Leh -> Kargil
(7+ hours driving)
Kargil -> Padum
(10+ hours driving)
Padum -> drive to the closest distance
(2+ hours driving)
Trek to Phuktal
(4 hour trek. There is a little village about an hour and a half in you can stop at for tea and some food)
If everything goes right you can make it to Phuktal in 2-3 days. Some taxi drivers will insist on stopping in Kargil for the night if that is the case it will take you 3 days to get here as you will also have to spend the night in Padum.
!!The road is steep and dangerous and I don’t recommend doing this on your own!!
My Guides info:
A Little History about Phuktal
Phuktal Monastery or Phugtal Gompa is a Buddhist monastery located in the remote Lungnak Valley in south-eastern Zanskar, in the autonomous Himalayan region of Ladakh, in Northern India.
The Phuktal Monastery is built around a natural cave, which is believed to have been visited by numerous sages, scholars, translators, and monks around 2,550 years ago. The remote location of the monastery was ideal for monks looking for peace and solitude to meditate. The present Phuktal Gompa, of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was established in the early 15th century by Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa was the founder of Gelug, which is one of the newest schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Believed to be one of the earliest residents of the cave are the 16 Arhats, or the legendary followers of Buddha. The monastery was built around the cave. It is built in the cliffside, like a honeycomb. The cliff is part of a lateral gorge of a major tributary of the Lungnak River (Lingti-Tsarap River). The monastery today houses a main temple, prayer rooms, a library with rare sacred texts, apartments and living quarters, teaching facilities, a kitchen, and of course, the original cave and the sacred spring, which is protected. It is home to about 70 monks.
My Adventure to Phuktal
The journey started from Leh, with a six-hour car ride through mountain ranges getting us to our first night stay. I got set up in a room and had rice and dal for dinner. I ended up making friends with a monk around the same age as me. I found out he had been practicing Buddhism since he was 12. After chatting with him for a while I decided it was best to head up to bed, as I had to wake up at 3 AM to set up on the next part of our journey. We drove for about three hours until we reached the police checkpoint. At this point we were forced to wait to see if the weather would get better so that we could continue our journey to where I was going to meet my guide to get me to the monastery.
We waited for about three hours and during that time I went to explore the area. I even got invited into someone’s house, and the owner graciously made me a cup of tea and gave me some bread.
After that point the group of us in the taxi decided it would be best to find a guest house nearby. We found the closest one and it was very rundown. A lot of the windows were either broken or there wasn’t any glass. The floors were covered in mildew and dust; you could tell there hadn’t been a guest in there for months. This place had no running water so if we wanted to wash our hands or needed water for anything we had to go out to the river with a bucket and get it ourselves. The rooms cost about RS400 per night and I was told to share a room with a girl who didn’t speak a word of English. However, despite the language barrier, we actually were able to communicate pretty well together. Most of the people in the taxi didn’t speak much English either.
After we got settled in the guest house we all went to have lunch in the local Village. I was very worried about how my stomach would react to the local food but thought that if I stuck with a very simple meal of rice vegetables or dal I would be fine.
I tried to have a decent night sleep wrapped up in my sleeping bag. I woke up very early in the morning hoping that we would be able to pass through on this day. I went around and woke the whole group up and at 7 AM but, alas, we were given the no-go on making the drive. Unfortunately, that meant another night stuck in the less-than-desirable guesthouse. I did what I could to make the most of it as the views were unreal but I was in constant battle with my allergies since the place was covered in dust. Still dreaming of Phuktal I slept through another night.
Finally, on the third day we got the all-clear to continue on our journey so we set out bright and early at 5 AM. We drove for about five hours until we reached the checkpoint, where we then had to wait another hour and a half before continuing. As we continued on, I was awestruck by the endless and ever shifting views of the mountains surrounding us. It took us until 4:30 PM to reach the town where I was meeting my guide.
The second the car parked, I saw my guide walking towards us. We greeted each other warmly and proceeded inside to have some tea and for me to settle into my room. That night I was adamant about getting a shower and ideally a hot one since it was so cold (but of course hot water was not a given). The people at the hotel said the hot water was not working so they boiled me a big bucket of water. I went into the bathroom and, to my delight, I found out I had relatively warm water along with the big bucket of boiled water. This might have been the greatest shower I have ever experienced in my entire life! After going many days without having one and being in a very cold area, finally being able to slowly pour hot water over my body was practically euphoric. I went to bed with a large smile on my face ready to face the next day and continue the trek to Phuktal.
The next morning, I woke up early, had breakfast, and left via the car driven by the monk. We drove for about two hours until we reached the point where we had to begin on foot. I was greeted with my beautiful white horse, which I had (smartly) rented for the journey to the monastery. The road was rough, narrow, and incredibly steep. The road was so intricate that I was shocked a horse could navigate through it.
About an hour and a half into the four hour trek we stopped at a local town on top of the mountain. I was greeted by a bunch of adorable baby goats. I got off my horse and enjoyed some lunch and tea. After resting for a bit we continued on our journey.
The next part of the road was even more steep and narrow than the previous potion. I honestly thought to myself that I never would have been able to do this without my trusty horse. I had a constant uneasy feeling that I would have slipped if it was just me walking with my backpack.
Eventually hours went by and we reached the partially built gate right at the entrance of the monastery. We continued on and as we turned the corner we finally reached Phuktal!
It truly had a sense of majesty about it that was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was well worth the extreme journey it took to get there.
I continued on and was greeted by a bunch of younger monks. They grabbed all my stuff and walked me to the room I was staying in. The height and sheer elevation of this monastery is something that must be seen to be believed. Even just a simple flight of stairs left me, someone of relative physical fitness, completely breathless.
I spent the first two days exploring the monastery relaxing, writing, and chanting with the monks. Most of my days were filled with reflection. I thought a lot about my life, my challenges and the things I was grateful for. I started to have so much gratitude and wanted to reach out to so many people in my life, unfortunately, this part of my journey there was no way for me to have any communication internationally.
Due to a lack of oxygen and the little mouse that would run around my room making noise at all hours of the night, I spent many hours of the evening just waking up and staring up at the stars. What a beautiful sight it was! I slept right next to the window and could just look at the sky all night.
Walking between where I was sleeping and the main part monastery was very challenging. We would have to walk up a steep hill both ways in high altitude which was really hard to do. I found I would only venture out there one time a day to chant and hang out with the monks.
On the third day I walked back down the path and across the bridge to a little valley just opposite the monastery. The journey was about an hour but well worth it for the views and the pictures.
By the fourth day, it was time to return back down the treacherous journey to the little town I was staying in before I departed. This time I was determined to get in a shared Taxi the whole way in one day from Padum to Leh without making any stops.
The journey left me awestruck and changed! I felt an inner strength that I had never experienced before. I am ever so grateful for the warm love and compassion from everyone I met along my journey.
“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?” -Soledad O’Brien