The journey along road to Leh is approached from Srinagar or Manali, after post winter, when mountain passes along these routes re-open. Normally Srinagar-Leh route re-opens earlier around second week of May (this year it opened on 22nd April ) and Manali–Leh route by second week of June. Thus, May onwards, more road bound tourists arrive at Leh from Srinagar. En route tourists take a few days break to see some famous destinations in Kashmir valley. On Srinagar–Leh route, they take a night halt at Kargil and resume their journey the next day. The total Srinagar to Leh distance is 435 km; from Srinagar to Kargil 205 km and Kargil to Leh 230 km.
Kargil as such not offering to tourists much of a sight-seeing, it rarely sees anybody staying for more than a day or two. A few tourists take a four days jeep safari from Kargil to visit the destinations in Suru valley and Zanskar valley located in Western Ladakh. From their point of view, the opening of Zoji-la pass for arriving at Kargil is as important as opening of Penzi-la pass for taking them to Zanskar valley. Penzi-la pass is normally cleared by July but this year it re-opened in May itself as we visited those places (Suru valley & Zanskar valley) in first week of June. One can keep track of the mountain passes opening dates by checking on website http://kargil.nic.in/index.htm
Kargil in particular and Ladakh in general have topography totally different from Kashmir valley. Kargil district has high rocky, rugged brownish mountains. The vegetation and greenery is scarce giving it an arid desert like environment. The winter is extensively snow bound. The entire region is located in high altitude above 9,000’.
Transportation for Suru Valley and Zanskar valley from Srinagar is done in two stages. In first stage journey to Kargil play a significant role of one’s planning. The cheapest way to travel to reach Kargil is to take a state transport bus from Srinagar bus stand. Buses run on all days except Monday and Thursday at 7.30 am. The journey takes almost 10 hours. Jeeps / cars can be hired from Srinagar Taxi Stand. Cars like Tavera / Sumo / Innova is expected to cost around Rs. 5000/- to 6000/- and can carry 7 to 10 passengers. Sharing taxi for the individual will also be available. The rates quoted at taxi stand may not coincide with one given in the above mentioned website. In second stage to and fro journey from Kargil to Zanskar valley via Suru valley is done in four days. On day 1 the 140 km journey is from Kargil to Rangdum. On day 2 the 131 km journey is from Rangdum to Padum. The third day is spent in sight-seeing in and around Padum. On fourth day the entire journey of 271 km from Padum to Kargil is concluded. In this route about 40 km of road ahead of Kargil is asphalted and the rest is mud-track. The total cost of hired car like seven seater Tavera will be around Rs. 24,000/- for 4 days including sight-seeing.
a) Kargil : Few good hotels are present in upper part of the town. But, one needs to do online booking. If one wants to stay near Bazaar and jeep stand, without recourse to online booking, there is City Guest House located in a lane opposite to jeep stand, which is reasonably good. Double room without attached bath will be Rs. 700/- per night.
b) Rangdum: There are only two places where one can hole up during night, both located in same compound. The Dak bunglow offers room with beddings at Rs. 200/- per room. There is Alpine Hut which was closed when we arrived.
c) Padum: Unlike Rangdum which is a randomly spread habitat, Padum is a typical Ladakhi town consisting of well laid asphalt roads, many hotels, J K Tourism guest house, shops and restaurants on either side of the road. Most of the hotels do not have running water in bathroom. We located Chamling Kailash hotel with excellent rooms, clean beddings and bathroom with running water.
Suru valley: 1) Rock cut Buddha statue at Khartse Khar 2) The Suru river and valley 3) Nun and Kun mountain peaks 4) Sankoo village 5) Panikhar village 6) Parkachik village and glacier 7) Rangdum monastery 8) Penzi-la pass
Zanskar valley: 1) Penzi-la glacier 2) Statso / Langtso lake 2) Drang Drung glacier 3) Karsha village & Gompa 4) Stongdey Gompa 5) Stagrimo Gompa 6) Bardan Gompa
The four days exploration trip to Western Ladakh covering Suru Valley and Zanskar Valley can be viewed by my video recording by taking the following link: