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Exploring the Zanskar Valley Wonderland | Zanskar 2012

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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 DarchaPadum Trek.

Aqua Colored Zanskar River…
Aqua Colored Zanskar River in Zanskar Valley

Zongkhul Monastery

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.

Parted Ways towards Zongkhul Monastery… Take the Left Turn Here…
Parted Ways towards Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Leading its way to Zongkhul Monastery…
Leading its way to Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Valley Views from Zongkhul Monastery…
Views from Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Hiking our way to Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Hiking our way to Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Zongkhul Monastery…
Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery…
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery…
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery…
Prayer Flags at Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Hasan (our taxi guy) at Zongkhul Monastery…
Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Zongkhul Monastery…
Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley
HH Dalai Lama… Zongkhul Monastery…
Zongkhul Monastery in Zanskar Valley

Sani Lake

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.

Beautiful Views of Zanskar Valley…
Beautiful Views of Zanskar Valley
Beautiful Views of Zanskar Valley…
Beautiful Views of Zanskar Valley
Gaurav, Sudhir, Punit (Left to Right) in Zanskar Valley…
Dheeraj Sharma and Friends in Zanskar Valley
The Sacred Sani Lake in Zanskar Valley…
The Sacred Sani Lake in Zanskar Valley
The Sacred Sani Lake in Zanskar Valley…
The Sacred Sani Lake in Zanskar Valley

Stongde 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.

Aqua Colored Zanskar River with Prayer Flags…
Aqua Colored Zanskar River with Prayer Flags in Zanskar Valley
A Bridge at Padum Village…
A Bridge at Padum Village in Zanskar Valley
Ice Cream Candy… Nearing Stongde Monastery…
Views near Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Rays from Heaven at Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Rays from Heaven at Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Aerial View of Stongde Village in Zanskar…
Aerial View of Stongde Village in Zanskar
Aerial View of Stongde Village in Zanskar…
Aerial View of Stongde Village in Zanskar
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Ogling the Magical Vistas from Stongde Monastery…
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Flowers at Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley
The Monk at Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley…
The Monk at Stongde Monastery in Zanskar Valley

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.

Zanskar River taking U-Turn on the Way to Zangla Fort…
Zanskar River taking U-Turn on the Way to Zangla Fort in Zanskar Valley
Views on the Way to Zangla Fort in Zanskar…
Views on the Way to Zangla Fort in Zanskar Valley
Zangla Fort in Zanskar…
Zangla Fort in Zanskar Valley
Zangla Fort in Zanskar…
Zangla Fort in Zanskar Valley

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…

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About Author

You can call me an avid traveler, a day-night dreamer and a passionate lover of the Himalayas who has a high zest for driving whilst exploring new places in the Himalayas & sharing back those Himalayan travel experiences with the other fellow travelers... I am in love with Spreading Smiles in Himalayas through DoW Causes & currently enjoying life as Happy Traveling Soul at DoW Community. You can read more about me in detail at the link here ...


  1. karan sharma on

    Hi Dheeraj,
    I have and still navigating through threads on DoW & other forums but still have not found a satisfactorily information on accommodations in Zanskar valley, particularly at Padum & Rangdum/Panikhar. Could you please help? Also, we two are going to Zanskar on 28th August 2016. Is it necessary to book in advance?
    3rd and last question is, is it possible to reach Leh from Padum if we start early? Thanks in advance brother.

    • Karan, seems like you missed these:

      and this:

      Panikhar also has an Alpine hut/bungalow of JKTDC where you can stay by paying Rs 400 per night. Padum, guest house details are already provided else you can also stay at Omasila Padum, check Phugtal Monastery travel guide article on DoW for contact details of it.

      You should be able to get the bookings done once you reach there too. No it is not possible to reach Leh from Padum about 8 hrs ahead of Kargil. You will barely make it to Kargil in one day from Padum. The moment you see the road, all hopes of making it easy will be shattered 😉

      • karan sharma on

        Thanks for the quicky Sharma ji 🙂
        I did go through both these threads and noted both accommodations. On different sites/blogs i read there are many options in Padum. So i thought may be, I can some list or something. Thank you anyways.
        Rangdum to Leh is odd 340 km. Even at an average speed of 30, we can reach in 11 hours. I dont know about Rangdum to Kargil(130kms) but Kargil to Leh road is pretty fine. Last time i visited 6years ago though. 🙂
        Thank you

        • Karan, yeah, there are many options and I will say you can also reach there and look for stay, you will get one for sure. Else you have couple of reference. Hmmm, It is my recommendation not to do so but people in our group on mega meet did do Padum to Alchi, Lamayuru as well. People also do Padum to Srinagar in one day too. So, it all depends how you would like to travel and which vehicle you have.

  2. Splendid….am addicted to your blogs and articles…almost gulping them whenever am free..
    one request…please keep me informed when u r going to plan the Phugtal trek from Manali side that is via Darcha – Padum Trek.

    • For sure Sumit, if all is fit and fine and goes out well then Next year’s DoW Mega Meet will be in Zanskar Valley and we will do this trek from Darcha to Padum on it 🙂

      • oh great….am already so much excited with this years Mega Meet….cant wait for d september to come…
        🙂 🙂

        • Me too equalyl excited Sumit, I am sure this will be great adventure and fun, especially the Sopona Lake and Chandrata Lake camping 🙂

  3. Chetan Doshi on


    Is it possible to cover krasha,zokhul,stogday,phuktal,and zangla monestry in 2 days or how much can I do in 2 days in padum?
    And is the kargil padum road open and what is the status of srinagar-kargil-leh road?

      • Chetan Doshi on

        can we reach from padum to phuktal and again to padum on the same day as I found this monestry to be extremly remote and beautiful as compared to others in zanskar.

  4. Nilavra Ghosh on

    Hi Dheeraj ,
    Last year I find that Kargil-Padum route opened in April… this seems unbelievable to me as the route is generally open after mid June so I wonder how the route can open so early. is it a true fact ? What time you expect the route will open this year ? One more thing… What are the sightseeing in Padum and how many days we should spend in Padum to explore the near about places of Padum ?

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  8. Siddharth on

    I would love to find out more about your photography and lens kit. And also your post-processing choice. I think it would be great if you could write a small article about how you capture this beautiful landscape.
    Plus, how do you get the rivers to look so blue..for me they looked brown and muddy! 🙂

    • Hello Siddharth,

      Perhaps I choose the right time when these colors are burning in Trans Himalayas. Well, I have following things in my camera kit: D3000, A 18-55mm Kit Lens, 35mm Nikkor Prime AFS, 70-300 Nikkor AFS Zoom Lens, a CPL Filter for my kit lens, a UV filter for Zoom Lens, hoods for these lenses, Lowepro Bag, 2 Batteries, a Nikon Wireless remote and few SD cards of about 32 GBs in total.

      How do I take pictures: Usually most pictures are with CPL on with my Kit lens with rare zoom ones and portraits with prime. I always use Vivid Image Control with +1 Contrast in the camera and sometimes +1 Saturation too (but now use to keep it neutral). Then, in post process mostly the cropping is done, or a bit of contrast adjustments at times or in some cases Auto Tone feature of Adobe Light room. I do not know how to use the other features in these tools 😀

      Mostly the colors popup out due to Contrast +1 and +1 saturation in the camera itself along with the use of CPL. I like vivid colors, so keep these settings. Some people say they are over saturated but this is the way I like them and frankly speaking I am not that into photography and takes out the camera only on trips majority of times which is where I practice and try to learn things.

      Dheeraj Sharma

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