Located at an altitude of around 9,000 ft. on the banks of Indus river, Kargil is the 2nd largest town in Ladakh region after Leh. This is a transit hub with and is well connected to all towns in J&K region. The town has gained a lot of prominence after the Kargil conflict and in a way has a large ‘patriotic relevance’ with all travelers.
History and Culture:
Kargil was a part of Baltistan district of Ladakh until 15th August 1947. The local population consists of a mixture of Tibetan and Dard linguistic and religious groups. Majority of the locals are followers of Buddhism. After the first Kashmir war when ‘Line of Control’ [LoC] divided India and Pakistan, Kargil became a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the famous ‘Shimla Agreement’ was signed guaranteeing not to engage in armed conflict. However, in 1999 Pakistan intruded into the territory that was successfully neutralized by Indian troops during Kargil war.
How to Reach?:
By Air: Shaikh-ul-Alam Airport, Srinagar and Kushok Baluka Rimpochee Airport, Leh are the nearest airports and well connected to all major Indian cities. From either of the places, visitors can take a bus or private transport and reach Kargil.
By Road: NH 1 and NH 44 connects Srinagar, Jammu Tawi, Kargil, and Leh. Travelers can hire a cab or board a bus from any one of these three places to reach Kargil. Distances / approximate travel time from the 3 locations are as under
- Srinagar / Leh – Kargil – 150 Km / 5 Hours
- Jammu – Kargil — 470 Km / 15 Hours
By rail: Jammu Tawi is the nearest railway station and well connected to many locations. Travelers can reach Jammu Tawi by train then take a taxi/bus.
Time to Visit :
Kargil has a combination of both arctic and desert climatic conditions. Rainfall is negligible. The region predominantly experiences 2 seasons ie. – Summer (April to September) and winter (October to March). Summer months of May and June are ideal for visits. It is ideal to visit in summer when temperature averages 24*C. Kargil records an average of 320 mm. of snowfall in winter. Winter besides being extreme cold also results in a lot of road closures due to heavy snowfall.
Accommodation and Food:
A range of hotels and guesthouses are available to cater to different levels of comfort. Besides, there are 2 tourist bungalows available which provide both furnished rooms and catering facilities. Of late homestays and camping options to suit the needs of adventurists are also available.
Plenty of hotels and dhabas serving regional / Indian / continental food (vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes) are available in and around Main Bazar area. Staple local food comprises of wheat and barley and these are now a part of Kashmiri rice and meat dishes and Tibetan food.
Visitors can relish local specialties like Kashmiri Wazwan, momos and Thukpa and all-time favorite Meat Chawal (rice). There are plenty of restaurants, which provide vegetarian food as well. Street foods of interest are Rgyuma (sausages with meat/barley), Sugu (Ram Stock) and many more!.
Kargil town is very small and visitors can surely walk around to all the places. However, private and government bus services are available for most tourist spots. Besides, taxis are also available. Considering restricted season and economic dependency on tourism, self-driven only locally hired taxis are allowed.
Things To Do:
- Trekking – Many treks start in and around Kargil. In general, due to changing weather conditions, trekking can be challenging, but rewarding due to the scenic beauty of the region.
- Ghayal Khatoon Park – for a leisurely walk!
- Visit Suru Valley – Picnic spot that offers a panoramic view and is a place for trekking. Extends up to Penzi La Glacier. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas.
- Leisure Activities – Visit boutique resorts, Spas, shopping areas and restaurants for a royal experience. Visit Pashkum a mesmerizing historical village with ruins of castles on hilltops.
- Adventure Activities – Trekking, biking, off-roading, hiking and many more activities.
- Visit Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum – A family-operated museum dedicated to the life events and legacy of a prominent silk route trader- who was a trader, visionary, patriot and a social entrepreneur. Items on display include jewelry, handwritten Quran, coins, carpets, toiletries, and Truly a historian’s delight!
- Visit Kargil War Memorial – In memory of soldiers who lost their lives in Kargil war. A memorial wall in which the names of all martyrs are inscribed is sure to reignite ones patriotic fervor.
- Walk thru Kargil Main Street – Just to see the local community – Few shops sell dry fruit shops and local food. In addition, local folk music CDs and souvenirs are also available.
Travel, Health, Security and Communication etc
- One can experience Acute Mountain Sickness [AMS] due to high altitude. Carry preventive medication for AMS.
- Drink lot of water to keep tummy fit – Preferably drink boiled, sterilized or packaged drinking water.
- Avoid coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol – Over consumption of all these may lead to respiratory failure and problems.
- Wear warm woolen clothes, as much as possible.
- Consume a lot of carbohydrates for maintaining high levels of energy.
- Oxygen kit- Carry a small oxygen kit after consulting a doctor regarding procedures to be followed in case oxygen levels drop.
- Government and Army hospitals can help to handle any unforeseen health issues. Besides, chemists/druggists shops are also available.
- Keep identity proofs handy. This will help to comply with security checks at various army check-posts.
- For any threat / unexpected emergencies or security, issues avail the assistance of the Kargil Police Stations, which falls under the jurisdiction of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Communication services of BSNL are the most reliable. Otherwise, there are a lot of ‘PCO’s available from where travelers can communicate to all parts of the world!.
- ATMs of Jammu and Kashmir Bank are available in Kargil. Majority of the transactions are done in cash. Travelers to carry an adequate balance of currency at all times. Credit cards and other forms of electronic payments are rarely used.
- Urdu is the official language of J&K and Kashmiri the local language. However, Hindi, Urdu, Shina, Balti, Purik, and English is commonly spoken in restaurants, schools and offices.
Cost typically varies depending on the mode and the place from where one travels. In addition, the duration of the trip, type of accommodation and the activities are undertaken also affects the cost. However, on an average for Indian travelers, the expenditure will be in the range of Rs.50,000 to Rs.80,000 per person for 1-week trip. On the same basis, the cost for foreign travelers will range between $1,500 – $2,000 (excluding travel cost).