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When you think of a desert, most probably Sahara, the Thar Desert or any other area filled with sand, oasis and unbearably hot climate comes to your mind. I was thinking the same until I visited Hunder. This is a natural phenomenon of a desert in the mountains at the altitude of 3000+ meters which is covered with snow in winters. Ah well, this world has so many secrets to discover.
While many visitors know that there is a desert in Nubra Valley, I’d like to give some practical tips on this experience – how to visit, costs and other information to help you plan a trip.
There are many sand areas along Nubra Valley, yet Hunder is the most famous one. Unlike most of the desert in the world, the best time to visit Hunder is summer (June to September). This time the weather isn’t as cold as during other seasons.
What to do in Hunder?
The main attraction in Hunder is sand dunes and double-hump camel (also known as a Bactrian camel). Several centuries back the Bactrian camels were an important mode of transportation through Ladakh.
I was trying to get some historical background of this destination from the villagers since Hunder was a part of ancient silk route trade through Central Asia. Nowadays, it’s mostly a commercial site offering popular tourist activities as a mode of fundraising.
It was the last area open for tourists until recently (2010), yet it became the most popular spot among visitors (hold on there, there are more interesting places in Nubra coming up soon).
The desert is cut by two rivers – Nubra and Shyok that meet in this village. There are also several oasis areas where camels and donkeys drink the water. If you walk around the area for a while, you can find some impressive reflections. As the major part of Ladakh, Hunder is predominantly Buddhist, thus you can find a Gompa there overlooking the village.
A cultural show
There is Ladakhi cultural show organized daily from 6 to 7 p.m. near the sand dunes. I haven’t attended it personally, but you can see its advertisement several times on the way to the camp.
Hunder safari how much does it cost?
You can spend time near camels watching them eating grass and walking around the dunes. There is no entrance fee for this. Riding a camel through the sand dunes is one of the most popular activities mainly among families. I decided to walk on the sand rather than taking a camel. I liked that the camel carers where treating animals nicely. Plus, they were not overselling rides for everyone. The common cost is 200 INR for 15 min ride.
Accommodation in Hunder
Though Hunder is the most popular destination in Nubra Valley, I recommend choosing Diskit for the overnight stay. Hunder is more crowded with hundreds of personal cars filled with tourists coming daily.
There are military camps just near sand dunes and the village is overloaded with visitors (if you compare with a number of people coming to other places in Nubra). Diskit is peaceful and well connected to other villages in Nubra Valley. If you decide to stay in Hunder, I would check out the main village over touristy part near the sand dunes.
As for me, I left in the morning from Diskit to Hunder, dropped my bag in the Dhaba near the bus stand in Hunder. Explored the sand dunes for a few hours and took a bus around 3 o’clock further.
How to reach Hunder desert from Leh and Diskit?
There are just a few public transport options in Nubra Valley – two buses to be precise. I’ve used buses several times and they were always overcrowded. I don’t know whom to address this issue, but there are regular local travelers who could easily fill up 1-2 more buses.
There is a bus going to Hunder daily at 2.30 p.m from Diskit main stand. A bus from Hunder to Diskit starts at 8.30 a.m. in the morning (usually at 9 a.m.). There are also shared taxis. They start near the bus stops once they are full.
If you travel by public transport, tell the driver, you want to visit the dunes. There are two stops in Hunder. The first one near the army camp – you need to get off on it. From the bus stop, there is 2.5 km till the sand dunes, which you can walk in 30 min.
There is also a possibility to hire a personal taxi from Diskit to Hunder for 300 INR. I recommend refraining from this option unless you are enough people to fill one car. A ticket office at the bus stop in Diskit told that there are roughly 600 taxis that travel between Leh and different parts of Nubra. Though it might seem a lot, there are many villages in Nubra between which local people travel.
- The internet connection is limited in Nubra Valley to mainly Diskit. If you would like to make calls on the phone, BSNL is your best guess as of now. Once you cross Kardung La, Airtel connection disappears.
- You need a Protected Area Permit to visit Nubra Valley. If you are a foreigner you need to apply for it in any agency in Leh. As a rule, one week permit costs 600-1000 INR. If you are an Indian, you can apply independently for the permit in DM office (near J&K tourist office on Fort Road). It will cost you 550 INR and you will need to fill in the application online. Alternatively, you can opt for an agency service for 700 INR.
- Please don’t tease or move camel kids to take a “photogenic” picture. I think both camel carers, as well as other tourists, should be more insistent about it.
- All villages in Nubra valley are at the high altitude (3000+m). I recommend acclimatizing a few days in Leh (unless you’ve done some treks around Kashmir before) before heading to the valley.
- If you feel hungry, there are food points near the parking of the dunes as well as one dhaba near the bus stop. I’ve taken food in the dhaba as I left my bag there. Their fried vegetables with paneer are nice. I had a lunch for 80 INR. Prices are very decent if you come from a city.