Its landscape, sky, shooting stars, silence, wizened faces, rosy cheeks,dragons and Zen – everything makes Ladakh a quite place to visit. This ethereal cold desert that goes by names such as ‘The Last Shangrila’, Moonscape, Little Tibet and so many others – all of which ring true, is a land that seldom fails to baffle or surprise.
Kargil is the most important town in the Suru Valley. It is the headquarters of Kargil District and has the most modern amenities, although not of the level of those found in the plains of India. There are a number of other settlements of significant size in the Suru Valley. Kargil is a fairly busy town servicing the villages of the surrounding region. The important Srinagar-Leh road passes through Kargil.
KARGIL (2704 m), 204 kms from Srinagar in the west and 234 kms from Leh in the east, is the second largest urban centre of Ladakh and headquarters of the district of same name. A quite town now, Kargil once served as important trade and transit centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise comprising silk, brocade, carpets, felts, tea, poppy, ivory etc. transited in the town on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarkand and Kashmir. The old bazaar displayed a variety of Central Asian and Tibetan commodities even after the cessation of the Central Asian trade in 1949 till these were exhausted about two decades back. Similarly the ancient trade route passing through the township was lined with several caravanserais.
Situated 45 kms East of Kargil on the road to Leh, Mulbek (3230 m) in an area dominated by the Buddhists. It is situated along either banks of the Wakha River, which originates. Many monuments of the early Buddhists era dot the landscape and are accessible from the road.
The chief attraction of Mulbek is a 9 m high rock sculpture in deep relief of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Its excursion combines esoteric Shaivite symbolism with early Buddhist art. Situated right on the highway, it dates back to the period when Buddhists missionaries came travelling east of the Himalayas.
Perched atop a rocky cliff, Mulbek Gompa (monastery) dominates the valley. It is easy to see why in bygone times this site served as an outpost to guard the caravan route. Like all Buddhists monasteries it is adorned by frescoes and statues.
Another picturesque village of the Wakha River valley, Shergol is situated across the river, right of the Kargil-Leh road. The main attraction is a cave monastery which is visible from a far as a white speck against the vertically rising ochre hill from which it appears to hang out. Below this small monastery is a larger Buddhist nunnery with about a dozen incumbents. The village is accessible by the motorable road that branches off from the Kargil-Leh road, about 5 km short of Mulbek. Shergol is a convenient base for an exciting 4-day trek across the mountain range into the Suru valley. It is also the approach base for visiting Urgyan-Dzong, a meditation retreat lying deep inside the mountains surrounding the Wakha River valley.