Phugtal Monastery or Phugtal Gompa is housed in the remotest corner of Lungnak Valley in the south-eastern region of Zanskar Valley, Ladakh. Also, often termed as Phuktal Monastery, it is one of the most enchanting sites up there in the entire region.
The fact of it being built into or around a natural cave in the cliffside, like a honeycomb, adds all the more fascination to the trip to Phugtal Monastery. Hence, it is also widely popular by the name of “cave monastery.” The remote location of the Phugtal monastery leaves you with nothing but all the peace and solitude you can ask from mother nature.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Phugtal Monastery Facts
Phugtal gompa lies in the remote corner of the Zanskar Valley of the Ladakh region. People can trek to this one of the most popular honeycomb-shaped Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh.
Padum gets disconnected from the world in winters due to heavy snowfall on Kargil to Padum road over Pensila Pass. Hence, people walk over the Chadar trek to reach Padum and then take the Padum Phugtal trek route. During summers, the supplies are transported to the monastery through mules/donkeys or horses.
In the 2020 – 2021 winters, the road from Kargil to Padum over Pensila Pass remained open all around the years, which is a big welcome to the year-round connectivity to Zanskar.
This monastery belongs to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Gelug is one of the newest schools of Tibetan Buddhism and was founded by Je Tsongkhapa. In the early 15th century, Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Tsongkhapa established Phugtal gompa.
Manali – Darcha – Shinku La – Phugtal – Padum New Route
Beginning 2020, you can now travel to Phugtal Monastery from Manali to Darcha to Shinku La to Phuktal monastery as well. This new route offers some majestic beauty on the road and traveling via Shinku La pass adds a unique touch to the overall journey.
In fact, you can just visit Phugtal monastery and come back via the same route from Manali to Padum via Shinku La – Darcha in case not interested to cover Zanskar Valley or if you have already covered it.
Phuktal Monastic School
Phuktal Monastic School is set up to provide quality education to the students of the local villages without any charges or fees. The education involves a mix of traditional learning and the modern curriculum to help these students that come from the local farming families in the Lungnak Valley, which are extremely poor and least educated. The monastery bears the cost for the room, board, and study materials of the students.
Hence, the whole village life revolves around the Phuktal monastery only.
If you pay a visit, DO NOT forget to carry some education material to be donated to the school and spread smiles.
Who is Amchi?
Phuktal monastery hosts an Amchi, a traditional Tibetan physician who provides natural Sowa-Rigpa medicine. These medicines are mostly prepared at the traditional Tibetan clinic in the monastery. The villagers come over to see the Amchi when there are any health issues. The monks from the monastery perform traditional prayers in the village at the significant events that are birth, wedding, death, etc..
Don’t forget to read my article on planning a budget trip to Zanskar Valley.
Best time to visit Phugtal
June to September is the best time to visit Phugtal monastery. In summers, the road from Kargil to Padum opens when snow is cleared from Pensila Pass in the May-June period. Srinagar Leh Highway also opens in May. Hence, you can make a road trip to Zanskar Valley only in the summer months of June to September.
Similarly the road from Manali – Darcha to Shinku La Pass will open in May end or June after which you can travel on this new route to Phuktal Monastery. The road will remain open all the way up to end of October after which it becomes very risk to travel on these remote routes in Ladakh or Zanskar.
As of October, the high passes the Himalayas start getting snowfall. The chances of Pensila Pass closing for the season gets higher and higher with each passing day of October.
By October end or November, Pensila Pass closes and disconnects Zanskar Valley from the rest of the world. Similarly, Shinku La pass closes in winters and even the connectivity between Keylong to Darcha is closed in the winter months. So, you cannot travel via this new route to Phugtal from the Manali side as well during winter time of the year.
In winters, when the Zanskar river freezes to ice, people walk over it to reach Padum on the adventurous Chadar Trek.
You can also read the detailed article to know more about the Best Time to Travel Ladakh & Zanskar
How to get to Phugtal Monastery or Phuktal Monastery?
As of 2021, the tourists can get to the Phugtal monastery either by Padum – Phugtal route or they can reach Phuktal from Manali – Darcha – Shinku La – Padum road route.
The road connecting Padum to Darcha – Manali via Shingo La in Himachal is entirely operational in 2020. This road goes passing by Purne from where you can go for the Phugtal monastery trek. This trek will take just about a couple of hrs to reach the monastery as compared to earlier days.
Even from the Padum side, now you can drive all the way to Purne which is on the way from Padum to Manali road. Then it will take 2 hrs from Purne to Phuktal as there are no roads till Phuktal monastery as of now.
If you are interested in more of a pure trek route from Padum to Phugtal then you can trek from Icher to Anmo to Cha to Phuktal or Icher to Anmo to Purne which lies at the other side of the Lungnak river and then to Phugtal monastery. Refer the 3 day plan itinerary below.
Are you not sure about the budget for the trip? Well, you can read my detailed article on how to calculate the cost of the Zanskar Valley trip?
Manali – Darcha to Padum via Shinku La Pass Road Status 2021
As of 2021, the road has been connected at both ends from Padum to Darcha via Shinglo La pass and lots of people have already covered this route in the 2020 season. I hope in season 2021; more and more people will start traveling from Darcha to Padum via Shingo La pass. This route will certainly make this monastery very popular among tourists.
There have been several vehicles as of October 2020 end that reached Padum from Darcha – Manali side. Hence, next season in 2020 we may start seeing more vehicles reaching Manali to Padum over Darcha – Shingo La route.
Please bear in mind that the road near Shinku La pass on either side is pretty challenging and you require to cross couple of deep water crossings which can be quite challenging in early season when snow melts and July – August time when rains are common.
1 Day trip to Phugtal from Padum
If you have only a day to visit Phuktal monastery from Padum, then better start your day early in the morning. It takes more than 2 hrs to drive from Padum to Purne and then you need to trek for 2 hrs to reach the monastery.
You will spend some time up there at the monastery as well and then you can consider a similar time to return to Padum or reaching Kurgiak further towards Darcha – Manali. So, if you have enough days in hand, it’s worth spending a night at Purne Homestay or at Phuktal monastery itself, as most people opt to do. Refer to 2 Day itinerary below.
Padum – Phuktal by Road – 2 Day Itinerary
As suggested above, the one day trip to Phuktal is now possible but not really recommended, I will suggest you follow the below two day trip plan to visit Phuktal from Padum to either return back or continue towards Manali from Padum via Darcha – Shingola pass route.
Day 1 – Padum to Purne
After breakfast drive towards Phuktal monastery. On the way you can visit Bardan monastery which is on a rock cliff beside the bank of Tsarap river. Then have lunch at Purne and tnjoy the beauty of Lungnak valley. You can also witness blue sheep there if you are lucky enough.
You can spend the night at Purne Guest House or Homestay and may be go camping in the wild up there.
Day 2 – Purne to Phuktal to Padum
After breakfast trek towards Phugtal. You can take about 2 hrs for regular trekkers and about 3 hrs for non-regular trekkers. After reaching the monastery, have your lunch at Phuktal.
There is a small guest house which is run by Phuktal monastery monks for the Travellers. If you wish to eat there then you have to order an hour in advance or they can serve you with Maggie and tea on instant order.
After exploring trek back to Purne from where you can take your car or taxi to drive you back to Padum or further towards Kurgiakh campgrounds so that you can continue your journey the next day towards Shinku La Pass – Darcha – Manali.
Padum – Phugtal Trek – 3 Day Itinerary
Apart from the road journey to Purne, the only other way to reach the Phugtal monastery is by trekking to it. I need to assume that you are properly acclimatized in Padum. It is a bare minimum necessary to undertake any high-altitude trek.
If you are wondering on how to reach Padum or Zanskar Valley, please read my article on Zanskar Valley – Most Common Itinerary
I will provide a day-by-day itinerary of the Padum to Phuktal Monastery trek along with other necessary details.
Day 1 | Padum – Raru – Ichar – Anmu – Chah (6-8 Hrs of trekking)
- Give a shot at a 3-4 day trek + road journey to Phugtal Monastery
- Drive from Padum to last road Icher, about 1 and a half hour
- Start the trek from Icher until Anmu or up to Chah, in case you are short on days
- It will take about 4-6 hrs trekking from Icher to Anmu and a further couple of hours trekking to Chah from Anmu
- Few homestays are available at Anmu as well as Chah villages
- Food will be rice, vegetable, dal, curd, and some local food. You can carry some foods to cook at Homestay if you wish
- The river flows aside this trek and may have a magical feeling to it
Day 2 | Chah – Phugtal / Phuktal Monastery – Purne (5-6 Hrs trekking)
- This day you pay a visit to the honeycomb cave-like Phugtal / Phuktal Monastery and return to another side of Lungnak river at Purne for overnight stay.
- Start early from Chah to spend more time at Phugtal so that you can return to Purne with enough daylight left in the day.
- Please note that the direct route from Chah village to Phuktal Monastery is a bit difficult and narrow. It should only be taken with a guide or local else you should take the route through Purne which is easier in comparison but takes one more day trekking
- Chah to Phuktal direct route takes about 2.5-3 Hrs even being 6 KMs apart, and Phuktal to Purne will take you another 2-2.5 Hrs
- Refreshments shall be available at Chah and Zamthang villages
- There is a guest house with attached bathroom at Phugtal monastery as well in case it gets late for you and you do not like to risk the way back
- At Purne there are two-three beautiful camping sites and a small guest house with shop and a homestay
If you love planning your Himalayan trips, then do read the detailed travel guide on how to make a road trip to Zanskar?
Day 3 | Purne – Anmu – Icher – Raru – Padum (7-8 Hrs of trekking)
- Purney to Icher will take you about 7-8 Hrs, so start early in the day
- Your taxi pick up should be there for pickup at Icher
- If you are not tired, you can visit Bardan and Muney monasteries while driving back to Padum
You can also plan to include Karsha monastery while coming back to Padum in case you have time or you plan to add a day. Karsha monastery can also be visited as a part of local sightseeing in Padum village.
Stay options at Phuktal Monastery Trek
- There are homestays available at Anmu, Chah, and Purne villages.
- Purne village has a guest house with a shop too for buying general stuff and food items.
- There is a guest house with an attached bathroom at Phugtal monastery.
- Camping sites are available in almost all villages including Purne or you can ask the local villagers to let you camp in their farms.
You should check the 12 must-have things to carry on a trek or camping trip in the Himalayas.
Omasila Hotel – Zanskar Valley
At Padum, you can stay at Omasila Hotel – Zanskar Valley. You can connect with Nobu Omasila at +91-7889857547 or +91-9469369109. They mostly offer about 40% discounts to all DevilOnWheels Community members. You can always refer my name (Dheeraj/DevilOnWheels) to Nobu bhai.
Nobu bhai also runs Kailash hotel at the main market at a cheap price of Rs 1000 double bed with attached bathroom and hot showers.
He will also be able to help you arrange the entire Phuktal monastery trek from Padum as well.
Other tips for Phuktal Monastery Trek
- Local agents can help book the homestays in case you want no surprises after the tiring days of trekking 🙂
- There are two satellite phones on the way to contact your loved ones, one at Cha village and the other at Phuktal itself
- If you want to do camping while trekking, it can be arranged by a local travel agent in Padum, Zanskar. He will provide you a personal tent, kitchen tent, mattresses, and sleeping bags. He will arrange the food of your choice too mostly limited to Indian, Italian, and Chinese :). Of course, there will be a professional guide, a cook and ponies so that you only have to carry yourself and water bottles.
- Taxi charges are about Rs 2600 for a drop to Icher and Rs 3000 for a pick up from Icher.
- Taxi charges Rs 5000 to drop till Purne and Rs 6000 for the pickup. If you want to hold the taxi for a night the total cost for 2 days drop and pick up will charge Rs 7500.
- Share taxis are also available which will charge about 500 per person but the timing is not sure. You can book a shared taxi and a full booking taxi at a good price at Zangskar Explorer office (+91-7889857547 or +91-9469369109) which is at the main market.
- The guide and cook charges will be the same for either one person or 10 in a group. The more people you have in the group, the cheaper it will be.
- You can also get bikes or bicycles on rent from Padum if you want to add more adventure to your journey. You can connect with Zangskar Explorer in Padum, contact number +91-7889857547 or +91-9469369109 – Nobu Omasila. He shall also be able to help you arrange the Phuktal monastery trek as well. You can refer him to DevilOnWheels Community or my name; he will be happy to help always.
- If you visit Bardan and Muney monasteries on the first day; it will be more enjoyable because when you will be back from the trek, you may be tired, and most people skip. But, that adds to less time left to make it to Chah village on Day 1 itself.
- There are basic medical facilities are there at Chah village as well
- If you want it to be a relaxed trek to Phuktal monastery, you can do it in 4-5 days with an effortless pace and more enjoyment
- As with any other high altitude trip, especially for this trek PLEASE carry more than enough water, ORS, energy drinks (optional), dry fruits, chocolates, eatables, regular medicines to help you survive at least two-three days
Trip Suggestion: If you are interested in the monasteries, do not forget to visit Hemis Monastery in Ladakh on your trip.
How you can help Phugtal Monastery & Spread Smiles
You must be wondering what this section is all about? Well, it is all about spreading smiles in the remotest villages of Himalayas. As you must be knowing by now that there is a Phuktal Monastic School at the Phugtal monastery that provides free quality education to the local children of Lungnak valley in Zanskar.
Also, if you are connected with Devil On Wheels, you must be familiar with our DoW Cause – GYAAN 500. It envisions to support/aid the educational material such as school stationery, books, notebooks, school bags, etc.. required in local schools in the remote villages of Himalayas.
Problems of the school
Well, in December 2014, a landslide occurred between the Shun and Phuktal villages, which caused the formation of a landslide dam on the Phuktal river. In May 2015, the Phuktal river flooded as it burst and washed away the entire school campus.
The building, equipment, materials, and stores were all destroyed, leaving nothing but shattered dreams of education. The monastery has applied to both central and state for providing financial aid to help rebuild the school and restart their educational programs.
However, I request every traveler or a tourist visiting the Phugtal monastery to help in their capacities to restore the washed away local dreams of education in Lungnak valley !! The core team of DoW Community will soon be undertaking a project to contribute our part in this restoration, but more the merrier, I will say.
To check what is required, you can also get in touch with Dr. Tsewang Yangjor directly at [email protected] or in Leh via telephone at 09469297433 or 91-1982-264585.
Hence, you see such a section in this travel guide. I hope each one of you will come forward and support such a cause on your own to help this school in need on your next trip to Phugtal monastery. This is no less than spreading smiles and taking back loads of wishes of purity and innocence.
I hope the above travel guide to this fascinating Buddhist monastery (Phuktal monastery) proves helpful in planning your next Phukgal monastery trip. Feel free to post any comments, queries or suggestions either in the DoW Community or the comments section at the end of the article.
Have you been to the Phuktal monastery before or planning to make your next trip to Zanskar valley? How about sharing your stories or thoughts with us too?
Special thanks to a dear friend, Nobu Omasila from Padum, who provided all the required details for the trek to Phuktal and contributed these pictures to DoW Community.