Trek to Phuktal Monastery in Zanskar, India.

Zanskar valley, in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir, is probably the most isolated valley in India and Phuktal is amongst the most remote places in Zanskar.

A few hours of drive from Padum, the biggest town in Zanskar, brought us to the “end of the road”. After this, a compulsory walk of several hours (5 for the locals, we took a little less than 8 hours) through high mountain passes of the Greater Himalayas lead to the Phuktal monastery.

The Phuktal monastery is the epitome of monks living high up in the mountains, detached from the rest of the world.

All of this made the trek to the Phuktal monastery not just offbeat but also an exciting adventure.

The start of the trek to Phuktal monastery

Cha village seen at a distance surrounded by the green farms with a rickety wooden bridge over river Lungnak to cross over to Purne is a homestay option for the first night halt on the trek to the remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa passing through a deep gorge or ravine formed by the Lungnak, a tributary of the Indus river between the brown, golden and barren Greater Himalayan and Zanskar mountain ranges in the offbeat Zanskar valley in Jammu and Kashmir in North India.

On the left side, villages of Cha and Anmu are the only sign of civilisation. They are spotted from afar by the lush green cultivation around them, a stark contrast to an otherwise golden barren landscape.

Another camping option enroute Phuktal is a village called Purne, on the opposite side of the river Lungnak. A wooden bridge (spot it in the picture!) takes you over. To reach Phuktal monastery via Purne, you need to cross three such bridges, but the route is wider and not so high up, hence a lot safer than via Cha.

Our night halt on the way to Phuktal monastery (also called Phugtal) was in a village named Cha.

Anmu is the first village on the way to Cha just after the end of the motor-able road.

Buddhist family of an old woman, her daughters and grandchildren at their family home in Anmu and small village at the beginning of the non motorable road on the trek to the remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa in the offbeat Zanskar valley in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

Soon after we started our walk, came a point where we couldn’t figure a way ahead. We had to literally walk down the cliff which fell into a gorge deep down.

While we were just staring scarily at this difficult patch, contemplating a safe way to cross, Tenzing from the village Anmu came by. Without any hesitation she crossed through, as easily as one would climb down the stairs in their house.

Realising our predicament she came up again, and helped us all! We couldn’t have thanked her enough!

Later, while crossing through Anmu, her family invited us over for tea. It was an idyllic setting, a house on a hill, with a kitchen garden in front, small cozy cheerful rooms and loads of kids’ laughter! We had some tea, home-made bread and the most amazing yogurt.

Humbled by their hospitality and hearts filled with gratitude, we carried on.

The night halt on the trek to Phuktal monastery

The house where we spent the night at Cha is seen here at the back.  

Homestay at Cha, the headquarter of the Lungnak block, the first night halt on the trek to the remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa in the offbeat Zanskar valley and a Cha local mountain woman carrying a woven basket filled with grass from the surrounding barley fields on her back with the early morning sun in the background in Jammu and Kashmir in north India.

While we prepared to leave early morning for the Phuktal monastery, this woman has already gathered her first basket of the day. She would later set it to dry in her house. Gathering and drying, of anything that acts as a fuel, keeps everyone occupied in the months preceding the winter.

Cha is midway between the end of the motor-able road and the Phuktal monastery.It’s a tiny village, without any shop or school.

It does have a health centre and a satellite phone and is the headquarters of the Lungnak Block, as the area is called.Trekkers sometimes halt in Cha on the way to the Phuktal monastery.

Longer treks to Manali via Shingo-la also pass through Cha.

A few houses have realised the opportunity and offer their house as home stays for trekkers.

Three people wearing warm clothes start the day two of the trek to the remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa early in the morning through the barley fields and white stone houses of the village Cha the headquarter of the Lungnak block of the offbeat Zanskar valley a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

Journey to Phuktal monastery begins.

View of the Phuktal valley on the trek to the remote and isolated Phuktal monastery in offbeat and adventurous Zanskar valley through a deep gorge or ravine formed by the greater Himalayas and Zanskar mountain ranges with the Lungnak, a tributary of Indus river flowing in between and the highly elevated narrow dangerous trail through the Cha village on the left and the slightly broader and safer trail through Purne village on the right in a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

This is what we had to cross to reach the Phuktal monastery. It was a straight path without much chance of getting lost, except within our own selves.

Brown coloured wind battered rocks of the Greater Himalayan mountain range eroded and made brittle by the forces of winds that flow through the remote and isolated Phuktal valley on the trek to Phuktal monastery in the offbeat Zanskar valley a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

Walking through these wind battered rocks, the forces of nature surrounded us everywhere.

Their presence was powerful, enigmatic and left us in awe. Perhaps, this is what a religious experience is all about!

Rocks carved with ancient scriptures in Tibetan script are seen everywhere.

Rocks carved with ancient scriptures in Tibetan script on the trek to teh remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery in the Zanskar valley, a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

These petroglyphs are pieces of art! They are usually just casually strewn around monasteries. We found many of these around Phuktal.They could be centuries old, or they could be made recently by a monk chiseling away in a monastery.

The Phuktal monastery

White coloured Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa built with stones in the architecture style characteristic of the high altitude Himalayan villages hidden in a cave on a mountainside cliff in the remote and isolated Lungnak block of the offbeat Zanskar valley as seen from the guest house at Phuktal next to the three white stupas from where a long winding path leads to the Phuktal monastery a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in North India.

This is what we were after, the most important and the most remote monastery in the entire Zanskar valley. Hidden in a cave on a hill side!

After the long, breath taking (as well as breathless making) walk up at around 4200 meters in the Phuktal valley, the sight of the Phuktal monastery was, more than anything – relieving!

The three stupas mark the boundary of any village in Zanskar.There is a small guest house just before these stupas, where visitors can halt for the night. As we had halted in Cha, we didn’t stay here.

We continued our walk through the winding steps (seen in the far corner in the picture) that start soon after these stupas.

Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa, home to seventy monks and a monk school in a cave on a mountain side cliff in the remote and isolated Lungnak block of the offbeat Zanskar valley a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

Young monks at Phuktal monastery

Two young monks wearing maroon robes and a orange headgear characteristic of the Drukpa sect of Buddhism study ancient Tibetan Buddhist scriptures at the monk school in the remote and isolated Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa in the offbeat Zanskar valley

Should we call them monks or kids or kid monks?

It was break time for these youngsters. Their energy was un-missable.Take their maroon robes away, dress them up in clothes for “young adults” and they could pass off as school children in a playground.

Except that, they WERE in their maroon robes, attended the monk school in the monastery, studied ancient scriptures and would go on to live their lives devoid of all worldly possessions!

Lunch time at Phuktal monastery

Monks eat lunch on the terrace of the Phuktal or Phugtal monastery or gompa with the view of the ravine formed by the Lungnak river and brown and barren Greater Himalayas with the narrow trails from Cha and Purne that form the high altitude trek to Phuktal monastery in the offbeat Zanskar valley a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

Yeah, that’s the view at the meal times. It won’t cost you a dime. Just a lifetime of being a monk! However, just for this day, we got to savour it!

By the time we reached the Phuktal monastery the monks had gathered for lunch . We were welcome to join them.

We went and sat next to them. One of the young monks gave us a bowl and served us the same food that the monks were having for lunch. After some chanting, the lunch began.

Simple healthy food of boiled vegetables and local home made bread served in steel bowls eaten by the monks at the Phuktal monastery in the offbeat Zanskar valley.

The plastic spoons are of course ours!

It was simple, mostly boiled, healthy food. Some food was shared with the crows and other birds that joined in. The meal was followed by tea.After this, the monks retired for their afternoon chores.

We returned via Purne.

Deep inside the Phuktal valley on the trek to the Phuktal monastery in offbeat and adventurous Zanskar valley through a deep gorge or ravine formed by the greater Himalayas and Zanskar mountain ranges with the Lungnak, a tributary of Indus river flowing in between and the highly elevated narrow dangerous trail through the Cha village on the left and the slightly broader and safer trail through Purne village on the right a remote adventure destination in Jammu and Kashmir in north India

We had to change mountains thrice, crossing three rickety wooden bridges over the river.

But the path was broader – it’s used by the horses as well. It was also at a much lower elevation.

In the picture, the mountains on the left are through the village Cha. The ones on the right are through the village Purne. Both these routes lead to the Phuktal monastery.

The locals had recommended the route on the left, through Cha. For them, it was a faster, shorter route, around a hour and a half away.

“For them” being the operative word here – it took us a good four hours to reach there. It was treacherously high up, a bit too narrow, and (I am not exaggerating here), not something your heart could take again!

The people of Zanskar, are people of the hills after all! The hills are their homes. They belong to the hills and the hills belong to them. You, will, alas, always be a foreigner here!

 

You would also like to read other stories of our travels in Zanskar

Jorney to Zanskar valley in India

Monastery festivals of Ladakh and Zanskar

Simple life of the people of Sani, a village 6 k m before Padum, the headquarters of Zanskar valley, the most remote valley in India

zanskar to do not chadar padum discover

Friendly families of the Himalayas who stunned us with their hospitality

Need help planning your trip to Zanskar?

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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Comments

54 thoughts on “Trek to Phuktal Monastery in Zanskar, India.

  1. Lara

    Dear Sandeepa Chetan,

    Myself and my partner want to trek to the Phutal Gompa Monestary. We are seriously battling planning the trip. We land in Delhi on 27 December and leave on 4 jan 2017. Could we rent bikes from manali and travel to zanksar? I would really appreciate your help and insight on planning this trip. if you could make any recommendations of local guides?

    Please will you contact me via email on lara.derobillard@gmail.com

  2. Claire

    Hi Sandeep and Chetan,

    I discovered your blog as I was looking for information about hiking options around Phuktal. Congratulations, it’s really interestting and photos are amazing!

    I am going to Zanskar at the end of the month, I am also planning to walk to Phuktal via Cha (walking along the north side of the river), and maybe coming back via Purne (south side). I would like to spend 2 or 3 extra days exploring around Phuktal, but I am not sure what to do… There is a way to walk back to Stongde via Stongde La, but I am afraid it will be too tough for me. I was thinking of walking to the village of Shade and then back to Phuktal.
    See map: http://www.ju-lehadventure.com/photos/maps/trek_map_zanskar_stongde_phuktal.png

    Have you heard about this Shade village? Do you think it could be a nice option? Do you have other suggestions to extend my trip in Phuktal area?

    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Claire

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hey Claire, love your plans of staying back in Phuktal and exploring more around there. We spent a few hours there, mostly in the monastery itself. Sorry, don’t have any information about Shade village or Stongde la. But hope you are able to make it there, and do share your expereicnes with us! All the best. Happy travels!

        1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

          Hmm, yeah. Asked another friend who has been to Phuktal, he also said he just vaguely knows of these routes. The locals will be in the best position to give you the exact information. Also, these places – because of their geography and harsh weather change drastically year to year. And not much gets written about what the current situation is. It won’t be too difficult to plan routes at the last minute. We had also planned the trek to Phuktal monastery just the day before we left.

        2. Paras Loomba

          Dear Claire,

          We plan to go to village Shade this year, Did you make it to Shade in 2016? Would be interested to hear more on that.

          Thanks Sandeep for sharing this experience.

  3. oscar daniele

    Hi,
    I’m planning to go to Ladakh and Zanskar in 2017 , if the road and came to Amnu , you can go there until Phugtal in one day ? , Overnight stay in the monastery and back the other day to Amnu or at least one more day is needed if the return is part of Phugtal at noon ? Thank you

  4. rishi

    Sir, we are planning for phuktal carrying our tents and sleeping bags. The only problem we are going to face is of food . I am bit worried about it. We are even planning for camping on river side if possible (engineering students).

    1. Chetan Karkhanis

      Hello Rishi, great to know about your plans for doing the trek to Phuktal monastery. There are villages along the way to Phuktal, we stayed at one in Cha. Purne, on the other side of the river bank also has a lot of camping facilities. So if you plan to trek from the “end of the road” you lunch and dinner can be arranged at the villages. For longer treks, people carry food from Padum, mainly eggs and the local food, sattu.

      1. rishi

        Wow! Thankyou for your help. Sir , can you advise some other trek from padum. If we got some spare time we would definitely opt for those
        I’m 100 km from Manali on our way to keh.

  5. Milind Chitale

    I wolud like to know if the road to Phugtal Gompa is constructed from Reru and after? [I know that the road exists till Reru-Muney Monastery from Padum]

  6. Nithin

    Hi Sandeepa, Chetan,

    We are 5 people planning to trek to Phuktal along the same route on 5th July. On inquiring with our Padum stay, we got to know that few of the bridges after Padum are broken. He was not able to explain which of the bridges.

    Wanted to know whether we have to cross any bridges during the drive from Padum to Anmu and during the trek from Anmu to Phuktal. Would it be a major problem if any of the bridges are broken?

    Regards,
    Nithin

    1. Chetan Karkhanis

      Hello Nithin, there are several bridges that you cross from Phuktal to Anmu. From Anmu to Phultal, if you stay on the same side, you do not cross any bridge. If you cross over to Purne, then you again criss 3 other bridges. Only the locals will be able to tell you about the problems the broken bridges can cause, as we can not guess the extent of the damage. But yes, if the bridge is broken, there isn’t another way to get there (except trekking the entire way from Padum!)

  7. Geet

    Hi,

    Great blog.
    I have a couple of questions, Can the monastery be visited by getting down somewhere in between the Manali – Leh highway or the trek can be started from padam only? I guess it can also be done from Jispa but I am unaware of the trek condition.
    And is it viable to do the trek as a solo-traveller ?

    Thanks for your help in advance.

    Regards
    Geet

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Geet, the main route to Phuktal via the village Purne goes further ahead via Shingo la towards the Len Manali highway. Googling for Shingo la trek should come up with details. We didn’t do this, but this one is a multi day trek, preferable to do it with some companions and someone with experience on these mountains. If you choose to start from Padum, the road would have now gone ahead of the village Anmu. From here you can getvto Phukatal monastery solo, if that is how you prefer your treks.

  8. Yogesh

    Hey! Thanks for such a viable information. I’m planning a trek to Phuktal myself, but I wanted to know how is the climate there? I mean Pressure and Oxygen wise? Whether a person with hypertension may get uncomfortable? Since you’ve been there, I can have a realistic information. Please do reply.

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Yogesh, Phuktal is one of the easier treks in the Zanskar regions especially now with the road being made. Last year the road was done upto Anmu, this year it will be even further ahead. As you must have read in our story, the trek to Phuktal monastery can be easily done without a guide. Crossing over the bridge at Cha to the right side and proceeding through Purne is the easiest route. Having said that, it must be noted that the entire Zanskar valley is a high altitude region. En route Phuktal, you will cross patches which are over 4000 meters in altitude, more so if you go through the Cha (left) side. This does slow you down. A short ascent feels a lot more than the mountains at lower altitudes. Altitude acclimatisation is a must.
      Let us know if you need any more information. Wish you a great trip to Zanskar and the Phuktal monastery.

  9. yamini.mande@gmail.com

    thanks for the artical it really elped me a lot.
    sir do u have contact number of any guide from the village padum.
    i want to do this trek, n want to plan the days n buget for this trek.

  10. Chetan Karkhanis

    Prakash: Thank you for the updates about the road to Phuktal. Rajiv: The trek to Phuktal, Padum to Padum takes 5 days. We however trekked from the end of the road (which as Prakash has updated is now up to Anmu. Most maps show the “end of the road” at Reru, which is much earlier).
    Day 1: Left Padum at around 12 noon. Started the walk from a point just before Anmu. By evening reached Cha. Stayed at a homestay in Cha.
    Day 2: Cha to Phuktal via the left side (same mountain as Cha). Started early from Cha, reached Phuktal by noon. Returned via the right side. This is where Purne is. Camping facilties are available at Purne. Night stay at Cha.
    Day 3: Walk to the end of road. Drive back to Padum. Reache Padum by late afternoon.
    If you follow this plan, you wont need any mules or porters. We didnt use any guide either. However, if you do need to consult a guide, there are trekking groups offices in the Padum market. They can guide you here. You can use the remaining days to explore the rest of Zanskar.

  11. Rajiv

    Hi Sandeep,
    Can you please help in breaking the day wise trek with walking distance.

    Considering I have 6 days from Padum to Padum. I plan to do it slow.

    Do you have any contact at Padum who can arrange mules or porters?

    1. Prakash

      hi rajeev,
      i’ve just retrun frm phuktal gompa on 16th aug 14.
      no need to hire porters frm padum.
      road constructed upto anmo (50kms) frm padum towards phuktal. takes 3hrs.
      frm anmo village cha is 5km and frm there phuktal is 5km more. anmo, cha has homestay. pony avlbl at both anmo n cha.
      frm phuktal to purne is 5km and purne to anmo is 8km.

      1. Jainender kumar

        Hi Prakash,

        I am planning to go to Phugtal from delhi by road. Please tell me the days required for the whole trip.

        I also wanted to cover Leh/Ladhak along with Phugtal trek. is it possible in 10-12 days.

  12. Ekta Avani

    hiya
    I really like the detail in the awesome travel photos, would you mind me asking which camera you’ve been using please? I know it’s skills that get these kind of pics and light but it would be helpful as I’m looking for something similar for pics in UK.
    Ekta
    ektaavani@gmail.com

  13. franck

    hello,
    i’ll be in ladakh in august. a few questions : how long is the trek to phuktal ? wht’s the cost ?
    best regards. franck

  14. Varun Krishna

    Hi Sandeep ,

    Firstly great pictures and write up about this place.I am totally inspired to do a trek to this place but may I ask a few questions ?

    1.I am going from Bangalore and have booked my flight tickets in the mid of July.Are you able to able to provide me a travel itenary from Delhi to Phuktal and back to Delhi ?

    2.How physically fit should one be to do this trek ? Is it s steep mountain trek ?

    3.Can this trek be done in ten days as my flight tickets are booked for 18/06 Blore to Delhi and 28/06 fro to Blore,the place I wanna visit is this monastery and nothing else.

    Any information will be of great help and any one who wants to do a trek between 18-28th please feel free to contact me at 7760814991.

    Regards,
    Varun.

  15. Jackie

    Hi,

    Great post, photos look amazing! I’m planning a trip to the monastery in July this year. We’ll be staying at the guesthouse at the monastery. Just wondering if there is power here? I know you didn’t overnight there but thought you may have noticed?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Jackie, wish you an awesome trip to Zanskar and Phuktal monastery. The village we had stayed at, Cha, is teh headquarters of the Lungnak valley. It didn’t have power supply. The villagers used solar power extensively. I would believe in the guest house of the Phuktal monastery as well, they would have solar power.

    1. sandeepachetan

      Thank you so much, Rohit! Phuktal was an amazing experience for us. I guess that’s reflected in the photo and the story! Glad you enjoyed it. There are more stories from Zanskar and the surroundings, do have a look. And let us know what you think!

    1. sandeepachetan

      Hello Sainath, you can do this without porters especially is you plan to drive till the end of the road.From the end of the road to Phuktal, there are villages where you can stay overnight. All you ll need to carry is a day bag. I asked around, about conditions in June. From what I understand, as long as Penzi la is open, Phuktal should be accessible. You can also find out the exact information by writing to info@phuktalmonastery.com
      Wish you a great trip!

  16. caro

    Amazing description! we are planning on going beginning of july from new delhi, during the monsoon, do you know if it is okay?

    1. sandeepachetan

      We did the Phuktal trek towards the end of July, so it is around the same time. Zanskar doesn’t get much rain, so the monsoon shouldn’t really be a matter of concern. All the passes should also be open by July. Good luck on your trip to Zanskar!

    1. sandeepachetan

      Thank you rkbharat! Visit to the Phuktal monastery is a great experience, a must do in Zanskar if you are looking for a short trek but an offbeat experience. Do get in touch if you need any information when you do plan your trip. Keep up with your awesome travels!

      1. sanjay

        wonderful description bro.For a while I thought I was a part of ur trip ,N awesome pics.
        just wanna know is it possible to travel with kidz 12 and 16

        1. sandeepachetan

          Hello Sanjay, thank you! Glad you enjoyed the story and it makes us very happy to know you are considering a trip to Phuktal. According to us, for kids 12 and 16, this trip should be very much possible. Maybe you can carry trekking sticks to make the trek easy. Do bear in mind though, that you have to be open to staying with the locals in really remote locations.

          1. rediscoveringreality94

            Hey sandeep!
            Loved reading about your journey:) has inspired me to take my own.
            could you throw light on few of my questions .
            What was the rough expenditure from leh to phuktal?
            Can the route be treked with out a guide?
            And will one be allowed to stay in phuktal monastery?
            Thanks

          2. sandeepachetan

            Glad to know you are inspired to trek to Phuktal! You can easily trek without a guide, especially if you drive upto the “end of the road”. Not sure if you can stay within the Phuktal monastery itself. But there is a guest house just next to the monastery.