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- Day 1: Reach Padum.
- Night at Padum
- Day 2: Leave Padum. Night at Kargil.
Why travel 250 km from Kargil to Padum, through a backbreaking journey – there’s no comfortable way to get to Zanskar – only to return back in less than 24 hours? (Unless of course, you have contacts with the Dalai Lama and can use the helipad in Padum – yes, there is a helipad in Zanskar!)
So what are the things to do in Zanskar? What “more” does it have to offer? Allow us to present a list of “6 things to do in Zanskar” (that are not the Chadar Trek).
1: Trekking in the Zanskar valley
There is a big part of the Zanskar valley beyond the “end of the road” marking on the map. Which means to discover the Zanskar valley by foot is among the unique things to do in Zanskar valley. If you don’t feel safe taking off by yourself, ask your host family for a recommended guide. If it really is safe for you to go by yourself, they will tell you so.
Along the way, visit some hard to reach monasteries in the Zanskar valley. We got a chance to see the Bardan monastery on our way to the Phuktal monastery.
Tip: The locals are used to the high altitude of the Zanskar valley. For the outsiders, the time taken to cover a certain distance would be way longer than the locals. We would just double the estimated time told to us by the local people of the Zanskar valley.
2: Attend the monastery festivals in Zanskar
These are not targeted for the tourists (because there aren’t very many tourists in the first place!)
The festival itself – the decked up monastery, masked dances by the lamas, tranced devotional music – is an extravaganza. Experiencing these festivals is one of the top things to do in Zanskar.
3: Discover the simplicity of the local life in Zanskar
Except for Padum, there aren’t many guest houses or tourist facilities deeper into the Zanskar valley. Which only means one thing – you have to live with the locals in their homes – one of the best things to do in Zanskar valley! We lived in two such homes in Zanskar – one in Sani with a shepherd’s family. The other time was in an accessible-only-by-foot village of Cha en route our trek to the Phuktal monastery.
Tip: At first, they might be hesitant to let you stay in their homes because they know they lack the “tourist facilities”. Convince them that you can live with whatever they have to offer.
4: Have heartfelt conversations with the monks in the monasteries
Karsha is a village close to Padum, almost at a (long) walking distance. The main lama and the nun monasteries were closed when we visited. All the monks were away to attend a ceremony in a local’s house.
He was delighted that “fellow Indians” had visited his monastery. He said he had loved the sea when he had visited Mumbai many years ago. He even gifted us a katha for souvenir.
Tip: In the absence of too many tourists, such conversations are easily possible in the monasteries of the Zanskar valley.
5: Have lunch with the lamas in the Zanskar valley
If you reach a monastery at lunch time, it will be assumed that you are joining the lamas in their mid-day meal. All you have to do is find a place for yourself to be seated. Someone will get a bowl for you. You will be a part of their food service. Just like that. No questions asked.
The lunch time view won’t be bad either!
6: Try to grasp what remote means, in Zanskar valley
This is the sign next to the only fuel station in the entire Zanskar valley. The Indian Oil trucks we hitchhiked in while traveling to Zanskar were getting the fuel supply from Jammu to this fuel station.
Which makes this solitary pump the one and only means for the people of Zanskar to be connected to the world beyond their valley.
Experiencing life in the fabled faraway lands was the most precious tick mark for the things to do in Zanskar Valley list.