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Ladakh - Excursions

Drass - Drass is a small township lying in the center of the valley of the same name at an altitude of 3230 m. Known as the second coldest inhabited place in the world, it experiences repeated snowfalls during winters and the temperature drops to as low as minus 40 degrees and even more.

   
 

The valley starts from the base of the Zojila pass, which is said to be the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. For centuries, its inhabitants have tread upon this formidable pass even during the late autumn or early spring, the riskiest season as the whole sector is then covered by snow and is subject to frequent snow storms. The masters of such mortal dangers, they have been known to help stranded travelers to traverse the land and established a monopoly over the carrying trade in the days of the Pan-Asian trade.

A convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley, Drass is across the sub-range separating the two valleys, which passes through some of the most beautiful upland villages and flowery meadows on both sides of the 4500 m high Umbala pass, which is on the way. The trek to the holy cave of Amarnath in neighboring Kashmir, which starts from Minamarg below Zojila, takes 3 days and involves crossing of 5200 m high pass. There are so many other treks that Drass have to offer including many shorter treks and hikes to the upland village.

Kargil - Kargil was once the trade and transit center of the Pan-Asian trade network and has also been the gateway for caravans of silk, brocade, carpets, felts, tea, poppy and ivory to China, Tibet, Yarkand and Kashmir. It is situated at an altitude of 2,704 m above sea level. Famous for apricots, Kargil is the second largest urban center of Ladakh. A haven for adventure lovers and a base for the trekking tours, one may opt for a whole range of activities including trekking, mountaineering, camping and river rafting.

   
 

An entry point to the wonderland of Zanskar Valley, Kargil is the perfect night stop for the tourists traveling between Srinagar and Leh. It also hosts the popular annual archery contest in May every year and a lazy stroll along the riverbank and up the hillside is rejuvenating.

Dry apricots and apricot jam of the region are delicious and Pashmina shawls, local carpets and woolen handicrafts are some good options to buy from here. The woolens available here are of fine quality that owes itself to the long fleeced mountain goats in the area. The Buddhist monastery of Mulbek Gompa, 45 km from Kargil, boasts of fabulous frescoes and splendid statues. The blooming white apricots in May that turn to fiery orange in August are a visual treat. Trespone and Sankhoo are two imambaras in Kargil that attract tourists with their Turkish style of architecture and are home to the Muslim 'Aghas'. The other place of worship for Muslims is Jama Masjid.

Zanskar - The hidden kingdom of the hill resort of Zanskar is famous for its snow-white high hills and gorgeous Gompas or monasteries. The lovely and spectacular landscapes and the Buddhist culture heavily influencing the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the Zanskar Valley instantly mesmerize one. The word 'Zanskar' literally means the Copper Star and it is so named because the various rivers flowing into Zanskar carry copper sediments. Situated across the Suru Valley and over the Pensi La in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, Zanskar is situated 235 km from Kargil. The high altitudes of the Zanskar valley make it inaccessible in winters due to the extremely harsh weather conditions and the water of the River Zanskar freezes to become the Chador road. However, one can visit the area in the summers.

One of the isolated and scantily inhabited Himalayan Valleys, Zanskar not only boasts of snow-covered peaks and two small alpine lakes but also the most breathtaking views of the Drang-Drung glacier. Panikhar situated at the border of the Suru Valley is a must-see, where the fort of Zorawar Singh is a major tourist attraction.

   
 

The Penzella Pass divides the Zanskar valley from the Suru Valley and is an excellent camping site as it is a vintage point offering excellent views of the majestic mountains and the captivating countryside. Karsha is a typical human settlement with just the basic facilities and the Gelugpa monastery, which is a telltale of the importance of the religion in the lives of the inhabitants of Zanskar. The mural art displayed at Labrang is not to be missed too. Though the mountains seem isolated but there are several places associated with the Tibetan Buddhists here that are worth exploring. It is a place for the adventure enthusiasts who can opt for river rafting from Serchu to Nyimu via Padam or trek along to Panikhar or Rangdum over the Pentse La, into the Zanskar Valley from Lamayuru, Leh or Darcha, from Padum to the Markha valley and so many others. However, the climatic conditions must be kept in mind while choosing the trek.

Zangla - 35 km from Zanskar, along the long rough road from Padum, a titular king ruled the Zangla Valley till his death until a few years back. The old castle is now in utter ruins and the only surviving edifice is a small chapel that occupies a hill and sits overlooking the deserted valley below. There is an old Nunnery near it, which is worth a visit, if only for the austere life style of the small monastic community of nuns that live here. One may also see the old monastery situated in the nearby village of Tsazar that has exquisite frescos. This village lies mid-way between Stongdey and Zangla. Today, Zangla is the nodal point on the popular trip covering Padum, Strongdey, Zangla, Karsha and back again to Padum covering almost all the cultural sites of Zanskar.

One can still see the old rope suspension bridge spanning the tumultuous Zanskar near Zangla, which is the testimony of a rare feat of folk engineering. However, it is no longer in use now. Today. People use a temporary footbridge to cross the river and approach the left bank along which the trail to Karsha follows. Zangla is also the starting point of various trekking expeditions for the Padum - Markha valley. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route but in winters, a frigid dormancy envelops the area.

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