For many of us, Kargil has become synonymous with the Indo-Pakistan conflict and the war of 1999. Today even after almost 17 years, for people who haven’t been here, Kargil is still imagined as war-trodden garrison town. Very few have dared to venture into these valleys and very little has been written or said about it. However, like the many other Himalayan abodes, Kargil also has upheld its natural and cultural beauty for centuries. It only takes a spirit of exploration to discover the unknown stories in these secret valleys. Fortunately for us, remaining unknown for so long has kept the beauty of these unseen and unexplored valleys, still authentic and prestine.For centuries, Kargil (historically known as Purig) has been a place of transit; whether it was when it served as an important trading hub for traders on the Great Silk Route, or even today when modern day caravans of travelers ply between Srinagar and Leh. Very little is known about its trading history and its connection with the Silk Route. Kargil was an important trading post on a network of regional and international routes and traders form India, Yarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Tibet, Kashmir, China, Russia, Baltisatan and within Ladakh itself, all came through kargil with their wares. No one has ever stopped to wonder what this place has to offer.Travellers who come through Ladakh typically take the beaten track, bypassing most of the treasures that this mystical region has to offer. Once popular in the 80s, Kargil attracted many adventure and nature lovers form all over the world. Kargil is home to the great Nun (7135m) & Kun (7077m) peaks, the highest climbing peaks in the Ladakh range situated in Suru Valley. Many of its Trans – Himalayan treks which transcend the raw mountains of Kargil into the green pastures & Lakes of Kashmir valley are now open once more, inviting trekkers to sink into its beauty. Prestine valleys, snow capped peaks, glacial lakes, ancient Buddhist rock reliefs and secret mountain tribes. These and with warm hearted Ladakhi hospitality, Kargil is calling!
People & Culture
Kargil with its rich history and culture has nurtured several tribes and languages. The six major tribes in the region are Purik, Balti, Bhoto, Shina, Dards (Broqpas) and Kashmiri. Kargil even today is home to a mix of religions and faiths. These people depend mostly on agriculture and animal husbandry for their subsistence. The climate of the region is harsh, with temperatures dropping to -40 degrees in winters; heavy snow fall forces many people to live in isolation for long periods. Kargil has a population mix of (Shia) muslim, Buddhists and a small number of Sikh & Hindu community, all living with an indifference to the prejudices of creed. Although the local language is Purgi, it is said that in the olden times atleast two people in each village were also fluent in new Persian and Urdu, and the knowledge of English was very rare. Today its not the case any more. Most of the youth can converse in English and Hindi. Today after more than half a century, the silk route heritage has become a long lost story. However, the local lifestyle is still highly influenced by those early intermingling. As a result of this multi-cultural intermingling, Kargil has a rich ethnic background. These ancient interactions between the cultures have manifested themselves in the form folk lore, music, and language and ofcourse, food. While most of the staple food is comprised of wheat and barley, over time, flavours of other cultures have also been integrated into the food such as Kashmiri rice and meat cuisines, Tibetan food, and Central Asian bakery. The people of Kargil (Ladakh), for their greater history have informed their lives with a very careful relationship with the surrounding topography. The cold, rugged mountains for the most part can only inspire awe, even for the seasoned trekkers (home-bred and outsiders alike) attempting arduous journeys. And the local inhabitants, few and far between as many may be in the most unreachable pockets, have evolved ways of living that accord respect to the environment. It is not that advent of television sets and toilet seats in the last few years are not a sign of accommodation and aspiration to the more modern (whatever that vague, presumptuous term implies or signifies) urban habits and comforts, but still in the higher reaches a semblance of regard for the surrounding naturally occurring environment prevails. The difficulty of navigating an undulating terrain and the cold climate puts in perspective the relations of men with their surrounding earth. Even as Ladakhis scarcely get to savour fresh vegetables and fruits in the brief summer, preparations are always underway to make preserves for the long harsh winter. The home architecture and local fare-home food or special cuisine, also carries this nuance. Ladakhi homes with their stylized kitchens and dry toilets; home-made and market bought oven-baked fermented dough bread and butter tea are just some of the fine and curious examples.
Location & Geography
An important stop on the “Treaty Road” from Srinagar, to Leh and Central Asia, it was said ‘all the roads lead to Kargil’ as it is equidistant from Kashmir, Baltistan (in Pakistan), Zanskar and Leh. Kargil literally means a place to stop from all directions. Its etymology has evolved from the word Garkill. Where “gar” means from all places and “khil” to stop. And true to its name, all historical accounts of British and European travellers reveal Kargil to be just that. Situated along the river Suru (a tributary of the Indus, which flows into Pakistan) it boasted of a fort build by the Ladakhi King in the 19th century. The old caravan bazaar ran along the river and a few mud houses by the slopes nestled in a green oasis of the Suru valley. Today, Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh. Kargil is situated at an altitude of 8500ft (2590mts) bordering the Line of Control (LoC) with Baltistan. Situated at the foot hills of the greater Himalayas is a green oasis surrounded by raw mountains.and river Suru flowing through the valleys. The temperature hovers between 10 oC (min) to 30 oC (max) in the summer between May to September. In the winter the temperature can dip down to -15 oC owning to snowfall.
Kargil is divided into 6 valleys, namely Suru, Drass, Darchiks-Garkone, Chiktan, Wakha-Mulbek, Bodhkharbu-Hinaskot. Each valley, inhibited by a different tribe, is unique in its history, culture and landscape. Suru valley is an adventure lovers paradise with snow capped peaks, green pastures, historic Buddhist relics and the majestic Suru river flowing through it. Drass valley known as the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia was also the battle ground during the 1999 Indo-Pak conflict. It is home to the rare Himalayan Brown Bear and a variety of medicinal plants. Darchiks-Garkone, located along the banks of river Indus, is inhabited by the Aryan tribe known as “Broqpas” who claim themselves to be the descendents of Alexander the Great. Recently opened up for outsiders this valley remained in isolation till 2005. A very little is known about this hidden Himalayan valley. Chiktan valley is known for its 15th century old fort ruin during the reign of King Thatha Khan. This is place is popular for its rich history in folklore of the “Gesar Saga”. Sadly, its a dying oral history today. Wakha-Mulbek valley has a unique landscape with ancient cave monasteries and traditional Ladakhi style homes. Locals often narrate stories of Snow Leopard sightings. Hinaskot-Bodhkharbu valley is at its best in summer when the stepped fields are lush green and yellow in colour. Chants from small monasteries and nunneries in this remote valley ride the thin air into nothingness.
Flora & Fauna
Kargil is home to a variety of flora fauna such as the Himalayan Brown Bear, Snow Leopard, Ibex, Wolf, Fox, Marmots. There are a variety of herbal and medicinal plants that pop up especially in the areas of Suru, Mushkow and Sapi valley. Kargil is also home to various resident and migratory birds such as Tibetan Partridge, Himalayan Griffin, Kingfisher, Red billed Chough, Swift, and the quintessential Magpie. There is an ancient folklore in Kargil that says if a Magpie sings while sitting at your roof, it marks the arrival of distant guests.
Ladakh is divided into two Districts, Leh & Kargil with Zanskar as a sub division of Kargil. Similar to Leh, Kargil has its own autonomous administration known as “Ladakh Autonomous Hill Developement Council (LAHDC), Kargil”. It consists of one Chief Executive Councillor, two Executive Councillors and 27 Councillors from the various villages including Zanskar. Geo-politically, Ladakh falls under Jammu & Kashmir state of India.
Reach kargil & Other FAQ
How do I reach Kargil?
For foreign travellers
If you are travelling from outside India, you will have to reach New Delhi or Mumbai from your respective locations. From here on you have work your way up north to Ladakh by roads or by air depending on your budget and time. Following information applies to both domestic and foreign travellers.
You can take a direct flight from New Delhi or a connecting flight from Rest of India to Leh. There are shared taxis leaving from */ioLeh to Kargil everyday (800-1000INR). Taxis for Kargil start leaving as early as 6 am till noon. You will have to take a local taxi from the airport to the taxi stand to catch you ride for Kargil. Once at the taxi stand, you can find the earliest taxi ready to leave and book a seat directly with the driver of that taxi. The journey time is about 5 hours with good tarmac roads and great views. There will be a lunch stop at Khalsi half way to the journey. You can carry some snacky things to munch on if you like from the taxi stand in Leh before to leave.On the way you will get to see the Moonland, Lamayuru Monastery and Mulbek Chamba, a 5th century Maetriya Buddha Rock Statue.This highway is open throughout the year.
You can take a direct flight from New Delhi or Mumbai to Srinagar. Try to take the earliest flight in so that you can catch the taxi to Kargil on the same day. Taxis for Kargil leave from Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) at residency road. The last taxis leave by noon latest. Once at Srinagar airport, you will have to take an auto rickshaw to TRC, where the taxis for Kargil will be leaving. You can find the earliest taxi ready to leave and book a seat directly with the driver of the taxi. Usually we coordinate with a local taxi driver who is leaving on the same day when you arrive so that he can wait for you at TRC. However, Incase you can’t find a taxi on the same day, we will advise to a guest house to stay for the night nearby and you can book your taxi for the next day morning. The journey time is about 6 hours. However, this highway is vulnerable to bad weather conditions especially the Zojila pass. This might cause some delay in the journey. There is a stopover in Sonamarg before Zojila pass and then another stop at Drass after crossing Zojila pass. At both locations you will get food (both veg and non veg). However, keep a stock of some snacks and water in your daypack just in case. This route has two advantages: It is more budget friendly as the flight tickets are usually cheaper You can travel to Kargil on the same day you land in Srinagar without worrying about acclimatisation.
The Epic Road Journey
For people feeling more adventurous, you can also take the Delhi-Chandigarh-Manali-Leh-Kargil route. It will take over a couple of days but the journey will an experience of your lifetime, that’s a gaurantee. Road Closure: Open from May to October
For solo travellers for scheduled trips
Reach Srinagar/Leh (by air/road) and then to Kargil on your own by a shared taxi as per the instructions above. You can ask us to arrange a seat for you but you will have to inform us in advance while booking.
For travellers coming in groups for the scheduled trips (4-6)
A full taxi can be arranged at an additional cost upon request. It will pick you up from Srinagar/Leh and leave for Kargil.
For Private Journeys
Airport pick up and local transport is inclusive of the cost.
Travelling locally is also pretty easy. Most of the town itself is walk-able. To travel to the country side you can take local buses, and shared/individual taxis to Leh, Zanskar, Srinagar and to almost every village in Kargil. Bus timings can be availed from the JKSRTC ticketing office at the main bazaar. Another great way to see the countryside is on a locally rented “Dahon Folding Bike”.
Shared taxis leave from Kargil early morning everyday to Leh & Srinagar.
If you are exiting from Leh
If you are exiting from Srinagar
Is it Safe?
A big fat YES! Typically we confuse Kargil to be a part of the Kashmir Valley and hence the apprehension. It falls under Ladakh region along with Leh and Zanskar. Ofcourse you will witness the presence of The Indian Army because of its shared boundary with Pakistan but it is completely safe to travel here. The civilians share a very cordial relationship and engage in a lot of collaborative social and cultural campaigns. Almost all areas of Kargil’s country side are accessible for travellers and the Indian Army provides special permissions to registered travel agencies to visit the restricted areas in Drass and Garkone Valley (which are closer to the border).
It is a treat for meat lovers. However, if you are vegetarian, your options will be limited. But that should not stop you from trying the veg variants of these local delicacies. You will find a lot of muslim/kashmiri/ladakhi/Tibetan influence in the food because of its rich cultural history. There will be lots of meat preparations along with rice, thukpas, momos, papa and Khulaq. For the ones with a sweet tooth, don’t forget to try the Apricot Custard. We suggest you do not pass off on an opportunity to eat at a local’s house. You will be surprised. Being a less touristy town, Kargil has less options for continental food but we can suggest some local restaurants that serve delicious Mughlai and North Indian dishes, in veg as well.
About 5 years ago travellers used to complain about options to stay in Kargil but now there is something for every budget. There are about 10” Grade A” hotels and numerous budget guest houses. For a local experience, there are options for homestays and village camps that we can arrange.
In Leh, postpaid connections of almost all carriers work (Airtel, Bsnl, Aircel, Vodafone, Idea). No pre paid connections outside of J&K work in Ladakh (Kargil/Leh/Zanskar). You can use it on roaming if you have a postpaid connection. Activate your roaming facility before to come to Ladakh. In Kargil, post paid connections of Airtel & Bsnl work so you can use it roaming if you have one. Activate your roaming facility before arriving. In Zanskar, only Bsnl connectivity is available. So only Bsnl postpaid roaming connections or local bsnl connections will work there. Local Airtel SIM card can be purchased from the market. You will need a valid ID proof and passport size photograph and process may take upto a week. Connectivity will be intermittent while travelling to remote villages within Ladakh.
3G connectivity on your phone will not work porperly wherever you are in Ladakh (Leh/Kargil/Zanskar). The only provider in J&K is Bsnl. Most guest houses/hotels are wifi enabled. We have wifi connectivity in our office in Kargil. There a bunch of internet cafes also around the town. We can show them to you once you are here.
Banks & ATMs
n Leh, there are plenty of Banks and ATMs in the town like Axis bank, HDFC bank, ICICI bank, State Bank of India, J&K Bank. In Kargil, there is ICICI, HDFC, SBI and J&K bank and their respective ATMs. In Padum (Zanskar), there is J&K Bank and SBI. Having said that, keeping some hard cash on you is a good idea as sometimes the “system” is down due to internet or electricity issues.
Ladakh is a dry mountain, high altitude terrain with average height is 3500m from sea level. Typically 2500m and above sea level is considered as high altitude terrain. The oygen level drops and the air pressure decreases, so your body needs some time get accustomed to the change. Essentially your lungs and heart has to set the tempo straight to the new external factors. Therefore, It is important to get acclimatized to altitude before doing any strenuous activity. Your body will hydrate faster and fatigue sets in quicker. Mild headache, nausea, lack of sleep and appetite are normal symptoms which will go away in a day or two. The first three days are the most critical and need to be cautious. One day of good rest and drinking plenty of water (1 litre a day atleast) is advised to stay hydrated. Having said this, Kargil is at an altitude 2400m and if you travel from Srinagar you can travel on the day to Kargil without resting in Srinagar. As your will gradually ascending up by road, it will get you get acclimatized. If you are travelling from Leh, it is advised that you rest in Leh on the day you arrive and travel to Kargil the next day so that you can acclimatize better. However, it is not a compulsion. As a precautionary measure, we would advise that you get a medical fitness test done from a doctor before to arrive Kargil. If you bring a copy of the medical certificate, it ll be good to have that in our records. Doctor and medical facilities are available in the town incase of any emergency. If you want to read more about Acute Mountain Sickness,