Location: 234-km From Leh In The East, Ladakh Region, J&K
Local Dialect: Purik
Historical Significance: An Important Trade And Transit Centre In The Pan-Asian Trade Network.
Kargil Town & Around.
Kargil town (2,704 m), situated midway between Srinagar (204 Kms) and Leh, (234 kms) on the Srinagar-Leh highway, is the second largest urban centre (approx. 8,000 inhabitants) of Ladakh and headquarters of Kargil district. A quiet town now, in the past it served as an important trade and transit centre for the Central-Asian merchants due to its unique equidistant location (about 200-230 kms) from Srinagar, Leh and Skardo, all well known trading outposts on the old trade route network. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise transited in the town on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarkand, Kashmir and Baltistan. Since 1975, travellers of various nationalities have replaced traders of the past and Kargil has regained its importance as a centre of travel-related activities.
Being located in lap of the Himalayas, Kargil serves as an important base for undertaking adventure tourism and trips to the exotic Zanskar Valley and other Himalayan regions. Visitors travelling between Srinagar and Leh have to make a night halt here before starting the second leg of their journey.
The town and its suburban villages lie nestled along the valley system formed by the confluence of the Suru River and its tributary, the Wakha-chhu. The land along the narrow valley floor and the hillsides are neatly terraced and intensively cultivated to grow barely, wheat, peas and several other cereals, besides a variety of vegetables. Thick plantations of poplars and willows, besides rich orchards of apricot, apple and mulberry, adorn the area to form a rich oasis against the backdrop of the undulating mountains. Kargil area is famous for its fine apricots. In May the countryside surrounding the town gets awash with the white apricot blossoms, while in August the ripening fruits lend an orange hue to the landscape.
Kargil is convenient base for undertaking adventure activities like trekking, mountaineering, camping, river- rafting, etc. in the high Himalayan valleys. It is also a convenient base for taking excursions to the Wakha- Mulbek valley, where the chief attraction is a 9 m high rock sculpture of Maitreya, besides other monuments. Another tour option is to visit the beautiful Suru Valley to behold the gradually unfolding panorama of the impressive Himalayan landscape. Yet another interesting excursion option is to visit Drass to see its famous features like Tolo-ling, Tiger Hill and the Mushkoo Valley, well known throughout India on account of the extensively televised conflict on the LoC between India and Pakistan during May-August, 1999.
Kargil also offers some interesting walks through the suburban villages nestling along the rising hillsides of theriver valleys. The best among these is the walk towards Goma Kargil along a 2-km long winding road that passes through some of the most picturesque parts of the town, offering breathtaking views of the unfolding mountainscape as one ascends alongside a tumbling mountain stream. It is best taken in the afternoon as the setting sun plays magic with the changing hues and shades of the hills. A shorter walk across the bridge, over the Suru River, takes you through the ancient village of Poyen, and up the Wakha-chhu valley.
A very good view of the tiered and terraced township, sweeping down the hillside across the river can be had from here.
A stroll in the bazaar might lead to shops selling flint and tobacco pouches, travelling hookahs and brass kettles, handcrafted items of every day use that find their way into the marts as curios.
The showroom of the Government Industries Centre has pashmina shawls, local carpets and local handicrafts on display and sale. Apricot jam produced here is a rare delicacy, while Kargil's famous dry apricots can be purchased from the market.
In Kargil town one may meet the Brokpa or Drokpa tribals from the Indus Valley villages of Darchiks, Garkon etc. of Batalik Block, which is about 56 kms north of Kargil.
This area is now open for foreign visitors up to Dah village from the Khalsi side. However, Indian nationals can also approach the area (with the permission of the local authorities) along the Kargil-Batalik Road, which connects Batalik, Darchiks and Garkon villages and leads onward to Khalsi, via the other Brokpa or Drokpa villages of Dah and Biama, along the course of the Indus
The chief attraction of Mulbek is a 9 m high rock sculpture in deep relief of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Its excursion combines esoteric Shaivite symbolism with early Buddhist art. Situated right on the highway, it dates back to the period when Buddhists missionaries came travelling east of the Himalayas.
Perched atop a rocky cliff, Mulbek Gompa (monastery) dominates the valley. It is easy to see why in bygone times this site served as an outpost to guard the caravan route. Like all Buddhists monasteries it is adorned by frescoes and statues.
Another picturesque village of the Wakha River valley, Shergol is situated across the river, right of the Kargil-Leh road. The main attraction is a cave monastery which is visible from a far as a white speck against the vertically rising ochre hill from which it appears to hang out. Below this small monastery is a larger Buddhist nunnery with about a dozen incumbents. The village is accessible by the motorable road that branches off from the Kargil-Leh road, about 5 km short of Mulbek. Shergol is a convenient base for an exciting 4-day trek across the mountain range into the Suru valley. It is also the approach base for visiting Urgyan-Dzong, a meditation retreat lying deep inside the mountains surrounding the Wakha River valley.
This meditation retreat lies tucked away in an amazing natural mountain fortress high up in Zanskar range. Concealed within is a circular tableland with a small monastic establishment at its centre. The surrounding hillside reveals several caves where high-ranking Buddhists saints meditated in seclusion. At least one such cave is associated with the visit of Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism. The main approach is to footpath laid through the only gap available in the rocky ramparts.
Tucked away inside the picturesque upper part of the Wakha Valley, upstreams of Mulbek, Rgyal gives the appearance of a medieval settlement of cave dwellings transported in to the modern times with some improvements and extensions. The houses, neatly whitewashed and closely stacked, are dug into the sheer face of a vertical cliff that rises high above the green valley bottom. From a far the village looks like a colony of beehives hanging from the ochre granite of the Cliffside
HOW TO REACH THERE
Road: The J&K SRTC operates regular buses including deluxe coaches between Srinagar and Leh/Kargil. Cars and Jeep taxis can be hired at Srinagar and Leh for Kargil. Local buses including mini coaches, for Mulbek leaves Kargil every morning and afternoon. Cars and Jeep taxis can be hired at Kargil for same day return trips. Srinagar is also well connected properly with rest of the country through Air and Road network.
WHERE TO STAY
Kargil: There is no dearth of accommodation in Kargil. Hotels are classified into A, B, C and Economy class based upon the standard of establishments and service available. There are two Tourist Bungalows at Kargil together provide suites and furnished rooms with proper catering facilities attached with each establishment. The Tourist Office, Kargil, does advance reservation. There is also a circuit house at Baroo with excellent furnished rooms, which can be reserved through the office of the District Development Commissioner.
Mulbek: The Tourist Bungalow here provides excellent furnished rooms with catering facilities. Dormitory accommodation at much reasonable price is available with some of the teashops near Mulbek Chamba. Alternatively tourists can return to Kargil for the night.
Banks: The State bank of India with money changing facility and J&K bank have a branch each in Kargil.
Communication: Kargil has worldwide direct dialing telephone facility, besides post and telegraph offices. In addition J&K Tourism operates its own wireless Radio phone network with field stations at Kargil, Padum and Leh, which are connected with controlling stations at Srinagar, Delhi and Jammu. During the tourist season mobile wireless stations are also established in key places in the remote areas.
Health: The District hospital in Kargil is fairly well equipped and staffed with a team of specialist and general practitioners. In addition there are Medical Dispensaries at Drass, Mulbek, Trespone, Sankoo, Panikhar and Padum each headed by a qualified doctor and equipped with basic health care paraphernalia.
MORE TOURIST INFORMATION
The Tourist office here regularly updates its store of information on the region. Tourists undertaking mountaineering expedition on hard trekking along difficult routes are well advised to inform the Tourist Office at Kargil about their routes and proposed program so as to monitor their welfare.
Trekking Equipment: The tourist office in Kargil has some trekking equipment for hire under the same conditions as the Leh office. The equipment includes a number of tents, foam mattresses, sleeping bags, alpine jackets, rucksacks, climbing equipment and so on. Kargil is the starting point for most of the treks and journeys into the Zanskar valley, although it is also possible to enter it from other points along the side of the Leh-Zanskar range.