Heel-kicking in the Nubra Valley


On Tuesday, starting the morning off in leisurely fashion (…the usual dilemma of pancakes or parathas..?), we bumped into two Spanish ladies who were trying to rustle up a few travel buddies for a trip to the Nubra Valley.

Seeing as we had no pressing engagements that day, we decided to join them for the 2 day trip – over the ‘world’s highest motorable road’, the Khardung La pass at 5600m – and into the spectacular landscape of Nubra. (Interestingly, the travel brochures round these parts are all brimming with references to the ‘world’s highest this’ and ‘world’s highest that’… cricket pitches, golf courses, nude volleyball courts, no doubt – India, it seems, has got the market cornered..)


We had spectacular weather for our trip to the high point of the pass and spent the driving hours admiring the slowly changing landscape and quizzing our new Spanish friends – Laura and Angela (two Iberian flight attendants, who prefer to be on a plane even when they are not at work, such is their travel addiction) as to their travelling hot-spots.

After 30 years of dedicated Iberian service, it seems they have managed to cover almost every corner of the globe. In all our questioning, the only country it appeared they hadn’t visited was Australia. This year alone, they had already climbed Kilimanjaro, completed a 4 week desert rally through West Africa, popped into NY and spent some time lazing in Panama. Quite inspirational (…and making me reconsider my career in architecture…!). Anyway, with over 50 trips to India between them, they were positively brimming with colourful stories to whet our appetite for our just-beginning travels.


After crossing the Khardung La and descending into the valley, we snaked along the edge of the incredible teal ribbon of the Nubra River until we came upon the town of Hunder. This area is reknowned for the rather incongruous landscape, with it’s startling view of sand dunes set amidst the peaks of the Himalaya. The dunes come complete with camels, for a slightly bizarre ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ feel.

Continuing on, we made our way through some beautiful scenery (via some not-so-beautiful roads), ’til we found ourselves in the lovely, little village of Diskit – basically, the end of the line and one of the most remote villages in Ladakh. It was here that we were to spend the night and despite the town’s prettiness, it didn’t exactly seem like a happening place much beyond sun-down – maybe a quiet dinner, followed by a cup of tea would be as taxing as it would get…


The four of us wandered out to explore the village in the last light of the afternoon. Local children were playing in quiet, winding lanes; cows patiently gazed at distant views of mountains; Buddhist prayer wheels and mani walls lay hidden between autumn-leafed plane trees.

But, amongst all this serenity… we also found a party.

Much to our surprise (…and relief…!), there would be no quiet cups of tea tonight. Instead we found ourselves in the midst of some fierce, local Ladakhi heel-kicking. It seems we had rolled into town on the day of some auspicious event. (We were never exactly sure what the occasion was – there were mixed reports from the fellow revellers. Some said it was a wedding, others told us it was their grandparent’s wedding anniversary, another claimed it was to celebrate the birth of a first son to a local family. The only thing we knew for sure – there was beer… and lots of it!)


We were invited to join the festivities – plied with the speciality home brew (…which made VB seem as fine as Moet… imagine warm fermented goat pee and you’re not far off) and showered with mutton delicacies for dinner. The dancing and drumming seem to continue long into the night, with the local Ladakhi ladies rather spritely on the dance floor despite some advanced years.

In the end, we needed to disappear into the night – a little weary – while the 80-somethings continued to carve it up at the Diskit discotheque. They put us to shame with their energy (although, that might have been the magic of the Ladakhi beer…!), and we went home for that cup of tea and good lie down after all…