The northernmost point a tourist can visit in India is in the village of Panamik, in the Nubra Valley in Ladakh. We have just driven three kilometres further.
There is a festival going on in Ladakh and everybody is drunk. Even the policemen who work at the checkpoint did not bother to show up for work today, so we happily drove past Panamik and arrived in another village three kilometres further north. Here, a group of merrily drunk local men quickly gather around the Royal Enfield motorbike we’re traveling on and invite us to join the festivities. However, the owner of what seems to be the only shop in the village thinks we should turn back — it is a sensitive border area and we’ll be in trouble for coming here.
We choose to trust the shop owner since he is the only man around who is not blindly drunk and the only person who speaks English. My boyfriend turns his 500 CC Royal Enfield around and we drive back across the valley. Purple wild lavender and green thorny hedges, blossoming with tiny yellow flowers line the narrow road. The road is in surprisingly good condition considering we’re at over 10,000 ft altitude in one of India’s least inhabited areas.
We find a small restaurant by the road and stop for lunch. The waiter is incredibly drunk, but somehow manages to bring us steaming pots of dhal, rice and sabzi, a spicy potato dish. Outside a group of Ladakhi men sits in the sun drinking and laughing.
The Nubra Valley lies on the ancient Silk Road that connected the medieval city of Leh, the capital of Ladakh, to Central Asia. Two rivers, the Nubra and the Shyok, bring life to the valley that is separated from the rest of the world by some of the world’s highest mountains. To get here, one has to drive over Khardung La, known as the world’s highest motorable mountain pass at 18,380 ft altitude. We have been traveling in the Himalayas on the Royal Enfield for weeks now, but the Nubra Valley is the quietest and most peaceful place I have seen so far.
As we drive back towards our guesthouse in the village of Sumur, a sign by the road tells us to “Spread Happiness”. Small Himalayan marmots have come out in large numbers to sunbathe on rocks, and a Tibetan Buddhist monk dressed in a red robe stands next to a giant prayer wheel by the road. The wheel is taller than him and was once beautifully painted, but its bright colors are now fading in the harsh mountain climate. Small Tibetan Buddhist gompas (monasteries) stand on rocky hilltops, prayer flags hang from every rooftop and there are entire walls made of mani prayer stones. All around us brown, barren mountains reach to the clouds.