In a distant land, flanked by some giant barren mountains, there lies a green patch which makes you wonder, is it even real? Like an oasis in a desert and cold in summer months, Suru Valley is a huge chunk of paradise in the district of Kargil in Ladakh.
The moment I got engrossed in gripping all the vibes of Kargil town, my friend Sajjad ji decided to take me to Suru valley. He had already told me a lot about the beauty of it and the road that further goes to Zanskar. But I was oblivious to what lay ahead.
And then, me, Sajjad ji and Rasool ji undertook a road trip to Suru Valley. We started in the morning by fueling up the car and taking the road that goes from Kargil town towards Sankoo Town. But before actually starting with it, Sajjad ji and Zaheer ji had an intense discussion as to what all we can see in Suru valley.
The table was filled with the road maps that I collected over the past few months from tourism events and offices. Zaheer ji actually drew some rough maps on the spot. I could sense the urge of a wanderer within him at that time. Suddenly he said, “take this unknown detour from Sankoo Town towards the top of the mountain. Trust me you will be amazed.”
I was quite hopeful but as I said, oblivious too. I was just excited looking at the excitement on the face of my hosts.
Wind in my Hair
As we were driving from Kargil town towards Sankoo with some road trip songs on blast, I rolled my windows down to let the clean air of Kargil talk to me.
The road was lined with apricot trees on both sides and almost no shops. Suru river’s sound was trying to compete with that of the winds. I felt the luckiest human at that moment.
Apart from Suru valley, Kargil is an upcoming tourism destination with untouched valleys like Wakha, Zanskar, Drass, Shakar Chiktan and Lower Indus. These valleys are the home to various ethnic and tribal groups like Indo-Aryans, Dards, Mons of Northern India and Tibetans.
Majority of the residents of this sprawling Suru region are of the Tibeti-Dardi origin who underwent a conversion in the 16th century from Buddhism to Islam. The charming villages that come all along the way to Suru valley, comprised of the old houses that are by the side of green fields which reminds me of the fact that this valley is the most fertile in Kargil.
The greens of mulberry, apple and apricot trees will soon turn in to varied shades of orange and red in the autumn season.
As we crossed Trespone valley and Khumbathang Military area, we stopped suddenly after a 40 mins drive.
I asked why.
Sajjad ji got out of the car to show me an ancient rock carved with Buddha images at Biamakhumboo. At first, even he was searching for the giant yet hidden rock but then eventually we found it. The various shades of mustard and yellow did speak to me about the history that the region saw. I read about it later on the internet and got to know that the relief was of Avaloketesh –vara flanked by 2 goddesses. This carving dates back to between the 12th and 14th Century AD.
Buddha carved rock at Biamakhumboo, 25 km from Kargil town
We resumed after a few mins. After a few kilometres, the green patch of the valley transformed into huge boulders. I was told that these were a result of a huge volcanic eruption that happened centuries back. The fact still feels out of place but then we all know how the face of the earth has been changing all these centuries.
The Detour that Turned out Heavenly
In the same spot, a road was going somewhere up the mountain and that was the detour that Zaheer ji specifically asked us to take. I only knew that Lankerchay Broq was the name of the village. After crossing about 20 hairpin bends and remembering Sikkim’s Zuluk in my mind, we stopped the car because we had no way further to go to. The road took us to the village which seemed like on the other side of the mountain.
I will fail to describe the beauty that this barren landscape and the mountains had. It is unfathomable. While coming down from Lankerchay Broq, I lost my heart to Kargil.
At that moment whatever I felt for Kashmir, I was feeling for Kargil too. I gauged my feelings a little and realised that suddenly I wanted to know all about the geography of this region, the landscape that it possesses and how all the mountains that we see were formed.
At a viewpoint, I could almost see the whole Suru valley below me. I tried to see as far as my vision could make out things. The boulder that we saw in the valley were now shining like giant purple gems.
A whole fertile valley was thriving from the womb of wise and aged mountains. The light-green coloured fields of Barley and mustard seemed infants at that moment. Big apricot trees weren’t even visible now. In autumn, though one can spot them from anywhere nicely because of their bright orange colours. The lofty surface of the mountains was broken by uncountable brooks.
Till Sankoo Town, one can come in a shared taxi too at 100 INR. (shared taxis and buses are available up to Parkachik village). Sankoo is also the base for a 4-day trek to Shargole over the Rusila (4950 m) through the beautiful Phulungma and 3-day trek to Drass via Umballa.
When Nun and Kun made their Special Appearance in Purtikchey
I was gradually losing my breath, not because of the altitude but the immense beauty. At Damsna village (61 km), a tunnel vision view of the massive Nun (7135 m) and Kun peaks (7087 m) awaited us.
The wind was blowing unexpectedly at a faster rate. The monsoon clouds were quickly moving above us and all I did was ogle at these massive sister peaks for minutes.
The next time I am visiting this place, I will definitely stay here. There are a few good stay options available including government and private guest houses.
Suru Valley resort, Purtikchey (+91 9419804014)
Apart from the above mentioned, do check out this list of Tourism bungalows as an alternative option to stay.
Witnessing the Future Buddha, Maitreya Chamba in Khartse Khar
Majority of Kargil has a Muslim population which is 52% in the whole Ladakh region. This population, as per history, was once the follower of Buddhism but after Islamic invasion in India, they chose to convert. The proofs of this are in the form of the three Buddha statues which still stand erect at various places in the Kargil district.
The Buddha statues are located in Khartse Khar, Apati and Mulbekh. I got to visit two of them but not the Apati one.
In Mulbekh, there is a 9-m tall idol of Maitreya Buddha which is overlooking the old trade route and the present-day highway. The 6-m tall Apati statue can be covered while going towards the Aryan Valley. The statues are believed to have been made around 8th century AD.
The Khartse Khar Chamba statue had a vibe to it. River Phulungma flowed beneath the feet of 7-m tall Buddha statue and my eyes organically moved towards the torso rock-carved statue which was decorated by prayer flags.
Khartse Khar (in Suru Valley, Kargil): 45 Km from Kargil
Mulbekh (Towards Srinagar-Leh Highway): 45 Km from Kargil
Apati (Towards Srinagar-Leh Highway): 16 km away from Kargil
These are the last remaining Buddha statues in the greater Himalayan region which also comprised of Afghanistan earlier. The statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban. These statues in Kargil region are now the tallest since Bamiyan ones were destroyed in 2001.
The statue was located just 5-min walk away from the Barsoo road.
These were apparently the ruin of a King’s palace on top of the mountain. It used to be the winter capital for the Kings of Purig (Kargil). The palace was burnt during Zorawar’s attack in 1834.
Also, the 18th-century village Mosque is in the background. After the burning down of the original Mosque along with the palace, the craftsmen were brought from Kashmir for its reconstruction.
Kids that we met at Taisuru village
A day in Panikhar: One of the most beautiful villages in Suru Valley
All the villages of the Suru valley are dotted with at least one Imambara and a Mosque.
Among them, the most beautiful are Panikhar (67 Kms) and Parkachik (last village in Suru valley).
I was lucky enough to stay in Panikhar for a night. My experience was blissful. I was away from the world yet felt close to something which I wanted to be close to. Nature was right at my disposal.
I was out of any sort of connection with the outside world since only Jio worked there which I didn’t have. The village got electrified a year back through a micro hydel project. Earlier solar power and combustible oils were the main sources of electricity here and in most of the villages nearby.
My place of stay for the day was Magpie’s Nest. The homestay family welcomed me like I was a part of their house. I was given a neatly furnished room with attached bathroom.
After a tiring journey from Kargil town, I just fell on my bed. The long drive made me a little dizzy though roads were absolutely smooth up to Panikhar. I was woken up to a lush green valley visible from my clear-tinted windows.
In the morning, I got to pluck some fresh strawberries. Undoubtedly those were the best I ever had in my life. The breakfast was served with Ladakhi roti and fresh apricot jam.
Dinner used to be accompanied by uncle’s stories from the wartime. He ran to save his life quite a few times. He fled from Kargil where he was working to his home in Trespone to remain safe during the war-torn times between India and Pakistan.
Contact person at Magpie’s Nest: Irshad Rasool (+91 6005894309) (+91 9419149336, +919419269298)
Up to Panikhar, the shared cab charges are 150 INR from Kargil town.
In Panikhar, I took a village walk in the evening to understand the area even better. But me being me, I got distracted by this little kid, almost hanging from a window. I trespassed his home’s gate and entered the garden area. A frail lady welcomed me with a smile which was more than enough to understand that she wanted me to have over a cup of tea. I readily agreed.
The boy’s name was Ghulam Mohammad. That sounded quite royal to me as opposed to his antics. Having strangers casually over a cup of tea is not at all common in Kargil region thus Ghulam wasn’t used to seeing tourists like me. But my huge camera made things easier. He was intrigued, we eventually ended up spending an hour with each other.
Haseena Banoo, his mother asked about my life in Delhi. She frowned a little on the fact that I was all alone, travelling without a definite purpose.
The walk was much scenic than I had imagined it to be. I saw lofty mountains clearly in spite of the monsoon season. I guess I was too lucky the whole time during this trip. Premises of several houses were adorned by poppy flowers which were in full bloom.
The touch of greenery midst the barren mountains made me feel at peace yet adventurous.
“Aap yahan kya kr rhe ho?” (What are you doing here?).
A local boy from Panikkar asks me as soon I settle down in their vehicle after asking for a lift. I shockingly answered that I was here to explore Kargil. He seemed curious because he asked again, “yahan kya hai dekhne ko?” (What is here worth seeing?)
I briefly replied with the experiences and places I witnessed in his region, a region which he barely explored himself. But I understood his state of interest. Someone who grows up in a place as beautiful as Suru valley tends to get inclined towards places which are exactly opposite.
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE.
It is so rare to see Indian tourists in these far-fetched locations that even small children aren’t used to recognizing any. I remember being called ‘oye angrez (hey! you English men!) by a kid while we were making our way out of a village.
Stopping at Trespone Valley on my way back
The village is just 22-km away from Kargil thus I visited it while on my way back to the Kargil town.
The beautiful Imambara in Trespone village is sited on a hilltop and was the reason for my stop at Trespone. It is a beautiful amalgamation of Persian (blue dome), Tibetan (columns) and Islamic architecture (multifoil arches). It depicts the craftsmanship of local workers since they are known for their woodcraft, bow making and Islamic calligraphy.
Trespone Valley Resort is a perfect option to stay midst a lush green garden of apricots and vegetables. Café-de-riverside along with the resort is a perfect place to chill and eat while looking at the beauty of the valley.
At the café, I had a plate of Pakoras and a cup of ginger-honey-lemon tea after spending a whole day in Suru valley.
(click on the link above to know my point of view)
Suru valley, extending from Kargil town till Penzella glacier is a huge fertile canyon in the whole Ladakh region. After Rangdum, the Zanskar region starts which is definitely going to be my next long trip soon.
A picnic spot for local, way towards Zanskar and the most fertile region in Ladakh, Suru valley is the place you want to be at.
How to reach Kargil?
Via road, either one can travel via Delhi-Zoji la-Drass-Kargil (Srinagar Leh highway, NH-1D) or if Leh is the starting point then Delhi-Manali-Leh-Kargil-Delhi.
Remember that Zojila route gets closed in winter due to heavy snow.
From Srinagar, buses and personal/shared taxis both ply till Kargil and Leh. There is also a daily bus from Leh which starts at 6.30 am and reaches Kargil by afternoon.
Kargil airport is in the process of getting constructed and will be operational within a few years. Until then, the Leh airport can be utilized. From Leh, a road trip can be undertaken till Kargil.
Nearest railway station to Kargil is Jammu Tawi in Jammu.