Padum is 240 km to the south of Kargil comes as a bit of an anticlimax. Instead of the picturesque Zanskari village you might expect, the region’s administrative headquarters and principal road head turns out to be a desultory collection of crumbling mud and concrete cubes, oily truck park and in roofed government buildings.
Padum presides over a flat patchwark of farm land enclosed on three enclosed on three sides by colossal walls of screen and snow capped mountains.
Straddling a nexus of several long-distance trails, Padum is an important trekking hub and the only place in Zanskar where tourism has thus far made much of an impression. During the short summer season, you’ll see almost as many weather-beaten Westerners wandering around its sandy lanes as local – a mixture of indigenous Buddhist and Sunni Muslims. Even so, facilities remain very basic, limited to a small tourist office and a handful of temporary tea-shops and guesthouse, as well as the inevitable rash of Kashmiri handicraft stalls. Nor is there much to see while you are waiting for your blisters to heal. The only noteworthy sight within easy walking distance is a small Tagrimo Gompa fifteen minutes’ walk to the west.
Public transport around the Zanskar Valley is erratic, although one public bus travels from Padum to Zangla on Wednesday and Friday, leaving in the morning and returning the same afternoon. Otherwise you will have to shell out for the vastly inflated fares demanded by Padum’s taxi union. Determined trekkers can alternatively set out on foot; the hike across the fields to KARSHA gompa, Zanskar’s largest Gelug-pa monastery, is the most rewarding objective. This cluster of whitewashed mud cubes clinging to the rocky lower slopes of the mountain north of Padum dates from the tenth to the fourteenth century. Of the prayer halls, the recently renovated Du-khang and Gon-khang at the top of the complex are the most impressive, while the small Chukshok-jal, set apart from the gompa below a ruined fort on the far side of a gully, contains Karsha’s oldest wall paintings, contemporary with those at Alchi.
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. 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.
Walled in by the Great Himalayan Divide, Zanskar, literally ” Land of White Copper” has for decades exrted the allure of Shangri La on visitours to Ladakh.
Zangla is the nodal point on the popular Padum Strongdey Zangla Karsha Padum round trip, which covers most of the cultural sites of Zanskar.
Zongkhul falls on the Padum-Kishtwar trekking trail, just before the ascent of Omasi-la Pass begins
The Suru Valley
Diving two of the world’s most formidable mountain ranges, the Suru Valley winds south from Kargil to the desolate Pensi La the main entry point for Zanskar.
North of Leh : Nubra Valley
Until 1994, the lands north of Leh were off limits to tourists and had been unexplored by outsiders since the nineteenth century.
Drass (3230 m), 60 km west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar, is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name .
Pangong Tso, 15km to the southeast of Leh, is one of the largest saltwater lakes in Asia, a long narrow strip of water stretching from Ladakh east into Tibet.
Tso Moriri or “Mountain Lake” is Famous for the large herds of king, or wild ass, which graze on its shores, the lake of Tso Moriri, 210km southeast of Leh, lies in the sparsely populated region of Rupshu.