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Places in Ladakh

Basgo
About 80 kms. west of Leh, Basgo was the capital of lower Ladakh before the kingdom was united at Leh. Until recently, this fascinating World Heritage Site was crumbling into dust, but UNESCO and the Basgo Welfare Committee have joined forces to restore the ancient citadel compound. Today, Basgo's Chamba Gompa is one of the highlights of the Indus Valley. The mural work inside has been

Basgo, Ladakh

spectacularly restored using traditional colours and techniques, images of Bodhisattvas and celestial beings even cover the ceiling. The main building contains a two-storey statue of Maitreya and there is a second gompa just downhill with another outsized Maitreya statue. The ruins of the citadel are scattered across the surrounding hill. Basgo has no place to eat or sleep but there are roadhouses for meals in nearby Nimmu, 2 kms. back towards Leh near the confluence of the green Indus and the murky brown Zanskar river. A road is slowly being built from here to Padum in Zanskar.

 

Central Ladakh: the Cultural Heartland
The geographical backbone of Ladakh, the Indus Valley, particularly from Upshi down to Khalatse, is also the region's historic heartland. All the major sites connected with the former kingdom's dynastic history are here, starting with Leh, the capital city since the early 17th century when Sengge Namgyal built its nine-storey palace. A few kilometers up the Indus is Shey, the most ancient capital, with its palace and temples, their vibrantly coloured murals cleaned and restored in the mid 1980. Basgo,

Indus Valley, Ladakh

situated down the river and right on the road and Tingmosgang, a short way up a side-valley, served as capital cities when the country was temporarily divided into two parts in the 15th century, and both have the remains of forts and temples dating from the period of their brief glory. Stok, just across the river from Leh, is the village with which the deposed royal family was compensated for the loss of its throne. Its palace houses a museum of artifacts associated with the dynasty, and there is also a small gompa.

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Drass
Drass (3230 m), is situated about 60 kms. west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar. Drass is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name. Drass is the first village after the Zoji La pass. It has become famous as the second coldest inhabited place in the world due to the intense cold and snowfall that descends upon the valley during winters. In winters, the temperature sometimes go down to minus 50 degrees and heavy snow and strong winds cut off the town.

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Kargil
Kargil (2704 m), situated about 204 kms from Srinagar in the west and 234 kms from Leh in the east, is the second largest urban centre of Ladakh and headquarters of the district of same name. The town lies nestling along the rising hillside of the lower Suru basin. Two tributaries of the Suru River that meet here are the Drass and Wakha. The broad Kargil basin and its wide terraces are separated from the Mulbekh valley by the 12 kms. long Wakha

Kargil, Ladakh

gorge. The land available along the narrow valley and also the rising hillsides are intensively cultivated in neat terraces which grow barley, wheat, peas, a variety of vegetables and other cereals. Kargil is famous for the fine apricots grown here. In May the entire countryside becomes awash with fragrant white apricot blossoms while August, the ripening fruit lends it an orange hue. A quite town now, Kargil once served as important trading and transit centre on the two routes, from Srinagar to Leh and to Gilgit and the lower Indus Valley. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise of silk, brocade, carpets, felts, tea, poppy, ivory etc. transited in the town on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarkand and Kashmir. The old bazaar displayed a variety of Central Asian and Tibetan commodities even after the cessation of the Central Asian trade in 1949 till these were exhausted about two decades back. Similarly the ancient trade route passing through the township was lined with several caravanserais.

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Leh
Leh, the capital of Ladakh is spreading rapidly in all directions. Leh is situated in a fertile side valley of the Indus river at an altitude of 3521 meters, towards the eastern parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the 17th century Leh has been the capital of the Ladakh region. Leh and Indus Valley are earlier capitals of the region. The centre is about 10 km from the river. It was

developed as an important trading post and market and attracted a wide variety of merchants from Yarkand, Kashgar, Kashmir, Tibet and northern India. Tea, salt, household articles, wool and semi-precious stones were all sold and bought in the city which became a hub for the business traveler to South Asia. While Leh has come a long way from the time when most of the activities took place on its main street, it still retains its pleasant traditional

Leh Gompa, Ladakh

quality. Due to tourism, there are various hotels and guest houses in the city. Tourism has certainly had the impacts on the society of Leh. The best season to visit Leh is from May to November. From traveler by road we recommend to check if the road is open before to proceed. We recommend to carry plenty of warm clothes. When the sun is up it gets quite hot but in the shade it can still be very cold. Leh is a beautiful destination with so many attractions and is the center of Tibeto-Buddhist Culture for ages. Its colorful gompas have attracted the devout Buddhists from all over the globe. Besides, it is also a favorite hiking locale and is known for some of the best hikes in the country.

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Nubra Valley
The Nubra Valley, once on the trading route that connected eastern Tibet with Turkistan via the famous Karakoram Pass has been opened recently to the tourists. The Nubra Valley literally means the valley of flowers. Nubra Valley is situated in the north of Leh. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 feet above the sea level. The Khardong village, Khalser and Deskit are the main villages of Nubra valley. At first glance, the valley seems parched and dry, but this is prime farming

Nubra Valley, Ladakh

land by Ladakhi standard. Here the farmers grow apples, apricots and barley and harvest the orange berries of the tsetalulu. Dotted around the valley are ancient gompas and ruined palaces and villages are close enough together to make this magnificent walking country. The people of Nubra Valley are friendly and hospitable. The Nubra Valley is indeed a precious treasures of Ladakh where people still living in the complete isolation for most of the year from rest of the world in the heart of the great Himalayas. The main attraction of the Nubra valley is Bactarian Camels (double hump Camel). These camels can be seen around sand dunes. Other attractions include Deskit, Samstanling monasteries and Khardung la Pass (18,380 feet) above sea level. For tourists its ideal to spend here two to three nights. However, you do need a permit, which only allows travel as far as Hunder and Panamik for a maximum of seven days. You must handover the photocopies of your permit on both sides of the Khardung La and also by the bridge to Sumur.

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Padum
Basking under an endless sky, Padum is the capital of Zanskar, but don't expect more than a few dusty streets and a bus stand. Around Padum, the zanskar valley shimmers in the wan desert light. Yaks and Dzo graze calmly in the fields and the plain is dotted with small farms and villages. Padum has a little town mosque, catering to a small community of Sunni Muslims amd two ruined gompas. A short walk across the valley is the medieval monastery at Pibiting, topped by a massive chorten with views over the plain. Like a smear of whitewash on the mountainside across from Padum, Karsha Gompa is Zanskar's largest and oldest Buddhist monastery, dating back to at least the 10th century. Around 150 monks maintain the gompa, helped by the French charity Solidarijeune. There are two main chambers, both containing the stunning murals and old trasures. The annual Chaam dances are held in the July as part of the three day Gustor festival. You can reach the gompa from Padum by car or a two hours walk across the exposed plain to the new bridge over the Zanskar river. There are more historic gompas in the small villages of Pishu, Stongde and Zangla, accessible by car or on foot from Padum. a more challenging destination is the isolated gompa of Phuktal, squeezed into a cave clinging to the side of the near vertical Shadi gorge. Inside you can see a sacred spring and some 700 year old murals in the Alchi style. The gompa can only be reached by walking, typically as part of the Padum to Darcha trek.

Phugthal
Phugthal is the most spectacularly located monastic establishment in Ladakh. 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. It is the most isolated monastic establishment of Zanskar and its foundation date back to the early 12th century. One old chappel, among the 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. This unique monastic establishment is inhabited by a resident community of about 40 monks.

 

Rangdum
Rangdum is 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 side. Rangdum is situated about 130 kms south-east of Kargil and falls midway between Kargil and Padum. Due to its remoteness from inhabited parts either of Suru or Zanskar, this area of wild beauty is

Rangdum, Ladakh

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, pastures, hills and 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 Rangdum

Rangdum is also connected with Padum. Cars and jeeps can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila.

Sankoo
Sankoo, about 42 kms south of Kargil is a picturesque area surrounded by colorful rocky mountains. Sankoo is a new town with a small bazaar 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 to 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.

Places to see in Sankoo

Sankoo is 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 Muslim 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

Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik.

 

Suru Valley
The Suru Valley is one of the most beautiful areas of Ladakh and a rather recent addition to the tourism map 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, hence eastward for another stretch of nearly 65 kms upto the foot of the Penzila watershed 

Suru Valley, Ladakh

where the Suru valley rises. The hills of Suru Valley are cultivated intensively than anywhere else in Ladakh. Enough snow and water during the winters and fertile land makes it possible to yield two crops annually. The valleys are especially picturesque in spring when the apple, apricot and mulberry trees are all in bloom and in autumn when they are laden with fruits. Its composite population of about 30,000 - mainly of Tibetan-Darad descent, are Muslims who had converted their Buddhist faith around the middle of the 16th century. At Thangbu, a little village, the traveler gets a first glimpse of the spectacular Nun (7135 m) – Kun(7935 m) massif which loom over the skyline in their crystalline majesty. Pahikhar, about 12 kms. away is the base for treks to Kashmir and Kishtwar. The road goes past the glaciers of the Nun-Kun massif to descend to Rangdum gompa with a little stream forming a moat around it, looks like an ancient fort protecting the valley. Only the basic accommodation is available at most of the tourist spots of Suru Valley.

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Zongkhul
Zongkhul is the famous spectacular cave monastery of Zanskar. Zongkhul falls on the Padum-Kishtwar trekking trail, just before the ascent of Omasi-la Pass begins. Zongkhul monastery is situated like a swallow’s nest on the rock face of the Ating Gorge, and associated by legend with the famous Indian Yogi, Naropa, who lectured in the Nalanda and Vikramsila Universities. The two caves in the monastery are said to 

Zongkhul, Ladakh

have been used by the famous Yogi for the solitary meditation. A footprint on the stone near the ingress of the lower cave is reserved as that of the yogi. The frescos on the cave walls are very old and reflect a high degree of artistic achievement. These are believed to be the original murals executed by Zhadpa Dorje, the celebrated scholar-painter of the same monastery who was active about 300 years ago.

 

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