Zanskar 2016: Padum Phuktal Stongde Zangla Yulchung - Leh to Padum

Our itinerary:

Fly Delhi to Leh.

Drive from Leh to Padum via Kargil and Rangdum Monastery

Drive to start of trek near Bardan then trek to Phuktal.

Trek to Shade

Trek to Stongde and drive to Padum

Drive to Zangla and trek to Nierak and Yulchung.

Drive to Photoksar, Hanupatta and Wanla.

Drive to Leh.

In Delhi we visit the beautiful Safjardang’s Tomb.

The Dalai Lama is giving a public teaching in Leh on the first three chapters of Santideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. Coincidently we are taking the Bodhicaryavatara on trek with intentions to read a couple of verses each day. He’s teaching for three days and we are able to be there for day 2. At the end of the teaching he promises to be back next year for the following three chapters. He addressed the question of inequality in the status of monks and nuns, something he wanted to address but although he would like to see change, it was under the jurisdiction of the council, he had no influence.

We have a few days in Leh where we revisit some favourite haunts including the area around the stupa in old Changspa and the Royal Palace which resembles a smaller version of Lhasa’s Potala. Then a three day drive via Alchi, Lamayuru, Kargil, Rangdum to Padum and the start of our trek. Leaving Leh we visit the wonderful, but impossible to photograph, Alchi before stopping for lunch at Lamayuru where we explore the monastery, a more satisfying experience, before driving through to Kargil and our hotel for the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a positive comment about Kargil, the old town centre has posters of Osama bin Laden. Our previous visits were marked by aggressive encounters with the Kargil Taxi Drivers Union but this time we have arranged to change taxis at Kargil and avoid any trouble. There is a new resort hotel on the far side of the town and that’s where we stay, a huge improvement even though the only colour is green; carpets, bedding, walls, tablecloths, all green.

From Kargil we drive south down the Suru valley but as the landscape becomes more dramatic the clouds and rain obscure the wonderful views and when we arrive at Rangdum and our camp for the night, the landscape is shrouded in low cloud.  After an armed confrontation with Kashmiri militants several years ago in which two Rangdum monks were killed trying to resue a German tourist kidnapped by the militants, there is a small army outpost here.  A desolate posting with cold air coming down the valley from the Suyru valley glaciers. The German was also killed.

Eight years ago we brought a letter and a bag of walnuts from Tsering, who we stayed with at Hanupatta, to deliver to her new husband stationed at the post. It would be another 9 months before she would see him again. Later in this trip we’ll meet Tsering again, and her husband.

If you can have such a thing, Rangdum is our favourite monastery. Desolate, cold, poor, seemingly ancient and powerfully atmospheric, you feel like you’ve stepped back several centuries. This is our third visit, we seem to come here every 4 years, but I never catch it’s essence in photos. It’s a delight to meet the old monks again, we’ve brought them warm clothes. Dorge Thundup, who looked very ill 8 years ago is still alive but not able to leave his room. I spend a short time with him, Stanzin translates, and he seems delighted to have a visitor. He places the photo of him that I’ve brought from a previous visit on a shelf by his shrine. I feel disproportunately sad to think I may never see him again, after all, at some point that’s case with everyone you meet.

What follows is a brief description and some summary photos until I have time for a more complete account.

From Rangdum we head on towards Padum, Zanskar’s town, but we’re still in cloud and the scenery is lost to us until we start to descend. We call in to see Stanzin’s mother, there is a new bridge which has made the village more accessible, and also the old monastery of Sani before the final drive across the plain to Padum.


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