Zanskar, a remote valley high up in the Indian Himalayas, is one of the most authentic places to experience Buddhism in its purest form.
Till now it can only be reached by a strenuous trek over high passes or by a bumpy journey along one of the worst roads in the Himalaya.
Zanskar is not yet connected by a direct roadlink with Leh, although roadbuilding is going on. For the time being, one has to make a detour via Kargil to reach the capital Padum. It takes at least 12 hours to cover the 250km that separate Kargil from Padum, though most travellers split up the journey in two days.
From Kargil to the Suru Valley
Starting early in the morning from Kargil you probably wonder what all this fuzz about a bad road is about. A nicely paved road winds its way along the Suru River, through green fields, apricot and apple orchards and past some picturesque roadside villages. The inevitable army checkposts cannot be avoided, but once you covered about 30kms you enter the heart of the Suru Valley. Lush green fields spread out over a wide, open valley with the towering twinpeaks Kun and Nun in the background.
From Sankhu the road gradually gets worse and winds it way up and down along the river passing villages like Panikhar and Parkachik which are nice places to have a (picknik)lunch and meet some of the local kids.
From Suru Valley to Rangdum
The track turns east along the Suru River and from now on several glaciers come in sight. Keep your camera ready and ask your driver for regular stops along this extremily scenic route. You slowly drive up to a small pass where a large chorten and fluttering prayerflags show that you’ve entered buddhist land. Finally you cover the last stretch to the wide alluvial valley of Rangdum (3660m). On a small hill the red Rangdum Gompa overlooks the valley.
Rangdum Gompa is about 200 years old and belongs to the Yellow Hat Order in Tibetan Buddhism. About 40 monks reside in the monastery. Due to its remote location it preserved its pristine beauty and authenticity. The setting of the monastery with the mountains in the background, make it the best place to spent the night on the way to Zanskar.
Normally we sleep in a small tented camp at the foot of the monastery. Quite basic but with good beds and an incredible wake up view !
Zanskar here we come…
Leaving Rangdum, take your time to look behind you. In the morning sun the gompa is at its best. Covering the last stretch of about 100km to Padum, will probably take you about 6-8 hours. Not only because of the road, but also because there is so much to see along this scenic route.
The first highlight is the crossing of the Penzi La (4450m), the highest pass on the road. Driving down from the pass you almost immediately spot the impressive Drang Drung Glacier, with its 22km one the longest glaciers in India.
Going down again, you’ll drive through high mountainvalleys where local Zanskari are living in their summer settlements and are preparing cheese and livestock for the harsh winterperiod. The closer you get to Padum the more permanent villages appear. Places like Skyagam, Ating and Tungri all have the typical Zanskari houses with the roofs filled with livestock.
Reaching the valley of Padum, you see some of the famous monasteries already in the distance: the hilltop monastery of Stongde and the old monastery of Karsha, perched against a mountainslope.
You will need at least 2 full days to explore the area of Padum, visiting gompas like Bardan, Sani and Zhongkul and taking some walks around the small town to see the daily life going on.
For more information about travelling to Zanskar, also by trekking, you can always contact us