Just when we thought one more nanosecond in the car would send us over the edge, the road turned decent; Padum was ahead. A god-awful 240 kilometers/150 miles from Kargil, 80 kilometers/50 miles from Penzi La Pass and we made it without another flat tire. Padum, set at 3,505 meters/11,500 feet was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Zanskar and is now the administrative headquarter of the region.
Whatever I expected, it wasn’t this. A hot, dusty, one road town filled with chaotic traffic. Buses, taxis, trucks, trekkers walking down the street carrying gigantic backpacks, tourist hotels, restaurants and shops. For a town of only 1,000 people, there was a lot going on since Padum is the epi-center of Zanskar trekking as well as the biggest town in Zanskar. Whether you opt for the Darcha-Padum trek, Padum-Lamayuru trek or out-and-back Raru-Phuktal trek, you will come through Padum.
Only a brief stop in Padum to change 4×4’s for one last time. Stanzin #1 walked us over to an Internet cafe with high hopes of recharging batteries, with no luck; no power in Padum today. My two batteries would have to last for eight more days or no photographs, no video. Oh well, I’ll just be judicious using cameras. A short walk up the one street to buy new sets of prayer flags while our crew transferred all the 4×4 contents into another vehicle.
The one and only big sight was a freshly slaughtered ram’s head for sale. Padum has a small monastery along with 8th Century rock carvings near the river bank but we had no time to tour. Besides, we’d return to Padum for several nights at the end of trek for sightseeing and the Karsha Festival.
By now it was past 3:00p and we were not there yet! Everything stowed back in new vehicle that actually had decent tires, it was on the road again heading to Raru where the Lungnak Trek would officially begin. Electric poles were strewn along the “road” indicating that, “Yes, little ones. Electricity would eventually come to the Zanskar region of Ladakh.”
Whatever the exact mileage was from Padum to Raru, it took another two hours of driving in the Lungnak Valley to get there. Lungnak means “dark valley” and is named for its black rocks. The Tsarap River flows through this narrow valley. “Tsa” means “salt” and in olden days, Tibetan merchants carried salt over this river. Two important monasteries perched on rocks, one after another. The first, more imposing one on a high rock, was 17th century Bardan Monastery.
Another “check permit” stop at the base of Bardan (one of the who knows how many we suffered through). Another five minutes and Muney Monastery appeared. (We hoped to visit both of them after the trek.) There were occasional views of three stupas, side-by-side, on the mountainsides; one black, one white, and one red each signifiying the three Buddhas.
One last turn and there was very small Raru that happened to have a private school run by a German organization who gave free schooling and lodging to students. Hooray! We are finally out of the car and ready to begin trekking tomorrow.
It took three grueling days but we are in Zanskar.