Zanskar Tourism | Things to do in Zanskar Ladakh, Zanskar Travel Guide | Trek, River Rafting
Zanskar is located in the Ladakh region in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Zanskar range is a mountain range and a part of Tethys Himalaya. It is situated at an altitude of 19,700 feet and separate Kannaur district from Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. It is one of the most isolated regions in Ladakh and can only be reached either through a strenuous week long trek and a 14 hour drive alongside an uneven route along the Suru River. The mountain range is quite rich in terms of flora and fauna. However, a new road is under construction along the valley of the Zanskar River, connecting Padum to Nimmu on the Leh-Kargil road.
A sub-district of Kargil in state of Jammu and Kashmir, Zanskar, a semi-arid high altitude desert is one of the major draw among international and domestic adventure seekers. Administrative centre of Zanskar is located in Padum and for a brief period of time it was a part of Guge Kingdom in Tibet. Zanskar is completely cut off from rest of the world between November to May due to heavy snowfall. Most of the local population are Buddhist and the royal family still reside here although in a ceremonial role only.
When it comes to remote and pristine location Zanskar gets as close to isolation as it can and could be reached only through a long 15 hours road drive along treacherous and potholed terrain following Suru River or through an arduous trek. Zanskar lies on the Northern flank of the Great Himalayan Mountain Range.
Tourist Attractions of Zanskar
Like most of Ladakh, attractions in Zanskar are natural. Semi-arid landscape, monasteries and chortens are attractions while trekking is one of the most popular activities in Zanskar. Nowadays, bike riders also throng this magnificent and isolate paradise in quest for adventure and thrill.
Monasteries of Zanskar
Sani Monastery is situated towards the west of Padum, on the road that leads to Kargil. This monastery is a significant shrine of the Drukpa Kagyupa School of Tibetan Buddhism and belongs to its southern branch. A unique thing about this monastery is that it has been constructed in different style.
Emperor Kanishka (Aka Kanika) had got 108 chortens constructed in the first century ADOne of them is in Sani. The holy site at Sani is called Turtot Gyat and is one of the 8 holiest Buddhistsites in the world. That is why most of the Luminaries of Himalayan Buddhism including PadmaSambhava, Naropa and Marpa have visited Sani. This venerable monastery had ancient and medieval frescoes.
Rangdum Monastery is an old Buddhist shrine and monastic home, which is situated more than 130 km away from Kargil. Perched atop a mountain, it looks like a citadel that overlooks and guards the serene valley.
Rangdum: (3,657 meters, 130 km from Kargil town, 65 Km from Panikhar). The Rangdum monastery has tiny “museum” with interesting Tibetan and other artifacts. Around forty monks live in the Gompa, It is difficult to agree with accounts that date the Gompa to the 8th century. 18th century is more likely. The villagers who live near the Gompa are basically the agriculture shrift of the monastery.
This monastery is built in a spectacular cave, lies on the Padum-Kishtwar trekking route, just before the ascent to the Omasi-La Pass begins. Situated like a swallow’s nest on the rock face of the Ating Gorge, the monastery is associated with Naropa, a famous India Yogi. The two caves around which the present monastery has developed are said to have been used by Naropa for solitary mediation the frescos on the cave walls are very old and reflect a high degree of artistic achievement
The largest monastic establishment of Zanskar, Karsha Gompa is an imposing complex of neatly white-washed adobe blocks comprising several chapels, besides residential rooms for its nearly 150resident monks. Karsha is 4-6 Km from Padum. Built picturesquely along the steep gradient of the mountainside above the Stod River, the monastery can be seen from far and wide. The Gompa, founded by Phagspa Sherab in the 11th century, has the largest library (Kahgyur Khang) in Zanskar and even beyond; there are eight temples and two assembly halls in the complex, which also houses a famous, large and priceless Thangka and smaller but valuable scrolls and precious idols.
The Thabrang (room of God and religion) has frescoes dating back to around the 15th century. There is a 14th century Chomo Gompa (Nunnery) called the Dorje Dzong at the other end of Karsha. The nuns go over to the main Gompa for all major festivals. Karsha is the biggest and richest monastery in all Zanskar.
Stongday Gompa is built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the oasis-like village below. It lies 20 Km to the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. Stongday is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar with 60 resident Gelukpa monks. The highlight of this monastery is its Gon Khang (temple of guardian deities).
Nestled in Zanskar’s secluded Lungnak Valley, the Phuktal Monastery is an ancient Buddhist shrine that is associated with Gelug – the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. This shrine is situated in a cave that was frequented by sages and scholars in the past.
Phugthal is the most spectacularly located monastic establishment anywhere in Ladakh. The Phugthal complex spills out of the mouth of a huge cave high up in the sheer mountain face of a lateral gorge through which a major tributary of the Lungnak River flows. Perhaps the most isolated monastery in Zanskar, its foundation dates back to the early 12th century. The monastery has frescos and ceiling decorations reflecting strong Indian artistic.
Zangla is 35 km from Padum. The Zanskar River, which leads from Padum to Zangla and then Leh, freezes so hard in the winters that for a few weeks one can walk on it. This is known as the chaadar. The trek from Padum to the motorable road in Leh district can take a week. There are little caves by the frozen river in which travelers’ camp at night. Zangla is base camp for in which travelers camp at night. Zangla is base camp for trekkers in the summers. There is a nunnery nearby. There are no formal hotels in the village, but some families take in guests.
Shargole is a beautiful village located about 35 km towards the right side of Kargil-Leh road. Majority of its population comprises of Buddhists and Muslims. The main attraction is a small monastery with beautiful interior wall paintings. It is perched on a cliff and offers great picturesque views. An exciting four days trek from Shargole leads to Suru valley via Safi La and Rusila Passes. Mulbek and Shargole are connected with Kargil by proper road and have daily bus services. Even private mini buses operate on this route.
Shargole Monastery is a small gompa near Kargil, which is perched in the heart of a granite cliff. The monastery follows the lineage of the Gelug that is a Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. An idol of Avalokiteshvara – the Mahayana god of compassion and mercy is present there.
Shargole is another 10 Kms ahead of Mulbekh, or 35 km, before Kargil, it’s small but old Ge-Lugs Pa Buddhist monastery has fellow but interesting frescoes. Inside the Gompa is an icon of an Avalokiteswar. There in the Gompa is also three images of Tara, caved in wood by Tibetan artists. It just out of a brown, granite cliff and appears as if it is suspended in the middle of the mountain. This architectural quirk makes it an object of curiosity among local people, too. The panoramic view from the verandah of the “cantilever monastery” is stunning and helps the worshipper concentrate better.
THINGS TO DO IN ZANSKAR
Situated in the Himalayan range, Zanskar is popular with adventure junkies. A hotspot for trekking, paragliding and river rafting, Lamayuru to Darcha and Lamayuru-Padum are some of the popular trekking trails that pass around Zanskar. Treks to Markha Valley and Khangri begin from Zanskar. A unique trek that offered here is one on frozen water.
Housing a large population of Tibetan Buddhists, the daily life of Zanskar revolves around monks and Buddhist monasteries. While the locals generally speak in Zanskari, they are also fluent in Hindi, Ladakhi and Urdu. Some of them also speak in Tibetan and English.
Zongkhul, on the Padum-Kistwar trekking trail is famous for its beautiful cave monasteries and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Zanskar. Home to the Gelukpa monks, the Stongdey monastery, the second largest Buddhist shrine in Zanskar is another tourist favorite.
Another important fascination trekking point is Chadar Trek.
The Drang-Drung Glacier is one of the biggest glaciers of the country and offers picturesque views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. A winding river of ice, the glacier can be seen from Pensi La and the trek to it from Padum is one every trekker worth his salt must take. Trainers and paragliding equipment are available in Zanskar.
One of the most challenging gorges in the world, rafting in the Zanskar river is a dangerous but an exciting activity. Rafting trips on this route can take up to 12 days and camping on the banks of the river at night is almost as exciting as the rafting itself. However, since the water in the river is almost always cold, it is advisable to wear a wet suit while rafting.
Tourism in Zanskar has gained popularity in the recent years. There are several camping areas in Zanskar, and you can rent out a well-equipped tent here from Kargil.
The ancient Buddhist kingdom of Zanskar, hidden deep in the western reaches of the Great Himalayan Range, has little contact with the outside world. Even the famous Himalayan caravan routes didn’t pass this way since snow keeps Zanskar’s high passes inaccessible most of the year. During the winter months, the locals commute by walking across the frozen Zanskar River.
This Jeep safari takes you across high passes with the rocky folds of the Zanskari landscape, ever changing colours with the light of the day. You get to visit medieval villages; many nestled into cliff sides, irrigated fields of buckwheat and green pea patches and some well known monasteries – Alchi, Lamayuru, Mulbekh, Karsha monastery, Chuchik Jal Nunnery, Kalachakra temple, Bardan Monastry, Gyalwa Rignga and Stakrimo monastery, Zungkhul and Sani
Where to Stay in Zanskar
Mostly there are campsites and homestays where tourists could find accommodation along the way.
Best time to Travel
As with most of the other destination in Ladakh region, Zanskar is best visited between June to September when the road is clear of the snow.
How to Reach Zanskar
The only road to Zanskar is via Kargil over Pensela, which remain closed for more than 5 months. 15th May to Nov.
Special Note: Please acclimatize well before setting off on Zanskar trek.
Minimum time required for any trip in Zanskar: 15 days.
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Zanskar Tourism | Things to do in Zanskar Ladakh, Zanskar Travel Guide | Trek, River Rafting
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