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The western parts of Ladakh comprising the river valleys, which are drained and formed by the Himalayan tributaries of the high Indus, constitute Kargil district. Prominent among these are the spectacular valleys of Suru and Zanskar, which lie nestled along the northern flank of the Great Himalayan wall. The smaller lateral valleys of Drass, Wakha-Mulbek and Chiktan constitute important subsidiaries.

This region formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh. In fact it is believed to be the first to be inhabited by the early colonizers of Ladakh, the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Great Himalayan range, assorted Dard immigrants from down the Indus and the Gilgit valleys and itinerant nomads from the Tibetan highlands. Also, being contiguous with Baltistan, Kashmir, Kulu etc. these valleys are believed to have served as the initial recipients of successive ethnic and cultural influences emanating from the neighbouring regions. Thus, while the Mons are believed to have introduced north-Indian Buddhism to these valleys, the Dard and Balti immigrants are credited with introducing farming and the Tibetan nomads with the tradition of herding and animal husbandry.

Kargil Town
View of Kargil Town
Kargil Town
Another View Kargil Town

About 15,000 sq. kms. in area, Kargil district has an agrarian population of approximately 120,000 people, who cultivate the land, along the course of the drainage system, wherever artificial irrigation from mountain streams is possible. About 85 % are Muslims, mainly of the Shia sect, Islam having been introduced to the original Buddhist population around the middle of the 16th century by missionaries from Kashmir and Central Asia. Their descendants, locally titled Agha, are mostly religious scholars who continue to hold sway over the population, even as the age-old traditions of Buddhist and animistic origin are discernible in the culture. Many elements of the ancient supernatural belief systems, especially many traditions connected with agricultural practices, are still followed with subdued reverence.

Getting There

The J&K SRTC operates regular buses (including deluxe coaches) between Srinagar and Leh/Kargil. Taxis of all types, including 4-wheel drive vehicles, can be hired at Srinagar and Leh, for visiting Kargil. Local buses, including mini coaches for Mulbek and Drass, leave Kargil every morning and afternoon.

Sankoo, Panikhar and Parkachik are connected with Kargil by regular bus services. The bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the buses proceeding to Padum, which increases in frequency according to demand. Trucks plying on the Kargil - Padum Road also offer a lift, in the cabin, for the price of a bus seat. Car and jeep taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the area.

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.

Kargil Town
View of Kargil Town
Kargil Town
View of Suru Valley near Kargil

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.