A brief introduction
Kargil is the second largest town of Ladakh. It enjoys the historic importance of having been an important flourishing centre for Central-Asian trade routes. Since 1974, it has regained its glory after it opened its door to foreign tourists. Although many people relate it to the infamous Kargil War in 1999, there’s much more to the amazingly beautiful town and tourists can take back pleasant and unique memories of the most vibrant scenic beauty and rich culture that the town and its surroundings guarantee to offer.
Of course, travelling to Kargil requires sound planning. Kargil can be reached via air, train or road. The nearest airport is Srinagar and the best railway station is Jammu. There are good bus services from Srinagar as well as Leh and Kargil is located in the highway that connects the former two. Kargil is also at a junction of roads from Zanskar and Skardu, so is well connected.
Places to visit
Kargil is an offbeat destination, but one filled with mystic and glory. There are many places that one can visit in and around this remote but pulsating town, each with its unique flavor.
In the town:
There is the famous Plateau Nath Mandir – a temple dedicated to the enemy shelling prone plateau area in the region – and Kargil War Hall Of Fame at the helipad, which must be visited to get a first-hand account of the war. It also offers a stunning view of the entire sprawl of the Kargil town.
Then there is the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Silk Route Central Asian Trade and Kargil Artifacts – a family owned rich and rare preservation of the rich trade culture of 19th and 20th century. You can see the artifacts of the Silk Route Trade and the heritage that Kargil is known for.
Trip to the Suru Valley
This valley is very fertile and thus has a gorgeous and breathtaking landscape. You can gaze with wonder at this marvel, and also enjoy the views of Nun and Mun, famous peaks, from here. The Suru Valley stretches from Kargil in the south to Zanskar in the north. The valley gets a lovely makeover when it is adorned with flowers in summer and has been carved out by the Suru River. This is a day’s trip from Kargil, where one can also visit the historic 7th century Buddha statue at a towering 7 m at Karcheykhar, along with the mesmerizing ruins of the Karcheykhar. There is a lovely camping site nearby at a place called Damsna.
Pic credits: http://sandeepachetan.com
Visit to the Aryan Valley
This valley is unique due to its inhabitants called the Brokpas, a race that is different from the rest of the dwellers of Ladakh. This race prides itself to be the only one that is a pure descendant of the mighty Aryans of yore. Their culture, dress and lifestyle are totally novel and a rare treat to witness. While heading to the Aryan Valley, one can stop and have a visit at the 6 m tall Buddha statue on a high cliff across the village of Apati. The locals also enchant the visitors with a vibrant cultural show.
Quaint and tiny villages tucked all around
There are many small but busting with energy, dwellings all around Kargil, which make up small villages, each with their own community beliefs:
Mulbek – It is a small Buddhist village, around 42 km from Kargil. Remains of a fort and a mosque co-exist in harmony with a Buddhist monastery with beautiful wall murals and statues. The famous MulbekChamba with a 7 m tall rock sculpture of Maitreya – the future Buddha, is a must-visit.
RgyalWakha – This is a village, a little further from Mulbek. Its geography is unbelievable, tucked away in a vertical cliff, it looks like beehive from a distance. One can enjoy breathtaking views all around from here.
Pashkum – It is about 15 km from Kargil. It has rich history that comes alive with stunning ruins of castles on the hills
Visit to Batalik
This has a big battlefield and visitors can see it from close quarters andget a feel how the brave hearts give up their lives for their motherland. Batalik has been centre-stage in Indo-Pak wars and a main part of the Kargil war was fought here, and is about 56 km from Kargil. To reach here, one will have to cross the high mountain pass named Hamboting La. Batalik is inhabited by the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great, living in villages Dha, Hanu, Garkon and Darchak in it. One can view the full-fed might Indus River as well.Batalik is part of the Indus Valley Civilization and the dwellers have painstakingly protected their racial identity for centuries.
Dha and Hanu – are the only two villages that are open to visitors in the otherwise closed community. The Dard people of the Dha village are Buddhist, but also believe their own gods, look like Indo-Europeans as compared to the Indo-Tibetan looking people of Ladakh. There are nice cultivations of cherries and wine-grapes here, if one happens to visit in the fruit-ripening season!
Visit to Drass
Drass is a popular destination around Kargil. Famous due to the insurgence of Pakistani army in 1999, this town has attracted many tourists. It has a picturesque landscape, starting from the base of the Zojila Pass. This pass lends a view of the holy shrine of Hindus, the Amarnath. It stays snow-bound in harsh winters, but summers are friendlier. This offers a good base for trekkers for many trails all around. It is actually the coldest place on India! The ‘Gateway to Ladakh’, Drass is believed to be guarding Ladakh! The barren harsh landscape here is the used as an acclimatization stopover for serious mountaineers on their route upwards. On the outskirts is famous rock called Bhimbet, the flying rock! According to local legend, the rock flew overnight to the other side of the mountain to its current location!
There are many treks that can be made on well-tread trails.
Nun Advanced Base Camp (ABC) Trek
This takes about 4-5 days, depending upon the itinerary. One famous route takes the trekkers by road from Kargil to Tangole via the lush Suru valley. Camping at Tangole is an enchanting experience. From here, one can trek to the Nun Base Camp and finally to the Nun ABC, soaking in the views of the glorious Nun and Mun peaks. The rush of adventure in the trek itself is a test for one’s endurance and mettle.
Pic credits: the wanderers.in
Vijay Diwas Celebrations
Kargil pays homage to the martyrs and commemorates the victory of the war by celebrating July 26, every year as the Vijay Diwas. This day is celebrated in Delhi as well as Kargil with solemn tribute to the brave sons of India. The towns of Drass and the Kargil come alive during these patriotic celebrations. Army bands play devotional music. The day is attended by locals in colorful traditional outfits. If possible, one must include this day in the visit.
War memorial; Pic credits: Flickr
Kargil is a haven for soft and original shawls such as the rare handwoven Pashmina shawls. The local artisans and merchants can show you lovely handicrafts so particular to this region. There are a number of exquisite artifacts and souvenirs that are pieces of superb craftsmanship, excellent for gifts and souvenirs. The carpets, apricot oil and jam are also very famous here.
In the end
Kargil should be on the must-list of any tourist enthusiast, since it is a rare blend of modern with the ancient. The glory of war and the sacrifices of soldiers make one’s heart fill with respect. At the same time, the natural majesty of the Himalayas in full resplendent glory comes alive here. In a limited region, one can find so much history that is varied and far spread over centuries. From the descendants of Alexandrian era to the Aryans, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and some other faiths have co-existed in dedicated pockets in harmony since times immemorial, each carefully preserving their own heritage and beliefs. This melting pot of culture and the very hospitable locals will leave an indelible mark on the visitors, sure to last a lifetime!