Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of
Zanskar, Padum (3,505 m) is the present day
administrative headquarters of the region. With a population of nearly
1,500, Padum can be described as the most populous settlement of Zanskar,
otherwise a very scarcely inhabited valley.
A Trekker's Paradise
Incidentally, it is only in Padum that there is a community of Muslims constituting nearly half the township's population, its origin in the area dating from mid 17th century. Lately, Padum has become famous as a major trekking base and a popular tourist destination. Several places of tourist interest in the vicinity of the township can be visited in the course of entertaining walks.
People And Their Lifestyle
Unlike most other Zanskaris, who are practically all Buddhists, about 30% of Padum's inhabitants are not Ladakhis but Indo Aryans like the Baltis and Lahulis and are followers of the Sunnite Muslim sect. The division into these two completely different population groups is instantly recognisable by the clothing they wear.
The people are very hospitable but also shy, in the first four years after the re-opening of Zanskar to foreign visitors only a couple of hundred people passed through. Making contact with the children will result in an invitation into a house. If one wishes to make a longer trek the administration or the tourist bureau will be happy to answer any questions and are very helpful with the hiring of horses or obtaining accommodation.
The nearest monument in Padum is a set of ancient rock
carving on a huge boulder near the riverbank, just below the old township.
These dates from the 8th century and provide epigraphic evidence that the
region was under the influence of North Indian Buddhism since ancient
The Starrimo Monastery with about 30 resident monks clings to a tree-covered ridge above the old town. Across the expanse of cultivation lies the old village of Pibiting, dominated by its picturesque hilltop monastery, a superb manifestation of stupa architecture.
Karsha monastery is the largest in the Zanskar region. It is on a hillside with commanding views of the entire valley and the main Himalayas to the south. The monastery attracts monks from many of the surrounding villages, and at any one time up to 100 monks may be in attendance. The monastic site was probably founded in the 10th century, while the main prayer hall and monks quarters would have been built in the early 15th century, the time when the Gelukpa order was popularized in Ladakh .
Road: The 240-km long Kargil-Padum
road, of which the first 90-km stretch is paved, remains opened from
around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a
thrice-weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter
A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the
interior places of interest like Strongdey, Zangla and Karsha.
Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from Panikhar or Parkachik onwards. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.
The tourist Complex at Padum provides furnished rooms for
staying. There is catering arrangement in the complex, while camping place
nearby is available for budget tourists travelling with personal tents.
Padum town has several private hotels where rooms with basic facilities
are available. At Karsha dormitory accommodation is available in the newly
build inn where basic vegetarian food is also provided.
In the distant villages like Strongdey, Zangla, Sani, etc., accommodation can be sought from the villagers either on payment or in exchange of a suitable gift. Some monasteries may also take in guests, through more as a gesture of goodwill than on purely commercial consideration. Of course the guest is expected to compensate the monastery suitably.