Duration : 03 Nights / 04 Days (04 Days Drive, 09 Days Trek)
Location Covered : Ladakh Sarai - Kargil - Rangdum - Padam
Season : July to September
Grade : TM 3
Early in the morning start the spectacular 72 kms drive to Alchi, along the true right bank of the Indus river through the beautiful villages of Nimo and Uletokpo. Take a 7 km detour off the main highway towards the 11th century village of Alchi, which has a mass of Buddhist stupas, gompas, chortens, wooden statues, mural paintings and great deal of religious history.
Continue another 62 km drive to Lamayuru going past the villages of Saspol and Khalsi. The ascent to Lamayuru gompa and beyond is simply stunning and probably the most fascinating section of the drive. Stop for lunch and a short visit to Lamayuru Gompa with its medieval village seemingly growing out of the rocky hillside below it. Lamayuru belongs to the red-hat sect of Buddhism. In the past, Lamayuru has housed up to 400 lamas, but presently there are only 30 to 50 lamas living here, although about 150 lamas belong to the gompa. The other lamas stay and teach at Lamayuru's smaller daughter gompas located in outlying villages. Twice a year, all the lamas gather at the gompa for general prayers, accompanied by three days of masked dancing. These gatherings occur in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan calendar (usually March and July).
Ancient legends say that at the time of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha), Lamayuru's valley was a clear lake where nagas (holy serpents) lived. The Bodhisattva Madhyantaka foretold that the lake would be emptied and a monastery built there. The legends continue by saying that Naropa, an 11th century Indian Buddhist scholar, came to Lamayuru and spent many years meditating in a cave, which can still be seen in the main Dukhang or assembly hall. Naropa then caused a split in the surrounding hillside and the lake emptied through this opening. After the lake emptied, Naropa found a dead lion previously covered by the waters of the lake. On this spot, Naropa built the first temple at Lamayuru, the Singhe Ghang (Lion Mound). Other historical accounts relate that in the 10th century the King of Ladakh ordered the building of Lamayuru gompa and placed it under the supervision of Rinchen Zangbo.
The original gompa was composed of five buildings although only the central one still stands. In the 16th century, Ladakh's King Jamyang Namgyal was cured of leprosy by a lama from Tibet. In gratitude, the King gave Lamayuru gompa to this lama and also bestowed other privileges - no taxes were collected and the area surround the gompa was declared a sanctuary where none could be arrested. For this reason, Ladakhis still refer to Lamayuru as Tharpa Ling, the "Place of Freedom".
Continue drive over Fatu La (13,500 ft/4,116 m) the highest point on the Leh/Sringar Highway. Descend down to the small village of Heniskut and gradually climb to the village of Kangral. The patches of green stand out in sharp contrast to the stark sandy coloured surrounding mountains. Further the drive will take you to Namika La (12,500 ft).
Continue the downhill drive to Kargil through the village of Mulbekh. Here you come across a gigantic sculpture of Maitreya, the future Buddha, silent and compelling in its magnitude, carved out of the rock face. An overnight halt is made in camp or a clean simple hotel at Kargil, Ladakh's second largest town, with a largely Muslim population. Once a trading centre on the route between Central Asia and the Indian plains, Kargil is situated in a fertile valley with a multitude of fruit trees, mainly apricot and mulberry. Overnight in hotel.
After an early breakfast, start the spectacular second leg of your drive through the very fertile and agriculturally rich valleys of Sanku, Panikhar and Parkachik of lower Baltisthan along the true left bank of Suru river. While approaching Panikhar, gaze upon the incredible view of Nun and Kun massif, the highest peaks in the Zanskar range. Leave behind the Muslim culture at the last village of Parkachik, with the road winding next to the Suru river and Parkachik glacier, descending from the north-east face of the Nun massif.
Drive another 2 hours through the "no-man's-land" to the valley of Rangdum. The Rangdum gompa located near the centre of a knobby hill is visible from a distance. Overnight camp is set in the open meadow next to the road, half an hour's walk from the gompa.
After early breakfast, continue the drive over the dirt road towards Pensi La (14,400 ft/4389 m). The road takes an almost 90 degree turn towards the east from Rangdum gompa and climbs up to the Pensi La. From here far in the south, the view of Drung Drang glacier (the source of Suru river), flanked by the massive of Z3 (6,129 m) is a spectacular sight. Another 3 to 4 hours drive through the Doda valley will bring us to Padum, the capital of Zanskar. Camp on the open grassland outside the village.
Rest day. There is time to visit the Karsha monastery. Head towards Pibiting, then on to a dusty plain towards the Doda river. Cross a new bridge over the river and then climb towards Karsha. There is a beautiful Gelug-pa (yellow hat) monastery here that dates from the 15th century. Also visit Bardan Gompa, a Kagyu-pa (red-hat sect) monastery, famous for its 180-cm high prayer wheel. A dusty road, suitable for motor traffic, leads to Bardan. Several beautiful villages lie on the opposite bank. Overnight camping.