The Virgin Vale
About 20-km south of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Panzela Top (4,401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow-covered peaks.
As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley, one of Zanskar's main tributary valleys, the majestic "Drang-Drung" glacier looms into full view. A long and winding river of ice and snow, the Drang-Drung" is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises.
Prime Attractions of Ladakh
Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalayas and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. more..
Thanks to the Hemis Setchu festival - one of the few held in summer, when the passes are open - Hemis, 45-km southeast of Leh, is the most famous Gompa in Ladakh.
Sankar Gompa, 3-km north of the town centre, is among the most accessible monasteries in central Ladakh - hence its restricted visiting hours for tourists
Driving past on the nearby Srinagar-Leh highway, you'd never guess that this is one of the most significant historical sites in Asia.
The Baltoro glacier is situated on the southern slopes of the central Karakoram Range in the Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir. The location of Boltoro is in a huge arena hemmed by high peaks.
On the long Manali -Leh road and providing a route across the Baralacha range is the famous Baralacha Pass. It is situated at a spectacular 16,400 ft above sea level. The pass itself is 8-km long, and is literally the pass "where many roads meet".
The Biafo glacier is located on the south-facing slopes of the Karakoram Range in the Baltistan area of Ladakh. It has a length of about 60-km and descends from a large glacial trough.
Dah and Hanu are places on the far side of the great Indus River on the far side of Leh. Surrounded by the great Hindu - Kush mountains and peopled by a hardy but gentle people who have a bank of strange legends to relate for the weary traveller's ears.
An ancient tradition started by the kings of Ladakh, Docmoche is still celebrated every year in February with great pomp and fervour. The courtyard of the chapel below the gates of the Leh of the Leh Palace comes alive with the music of drums and the thumping steps of the masked Lamas from different monasteries performing the sacred dance-drama.
Hemis Festival in Zanskar Region of Ladakh
One of the most popular monastic selections in Ladakh, the festival of them is symbolises the centuries-old traditions of the Kar-gyur-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Hemis High Altitude Wildlife Sanctuary
The Hemis High Altitude National Park includes the catchments of two valleys, which drain into the River Indus. It is named after the famous monastery -- Hemis, and sprawls over 600-sq-km in the Markha And Rumbak valleys.
The Karakoram Pass lies on one of the highest trade routes in the world for Yarkand in Central Asia.
Khardong La & Digar La Pass
The Khardong La pass is situated at an incredible elevation of over 5,800 m (18,680 ft). It lies on the route between Leh and the Shyok and Nubra valleys
Lakes in Ladakh
The Tso Morari Lake is one of the largest lakes in Ladakh region and is almost like an inland sea. At an altitude of almost 4,500 meters, the Pangong Tso is only 8-km wide at its broadest but is an amazing 134-km long. Kyaghr lake is the halting place for trekkers moving from the Kiangdum camping ground to the Tsomorari Lake.
If one sight could be said to sum up Ladakh, it would have to be Lamayuru Gompa, 130-km west of Leh. Hemmed in by a moonscape of scree covered mountains, the white washed medieval monastery towers above a scruffy cluster of tumbledown mud brick houses from the top of a near vertical, weirdly eroded cliff.
6-km to the north of the main Leh-Srinagar highway, shortly before the village of Saspol, the large and wealthy Gompa of Likkir, home to around one hundred monks, is renowned for its huge yellow statue of the Buddha to come which towers above the terraced fields and village below.
Losar is the most elaborate of all the socio -religious events of Ladakh. It involves the entire population of the region. Interestingly, the rites and rituals are a mixture of Buddhist and the pre Buddhist Bon religious practices.
Matho, 27-km south of Leh, straddles a spur at the mouth of an idyllic side valley. Though no less interesting or scenically situated than its neighbours, the Gompa sees comparatively few visitors.
On the 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month, a 2-day festival is held at the Matho Monastery - the only Saskyapa monastic establishment in
The monastic festivals are the events that provide the average Ladakhi with the spice of life. No other festival can match them in religious and entertainment value. These festivals are held to commemorate the founding of a monastery, the birthday of its patron saint or major events in the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism.
West of Lamayuru, the main road crawls to the top of Fatu-la (4,091m), the highest pass between Leh and Srinagar, and then ascends Namika-la ("Sky Pillar"), so called because of the jagged pinnacle of rock that looms above it to the south.
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
Once one is acclimatized to the altitude, the stiff early morning hike up to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, the monastery perched precariously on
the shaly crag behind Leh palace, is a great way to start the day.
The Nubra glacier is located on the southern slopes of the Karakoram Range in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a large glacier located in a huge amphitheater that is ringed by towering peaks.
Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Zanskar, Padum (3,505 m) is the present day administrative headquarters of the region. With a population of nearly 1,500, Padum can be described as the most populous settlement of Zanskar, otherwise a very scarcely inhabited valley.
After a cleansing trip to the hot springs, where two rooms each have a deep tub filled with piping hot sulphurous water, where's little to do in Panamic other than walk. A dot on the mountainside across the river, Ensa Gompa makes an obvious excursion.
Pangong Tso, 154-km to the southeast of Leh, is one of the largest salt-water lakes in Asia, a long narrow strip of water stretching from Ladakh east into Tibet. Only a quarter of the 130-km-long lake is in Ladakh, and the Indian army, who experienced bitter losses along its shores in the war against China in 1962, guard their side of the frontier.
A mere 24-km west of Leh, Phyang Gompa looms large at the head of a secluded side valley that tapers north into the rugged Ladakh range from the Srinagar highway.
Phyang is one of the two Dringungpa Monasteries in Ladakh. This monastery 17-km west of Leh, holds its festival in July/august. Like other monastic festivals, sacred dance-dramas or 'chhams' form the core of this festival.
River Rafting in Zanskar Valley
While water levels are high, between the end of June and late August, Leh's more entrepreneurial travel agents operate rafting trips on the river Indus
A picturesque expanse surrounded by colorful rocky mountains, Sankoo is an upcoming township with a small bazaar and numerous villages around. Dense plantations of Poplers, Willows, Myricarea and wild Roses fill the bowl shaped valley, giving it the ambience of a man-made forest tucked within the mountain ramparts.
The Siachen glacier lies in the extreme north-central part of Jammu and Kashmir near the border of India and Tibet. With a length of about 72-km, Siachen is known as the largest glacier in the world outside the Polar Regions.
Sind Valley Considered by many to be the most beautiful of Kashmir's side valleys, the Sind is also the access route to the Zoji la pass.
Sindhu Darshan Festival
The Sindhu Darshan or Sindhu Festival aims at projecting the Indus as a symbol of India's unity and communal harmony. Whilst promoting tourism to this area, this festival is also a symbolic salute to the brave soldier of India.
Siser La Or Saser La
Siser La is a high mountain pass in northern Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It lies on one of the highest trade routes in the world for Yarkand in Central Asia.
Just beyond the Tibetan refugee camp at Choglamsar, a side road turns left off the highway to cross the Indus on an iron bridge plastered with prayer flags, and then continues up towards a huge TV mast.
Soon after passing Khalsar, the road crosses the confluence of the Shyok and Nubra to a patch of green sloping from the river to the base of precipitous mountains. Sumur is home to the Nubbra valley's most important monastery,
The Suru Valley is formed by the catchment are of the SuruRiver, which rises from the Panzella glacier.
The Nubra Valley
The 18,640 feet high Khardung La pass forms the divide between the Nubra Valley and Leh. After crossing the Khardung La, one descends to a place called "Khalsar", situated on the left bank of the Shyok River.
The Tulimpati La is located in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kahsmir. This pass opens up the route from the Nubra Valley of Ladakh towards the Karakoram Pass.
Zoji La is a famous pass over the main Himalayan range on the Srinagar-Leh highway. As a matter of fact, this pass has often been termed as the gateway to Ladakh.
Buddhism In Ladakh
Although the Islamic influence extends out of the Kashmir valley as far as Kargil in Ladakh, the predominant religion is overwhelmingly the Tibetan, Lamaist form of Buddhism.
Clinging like a swallow's nest to the sides of a shaly conical hill, the magnificent Gompa of Chemrey sees very few visitors because of its location - tucked up the side valley that runs from Karu, below Hemis, to the Chang-la pass into Pangong.
Chong Kumdan Glacier
The Chong Kumdan glacier is situated on the lower slopes of the Karakoram Range. It is located in a trough that is surrounded by high peaks on all sides. The melt-water from this glacier flows into the Shyok River, which in turn joins the Indus River. The Chong Kumdan glacier had blocked the flow of the Shyok River several times in the past. Thus the Gapshan Lake was formed which drained away once the ice dam gave way. This glacier can be approached via Skardu in Ladakh.
Dances Of Ladakh
Ladakhi Dances are very colorful and majestic. The slow and gentle movements of these dances are very well complemented by the richness of jewelled 'Peraks', Silver ornaments and rich music.
Diskit And Hundur
The caramel brown hillside above the old town supports Diskit's picturesque Gompa, built in 1420 by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong-kha-pa.
The Gasherbrum glacier is located on the southern slopes of the Karakoram Range in the Baltistan area of Ladakh. It lies at the base of the Gasherbrum peak and has a length of about 26-km. The melt-water from this glacier joins the Shyok river system. Glaciers in hanging valleys open into the main glacier. No vegetation grows in this tract due to the extreme conditions of cold. This glacier can be approached via Skardu in Ladakh.
Gu-Stor literally means 'Sacrifice of the 29th day'. It is traditional to the monasteries of the reformist Geluk-pa order of Tibetan Buddhism. This two-day long festival is held mainly in the Spituk, Thiksay (also spelt as Thiksey) and Karsha (Zanskar) monasteries, at different times every year. s
Situated on the southern slopes of the Karakoram Range in the Baltistan area of Ladakh is Hispar Glacier.
Rakaposhi glacier is located on the lower slopes of the Karakoram Range in the Gilgit area of Ladakh. It is tenanted on the north-facing slopes of the Rakaposhi massif. The Rakaposhi glacier feeds an eastern tributary of the Hunza River, which in turn flows into the Indus River. The Rakaposhi glacier lies in a trough whose bottom gently slopes towards the north and northwest. Boulders and rocks are strewn all over the surface. This glacier can be approached via Gilgit in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Located east of Zanskar, the restricted area of Rupshu is Ladakh's easternmost and most elevated region, blending into western Tibet's high plains. In fact, topographically, but not politically, Rupshu is an integral part of the Chang Tang, Tibet's 600-mile-wide, 15,000-foot high northern steppes, of which it is the westernmost extremity.
The Saltoro glacier is located on the southern slopes of the Karakoram Range in Ladakh. Situated in a cirque of the Saltoro massif, this glacier feeds one of the two main streams of the Saltoro River, which in turn drains into the Shyok River. Shyok Valley & Indus Valley Indus is a large valley formed by the main channel of the Indus River as it flows across Ladakh. The Shyok Valley is the valley of the Shyok River -- the river of death. This is a "Yarkandi" (Central Asian) name, probably given by the Central Asian traders
Thak Thok Gompa
Clustered around a lumpy outcrop of eroded rocks, 4-km up the valley from Chemrey, the small Gompa of Thak Thok (pronounced Tak Tak and meaning "top of the rocks") is the sole representative in Ladakh of the ancient Nyingmapa order.
Lying deep in the northern arm of Zanskar at the end of the 35-km long rough road from Padum, Zangla was being ruled by a titular king till his death in 1989. The old castle now in ruins except from a small chapel, occupies a hill, overlooking the desertic valley below.
Excursions from Ladakh
Phugthal is the most spectacularly located monastic establishment anywhere in Ladakh, the Phugthal complex spills out of the mouth of a huge cave in the face of a lateral gorge through which a major tributary of the southern Lungnak (Lingti-Tsarap) River flows.
Stongdey/ Stongde Monastery
The monastery of Stongdey lies 18-km to the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. An old foundation associated with the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa, Stongdey is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar
Karsha is another large settlement across the river from Padam, at a distance of about 8-km from the latter. It has a small market, school, dispensary and post and telegraph facilities. There is also a monastery at Karsha, which is revered by the population living in the surrounding region.
On the route to Zanskar, Panikhar, which is commonly considered to be on the border of the Suru Valley, is an important place. There is a high pass between Panikhar and Sankoo, a moderately sized valley about 42-km from Kargil, Ladakh. Zorawar Singh and his forces entered Ladakh from the Suru Pass in 1832 en route to conquer Tibet. He built a fort whose ruins stand to this day.
The Panzella Pass is situated at an elevation of more than 4,200 m over the Zanskar range (Penzella mountains). It separates Zanskar from the Suru valley and other parts of Ladakh. On either side of the pass there are camping grounds used by migratory grazier communities and travelers. At the top, an enchanting view of the surrounding ranges and countryside greets the visitor. At the top of the pass, there are two springs of greenish water credited by legend to be the birthplace of the progenitors of the famous Zanskar breed of ponies. Different forms of vegetation come up around the pass soon after the snow melts in summer. These include many species, which have medicinal value. Marmots live in burrows, moving to lower elevations in winter. The brown bear is also found on the slopes of the Penzela Pass. The Penzela glacier, where the Suru River arises, is situated on one of the flanks of this pass. On the Zanskar side, an extensive stretch of flat land is present at the foot of the pass. It is dissected by a number of streams and supports riverine vegetation, which becomes thick in summer. This is an ideal camping ground for graziers and trekkers. The Penzela Pass remains open only from May to September, being closed for the rest of the year due to heavy snowfall
A spectacular cave monastery of Zanskar, Zongkhul falls on the Padum-Kishtwar trekking trail, just before the ascent of Omasi-la Pass begins.WHEN TO TREK
For most people, the timing of a trek out of Padum is determined by the opening of the motorable road from Kargil over the Pentse La. The pass is normally cleared of snow by the beginning of July, and generally remains open until the end of October.
The alternative is to trek from Panikhar or Rangdum over the Pentse La. This can be completed in May, although it is advisable not to cross the high passes leading out of Zanskar until the end of June. By this time the villagers begin to cross the Singge La, the Umasi La and the Shingo La and Phitse La. These times should also be noted if one is planning to trek into the Zanskar Valley from Lamayuru, Leh or Darcha. The passes remain open until the middle of October, although freak storms in September have occasionally required treks to be re-routed.
River crossings also need to be considered when planning a trek. In particular, the route from Padum to the Markha valley follows gorges where the late spring snow melt makes the rivers difficult to cross until August.
For the intrepid, there are winter trails linking the Zanskar valley with the Indus. From late January through February, the villagers and monks follow the route over the snow bridges that form in the depths of the gorges. When the ice begins to thaw, they follow a route over the Cha Cha La to the Khurna valley and then trek down to its confluence with the Zanskar River. Here there are some places to ford the Zanskar River to reach Niimu and Leh. This route is favoured by the locals in the springtime, until the deep snows on the Pentse La begin to thaw in May.
Significance - Zanskar
The Khampa, the nomadic shepherds who originally roamed the grazing pastures of the Tibetan plateau, would have been familiar with the high passes into Zanskar many centuries before the villages of the Zanskar or Indus valley were established.
In the 11th century, the eminent scholar Ringchen Brangpo wandered the Zanskar valley selecting sites from the 108 monasteries that were to be found throughout the west Himalayas. At the same time, legend has it that the sage Naropa meditated at the site of Sani monastery.
The Advent of Foreign Travellers
The famous Hungarian explorer Coso de Koros was one of the first European travelers to visit the region. He spent nearly a year, in 1826-27, at the monastery of Phugthal translating Buddhist texts from Ladakhi into English. An inscription of his name can be still found in the monastery.
A few years later, the Dogra general Zorawar Singh led his army over the Umasi La during the conquest of Ladakh and the Zanskar. In 1834 he reduced the powers of the royal families in both Padum and Zangla to a nominal status and established the fort at the village of Pipiting just north of Padum. He is also said to have paid a small fortune to hire a local guide to lead his army directly across the passes of the Zanskar Range to the Indus Valley in Order to mount a surprise attack on the king of Ladakh.
The Dogra conquest was recorded by Thomas Thomson, a member of the East India Company's Boundary Commission crossing the Umasi La in June 1848 en route through the Zanskar and Indus Valleys to the Korakoram Pass.