Adventure Travel

Why you should visit this cold desert in India

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image of sand dunes in Himalayas on sunset. Hunder, Nubra valley, Ladakh, India

Image: Shutterstock/f9photos

India can be confusing to an outsider. At one side, there are the largely populated cities of Delhi and Mumbai, and then there is Leh, in Ladakh, which is scarcely populated and has the lowest crime rate in the country.

But safety is not why you should visit Leh. You should visit because it is one of the most beautiful places you will ever come across in the world, and no, I am not trying to exaggerate it.

The cold desert in Hunder, Nubra Valley is one of a kind. Surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan mountains and double humped camels, the Nubra Valley will make you feel like you are in an Arabian movie, except, you won’t be able to wear Arabian-style clothes because it’s extremely cold here.

In case you are curious, cold deserts do look a lot like hot deserts, except the temperature here is quite low. These are formed because of the ‘rain shadow’ effect.

It does rain and snow in Leh, but some areas come under the shadow of the mountains and they never really get any rain. And the areas that come under the rain shadow are transformed into a cold desert.

Getting to the magnificent cold desert

Three camels in a row in Nubra Valley, India

Image: Shutterstock/Basti Hansen

The journey to Hunder is just as enchanting as the final destination. The closest airport is in Leh, which is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from the desert. From there, you need to drive all the way to Hunder. But while the distance might not seem much, it takes around 6-7 hours to reach because of the tough road which is essentially built by slicing down mountains.

On your way, you will also come across Khardung La Pass, which is the highest motorable road in the world with 5,359 meters (17,582 feet) altitude. In fact, the altitude there is so high that you are advised to descend within five minutes.

Taxis are readily available in Leh to take you to the desert, and there are bikes available for rent too. But because of the risky roads, I would only recommend self-driving if you are familiar with the terrain, and the bikes.

Spending the night in the desert

If you are lucky, and you get a clear sky, it will be a life-changing experience to stay here for the whole day, and the whole night. With hardly any pollution, the sky is as clear as it gets, and as the night comes, you will see stars glistening.

Of course, staying in a cold desert has its own set of challenges. Firstly, you can either stay in camps or home stays, and luxury rooms mean you will get a toilet attached to your room. Also, as the night draws, the temperatures will begin to descend. But it will all be worth it when you witness a sunrise from this magnificent cold desert.

Though, if you think you would be better in a warm bed, you could get a room in the town nearby, Diskit, which is about fifteen minutes away from the desert.

Before coming, do not forget to carry your warm clothes, your best camera, and some tummy-filling food. This is a more offbeat place, and you will not see a cozy cafe here. In fact, there can be times when you don’t see any restaurants for hours, while you are on the road. So, when you do see one, eat as much as you can, and carry some food with you, just to be on the safe side.

Dress in layers because the sunlight can be scorching, but at the same time, the weather can change in the blink of an eye.

Unplug yourself

This is the place where you can discover yourself, and find meaning in your life. Maximum of the population here is Buddhist, so you can expect to meet many monks, and monasteries, which are perfect for meditation.

But most importantly—there are no cell phone signals or internet in the desert. You might find some public Wi-Fis when you are in Leh, but that is seven hours away from the cold desert.

So, the time you spend at Hunder would be unplugged, and there would be no way to Snapchat or Instagram your experience. All you can do is absorb it, take the whole experience in and talk to strangers like you did in the pre-smartphone era.

Ritika is a 20-something Software Engineer by degree but she decided to quit her IT job to become a freelance writer and travel the world. She loves eating, walking her dog and watching Game of Thrones.

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