Thursday, 4 October 2012

Zanskar Valley Jeep Safari, Rangdum to Padum, Ladakh

2nd June 2012 – Second day of a four day trip from Kargil to Western Ladakh

The cold and chilly night coming to an end in this inhospitable terrain of Rangdum, brought a huge relief. We got ready to hit the trail after helping ourselves for our morning chore with water from the tube-well in the compound. At 7 am, coming out from our accommodation of Tourist Dak Bunglow, with baggage in hand and walking to the car, I froze in my track! The ice blisters occupying the entire space of bonnet, wind shield and wiper told its own grim story. The early part of night caused the condensation of atmospheric moisture. The later part of night hitting sub-zero, caused the moisture to freeze. Maqbool our driver starting the engine told us that as per the car temperature indicator, the ambient was minus one degree and inside the car plus one degree. That was some revelation!

Ice blisters on bonnet, windshield & wipers
As we departed from Rangdum Dak Bunglow for our 131 km journey to Padum, we observed the flowing water had solidified to ice in the narrow water trenches near the road. No doubt these regions are coldest in Ladakh. Our journey going up the straight hilly road to higher altitudes, it was a foregone conclusion that the cold conditions were bound to prevail for the rest of our journey. We had a glimpse of Rangdum monastery from a distance, which we fortunately visited the day before. The more height we gained, the more snow covered hills made their appearance. 
Snow capped hills on way to Penzi La
At 7.30 am we sighted the signboard of Penzi La pass, with scattered snow on road side and hills full of snow. Gradually we were more and more into snow white terrain on both side of brown mud track. Sighting a frozen lake, we decided to take a break, coming out of the car in cold and windy condition, rubbing our palms to get circulation going to our shutter finger. The chilly morning was more than made up by warmth in our hearts in getting to view some awe inspiring nature’s bounty. Without any doubt, among all the mountain passes I have seen in Ladakh including Khardung La, this one takes the cake. 
Signage for Penzi La
The visual starts from road side trench itself. The melting snow flowing into the trench, their re-solidification into ice, re-melting and re-solidification cycle in windy conditions, unfolded some awe inspiring nature’s creations! 



The frozen Statso / Langtso glacial lake close to the road with gray color borders to indicate the contour of the lake, was simply breathtaking. In late summer, with the snow fully melting, the lake water will look deep blue and add more color to the landscape. 

Statso / Langtso Lake, Penzi La, Zanskar
Looking onwards the jeep track, a view of watch tower at a distance of 100m, with backdrop of snow capped hill, photo of which would make an appropriate picture postcard or screen saver for computer!
View Point, Penzi La, Zanskar
After a very satisfying ‘once in a lifetime’ photo break at Penzi La, we continued along the snow bound terrain for nearly half an hour and another new spectacle came to our vision. The funny sounding name Drang Drung glacier written on a sign board, made us take another break. The very conspicuous ‘S’ shaped glacier close to the road, almost at the same elevation, took our breath away. There was a time when this glacier stretched right up to the road.  
Drang Drung Glacier, Zanskar
The journey beyond, we were on a gradual descent and around 8.35 am we got a lovely top view with a topography which had all the elements a perfect landscape - the blue water mass, the serpentine road going down, the distant hills with some snow cover and blue sky. 
Zanskar Valley Landscape
Between 9.45 am and 10.25 am, we passed by nondescript villages named Akshow, Chibra and Hamling and a police check post named Abran where the driver did the needful. At around 11.50 am, the topography changed once again - we were driving through a valley with soothing green grass land and small bushes all around. The hills were barren and brown without any vegetation or snow. We diverted from main road to travel 15 km to reach Karsha Village and Gompa around noon. The village situated on slopes of a hill had some dilapidated Structures as dwellings and Gompa structures on top. 
Karsha Gompa, Zanskar*
We climbed some steps to arrive at the Karsha Gompa. The gate of Gompa was closed as it happens in some of the Gompas in Ladakh in early summer for whatever reasons. Our reward for climbing those steps were more than compensated by the astounding view which we got from top, that of Zanskar valley and Zanskar river meandering within.
Zanskar river in Zanskar valley
Coming back to main road going towards Padum, around 1.20pm, we reached Sani Gompa situated at the road level, which is perhaps the only of its kind, where one does not have to climb steps in hilly regions of Western Ladakh.   
Sani Gompa, Zanskar
Around 3 pm, we reached our destination of Padum. What Rangdum disappointed us as a simple village of scattered cottages with minimal amenities, Padum is a bustling destination, having an asphalted main road, with houses, hotels, shops and restaurants on either side. We were on a look out for a decent hotel for two nights stay. We tried a few but none had any piped water supply. The JKTDC guest house looked good but expensive. At last we located Chamling Kailash hotel & restaurant with decent rooms with piped water in attached washrooms. Only hot water was to be supplied by the hotel staff. The hotel tariff for a double room being at Rs.600/ - per room per night, we took two rooms straight away, dumped our baggage and came to restaurant in the first floor. 
Chamling Kailash hotel, Padum, Zanskar
After a cup of tea and momos, we decided to take the advantage of good light in late afternoon for some more sightseeing. The first one we visited around 4 pm was Pibiting Village & Gompa which is actually visible from Padum. The car took us to part of the elevation to the village on a hillock. Further up one large Chorten ( Stupa ) with golden top was looking majestic with adjoining Gompa structure.
Pibiting Gompa, Padum, Zanskar*
Buddha Statue, Pibiting Gompa, Padum, Zanskar
With time still in our hand before we called it a day, around 5 pm we reached Stongdey Gompa. After some climbing the ‘jigsaw’ puzzle looking valley below consisting of cultivating land and dwelling was some landscape! The interior of the Gompa was equally fascinating with gorgeous looking Buddha statue, the scrolls, the murals and the masks used during festivals.  
Valley View from Stongdey gompa

Buddha statue at Stongdey Gompa, Padum, Zanskar *     

Thangkas at Stongdey Gompa, Padum, Zanskar*

Mask at Stongdey Gompa, Padum, Zanskar*

Returning back to Padum, we were ruminating, ‘Today was most fascinating day’s experience in Zanskar valley. Let us see what morrow will bring!’
* Images by Sachin Vaidya
Note: Readers can have the pleasure of watching the Zanskar Valley jeep safari through Handycam recorded video clip as per the captioned link:

Zanskar Valley Jeep Safari - Rangdum to Padum 


  1. Thank you for documenting all our journey!

  2. Ladakh is one of the incredible and adventurous place in India. Where Buddhist monasteries always main attraction . Mansarovar Yatra

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