Zanskar Valley: The virgin land
Exploring the unexplored territory has always fascinated me and probably the only reason why I love the calling bells from these pristine lands. I must admit that the untouched beauty of Ladakh can stun your senses, leaving you breathless yet wanting to ask for more always.
My trip to Zanskar Valley was nothing less than a dream. Beauty was definitely at its best while I made my way through the land of happiness and smiles. Gazing astonished at the splendor, the radiance, Zanskar didn’t leave a single stone unturned to make me fall in love with the place. Nature did hold me in its thrall as each sharply drawn breath triggered the spell that this beautiful land cast on me!!!
For the uninitiated, Zanskar Valley lies to the <g data-gr-id="71">South west</g> of Leh and is the most isolated of all the trans-Himalayan valleys. Surrounded by the Himalayan and Zanskar <g data-gr-id="79">ranges,the</g> place comprises of two main valleys of Stod (Doda chu) and Lungnak (Tsarap chu), which converge below at <g data-gr-id="74">Padum</g> at an elevation of 13,000 ft. Due to heavy snowfall, the area remains closed during winter for 6 months. The only way to get into Zanskar in winters is through the Chadar, which means white river blanket sheet. In <g data-gr-id="75">Zanskari</g> <g data-gr-id="77">language</g> Chadar is called Hkado <g data-gr-id="76">Sanglam</g>.
To reach Zanskar, I took a flight from Delhi to Srinagar and halted for the day. Day 2 I hit the road for Kargil, reaching it in a little over 9 hours via state bus. We passed through Sonamarg, Zoji La Pass, <g data-gr-id="84">Drass</g> and as we entered Kargil, I could sense the Suru River (a tributary of Indus), welcoming us and it helped to <g data-gr-id="85">sooth</g> the exhaustion of a long day’s drive.
Next day, I took a shared taxi from Kargil to reach Padum via Suru Valley, <g data-gr-id="93">Panikar</g> and Rangdum. Do not expect to find a soul on the way, especially after the Panikhar and Parkachik villages. Recommended places for short halts to take in the beautiful sights include <g data-gr-id="86">Damsna</g> – home to a trout fish farm and popular for its meadows. From here you can get the first view of the Nun-Kun mountains. You come to <g data-gr-id="87">Thangbu</g> village just before reaching <g data-gr-id="88">Panikhar</g> (12 km away) and this place provides the best view of the Nun-Kun mountains. Parkachik glacier: is the base for expeditions, to the glacier and the Nun-Kun mountains beyond. I reached Padum, the administrative base of Zanskar in the evening.
From offering treks, camping to enjoying its wild, glorious beauty, Zanskar Valley has got everything <g data-gr-id="98"><g data-gr-id="91">a nature</g></g> and adventure lover could ask for. There are several interesting places you can visit while at Zanskar. Despite considerable potential, tourism activity is very limited in the Suru valley with most visitors rushing through to Padum and Zanskar. There are few facilities for <g data-gr-id="92">visitors</g> but Jammu & Kashmir Tourism does have basic tourist bungalows in several of the villages and there’s a summer tent-camp in Rangdum. <g data-gr-id="99">Tangole</g> village is a possible starting point for <g data-gr-id="100">mountaneering</g> expeditions up Nun Kun. Here are a few places to stop on the way:
<g data-gr-id="472">Pensi la</g> Pass – Also known as <g data-gr-id="91">gateway</g> to Zanskar. This pass connects Zanskar valley to the Suru valley. Enjoy the views of majestic mountains and alluring countryside with the flowing Suru river by sitting beside two small lakes at the Pass. Get a view of the mighty Drang Dung Glacier while crossing <g data-gr-id="102">Pensi la</g>. The pass is about 25 km from Rangdum Monastery. People here are socially and culturally part of <g data-gr-id="96">neighbouring</g> Buddhist Zanskar and support the 18th century Rangdum Monastery belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Beyond <g data-gr-id="95">Parkachik</g> the spectacularly beautiful valley is practically uninhabited other than a couple of tiny settlements (Yuldo and Julidok) that consist Rangdum. Plantations of willow and poplar trees making it a relatively lush and very attractive area, but around Rangdum the landscapes are stark, flat moorlands ringed by arid crags. The <g data-gr-id="104">spikey</g> <g data-gr-id="103">white topped</g> mountain peaks of the Nun-Kun massif, topping 7,000 m, are visible from several places in the valley. The majority are followers of Shi’a Islam in the Suru Valley having converted from Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th century under the direction of Thi-Namgyal.
Zongkhul Monastery – The spectacular Zongkhul monastery can be reached by road or by undertaking an exciting trekking route through the Padum-Kishtwar trail. The monastery is an architectural delight, in a bird’s nest shape.
Zangla – Lying deep in the northern region of Zanskar, Zangla is an old castle. A small chapel here lies on a hilltop, overlooking the desert valley below. <g data-gr-id="63">Tsa</g>-<g data-gr-id="64">zar</g> is a tiny village nearby which has exquisite murals on the buildings.
Stongdey Monastery – One of <g data-gr-id="70">the most fascinating</g> attractions in Zanskar is the Stongdey Monastery. The stunning structure is associated with the Tibetan yogi, Marpa, and is the second largest monastery in Zanskar. About 60 Gelukpa monks are the permanent residents of Stongdey Gompa and house numerous majestic shrines.
Karsha – Karsha is essentially a human settlement with all kind of basic facilities. Visit the Gelugpa monastery, providing an insight to the importance of the religion in lives of the people of Zanskar. The impressive mural art displayed at Labrang is worth seeing.
Trek to Phuktal Gompa- Though Zanskar Valley offers quite a number of popular treks, don’t miss out on the trek to Phuktal <g data-gr-id="67">Gonpa</g>. A trek to the monastery is not just exciting, offbeat and adventurous; it’s religious too. A few hours drive from Padum, the biggest town in Zanskar, brought us to the “end of the road” at <g data-gr-id="68">Anmo</g> village, wherein we planned to complete the trek the same day. Our time estimate was 8 hours to and fro.
Distance from Delhi: Close to 1,200 KM
How to Travel: By Train: Closest Railway station is Jammu, then by taxi
By Air: Closest Airport is Leh
By Road: <g data-gr-id="792">Srinagar-Kargil</g>-Padum (Zanskar)
Where to stay: Zanskar has got decent guesthouses and homestays. Kailash and Alpine Guesthouse are preferable.
Things to pack: One warm Jacket, 2 warm sweaters, 2 light layers. Make sure to keep Sun Screen with good SPF, lip balm, Cold cream, Goggles (with UV Protection), owing to high altitude, and altitude sickness tablets and energy bars.
Best time: May till October
SIM Card: Carry BSNL postpaid SIM card. Nothing else works there