Nub-ra: the western district
As we cross the Khardung La and leave the high altitude behind, the landscape changes. The snow from the glaciated mountains feeds little streams that irrigates the land, leaving patches of white and green. Set against the deep blue skies, the scenery is a welcome relief from the dirty brown monochrome that is Khardung La.
Snow at a lesser altitude, melts and turns into streams leaving green patches as it flows down the land.
Soon enough, you can sight the picturesque Khardung village, dwarfed by mountains that watch over it like a sentinel.
Not far from Khardung village is a makeshift ‘dhaba’ that serves as a pit-stop for all the vehicles descending from Khardung La. Black tea, as suggested by Tashi, our driver, is supposed to alleviate the grogginess that accompanies the high altitude descent.
After leaving Khardung village, the landscape changes to an unbroken imagery of brown with only the tarmac crossing black lines across it’s face. You come face to face with various shades of brown, red and even purple rock as you cross this terrain. This is again an uphill climb before descending down into the valley beyond.
Before long, the Shyok river joins the road, merrily guiding you through patches of dark green vegetation (read, settlements). In June, the snow has not melted fully and hence the water levels are still quite low, thereby rendering a dull grey color to the Shyok.
An army transit camp at Khalsar village signals that you are now on the doorsteps of the Nubra valley. Just before the road leads to a glimpse of this camp, it forks into two – one leads to the Nubra valley and the other runs in parallel to the Shyok, bypassing the Khardung La and leading straight to Durbuk, which falls on the road to the famous Pangong Tso. This road is the one less traveled by, because of a few treacherous sections that can barely be called a road.
Onward, people sitting outside a nondescript brick house flag you down. This is set at the entrance to the Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the elusive Snow Leopard. The ticket guys greet you warmly, and enthusiastically show you newspaper clippings of the BBC team that created a documentary on the animal a few years ago.