Mesmerizing Ladakh – Part 6: Nubra Valley and Diskit Gompa
About 150 km north of Leh, lies the remote and mysteriously beautiful Nubra Valley surrounded by rugged mountains. The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 feet.
One must traverse the Khardung La or Khardung Pass to reach the Nubra Valley. Built in 1976 Khardung La is opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. The pass is maintained by the Border Roads Organization as it is strategically important for the Indian army to carry supply to the Siachen Glacier. At an elevation of 18,379 feet Khardung La is often referred to as the world’s highest motorable pass.
By late afternoon we reached Nubra Valley and checked into Hotel Karma Inn. This hotel has nice rooms with picturesque surroundings and helpful staff. You can walk around the village and enjoy the picturesque surroundings. I came across many small shrines, mani stones and walls. Mani stones are stone plates, rocks or pebbles inscribed with the six syllabled mantra of Avalokiteshvara (Om mani padme hum), hence the name “Mani Stone” , as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Mani walls are stone structures compiled by intricately carved stone tablets with the inscription “Om Mani Padme Hum”.
Nubra is a high altitude cold desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation except along the river beds. The villages are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard and variety of fruits and nuts including apples, walnuts, apricots etc. Most of the Nubra valley is inhabited by Nubra dialect speakers. The majority are Buddhist. In the western end of Nubra Valley near the Indo-Pak border the inhabitants are Balti speaking Shia Muslims.
About 10 km west of Diskit is the Hunder village which features the white sand dunes, a total contrast in the midst of snow-capped mountain ranges. This high altitude desert is a tourist attraction owing to the Bactrian camel rides. Bactrian camels are natives to the central Asian Steppes. They have two humps on their back, in contrast to the single-humped Arabian camels.
Another major attraction is Diskit Gompa or Diskit Monastery, the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo in the 14 the century. Diskit monastery is situated on the hill, just above the flood plains of the Shyok River, on its right bank in the Diskit village. Nubra river is a tributary of the Shyok River, which flows parallel to the Indus River on the north side of the Ladakh Range. Since the valley is at lower elevation, it has a mild climate. This climatice condition has created lush vegetation in the valley and the valley is, therefore, called the “Orchards of Ladakh”.
The monastery is approached through a flight of steps made of stones, which leads to the prayer hall of the monastery. A statue of Maitreya Buddha is enshrined in the hall. There is a huge drum located within the hall. In the chamber on the second floor, there are many images of fierce guardian deities. From the roof of the monastery one could get the glorious views of the Nubra Valley and the large statue of the Jampa Buddha located at the foot hill of the Diskit Gompa.
The photong or official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra is located at the foot hill where there is also a very large statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha. This impressive 32 meter statue on top of a hill below the Monastery, faces down the Shyok River towards Pakistan. The construction of the statue started in April 2006 and it was consecrated by H.H. the Dalai Lama on 25th July 2010.