The first thing which comes to your mind is Fluttering prayer flags, barren yellow golden landscape, and huge blue lakes.This region is referred as the land of high mountain passes. There is an old saying in Ladakhi “who comes to Ladakh is either the best of friends or the worst of enemies”.
Ladakh is located in the eastern part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is mostly barren, because it falls in the rain shadow area. This makes it a popular travel destination, because you have longer climbing and trekking seasons. The barren mountains have different colours varying from tingy purple to golden yellow. The well maintained roads across high passes and though broad valleys makes it a ideal destination for leisure road journies as well. The vibes and the exorbitant charm this place has cannot be explained in words, you simply have to be there to feel it.
The elevation of the region varies from 2760 metres in Kargil to 7672 metres on the summit of Saser Kangri. The average elevation of most destinations on the road is 3500 to 4500 metres. The passes are much higher with the highest being at Khardungla at 5359 metres being the highest.
It’s huge blue water lakes, enchanting landscapes, long tranquil treks, and high challenging mountain summits makes Ladakh a great paradise for travellers around the world. The clean dry air, magnificent scenery and the warm hospitality of the people makes Ladakh a truly special place.
Ladakh is assessable by air route from Delhi only. There are daily 3 flights of Go, Jet and Air India. There are two routes by road to reach Ladakh.
. Manali to Leh via keylong and Sarchu, which is 475 kms.
.Srinagar to Leh via Drass and Kargil, which is 434 kms.
Status of the roads as on for now, May 4th 2017, Srinagar Leh is closed via Jozilla pass, and Rohtang pass is also closed if you want to take the Manali- leh highway. All flights to Leh are operating.
SHEY.( 3415 Mtrs)
On the Manali Leh highway 15 kilometres from Leh is the Shey Palace and Monastery. The Palace is in ruins now, but the archaeological survey of India has started preserving this site. The palace has many large room, the windows of which offer excellent views of the Ladakh landscape. The protruding balconies and windows are excellent for taking photographs, as you can see the entire valley upto the Stok mountains. There is also a small hillock which is joined to the palace. Climbing up this hillock can be a lot of fun. The area near Shey is full of many small and big Chortens, making it Ladakhs biggest Chortens field.
The monastery at Shey has the main Shakyamuni Buddha covering 3 floors and is 39 feet tall. Every wall is painted with one image or the other, the most prominent being of the 16 saints who attained nirvana. The top of the monastery commands panoramic view of the surrounding areas.
THIKSEY.( 3600 Mtrs)
The Thiksey monastery lies 20 kilometres east of Leh, and is famous because of it’s resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. This monastery is one of the most photographed monastery in Ladakh, as it can be seen from the main highway. It is the largest Gompa in central Ladakh. It is a 12 storey complex and has many statues, thanktas and stupas. There is also a 49 feet high statue of of the future Buddha “Maitra”.
This monastery is also famous for it’s morning prayers which has a gathering of more than 50 monks. Visitors are welcomed to be a part of this ceremony . There is a hotel by the name of “Chamba” run by the monastery, and a restaurant here. The monastery also has a few guest rooms.
LEH. (3500 Metres).
View of Leh Town/Pic : Rajat Jamwal
Leh is 475 kms from Manali, and 434 kms from Srinagar. This is a base for mostly all journeys, treks, and expeditions across Ladakh. it is the biggest market centre in all ladakh. There are shops catering to all things a traveller requires. There are numerous hotels, guest houses and restaurants here. This is a travellers paradise.
Leh is located on the right bank of the river Indus. On the south are the Stok mountains, and towards the north fall the ladakh ranges.
You can see travellers of all kinds, some getting ready for climbing expeditions, some cyclist and bikers, or some trekkers packing their last bag of essentials, before venturing into the inhabited mountains. Leh has all types of hotels from luxury to budget, guest houses, and govt. guest houses. it has all kinds of restaurants, and travel cafes catering to all kinds of people from different countries. The market in Leh is also famous for Buddhist artefacts and handwoven rugs, carpets and shawls.
The main places to visit once in Leh are.
Shanti Stupa (4200 mtrs)
It’s a 15 minute climb from Changspa to the top of a high rocky ridge. There is a stunningly beautiful view of Leh town and the Stok mountains from here. This has become the primary reason for Shanti stupa to become a popular travellers destination, apart from it’s religious significance. There is also a drivable road to the stupa. it was built in 1991 by a Japanese monk to promote world peace.
The palace commands a imposing view from the Leh town. This structure is built of stones, wood and mud. It was the royal residence of the king Singe Namgyal, and was built in the 17th century. It is abandoned and desolate now, as the royal family shifted to the nearby village of Stok. it still posesses it’s mystical and grand old charm. You can have a wonderful view of the Leh town and the snow covered Stok mountains from here. There is also a museum in the palace , which showcases some of the jewellery, ornaments, thanks, crowns, and ceremonial dresses.
The timings to visit the palace is from 7.00 A.M to 10.00 A.M
4.00 P.M to 6.00 P.M
When visiting the palace, it is advisable to carry a torchlight, because there are holes in the floor and the staircases are dark.
The war museum or the hall of fame is a stupa shaped structure constructed and maintained by the Indian Army. It is dedicated to the brave soldiers who lost their lives during Indo Pak wars. it has two storeys, the first having names and photographs of the soldiers who lost their lives. The second floor has war artefacts and enemy captured weapons.
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
This is one magnificent landmark, one cannot miss in the Leh landscape especially in the sunset hours. It is situated on a hillock just near to the Leh Palace. The monastery offers a breathtaking view of the Leh town and the snow capped Stok and Zanskar ranges. The monastery was built by king Tashi Namgyal in 1430 AD, who was a vivid follower of Buddhism. He built the monastery above his palace as a mark of respect. There is a gold idol of Maitra Buddha( Future Buddha), which is 3 storeys high. There is also a statue of Avalokitesvara and Manjushi which are one storey high.
The monastery is a favourite with photographers, as the light changes, you get different colours on the hillock, which gets to deep golden yellow as the sun sets.
This place has an exuberant charm. This place has that traveller vibes which gives a feeling of youth and freshness, that makes it a complete travellers corner in Leh. It has lots of travel offices,Internet cafes, Garden cafes, travel cafes catering to menus for people from all over the world. You will find lots of budget hotels offering clean accommodation here. During summers months this place is flooded with travellers from various countries. During these months a lots of meditation and yoga camps and classes keep happening here. It is in these cafes that plans for expeditions or for a trek across the Markha valley is made. It’s a world of it’s own. It is exotic to the locals and foreigners alike. There is something here for Indians and foreigners both. You have cafes which cater to foreign menus, and there are shops which have Indian things ,so there is a nice blend of cultures. Behind Chanspa you can go for short walks as there is less of traffic. There is an Ice skating ring here, which is bustling with activity once the ice forms during winter months. There is an Ice hockey tournament held here annually.
Call it optical illusion or something else. Imagine the movement of your vehicle uphill with the ignition turned off and the gear at neutral. This magic can be experienced on the highway connecting Srinagar with Leh at a place called magnetic hill which is 30 kilometres away from Leh. The elevation of the place is approx 14000 feet. There is also a big yellow coloured billboard which helps the travellers to recognise the site. There is also a marking on the road where you park your vehicle and then turn off the ignition. You can experience your vehicle moving up the slope. at the speed of 20 kms/hr.
A short drive away from the Leh bazar, or you can even walk this short distance. Unlike many forts which were constructed on steep hillocks, Zorawar fort is located on flat land. This fort was constructed by the famous High altitude warrior Gen. Zorawar singh in 1936. It was built for his brave Dogra soldiers who stood by him during his conquest. The fort is made up of local material like dried mud and wood. It has a area of about 27 acre. Each corners of he fort have towers which were used for observation.
There is a mosque, and a temple inside the fort.
Stok is beautiful village situated 14 kilometres southwest of Leh across the Indus River at the base of the Stok mountains. Stok is visible from almost all parts of Leh. Stok village is popular among travellers as it serves as a gateway for several famous treks and trails like the Stok Kangri expedition and the Markha valley trek. There are also various day hikes towards the Stok mountains from here.
Stok was also the erstwhile seat of the Ladakhi royal family. Descendants of the royal family still reside in this palace. The palace was built in the year 1825 by the king Tsespal Tondup Namgyal, who was the most recent ruler of Ladakh. The view from the palace is fabulous, as you can see the surrounding barley fields and white washed farm houses.There is also a Museum here. The museum has artefacts from the royal households, and ancient copper currency. There are also costumes, seals, prayer material, turquoise, old jewellery and traditional attires of the Royal family.
There are also thankhas that portray the life story and teachings of lord Buddha.
Timings for visiting Stok Palace
8.00 A.M to 1.00 P.M
2.00 P.M to 6.00 P.M.
Rooms are also available in the palace for guests.
This place is famous for it’s monastery. It is situated 18 kilometres from Leh on the Srinagar highway. The spituk gompa was founded in the 11th century by a monk Od-De. The gompa was named Spituk which means exemplary. The monastery is known for it’s 21 exquisite statues of Tara, the consort of Avlokitesvara all representing her different manifestations. There is a Mahakaal temple on the hill top containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. It is only in January, that the face of Vajrabhairava is unveiled during the annual festival.
The famous Spituk festival called Gustor is held every year on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th month of the Bodhi calendar.
It is mostly pronounced as Hamis in Ladakh. It is located 40 kms south east of the Leh town. In 1672 AD, the king Singhe Nampur Gyalva established the famous Hemis monastery. A colourful festival called Hemis Tsechu festival is celebrated here in july. Hemis has very limited pucca accomodation, most of the accomodation is tented. Some houses offer home stays.
HEMIS NATIONAL PARK
It is the biggest national parks in India covering an area of over 4400 sq kms. It was founded in the year 1981 in the catchment areas of Rumbak and Markha. This area has the highest snow leopard concentration in the world. The park has about 200 snow leopards. There are also many varieties of himalayan wild sheep and deers like Argali( Great Himalayan sheep), Bharal( Blue Sheep), and Shapu( ladakhi Urial). All these are in the food chain of the snow leopard. It is also home to the Asiatic Ibex, Tibetian Wolf and the red Himalayan fox. It is also a bird watcher’s dream destination. You can spot the Golden eagle, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Tibetian Snowfinch, Himalayan Snowcock, Robin Accentor and many more high altitude birds.
This region falls in the rain shadow region of the Himalayas, so it has very less precipitation. It can get very cold in winters and the temperatures can go as low as -25.
In the months of October and March snow leopard treks are organised so that people can get a chance to spot this magnificent creature in it’s natural habitat.
In the National park no hotels are available. There are 6 villages which come under the National Park.
These villages offer humble Homestay facilities. The monastery at Hemis also has some rooms for visitors.
Entry Fee and Permit.
The permit is available at the office of the Wildlife warden or the D.C Office at Leh. The fee is Rs. 20 for domestic and Rs 100 for Foreign nationals.
While driving towards Leh on the NH 1 highway, 107 kilometres from Kargil and 127 kms short of Leh is a picturesque village of Lamaruyu. The very first sight of a monastery perched on top of a golden yellow hillock, with the snow clad mountain backdrop is breathtaking. It is one of the most ancient monastery of Ladakh. it is said to have been built in the 10th century.
The monastery has Dukhang, a big assembly hall, Gonkhang, the temple and a residential area for monks. Walls of the monastery are painted with colourful images of buddhist deities. There is an annual festival by the name of Yuru Kabgyat is a major attraction for travellers. The major highlight of the festival is the mask dance by the monks. There is also a ritual in which effigies are burnt, which symbolises the destruction of ego in every individual. Lamayuru is also called “Tharpa Ling” which means the “Place of freedom.
Lamayuru is also famous for its moon like landscape. The best view is from the window of the monastery towards the East, and from the road 1/2 kilometres towards Kargil.
Lamayuru has a few budget type hotels, and a few home stays inside the village. The accommodation is humble, and you have the meals with the family in the dining area. There are a few small eating house which offer simple Indian meals and tibetan food.
Elevation 18380 feet
Imagine what it feels to hear your engine roar at 18000 feet. It’s a like a fantasy for bikers and motorist alike. Khardungla is 39 kms from the town of Leh, on the road which connects the Indus valley with the Shyok or the Nubra valley. The first 24 kilometres of the road till the South Pullu checkpoint are paved. From here till the North Pullu which lies 15 kms across Khardungla is primarily loose rock, mud and small patches of snow melts. You can encounter snow on the road once you are on top of the pass. Due to strategic importance of the road, this is mostly clear of any snow almost all through the year.
Khardungla has a billboard which claims it to be the highest motorable road in the world. This place has a cafeteria and a Souvenir shop run by the Indian army. You can have Tea, coffee,biscuits and instant noodles at reasonable prices. The Souvenir shop has T Shirts, cups, Key Chains, Plates etc which have “The world’s highest motor able road “ embedded on them.
If you feel some kind of nausea or mild sickness here, it’s because of the altitude. In such case please descend quickly. There is a Medical infirmary here run by the Army, which has all first aid facilities including Supplementary oxygen.
The land which is known for it’s white sand dunes, flowers, orchards, and double humped Bactrian camel. It was originally called Ldumra which means valley of flowers.
Nubra lies North east across the Khardungla pass from the town of Leh. The road is open through out the year. There is also another route over the Wari La from Sakti connecting the road to Nubra via Agham. The main town of Nubra valley named Diskit is 150 kilometres from Leh.
The view of the valley is picturesque and breathtaking. Nubra valley is high altitude cold desert which has very rare precipitation and scanty vegetation except along the river beds. The main river of the valley is Shyok. The Shyok river meets the Siachen River to form a broad valley on whose one side are the Ladakh ranges and other sides are the Karakoram mountains.
A journey across the high Khardungla, and then a descend towards North Pullu and ultimately into the wide valley makes your heart pound with excitement and thrill. The drive goes along the Shyok River and then you reach Diskit. Diskit is the headquarters of Nubra, so it more like an overgrown village which has a lot of government offices. There are ample hotels, guest houses, Home stays and tented campsites here.
Hundar sand dunes, Nubra Valley, Ladakh
Hunder is located 7 kilometres from Diskit. Till 2010 tourists were allowed to come as far as this place. The areas beyond this place was closed for tourism. Hunder is a quite little village with small houses, which are scattered. There is also ample amount of greenery near the village, because of the water of the streams. The thing which is interesting is the area huge area of white sand, which gives an impression of a desert. The formation of ripples on the small dunes with snow capped mountains in the horizon is amazing. On one side steep cliffy mountains, then white sand area, and a river flowing nearby just takes your breath away. Here you can find the rare double humped bactrian camel. You can take a ride on it for a decent sum.
Sumur is a quite and peaceful village in the Nubra valley. It has wonderful green and yellow mustard fields. It has the famous Samstemling Gompa, which was founded by Lama Tsultrin Nima about 150 years ago. Sumar also has it’s own sand dunes and camel rides. The road to Sumur bifurcates just before Diskit. It is 23 kilometres off the main road. There is also the village of Tegar near Sumur.
If you continue on the road ahead you will reach Panamik, which is surrounded by snow capped mountains. The scenic beauty and it’s hot sulphur springs attracts lots of visitors every year. Panamik is 22 kilometres from Sumur.
Turtuk is a tiny hamlet at the end of the road before the Line of control. It is the extreme corner of the Indian border, so it is a challenge reaching here. The road is treacherous at places after Hunder , and there are a lot of landslide areas. There are a lot of sensitive army bases here so permits were not issued before 2010. Now you get permits from the D.C. office in Leh to go there. The drive is along the River Shyok, and there are views of snow capped mountains all along the way. But once you reach Turtuk, you will forget the fatigue and you will know why this place is termed as heaven on earth. Turtuk is basically a muslim dominated village unlike buddhist dominated Ladakh. This village is also known for its wonderful, and welcoming people. It is also at a lower elevation than most habited Nubra. Unlike the barren landscape of Ladakh, Turtuk is full of green pastures. Apples, Apricots, Tomatoes, Cauliflowers and cabbages are grown in plenty. This place has a few humble home stays. Turtuk is still culturally intact and there are still very few visitors. In all Turtuk is a travellers paradise, here the smiles of the people are more sweeter than the apricots.
Karu is a place you cannot miss while on your journeys in Ladakh. While driving from Manali you get the first signs of habited Ladakh once you reach Karu. Karu is 430 kms from Manali, and 45 kms from Leh. From here a road bifurcates towards pangong lake across the mighty Changla pass. Karu has a petrol station now. There are a few dhabas and guest houses here. There is a check post here enroute Changla, where your passes are verified.
A view of Changla top with the Chang La baba temple.
Changla is 75 kilometres from Leh. At an elevation of 5360 metres ,it is the third highest motor able road assessable to ordinary civilians. The Changla is the gateway to the Changthang Eco zone, which is home to variety of flora and fauna. The road to Changla cuts from Karu. The road is of special significance to travellers because it comes enroute Pang gong tso. As you get on to of the pass you can hear the prayer flags fluttering in the cold air. There is a temple dedicated to Changla baba here. There is a cafeteria, which is run by the indian army, which offer a wonderful cup of free black tea. You can get a plate of hot steaming momos for a decent sum. There is also a souvenir shop here which sells mementos like T shirts, coffee cups, key chains etc. There is also a Medical centre which offers first aid and has supplementary oxygen. Chang La has a good amount of snow in winters, but the road remains clear although the year.
PANG GONG TSO
Pang gong is a beautiful lake located 150 kilometres from Leh across the Chang La. It is one of the most beautiful of places in the Himalayas, that will give you a experience of a life time. It is indeed bliss to be here. At an elevation of 4350 metres above sea level it is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the world.
It is 134 kilometres long and 5 kilometres at it’s widest. It’s total area is 604 sq kms. The lakes carries on for about 45 kilometres inside the Indian territory before it turns to the left. after that its chinese territory. The Line of control passes through this lake. It is an amazing fact that this lake is land locked. The dark blue waters, with the backdrop of golden yellow mountains reflecting in it, makes one of the most picturesque sites on the planet. The water is clear, but salty and cannot be used for drinking purposes. The villages that are on the banks of the lake are
Spangmik has more staying options than Lukang. There are quite a few home stay options, and a few luxury lodges. There are ample tented camps resorts. Maan has a luxury camping site along with a few budget camping sites. Maan is 9 kilometres from Spangmik. Merek has a few homestay comparatively. There are many camping and tented accommodation available at Pang gong lake from Lukung village (first settlement at the lake) till Spangmik ranging from Rs 500 to Rs. 3500 depending upon services like attached toilets, hot water, meals, and luxury inside the camp or tent. Man and Merek have limited accommodation. Merek has a green grassy belt next to the lake and is sparsely habited making it a popular destination for traveller who want to spend some time by themselves.
The sunset at the lake is more beautiful than the sunrise, but that does not stop you from having a morning walk along the lake. The Lake acts as a breeding ground for a variety of birds including a number of migratory birds. During summers the Bar headed goose and ducks are commonly seen here. The region around the lake supports a number of wild life species mainly the Kiang and Marmot.
There are a lot of spots where you can sit and relax near the lake. The ones till spangmik draw lots of visitors during summers, but as you go towards Merek, you get more solitary places. There is also a place where waves are formed like in the sea which is near Merek.
In winters the Pang gong lake freezes. It is a bliss to see this lake in frozen state. You can even walk on the lake. The temperatures can drop to -30 in winters making camping here very difficult near the lake, so you have to return to Leh or stay at Tangste.
Chushul is a viilage located between Nyoma and Pangong Tso at an elevation of 4360 metres in the Changthang province. This area is relatively less travelled. There is a vast stretch of dry barren valley before one reaches Chushul. One comes across this village, while taking the road journey from Tso Moriri towards Panggong Tso. You need a special permit to take this route and you can by stopped anytime by the Indian Army. This is because Chushul is one of the 4 official BPM (Border Personnel Meeting ) points between the Indian and the chinese army, when ever tension arises on the border. Regular interactions take place here to defuse face off situations.
Chushul has a Govt rest house.
Chushul is also remembered for its significance during the Indo China war of 1962. Nearby is the Famous Rezang La, famous for it’s War memorial of the 114 brave soldiers of the C Company of 13th Kumaon regiment , who fought till their last on November. 18,1962. The Company was headed by Maj. Shaitan Singh, whose supreme courage, leadership, and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man. On the memorial there are the words, which reads :
“How can a man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his Fathers and the temple of his Gods,
To the sacred memory of the Heroes of Rezang La,
114 Martyrs of 13 Kumaon who fought to the last man.
Last round, Against Hordes of Chinese on 18 November 1962.
Built by All Ranks of 13th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment”
Nyoma is a beautiful village on the banks of River Indus in the Changthang region at an elevation of 4235 metres. . It is 23 kilometres from Mahe bridge. The village has a forest rest house and a few home stays. Nyoma is a destination popular with traveller going to Hanle or Tso Moriri.
Hanle 150 kilometres from Mahe bridge. It is approx. 275 kms from leh. You have to cross Nyoma and then take the bridge to the right from Loma. You can reach Hanle from Panggong Lake via Tsage La. Hanle does not fall in a first time traveller’s priority list. How ever for travellers searching for solitude, and quietness and for those who want to explore into the scenic landscape and have ample time, this is the place. Changthang valley has some amazing landscapes, which one can experience while travelling from Mahe bridge towards Hanle.
Hanle also as an Astronomical Observatory, which at an elevation of 4500 metres is one of the highest in the world. The valley is ideally suited for astronomy. The Valley is wide and there is very less precipitation. The diameter of the telescope is about 2 metres. The observatory is operated from Bengaluru by the Indian institute of Astrophysics.
Hanle has a monastery which has it’s own unique charm. The monastery dates back to the 16th century. It belongs to the “Red Hat” Tibetan Drukpa Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism.
The small hamlets of Khuldo and Punguk are located near Hanle. Due to it’s proximity to the sensitive border with China, You have to take special Inner line permits for visiting this place. The permits are available at D.C office, Leh.
This is nature’s one of the most exquisite creation in the western Himalayas. . Tso moriri is a beautiful high altitude lake in the changtang area of eastern Ladakh. It is secluded in the Rushpu valley about 245 kilometres from Leh. At an altitude of 4522 mtrs above sea level , it is approx. 23 kilometres long and 4 to 7.5 Kilometres wide. The heritage village of Korzok overlooks the lake. The thing that makes this lake special, is that this lake is a High altitude wetland conservation site, which is governed by the Ramsay convention held in Iran. This means that this is a protected site e.i. you cannot camp and pitch your tents near the lake. This has helped in maintaining the 🙂 natural beauty around this picturesque lake . Infact before Korzok the area near to the lake is fenced ,because there are many migratory bird here. Once you cross Korzok you can go anywhere near the lake.
It’s a delight to be here.There are lesser amount of tourists here as compared to Pangong lake. This place has more to explore. One can just leave his car behind at Korzok and go for a long stroll towards the lake or up the small hillocks , from where you can have a mesmerising view of the ink blue waters. The lake has a back drop of barren mountains which rise up to 6000 metres,the summits of which are covered with snow.
This place has lots of camps which have tent accommodation. There are a few guest houses and home stays. Make sure to select one which gives you a clear view of the lake. Get up early in the morning and take a walk or just be near the lake. It’s just living the moment. You have to be there to feel it. Tso Moriri is open from Arpil till late October. The entire lake freezes in winters.
There are various routes to reach Tso moriri. The most prominent being from Leh towards Karu, then taking the road to Mahe bridge and eventually reaching Korzok.This is 245 kms. There is a another route which bifercates from the more plains through the villages of Tsokar and Puga. This takes around 5 hrs.There is another exiting route which starts from the village of Merek beside the Pangong lake through Chushul. This one is the road less taken. It passes through desolate places ,close to the Indo Chinese border. The famous Renzengla falls on this route. This route requires special Inner Line Permit, which can be had from the D.C Office Leh.
Elevation 4100 mtrs.
This location is of strategic importance for travellers venturing into the Changthang region . Mahe bridge is 140 kms from Leh, and 100 kms from Karu. Tso morari is 80 kms from here. From here if you cross over the bridge , you will reach Sumdo, 12 kms from here, which is enroute Tso Moriri . If you go straight , the road goes to Hanle. Hanle is about 150 KMs from Mahe and the road runs through Nyoma and then Loma, where you need to pass the bridge on right that takes you to Hanle further 50 Kms ahead of Loma. Permits are checked and your names and vehicle no is entered here.
Kargil is located at an elevation of 2676 metres, on the banks of the Indus River. It is the second biggest town in Ladakh after Leh. It is 205 Km from Srinagar on NH 1D. It is 246 Km from Leh. Kargil fascinates you with its purple to yellow golden mountains surrounding it. The town is relatively greener than the otherwise barren Ladakh terrain. If you have to travel the 434 Km Srinagar Leh route, Kargil is an ideal place to take a nights halt before taking the second leg of the journey. It is a quite little town with a market which caters to all types of requirements. It is also a base station if you want to venture into the beautiful Suru Valley for trekking and mountaineering activities.
People in Kargil are of mixed Dard and Tibetan descent. Most are Baltis. The inhabitants of Kargil were adherents of Tibetan Buddhism until the 14th-15th centuries when Muslim missionaries began to proselytise to the local people. Today, 90% of Kargil’s population are Shia Muslim, 5% Sunni and 5% Tibetan Buddhist. The architecture of older mosques in Kargil combines Tibetan and Mughal styles.
Suru Valley is situated at an average elevation of 3000 metres. It is one of the most scenic and beautiful valleys in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas. This valley is on every adventure seekers travel list, because of the road journey it offers along the breathtaking valley, and the expeditions to the 7000 sister peaks of Nun and Kun. The River Suru, which is a tributary of the River Indus flows through this valley.
The Suru valley is the gateway to Zanskar from Kargil Side. The road which goes through the Suru valley, continues into the Zanskar region across the Penzi La(14000 feet) pass till Padum.
The area is is habited by the Tibetian Dard community, who are Muslims. They converted into Islam during the 15th century. The people are extremely hard working and agriculture is the primary occupation of the people.
The main Hamlets in the valley are
Sankoo is located at an altitude of 9524 feet, 42 kilometres from Kargil.It is one of the most developed village in the Suru valley. The village has lots of greenery in and around it. There is a dense plantation of Mycarea, Willows and Poplars. The Valley is bowl shaped, and the greenery actually looks like clustered in one place. The vegetation is primarily because of a steam tributary of the Suru River flowing through this village. You will get very basic accommodation in Sankoo in the form of simple Home stays and guest houses. There is a JK Tourism Bunglow. There are a few eating houses which offer simple indian and tibetan dishes.
Panikhar is 68 kilometers from Kargil. Panikhar is also a lush green valley. It is a scenic village with breathtaking views of snow covered mountain peaks and glaciers. The Road crosses Suru River over a bridge and after passing a few villages again crosses the river. Immediately after crossing the river one can see the Nun Kun Massif in the distance. All the activity connected with climbing Nun and Kun take place in Panikhar. The traditional route to Nun and Kun is from a place called Tangole, which is just beyond Panikhar. The road is paved till Panikar. The next major Village is Rangdum which is 62 Kilometre from here. The condition of the road starts to worsen and the paved road becomes a dirt track. Panikar has a J.K tourism bungalow, and a few guest houses.
Rangdum is located at an elevation of 3657 metres, 120 kilometres from kargil in the Suru valley. It is surrounded by snow capped mountains on one side, and rocky cliffs on the other side. It is a small Hamlet with barely a dozen houses. There are a few home stays and guest houses here. There is also a J.K Tourism Bungalow and a P.W.D rest house here. If you want to visit Padam across the Penzi La, this is the perfect place for a night halt. Rangdum is also famous for it’s 18th century Random Monastery.
Penzi La is the 14000 feet high mountain pass, which connects the Suru valley with the Zanskar Valley. There is a dirt and rock filled road up to the pass. The ascend is moderate. Two small lakes called Statso-lang and tso Kartse Khar is just before Penzi La. Penzi La is open from June to October. Padam lies 00 kilometres from here. Padam is the main town of Zanskar region. Padam is more famous for being the last destination of the world famous Chadar trek.