by local chiefs. In fact, the villagers say that the Diskit Monastery is situated on the premises of an old fort.
Although Buddhism spread to western Ladakh from Kashmir as early as the 2nd century, the religion is believed to have been introduced to the Nubra Valley from neighbouring Tibet in the 8th century, when the Tibetan Empire was expanding. Unlike earlier rock inscriptions elsewhere in Ladakh, the inscriptions found in the Nubra Valley are all in Tibetan.
Local chiefs continued to autonomously rule the Nubra Valley until the 16th century, when the Islamic invader Mirza Haider Dughlat entered Ladakh through the area and defeated them. After this, in the mid-16th century, the Nubra Valley came under the Namgyal dynasty with the rest of Ladakh. This new dynasty was founded by a Ladakhi king and reigned over the entire region. However, he allowed the Nubra Valley chiefs to remain.
Unfortunately, Ladakh’s relations with Tibet worsened in the late 17th century. This resulted in an attempted invasion by Tibet, forcing Ladakh to seek help from the Mughals in Kashmir. A peace treaty resolved the dispute in 1684 (among other things, it fixed the border between Ladakh and Tibet at Lake Pangong), but began Ladakh’s decline as an independent kingdom.
Ladakh, including the Nubra Valley, was wedged between mighty Kashmir and Tibet. The Sikhs drove out the Mughals and took control of Kashmir in the early 19th century. They also wanted to control the lucrative pashmina wool trade in which Ladakh was involved. So they arranged for the Dogras (ruling the adjacent region of Jammu) to carry out an aggressive military invasion.
Ladakh surrendered and eventually ended up being annexed to Jammu and Kashmir. It became a separate union territory from India in October 2019.
During the Partition, Ladakh was divided unevenly between India and Pakistan. Border disputes and national security issues ensued, forcing the region to be closed to outsiders.
The predominantly Muslim province of Baltistan was a place in the Nubra Valley that merged with Pakistan. However, India regained a part during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. This included four villages: Chalunkha, Turtuk, Tyakshi and Thang. The process happened literally overnight. Residents fell asleep in Pakistan and woke up in India.
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