Truly the most talked about route, given the tight schedules our lives work on (and the lack of approved vacation days at work!), Nubra to Pangong Tso through Agham and Shyok Village has been massively worked on by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) in the past couple of years, and it has become a viable option.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Video – Nubra to Pangong Tso Direct Route
Nubra to Pangong Tso – Direct Route
The opening of the direct route between Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso has eased the journey of Ladakh to quite an extent. This route is helping a lot of people who are short on time save at least a day in their overall Ladakh plan. It also saves some taxi cost as well when making a trip to Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso.
This year, 2018, I got a chance to travel this adventure road from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso via Agham – Shyok villages. In this article today, I will share with you my experience along with the updated road conditions on this direct route between Nubra and Pangong Tso lake.
The distance/time chart between Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso via Agham – Shyok is as follows
The contentment in familiarity – Hunder to Khalsar
After a mesmerizing stay in Nubra, our onward journey towards Pangong Tso for a full-moon night started with high expectations. As with any plan in Ladakh, it is always wise to take an early start. If concerned about the fuel, do make a stop at Diskit (the only petrol pump for 300 KMs).
We had tough luck as the petrol pump had no diesel and asked us to wait for another 2-3 hours for the next shipment. We decided to risk it, knowing fuel in black is available at certain places (more on that below!).
The drive towards Khalsar is insanely beautiful, the road is constructed well, with a long stretch of straight road and afterward, the bends are just delightful. Go easy on the smooth roads even though you might feel like doing a 100 KMPH, just relax and enjoy the spellbinding views of the barren mountains alongside the river.
As a side note, my way of recognizing drives with limited danger in Ladakh is simple – read the BRO road signs, if they are philosophical and not cautionary, you’re on an easy path! My favorite is simplicity is the peak of civilization. Ah, BRO, teaching life lessons and connecting hearts, all the while cutting mountains.
Khalsar is a good breakfast/chai pit-stop. Right after Khalsar, a short climb up leads you to an intersection – keep going straight on this road towards Agham, instead of taking a right turn for Khardung-La.
Let the Escapade begin – a brand new road with new things to discover and life lessons to learn
Khalsar to Agham
Immediately upon leaving the familiar route, the scenery changes. Having left behind Nubra Valley, while entering Shyok Valley you notice the change in beauty. I strongly think one should not take this route to save time, but rather to experience views unlike any other valley in Ladakh.
In one moment, you will be driving next to the river bed, sometimes on the river bed itself and the next moment, you will be on a steep climb with many hairpin bends. This entire route will lead you up and take you back to the river multiple times.
A majority of the route is driven next to the Shyok River (literally meaning the river of death). This river is known for its unpredictability; there are even local songs about the destructive powers of the river. Make no mistake; you need to be alert of two things – The river flow and the landslide-prone mountains.
Even if you are planning a trip to Ladakh in winters, you should inquire about road conditions from the locals in Agham village before moving ahead on this route. Frankly, I will not recommend this direct route between Nubra and Pangong Tso via Shyok in winters at all.
At Agham, do ensure you speak with onward traffic by stopping a few vehicles and confirming whether the route is fine, especially if it is about to rain. These route witnesses frequent landslides, and it might be better to spend an extra 2 hours by taking the Wari-la route than getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. There is hardly any vehicular movement, and you might be pressed for luck to find any soul to help you out. Proceed with caution.
At Agham, you will need to take a left towards Shyok.
*The signboard at Agham. Take the left
The tricky part is upon us – Agham to Shyok Village
A little distance ahead of Agham, you will find a road sign pointing towards the left for the Pangong Tso route. Now, this is a very easily miss-able sign. Its hand-painted and points towards the river bed and is mostly engulfed with wild flora. You might not think this is the way, but it is!
*Yes, this is a sign! Do not miss this sign. I repeat DO NOT MISS THIS SIGN! – Take the left. Yes, this is the road you will now be on!
Once you cross the river bed (be careful about any sharp-ended stones), you’re on the next mountain. After this, the route continues mostly in a mixture of well-constructed stretches and passing through riverbeds.
The curves are not difficult to maneuver but are frequent and the roads are exceptionally narrow. Any onward traffic might make giving way slightly problematic.
From personal experience, we encountered maybe 10-15 bikers and a handful of vehicles (mostly local taxis) on our way. This density might change in the coming seasons as brand new bridges connecting over the river have made this route pliable and commercially viable.
Right after the difficult patch, you start on a smooth road, and then that road stretches for about 10 km, right bang in the middle of the riverbed. It is such a surreal experience where you are all alone, on a smooth road, no civilization, no wildlife, almost no fauna – it’s just you, cruising on a dried-up river bed!
The mountains are daunting and you feel inconsequential in front of the mighty hills! The newly constructed roads limit your worries to a certain extent. You can even find Dhabas on the Agham-Shyok Village stretch now, right after crossing the half-way mark. Basic amenities of Maggi, Soup, and Chai are readily available.
*The barren mountains and some off-roading define the entire route
Upon reaching the Shyok Village, you will spot lots of little farms, a delight to see after hours of barren mountains next to a gloomy river. There is a small Gompa right after crossing the village.
*Some colour is added back to life right before the Shyok Village! The village in itself seems like it has been picked up from some other corner of Kashmir and plucked right in the middle of literal-nowhere! You also start spotting signs of development here, electricity poles don’t match the zen view
A little further ahead, the Shyok River flowed underneath one of the newly installed bridges and made for a nice place to chill and unwind. With the weather slightly unpredictable and grey, we experienced pleasant drizzle after Shyok.
*We relaxed here, contemplated life, ate munchies and chilled for a very long time. Only when it started to drizzle a bit, we realized we had miles to go J
You should always carry your water bottle and refill it as many times as you need water. It will not only keep you hydrated always, but you will also help in saving the Himalayas from plastic garbage. Remember, every tiny step counts and your step in this direction can help save the Himalayas too !! 🙂 🙂
Nature rewards – Shyok Village to Durbuk
Shyok to Durbuk is a scenic drive. Leaving behind the scary-looking mountains, that we renamed as the cookie mountains (I am using the word mountains loosely – the hills constituted of lots of stones of all shapes and sizes, held together by soft mud!) was a relief and spotting wildlife is easily my favorite part of the trip.
The cookie mountains are scarier than the Cookie Monster. They truly looked like cookies on which extra nuts had been put- you could pull one of those rocks out so easily! I am sure a little bit of rain and these mountains would just slip down! The mountains have a way of making you feel vulnerable and at ease at the same time. We were glad upon reaching the massive rock-solid structures again!
This is also the spot where a number of Bollywood movies have been shot – Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Highway etc.
Horses, yaks, goats and sheep are all delightful. Road signs tell you not to feed them.
Expert Travel Tip: If you are self driving to Ladakh and taking the route from Nubra Valley to Shyok to Pangong Tso, then be prepared with 40 Must Have Things to Carry on Ladakh Self Drive Trip
This particular drive alternates between greenery, mostly around the river flow, and barren mountains, pure joy!! Be prepared for sharp bends in some parts.
Final Stretch – Reaching the beauty of Pangong Tso
At Durbuk, the road from Leh towards Pangong joins our route, and the route becomes more commercial. Instead of stopping at Durbuk for your snacks, I suggest moving slightly ahead to Tangste, where you will also be able to stock up on fuel (available in black with the Dhaba-owners). There is also a beautiful monastery atop a hill and is extremely serene. Try stopping, if you can (or make it an agenda item for the return trip!)
The stretch of the road to Lukung is easy, you’re in the large military area – a lot of places prohibit photography, so do keep an eye out for the signs. One thing I truly appreciated was spotting Army Officers and Jawans throughout my route and how friendly they were!
They enjoyed sharing advice, striking up a conversation, and getting to know the travelers. There is also a stretch of Pagal Nala that you might encounter somewhere after Tangste. Also, Chagar Tso, about 15-20 KMs before the lake, is a delight. It’s a small lake, and the views are pretty spectacular. We were far too excited for the real deal that we didn’t stop here. If you do, you might be able to spot some marmots as well.
So close to the destination, and you hit a rough patch of road. It has to be known that the Ladakh roads do make you earn your sites. This road ensured the driving was dramatic, the roads were thin and our excitement was unmeasurable.
However, this small stretch was almost forgotten when we saw that first glimpse of blue. The blue was so blue; it was the definition of perfect blue. Driving next to the lake for a stretch of 10 km, before reaching our camps was M-A-J-E-S-T-I-C. Meaning Long, enchanted lake, Pangong Tso cannot be described in words, no picture has ever done justice and must be visited to be appreciated.
Important Tips for Nubra – Shyok – Pangong Route
- When looking up the route on Google Maps, one needs to put in Spangmik as the final location and not Pangong Tso. All campsites lie on the Spangmik side.
- When you reach Agham, keep your eyes peeled for a small sign (a hand-painted sign) that reads Pangong Tso and goes towards the left. Do NOT forget to look for this sign; make notes! At this point, when you take a left, there is no road, and you’re driving on the dried-up river bed of Shyok.
- Stock up on fuel. Diskit does have a Petrol Pump but is not very reliable
- NO mobile network works on this route, not even BSNL
- Inner Line Permit is required for visiting Pangong Tso. You can obtain the permit in Leh itself. Checking of the same is done right after Durbuk.
- Be a sensible driver, the roads might be freshly paved, but the route is still an off-roading adventure.
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