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Kargil City Guide

Kargil KARGIL (2704 m), 204 kms from Srinagar in the west and 234 kms from Leh in the east, is the second largest urban centre of Ladakh and headquarters of the district of same name. A quite town now, Kargil once served as important trade and transit centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise comprising silk, brocade, carpets, felts, tea, poppy, ivory etc. transited in the town on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarkand and Kashmir. The old bazaar displayed a variety of Central Asian and Tibetan commodities even after the cessation of the Central Asian trade in 1949 till these were exhausted about two decades back. Similarly the ancient trade route passing through the township was lined with several caravanserais. Now, since 1975, travellers of numerous nationalities have replaced traders of the past and Kargil has regained its importance as a centre of travel-related activities. Being located in the centre of the Himalayan region with tremendous potentials for adventure activities, Kargil serves as an important base for adventure tours in the heart of Himalayas. It is also the take off station for visitors to the erotic Zanskar Valley. Tourists travelling between Srinagar and Leh have to make a night halt here before starting the second leg of their journey.

The town lies nestling along the rising hillside of the lower Suru basin. Two tributaries of the Suru River that meet here are the Drass and Wakha. The land available along the narrow valley as also the rising hillsides are intensively cultivated in neat terraces to glow barley, wheat, peas, a variety of vegetables and other cereals. Kargil is famous for the fine apricots grown here. In May the entire countryside becomes awash with fragrant white apricot blossoms while August, the ripening fruit lends it an orange hue.

What to See and Do

Kargil Kargil mainly serves as an ideal base station for adventure activities like trekking, mountaineering, camping, river rafting etc. In high Himalayan Valleys. It is also a base for taking shorter excursions to Mulbek where the chief attraction is a 9-m high rock sculpture depicting the future Buddha. Kargil also offers some interesting walks along the river bank and up the hillside. The best among these is the one leading to Goma Kargil along a 2-km long winding road which, passing through some of the most picturesque parts of the town, presents breathtaking views of the mountain stream. A stroll in the bazaar might lead to a shop selling flint and tobacco pouches, travelling hookahs and brass kettles - handcrafted items of everyday use which find their way into the mart as curios. Most shops deals in common consumer goods, but some specialize in trekking provisions. The showroom of the Government Industries Centre near the riverbank displays and sell Pashmina Shawls, local carpets and other woolen handicrafts. The apricot jam produced here serves as a rare delicacy. Kargil's dry apricot has now become a souvenir item, which can be purchased freely in the bazaar.

Situated 45 kms East of Kargil on the road to Leh, Mulbek (3230 m) in an area dominated by the Buddhists. It is situated along either banks of the Wakha River, which originates. Many monuments of the early Buddhists era dot the landscape and are accessible from the road.

Mulbek Chamba : The chief attraction of Mulbek is a 9 m high rock sculpture in deep relief of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Its excursion combines esoteric Shaivite symbolism with early Buddhist art. Situated right on the highway, it dates back to the period when Buddhists missionaries came travelling east of the Himalayas.

Mulbek Gompa : Perched atop a rocky cliff, Mulbek Gompa (monastery) dominates the valley. It is easy to see why in bygone times this site served as an outpost to guard the caravan route. Like all Buddhists monasteries it is adorned by frescoes and statues.

Shergol : Another picturesque village of the Wakha River valley, Shergol is situated across the river, right of the Kargil-Leh road. The main attraction is a cave monastery which is visible from a far as a white speck against the vertically rising ochre hill from which it appears to hang out. Below this small monastery is a larger Buddhist nunnery with about a dozen incumbents. The village is accessible by the motorable road that branches off from the Kargil-Leh road, about 5 km short of Mulbek. Shergol is a convenient base for an exciting 4-day trek across the mountain range into the Suru valley. It is also the approach base for visiting Urgyan-Dzong, a meditation retreat lying deep inside the mountains surrounding the Wakha River valley.

Urgyan Dzong : This meditation retreat lies tucked away in an amazing natural mountain fortress high up in Zanskar range. Concealed within is a circular table land with a small monastic establishment at its centre. The surrounding hillside reveals several caves where high-ranking Buddhists saints meditated in seclusion. At least one such cave is associated with the visit of Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism. The main approach is to footpath laid through the only gap available in the rocky ramparts.

Wakha Rgyal : Tucked away inside the picturesque upper part of the Wakha Valley, upstreams of Mulbek, Rgyal gives the appearance of a medieval settlement of cave dwellings transported in to the modern times with some improvements and extensions. The houses, neatly white-washed and closely stacked, are dug into the sheer face of a vertical cliff that rises high above the green valley bottom. From a far the village looks like a colony of beehives hanging from the ochre granite of the Cliffside.

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