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Ladakh

It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India. Historically, the region included the Indus Valley, the remote Zanskar to the south, and Nubra valleys to the north over Khardung La in the Ladakh mountain range. Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahul and Spiti to the south, Kashmir to the west, and Central Asia to the north. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and Buddhist culture which was established as early as the 2nd century. This has given rise to the appellation "Little Tibet", as it has strongly been influenced by the culture of Tibet. Despite its rugged terrain and remoteness explorers, preachers, spies, soldiers and tourists have traversed the region for centuries. Many of them have written books based on their observations and experiences which provide wealth of information about social , cultural and political life of the region for different periods. During its long history, Ladakh was exposed to the cultures of its neighboring regions and its centuries of composite culture has found expression in its monuments, monasteries, folklore, oral literature, art forms and festivals. With the passage of time, it evolved its own unique culture and it possesses a vigorous cultural identity. The monasteries of Ladakh are treasure-house of rare statues exquisite wall paintings, ancient thankas (Painting on cloth) , precious antique pieces and artifacts.

Tourist Places


Kargil
This area lies just behind the Zoji La Pass, and the center is Kargil, a small town with cobbled streets surrounded by apricot groves. Good panoramas of the Himalaya can be obtained on 03-04 day treks from Sanko to Drass via Umba, and on the more demanding Sanko to Mulbek via the Wakka La Pass at 4,930m.
Indus Valley
Indus Valley, At an average elevation of 3500 m is sand-witched between the Zanskar Range on its South and the Ladakh Range on its North, This is the geographical backbone, and the historical heartland of Ladakh. All major sites connected with its dynastic history are here, starting with Leh, the capital city. The bulk of the population resides along the Indus. Its main attraction are the numerous Buddhist monasteries, quaint villages, fairs , festivals and bazars. Air and road communications converge at Leh.
Zanskar Valley
One of Ladakh’s remotest regions. A 300 km long valley ringed by mountains, only accessible by high passes. The Valley of Zanskar is situated in the inner Himalaya and is higher than most areas of Ladakh. The climate is very Harsh and receives very little rain fall. The twin peaks of Nun-Kun, its Monasteries and its extremely rugged, awe-aspiring landscape are its main attractions.
Padum Valley
Padum Valley, Padum the capital of the ancient kingdom of Zanskar, Padum (3505 m) is the present day administrative headquarters of the region. With a population of nearly 1500, Padum can be described as the most populous settlement of Zanskar, otherwise a very scarcely inhabited valley. Incidentally, it is only in Padum that there is a community of Muslims constituting nearly half the township's population, its origin in the area dating from mid 17th century. Lately, Padum has become a famous as a major trekking base and a popular tourist destination. Several places of tourist interest in the vicinity of the township can be visited in the course of entertaining walks. The nearest monument is a set of ancient rock carving on a huge boulder near the river bank, just below the old township. These dates from the 8th century and provide epigraphic evidence that the region was under the influence of North Indian Buddhism since ancient times. The Starrimo monastery with about 30 resident monks clings to a tree-covered ridge above the old town. Across the expanse of cultivation lies the old village of Pibiting, dominated by its picturesque hilltop monastery, a superb manifestation of stupa architecture.
Rangdum Valley
The farthest and the most isolated part of the Suru Valley, Rangdum is an elliptical expanded plateau surrounded by colourful hills on the one side and glacier encrusted rocky mountains on the other. Situated 130 kms South- east of Kargil, it falls midway between Kargil and Padum. Due to its remoteness from inhabited parts either of Suru or Zanskar, the areas wild beauty is almost haunting, while its isolation is near perfect even as the unpaved Zanskar road traverses its length. The chief attraction of this area is an imposing 18th century Buddhist monastery with about 40 monks in residence. Perched picturesquely atop a centrally rising hillock which is entrenched around by the bifurcated course of a wild mountain stream, the Rangdum monastery has the aura of an ancient fortification guarding a mystical mountain valley. The villagers are descendents of the monastery's agricultural, serf-tenants, who do not own any land in the region. The monastery enjoys perpetual and unalienable ownership of the entire valley including the fields tilled by the villagers, the pastures, hills and even the streams. Rangdum also serves as an important trekking base. The most popular trek from here leads to Henaskut near Lamayuru, across the spectacular gorge of the kanji valley. This 5-day trek also forms the last leg of the two week long trans-Himalayan traverse between Kashmir and Ladakh.
How to reach
Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila,.
Phugthal Valley
The Phugthal complex spills out of the mouth of a huge cave high up in the sheer mountain face of a lateral gorge through which a major tributary of the southern Lungnak (Lingti-Tsarap) River flows. Perhaps, the most isolated monastic establishment of Zanskar, its foundation date back to the early 12th century ; at least one old chappel, among the several several of which it is composed, has frescos and ceiling decorations reflecting strong Indian artistic and iconographic influence. Phugthal is accessible from the Padum-Manali trekking route through a 7 km long trail that branches off from the Purney Bridge on the main trail. A visit to Phugthal, including Bardan and Muney monasteries enroute, makes a good 5-days round trek from Padum. Alternatively, one can add one extra day to Padum-Manali trekking itinerary to include a day-return visit to this unique monastic establishment inhabited by a resident community of about 40 monks.
How to Reach
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a thrice weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Stongdey, Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar or Parkachik onwards.
Stongdey Valley
The monastery of Stongdey lies 18 kms. To the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. An old foundation associated with the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa, Stongdey is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar, inhabited by the resident community of about 60 Gelukpa monks. The sprawling whitewashed complex has a number of temples, each a repository of the region's rich monastic legacy. Stongdey can be reached by foot in about 4 hours along the recently laid rough road. The climb up to the monastery is rather strenuous, but it is worth the trouble for the breathtaking scenery of the valley available from here.
How to Reach
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a thrice weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Stongdey, Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar or Parkachik onwards. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.
Sankoo Valley
A picturesque expanse surrounded by colorful rocky mountains, Sankoo is an upcoming township with a small bazaar (42 kms south of Kargil) and numerous villages around. Dense plantations of poplars, willows, myricarea and wild roses fill the bowl shaped valley, giving it the ambience of a man-made forest tucked within the mountain ramparts. Two side valleys drained by large tributary streams of the Suru river, the Kartse flowing from the east and the Nakpochu descending from the west, open up on either side of the expanse. The Karste Valley runs deep into the eastern mountains mass with a large number of isolated villages tucked within its course. The 4-day trek between Sankoo and Mulbek follows this valley; the route passes through some very beautiful alpine areas on the way the 4950 m high Rusi-la . The high altitude settlement of Safi and its mixed Buddhist-Muslim population is struck between the Rusi-la and the Shafi-la over which the final leg of the trek passes before entering the Mulbek valley. A southward diversion from the foot of the Rusi-la leads to Rangdum across the glaciated Rangdum pass where the Karste River rises. The 3-day trek to Drass across the Umba-la (3350 m) follows the western valley. Sankoo is a very popular among local picnic lovers who throng the area from Kargil town and other places. Locally it is also popular as a place of pilgrimage to the ancient shrines of Muslin scholar-saint, Sayed Mir Hashim, who was specially invited from Kashmir for imparting religious teachings to the region's Buddhist ruler, Thi-Namgyal of the Suru principality, following his conversion to Islam during the 16th century. The shrine is situated in the village of Karpo-Khar on the outskirts of Sankoo where the chief had his summer palace.
How to Reach
Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila.
Suru Valley
Suru Valley, One of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh , the Suru Valley forms the mainstay of Kargil district. Lying nestled along the north-eastern foothills of the great Himalayan Wall, it extends from Kargil town, first southward for a length of about 75 Kms Upto the expanse around Panikhar, thence eastward for another stretch of nearly 65 kms upto the foot of the Penzila watershed where the Suru valley rises. Its composite population of about 30,000 -- mainly of Tibeti-Darad descent -- are Muslims who had converted their Buddhist faith around the middle of the 16th century. The upper valley reaches of the valley, particularly around the Sankoo bowl, the Panikhar expense and the higher stretch beyond, present a spectacle of breathtaking features-majestic mountain ramparts crowned by snow capped peaks, undulating alpine slopes draining into wild mountain streams of foaming cascades of pristine water, awesome glaciers descending along the Himalayan slopes to the river bed in riverine formation, Quaint villages of adobe houses straggling dry hillocks surrounded by large tracts of lush crops downward the patches of alpine pastures uphill. The beauty of this region is further enhanced by the sheer contrast provided by the towering peaks of Kun (7035 m) and Nun (7135 m) which loom over the skyline in their crystalline majesty.
How to Reach
Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila.
Pangong Lake
The 160 km trip to Pangong Lake from Leh is a wonderful experience. It begins with Thiksey village famous for its huge monasteries covering an entire mountain ridge. Beyond this remote village there is nothing but the extreme mountain ridge. Beyond this remote village there is nothing but the extreme mountain ranges for company. The topography throughout the journey shoots up so abruptly that they throw off all calculations of distance - what looked to be a ten-minute crossing easily required an hour or more. At times, it appeared as if so many of nature's forces were warning us away at the steep slopes and uneasy bends and not to forget the great chunks of ice appearing static and frozen in time. At Darbuk village near Tangste Valley stood a chain of war memorials with Regimental Insignias in commemoration of the soldiers who lost their lives during the Indo-Chinese war of 1962. Some of the army bunkers and trenches are still in use. Villagers can be seen here along with their large herds of Pashmina sheep and long tailed yaks. The placid Pangong Lake is not just a tourists paradise but a geologist's domain too and if one is to brush up with political history, the place is a melting pot of confusion and for sure it in no fun for the army in the biting cold to take care of the strategic landscape.
Tsomoriri
Tsomoriri or "Mountain Lake" is situated in the middle of the elevated valley of Rupshu surrounded by 6000 m peaks which completely surrounds the lake. This valley is inhabited by a small scattered population of "Changpas" nomadic shepherds who also engage in trade and work in caravans in Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti. The Area is rich in wildlife including the "Kyang" (wild ass), red fox and the rare, highly endangered, snow leopard. Black necked cranes and geese flock to the lakeside for breeding during the summer months. It also houses 350 years old Karzok monastery which has about 33 resident monks.