Beauty Of The Heights
Located east of Zanskar, the restricted area of Rupshu is Ladakh's easternmost and most elevated region, blending into western Tibet's high plains. In fact, topographically, but not politically, Rupshu is an integral part of the Chang Tang, Tibet's 600-mile-wide, 15,000-foot high northern steppes, of which it is the westernmost extremity.
An Ancient Nomad Route
Rupshu has majestic sweeping deserts separated by narrow ranges with lofty passes offering distant views, and a hardy, wide ranging nomadic people called Changpas. Traders from Lahaul still drive their caravans of sturdy mules across Rupshu into western Tibet, carrying goods such as cloth and costume jewelry and trading for gems, stones, hides, and wool.
The lowest point in all of Rupshu is at 13,000 feet along the Indus River near the town of Chumatang. Within Rupshu's 5,500-square-mile area are the peaks of the Ladakh and Zanskar mountains, and several large, crystalline lakes including Tso Morari and Pangong, each framed in wide basins between the two ranges.
The Native Changpas
The 14,000 foot and 15,000 foot plains of Rupshu support the totally nomadic Changpas. The Changpa economy is geared to the yak, a creature that dislikes descending lower than 12,000 feet in elevation in this region and that provides mild and meat for food, dung for fuel, and wool for clothing and shelter.
The Changpas live in black Yak hair tents called "Rebu" and traverse a land so high that, as in Nepal's Dolpo region, one of the first requirements for anyone living there is an animal skin bellows to keep the Yak dung fire going in the thin air. Changpas have traditionally subsisted on a hearty but unvarying diet consisting almost entirely of roasted barley flour, tea, Chang, meat, salt, milk, butter, and cheese. The menu most days is 'Phe' with 'Solja' and various kinds of soup.
The women wear their own version of the Ladakhi Perag, and like all women from Ladakh , they buy as much of the imported coral and Tibetan turquoise for their 'Perag' as they can afford. Changpas are Buddhist and like most ethnic Tibetans, they celebrate Losar with fervor and gladly travel long distances for celebrations.
Myths & Legends
Rupshu, like all of Ladakh, abounds in myth and legend, much of it based on fact. Some say that Jesus passed the "lost" years of his life in Hemis monastery. Lama Govinda received his second spiritual, mystical initiation while resting at Thak Thok monastery on the approach to the Chang La. And gypsy Davy and Lady Ba camped for three weeks at various places about Pangong Lake in the early 1920s. Once, along the northern side of the lake, Lady Ba's horse, Tomar, disappeared with a herd of Kyang. The best Shikaris were sent to track him, and they did, across two ranges and a valley. On the third day, Tomar returned "seven years younger than he went out on Shikar."
Although the once massive herds of speedy Kyang, the Tibetan wild Ass, are greatly depleted in Rupshu, the Marmot colonies have not visibly suffered from poaching. In Rupshu, as in the sweeping Deosai plains of Baltistan and parts of rugged Zanskar, the sizable, sleek Marmots, larger than the groundhogs they resemble, are the real denizens of this high mountain desert.
The traditional path across Rupshu, the first stretch of
the Leh-Gartok-Lhasa caravan route, is now a paved road. It diverges north
from the Indus at Karu village, climbing the Ladakh range, across the
Indus valley from Hemis Gomba, to reach the Chang La, passing several
villages and Chendey and Trakthok monasteries. This route now reaches
Tankse 20 miles past the Chang la.
Tankse is a village 14 miles south of the Shyok River's southern bend. It used to house Ladakh's easternmost customs post and was the effective limit of Ladakh's easternmost customs post and was the effective limit of Ladakh's inhabited territory. At Tankse, the road continues southeast to the Indus valley and the border village and military post of Demchok. The large town of Ali in Tibet lies not far beyond.
Another nearly level valley leads east from Tankse. Cradled by marble cliffs, this route crosses a low; lade topped pass and, 25 miles beyond, reaches Pangong Lake. Vivid blue Pangong Lake, meaning "great cavity" in Tibetan, is continuous for nearly 100 miles as it crosses into Tibet, reaching as Far East as the town of Rudok. Along its shores are still found the occasional black-necked Crane, an endangered species with white feathers over its body and a spot of rust on its head. Pangong evokes wonderful images: a solitary, tranquil camp near a glacial stream; drinking tea with a Changpa family; and, come evening, tracking the Shy Kyang through low lakeside hills.
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 bus services 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. 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. Accommodation is also available at the Karsha dormitory. 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. NOTE: Ruphsu comes under the restricted areas of Ladakh region in J&K.