Journey to Phuktal Monastery Ladakh

By Jyoti Subramanian | 2015

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Srinagar to Kargil. On our way out of Srinagar, the roadside is lined with Chinar and pine trees.

Nomadic Gujjars. A common sight to see the gujjars making their way down with their sheep for the winter months. Our car slowed and stopped for them many times. 

First view of snow. Evening was dawning when the first snow capped mountain peeked out at us.

Entering Sonmarg, the scene of many a Bollywood movies of yore.

Activity in Sonmarg. Heavy construction in Sonmarg. Our driver told us how corrupt politicians in J&K Government own most of the prime land here. From Kashmir to Kanya Kumari India is One!!

Along LOC. Road ends and we drive along the LOC to Drass.

Zojilla Pass 11400 ft. The previous highway was washed away in the floods and the new road was made in record time with the help of the army.

Onward from kargil. Our devout Muslim driver played songs of Roza and Hajj, we were delighted to see the similarity of the tunes to Hindi Bollywood films just as the Hindu devotional songs are. So we joined in singing the original flimy songs.

The SURU river flowed serenely along the road all the way to Parkachik.

SURU VALLEY. The valley unfolded in front of us magnificent in its beauty.

Shiny new mosque at Prakchik. Mosques everywhere not a Hindu temple in sight. Made me wonder if I was in a secular country like India.

Serene and beautiful Suru. We came across many little villages tucked away at the foothills of these majestic mountains.

Wow. As we progressed towards Rangdum and Mt. Nun and Mt. Kun, the scene became more and more otherworldly.

Finally at RANGDUM. After a 6 hour drive from Kargil over what was no road, we arrived at this small town.

Rangdum Monastery. The monastery overlooked the few houses from atop the hill.

There was no road to speak of, we were driving at 9 km an hour. It felt as if India had forgotten this part of the country. After a drive of 6 hours from Rangdum we reached Padum/Padam.

Padum is named after Padmasambhav and is the administrative centre of Zanskar. Population is 80% Buddhist and 20% Muslim. Though externally a peaceful and idyllic town there was an underlying tension between the two communities with the majority Buddhists having ostracised and boycotted the minority Muslim population.

Traffic in the street. A very common sight, as in any Indian city, a line of Yaks walking through main bazaar street.

Our hotel Oma Sila in Padum. The owner and his sons were very helpful. In fact they organised horses and porters for our trek to Phuktal and one of the brothers acted as guide. We also stayed in a home stay for two days to acclimatise before our trek.

RORU trek starts. We were dropped at Roru, a 45 min drive from Padam and the start of our 4 day trek to Phuktal Monastery.

Stocking up for the winter. The women carry weight ten times her own. This field was more than a km from her home and over rough terrain and two very steep climbs. The smile on her face though didn''t drop.

Day 1 camp Ichar. When we walked into this village at about 4 pm it looked deserted and abandoned. We learnt everyone was at work in the fields. Needing every hand, the elders and the very young were all out. This was common in every village we camped. 

View from my tent. The village people for a small sum of money allow trekkers to pitch their tents on their empty fields.

Day 2 on our way to Ammu. We walk along the river, our destination is Anmu. It''s a trek of about 6 hours but we made it in lesser time since we got a lift from a local villager for part of the way.

Homestay in Ammu. We decided to homestay in Anmu, so only pitched the cooks tent for our meals. The cooks tent in any trek is the scene of much activities. As it gets dark and cold the warmest place is here. We spent the evening playing antakshari with our cook, our guide and the horseman who did not sing at all but kept nodding. The charges for the Homestay''s are fixed by the J&K government, for only a bed it is Rs.150, with meals it increases to about Rs.700 for a day. 

Vegetable patch. Water was not scarce throughout the trek. Throwing all instructions to the winds I had started drinking the spring water very early on in the trek. Anmu was like a green jewel in the midst of the stark landscape. We had fresh carrots, turnips and coriander for our meals. Maggi noodles were a must everyday.

Walking to Phuktal. From Anmu to Phuktal is a days trek. It''s the most difficult part of this otherwise not a very tough trek. Most of the places we stayed in were at the range of 13000ft. The river water was stunningly blue.

Nearing the Phuktal Gompha. Also spelt as Phugtal, this monastery is believed to have been built in the early 12 century. At the time of our visit there were 60-70 monks here.  

12 century monastery. No photographs were allowed near or inside the monastery. The Gompha is set into the mountainside and the rooms were cave like. In an inner sanctum rarely allowed in were statues of Mahankaal (Shiva) Durga and Kali.  

Returning to Anmu. After a night stay at Phuktal, there are many hotels and home stays here for trekkers. Throughout our trek we met people from Europe, America and UK. We load up or luggage and make the return trip on the same route via Anmu, Ichar, Roru back to Padam.

Homestay Rangdum. The one and only shop in Rangdum, not much to look forward to in the sense of good food or polite staff. 

Tourist Dak Bungalow Rangdum. We stayed a night here on our way back and though the manager and staff were very friendly, there was no water in the bathrooms, apparently the funds dried up before they got to it.

Mount NUN. Though Mt. Nun and Kun are mentioned in the same breath they are miles apart. The valley is called Valley of Nun and Kun.

Mount KUN. The view of Mt. Kun was breathtaking, especially as it appeared suddenly from behind the hill. 

Penzila/Pensila Pass 14,600 feet. We steadily climbed up to Pensila Pass though the board said 14000 ft our GPS put the pass at 14600ft.

Drang Drung Glacier. This picture was taken as we were going towards Padum, the next picture was on our way back.

Drang Drung Glacier.

Horses left free to graze. The scene looked as if out of a watercolour by some famous painter. Mother Nature at its best.

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