Phugtal Monastery or Phugtal Gompa is housed in remotest corner of Lungnak Valley in south-eastern region Zanskar, 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 trek of Phugtal Monastery. Hence, it is also widely popular by the name of “cave monastery”. The remote location of Phugtal monastery leaves you with nothing but all the peace and solitude you can ask from the mother nature.
About Phugtal Monastery
If I cite what wikipedia says here, “Phugtal Monastery is one of the only popular Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that can still be reached on only by foot. The supplies to the monastery are brought on horses, donkeys, and mules in the warmer months of summers and in the frozen winters, they are transported through the frozen Zanskar River by walking over it. The present Phuktal Gompa, of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was established in the early 15th century by Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa was the founder of Gelug, which is one of the newest schools of Tibetan Buddhism.”
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 comes over to see the Amchi when there is any health issues. The monks from the monastery perform tradition prayers in village at the significant events that is birth, wedding, death, etc..
Phuktal Monastic School is setup 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. If you pay a visit, DO NOT forget to carry some education material to be donated to the school.
Hence, the whole village life revolves around the Phuktal monastery only.
How to reach Phugtal Monastery or Phuktal Monastery
A road is being built from Padum to connect Phugtal monastery and Darcha in Himachal but who knows how much time will it take to be complete now because of the 2015 flash floods in Zanskar valley damaging the roads built in this region the most. Earlier, the road or motorable dirt track had been made available almost up to Anmo village from where the trek to Phugtal was just a day’s affair via Cha village but because of flash floods in 2015, now the road has barely been restored to Icher village only. Icher Bridge was washed away in 2015 flash floods but due to the hard work of BRO and the local people of Icher village, it was restored again in January 2016. So, now, one has to trek from Icher to Anmo to Cha to Phuktal or Icher to Anmo to Purne which lies at the other side of Lungnak river and then to Phugtal monastery.
3 Day Trek to Phugtal Monastery
Assuming that you are properly acclimatized in Padum, a bare minimum necessity to undertake any high altitude trek, I will provide a day wise rough sketch of the Phuktal Monastery trek along with necessary details. If you are wondering on how to reach Padum or Zanskar Valley, please read Zanskar Valley – Most Common Itinerary
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 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 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 visit to the honeycomb cave like Phugtal / Phuktal Monastery and return to other side of Lungnak river at Purne for overnight stay
- Start early from Chah in order to spend more time at Phugtal so that you can return back 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 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
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 monestaries while driving back to Padum
Stay options at Phuktal Monastery Trek
- There are home stays 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 attached bathroom at Phugtal monastery
- Camping sites are available at almost all villages including Purne or you can ask the local villagers to let you camp in their farms
- At Padum, you can stay at Omasila Hotel – Zanskar Valley. You can connect with Nobu Omasila at +91-9469369109. They mostly offer about 20% discounts to all DoW Community members, just email him the user Id of your DoW Community with a screen shot of any post made in the DoW Community. He shall also be able to help you arrange the Phuktal monastery trek as well.
Other tips for Phuktal Monastery Trek
- Local agents can help book the home stays in case you want no surprises after the tiring days of trekking 🙂
- There are two satellite phones on way to contact with your loved ones, one at Cha village and other at Phuktal itself
- If you want to do camping while trekking, it can be arranged by 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. Sometimes you have a choice to share the taxis, which helps in reducing the cost.
- The guide and cook charges will be same for either one person or 10 in a group. The more people you have in group, more 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 +91-9469369109 – Nobu Omasila. He shall also be able to help you arrange the Phuktal monastery trek as well. You can refer him DoW 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 mostly 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 very easy 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
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 remotest villages of Himalayas… As you must be knowing by now that there is a Phuktal Monastic School at 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 also must be familiar with our DoW Cause – GYAAN 500. It basically envisions to support / aid the educational material such as school stationary, books, notebooks, school bags, etc.. required in local schools in the remote villages of Himalayas.
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 govt. for providing the financial aid to help rebuild the school and restart their educational programs. However, I request each and every traveller or tourist visiting the Phugtal monastery to help in their own individual capacities in order 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. In order to check what all 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 are seeing 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. 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 trip to Phukgal monastery. Feel free to post any comments, queries or suggestions either in DoW Community or comments section at the end of the article.
Have you been to 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 dear friend, Nobu Omasila from Padum, who provided all the required details for the trek to Phuktal and contributed these pictures to DoW Community.