Day 12 (20th July): Around Padum - Dzonkhul, End of road beyond Reru (135 kms)
We got up early with the plan to first go to Dzonkhul and then come back for breakfast. Although Dzonkhul is on the way to Rangdum, stopping there on our way back would not have been possible due to lack of time, also a trip to Dzonkhul and further on to Padum would have been too much to do for a day.
We were on our way by 6:30 in the morning. At the Tungri bridge, instead of taking the road which crosses the Stod river and goes on to Rangdum, we went straight. The ‘road’ now was quite bumpy and was being leveled by the villagers. At Ating village, we gave a lift to an old man who was going to the Monastery with supplies of a puja scheduled for that day. We then took a left towards the Monastery, and started climbing. Now this climb was awful, the road scattered with rocks of all sizes, and we moved at not more than 15 kmph. I would imagine 2WD jeeps facing extreme difficulties maneuvering through this stretch after the village and would suggest stretch essentially for 4WD as it is loose gravel with terrible ascent and U-bends.
Finally, after a very treacherous ascent, we reached the cave monastery of Dzonkhul. And what a sight it was! Built on a slope just below some jagged rocks, the Monastery peeks out of a cave, and the prayer flags adorning the monastery complex provide the much needed colour in the stark landscape. Village Dzonkhul must consist of less than five households, and most of them cater to the needs of the monastery.
As we entered the monastery, a monk came to greet us, and then started showing us around. He first took us upstairs to a room the roof of which was the cave’s roof itself! It was very dark there with the little light coming from the burning lamps. The roof of the cave here was full of coins stuck to it, and looked like a dark sky with stars! We somehow managed to get one photograph since using flash was not allowed, and their was no way in heaven a tripod would’ve fit in that cramped room. After that we went to the terrace and then to a couple of other rooms which housed their ancient scriptures and books and other precious valuables such as cups studded with semi precious stones. They also had printing blocks of the scriptures and print new ones every now and then.
Finally, the lama took us to a room where all the resident lamas of Dzonkhul were having their breakfast. They asked us to sit with them, gave us two bowls and filled them with the soup all of them were having. Now I know this will sound really mean, but that soup was AWFUL! I somehow finished mine, gulping down most of it so that it did not linger on my tongue, only to see Aarti looking expectantly at me to finish her portion too! I knew she wouldn’t have it, and that it did not look good not to accept their generous offering, so I had a second bowl too
After thanking the lamas for the meal, we went downstairs and had chai with the people who were cooking lunch for the monks. They also gave us some bread, which was delicious! Over tea, we chatted a bit with them, and then bid adieu to Dzonkhul.
The journey was quite tiring, and it was nearly 11 am by the time we reached Padum. After freshening up, we had an early lunch. The next thing to do was to check out Reru, which lies further south from Padum and the end-of-the-road beyond it.
We left around 1 pm for Reru. We got lost at first. One has to go towards the older part of Padum, a Muslim dominated area, and take a left near the bus stand. The road runs parallel to the Tsarap Lingti, and the valley is pretty narrow. First up is the Bardan gonpa, perched precariously on top of huge stone which protrudes into the river. The road till Reru is tarred, although not very smooth, but after this the tar disappears completely. Here we saw a bunch of lamas playing cricket in a wide, open ground. About 6 kms from Reru, we came to a bridge to cross over to the right bank of the river. I believe this was the place where Salil went upto during his excursion to the region way back in September 2009. With the bridge now complete, we crossed over. The road from here on is very narrow and is a complete dirt track with a steep ascent to the village of Itchar. I wonder how would normal traffic cross this stretch given its sharp ascents, tight U-bends and narrow road.
It was here when our car started acting up again, losing power on the incline! It was very frustrating, stretches which were supposed to be done in 4H mode were now being done in 4L mode and at extremely high RPM. There was an option to turn back towards Padum as the scenery was hardly beautiful or enticing, but being spoilt, we had to see the end of the road before we could turn back. We crawled ahead, occasionally having to deal with loss of power as well. The road was too dusty for me to crawl down and drain the sedimenter and decided that it would best be done on the way back.
The road continued like this for about 8 odd kms from the bridge, before it came to an abrupt end where work was still being done. It was time for us to turn back. The drive back till Reru was again painful where I finally disembarked from the car and went down to drain the sedimenter. Once I was back on the wheel, the vehicle refused to start even after multiple cranks. Finally, I opened up the bonnet and primed the fuel pump a bit, and finally Kiyang started with a sputter. It was a smooth ride from that point till Padum which we finally reached by about dusk. This was the first detour that we regretted taking, the drive was neither beautiful nor worth taking, in our opinion. I would suggest further travelers to the region to avoid this drive until it’s complete all the way to Purne, which is about 15 km away from where the road ends currently. One could then trek to Phutgal gompa which I’ve heard is quite beautifully located, and the valley beyond Purne towards Kargyak and Darcha is very wide and spectacularly beautiful. Until then, it’s best to avoid the stretch.
We had to start early the next day as we were targeting to reach Kargil in a single day from Padum, so hit the sack early.