240 km to the south of Kargil comes as a bit of
an anticlimax. Instead of
the picturesque Zanskari village you might expect, the region's
administrative headquarters and principal road head turns out to be a
desultory collection of crumbling mud and concrete cubes, oily truck
park and in roofed government buildings.
Padum presides over a flat
patchwark of farm land enclosed on three enclosed on three sides by colossal
walls of screen and snow capped mountains.
Straddling a nexus of several long-distance trails, Padum is an important
trekking hub and the only place in Zanskar where tourism has thus far
made much of an impression. During the short summer season, you'll see
almost as many weather-beaten Westerners wandering around its sandy lanes as
local - a mixture of indigenous Buddhist and Sunni Muslims. Even so,
facilities remain very basic, limited to a small tourist office and a
handful of temporary tea-shops and guesthouse, as well as the inevitable
rash of Kashmiri handicraft stalls. Nor is there much to see while you are
waiting for your blisters to heal. The only noteworthy sight within easy
walking distance is a small Tagrimo Gompa fifteen minutes'
walk to the west.
transport around the Zanskar Valley is erratic, although one public bus
travels from Padum to Zangla on Wednesday and Friday, leaving in the morning
and returning the same afternoon. Otherwise you will have to shell out for
the vastly inflated fares demanded by Padum's taxi union. Determined
trekkers can alternatively set out on foot; the hike across the fields to
Zanskar's largest Gelug-pa monastery, is the most
rewarding objective. This cluster of whitewashed mud cubes clinging to the
rocky lower slopes of the mountain north of Padum dates from the tenth to
the fourteenth century. Of the prayer halls, the recently renovated Du-khang
and Gon-khang at the top of the complex are the most impressive, while the
small Chukshok-jal, set apart from the gompa below a ruined
fort on the far side of a gully, contains Karsha's oldest wall paintings,
contemporary with those at Alchi.
How to Reach ?
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is
paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. Jeeps and
Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior
to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar
or Parkachik onwards. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and
the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular
traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into
life after months of frigid dormancy.