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A Trek to Phugtal/Phuktal Monastery

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A Trek to Phugtal/Phuktal Monastery

Far, far, away, in the tucked up folds of the majestic Himalayas, lies the remotest valley of India, the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh district. The remotest of the remote is the site of the isolated town of Phugtal or Phuktal, home to legendary cave-monastery, located on the cliff-side next to the River Lungnak.  Said to be founded by GangsemSherapSampo in 12th century, this monastery is located at the mouth of a cave, and is home to 70 monks. It has a library and many prayer rooms, where ancient scriptures are studied.

Our plans

Having heard of this fantasy like Gompa (monastery), we too decided to take the so-called daring and adventurous journey to visit the beauty. What we did not expect was spiritual stirring of our souls, along with the nature’s beauty and simplicity of the local folks that we had somewhat been gearing up for!

Bye-bye road
Having reached Padum, the capital of Zanskar, which in itself is an awe-inspiring journey, we were advised to hire a cab to cover the drivable part of the journey to Phugtal. Here is where the road ‘ends’, virtually! One has to take the bus no. 11 – your legs, to haul you up to the monastery. The journey can be arduous or exhilarating, as your attitude would perceive it, and take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours (depending on whether you are a local, apt trekker, or an ‘alien’ to this part of the world and its ways!)
Stop at Cha
When we started trudging along, we were greeted by silence and golden jarred barren rock, that looked majestic, stripped of any vegetative cover whatsoever. Suddenly, like an angel out of nowhere, we saw a vast green expanse on either side of the Lungnak River! Civilization, ah, so welcome to us weary travelers. The comforting company of humans, strangers though they may be, is highly reassuring when you are in wilderness!

The villages of Cha and Anmu are bigger settlements on one side and the smaller village called Purne lies to the opposite side with a wooden bridge over the flowing river.  Anmu comes first and we had tea there! Charming little place with an idyllic pace to life! Or so it seemed to us. A little chat with the locals took our fantasies away. Living in remote places is real hard work and the locals spend every spare time possible in summers to stock up fuel and other essentials for the harsh winters! Yet they seemed so hospitable, bursting with energy and so warm!

Then we headed to Cha, where our tired legs simply refused to go further. All very well, said our guide. Cha is a relatively better place to break the journey for the night. Some people in fact like to stay in Cha for an entire day to get first-hand experience with locals, as well as get a refreshing break! A fancy urban resort with exotic spa cannot give you the same glow as nature’s freshness here can!
Cha is devoid of schools or shops, and the supplies come from Padum on horses. There is a satellite phone for communication and a basic medical centre as well, which the villagers are very proud of! Simple expectations from life are what they have, and to think that we take so many luxuries for granted! Time for a reality check! There are some business smart folks who have converted their homes into homestays and comfortable night-inns, so you may get a taste of their local life along with a good meal and a warm bed! Their kitchens have this stove that runs all the way up to the roof (chimney is like a long pipe). The family usually huddles around this stove for meals or in the evenings, as the kitchen doubles up as a living room as well!
The awesome trek
From here on is what tests your grit and actually what we came looking for. A straight path, amidst tall wind-eroded and naturally sculpted rocks makes you feel really small in front of the forces of nature – a great learning for our otherwise boisterous egos! Magnetic, daunting, enchanting, enigmatic – all the feelings rolled into one! Actually indescribable!

Splashed with Tibetan and Buddhist carvings, scriptures and art, this was the perfect amalgamation of man’s knowledge in the highest abode of learning, in the laps of nature! Truly amazing!

The Ultimate Destination
Finally we reached what we had aspired for! The Gompa stood like an interwoven human created honeycomb along the cliff, rising out of the partially hidden cave – more breathtaking than any picture of it that we had seen before!

Flanked by three stupas which are the trademark of any village boundary in Zanskar, the monastery lay above us, to be accessed by a high flight of steps!

The Mesmerizing Monastery
The winding stair case seemed to elevate our spirits and take our tiredness away. We were met with smiles everywhere, the maroon robes of the calm lamas (monks) a sharp contrast to the austere backdrop. Young kid monks seemed to be bursting with youthful energy, whereas the older ones went about with solemn grace. We witnessed the lunch-ritual, all monks eating gratefully and with dignity what was a simple and healthy concoction. They offered it to us and we obliged gratefully. It seemed quite delicious!

The monastery is adorned with frescos and beautiful ceilings. The hollow in the rock above the monastery is very attractive with water flowing that is believed to have mystical healing powers. This water never spills over!

The Way Back
Finally it was time to turn back. Bading goodbye to the monks, we headed back, this time via Purne. This route is wider and easier and we had to cross many wooden bridges alongside. Horses can traverse this track as well. We came back to the road again and headed back to Padum.
After-thoughts and memories …. for a lifetime!
Every bit of the journey was so gorgeous; our cameras did not get a minute’s rest, as we tried to capture one picturesque scene after another! Beauty without is in step with the beauty within! For the trek is surely a wholesome and holistic experience for the ultimate harmony of mind, body and soul, completely rejuvenated and purified by the humbling journey! Maybe that’s why so many religious places are located far away amidst remote wilderness, such that humans who make it there have already left their worldly anxieties behind, ready to be blessed by the higher plane of true knowledge!
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Author: A Lifeime Trip ...Creating colorful memories

We, A Lifetime Trip is a team of young minds. A no-frill company, providing the best of travel consultancy services across the industry at most reasonable prices. We deal in both Domestic and International tours. We specialize in bringing you inline with the real India – traditions, rituals, beauty, heritage, festivals, adventures, wild life, carnivals and many more different facets of our country. We work for you in a way that when you are back home, you cherish each moment of the trip making it A LIFETIME TRIP. Also Visit us at www.alifetimetrip.com

2 thoughts on “A Trek to Phugtal/Phuktal Monastery

  1. Gosh this looks so amazing!!! Surreal and Stunning!!

  2. a very beautiful travelogue. himalayas have this thing in them, that mere traveling in it can make one spiritual. people touched by himalayas are naturally humble and pleasant. one look around makes us our heart content with beauty. great work, inspires all of us to make such trip and live this experience. keep it up!

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