1. Zanskar valley
A sub district of the Kargil district, Zanskar Valley lies in the eastern part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. What once used to be a kingdom in Tibet, Zanskar is known by the Zanskar Mountain Range which separates this region from Ladakh. Parts of this range also extend to Himachal Pradesh, separating the Kinnaur and Spiti districts. The highest peaks of Himachal Pradesh are in the Zanskar Range, with an average height of 6000 meters.
Zanskar is well connected to Ladakh by road from Kargil. There is also a trekking route connecting the valley to Himachal Pradesh going through Shingo La, which is considered one of the easiest 5000 meter passes in India, since it involves neither any glacier trekking, nor any steep climbs. The valley, apart from the mighty Himalayas and the Zanskar and Indus river flowing, also offer some beautiful lakes every here and there.
The most beautiful of them are perhaps the twin lakes known as Lang Tso and Stat Tso right around the corner of Pensi La, the pass known as the gateway to Zanskar Valley. Apart from the obvious self-drive vehicles and private taxis, the safest and most economical, albeit not the most comfortable, way of travelling to Zanskar is by the JKSRTC buses that ply frequently from Srinagar to Kargil for a mere 300-400 rupees per seat. From Kargil, one can catch the less frequent bus going to Padum, the administrative headquarter of Zanskar.
2. Chadar Trek
One of the most treacherous treks in the world, the Chadar Trek is a trail in the Zanskar region of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. Traditionally, this was the only way for locals to travel from Zanskar to Leh, walking over the frozen Zanskar River but now this trail has found immense popularity amongst hikers from all over the world. An extremely difficult trek, the approximate total distance covered during the trek is 105 kilometers and an average trekker walks around 16 kilometers per day, over 7 days.
The starting point of this trek is from Tilad Sumdo, about a kilometer ahead of Chilling village. The temperature during daytime is around -10 degree Celsius and during the night it is usually -20 to -25 degrees, but can also drop to -30 degree Celsius. The trek involves walking over the hard rock sheet of ice on the Zanskar River and camping in extreme conditions. The trek along with your physical strength, also becomes a big test of your mental strength. Although it is now a very glamourous trek, giving successful trekkers major bragging rights, it is not for beginners or for the faint hearted.
3. Kargil War Memorial
Also known as the Dras War Memorial, Kargil War Memorial is a memorial built by the Indian Army in the small town of Dras, about 63 kilometers away from Kargil on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway. This memorial was built in the memory of the soldiers and officers of the Indian Army who were martyred during the Kargil War of 1999.
The biggest attraction of the memorial is the massive sandstone epitaph which bears the names of all the soldiers and officers who were martyred during the war. From the memorial, one can also spot a few peaks that the Indian Army had successfully captured back from Pakistan. Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated annually on 26 July to mark India’s victory in the battle.
4. Mulbekh Monastery
Located about 45 kilometres from Kargil, the Mulbekh Monastery is known for its two gompas that belong to the Drukpa and the Gelugpa sects of Buddhism respectively. One of the best places to visit near Kargil, this monastery is situated at a height of 3,304 meters and is most popularly known for its Cahmba statue.
This statue is a massive 9 meters tall carved statue of Maitreya Buddha, overlooking the old trade route and the modern-day highway. Built around the 8th century AD, a lot of scholars and historians have also found a striking resemblance to Lord Shiva as well. The monastery also houses ancient relics and inscriptions dating back to the 14th century, written in Kharosthi script. This is a must visit place for history lovers travelling to Kargil.
5. Phuktal Monastery
Located in the remote Lungnak Valley of Zanskar, the Phugtal or Phuktal Gompa is one of the very few Buddhist monasteries in the world that can still be only reached on foot. In the warmer months, supplies to this monastery are transported by horses and mules, and during winters, through the frozen Zanskar River of the Chadar trail.
Although a road is expected to be built to the monastery soon, as of today it is a day’s walk from Dorzang with the end of the road leading to Padum, the headquarter of the Zanskar region. Built around a natural cave, this monastery is said to have been frequented by a number of sages, scholars and monks in the past. Built around the 15th century, this monastery belong to the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
A number of festivals are also celebrated all year round in the monastery. Perched high up on a cliff, this monastery gives astounding views of the valley below, and makes for a great spot for those looking to find some peace.
6. Drass Valley
Drass Valley is the coldest inhabited place in India, and the second coldest in the world. Often known as ‘the Gateway to Ladakh’, the temperatures can often go as low as -40 degree Celsius in peak winters. The inhabitants of the valley are mostly from either the Dardic or the Baltis Tribes. The Dardics are descendants of the Indo-Aryan race and are believed to have originally migrated from Central Asia to Ladakh.
With the Drass River gurgling through the valley laden with tall, naked mountains, the landscape of Drass Valley is unlike any other, and a sight to see. The valley has several interesting places to visit including the Dongchik village, the Bhimbhet Stone, Ningoor Masjid, Sando Top, Draupadi Kund, and many more.
An isolated village in the remote area of Suru Valley, is known for its mesmerizing landscape of lush green hills on one side, and rocky barren mountains covered with massive glaciers on the other side. This is the last inhabited village in the valley, and is also the summer destination of the nomadic sheep herder called the Bakarwal Tribe. These people trek up to Rangdum from Jammu every year in search of the soft summer grass, for their sheep to graze on.
The roads leading to Rangdum are in horrible state and there is no phone or internet connectivity available. But this remoteness only makes it a peaceful heavenly abode tuck deep inside the largeness of the Himalayas. A famous spot of the village is the Rangdum Monastery which is located at a height of 4,031 meters on a small but steep hilltop.
8. Line of Control
The Line of Control or the LoC is a military control line between India and Pakistan, and does not have any international legal recognition, but is in fact a de facto border. The internationally accepted border of India and Pakistan lies further to the east and is known as the Line of Actual Control.
The stated reason for the LoC is to prevent infiltration and smuggling of arms from Pakistan into India. The last Indian village close to the LoC is Hunderman, a quaint little village with massive mountains looming over it. Any visitors are needed to identify themselves and people who are not from Kargil are not allowed to spend the night here.
The village was inhabited by people whose homes were dismantled by the war. These people have found a sense of community and togetherness amidst the political instability. A short visit to this village can prove to be quite humbling as you see people living happily despite their tense past. The main tourist attraction here is the Museum of Memories which exhibits relics and artefacts from the Silk Road, and old trade route from Central Asia, including perfume bottles, biscuit tins, bullets etc.
9. Suru Valley
With emerald green hills on one side and massive snowcapped rocky mountains on the other, Suru Valley is unlike any other place in the region. The main water source is the Suru River, a tributary of the Indus River. With a host of tourist attractions, Suru Valley is most famously known for its twin peaks, the Nun and Kun Peak at 7,135 and 7,035 meters respectively. Panikhar, a small village in the valley serves as the base camp for expeditions to these two peaks.
Another small village called Sankoo is known for its houses made of a mix of Turkish and Tibetan architecture, while Rangdum village is known for its 18th century monastery. Another village is the Kartse Khar which is known for its 7 feet tall Buddha statue built in the 7th century. With a number of beautiful spots to visit, this valley is well connected to Leh by road.