If you have the power to dream it, you have the power to achieve it. Certainly holds true!!!
I experienced it when I decided to reach Phugtal monastery, Zanskar Valley via trek in a day. Phugtal trek holds a special place in my heart. Honestly if you ask me I still regard it as a victory. Why? Because in all probability the trek wouldn’t have happened as I miscalculated my plan err days for Zanskar. Also because me and my 2 local friends were the only travelers that day to reach the monastery after braving series of flat landslides. Others opted to stay at Cha Village which is apparently the only ‘civilised’ village you will spot on your way apart from village Purne which is on the opposite side of River Lungnak.
But since I was fascinated with this remotest monastery, ever since I saw its photograph in a calendar, I bought from Ladakh, I knew I have to do this. Even if this means a same day trek. I was warned against my plan by anyone and everyone who knew about it. Infact, the local people at Cha Village were stunned to know my plan. The same reaction I got from the monks at the monastery. A day trek from Phugtal is nearly an impossible task because of the rough patch but what could I have done 😉 No body ever did it and we were told that we are the only ones who attempted to cover Phuktal in a day.
It was my dream and probably the only reason why I decided to solo backpack the virgin land called Zanskar Valley in 2014. And I must admit: It was worth every effort!!!
Phugtal Gompa is also known as the ‘cave’ monastery. Reason- its unique construction which is built into the cliff side like a honeycomb. Founded by Gangsem Sherap Sampo in the early 12th century, it is located on the mouth of a cave on the cliff face of a lateral gorge on Lungnak River. For me, Phugtal can be accredited as the prettiest and the most stunning monastery, that India has got to its recognition.
The monastery is helmed in the remotest part of Zanskar which requires a trek of about 2 days. No wonder I felt lifeless at the end of the trek after surviving nearly 2 deadly falls. The trek I started at 4 AM in the morning. This eventually also made me realise that we should never over exert our bodies with excess of adventures. You never know where they might just give up, leaving you in doom !
Phugtal Monastery or Phugtal Gompa (often pronounced as Phuktal) is a monastery in south-eastern Zanskar, Ladakh. Home to about 70 monks, the gompa owes its distinguished legacy of powerful scholars and teachers to the cave, which has long been a place of retreat, meditation, learning, and teaching. The name Phuktal (or Phukthal) reflects this, coming from the two words Phuk meaning cave, and tal or thal meaning at leisure; a second spelling of Phuktal is Phukthar – thar meaning liberation.
My awe-struck moments from the trek The photographs can do little justice to such awesomeness I witnessed, but still here I go:
I started my journey from Anmo Village which apparently is the nearest motorable road for Phuktal from Padum, the administrative town of Zanskar. We took an early morning taxi, which costed us Rs. 6000/- (both way) to reach Anmo by 4. Seeing the three stupas at the starting point, I could feel the positive vibes around me already. My local friends joked if I will be able to complete the challenge we together took. ‘We will do it’ I knew it already !
They say that only the luckiest one reach this monastery, so much that even the locals have not been able to make it here. The owner of my guest house is yet to visit Phuktal and here I was looking to take a step forward on making my dream a reality.
The trek towards Phuktal combines walking over narrow and steep passages. I remember balancing my one foot against the other in a stretch which lasted for 30 mins. In another I cautiously pulled my self forward to cross the slippery flat landslide, which just happened. And it was not just the one.
One of my local friend got the roadmap prepared according to which we should reach Phuktal from Anmo in 3-4 hours. It actually took us 7 hours. How ? Read on !
Our estimated time to reach Cha Village, the mid point of our trek, was 2 hours which we successfully managed. We rushed through our first phase and I could feel the difference between people who love mountains and who live at the mountains. Exhausting at times but my sheer zest to witness Phugtal kept me going
We got no signs of civilisation till the time we reached Cha Village. Phuktal is estimated to be just 6 KMs from Cha, which the villagers told us will take an hour and a half maximum. But this is where the most challenging part of our trek started and the 6 KMs meant 5 hours for us.
Trekkers sometimes prefer to stay at Cha on their way to Phugtal. Another camping option enroute Phugtal is a village called Purne, on the opposite side of the river Lungnak, which falls under a longer route. After we took rest for about half an hour in Cha, we continued our journey towards the final league: A tough path !!!
All exhausted & drained out energies…climbing all steeps and high rocks every minute…
Walking through these wind battered rocks, the enigmatic forces of nature kept us going. We could feel the tunes were healing our already exhausted bodies and giving us energy to move forward. I heard people say that when you go to any religious place with all your heart, the place will always welcome you and we couldn’t be more happier
It did give us strength to cross the slippery landslides, the steeps that we encountered every now and then.
Formation of periodic rainbows gave us good company all throughout. We found rocks carved with ancient Tibetan scriptures which you will easily spot around the monastery. Some had even rice kept around it. On asking a monk about its significance I met on my way, he said that when someone falls of this route its kept to mark their presence at the place. No I am definitely not scaring you but its said that people fall off this route if they do not take proper precautions while trekking the area
And all the pain, the effort seemed worthwhile, when I finally saw THE CAVE Monastery ! I still remember how I jumped with joy when I saw my dream monastery for the first time. Bend down, screamed, took few seconds to get breathe back to the normal and just sat to gaze the master-piece, still wondering if it’s true. I still wanted to gaze it but since we were short of time we continued our trek towards the monastery. As we entered the monastery, we gave a good company to the eye gazing monks, who expressed concern after hearing our plans to trek back the same day, as they could see our exhausted faces and energy-less bodies. By the time we reached Phuktal monastery the monks had gathered for lunch. We were fortunate to join them. The food never felt this tastier, especially after all the pain we took to reach this monastery and meet them. After this, the monks retired for their afternoon chores and we continued to explore the monastery (I am going to write a separate post where I will share what I noticed at this Gompa)
I was enjoying it all and every effort and pain vanished at that very moment when I wanted time to just stop. But alas came the realisation that I need to trek back when my heart wanted to stay more.
I am quite aware that spending 18 hours in a hush hush at this beauty is not justified and especially if you believe in slow travel. But I promised myself that I will return someday to just be in the arms of Phugtal, this time thoroughly enjoying its majestic beauty without any worry of time
With this I prepared my exhausted body to say good bye, still trying to pump in the already drained energy. All my determination worked and yes, when you have friends who boost you and kick you with motivation and never let you give up. Meet Aaquib and Mana, my partners in crime whom I met in Padum. They made this trek all the more memorable !!!
Partners in Crime !!!
We returned via the same route, through Cha. There is another route through Purne, which is broader and at much lower elevation compared to Cha. Both these routes lead to Phuktal monastery. Though the locals will recommend the route on the left, through Cha, which is ‘comparatively’ faster and a shorter route, walking through Cha is much challenging compared to Purne. Though I am yearning to go back but believe me this is not something my heart would be ready to take again soon!
Not at all a day trek but we did guys. Thank you !
Key Suggestions: My take from the Trek
- Take a taxi from Padum till Anmo Village: the end of road, 35 KMs away from Phuktal monastery. One side taxi generally cost around Rs. 3000/-
- Locales say that one side trek will take 3 hrs. For people like us, it’s a calculated 5 hrs distance.
- Prefer a day stay at Cha Village, homestays are available
- Have good time in hand to get soaked in the beauty that Phuktal trek offers
- Be prepared to experience the bumpy rides as the patch after Cha village, 6 KM trek have no roads
- Carry enough eatables and water. Deserted land means you won’t find anything on your way…
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