Rupshu is an
integral part of the Chang Tang, Tibet's 600-mile-wide, 15,000-foot
high northern steppes, of which it is the westernmost extremity.
An Ancient Nomad Route
Rupshu has majestic sweeping deserts separated by narrow ranges with
lofty passes offering distant views, and a hardy, wide ranging
nomadic people called Changpas. Traders from Lahaul still drive
their caravans of sturdy mules across Rupshu into western Tibet,
carrying goods such as cloth and costume jewelry and trading for
gems, stones, hides, and wool.
The lowest point in all of Rupshu is at 13,000 feet along the Indus
River near the town of Chumatang. Within Rupshu's 5,500-square-mile
area are the peaks of the Ladakh and Zanskar mountains, and several
large, crystalline lakes including Tso Morari and Pangong, each
framed in wide basins between the two ranges.
The Native Changpas
The 14,000 foot and 15,000 foot plains of Rupshu support the totally
nomadic Changpas. The Changpa economy is geared to the yak, a
creature that dislikes descending lower than 12,000 feet in
elevation in this region and that provides mild and meat for food,
dung for fuel, and wool for clothing and shelter.
The Changpas live in black Yak hair tents called "Rebu" and traverse
a land so high that, as in Nepal's Dolpo region, one of the first
requirements for anyone living there is an animal skin bellows to
keep the Yak dung fire going in the thin air. Changpas have
traditionally subsisted on a hearty but unvarying diet consisting
almost entirely of roasted barley flour, tea, Chang, meat, salt,
milk, butter, and cheese. The menu most days is 'Phe' with 'Solja'
and various kinds of soup.
The women wear their own version of the Ladakhi Perag, and like all
women from Ladakh , they buy as much of the imported coral and
Tibetan turquoise for their 'Perag' as they can afford. Changpas are
Buddhist and like most ethnic Tibetans, they celebrate Losar with
fervor and gladly travel long distances for celebrations.
Myths & Legends
Rupshu, like all of Ladakh, abounds in myth and legend, much of it
based on fact. Some say that Jesus passed the "lost" years of his
life in Hemis monastery. Lama Govinda received his second spiritual,
mystical initiation while resting at Thak Thok monastery on the
approach to the Chang La. And gypsy Davy and Lady Ba camped for
three weeks at various places about Pangong Lake in the early 1920s.
Once, along the northern side of the lake, Lady Ba's horse, Tomar,
disappeared with a herd of Kyang. The best Shikaris were sent to
track him, and they did, across two ranges and a valley. On the
third day, Tomar returned "seven years younger than he went out on
Although the once massive herds of speedy Kyang, the Tibetan wild
Ass, are greatly depleted in Rupshu, the Marmot colonies have not
visibly suffered from poaching. In Rupshu, as in the sweeping Deosai
plains of Baltistan and parts of rugged Zanskar, the sizable, sleek
Marmots, larger than the groundhogs they resemble, are the real
denizens of this high mountain desert.
traditional path across Rupshu, the first stretch of the Leh-Gartok-Lhasa
caravan route, is now a paved road. It diverges north from the Indus
at Karu village, climbing the Ladakh range, across the Indus valley
from Hemis Gomba, to reach the Chang La, passing several villages
and Chendey and Trakthok monasteries. This route now reaches Tankse
20 miles past the Chang la.
Tankse is a village14 miles south of the Shyok River's southern
bend. It used to house Ladakh's easternmost customs post and was the
effective limit of Ladakh's easternmost customs post and was the
effective limit of Ladakh's inhabited territory. At Tankse, the road
continues southeast to the Indus valley and the border village and
military post of Demchok. The large town of Ali in Tibet lies not
Another nearly level valley leads east from Tankse. Cradled by
marble cliffs, this route crosses a low; lade topped pass and, 25
miles beyond, reaches Pangong Lake. Vivid blue Pangong Lake, meaning
"great cavity" in Tibetan, is continuous for nearly 100 miles as it
crosses into Tibet, reaching as Far East as the town of Rudok. Along
its shores are still found the occasional black-necked Crane, an
endangered species with white feathers over its body and a spot of
rust on its head. Pangong evokes wonderful images: a solitary,
tranquil camp near a glacial stream; drinking tea with a Changpa
family; and, come evening, tracking the Shy Kyang through low
HOW TO REACH
The 240-km long Kargil-Padum road, of which the first 90-km stretch
is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The
J&K SRTC operates a thrice-weekly bus services from Kargil. However
groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit
Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Strongdey,
Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil.
During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is
recommended to walk into Zanskar from Panikhar or Parkachik onwards.
In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate
is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of
any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life
after months of frigid dormancy.
WHERE TO STAY
Complex at Padum provides furnished rooms. There is catering
arrangement in the complex, while camping place nearby is available
for budget tourists travelling with personal tents. Padum town has
several private hotels where rooms with basic facilities are
available. Accommodation is also available at the Karsha dormitory.
In the distant villages like Strongdey, Zangla, Sani, etc.,
accommodation can be sought from the villagers either on payment or
in exchange of a suitable gift. Some monasteries may also take in
guests, through more as a gesture of goodwill than on purely
commercial consideration. Of course the guest is expected to
compensate the monastery suitably.
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