Padum is a big place, by Zanskar standards. It has grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, hair-cutting saloons, guest houses, hotels, cloth shops, phone connections etc. Monasteries have sprung up in all directions around the town. Well, maybe Padum sprung up somewhere between all these monasteries. It is geographically well placed to be deemed a base for trekking and monastery visits.
This is the most influential of the monasteries in the area, we’re told. Rich and famous. Also, fairly mundane. About 12 km from Padum, you’re advised to walk to it.
Never believe the locals with distances
Make your own judgements. They will always be better than theirs. Multiply their idea of difficulty by 3 and add a tablespoon of salt to the potential wounds from it and that’s how difficult it will actually be. 12 km is walk-able, but unnecessary. Start walking and stop the first taxi that comes your way. Don’t hire exclusive taxis if you needn’t. They’re fairly expensive. Certainly for Karsha. If you have a monastery threshold, leave this to the last. You can go there anytime you like. Also, the better ones are tougher. On the other hand, if you have a mountain threshold, you’re screwed.
Tongde – Zangla
15km from Padum is Tongde (Stondey). It is a monastery built on top of a hill and supposedly done so 999 years ago. Smaller than Karsha, it has a road leading to it from around this hill. It feels like a monastery. One of the monks explained to some German tourists what the importance of the elephant, monkey, rabbit and bird was. You walk around the structure and you can see the valley below it. You can also see the road leading to your next stop, Zangla.
Zangla was an important town in the old Zanskar Kingdom. If ever a place looks proper with a Kingdom suffix it’s Zanskar. There is an old palace, now in disuse, and a new one, where the royal live. The old palace is more interesting. It needs restoration after each winter. So a group of Hungarians, following the footsteps of their countryman and Zanskar-phile, Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, visit for 3-4 months every year and keep the structure in some reasonable shape. If an old palace and a nunnery some distant away are uninteresting, the road itself between Tongde and Zangla is superb. It doesn’t quite belong here. Maybe because in some years time this road will be part of the Leh-Padum route.