Kargil’s Trans–Himalayan District comprises Ladakh’s south-western part. It derives its name from the second major town of Ladakh viz “Kargil,” which is also the headquarters of the district. The District consists of a network of valleys, formed by Suru, Zanskar, Drass, Shakar Chiktan, Wakha, and Lower Indus. The greater Himalayan Range forms its south-western border, topped by series of magnificent snow-capped peaks abounding in breathtaking glaciers and lush alpine slopes. This valley complex is drained by Indus River tributaries, including the Suru, Zanskar, Drass River besides Nallah Kanji and Nallah Wakha.
Kargil town (2704 m)
Kargil town, 204 km from Srinagar is situated on Srinagar-Leh NHW-1-D and is the second largest town of Ladakh. The town is located at the junction of the famous treaty route linking the silk Route and caravans from China, Turkey, Yarqand, Afghanistan, and Indian plains, which used to pass through Kargil in the past. They would trade in silk, ivory, carpets and precious stones. All that remains of that once flourishing traffic are the ruins of caravans sarais. Situated at an equidistant point from Srinagar, Leh and Padum (Zanskar) and Skardo (Baltistan), Kargil remained as important station on the ancient route of trade between China, Central Asia and India. Since 1974, when the area was thrown open for foreign tourists, Kargil has regained its importance in travel related activities and as an important Tourist destination. Kargil is also the halting point vehicular traffic for Zanskar valley and Leh.
The kargil town is situated on the confluence of River Suru and Nallah Wakha at an altitude of 2704 m, with a population of about 10,000 souls.
While in the Kargil town you can soak in the scenery, especially in Baru and Poyen. There are picturesque walks along the river and nearby Goma Kargil, Drass, the 1999 war sites, Mulbekh, the suru valley or Zanskar. It is also the base camp for several trekking, river-rafting and mountaineering expeditions.
Places to visit around the town
Walking uphill in the town through a well laid motorable road running through the slope, one can have a superb view of the town and surroundings.
Poyen and Bahi-Khumini
Situated across the river Suru, is the ancient village of Poyen. While taking a walk through the village to the Plateau of Baghi-Khumini, one can have a superb panoramic view of Kargil town and surrounding settlements.
For people having an interest in the history and culture of the place, there is a fairly good collection of artifacts and ancient mercantile items on display in a private museum MUNSHI AZIZ BHAT MUSEUM. It is managed by a family whose ancestors were actively involved in trade with Central Asia through the famous Silk Route.
At a distance of about 20 km from Kargil towards Baltalik (yet restricted for foreign tourists) Yourbaltak is famous for its 7 meters. High rock Buddha statue carved in a cliff across the village, connected with a well-laid path from the motorable approach road. Besides, the village has a unique landscape with different features carved by nature on rocks.
15km on the NHW towards Leh road is the historical village of Pashkum. Ruins of castles on hillocks remain one of the past glories of the place.
Mulbekh village is at a distance of 42km from Kargil on Kargil Leh NHE 1 D highway. It is a Buddhist village. The main attraction of Mulbekh is a 9-meter 7th-century rock sculpture of the Maitreya (the future Buddha) and a Monastery with beautiful wall paintings and statues. Among the ancient monuments, there are remains of a fort. The Mulbekh Khar sits atop the Halo-bark cliff. It was the headquarters of the local chief in the past. King Tashi Namgiyar (18 century) constructed this fort. T was said to have set on fire during Zorawar Singh’s invasion (1835). it is now in ruins.
Fokar Urgiyan Rzong
In a side valley of Fokar about 8 km further upstream from Shargole is the cave monastery of Urgiyan Rzong, the famous meditation retreat of Guru Padma Sambhava. The heritage is tucked away behind an amazing natural mountain fortress. Handprints of this great Tibetan saint and some other natural figures can be seen here.
Further upstream of Mulbekh is the picturesque Rgyal village tucked away in a vertical cliff of conglomerate formation. From afar the village looks like a beehive above the cliff and has breath-taking views of the surroundings. Further upstream is the wildlife protection area of Wakha.
Drass (3,230 m)
A small town 60 km from Kargil on Kargil Srinagar National Highway, it is the second coldest inhabited place in the world (after Siberia). Winter temperatures drop to -45 C. The wind chill factor is even greater. In summer, however, Drass can be quite pleasant. Till September, it can be positively hot at noon.
The people of Drass have for centuries known how to cross the snow-covered Zojila Pass in winter. This gave them an unrivaled position as porters in the trade with Central Asia.
Drass has a pleasant climate in summer. Camping and hiking are very pleasurable. Picnicking is popular in summer in the area. It is also the starting point for three days to Suru valley terminating in the beautiful valley of Sankoo and which can also be continued to Mulbekh making it 5 days from Drass to Mulbekh.
The legendary “Dropati Kund” a sacred pond for Hindus, (75km from Kargil) on Kargil Srinagar National Highway is another attraction for domestic tourists and pilgrims.
5km ahead of Drass, there is another famous place related to Hindu mythology. The Bhimbat or the Bhim’s stone is a rock believed to be the solidified body of Bhim. The rock is revered by locals even today as a precious legendary object. Being easily accessible from the roadside, the place is gaining popularity among tourists.
Rock carving at Stiaqbo
2 km before Drass proper there are images carved in relief on stone blocks, which stand beside the Kargil Srinagar Highway, representing Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara prominently.
J&K SRTC buses and taxis plying between Srinagar-Kargil touch Drass. Local buses from Kargil leave in the morning and afternoon. Local minibusses and sumo taxis are also available on the road.
The famous war sites are:
- Tiger Hill
- Mushkoo (3180 m)
- Tololing (4590m)
One of the tallest Buddhas statues stands here carved out of the rock measuring 9 meters tall.
The Suru valley
The Suru valley is one of the most beautiful fertile valleys of the region with its own unique culture. It extends from Kargil in the south towards Kargil-Zanskar for a length of 85km. The valley is famed for Nun (7137m) and Kun (7035m) peaks.
The Nun Kun massif offers an excellent combination of alpine slopes, ridges, glacial formations, and majestic peaks for adventure lovers. A sub-range straddling across the Suru valley, separating the main valley from the Parkachik ravine provides an excellent Saddle like pass (1300 feet) for a day-long trek over to Parkachik. Right from Kargil, the lowermost portion of the Suru valley, to the source of the river at Penzila a motorable road takes one through heart-throbbing scenic splendor.
He valley is dotted with picturesque human settlements, lush green fields and colorful range of flowers.
A picturesque village 22 km from Kargil is the seat of the famous Imambarah perched atop a hillock. Saracenic and Tibetan elements of architecture are reflected in its construction. The village is popular among picnic lovers.
An early rock relief on the roadside represents Avaloketesh vara flanked by 2 Goddesses. There is a two-line Tibetan inscription on the rock. As is the rule with Tibetan-style rock carving, this Sculpture is in low relief.
An upcoming township and block headquarter, Sankoo is an amphitheater of the dense plantation. It is base for a 4 days trek to Shargole/Mulbekh over Rusila (4950 m) through the beautiful Phulungma. A 7th century, 7 meters tall colossal Buddha Statue of Karchay Khar can be visited at an hour’s walking distance however there is a motorable road also. Another trek leads through the Nakpochu (Blackwater) Nalah over Umballa (3350 meters) to Drass (3 days). This trek is now being developed as an alternative high between Drass and Shargole. A popular pilgrim place of Karpokhar shrine of Muslim scholar Saint Syed Mir Hashim is also in the vicinity of Sankoo.
Proko wildlife sanctuary is located near Sankoo and wildlife can be viewed during trekking inside the sanctuary. Wildlife can also be watched up close in the Kanji wildlife sanctuary, which can also be approached from Rangdom fin the upper Suru valley.