JOURNEY TO COLD DESERT - ZANSKAR
- by Prosenjit Das
Zanskar in Jammu & Kashmir has its attraction to the Indian as well as foreign travelers from very old days. In 1987 only weekly irregular bus service was available when I tried to reach the place for the first time. Since then it has developed to great extent responding to the need of local people and adventurous travelers and trekkers.
To go to Zanskar you have to hire the car from Taxi Operators Union at Kargil. You can try with the bus service also. Distance of Padum from Kargil is nearly 200 km.
We started early in the morning to avoid some streams across the road which might create problem with its rising water level as the sunshine gets stronger. First we had to cross river Suru and took right turn to enter into Suru valley, the most beautiful part of Himalayas. Magnificent blue sky over snowcapped peaks will really attract your attention. The character of the mountain is quiet different with that of the other parts of the Himalayas. After around 40 km drive we reached Sankoo. It was the last bus stop in the early seventies. From here road goes to Panikkar (or Pannikar) town. Nun and Kun peaks, both rises above 7000 meters, can be seen from here. Going down again to the valley you will get Parkachik, a small village. And continuing along the side of the river, you can see Ganri glacier just opposite to the river. It is the extended part of the Nun & Kun saddle. Colour of the glacial ice is deep green. It is due to high concentration of copper at the area. Zan means copper and Skar means valley in local language.
The region is very dry. And if you dont consume sufficient water or liquid material you might face dehydration problem and ultimately altitude sickness would develop.
After crossing some remarkable Zanskari villages you will reach famous Rangdum gompa. You can have a tea break here. We took a break and stretched our legs. Rongdum Gompa is said to be 250 years old. It was built by King Tsewang Mangyl of Ladakh. It is situated on the top of a hillock like other gompas. It is a small one and surrounded by snow caped barren peaks, deserted valley with glacial streams running through the valley. We crossed Pensi La (4400m) to reach Stod (Doda) valley. From here we were accompanied by the river Stod (Doda). In this part of Zanskar plenty of flat lands are visible. Good agricultural productions are also seen. Watered by streams from surrounding mountains, Zanskar valley produces rich crops of wheat and barley. Willow and poplar plantations are also visible in this spectacular valley. Views of mud-built huts in the middle of such green or yellow fields and massive mountain ranges in the background are breathtaking. Drive through some more Zanskari villages like Abram, Kygam, Phey would definitely recuperate your mind. Before we reached Sani gompa we had to cross Doda river. Sani gompa is unique one as it is built in the plains unlike most other gompas. Here Guru Padmasambhava was supposed to have dwelt for five years.(Kashmir, Ladakh & Zanskar by Margaret & Rolf Schettler). From Sani, Padum is not far away and we reached around 4.00PM. It is very nice place by the side of river Lunak which meets river Doda and forms Zanskar river near Karsha.
Padum is the district town of Zanskar. There is a bus stand and taxi stand. J & K Govt. Tourist Reception Centre is there. But it was closed by that time. Some shops are also there. Most of them provide you basic necessities. There are not many hotels. We took two rooms at Hotel Ibex which has good restaurant decorated in Tibetan style. It was a good experience to have some delicious food. Chow- min with black mushroom is to be mentioned particularly.
There is a part of old Padum locality with ruined old houses built with mud, stone and wood. Tibetan influence is clearly visible in such old ruins. Population of Padum consists of good number of Muslim people unlike other places in Zanskar, where most people are Buddhists. There is a mosque also. Balti and Lahuli people are also consuming a good chunk of total population. Very popular, hard but rewarding trekking route, Padum Darcha, starts here. It goes over Singo La (5100m) to Darcha in Himachal Pradesh.
The night was a chilled one. Next morning was a sunny and bright morning. The valley on the other side of river Lunak was spectacular. We tried for some local memento. There was nothing special except woolen gloves, socks and caps. Only Ladakhi caps are exceptions. We bade farewell to Padum and started our return journey to Kargil with an experience which would really haunt you through out your life.
Accommodation at Pandum :
Dt. Zanskar (J & K)
Tel: (01983) 45013