The Zanskar Odyssey - Rangdum to Padum
Day 4 of the trip
The past 3 days in Ladakh region of India were treacherous in both a good way and a bad way. The landscapes and people were way more beautiful than what we had expected and the journey was way more difficult than what we had imagined. The previous night in Rangdum was extremely cold, the tents were able to do little in keeping us warm. Thankfully the camp site could provide us with hot water in the morning. We tried to wash away the chills and headaches with it. We soon left Rangdum for another adventurous journey to Padum. Padum is the largest town of Zanskar and is considered to be the headquarters of Zanskar valley. The road from Rangdum to Padum was as poor as Kargil to Rangdum, extremely rough and barely existent at a few places. We could see the Rangdum monastery behind us for quite some time till the plains gave way to mountains.
We soon reached the mountain pass called as Penzila Pass on the way. Penzila pass is the highest motorable point of this area at 14000 feet. It is primarily areas around this point that cut off Zanskar from rest of the world every winter that lasts 7-8 months. Right beside the pass were Statso and Langtso Lakes. The reflections of the snow-capped rocky mountains in the lake, the cows and the horses grazing in the vast valley and the patches of dark green valley and dark blue water made a perfect setting for photographers like us to spend an hour there. The beauty gave us all an adrenaline rush.
Driving few metres further, our eyes caught the vast Drang-Drung glacier, the 2nd largest glacier in the region, largest being the famous Siachen glacier. We looked for a perfect spot to capture the beauty of this 23 kms long frozen behemoth. The glacier looks like a smooth highway of ice curving along the snow clad mountains. It lied much lower than the motorable road from where we can view it. The size and the shapes in front of us left us spellbound. Suru river which had been accompanying us since Kargil took a detour before the Penzila pass but now the Stod river joined us in our journey. Stod River is born from Drang Drung Glacier and flows towards Padum, where it joins another river to form the Zanskar river, a confluence we were going to see on our last day in Padum couple of days later. A few more kilometres ahead from the glacier we started descending from the mountains witnessing a thin road cutting through a flat expanse of barren land below us. Various fresh water streams flowed around us emerging from Stod River.
As we reached the plains, we found a household run dairy adjacent to the road. It was the only house in the vast plain surrounded by the mountains. We stopped to sip a cup of hot tea there. A lady was drying freshly made paneer (a type of curd cheese) in the fields scaring the crows off. This dried paneer is their source of food during 6-7 months of snowfall. A big stretch of the fields around the house was occupied by herds of sheep and cows that graze around in the valley and provide milk for the dairy to run. On entering the dairy house we met two more girls who were churning the whole milk stored in a huge wooden container to make butter. The girls were manually churning with a wooden plunger in their hands. In one corner of the room were barrels filled with fresh curd. They offered us cups filled with curd along with salt and sugar to taste and by all means that came out to be the tastiest curd we had ever had. We all refilled our cups and savoured the curd to the full. We also got a chance to play with the cute lambs and the calves. Expressing our heartfelt gratitude we left the place for our destination.
Back on road, we came across a foreigner riding a bicycle going towards Padum. That was the bravest thing we have seen in a long long time. It is difficult to imagine how one could dare drive a bicycle on a road that was giving us aches everywhere from head to back in a SUV car, not to forget the dust, heat and luggage he was carrying none of which we were experiencing in our car. There is a thin line between fearlessness and foolishness and he was riding on this line. Thankfully soon as we were to enter Padum we saw good roads coming up and the joy we felt is difficult to describe. Crossing small villages, we reached Sani village, a few kilometres away from Padum, where we visited the Sani monastery. It is located in the Stod valley and might be possibly the oldest monastery of Zanskar region. Unlike other monasteries which are built on hill top, this one is on plain flat ground and has a huge verandah around it. We continued on the track of road besides the valley that took us to our hotel in Padum village by early evening.
Another long and tiring day thankfully came to an end. We had a delicious dinner with the team talking about the amazing people we met on our way, from the generous and welcoming ladies of the dairy house to the gutsy foreigner on the bike. We were finally at the heart of Zanskar after travelling around 4000 kms across 4 days. We couldn’t wait to finally get started and explore this hidden gem the next day.
Thanks for reading our travelogue. We have at last reached our final destination and will be exploring some awesome places in next few days. It would be great if you could drop in your thoughts on our photographs and travel blog in comments section below.