By Team EarPeace
A Bit About Hanle
Hanle /Haan-lay/ (also spelt Anlay) is located in the Hanle river valley and is one of the last villages of India before the Chinese border, located in the southeastern part of Ladakh. It is a part of Changthang, which is a part of the high altitude Tibetan Plateau in western and northern Tibet extending into southeastern Ladakh, with vast highlands and giant lakes. From eastern Ladakh, the Changthang stretches approximately 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) east into Tibet.
Hanle lies towards the east of one of the most beautiful lakes of Ladakh, Tso Moriri. It is 250 kms from the city of Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, and lies beyond Chumathang (hot springs) and Nyoma (one of the most prominent towns on this route), if you’re riding from Leh.
It is the site of the 17th century Hanle Monastery and more recently, is also the home of Hanle observatory, one of the world's highest sites for astronomical observation. The observatory is operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics from Bangalore, and is built at a height of 4,500 metres. It is the perfect place for astro enthusiasts due to its indisputable night sky and is soon to be declared as a Night Sky Sanctuary by the Ladakh administration.
An old friend of mine who had been based out of Ladakh for a few months had suggested a few places to visit, and out of all the places he had recommended, he just couldn’t stop talking about Hanle, more so about the ride to Hanle. Thanks to his enthusiasm, Hanle was part of my itinerary now.
I left for Hanle after camping at the Korzok village (4,600 m) for a night, on the shores of the Tso Moriri lake. There were dark clouds brewing above me as I I exited Korzok and rode towards Hanle on a day when it was supposed to rain at Korzok.
After a brief stop at Puga Hot Springs, I rode on towards Hanle and stopped for lunch at Nyoma for my favourite Thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) and momos. I’d learnt from a local driver that one should order a “mix” where you get the momos in the Thukpa itself - the best of both the worlds.
Pro tip: Nyoma is one of the only places to buy petrol in this region. The locals save it in cans and sell it for an extra charge of around Rs. 20-30 which is quite standard so please don’t end up bargaining and annoying the locals. There was a bakery called Phanday Bakery Shop which was selling some amazing freshly baked bread and I bought a bunch for my dinner for the night, and for the stray dogs. Ladakhi dogs are extremely friendly and loving and I had realised over time that they’re the only company I was going to have while camping so taking food for them was on my to-do list as well.
Nyoma is the perfect spot for refuelling yourself and your motorcycle, on your way to Hanle. Having done both, I moved on towards the mysterious Hanle village. It was pretty much the most beautiful and diverse terrain I had come across during my travels across Ladakh. The ride along the Indus River is a treat for the eyes, crossing green marshlands on the way, with layers of mountains in all directions, first the smaller hills and then higher snow-capped peaks creating an out of the world experience. After the green marshlands comes the desert stretching out in all directions and guarded by peaks on all sides. The roads are freshly laid and extremely well kept. A word of caution though, the roads have inverted bumps which often appear out of nowhere so always pay extra and attention before speeding on your way to Hanle. Out of the 5 bikers in Hanle that night, 1 had a major fall at the bump, 2 had a major scare, so yes, do keep an eye out for those nasty bumps.
The ride was smooth, except for the constant race with the angry clouds chasing me. Everytime I stopped to take pictures or spent too much time soaking in the views, it would start drizzling lightly and then I’d have to make a run for it again. They gave up eventually and I finally exited their shadow to head into the sun. A slight fishtailing due to one of those inverted bumps and I had entered the Hanle river valley. Right before reaching the village, I took the detour heading towards the Hanle monastery. Greeted an old couple at the bottom, who were also the caretakers, and happily informed me that although the monastery was shut due to COVID protocols, I could still see it from the outside and ride up to the building anyway as the view from the top was stunning. Their advice was spot on, as the panoramic view of the Changthang from the Hanle monastery is incredible. The wind was quite strong at the top so I took a few quick pictures and headed back down towards the village looking for a spot to set up camp for the night.
I rode around the village for a bit until I found a nice green patch belonging to a very sweet “achi” (meaning elder sister in the Ladakhi language), who gladly let me set up camp on her land and allowed me to use their outdoor Ladakhi toilet as well. There was a water pump nearby pumping out clean, drinking water so I was all set for the night. Soup and bread followed, with a last look at the cloudy night sky without a single star in sight, I retreated into my tent for the night. It was supposed to be cloudy for 2 nights, and I was here during one of those nights. Talk about bad luck, but it didn’t affect me much personally as I had already viewed a couple of galaxies (Andromeda and Triangulum) from one of my treks around Leh just a week ago. But still, I did set my alarm for 3am and crawled out of my tent hoping for a clear sky but it was still grey and murky and quite pointless.
The next morning I rode up to the Hanle observatory. Similar to the monastery, the observatory is also located at a higher elevation which gives an excellent panoramic view of the Hanle village and beyond. The observatory is a state-of-art piece of machinery set up by the IIA in the middle of nowhere. The staff was nice enough to give me a tour around the facility, showing the telescope and the automatic rooftop.
Heading back down from the observatory, I took one last look at the beautiful village of Hanle hoping to come back again for some astro exploration in the future.