The experience of stargazing is unforgettable, and it will infuse you with a profound sense of calm and wonder at the vastness and intricacy of the universe. One of the best places in India to stargaze is the Union Territory of Ladakh, also known as the Hermit Kingdom, due to its slight inaccessibility. Adorned with the sturdy grey, white and brown Himalayan mountains, dotted with turquoise green and lapis lazuli-blue lakes, creating spectacular scenery, the upper reaches of Ladakh are perfect for staring at the clear night sky filled with stars.
Located far up in the north of Ladakh, at 10,000 feet above sea level, Nubra is famous for the highest motorable road in the world, at 18,380 feet, in the Khardongla Pass. The Shayok and Siachen rivers flow through it. Nubra has been an essential stopover on the ancient Silk Route, and its breathtaking natural beauty is what dreams are made of. The valley is known as Ldumra, or the valley of orchards/flowers. Since tourists can't simply roll into Nubra, as special permits are required to reach the region since it is close to international borders, you can rest assured of a people-free period for stargazing. During the day, you can visit the Diskit monastery, Samstanling Gonpa, and the Panamik hot spring. Or you can go on a double-humped camel safari, indulge in river rafting and trekking, or sunbathe in the dunes at Hunder.
The lake, which means high grassland lake, is situated at the height of almost 4,350 metres above sea level and is the world's highest saltwater lake. A well-known scenic location, which has been captured in many-a-hit film, and its night skies are precisely what you need to catch a good sight of the Milky Way galaxy. Pangong Tso extends to almost 160 kilometres, and one-third of the Pangong Tso lies in India, while the other two-thirds are in China. Leh-Pangong Tso is a five-hour drive.
The tough-to-reach Turtuk village is part of a block of five villages populated by Baltic people, as it is part of the Baltistan region. Lying in the absolute north of the Nubra valley, close to the Line of Control, it is on the banks of the Shyok River. The lofty peaks of the Karakoram Mountain range stand guard around it. Its high-altitude and secure location make Turtuk village a vantage point for stargazing activities. Get your permits in order and make a beeline for Turtuk.
Stargazing enthusiasts adore Hanle for its moonscape-like terrain. That, and the high-altitude Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), located here at 14,764 feet, is one of the highest observatories in the world. It has augmented facilities for nighttime astronomy. It has had the two-metre Himalayan Chandra Telescope since 2001. Also, a seven-unit High Altitude Gamma Ray (HAGAR) telescope operates at the Hanle site. However, since Hanle is well-known for its clear skies, the best would be to camp out with a thick quilt and a cup of hot tea and contemplate the universe as you stare into space. During the day, you can drive through the 'moonscape' to the beautiful Tsomoriri Lake. Leh to Hanle is a 254-kilometre distance, approximately.
The best time to visit is April to June or September and October.
Permits Inner Line permits are mandatory.
How to get there
By road Ladakh is connected via two roads, the Leh-Srinagar national highway and the Leh-Manali road. These are open only during summer and remain closed during winter, for more than seven months, due to the closure of the passes Zoji-La, Rohtang, Baralacha-La, and Chang-La, from being snowed under. Bus services and other means of transport need to be improved. Durbuk block and Nubra block remain closed in winter.
Jammu Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) provides services from Srinagar to Leh, which is about 434 kilometres, and takes two days. Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) provides services from Manali to Leh, about 474 kilometres, and takes about 20 hours, or two days if you take in the halts. Private taxies also operate between Leh-Srinagar and Leh-Manali.
By air There are two airports K.G Bakula Airport at Leh and the army airport at Thoise Nubra. The only route accessible to Ladakh during the winter is air. Many airlines operate daily flight services from Leh to New Delhi. However, in winter, the air service is infrequent due to cancellations caused by smog in New Delhi and snowfall in Leh.
By railway Jammu Tawi is the closest railway station and is 705 kilometres from Leh town.