Dunes of Nubra

Nestled amidst the majestic peaks of the Himalayas in the northernmost region of India, Nubra Valley is a surreal and enchanting destination that captivates a photographer’s heart. Situated at an altitude of around 10,000 feet above sea level, this high-altitude cold desert boasts a landscape characterized by sweeping sand dunes and rugged terrains.

The valley lies between the two well-known Himalayan mountain ranges of the Karakoram (on the North), and the Ladakh (on the South). From Leh, we drove to Nubra across the Khardungla pass. The drive to the valley, spans around five hours, through one of the the world’s highest motorable roads.

Each twist and turn on the drive offers a new perspective of the desert’s beauty. At some points, the roads are treacherous but the awe-inspiring mountain vistas makes one ignore all the bumps on the road.

After the captivating drive through the mountains, we stopped at a dhaba near Khardung. The meal comprised steamed rice and dal along with some vegetables. Eateries are separated by long intervals so make sure you carry some biscuits or other beverages for the trip.

Just before we entered the valley, we came across some locals offering services for Quad biking. I have not driven one yet but a ride through this vast expanse of the desert must be an exhilarating adventure for those interested. The powerful hum of the quad bike engine echoed against the sandy dunes as we drove past them. The freedom to traverse the open desert, with its golden hues stretching as far as the eye can see, is an unmatched experience.

Diskit Monastery

Just before reaching Hunder, we took a small detour to Diskit Monastery, also known as Deskit Gompa. The monastery stands as the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the enchanting Nubra Valley. Constructed in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a devoted disciple of Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, it serves as a sub-gompa to the Thikse gompa in Leh. Poised on the precipitous cliffs, the monastery exemplifies the Tibetan box structure, crafted from a blend of stones, mud, and wood.

Within its sacred walls, ancient scriptures, sculptures, murals, frescoes, brocades, and thangkas are housed, each narrating a tale of spiritual heritage. The Mahakali temple, statues of Tibetan deities, the Sakyamuni Temple, and the prayer hall add an air of mystery to this sacred sanctuary.

Near the historic Diskit monastery, the renowned 106-foot-tall statue of Maitreya Buddha stands as an iconic presence. Inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2010, the enigmatic statue serves as a profound symbol of global peace and a vision for a future free from warfare.

Positioned on a hilltop, it offers a mesmerizing 360-degree panoramic vista. The bird’s-eye view unveils the picturesque Diskit Village in Nubra Valley, leaving us in awe of the vastness and tranquility of nature.

A quick 20-minute drive from Diskit Village transports us to the extraordinary realm of Hunder. Situated about 10 kilometers from Diskit, Hunder unveils a fascinating juxtaposition of snow-capped mountains and sand dunes, making it the sole location in India where these contrasting landscapes coexist in a single frame.

We were staying at the Hunder Sarai. The camps are surrounded by barren cold mountains and just about a 10-minute drive to the dunes. Hunder does have a mobile tower, but the network connectivity is not good. In between the gardens, outside slows a stream of crystal clear water. After a quick change of clothes, we directly drove to the dunes.

On the way, we noticed some camels making their way towards the dunes as well. The double-humped Bactrian camels are a distinctive feature of Hunder. It is said that Hunder used to be a crucial stop on the ancient Old Silk Route and these camels were brought in from Central Asia. In fact, it was still a trade route between Yarkand (present-day Xinjiang, China) and Leh, the capital of Ladakh, till the closing of borders in 1949 CE.

A camel safari atop these furry, double-humped creatures, navigating the silver or white sand dunes, becomes a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The panoramic view of colossal mountains against the intensely blue sky, alongside the pristine white dunes will be etched in your memory for life.

The desert’s extremes are felt with the scorching sun in open areas and a sudden chill in the shade, necessitating layered clothing, sunscreen, and of course sunglasses. I would recommend staying in tents as the nights though chilly, promise a spellbinding display of the starry sky over the village.

Despite its arid and challenging conditions, Nubra’s cold desert boasts a unique ecosystem adapted to the harsh environment. Nomadic communities, such as the Changpas, have traditionally herded livestock in this challenging landscape, showcasing the resilience of life in the cold desert.

The Nubra region is the northernmost of Ladakh and in fact of all of India. It is fed by two main rivers: the Shyok and the Siachen. Both originate from the Siachen glacier but are on either side of the western Karakoram Range.

The climate of the regions is extremely harsh with scanty rainfall along with less moisture contained in the air. The minimum temperature in winter drops to -30 °C, and the maximum temperature is around 25 °C in the summer. In Nubra valley, the source and supply of water from glaciers is the only option for irrigation purposes, and portable water which is flowing through the two main rivers such as Nubraand Shayok, originates from the Siachen glacier and Remo glacier, respectively.

As the day passes, the winds pick up and create a kind of sandstorm. The sand dunes of Nubra are situated at the confluence of the Nubra and Shyok Rivers, creating a surreal desert landscape surrounded by majestic mountains. The dunes, predominantly composed of fine-grained sand, are sculpted by the relentless forces of wind, carrying sand particles from the riverbeds and depositing them in the valley. This continuous process shapes the dunes into undulating patterns, creating an ever-changing canvas of nature’s artistry.

The evening was cloudy and the sand kept blowing into our eyes. The weather is not friendly here and it gets pretty cold once the Sun hides behind the clouds. With every hour, the strong breeze keeps blowing the fine sand, reshaping them into new shapes. Even though the sand was harsh, we did get some wonderful photos. The wind whistles past, carrying the essence of the arid wilderness, while the rhythmic dance of the dunes creates a visually captivating spectacle.

Time passed quickly and soon the Sun was setting behind the mountains. The Nubra region is well known for its role as a gateway between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia in modern times.

The voyage to Diskit Village in Nubra Valley is an exceptional experience, both literally and metaphorically placing me on top of the world. Traversing through Khardung La, the pass that once held the distinction of being the world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 feet, I found myself amidst unparalleled beauty. Presently, Umling La claims the title as the world’s highest motorable road, reaching an elevation of 19,300 feet in Ladakh.

The clear and unpolluted skies of Nubra Valley offer breathtaking views of the night sky, making it an ideal location for stargazing amid the tranquil desert setting.

Ladakh stands as one of the most stunning yet environmentally delicate regions in our country, emphasizing the need for tourists to be mindful of their impact on the area. The Ladakh region boasts breathtaking beauty with its cold desert landscape, yet it remains sparsely populated. It welcomes tourists from April to September, primarily during the summer months. While the improved infrastructure has brought economic benefits to the locals, the surge in tourism has raised concerns among environmental experts. Many argue that unregulated tourism poses a potential threat to the ecologically sensitive region.

Next, we move on to Pangong Tso, renowned for its stunning natural beauty. Surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks, the lake’s crystal-clear blue waters create a mesmerizing and picturesque landscape that is said to be a photographer’s dream. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! Your interest and engagement mean the world to me. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I’d love to hear from you.

Tourist Information

An Inner Line Permit (ILP), which can be acquired at the District Commissioner’s office in Leh, is required for tourists, Indians, and foreigners alike. People are required to check in en route and must provide photocopies of the permits to be deposited at each checkpoint.

Altitude sickness is a serious health concern for people not previously used to high altitudes. Prophylactic altitude-sickness medication such as Diamox may be necessary for some as there are no emergency medical facilities to treat altitude sickness along the route.

The road is closed from approximately October to May due to snow and is often subject to long delays due to traffic congestion on narrow one-lane sections, washouts, landslides and road accidents.

Colors of Rann Utsav

The advent of winter in India brings with it the best weather to experience the historically rich nation. We were in Bhuj to spend a few days in leisure at the Rann Utsav. Rann Utsav is an initiative of the government of Gujarat, which facilitates a four-month long festival in the midst of the Thar desert, every year starting from November and lasting till February. A smart move that generates livelihood for the local villagers who are only too happy to welcome visitors from across the globe – to savor the local delicacies and to witness the unique culture of Kutch.

Bhuj to Rann Utsav

We landed in Bhuj a day before to prepare ourselves for the days at White Rann tent city. We were staying at the Click Hotel, just 15 minute drive from the Airport and just adjacent to the Bhuj Railway Station. The folks from the Rann Utsav, had set up a makeshift tent just adjacent to the hotel.

Dhordo tent city, where Rann Utsav is held, is quite some distance away from the city and they transfer visitors on buses from this base. Various buses are scheduled over the length of day at frequent intervals. We had a quiet breakfast at the Hotel and checked out at 10 am. In the morning I had quietly obtained our passes on the 11 am bus so it was no hassle for us. In fact we were upgraded to an air-conditioned Jeep.

With the bright Sun was beating down upon us, we zipped past the desert. The vegetation went from thorny Babool and Keekar bushes to a desolate golden brown flat desert.

Welcome at Dhordo Tent City

We reached Dhordo tent city in an hours time. Dhordo is the nearest village near the tent city. A large gate welcomed us into the complex.

The visitors got down one by one form the bus and were taken on one of the buggies to the reception hall.

The reception hall lies on the right just after the entrance gate. At the reception, we were handed out our meal tickets to use over the period of our stay. Our luggage was sent directly to our tent.

Each tent is a stand-alone unit, laid out in a circular area. with a massive green carpeted area in the center. The tents were clean and with lot of space to move around.

The sun rays are softened by the thick dotted tent cloth and creates a beautiful glow inside. The AC tents were equipped with all possible amenities that one can think and ask for – Room coolers, round the clock supply of warm water in the middle of a desert.

It was mid afternoon and the AC was already on. Let me tell you right now, even though its November, the afternoons are very bright and consequently hot.

Day 1 at Rann Utsav

It was lunchtime, and after cooling down in front of the AC, we walked out for a block towards the dining hall nearest to our lodging. Two magnanimous dining halls serve sumptuous authentic Kutchi cuisine at the tent city. The dining hall is huge, about the size of a small football field. The eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet is delicious, but vegetarian. They also have special counters set up for Jains, as their food requirements are rather strict. During the stay of our span, I had various dishes, each fulfilling my insatiable appetite for local delicacies.

With our satisfied tummies, we got hold of one of the buggies ferrying visitors around the complex and requested him to take us on a quick tour of the area. The Rann Utsav a city made of more than 400 AC and non-AC tents, divided into 7 blocks, each with around 60 tents. Some of them are basic tents and some premium like the one we were lodged in. The driver also showed us the executive tent, allotted to VIP’s. He went on proudly how the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had been their guest for a couple of days.

He dropped us off in front of our block. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on the cot.

As evening approached, we were informed about the sunset visit to white Rann at 5.50. We slipped into the local village attires that we had obtained the previous day from Waniyawad market in Bhuj. There are many local handicraft shops around Bhuj and their artisans, ingenious with thread and needle create extremely fine style of embroidery called Mutwa, patterned around tiny mirrors.

Sunset at White Rann

Nothing beats a sunset and that too at the endless desert of White Rann. While basking in the beautiful sunset the only thought that grazed my mind was this, right here – is one of the “Real” 7 wonders of the world. During the monsoon months, the Rann of Kutch is submerged in sea water. As the sea water finally begins to recede in October, the Agariyas move in and begin the elaborate process of salt farming. First, they dig wells to pump out highly saline groundwater from the lake of brine that lies 40 feet below the crust.

More pictures of the sunset at Rann of Kutch

White Rann at midnight

We stayed awake till midnight when the die-hard night crawlers came out of their tents as did we. We were taken to the zero point where the full moon showered us in its blue light.

Day 2 at Rann Utsav

The next day, we woke up late after the midnight stroll at White Rann. The weather was just perfect, not to warm and neither to cold. We stayed in for much part of the morning. There wasn’t much to do at the edge of a desert and as we chatted away, loosened its grip on our minds. Without the demands of schedules crammed with “attractions” and “things to do – we were free to let thoughts unravel, reflect, or simply tune out.

We got out of bed around noon. A tour bus was scheduled to pick us up for Kalo Dungar. After another round of paneer and mawas, we were ready to visit the highest point in Kutch.


The bus picked us up at 3 pm. The driver was a bit of a novice and he lost his way a couple of times. On the bus a young guide explained to us how surrounded by the sea on one side and the grim, treeless and practically inaccessible Rann mountains on the other, Kutch had been for centuries cut off from the rest of India. With the sea as their primary outlet, the local tribes took to the sea, trading with Arabian kingdoms. Yet while Kutchies have traveled far and wide, Kutch itself remained in a time warp, closed to the influence on the Indian subcontinent.

In the villages around Kutch, these nomadic tribes, each with their own unique tradition of craft-work passed down from generation to generation, gave Kutch its reputation for producing India’s most beautiful handicrafts.

It is at one of these villages where we got down to indulge ourselves in some of the Kutchi handicrafts. Amid the arid and barren land of Kutch, a new dimension is added by the vivid imagination of Rabari women.

Rabari embroidery is characterized by chain stitches and a generous use of mirrors. The women depict the world around them, without the help of sketches or patterns. The only material used is a simple needle and thread, which they purchase from Bhuj, the nearby town. Mani bought a stole for herself.

Many of the villages where the Rabaris, Ahirs, Meghwalis and other tribes lived were devastated by the 2001 earthquake.

After spending an hour among the most vivid shopping mall, we left for Kalo Dungar.

Kalo Dungar

We ride out deep into the desert to explore Kalo Dungar also known as the Black Hill. Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch and the best place to enjoy a panoramic view of the amazing Rann of Kutch. Though not literally black, the hill is known so because in olden times, the merchants returning to Kutch from Sindh used to be guided by this lonesome hill in the grim desert, which used to appear black because of the shadow cast by the sun.

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]More pictures of Kalo Dungar[/su_icon]

It was dark by the time we reached the tent city.

Day 3 at Rann Utsav

Sunrise at White Rann

I would be the last person to get up at 5 am on a vacation. But I did and yes I am not complaining. I was witness to the most lovely sunrise over the white melted salts of White Rann. The silence accompanied with the vastness of space, the cool breeze of early November and the locals dressed up in ghagra & cholis make this moment a feast for my disenchanted urban soul.

More pictures of the sunrise at White Rann

Back to Bhuj

It was a special couple of days in White Rann. For centuries, Kutch had its own time, currency and language. Its walled cities were locked at sunset and opened at dawn. It is said, during the reign of Rao Khengarji III between 1876 to 1947, the keys of the five gates of Bhuj, were delivered to him every night and handed back every morning. This system ended in 1948, when his successor, Maharao Madan Sinhji, acceded to the Indian Union, and in November 1956 Kutch became a district in the state of Bombay.

Best time to visit Rann of Kutch

The climate in Rann owing to its desert land is considered to be one of the harshest and hottest temperatures recorded in India. The summer temperatures go as high as 50 degree Celsius. The winters are also quite extreme with temperatures dropping to as low as 0 degree Celsius. During the monsoon, the salt desert is covered with water considering its proximity to the Luni, Rupen and Indus rivers. The marshy desert is only about 49 feet above sea level.

The best time to visit Rann of Kutch is in winters at the time of Rann Mahotsav. Rann Utsav usually starts from the first week of November & usually, lasts up to March. One of the biggest salt deserts in the world, the great Rann of Kutch in the Gujarat state of India is known not only for its natural splendor but for what its inhabitants have created – The Rann Utsav. Magnificent is the word that one could simply use and glorify the natural beauty of Kutch with the canvas of culture, the profusion of art forms, and an overabundance of life. Please check out the official website of the Rann of Kutch Festival before you plan out.

Considering the magnitude of the festival, the accommodation at Rann is expensive during season time and hence it is advisable to pre-book if one wishes to visit the white desert during the utsav. Other than the festival months there is no accommodation option available in the desert, in this case one could opt to stay around Rann or could make a day trip from Bhuj.

Once at Rann Utsav the shopaholic can also indulge in buying authentic Gujarati handicrafts handmade by the Kutchhi people with a variety of options in clothes, bags and other items such as shoes and puppets.

During season, a variety of food options are also available at Rann starting from local chaats, Gujarati snacks to full-fledged Gujarati thalis. Apart from the festival months, there are barely any options available for food. It is advisable to carry water and food if one wishes to visit Rann from March to November.

Other Places to see around Bhuj

The capital city of Kutch is one of the most interesting and cultural cities of India. It was ruled by the Jadeja Rajput dynasty of the Samma tribe in 1510 and made Bhuj their capital and remained Kutch’s most important town ever since.

Bhuj sells some amazing handicrafts which is known worldwide apart from the historic buildings such as the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal which are worth a watch.People who are fond of exploring of old monuments and temples will love to explore this city.


Chattardi in Bhuj is a small yet wonderful place to experience the history of Kutch. These Chattardis or umbrella-shaped domes were built around 1770 AD to glorify the tombs of the Royal families of Rajput lineage. Surrounded by sea on one size and the grim Rann mountains on the other, Kutch remained cut off from the rest of India, in a time-wrapped cocoon with its amazing culture and art confined within these natural boundaries.

More pictures of the ruins of Chattardi

Mandvi Beach

We drive to Mandvi Beach to laze out in the winter Sun. The beach is a curving stretch of yellow sand fringed by green waters, with windmills on one side and an uninterrupted view of the Arabian sea on the other. The sea is safe for swimming and the beach is ideal for walking. The beautiful beach offers many fun activities including Camel rides, bubble floats, speedboats and even para-sailing. But for us peace hunters, a few steps away there is the silence of the gentle waves and the occasional herons flying by.

More pictures of Mandvi Beach

The earthquake of 2001 that cost tens of thousands of lives in India last January also destroyed a unique civilization in a remote desert haven.

It was the destruction of part of our heritage. For India, the earthquake left its second largest district ruined; for Kutch, it left an age-old, distinct culture in tatters.

Like the Rann itself, that silence, that solitude, is an expanse unto itself. As a break from my urban life, it is a luxury, an escape.

Sunset at White Rann

I am standing at the edge of the White Rann, an endless stretch of white that goes all the way from Gujarat’s Kutch district to Pakistan’s Sindh. The tattooed Camels have helped us reach this point from where everything is a blank white of nothingness.

The vast expanse of uninterrupted whiteness makes me feel as if I was miraculously zapped from the grim Indian desert to the frozen white lakes of Japan, only I didn’t need the safety of my hefty gloves or winter jackets. Oh yes, it looks like a frozen lake but looks can be deceiving. This is one of the most unforgiving places in India with summer temperatures averaging and peaking at 49.5 °C. Thankfully it is November when it is pleasantly warm.

Centuries ago, the Rann of Kutch was part of the sea until an earthquake turned the exposed sea bed into a sprawling desert. The name “Rann” comes from the Hindi word ran (रण) meaning “desert”. Today, it is a vast expanse of arid land, devoid of habitation, stretching out to the Arabian Sea.

The salt desert spreading over 30,000 sq. km gets submerged underwater during the monsoons. The Luni River, which originates in Rajasthan, drains into the desert in the northeast corner of the Rann. The Rupen from the east and the West Banas River from the northeast also feed freshwater into the desert, making it the world’s largest salt marsh.

Even though it was November the salt was still slimy and difficult to walk over. Just below the white salt lies gooey black mud. The Sun was dipping fast. Mani in her beautiful Ghagra was trying her best to help me take a shot of the sunset over the White Rann. I think I will talk about this photo for years to come.

The low-lying mudflats of the White Rann, which is all but 15 meters above sea level, fill with water during the monsoon between June to September, and then gradually dries out over the rest of the year leaving behind the saline crust that hardens to form the signature luminous white color of the desert. By January when temperatures reduce dramatically and can go below 0 °C, the marsh is transformed into an unending white desert.

In the wee hours of twilight, we were gifted with the sight of the Moon rising in the opposite direction. Most of the tourists had left by then and it was easier for us to take this shot via the tripod.

The salt desert is about 100 kilometers away from the nearest town of Bhuj and that allows the place to be free of random by-passers. There is a quietness to the place, allowing me to ponder. I even forget that I haven’t click a single photo of the white desert in its entirety. No worries there because I will be coming back.

We stayed back till the sun disappeared over the horizon and darkness engulfed us.

Our experience of Rann of Kutch was made even memorable by our stay in the premium tents of Rann Utsav. If you want to know more read the full story here.