The White Desert

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Bactrian Camels

All the blogs in this series are turning out to be a farrago of superlatives. But in my defence, this region not only justifies but exceeds all those superlatives. The changing landscape across the Kashmir – Ladakh region often surprises the traveller. No matter how much one reads about it or sees the pictures, nothing prepares the traveller for a terrain that transforms at every turn.

Meanwhile, the buzz surrounding our next destination and its inhabitants had hit the highest note and the fact that we would have to pass through Khardung La to reach there, added to the excitement. At the height of 18,380 ft., Khardung La is the highest motorable road in the world. Next to it is the Rinchen Cafeteria, which has the honour of being the highest cafeteria in the world. Khardung La is snow-clad for most part of the year. Even if the road is cleared for the vehicles to pass, abundant snow can be seen on the sides. The strategic importance of this road (This road is the only approach for Siachen Glacier, which is beyond Nubra Valley) was not lost on us. The fact that you need to apply for special passes to go even till Nubra and the presence of armed forces along the road, is enough to underline its importance. As a proud Indian and a person who adores the mountains, it’s heartening that this region belongs to India and the need to protect and preserve it resonates with me at every level.

As we crossed the Khardung La, we had the privilege to take a short break at one of the military canteens, on the way. Oh, the joy! Having luscious, hot Jalebis, amidst the barren mountains and their snow-covered peaks whilst the River Shyok kept us company, was an out-of-the-world experience. It is impossible to forget that delicious and delightful experience.

But what made our day was the interaction with the jawans. Hundreds of miles away from their hometowns and families, posted in areas where the terrain is difficult and weather is severe, they carried on their duty with a smile on their face. There was pride in their demeanour and they politely shrugged off all the praise and gratitude we bestowed upon them. It makes you wonder what kind of blood runs through their veins. They make everything look so easy, so usual and having spent last few days in the region, I could vouch that it was anything but that! I doubt if we can ever repay this debt. But being grateful, aware and always upholding the integrity of our nation could be a small step in that direction.

Anyway, with a satiated stomach and a warm heart, we made way towards Nubra Valley, travelling along the banks of Shyok. Nubra is a reasonably huge expanse of white sand. A desert – another dimension to add to the region’s diverse landscape. The famous inhabitants of the Nubra Valley are the camels – no, not the usual ones. The camels here are double-humped. They have two humps, which form a nice mount between them. This species, called Bactrian Camel, was used extensively by the Asian and European merchants to carry goods on the Silk Route, which passed through Ladakh. Subsequently, Silk Route was abandoned, but a few of those camels were left behind with the local merchants. Now they have made Nubra their home.

As we stood there, looking at the large expanse of white desert with their unusual inhabitants, the barren slopes with snow covered peaks in distance and the blue sky forming a perfect backdrop, we could only marvel at the picture that nature had painted. They say, “Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” Undoubtedly, that day was full of such moments!!!

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