Who hasn’t heard of Pallas Cat. Well, if you are a wildlife freak, then this little ball of fur must have been in your bucketlist for ages. And Hanle is the little quaint village in Southern Ladakh, where you will find its den for sure. But our subject is a bit shy and may not quite be a showstopper like the other cats. It will surely test your patience and expect you to hold your stay in this beautiful village for a few days before giving you the shot of the lifetime.
Situated at a distance of 254 kms from Leh, this little town is generally tagged along with a trip to Tso Moriri – a largest high altitude lake completely within the confines of India. Some travellers also drive from Pangong to Hanle via Chushul – covering a distance of around 162 kms. Being very close to the borders of China, you must get your permit to Handle stamped and signed by the DC Office in Leh.
You need to present this permit at 3 checkposts enroute (Upshi, Mahey and Loma), so be sure to take 4-5 copies of the signed permit along with the original.
We started our journey to Hanle after having the breakfast at our Hotel. Once we reached Upshi, as we took left onto the road to Chumathang, the entire landscape changes in a giffy. The road earlier was on a plain, now begun surmounting in the valley. With continuous climbs and falls along with many many turns, the route to Hanle is quite scenic and interesting. Once you leave Upshi, you will be accompanied by hardy rocks on either sides of the road, with Indus river accompanying you throughout your journey. The route being less travelled also hosts a lot of wildlife that you get to spot right after taking that left turn.
Route to Hanle
We drove hardly a few kms and saw a whole herd of Blue Sheep grazing on the other side of the river. And once you reach Chumathang, you will be welcomed by lots of Tibetan wild asses, grazing peacefully on the surrounding grasslands. As you cross Chumathang and its hot-springs, the landscape again changes with many colours being induced into the mountains. You get to witness layers of colours on the mountains passing by. A very deep maroon, to tinge of magenta, blues, purple and greens, ahhh what not. The entire location feels like the rainbow mountains of Peru – one of the most unreal sighting of nature we ever stumbled across. You literally want to stop your car every few kms to capture the awe.
Once you cross Chumathang, you reach Mahe – a place which is the junction of roads to Hanle and TsoMoriri. You will find quite a few restaurants or dhabas wherein you can take a break. As you cross Mahe, the military presence on the grounds increases with every turn. A hoard of military vans and trucks will give you a good company all the way to Loma. You may also find few of the trucks carrying huge war tanks to the practice grounds. Just around the village of Nyoma, is the testing grounds of Tanks. So don’t be surprised if you witness some firing along the sides. It can be quite intimidating. Nyoma also hosts the world’s highest Hospital (of course its on the military premises and open only to military and the locals nearby). The road from Loma to Mahey is fully raw. We can’t say that its offroad, its more like the Tar layer is yet to come on top making it a kaccha road. After Loma, its a newly built and amazing drive to Hanle. Just be aware of the sudden dips on the road specially designed for water outlets in after snow melts with the onset of summer.
As you are about to reach Hanle, you see only the monastery built on a hilltop with no sign of village. The village is situated a few kms ahead of the monastery. If you reach Hanle on time, you can explore the monastery and the Solar observatory which was once the highest solar observatory of the world. But if you are late due to any reason you can explore both of them the next day. The timing for the Observatory is from 10 AM to 5 PM whereas the monastery opens from 7 to 7.
There are a number of Homestays available in Hanle, but because of the recent crowd most of them are packed in the season. So be sure to prebook your stay before reaching Hanle. The stay are priced between 800INR to 3000INR inclusive of meals. People here do not negotiate much on the pricing. There are plenty of plain grounds available as well in case if you are carrying your own tents.
The entire village being small and cozy and way far from any nusansical disturbances provides ample opportunities to stargazers and astro photographers. You can practically see the reddish tinged colours of milkyway blooming from one end of the sky to the other.
Hanle Monastery and Solar Observatory
The Hanle monastery is a huge 3-4 floor architecture when looked from outside, but actually has just 1 prayer room open for tourists. Most of the murals of the walls have faded and eroded with time making it just a prayer place and might not intrigue one’s interest. But the view of the village and the valley from the monastery is really great.
The Solar observatory hosts an infrared telescope which is being virtually controlled by the team of researchers in Bangalore. Completely made in India, the associate there will enlighten you with the workings of the telescope. If you are hoping to sight Jupiter or any other star using the telescope, you might end up in disappointment. However the route to Observatory from the village is a good spot to sight some wildlife like Wild Hare and Red Fox.
Unique & Diverse Wildlife of Hanle
As we told in the beginning, Hanle is a hubspot for unique and diverse wildlife. So if your visit is specially for such sightings, make sure to stay atleast for 2-3 nights in this beautiful village. Some of the common wildlife that you will spot is Yaks, Wild Asses and Marmots among the mammals, and black-necked crane, the brahminy duck (also called the ruddy shelduck), and the bar-headed goose, common hoopoe among the birds. If you hire a guide (charges around 1000 INR per trip), he will take you to the high altitude plains early in the mornings which are the grazing grounds for Tibetan Gazelle (endemic and endangered species with only 80-100 left in India), that are found only in this part of India. He will also help you spot the pack of Tibetan wolfs (there are around 3-4 packs of wolf as informed to us by our guide), Herd of Tibetan Argalis, Himalayan Red Fox, Chumathang’s top predator – snow leopard, Pallas cat, Himalayan Hare, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Buzzard, and Lammergeir. Each species has its own trait and hiding grounds. While you will be able to spot some of them early in the morning. others will be sighted only during the evening hours. Also since the hiding grounds of different species is at different location, you will not be able to spot all of them in a single day. For example, we were told that both the Tibetan Gazelle and Snow Leopard can be spotted early in the morning but their sighting grounds are at a distance of an hour drive from each other. And since we had only 1 day for Hanle in our itinerary, we had to choose between the 2 (we chose Tibetan gazelle and were lucky to sight them).
Gateway to adventure
Hanle is also the base and gateway for some adventurous high altitude passes like PhotiLa and the recently glamoured highest pass of the world – UmlingLa. However, the road to UmlingLa is open strictly to military personnels and is yet to open for tourists.
With so many exploratory opportunities for travellers, Hanle is undoubtedly becoming a new destination for those who look forward to explore Ladakh. In the recent 2 years it has undoubtedly acclaimed its place as one of the most desired destination to explore among travel enthusiasts. We stayed in Hanle for a night and loved each and every moment of it. If we are to travel to Ladakh again someday in the future, Hanle will surely be reserved for atleast a few nights.
We have tried to encompass all the possible details that we thought would help you plan and enjoy your itinerary to Hanle. Do comment and let us know of any experience that you had if you have visited, or any query that you are struggling with and we will be glad to assist.