I’m catching stars, not only because of the altitude and the pure air. The ansence of lights, in the Sumur tented camp, makes millions of stars so bright. To get into the Nubra valley, between Ladakh and Pakistan, over the Karakorum range, we must climb the 5600 metres of the Khardung-La, the highest paved pass in the world, as written on a boundary stone, between the snow and the prayer flags. Once, the valley was a stage on the road between Tibet and Turkestan.
Caravans of camels and yaks followed the rivers’ course, laden with goods, salt and clothes. Then, borders put a stop to everything. A magical world, with unexpected dunes, out of place, lost as they are between the highest mountains of the world, next to clear streams at the foot of snow-capped peaks.
There, two-humped Bactrian camels, with their colourful hand-woven harnesses, are waiting for a tour that transports you, back to Marco Polo times. From Leh, the capital of Ladakh, the road climbs steeply and within a few miles you reach the Mont Blanc altitude. In the thin air, yaks graze slowly and tawny marmots rest in the sun. At 4000 metres, this rocky desert gives way to the colours of mountain oasis, rows of poplar trees, fields of wheat and barley, bushes of roadside wild lavender.
The main centre of the valley is the Diskit village, a dusty bazaar almost at the confluence of the two rivers, Shyok and Nubra, that run with their grey glacial water. The houses are hidden in the oasis among the apricot orchards. At the top, the Diskit monastery, founded in 1650, the oldest and the largest in the valley, houses the Buddhist monks with their red-brown tunics.
More out-of-the-way, at the Samstaling monastery, monks work to create a mandala, the circular symbol of the Universe. Along the footpath to the monasteries, the mani walls are made out off thousands of slabs engraved with the mantra, left by pilgrims over hundred of years. Like prayers of stone.