Trekkers and Hikers’ Paradise: Padum, Zanskar Valley
A grueling 15 hour drive from Kargil to cover around 240 km through some of the most beautiful and breath-taking terrain and arguably the bumpiest and backbreaking roads in the Trans-Himalayas and one will reach the remote town of Padum which is located at an altitude of about 11,585 feet above sea-level in Zanskar Valley of the Ladakh region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The town of Padum is the headquarters of the Zanskar region which is only linked to the town of Kargil by a rough road that crosses over 14,439 feet high Pensi La pass. Situated at the confluence of Doda and Tsarap Lingti rivers. The valley of Padum extends in a broad dusty plain surrounded by high mountains.
There are three options of getting to the town of Padum. The first option is to hire a taxi from Kargil which is the best option for a group of six or more travellers, but hiring a taxi to Padum in Zankar Valley is a very costly affair and the taxis only provide a drop to Padum the return journey can’t be in the same taxi since Zanskar union taxis are allowed to only drop people back to Kargil. The return journey costs exactly half the price of the drop.
The second option is to hop onto one of the share a seat taxis from Kargil taxi union. This is a preferred option for a single traveller or a small group of travellers, the drawback of a shared taxi is that travellers can’t request the driver to stop where and when they want as opposed to when they hire a private taxi and the taxi will only leave when the driver has a required number of people generally around nine to 10 per jeep.
The final option of getting to Padum is to board a local government bus from Kargil, which takes between 18 to 20 hours, with a night halt at Panikhar or Ringdom. The bus to Padum has no fixed time or day of departure, the bus leaves only when the vehicle is over crowded with no place to even stand inside with a large number of locals sitting on the roof top. The bus service to Padum is better from the town of Leh than from Kargil. From Leh there is a daily bus to Padum that leaves early in the morning and takes around 28 hours.
The town is divided into new and old Padum. The new side of Padum is inhabited by the Buddhist community and the old by the Muslims. New Padum is the first half of the town and is a vibrant section of the town and contains the market area – which has the only internet café and phone booth in the whole valley. It is important to remember that all shops shut by 6pm.
Padum is not a very big town and the best way of getting around the town is by foot. It takes not more than 10 minutes to walk from new Padum to old with the town mosque acting more or less as the dividing line.
Most of the houses look very much one with the mountains since the exterior wall paint fades relatively fast with the harsh climate which consist of severe cold winter and hot dry summers which have frequent dust storms during the afternoons.
During the winter months the town of Padum is not accessible by road since the roads are cut off due to the snow cover, so the only way for supplies to reach this remote town is via a government helicopter. The heli-pad is located at the entrance of the village near the medical center. During the winters, supplies in the form of food grains and other basic requirements are flown into the village every week or every 10 days.
Padum is a paradise for trekkers and hikers all through the year. This is generally the end point or mid-point for most treks starting from Manali, Darcha in Lahaul Valley and Lamayuru near Leh during the summer months. During the winter months of January and February, Padum is the end village for the famous Chaddar trek, which involves walking over the frozen Zanskar river and staying in high altitude mountain caves. An important thing to note is that the famous Zanskar river white water rafting is not conducted at Zanskar Valley but near Leh.
Since this town of Padum only attracts trekkers and most of them foreign travellers, there are a good number of shops selling world class hiking gear from backpack to hiking boots, you name it and the shops in Padum have them in stock. So if you plan on buying any adventure gear don’t even consider bargaining because that is of no use in these shops. There are no ATMs here and it is advisable to withdraw money at Kargil to finance this trip.
Padum is also a good place to make your base if you intend on travelling around the Zanskar Valley and visiting the village of Zangla, Phey and monastery of Stongdey is worthwhile. A minimum of a couple of days stay is needed to visit all the places around Padum. To visit the neighboring places in the valley only Zanskar taxis are allowed to drive people around.
The accommodation options in Padum are very basic and most of them are backpacker guest houses but more mid-range than budget since they cater to more foreign travellers than Indian. Only a handful of places offer budget accommodation and these places are village houses that are now turned into home-stays and are located about a 10 minute walk from the market area in old Padum.
There are also a handful of decent restaurants that serve up some really good food in Padum. The food again is more suited to western travellers than Indian, so pizzas, pastas are prepared in all the restaurants. Tibetan food is also available in the form of momos, chowmen and tupka (noodle soup). Restaurants shut by 9pm, so make sure you enter the place before closing time.
Padum in Zanskar Valley is easily one of the most sort after destination for trekkers and hikers since it is absolutely paradise for them with virtually unlimited trails and routes. Padum is not for the faint hearted since the road to this town in Zanskar Valley will surely break your back, but at the end of it you’ll surely agree it was totally worth the ride.
For a similar experience, click here