Saturday, 22 September 2012

Suru Valley Jeep Safari, Kargil to Rangdum, Ladakh

1st June 2012 - First day of a four day trip from Kargil to Western Ladakh

After arriving at Kargil from Srinagar the previous day, with one day break at each of the places – Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, we were confronting a different kind of terrain and climate. In cold, arid and harsh region of Ladakh, we were expecting nothing short of adventure while undertaking four days trip to Suru Valley and Zanskar valley in Western ladakh. Car owned by driver Maqbool, was arranged by front desk of the guest house. The cost of four days journey coming to whopping Rs. 24,000/- in seven seater Tavera car, did appear to make holes in our pockets as we were only three guys. But, when Maqbool told us that road condition of most of the Kargil- Padum route was not good, so the charges were high, brought some solace to our soul. Will it be a bone rattling journey when the time will come to stand still? Only time will tell….
Start-up from Kargil
Checking out of City Guest House at 7 am, we boarded the Mahindra Xylo car for first day’s destination of Rangdum, a journey of 140 km through Suru Valley. Bakeries just opening in the early morning at Kargil gave us opportunity to buy some fresh and hot Nans for our breakfast, which was palatable enough to be eaten without any butter or jam. Our driver had his quota of salty tea to go with his biscuit. I could not resist in having a taste of this concoction, the ingredient being green tea, butter and salt and is incomparable to the usual tea which we consume. Over a sip of tea from his glass, Maqbool informed that Ladakhis prefer Salty tea as it gives protection against cold and cough and keeps them healthy in harsh, cold and windy weather conditions. After about 10 km of drive, around 7.55 am, we had our first sight-seeing break and walked some distance from main road. We were impressed with rock cut Buddha profile on a flat vertical black rock. We were also impressed with the driver for showing us a place which very few tourists may have seen.
Buddha Profile On Black Rock Near Kargil
From the same place we could get a first glimpse of Suru valley with Suru river flowing flanked with hills with green vegetation on both sides. 
Suru Valley & Suru River
At 8.20 am we were passing through a green tunnel with willow trees on both sides of the road, planted by the villagers of Sankoo village. A group of students immaculately dressed in their uniforms were making their way to school. The nice and smooth asphalt road came to an end after travelling around 40 km from Kargil. We were on a mud track so the progress was slow, Our next sight-seeing place being Kartse Khar. Reaching the place, parking the vehicle, we walked through a narrow mud track with a small water stream flowing along side. The gigantic rock cut Buddha statue in natural environs jutting from a hill face looked majestic in early morning sunlight. 
Rock Cut Statue Of Buddha At Khartse Khar
The valley on the opposite side was lush green with cultivation plots. Walking about 100 metres from statue we found a government school along the road side with sign board indicating this place as Karchay Khar. The river was roaring on its downstream journey and a bridge was visible at a distance. The hillock opposite had a number of structures housing the villagers yet another one entirely of rocky surface had a dilapidated structure at the top. The backdrop hills had some snow cover.
Karchay Khar
Around 9.20 am we were approaching Panikhar village. A sprawling village on a green plateau with Suru river flowing and snow capped hills on the background. 
Panikhar Panorama*
On way to Parkachik, the mud track did not allow the vehicle to go above 20 km per hour or perhaps the driver did not want to take a chance of a car breakdown. At around 11.45 am with willow trees appearing on both sides of the road, we were approaching Parkachik village. Some two storied dwellings were seen for a change including a light green colored beautiful looking secondary school, symbolic of spread of education to the children of this remote region of Ladakh. The snow peaks looming around the valley looked much closer. The village had its usual quota of shops including a tea stall, which to our dismay was closed.   

Parkachik Village
At 12.05 pm our car came to a halt near a barricade with a board put up by PWD, indicating that the blasting work was in progress on hill adjoining the road. After witnessing pebbles rolling down the hill and fine mud particles wafting in the air, we got a signal to move ahead. Around 12.20 pm, some distance ahead, we got a close view of a glacier called Parkachik La and decided to take a break. Glaciers are snow formations which remain intact throughout the year, part of it may be mud covered and snow peeking from beneath. We were lucky to see a glacier with most of it white snow visible and small amount appearing under a mud cover.
Parkachik La Glacier
Now we were on way to day’s final destination of Rangdum, with snow clad hills visible on both sides of the road as well as in front. Some snow deposits on road side were indicative of severe winter this region must be experiencing. At 1.05 pm we had a break for some photo shooting of a valley with river flowing amidst a lot of sand all around it. This reminded us of our Nubra valley visit in 2009, which is also called cold desert.
Valley,  Sands & River
A steady going brought us near a small village whose name I heard from driver as Shamma Karpo. This was indicative that today’s final destination Rangdum was not far. The ride was bumpy with road surface consisting of a lot of gravels and stone chips. The village consisted of a few scattered single storied cottages and a Buddha stupa by the road side. 
Rangdum Village*
Around 3 pm, arriving at Rangdum, we found this village located in a large tract of flat land and scattered green meadows as far as eyes could go, unlike any other Ladakhi village. The randomly  scattered cottages were of single storied with roof storing firewood, for those cold and bleak winter months. For tourists there were two guest houses in the same compound. Both Alpine Hut and Tourist Dak bunglow looked imposing and good but were locked. As we waited for some soul to appear to give us much needed shelter from the biting cold and a piercing wind magnifying our discomfort, driver made his way to one of the cottages. A few minutes later a guy probably caretaker of Tourist Dak Bunglow came up and offered us a room at a price of Rs. 200/- per day with cots, beddings and quilts. There is a washroom with basin and piping but no water. The sub-zero temperatures here in most part of the year is not conducive for such a luxury! But, surprisingly in the compound there is a tube-well from where one can help himself with as much water as required. 
Tourist Dak Bunglow, Rangdum
Around 3 pm were on our way to our sight seeing at Rangdum monastery 4km distance located on a hillock. The path initially was along side a hill then the driver deviated to a huge flat land consisting of mud and gravels with occasional water logged space at some places. The snow covered hills came closer as we approached the monastery. 

Vista from Rangdum Gompa
The car went up the hilloock to some distance and parked. We were really pleased with the vista of snow splattered hills from that elevation. The entrance to the Gompa was locked but as we approached it, a Buddhist monk, to our relief opened the doors and we had a view of Buddha staue, the murals, scrolls and exquisite designs of interiors. 

Buddha Statue at Rangdum Gompa*
We were rather amazed to see a thermometer mounted on the wall indicating 8 degrees at 3.30 pm. Did we get acclimatized at chilly conditions in West Ladakh this time of the year? What will be temperature at night? 

Thermometer at Gompa showing 8 degrees
Retracing back to Rangdum, some walk in the village and photo shooting later we just relaxed under the cozy comfort of quilts. Caretaker took order for our dinner for vegetarian meals, which meant we did not have to go to the eatery in freezing cold, which was some 250 m away. Around 7 pm, caretaker’s daughter turned up with the meals. She informed us that she was a teacher and taught some 60 students at Rangdum. It was good to see a villager after completing her education giving her services back to the remote inhospitable village where she belonged.

Teacher & Hostess At Dak Bunglow, Rangdum
We chatted in the dimly lit room till about 9 pm and got ready to grab some sleep with the door not fully closing, infiltrating cold air to add to our discomfort. But, on trip like ours in early summer, one cannot expect any better. Slowly it sank in the reason why tourists did not venture in this portion of Western Ladakh in early summer!

My Video coverage of Suru Valley jeep safari from following captioned link:

Suru Valley Jeep Safar - Kargil to Rangdum, Ladakh 

  * Images including title image by Sachin Vaidya 


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