Phugtal Monastery – A Complete Travel Guide

by Vargis.Khan

phugtal monastery

Phugtal Monastery, also known as Phuktal Monastery or Phugtal Gompa, is a s a Buddhist monastery located in the remote Lungnak Valley in south-eastern Zanskar. It is one of the only Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that can still be reached only by foot.

A road is expected to be built up to the monastery. However, for now, it is a day’s walk from Dorzang, the end of the road leading from Padum. Supplies to the monastery are brought on horses, donkeys, and mules in the warmer months and via the frozen Zanskar River in winter.

An interesting fact is that this monastery is built around a natural cave and is now home to a temple, prayer rooms, a library, a kitchen, living quarters, a sacred spring, and about 70 monks in total.

In the post below, I will provide complete information on how you can plan a trip to Phugtal Monastery, including details on how to reach, where to stay, itinerary planning, and several other tips. If you have any other questions,  you can contact me on Instagram and I will happily answer. You can also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and asking a question there.

About Phugtal Monastery

Because it is located in a cave (as you can see in the image above), Phugtal Monastery is also known as “Cave Monastery” or “Cave Gompa”. Its name Phuktal is derived from the word Phukthal, where Phuk means ‘cave’ and Tal or Thal means ‘at leisure’.

An alternate spelling of the name is Phukthar, where Thar means ‘liberation’. Putting the words together, the name Phuktal Monastery means ‘The Cave of Leisure Monastery’ or ‘The Cave of Liberation Monastery’.

By the whole description of it, visiting this monastery sounds like a lot of fun which it indeed is. A trek to the Gompa offers you some stunning views of Zanskar and an insight into the simple life of the Zanskari people and their Lamas.

So why do people not visit here? Well for one, it is a trek up to a cave which not many people are up for. As I mentioned above, it is one of the last few remaining monasteries in Ladakh that are still accessible by foot only.

In recent years, road connectivity has been created to almost all the remote monasteries in the region but Phugtal is one that still requires tourists to walk all the way. The trek too can get a bit challenging and sometimes scary as well which not really is everyone’s cup of tea.

Time Needed for Phugtal Monastery Trek

Another reason why people tend to skip Phugta Monastery is the time needed to get here. Including this monastery in your itinerary means adding at least 2 more days of stay in Zanskar which not everyone can afford to do.

It is not a single day’s walk and to be honest, you will have to dedicate a total of 3 days to it if you want to do the trek leisurely. If rushed, you can complete it in 2 days as well. But prolonging their trip by that many days too can be challenging for some people due to which they end up skipping Phuktal entirely.

If however, you have the time and are up for a bit of walking up and down the hills, then a visit to Phugtal Monastery comes highly recommended. How you can plan your visit is what I will be talking about in this article.

How to reach Phugtal Monastery

In order to get to Phugtal Monastery, you will first have to reach the small town of Padum which is also the administrative center in Zanskar. From Padum then, you will drive for about 30 kilometers to the village of Ichar, also called Lchar.

The road will end at Ichar and from here on, it is a walk all the way. Google Maps will show you a motorable road all the way to Anmo which is not really the case. For now, you can only drive till Ichar (and a little further after the village actually) and will then have to trek to Phuktal Gompa.

You will be trekking for several kilometers over a period of at least 2 days. The trek at some places will also get very narrow and a bit tough to handle.

There are two ways that you can approach the monastery – one is via Chah village and the other is through Purne village. I have explained both these routes further in the article but the one via Purne is a bit broader and easier. You can either –

  • Climb up to the gompa via Anmo and Chah, and return the same way
  • Climb up to the gompa via Anmo and Purne, and return the same way
  • Or climb up via Anmo and Chah and go back via Purne or vice versa. I will recommend doing the trek in this manner.

A minimum of 2 days is needed to cover Phugtal Monastery. If you can however add a day more and make it a 3 days trip, then it would be more fun and better enjoyable. A detailed explanation of the trek is mentioned below.

Trek to Phuktal Monastery

Below is a detailed description of how you can complete the trek to Phuktal Monastery. I will first explain the trek spread over a total of 3 days. It would require you to spend two nights staying as a paying guest in local villages.

This will ensure that you do the trek in a relaxed manner and indulge yourself in plenty of sightseeing. It will also give you some time to speak to the locals and get a taste of their culture.

If you were however short on time then later in the article, I will also explain how you can complete the entire trek in 2 days, returning to Padum late in the evening on Day 2. Your route will be as mentioned below.

  • Padum to Ichar: 1.5 hours drive
  • Ichar to Anmo /Anmu: 4 – 5 hours trek approximately
  • Anmo to Cha: 2 hours trek
  • Cha to Phugtal Monastery: 2 – 3 hours trek
  • Phugtal Monastery to Purne: 2 hours trek
  • Purne to Anmo: 2 hours trek
  • Anmo to Ichar: 4 – 5 hours trek
  • Ichar to Padum: 1.5 hours drive

From Padum, rent a private taxi to drop you to Ichar. You will also have to ask this taxi driver to come pick you up on your way back to Padum. If you reached Padum by your own vehicle, then you will have to leave your car or motorcycle parked at Ichar.

My advice would be that you leave it parked at the hotel only in Padum and rent a cab for the journey to and from Ichar. Depending on your negotiation skills, it will cost you anywhere between Rs. 5000 to Rs. 6000 for a drop to Ichar and pick up on your way back.

Day 1 – Padum to Chah

The small yet beautiful village of Chah will become your destination for Day 1. The journey today will be a mix of drive and trekking. Ichar, as I mentioned, is the last village accessible by road on this route.

It is approximately 30 kilometers away from Padum and will take you about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. The road in fact goes a little further ahead of the village of Ichar so ask the driver to drop you as far as it goes. This will reduce your trek distance a bit.

From Ichar, It will take you about 4-5 hours to reach Anmo and then another 2 hours to reach Chah. Your accommodation choice is only in the form of a paying guest and is available at both Anmu and Chah.

I will however recommend that you push yourself a bit and reach Chah on day 1 rather than breaking the journey at Anmu. If you were planning to complete the trek in 2 days then it is extremely important that you start early from Padum and reach Cha.

Your stay as paying guest will be very basic and simple but comfortable. Please keep in mind that you are staying in a simple villager’s home so don’t keep your expectations too high. The food provided too will be very simple but delicious enough.

Day 2 – Cha to Phugtal Monastery to Purne

If done in a leisurely manner and relaxed pace, the entire trek will not take you any more than 6 hours at most. This will give you plenty of time to spend at the Monastery talking to the Lamas and observing their lifestyle.

Spend some time with your host at Cha and start by 8 to 9 AM from Cha. The trek from Chah to Phugtal is a bit narrow and tough at some places so if possible, ask a local villager to tag along.

You will of course pay them for their services for the day. But it will make it easier for you to navigate and complete the trek in time rather than attempting it on your own.

It will take you about 2-3 hours to reach Phuktal Monastery from Chah. If you reached here in time, then you can actually have lunch at the monastery with all the monks.

Spend some time sightseeing in the Gompa and then start on your way back but this time to arrive at the village of Purne. It will take you another 2-3 hours to trek back from Phuktal to Purne so please start your journey well in time.

There are two ways that you can plan this day. You can either go from Chah to Phugtal Monastery and come back to Chah, or you can go to Purne which is on the other side of the Lungnak river.

I personally would recommend going to Purne and staying there on this day. A third way would be to head back to Padum which I have further talked about in the article.

Day 3 – Purne to Padum

From Purne (Or Chah if that is where you stayed for the night), you will first trek back to the village of Anmo which will take you about 2 hours to complete. Take a break at Anmo and then start walking back to Ichar which will take you another 4-5 hours to complete. At Ichar, your taxi driver will be waiting and will drive you back to your hotel at Padum.

How to Complete Phuktal Monastery Trek in 2 Days

If you were short on time, then you can in fact complete the trek in 2 days as well. The journey will be a bit rushed and will give you less time to spend at the monastery but is doable nonetheless.

Your trek on Day 1 will remain the same as I explained above. You will start from Padum in the morning, drive to Ichar, start trekking, and break the journey at ChaVillage for the night.

On Day 2 however, start by the first light of the day. Keep a good pace and target to make it to the Monastery between 9 to 10 AM. It is going to be a long trek so an early start is a must.

You will be walking quite a bit of distance and then also need to reach back to Padum before it got dark. Reach the monastery by 9-10 AM. Spend some time there and be on your way back to Purne.

From Purne, you will then trek back to Anmo and then back to Ichar village via the same route. After that, it is an hour’s drive back to Padum which you will reach by late evening.

Night Stay at Phugtal Monastery

Another way to do this trek is to spend a night at the Monastery. You can either start from Padum on Day 1 and make it to Phuktal by evening. Then on Day 2, you can go back to Padum.

A better way of doing this however is to reach Cha Village on Day 1 and spend the night there. On Day 2, arrive at the monastery and spend the entire day there observing the simple lifestyle of the Lamas there.

Spend some time there in complete peace and tranquility and learn about their culture. On Day 3 then, you can travel back to Padum.

Stay at Phuktal can be in two forms. You can either stay at the guest house which is located about half a kilometer before the monastery. Or you can talk to the monks and ask them to give you a room in the monastery itself.

They will let you stay and will accept any amount of money you offer in return. They won’t quote you a price on their own. It will entirely be your call on how much to pay.

Accommodation on Phugtal Monastery Trek

For accommodation, the option of staying as a paying guest is available at the village of Anmo, Chah, and Purne. If you want to stay at a guest house then that option is available at Purne or the monastery itself.

Both these guest houses too are however very simple and basic but the one at Phuktal Monastery has an attached bathroom to it.

A lot of people look forward to camping on the trail. If you too were carrying your own gear then you can pitch your tent at any of the villages.

Please just make sure that you do not go camping in the middle of nowhere though. Camp closer to a local’s house and pay them a little to give you a spot to pitch your tent.

Other Facilities on the route

There are shops at Anmu, Cha, and Purne villages where you can buy some basic commodities. You can get some tea and snacks at both Anmo and Chah. Medical assistance is available only at Chah Village at the health center.

Make sure that you are bringing in at least 2 liters of water for each of the 3 – 4 hours of trekking. Carry a bottle that is not too heavy or difficult to carry, one that you can refill in every village en route.

You can buy snacks as well at the villages but may also want to carry some chocolates or biscuits from Padum itself. It would also be wise to bring some basic medicines for headache, stomachache, body pain or fever along.

Sun at this altitude gets very harsh and can give some serious sunburns. Please bring in a cap that can well cover your face and a sunblock lotion of the highest SPF.

Wear some warm clothes because it is bound to get very cold in the mornings and evenings. Cold cream and Lip balm will come in very handy. The sun will be harsh not only on your skin but your eyes as well so carry a pair of sunglasses as well.

Phone Services on Phuktal Trek

There is no network available at all anywhere on the route. Jio and BSNL provide coverage in and around Padum only. Once you are on the trek, even BSNL will stop working and your phone will be as good as paperweight.

Satellite phones are however available in the village of Cha and the monastery as well. So in case of any emergency, a call can be made from both these places.

Phugtal Monastery – Conclusion

When you talk about tourist attractions in Zanskar Valley, places like Drang Drung Glacier, Nun-Kun Massif, Pensi La, and the twin lakes at the top of the pass take precedence. A major reason behind this is that all these places are on the way from Kargil to Padum.

So in order to visit, you neither have to extend your stay in Padum nor have to go someplace special for sightseeing. But Zanskar Valley is so much more than these few names really.

I am not saying that the above-mentioned places aren’t worth your time because they sure are. But there are also many other tourist attractions that not many people visit but are definitely a wonder in themselves.

One such place is the beautiful Phugtal Monastery, which in many ways can aptly be termed the hidden gem of Zanskar Valley. It is an amazing place that I highly recommend visiting. You need not have any trekking experience at all and even complete beginners can attempt this trek.

I hope the information above on the Phugtal Monastery trek was of help. If you have any further questions, you can contact me on Instagram and I will happily answer. You can also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and asking a question there.

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Mayank Sharma May 2, 2022 - 5:56 am

Hi Vargis,
Would you be able to provide any homestay contact info at Purne? Planning a trip in June 2022 and need to stay at Purne for a night…

Vargis.Khan May 5, 2022 - 7:58 am

Hi Mayank – Sorry I do not have any contact information.

Wayne Foreman January 23, 2022 - 3:19 am

Hello, would it be possible to join that monestary?

Vargis.Khan January 23, 2022 - 9:46 am

I am not the person to answer that. You will have to ask the monks there

Bhoj Raj December 26, 2021 - 6:27 am

Hello Vargis,
Thank you for the blog, its informative and interesting…kudos to that.
I want to stay at the monastery for a long duration, will that be allowed?
Also please help with the best time to visit the monastery ..


Vargis.Khan December 26, 2021 - 11:25 am

Hi Bhoj Rai – Yes, a stay at the monastery is allowed. The best time to go will be any time between May to September, whatever is convenient for you.

Bhaskar August 8, 2021 - 3:41 am

Wonderfully narrated

Vargis.Khan August 8, 2021 - 3:57 am

Thank you Bhaskar

Kuldeep November 28, 2020 - 9:47 am

Hi VK,
Can we reach phugtal gompa in December starting also?
If yes then what route is best, via Manali or kashmir?

Vargis.Khan November 29, 2020 - 5:44 am

You cannot Kuldeep Bhai. You won’t be able to reach Padum

Raghuraman June 11, 2020 - 10:02 am

Thanks for your wonderful blog. Actually i will be coming from chennai. From Padum to Phugtal monastery and back to Padum: via Purne village: does it need 5 days? Because, i need time from Chennai and back to chennai also: too much leave is not possible. As on 2020 year end, is there going to be any alternate route from Manali side, via Anmu/Cha villages? Also, is it possible to hire guides (payment basis, of course) from Padum? Any guides and also horses possible? I am concened the days required from Padum to the Gompa and back to Padum. The rest of the logistics i know, as i have been to Ladakh three times. Thanks.

Mayur Gijam April 24, 2020 - 9:08 pm

Hello. Vargis,

I hope you doing well.

If I am coming from Keylong side and want to stay in monestry.

Later want to leave for Padum

Will this plan work,

Drive from Keylong to Purney to Chah, park vehicle there and start hike to Phugtal Monestry. Stay in Monestry.
Leave for Chah to Purney to Padum

Mayur Gijam

Ritwick April 23, 2020 - 8:25 pm

What is the best time to visit to zanskar or phutgal monastry??

Arka Dutta April 14, 2020 - 4:02 pm

Do you know any road opened from Jispa side till Purne?

Yi-han Chen August 30, 2019 - 6:08 am

Hi Vargis,the road from Ichar to Anmo is restored now?

Sanket Jain July 5, 2019 - 2:15 pm

Hi, is it adviseable to do this trek in July? Can you give more detail on the landscape we will get on this time, like glaciers and all. Infact, since it snowed quite a bit this year, will we have good views of glaciers around Zanskar?
I’ll visiting from 13th-25th this month.

Sanket Jain July 5, 2019 - 2:45 pm

Also, I wanted to know how visible are the glaciers during this time. If they are not, I guess I can just visit till Panikhar and come back.

Vargis.Khan July 5, 2019 - 11:16 pm

Glacier is only visible from the top of Pensi La, nowhere else. You also see parkachik glacier but that is in Suru valley and from a distance.

Noor Tirur June 9, 2019 - 2:17 pm

Hi Varghis, How about the power back up or electricity availability in Ichar,Anmu,Chah,Phutkal ..Can i Recharge my cameras.?

Vargis.Khan June 9, 2019 - 7:03 pm

Hi Noor – No power back up there but some locals have solar charged lights. Better would be to bring in spare batteries if you feel you would consume it all there

Noor Tirur June 12, 2019 - 4:46 pm

Thanks, Varghis..! This is very helpful information..! I am Planning to visit Ladakh in September this year.

Vargis.Khan June 12, 2019 - 10:55 pm

You are welcome Noor !!!

lifeoutside2by2 May 30, 2019 - 5:15 pm

hi Vargis, if I stay at Phugtal monastery, will it become a 4 day trek?

Vargis.Khan May 31, 2019 - 7:53 pm

Hi Kanika – I was able to do it in 3 days.


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