This article is in continuation of a previous one and a part of my Ladakh and Zanskar Travelogue. The post below provides a detailed log of Day 11 and 12 of our trip as we drove around sightseeing in Zanskar Valley. We covered remote villages, monasteries, drove to the end of the roads, and also attended a local festival before moving on to Srinagar the next day. To read the previous parts of the travelogue, please click on the links below.
- Day 1 & 2 – Delhi to Jispa
- Day 3: Jispa to Tso Kar. Night Stay at Tso Kar
- Day 4: Tso Kar to Leh
- Day 5 & 6: Leh. Local Sightseeing, Friends, Hospital, and Rest
- Day 7 – Sightseeing in Sham Valley & Srinagar Leh Highway
- Day 8 – Lamayuru to Kargil via Dha and Batalik. Night Stay in Kargil
- Day 9 – Kargil to Rangdum. Night Stay in Juldo
- Day 10 – Rangdum to Padum
It was a very lazy beginning to the day and I was out to get some tea for the both of us when I met Col. Vohra. He was also staying at the JKTDC hotel in the room next to ours and was traveling alone with the first leg of his journey being Zanskar. He further planned to cover a lot of areas in Changthang, and being from the Army, his Safari could go to regions where us mere mortals can only dream of going!
Sightseeing in Zanskar Valley
Over tea, Col. Vohra and I exchanged stories. Finally we parted after taking some shots of all of us together – the three of us and our two steeds, one black, the other white. It was a matter of real coincidence when we got to know that Col. Vohra camped right next to our friends’ tent at Chandratal two weeks later. The world is indeed small for like-minded travelers.
The facilities at JKTDC were poor, to put it mildly. There was hardly any water in the bathroom, the rooms were quite dirty and there was also no provision for hot water because the kitchen was not working. After getting ready, we checked out from there and went straight to Geyskit hotel where we first checked in, and then sat down for a longish and tasty breakfast in their cozy restaurant.
Finally, at about 11 am, we left the hotel to embark on our plan for the day. We got to know from the locals that Gustor, the annual festival of the Stongde Monastery, was going on. Gustor is typically celebrated in November end, by which time the entire Zanskar valley is disconnected by road.
This year, however, they had decided to celebrate it during the ‘tourist’ season, as this would also lead to more money flowing into the local economy. One could call it commercialism, but I would prefer to call it smart thinking.
Also Read: List of Fairs and Festivals Celebrated in Ladakh and Zanskar
Day 11 – Zangla, Stongdey, End of the Road
For Day 1 of our sightseeing in Zanskar Valley, we decided to first check out the end of the road beyond Zangla (yes, the journeys to the ends of roads are back with a bang!), which was also on our agenda for the day. The road moves east out of Padum and is tarred almost all the way to Zangla, which is about 30 km away. As one leaves Padum, the confluence of the Stod and the Tsarap Lingti rivers can be seen and the mighty Zanskar river is born.
We crossed the Stongdey village, which is about 10 km from Padum, without stopping there. It took us about an hour to cross Zangla, and we moved on further, all the time driving next to the Zanskar river. The last village on the road is Zangla, after which all the villages lie on the opposite bank of the river, connected to the road with pedestrian bridges.
The wide valley beyond Stongde
The road beyond Zangla is also tarred and remains that way till where the road ends. The valley before Zangla is VERY wide and really barren. However, beyond Hanumil, a village 25 km from Zangla, the valley gradually narrows down, and becomes quite dark and more like a gorge.
It probably stays this way all the way up till Chilling, where we’d described the valley in a similar fashion when we’d checked out the end of the road beyond Chilling. The road extends a good 10km beyond Hanumil village.
Near Hanumil village
Similar landscape as that near Chilling village
A few switchbacks later, we saw a landslide – a heap of stones on the road – and knew that this is where the road ended for Kiyang. We walked a bit up the road but decided to take a U-turn about a km ahead. A few workers informed us that the road was complete till about 3 km from there. We were back in the car by 1:30 pm.
Zanskar snaking through the wide valley.
We headed back towards Zangla, and reached there in an hour flat. The climb towards the Zangla fort is pretty steep and it was the first time 4WD was engaged in Zanskar so far. The fort looked pretty much deserted, and we had forgotten to take the keys from the owners in the village below.
We knew about the key part because of our know-it-all guidebook! When we reached the fort, we made a small discovery – the road extended beyond the fort as well! We thought of exploring it further, but hardly 500 m ahead the road came to an abrupt end while descending.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Zanskar Valley
It was a difficult spot to take a U-turn and after probably 10-15 odd tries, we managed to finally do it. According to our Leomann map, a trek went from there all the way to Sarchu.
The Zangla fort, and numerous Chortens below it
Zangla fort from behind
It was almost 3 pm by the time we reached the main road again and immediately started moving towards Stongdey. The climb to Stongdey is a little steep but manageable for a non 4WD. The sputtering of Kiyang’s engine returned with vengeance on the climb and it once again lost power.
It was quite baffling for me since we had got the filters cleaned at Kargil, and the car had responded well to that. However, here on this climb things were again going downhill. We decided to try the climb nevertheless.
Also Read: How to Prepare your Car for Leh Ladakh
A climb on which I would not even have engaged the 4WD mode, I had to actually turn to the 4L mode for more torque. I made a mental note to make calls to some experts back home to resolve this issue when we reached Padum.
Pishu village across the river.
Trekkers make this their last halt before stretching towards Padum
Stongdey Monastery Gustor
When we finally reached Stongde, the festival was about to end, and apparently, the last ceremony was underway. We’d seen photographs of the Hemis festival, but it was great to actually see the Cham dancers perform live. We positioned ourselves on the roof of the monastery and started clicking away to glory.
The sun was very harsh and we were sweating even in our light clothes, but the dancers seemed all happy and cheerful even in their heavy costumes! We witnessed the ceremony for about 20 minutes before it ended, and then made our way back to the car.
Also Read: Tourist Attractions in Zanskar Valley
In the outer veranda of the monastery, we stopped to have some bananas being sold by some local vendors, being hungry as hell. Around 5 pm, we finally left for Padum.
A masked Cham dancer at Gustor festival, Stongde
Little lama blowing his own trumpet
After attending the festival, we started on our way back to Padum, marking an end to the first day of sightseeing in Zanskar Valley.
A Little Troubleshooting
As we reached Padum, I dropped Aarti at the hotel, and then referred to the guidebook to see possible causes of problems with Kiyang. On not coming to any conclusion, I made a call to Tanveer next. He thankfully took out a good 30 minutes to attend to my call during a working day.
He diagnosed water in the sedimenter as the probable cause of the stalling of the engine. With detailed inputs on how to drain the water from the sedimenter from him, I went under the vehicle to get the job done. Afterward, I took the car for a spin to test if things had improved, and they had considerably! Thanks buddy for helping me out. I wonder what I would have done without your help.
Once this was done, I realized how tired I was, and how badly I smelled of diesel. A quick shower was all I needed to get the stink off me and get rid of some of the tiredness as well.
Later, as we were sitting in the restaurant looking at the shots of the day and waiting for our pizza (Yes, pizza. Contrary to what one may think, they serve pretty good ones.), a guy came up to us to ask if we were working at the new dam site nearby.
We, of course, responded in the negative, and he was pretty surprised to know that we were actually tourists. He explained that Indian tourists were quite uncommon in Zanskar, and it is primarily the foreigners who deem Zanskar fit to be on their itinerary.
The pizza was fantastic, and sleep came as soon as went hit the bed.
Also Read: Mobile Phone Connectivity in Zanskar Valley
Day 12: Around Padum – Dzonkhul, End of the road beyond Reru
We got up early for our second day of sightseeing in Zanskar Valley. The plan was to first go to Dzonkhul and then come back for breakfast. Although Dzonkhul is on the way to Rangdum, stopping there on our way back would not have been possible due to lack of time, also a trip to Dzonkhul and further on to Padum would have been too much to do for a day.
We were on our way by 6:30 in the morning. At the Tungri bridge, instead of taking the road which crosses the Stod river and goes on to Rangdum, we went straight. The ‘road’ now was quite bumpy and was being leveled by the villagers. At Ating village, we gave a lift to an old man who was going to the Monastery with supplies of a puja scheduled for that day.
We then took a left towards the Monastery and started climbing. Now, this climb was awful. The road was scattered with rocks of all sizes. We moved at not more than 15 kmph. I would imagine 2WD jeeps facing extreme difficulties maneuvering through this stretch after the village and would suggest stretch essentially for 4WD. It is loose gravel with terrible ascent and U-bends.
Also Read: Zanskar Valley Taxi Rates
Finally, after a very treacherous ascent, we reached the cave monastery of Dzonkhul. And what a sight it was! Built on a slope just below some jagged rocks, the Monastery peeks out of a cave, and the prayer flags adorning the monastery complex provide the much-needed color in the stark landscape. Village Dzonkhul must consist of less than five households, and most of them cater to the needs of the monastery.
As we entered the monastery, a monk came to greet us and then started showing us around. He first took us upstairs to a room the roof of which was the cave’s roof itself! It was very dark there with the little light coming from the burning lamps. The roof of the cave here was full of coins stuck to it, and looked like a dark sky with stars!
We somehow managed to get one photograph since using flash was not allowed; and there was no way in heaven a tripod would’ve fit in that cramped room. After that, we went to the terrace and then to a couple of other rooms that housed their ancient scriptures and books and other precious valuables such as cups studded with semi-precious stones. They also had printing blocks of the scriptures and print new ones every now and then.
Dzonkhul monastery comes up from the caves. It is a must-visit place for sightseeing in Zanskar Valley.
The view from the roof of the monastery
Finally, the lama took us to a room where all the resident lamas of Dzonkhul were having their breakfast. They asked us to sit with them, gave us two bowls, and filled them with the soup all of them were having.
Now I know this will sound really mean, but that soup was AWFUL! I somehow finished mine, gulping down most of it so that it did not linger on my tongue; only to see Aarti looking expectantly at me to finish her portion too! I knew she wouldn’t have it, and that it did not look good not to accept their generous offering. So I had a second bowl too.
After thanking the lamas for the meal, we went downstairs and had chai with the people who were cooking lunch for the monks. They also gave us some bread, which was delicious! Over tea, we chatted a bit with them, and then bid adieu to Dzonkhul.
Also Read: Zanskar Valley Bike Trip – A Solo Bike Ride to Zanskar Valley
The journey was quite tiring, and it was nearly 11 am by the time we reached Padum. After freshening up, we had an early lunch. The next thing to do was to check out Reru, which lies further south from Padum and the end-of-the-road beyond it.
We left around 1 pm for Reru. We got lost at first. One has to go towards the older part of Padum, a Muslim dominated area, and take a left near the bus stand. The road runs parallel to the Tsarap Lingti, and the valley is pretty narrow. First up is the Bardan Gompa, perched precariously on top of huge stone which protrudes into the river.
The road till Reru is tarred, although not very smooth. But after this, the tar disappears completely. Here we saw a bunch of lamas playing cricket in a wide, open ground. About 6 km from Reru, we came to a bridge to cross over to the right bank of the river. With the bridge now complete, we crossed over.
The road from here on is very narrow and is a complete dirt track with a steep ascent to the village of Itchar. I wonder how would normal traffic cross this stretch given its sharp ascents, tight U-bends, and narrow road.
A green patch of a village before Bardan monastery.
Another monastery complex beyond Bardan but before Reru (Meru was it?)
The beautiful green field of Reru
Car Trouble Again
It was here when our car started acting up again, losing power on the incline! It was very frustrating, stretches that were supposed to be done in 4H mode were now being done in 4L mode and at extremely high RPM.
There was an option to turn back towards Padum as the scenery was hardly beautiful or enticing. But being spoilt, we had to see the end of the road before we could turn back. We crawled ahead, occasionally having to deal with the loss of power as well. The road was too dusty for me to crawl down and drain the sedimenter and decided that it would best be done on the way back.
The road continued like this for about 8 odd km from the bridge. It then came to an abrupt end where work was still being done. It was time for us to turn back. The drive back till Reru was again painful where I finally disembarked from the car and went down to drain the sedimenter.
Once I was back on the wheel, the vehicle refused to start even after multiple cranks. Finally, I opened up the bonnet and primed the fuel pump a bit, and finally, Kiyang started with a sputter. It was a smooth ride from that point till Padum which we finally reached by about dusk.
Back to Padum
In our entire sightseeing in Zanskar Valley and Ladakh, this was the first detour that we regretted taking. The drive was neither beautiful nor worth taking, in our opinion. I would suggest further travelers to the region to avoid this drive until it’s complete all the way to Purne; which is about 15 km away from where the road ends currently.
One could then trek to Phutgal gompa which I’ve heard is quite beautifully located. The valley beyond Purne towards Kargyak and Darcha is very wide and spectacularly beautiful. Until then, it’s best to avoid the stretch.
We had to start early the next day as we were targeting to reach Kargil in a single day from Padum, so hit the sack early.
- Journey Ahead: Padum to Kargil – The Long Troublesome Run
Sightseeing in Zanskar Valley – Conclusion
I hope the travelogue, pictures, and information on sightseeing in Zanskar Valley were of help. Please click on the link above to continue reading the next part of this travelogue. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum, and I will be glad to answer.