December 24th, 2020
Zanskar forms the west and the south western region of ladakh, part of kargil district. Zanskar is the only Buddhist majority sub region in the Kargil district. Zanskar is the only Buddhist majority sub-region in the kargil district, which has otherwise about 85% Muslim population. Zanskar valley is the most isolated of all the regions of ladakh. Padum(3505m) is the headquarter of zanskar block. Entire zanskar is in fact a trekker’s paradise. The road that links Kargil and Padum also remain cut-off for about six to eight months in a year. The region does not any air link with other parts of the country, except for emergency purpose. From July to October, in the peak tourist season taxis may be hired from kargil. Bus services on the route is also available from leh and or kargil. The schedule of buses can be checked locally. The padum valley is a wide plain where two rivers; Stod from north-west and Tsarap river from south-east meet to form the zanskar river which flows towards north to join the Indus at Nemo. It is on this Zanskar river, that the famous Chaddar trek is carried out in winter, in which one walks on the thick sheet of ice on the frozen river. The same frozen trek also provides communication link to the people living in zanskar to come to leh for pilgrimage or their day to day activities. Ther are many small villages scattered in zanskar region, some of the monasteries here are quite well known. But since many of the villages in the region are not linked by road, approach to these monasteries is only available on foot. Some of the monasteries which have road link are: karsha, which is the largest Gelugpa monastery of zanskar, about 9 km from padum. It is situated on the base of the hill with a beautiful view of whole padum valley. Stongde monastery, about 18 km away from padum, is situated high on a hill which gives a panoramic view of the region. It is the second largest gelugpa monastery in zanskar. Bardan monastery is 12 away in lungnak valley.
Zanskar circuit: Leh-Padum(474 km)
from leh to kargil it is the same route. The next stage from kargil to padumfor about 24o km is almost a mud trackthroughout the stretch. Make sure you are well prepared with your basic necessity, including fuel for your return trip. For about first 100 km of the journey, the road meanders through the Suru Valley. The suru valley once considered to be the granary of ladakh. The scenic beauty of the green valley amply compensates you for the inconvenience of your bumpy ride. The road remains open from around july to October and may even stretch to December depending upon the weather. If you are travelling direct from leh, a night stay at kargil is recommended, however pushing further into the suru valley, even upto panikhar will be more logical.in case you want to do the journey at leisure you may break for the night at rangdum, but that means one more day.
KARGIL-PANIKHAR/PARKACHIK (67/90 km): From kargil you return south about 40 km ahead, the first major village is sankoo(2960m). There are several little shops and restaurants. The off-shoot valley to the east, across the suru river, is the kartse valley. Kartse kharon the mouth of the valley, has a 7 m tall sculpture of the future buddha of 7-8th century. There is a shrine of Sayed Mir Hashim, a 16th century scholar. After about 25 km is another village Panikhar(3180m), situated under the shadow of the nun kun massif. Panikhar along with Parkachik is the base for expedition to Nun Kun peaks. Just before parkachik you cross the young suru river to its right. From village suru there is another roadto village parkachik which runs on the right of the suru river.
Info panikhar and parkachik: It is a base station for undertaking mountaineering expedition to the various himalayan peaks surrounding the valley, but too early for the night halt on way to zanskar. Tourist rest house and a tourist bungalow is available at suru. There is another tourist bungalow at Panikhar. There is couple of restaurants and shops with basic necessity. Taxi and busses for kargil are available here. Parkachik(3450m) 20km further from panikhar is the perfect base for trekking and expedition in the Nun-Kun area. There is a tourist hut, and a PWD rest house. However amenities like shop, hotel or restaurant are lacking.
Parkachik-rangdum(43km): parkachik is about 20 km from Panikhar. Here you can see the mighty Parkachik glacier disappearing in the tiny suru river. From parkachik it is about 20km you reach the first major village of zanskar, Rangdum(3657m) situated in the midst of large alluvial plain, surrounded by beautiful peaks.
Info Rangdum: Although the hamlets itself is collection of few houses, the monastery is the center of the wide plain is impressive. This is an 18th century Buddhist monastery of gelugpa order. Rangdum is also the base for major trekking routes in the area. There is tourist complex and some guest house too, if you do not wish to tent in the ethereal ambience of the beautiful valley. There is also a police check-post. No shops, except a tea stall which may provide food on demand.
Rangdum to Karsha(112 km): From rangdum it is about 25 km to Pensi la pass(4400m) which forms the watershed of stod and suru rivers, both being tributaries of river Indus. Right on the pass are two small lakes and a solitary chorten. From this point you can have theview of magnificent Drang-Drung glacier, which looks as if in motion. After siachen, it is the second largest glacier in ladakh. After crossing Pensi la, you enter the zanskar valley. From here start the last stretch of about 90 km road, which runs along the Stod or Doda river, leading to padum. There are several tiny hamlets, the interesting ones are himilung, phe, rantaksha and rimala. One should make a detour to visit dzongskul monastery, situated in the gorge of tributary of the Doda river which descends opposite to the village of phe. At tungri you cross the stod and enters sani village.
Info padum: Padum(3505m) is infact a point where trekker end or start their journey. There are sufficient hotel and restaurants to cater to the small number of tourist which come at this far flung place. Enough camping sites are available on the wide green plains. There is also a market, where you can buy some of your basic goods if planning a trekking, but do not expect everything. Amenities include local taxis, phone, police post, post office, a tourist bungalow. There are also a coupleof travel agents who can arrange you ponies, guides and other services. Bus services from padum to nearby villages are also available. There is helicopter services available at padum in emergencies. Zangla is a nodal point on the popular padum stongdey zangla karsha padum round trip which covers most of the cultural sites of zanskar. The old rope suspension bridge spanning the tumultuous Zanskar river near Zangla, a rare feat of folk engineering, still exists, though no more in use. The river is n ow crossed by foot bridge, to reach karsha. Zangla is also the take off point for the Padum-Lamayuru and the padum-markha valley trek. There is a road under construction into the lungnak valley, last time it was motorable upto ichar village. It is just a days walk upto phugtal. There are 8th century rock cravings scattered on the upperside of the padum town. One on a big boulder on the bank of the Tsarap stream is impressive.
MONASTERIES OF ZANSKAR
Rangdum Gonpa: The small fortified monastery perched on a small mound in the middle of the vast green plain is impressive in its own right. The main gateway leads to a small courtyard with a chorten in the middle and with monk’s quarters on the side and dukhang in the front. As usual it has rows of seats with an avalokishwara and that of geleg yeshe takpa. A smaller room has an image of sakyamuni Buddha and tsonkhapa. The gohkhang as the protector deites. A small museum has a various collection of seemingly old thangkas,arms, manuscript and a collection of fossils of many ancient marine animals which apparently were unearthed during the digging at monastery.
Sani Gonpa: Sani Gonpa is famous for its monastery and particularly the stupa that is claimed to be the oldest in ladakh. This stupa is believed to have been constructed during kushan period. There is a myth associated with this stupa as some person believed that it was magically constructed by the force of Ashoka’s prayer. Sani monastery itself was constructed during the reign of deskyong namgial(1729-39) Guru Padmasambhava and Naropa is said to have visited sani. The whole complex is surrounded by walls. The gonpa consist of a huge multi-columned central prayer hall housing an array of statues of popular Buddhist divinities and drukpa saints. The main image is of sakyamuni, on either side are rows of images, namely four armed Avalokiteswara and the Buddhas of the past, present and future, and eleven headed Avalokiteswara and padmasambhava. Interesting frescoes, however, can be seen in a small,almost discarded temple room at the back of the main building, whose walls are adorned with stucco murals of sakyamuni, several lamas, and different manifestation of padmasambhava.
Zangla temple: It is located in a ruined fort above the village. The temple may not seem significant unless a little mention of history here. It is here that in one of its tiny rooms that the Hungarian scholar, Csoma De Koros spent his winter in 1823. He became the first European to study Tibetan systematically and regarded as the founder of modern tibetology. In 2011 we saw more than a dozen Hungarians renovating this fort and the room where Csoma stayed.
Zongskul Gonpa: Zongskul also has a spectacular cave monastery and falls on the padum-kishtwar trail.the monastery is situated like a swallow’s nest on the rock face of the ating gorge. It is said to be founded by Naropa, who meditated in a cave above monastery. A footprint on the rock near ingress of the lower cave is revered as that of the yogi. The cave also has a statue of Naropa and one of Vajradhara. The frescos on the cave walls are very old and reflect a high degree of artistic achievement. There are various thangkas of interest.
Karsha Gonpa: Karsha gonpa is the largest gelukpa gonpa in zanskar, situated on a steep gradient of the mountain base, overlooking the valley up to Padum. The entire complex has number of temple rooms, only some of the major ones are mentioned here, the courtyard has approaches to two halls, the dukhang on the western side and dukhang yokmaon the eastern. The monastery is associated with phagspa shesrab, the zanskar lotsava of 11th century, but the monastery itself dates back to 15th century when gelukpa order was introduced. The main Dukhang has number of images including Sakyamuni buddha, Tsongkhapa and Dorje shugdan. The lower dukhang contains a statue of maitreya and Tibetan canon on the left side along with images of sakyamuni, Amitabha, Vijaya, Tara. The wall painting depicts scenes from life of Sakyamuni Buddha, Availokiteswara, Tara and Manjusiri. The Gonkhang is next to the Dukhang. The images include a wooden tsonkhapa. On the right side is a group of divinities particularly of gelukpa order. It also include Vaisvaravana and Dhrirarashtra. These include paldan lamo(sri devi), six-armed mahakala, Dharmaraja, Vajrabharava, white guardian. The wall paintings include: to the left of entrance; Vijaya(Namgyal ma), four armed Mahakala, Vajrapani and Hyagriya. The left wall has Buddhas and Bodhisattavas. The Kanjur lakhang containing holy books with Tsonkhapa, Tara, Manjusiri etc on the walls. Another temple contains statues of Tsonkhapa with his two disciples. The other temple room include: Labrang with a statue of Maitreya and Avalokiteswara. The mural, considered one of the best depicts five different manifestation of buddha and prajnaparamita. Maitreya’s temple at the lower end has an mural of maitreya and in the front of the statue of Availokiteswara. The walls has tsonkhapa, Padmasambhava, Dharmaraja, Sakyamuni Buddha. By the door are four kings of the quarters. A separate temple of eleven-headed Availokiteswara is on a hillside below the old fort. This is one of the best surviving temples in zanskar.
Stongday gompa About 20 km gfrom padum, the monastery is situated on a small hill giving a commanding view of the entire valley below. The gonpa, founded by Marpa, is the second largest monastic establishment of zanskar belonging to gelukpa order
Phugtal gompa phugtal gompa is considered to be the most spectacularly located monastery in ladakh. There is a jeepable tract up to reru. From there, it is a couple of days trek. The place is worth a visit not only for its monastery, but for the zanskari’s austere lifestyle. It is perhaps the most isolated monastic establishment of zanskar, and maydate back to 11th century. The monastery is situated picturesquely at the mouth of large cave above the right bank of the river Tsarap. The buildings seem to hang from the cliff face around the lip of the majestic cavern opening over thepicturesque gorge. One of the chapel, among the several of which it is composed, has frescos and ceiling decorations reflecting strong Indian artistic and iconographic influence. These frescos are almost contemporaneous to those at alchi monasteries. The Kanjur lakhang contains block-prints, with murals of manjusiri, Sakyamuni and Tsongkhapa on the walls. The tonpa lakhang has the murals resembling decoration of tabo, of Indian and kashmiri inspiration. On the wall are tsongkahapa surrounded by Buddhas and lamas, Bhaishajyaguru, vajrapani, guhyasamaja and four armed avalokiteswara, green tara and white guardian. The central image is of Sakyamuni. The Gonkhang has protective deities. There is also an assembly hall and a Maitreya temple with two meter high statue of him.
Staying options in Zanskar Valley are sparse and and the only choices of accommodation during your holiday here are in the form of government run tourist bungalows or simple guest houses or homestays. However Padum, the headquarters of the Zanskar region, is the only place where one can find a three star hotel and a few other decent hotels.The tourist bungalows are run by J&K Government and can be found in places like Sankoo, Panikhar, Parkachik and Rangdum. Another option for accommodation in Zanskar are homestays. For hotels information visit at www.gotel.in
At a minimal cost, one can get room reservation and three-times meals in a home of a local person at many places in Zanskar. One can also get himself a room booked in the monasteries here. Karsha and Phutkal Monasteries, both allow guests to rent a room. Camp accommodation is also possible, there is also a chance that one can pitch one’s own tent.Despite of the less availability of the accommodation in Zanskar, Tour My India promises to manage the best place for your stay. We ensure the hotel chosen by us is well equipped to provide basic necessities at a reasonable price. We also offer some incredible holiday packages in Ladakh, in which you have the opportunity to enjoy the best of this beautiful yet stark destination.
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