Alchi to Kargil
You will have to make an early start if you choose to go off the beaten track and head from Alchi to Kargil by a longer but very interesting alternate route via Batalik. However, please note that a permit, obtainable at Leh, is required for this section and security is pretty tight in and around Batalik.
Taking the regular route, the first diversion for the day is barely 10km from Alchi and is the Rizong Gompa which lies 5km off the main road. The gompa belongs to the Gelugpa order and its location is quite spectacular. A special sand mandala had been made and there were visiting monks from the entire country, including some from the distant Bengaluru (Bangalore). The prayer ceremony was elaborate and solemn with deep, resonant chanting and elegant hand mudras and accompanied by rhythmic drums and cymbals.
Lamayuru Gompa, Ladakh
From here it a 26km to the check point at Khaltse (Khalsi) and a further 29km by the longer high road to Lamayuru Gompa (or 22km by the new road). Some of the most dramatic ‘moonscapes’ in Ladakh are to be seen along this road, just short of monastery. Lamayuru belongs to the Kagyupa order (Dri-gung pa monastic sect), and was founded by the great saint Naropa in the tenth century. According to legend the entire area was a vast lake, which was drained by Naropa. This is the oldest gompa in Ladakh but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was also known as ‘Tharpa Ling’, or the ‘place of freedom’ in the past when miscreants were granted asylum here.
It probably has the most spectacular setting and is one of the most photographed gompa silhouettes but if you are rushed, an outside view will suffice since, with the exception of a good collection of carpets and tangkhas, the interior pales in comparison with what you have seen thus far.
Lamayuru to Kargil
From here it is just 15km to the first of two gentle passes that one crosses; the Fatu La (13,600ft/4147m) and the Namika La which is 36km. further on the route. Here onwards there is a dramatic change in the landscape with the barren countryside giving way to lush green fertile fields. The last predominantly Buddhist village is Mulbekh (15km from Namika La). There is a large Maitreya (Chamba) Buddha statue carved on the rock face which dates back to AD 700 but it has lost a bit of its aura because of the modern structure built at its base. The next village, Shergol (7km ahead), is situated on the Wakha River and means ‘Lord of the Morning Star’. From here it is only 40km to Kargil. The town has little to recommend for itself and essentially serves as a transit point between Srinagar and Leh or Zanskar.
Khaltse to Kargil: The alternate route
If you take the interesting, alternate route to Kargil, after Lamayuru, you return 22km back to Khaltse and take the turn off to Batalik, now well known as one the main fronts in the recent Kargil war with Pakistan. The drive takes you along the Indus, there is an amazing 10 kilometer stretch along the river as it traverses a gorge, sculpting huge rocks in fantastic yet elegant shapes and past finely ground, white sandy beaches.
This road also takes us past the Dha-Nu region, where there are five villages inhabited by the small but segregated Dard community who are regarded as remnants of a ‘pure Aryan’ race. This minuscule community of Dards are of the Buddhist faith but racially and culturally different from other Ladakhis. Blessed with a good climate, they grow two crops in the year as also fruits like apricots, apples, walnuts and grapes and are reasonably prosperous. Actually one can easily be content with catching a view of the village with its slopes of richly cultivated terraces, uniquely interspersed with a sprinkling of pretty wild flowers and fruit trees as you drive along.
Beyond Dha village one enters a ‘hot zone’ in the military sense – the Batalik sector was one of the most active fronts during Kargil war in 1999, and for 20-25km the army presence is quite strong. One then climbs to the Hamboting La pass (1,3350ft/4070m) with small Signals outpost just below the top. While descending to Kargil you pass deep gorges and further up there are great views of the magnificent Nun and Kun peaks towering in the distance.
Kargil at 8870ft/2704m, is literally a mid-way stop between Srinagar and Leh on this highway. The township lies along the valley system formed by the confluence of the Suru River and its tributary, Wakha-chu. Located ideally along the ancient trade route, Kargil was an important trade and transit center in the days of the former times. Currently it is a crowded, bustling town that seems to have grown in a bit of a hurry and, appropriately, around the highway which is its lifeline. Famous for its apricots and surrounded by neatly terraced fields that grow barley, wheat, peas, other cereals and vegetables, Kargil has regained its importance not only as the headquarters of the Kargil district and the second largest urban center of Ladakh but as a major transit point for tourists, particularly adventure tourists.
Since Kargil does not have much to commend itself, you may consider spending the night at Panikhar which is 67km from Kargil in the Suru valley. Nestled under the shadow of the Nun and Kun massifs, along a beautiful stretch of the Suru, this scenic village is a terrific alternate to Kargil for a night halt – particularly if you are continuing along the Suru and Zanskar valleys.
Distances: Alchi to Kargil
|Destinations en route Alchi to Kargil|
|Alchi – Rizong|
|Rizong – Khaltse|
|Khaltse – Lamayuru|
|Lamayuru – Mulbekh|
|Mulbekh – Kargil|
|Kargil – Panikhar|
photo credit: Monastery at Lamayuru in Ladakh, India, India – Lamayuru, Ladakh via photopin (license)