The Journey so far…
Day 4 | Padum – Zongkhul Gompa – Stongde Gompa – Zang La Fort – Padum
Finally, it was a sweet dream night at Padum, Zanskar Valley where I slept so comfortably and in fact all others too. Thanks to the decision of choosing the good comfortable hotel even if it let slip our budget a bit. We woke up at around 8 AM in the morning and again came to know from Hasan, our cook that market is closed following the some local issue again. Today was the day when we were supposed to do Padum local sightseeing which included the not so popular Zongkhul Monastery in the first half and much popular Stongde, Karsha and Zang La Fort. Again Hasan cooked a good breakfast having plain paranthas and breads with Jam and butter. Satisfying the appetite we went down to discuss the tour plan and wish to Travel to Phugtal Monastery which he told would be possible in just two days from Padum because road is motorable now all the way very near to Purne Village but unfortunately doctor had advised against it or any kind of exertion at all. So, we were left with the original plan having hopes of coming back next year to Zanskar and attempting the Phugtal trek from Manali side that is via Darcha – Padum Trek.
We asked Hasan (driver) to get start or find some local driver for us because other than local Padum taxi no other taxi is allowed for local sightseeing in Zanskar, not even Kargil Taxi. However, following the strike/bandh this restriction was relaxed and Hasan was ready to take the unknown roads with us to Zongkhul monastery which is about 37 KMs from Padum. I have read from many references about Zongkhul and all stated that a 4×4 is required but we wanted to try the road there. Zongkhul lies towards Kargil side only so we had to back track about 20 KMs crossing Zanskar village Sani and then reached a point near Tungri Village where there is a bridge that will lead you to Kargil if you take right and cross over it but you have to go straight without getting onto the bridge. It is a point from where the famous Omasila Trek starts I think. However, as we moved ahead there were two roads one going up towards the mountain and another going straight to some village. There was no one to ask for the directions and so we went in to some local house who told us to go upwards and it will take us to the Zongkhul. The road had started to deteriorate further with very big rocks on it, hardly any road ahead but just a rough track. After about 2 Hrs from Padum we reached Zongkhul Monastery. We had to trek a bit as we stopped below only so me and Gaurav opted out of trek. Sudhir, Punit and Hasan went in to see it and for long time did not come back. Once they came their expressions and amusement forced us to visit the place for sure. So, now we went asking Hasan to take the car all the way up there but unfortunately one foreigners group entered first and door was closed. They came out after a long time which wasted about 45 minutes but finally we went in to see the amazed mountain carved monastery which I had never seen in my life. The whole mountain was carved and we were like in a cave in which that monastery was built. After quick check of the entire complex we rushed back to Padum without wasting any further time. It was a nice experience and we were thanking that we (me and Gaurav) did not miss it.
On the way back to Padum, we stopped for a while at Sani Village where these is a sacred Sani lake. Any kind of washing, fishing is strictly prohibited. Today I was enjoying a bit because of good health but did not want to waste any energy to keep me fine. We walked the half circumference of the lake, took pictures and reached back to Padum for lunch. Again Lunch was delicious and we were enjoying a lot the whole stay over there. It was time to cover the second half of the day, so we started towards the Zang La fort which will let us cover Stongde Monastery as well as Karsha Monastery.
Though it is always better that you go to Stongde Monastery and Zang La Fort in early morning for nice views as sun lies behind you and Karsha Monastery in the evening for better views of Padum village . However, we had no choice after opting for the much infamous but very interesting Zongkhul Monastery. The road conditions are very nice all inside Padum. Stongde is about 15 KMs from Padum and we reached there in quick time. The cut off road leading up to Stongde, as it is built on top of a hill, was pretty bad in shape and much like a dirt track again. We slowly managed to reach the top and the monk present there was so generous to show and brief us about each and every corner of the monastery. He also showed us the way overlooking the Stongde Monastery from where the trek to Manali via Darcha starts and told us that a lot of people visit Stongde Monastery just for this precise trek. We were done and it was getting late so we opted to move quickly towards Zang La fort.
Zang La Fort
Well, again the road to Zang La fort is all well paved and it is about 17 KMs further from Stongde Monastery i.e. about 32 KMs from Padum. We made quick progress towards it as we were running out of time and sun was about to go behind the high Himalayas. There comes a place just before Zang La where the Zanskar River takes a U-Turn and the valley widen up and my favourites the soil erosion effect can be seen there as well. We could not resist to stop there and took some pictures before going towards Zang La fort. After asking directions quite a few time, we finally managed to reach the top. It was cold as the sun was almost in the shade of the mountain in front. Somehow except Punit none of us wanted to hike into the fort and check out. I was feeling a lot of cold too so did not dare and remained inside the car only. After a while Punit and Hasan came back and we tried our best to run towards Karsha Monastery (about 12 KMs from Padum and 28 KMs from Zang La) to have a beautiful view of Padum Village but unfortunately sun had gone down too much so there was no point going there being dark.
As we were about to reach back Hotel we saw some unrest in the market area due to the same local protest as there were many policemen there. One of them suggested us to leave early morning next day as the protest can last for few more days. We were a bit tensed since we were not aware what was going on and decided better to leave next day foreseeing the fact that there is no local taxi as well for us. We reached back hotel and booked our flight tickets but it was time to cancel them now since we had cut short the tour program by 3 days 🙁
I checked the Indigo flight status as well as Air India flight status along with other airlines to see if there is any flight available for us that quickly. Thank god there were some tickets available and not at rocket high price too. I tried best to connect to the online flight booking of major airlines and travel portals but could not make it through due to slow GPRS working there. Finally, called up my brother in law and asked for the booking who finally made them after 2 days. So, the reworked plan was to reach Kargil next day, and then Srinagar the second day and finally take the early morning flight back on third day. It was an eventful day but pretty enjoyable. Hasan, the cook was good enough to serve us the dinner and packed some paranthas with butter and Jam for the morning. We gave him a handsome tip for being the saviour in terms of appetite and settled the bill with the hotel owner as we wanted to move by 5 AM in the morning to enjoy everything we missed while coming to Padum from Rangdum due to bad health. Slept easy for the rest of the night.
The Journey ahead…