Karsha Monastery in Padum, Zanskar Valley

by Vargis.Khan

karsha monastery

Karsha Monastery or Karsha Gompa is a Buddhist monastery near Padum in Zanskar Valley. It is the largest and most important monastery in the region and is under the control of the younger brother of the Dalai Lama.

The monastery has several shrines and also serves as the residence of approximately 100 monks. It is located next to Karsha Village, at a distance of about 11 kilometers from Padum.

Karsha monastery sits on the face of a mountain, overlooking the entire valley and the village. It offers a stunning view of the valley, especially at the time of sunset.

We visited the monastery during my recent trip to Zanskar Valley. This was the 10th day of our trip that we spent in Padum, visiting the local attractions. You can follow the links below to read the previous parts of the travelogue.

Journey So Far:

The road leading to the monastery is very steep and narrow and can make some drivers nervous. But in the end, the view from the monastery and its peaceful environment makes it all worth the effort. Read on to find out more.

Karsha Monastery

Also known as Karsha Chamspaling, this monastery is an ancient one. There are ancient rock carvings at the site and the oldest remaining structure, an Avalokiteshvara temple, contains wall paintings that are estimated to be from AD 958 to 1055.

The most important festival, known as the Karsha Gustor, is held with masked cham dances from the 26th to the 29th day of the 11th Tibetan month, which is usually in January.

The monastery also houses the mummified body of an incarnate lama called the Rinchen Zangpo, sealed in a wooden box with a silver lining.

The Doda River flows past the monastery from its source at the Drang Drung glacier of the Pensi La Pass.

You can also see a video of our visit to Karsha Monastery at the link below.

How to reach Karsha Monastery

Karsha Monastery is located about 11 kilometers from Padum. The condition of the road is super smooth and the drive from Padum to the monastery hardly takes 15-20 minutes.

It is marked on Google Maps and you can just follow the directions to arrive at the monastery. In case you were not able to find it on the Maps, just ask any of the locals and they can point you in the right direction.

There is no local cab or bus service to the village. You will either have to travel in your own vehicle or rent a taxi or bike in Padum.

Phone Network

Jio works well in Zanskar Valley. It remains connected with good reception and data speed in and around Padum, including Karsha Village.

BSNL works as well but its network is not that strong. The voice clarity and call quality were very bad.

No other network works in Padum or Karsha Village for now.

Best Time to Visit Karsha Monastery

A road trip to Zanskar Valley is only possible in the summer months, as the valley remains cut off from the rest of the country during the winter season. So you can visit the monastery only from May to October.

An ideal time would be to visit either early in the evening or late in the evening. During the rest of the day, the sun gets quite harsh and even the views aren’t that good.

In my opinion, the best time to visit here is late in the evening. You do not exactly get a direct view of the setting sun but with the fading light, the entire valley and the mountain peaks turn orange, presenting a charming sight.

karsha monastery

Padum to Karsha Monastery

Now coming back to the travelogue, we had one day in Padum for local sightseeing. We planned to start the day early so we could cover as many places as possible.

Unfortunately, though, we woke up a little late and by the time we started our sightseeing, it was already 11 am.

The first place that we visited on this day was Sheela Waterfall. It is a beautiful waterfall located in a charming little village called Sheela, at a distance of about 4 kilometers from Padum.

We spent about 30 minutes at the waterfall and I really enjoyed our time there. If you are in Padum, this is one place that I will highly recommend visiting.

After Sheela Waterfall, we then drove back to Padum and moved on to our next destination for the day, Bardan Monastery.

Much to our bad luck, we found Bardan Monastery closed and had to return from its gates. We came back to the market, had lunch, and then returned to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours.

At 5 in the evening, we started driving on our way to Karsha Village.

Karsha Village

The roads in and around Padum are super smooth and really a pleasure to drive on. It did not take us long to reach the village and we were there in about 15 minutes.

karsha monastery

We crossed a bridge over the Doda River and started driving uphill toward the village. A couple of kilometers later, a large cemented gate that read ‘Welcome to Model Village Karsha’ greeted us.

What we drove through was really a quaint little village that looked charming in its own way. Kids playing around, a few Lamas walking by, and people going on with their day-to-day tasks are all that Karsha Village was about.

The road through the village is a very steep and narrow one. We asked for directions at a couple of places and had to cross the entire village to exit on its other side.

From there, the road got even steeper and narrower. It was barely wide enough for one car and I knew that if we came across a vehicle coming from the other direction, it would get tricky to pass by.

Karsha Monastery

We took a wrong turn along the way but finally reached the gates of the Karsha Monastery. From what I knew, the monastery houses about 100 monks so I was expecting it to be filled with monks.

To my utter surprise, it was completely silent with not a soul in sight. Not that I am complaining though because the silence only added to the charm of the monastery.

karsha monastery

We reached the gate and called out to see if there was anyone around. A few minutes later, an old man appeared and entered our names in a register.

karsha monastery

What surprised me, even more, was that they even made entries of our Aadhar Card numbers, not sure why. Not just us, there were Aadhar card numbers entered for everyone who visited the monastery before us.

We spent about an hour in the monastery. A young Lama, just 16 years old, showed us around and took us to a couple of temples in the monastery. We just sat in the complex, chit-chatting with him, learning about the life of a Lama and the history of the monastery.

karsha monastery karsha monastery karsha monastery karsha monastery karsha monastery

The sun was going down fast and at about 6.30 pm, we stepped out of the monastery to get a good view of the sunset.

Sunset View

After that, we spent half an hour chasing the sunset. From the monastery, you do not get a direct view of the setting sun. So we drove down and out of the village down to the valley and then started driving around to see an unhindered view of the sunset.

karsha monastery

We did not find it though. The sun was setting behind the mountains and was not visible from any point. We had to make do with this view only. Still a beautiful one though, correct?

sunset in zanskar valley

We returned to Padum, walked around in the market area, and were back in our hotel by 8.30 pm. Not much happened after that. We talked about our travel plans ahead, had dinner, and called it a day by 11 pm.

In Padum, both Jio and BSNL work during the day. For some reason, after 11 pm, the network is gone and doesn’t get restored until early morning.

I am not sure why it is this way but it could be related to electricity. After 10 or 11 pm, there is no power available until morning.

In the future, both electricity and phone signals may become available at night but for now, this is how it is.

Trouble Sleeping

So when we went to sleep at 11 pm, we had neither electricity in our room nor a network in our phones. Both were supposed to be restored only in the morning but for some reason, the phone networks came back at 2 am.

The moment that happened, our phones came alive and started buzzing with WhatsApp and text messages. There were multiple rings one after another and it sure woke us up pretty well.

What followed was an hour of trying to go back to sleep with no success. To make things worse, it was a very cold night. High winds were beating down on the windows of our room and the noises only made it harder to sleep.

Because of the extreme cold, both of us were also having difficulty breathing. For a while, I was afraid that it might be altitude sickness but there were no other symptoms. It was just that we had to take long and deep breaks but other than that, we were Ok.

Finally, I think we managed to go back to sleep at around 3.30 am. The plan for the next day was to travel from Padum to Lamayuru via the Lingshed route. Please click on the link above to continue reading the next part of the travelogue.

Karsha Monastery – Conclusion

I hope the travelogue, pictures, and details on Karsha Monastery were of help.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. You can also follow me on Instagram to chat with me live or subscribe to my YouTube channel and ask a question there.

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kailash iyer April 25, 2018 - 9:39 am

Agree with your article Vargis. Indian tourists need to be more disciplined and ensure that they don’t spoil the natural beauty of this place with polluting articles. The government should also punish people who are not careful about this. Your article, I hope will drive some sense into people’s minds. Thanks

Vargis.Khan April 25, 2018 - 2:37 pm

Thanks Kailash Bhai


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