About 15,000 sq. Km. in area,
Kargil district has an agrarian population of approximately 120,000 people,
who cultivate the land, along the course of the drainage system, wherever
artificial irrigation from mountain streams is possible. About 85 % are
Muslims, mainly of the Shia sect, Islam having been introduced to the
original Buddhist population around the middle of the 16th century by
missionaries from Kashmir and Central Asia. Their descendants, locally
titled Agha, are mostly religious scholars who continue to hold sway over
the population, even as the age-old traditions of Buddhist and animistic
origin are discernible in the culture. Many elements of the ancient
supernatural belief systems, especially many traditions connected with
agricultural practices, are still followed with subdued reverence.
Administering the Valleys of Suru , Drass, Wakha and Bodkarbu,
Kargil lies midway between the alpine valleys of Kashmir and the fertile
reaches of the Indus Valley and ladakh. The region is politically part
of India, ethnically part of Baltistan and geographically an integral
part of Ladakh.
1947, Kargil was an important trading centre linking Ladakh with Gilgit
and the lower Indus Valley. There were also important trading link
between the villages of the Suru Valley and the Zanskar Valley and
even 20 years ago it was not uncommon to see yak trains making their way
for Padum all the 3way into Kargil Bazaar . Kargil next to the roaring
Suru River, is the second larget town in Ladakh.
The western parts of Ladakh comprising the river valleys, which are drained
and formed by the Himalayan tributaries of the high Indus, constitute Kargil
district. Prominent among these are the spectacular valleys of Suru and
Zanskar, which lie nestled along the northern flank of the Great Himalayan
wall. The smaller lateral valleys of Drass, Wakha-Mulbek and Chiktan
constitute important subsidiaries.
This region formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom
of Ladakh. In fact it is believed to be the first to be inhabited by the
early colonizers of Ladakh, the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Great
Himalayan range, assorted Dard immigrants from down the Indus and the Gilgit
valleys and itinerant nomads from the Tibetan highlands. Also, being
contiguous with Baltistan, Kashmir, Kulu etc. these valleys are believed to
have served as the initial recipients of successive ethnic and cultural
influences emanating from the neighboring regions. Thus, while the Mons are
believed to have introduced north-Indian Buddhism to these valleys, the Dard
and Balti immigrants are credited with introducing farming and the Tibetan
nomads with the tradition of herding and animal husbandry.
Leh to Kargil
This section refers to places on , or near, the main road from Leh
to Kargil. 231 km road to Kargil, You can visit several gompas on the
way. For a description of the villages and places of interest between
Leh and Khalsi, see Around Leh earlier in this chapter.
The road from Kargil
heads south west away from padum following the Suru Valley . It's still
predominantly inhabited by Muslims, who converted to Islam in the 15th
century a Muslim shrine.
What to See and Do
Kargil mainly serves as an ideal base station for adventure activities like
trekking, mountaineering, camping, river rafting etc. In high Himalayan
Valleys. It is also a base for taking shorter excursions to Mulbek where the
chief attraction is a 9-m high rock sculpture depicting the future Buddha.
Kargil also offers some interesting walks along the river bank and up the
hillside. The best among these is the one leading to Goma Kargil along a
2-km long winding road which, passing through some of the most picturesque
parts of the town, presents breathtaking views of the mountain stream. A
stroll in the bazaar might lead to a shop selling flint and tobacco pouches,
travelling hookahs and brass kettles - handcrafted items of everyday use
which find their way into the mart as curios. Most shops deals in common
consumer goods, but some specialize in trekking provisions. The showroom of
the Government Industries Centre near the riverbank displays and sell
Pashmina Shawls, local carpets and other woolen handicrafts. The apricot jam
produced here serves as a rare delicacy. Kargil's dry apricot has now become
a souvenir item, which can be purchased freely in the bazaar.
In and Around Kargil
Mulbek Gompa (monastery) dominates the valley. It is easy to see why in
bygone times this site served as an outpost to guard the caravan route. Like
all Buddhists monasteries it is adorned by frescoes and statues.
The last sign of Buddhism, as you shortly head into the Muslim-dominated
regions near Kargil and beyond. Mulbekh's main claim to fame is the
impresive eight meter high Chamba statue, an image of a future Buddha, cut
into the rock face, dating back to about 700 AD. There are also two gompas
serdung and Gandentse, which offer great views of the valley.
Situated 45 kms East of Kargil on the road to Leh, Mulbek (3230 m) in an
area dominated by the Buddhists. It is situated along either banks of the
Wakha River, which originates. Many monuments of the early Buddhists era dot
the landscape and are accessible from the road.
Shergol : Another picturesque village of the Wakha River valley,
Shergol is situated across the river, right of the Kargil-Leh road. The main
attraction is a cave monastery which is visible from a far as a white speck
against the vertically rising ochre hill from which it appears to hang out.
Below this small monastery is a larger Buddhist nunnery with about a dozen
incumbents. The village is accessible by the motorable road that branches
off from the Kargil-Leh road, about 5 km short of Mulbek. Shergol is a
convenient base for an exciting 4-day trek across the mountain range into
the Suru valley. It is also the approach base for visiting Urgyan-Dzong, a
meditation retreat lying deep inside the mountains surrounding the Wakha
Urgyan Dzong : This meditation retreat lies tucked away in an amazing
natural mountain fortress high up in Zanskar range. Concealed within is a
circular table land with a small monastic establishment at its centre. The
surrounding hillside reveals several caves where high-ranking Buddhists
saints meditated in seclusion. At least one such cave is associated with the
visit of Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism. The main
approach is to footpath laid through the only gap available in the rocky
Besides upmarket hotels like
the Siachen, finding somewhere to eat in Kargil is a toss up betwen the
small tourist oriented cafes on the lane from the park the the bazaar, or a
dhaba on the main street