“Suru Valley is where exactly?” – These few words actually summarises what most of the Indian tourists know about this place. We had heard this question a number of times while talking about this place. Most do not know the existence of this immensely beautiful valley in Kargil district. Infact, Kargil mostly remains as a resting stop for those travelling on the Srinagar – Leh Highway. Very few have Kargil as their travel destination. Either one goes forward towards Leh or towards the Zanskar Valley. We were also guilty of this “condition” more than once. However, Suru Valley is the hidden gem of Kargil. Want to know why? Read on.
In terms of tourism, Suru Valley has a lot to offer to anyone who visits the place. And yes, this valley is a part of Ladakh, though it does not receive the same footfall that the rest of the place receives.
I came to know about Suru Valley while researching about our Zanskar trip a few years back. At first, it seemed to be just a place on the way towards the remote Zanskar Valley. However, this place demands time and attention of its own. The place is gorgeous and relatively unexplored. Suru Valley is, however, quite well known in the trekking circuit because of the Nun – Kun massif. So, here we have compiled a thorough Suru Valley Travel Guide for you with all the details about how to reach, places to visit and other related information.
- Where is Suru Valley?
- Why should you Visit Suru Valley?
- Suru Valley Map
- What to See on a Suru Valley Trip?
- Life in Suru Valley
- How to Reach Suru Valley?
- What is the best time to visit Suru Valley?
- Where to Stay at Suru Valley?
- How is mobile connectivity in Suru Valley?
- Some Tips for visiting the Suru Valley
Where is Suru Valley?
Suru Valley is located in Kargil district of Ladakh at an average altitude of 3000 metres (around 9800 feet). This beautiful valley is located in the western most part of Ladakh in the catchment area of the Suru River, a tributary of the Indus River. Starting from the Kargil town, Suru Valley extends all the way upto the Penzi La Glacier, from where the Suru River originates.
Geographically, Suru Valley separates Kargil from the Zanskar Valley. The inhabitants of this Valley are the descendants of Dard and Tibetans.
Why should you Visit Suru Valley?
The landscape of Suru Valley is unique. Due to the presence of the Suru River, this valley is one of the greenest valleys of the Greater Himalayas, which is a bit of a surprise at an elevation of more than 3000 m.
You can divide Suru Valley into the Lower Suru Valley and Upper Suru Valley. The upper part of the valley has a different landscape than the lower one. Due to the Suru River crisscrossing the Valley and the melting glaciers feeding the river, the Lower Suru Valley is one of the most fertile regions of Ladakh. And that means, in summers, it is green everywhere. This greenery is like a balm to the eyes if you are going towards or coming back from Zanskar Valley. Green is not something that we get to see a lot in Zanskar Valley.
The upper part of the Suru Valley is rugged and stark with the mountains looming in the distance. The change in scenery is actually pretty drastic.
Thus, Suru Valley treats you with both the pleasantness of the greenery as well as the starkness of the Himalayan mountains. And then there are so many interesting places to see in Suru Valley like glaciers, villages, snow-capped mountain peaks, twin lakes and more. Do you need more reasons to visit the beautiful place?
Suru Valley Map
What to See on a Suru Valley Trip?
There are quite a number of things to see in Suru Valley. Here is a list of places that you might want to see on a Suru Valley trip. We had visited in October and the place had a different king of beauty at autumn.
Sankoo is nearest to Kargil, only about 42 km away. This is the only place in Suru Valley that you can consider to be a small town. It has a small market area with a number of shops. It is believed that Sankoo has been inhabited since the 16th century.
Sankoo is shaped like a bowl surrounded by dense plantations of poplars, willows and wild roses and with great views of the mountain ranges. This is one of the places where we saw roses growing in abundance. Sankoo is peaceful and generally serves as a stop over place to relax. With the beautiful surroundings and plantations, Sankoo has a number of picnic spots.
2. Kartse Khar
Kartse Khar is a tiny Buddhist village near Sankoo and is famous for the gigantic 20 feet Buddha carved on a huge rock. You can reach there by car. It is a 2-3 minutes’ walk to the statue from the parking spot.
It is believed that the Buddha was carved sometime in the 7th century. The statue of Buddha seems to look down at the valley having Abhay Mudra in one hand and holding a kamandal in the other hand. There are images of 2 Gandharvas on either side of Buddha’s face. Everything looks quite majestic.
There are prayer flags fluttering around the place and you can feel Buddha everywhere. There is an ancient palace of the Kartse Khar kings located atop a hill. If you have time, you can visit there. The views from there are extremely beautiful!
Panikhar is located about 24 km from Sankoo and it is here where you will realize the beauty of the this palce. The village is more famous amidst the adventure enthusiasts for it serves as a base for a number of treks. Tangol, a small village that serves as the base camp for Nun peak expedition.
Panikhar is also the main spot for getting a clear view of the Nun-Kun massif.
We would recommend you staying for a day at Panikhar if you have time. Not only are the vistas awesome, but the people are also very welcoming. You will get a view of the slice of life at a village in Suru Valley. There are plenty of places to explore in here– small walks that will lead to great views. You can just take a path and explore ahead. Something interesting will definitely come up.
4. Nun – Kun massif
The twin peaks of Nun and Kun are definitely one of the major attractions of the Suru valley. You can see the twin peaks from almost all parts of the valley, but the views from Panikhar are by far the best. The Nun stands tall at an elevation of 7135 and perennially covered in snow. The Kun stands at 7077 m and is mostly barren and black. Both the peak stands tall and seem to beckon all the adventure enthusiasts. The Nun-Kun peaks are definitely one of the major things to see in Suru Valley.
Another beautiful hamlet in the Suru Valley is Parkachik, located about 16 km from Panikhar. Parkachik can also serve as a stop on your way towards or from Zanskar Valley. The village itself is located on the other side of the Suru River. But you can get a view of the village from the highway itself. (The road you are traversing is actually NH301)!
While the road from Kargil to Panikhar was good and almost flat, the same cannot be said for the next part. You start to gain elevation while driving towards Parkachik and the road also becomes rickety and rougher. The Suru River keeps company, but seems to get narrower as you approach drive deeper into the Suru Valley.
This beautiful hamlet is also known for great views of the Nun and Kun peaks as well as Parkachik La and Parkachik Glacier.
Parkachik La stands at an altitude of 3800 m and you can trek up there. This pass connects Panikhar and Parkachik villages. The Parkachik village and the entire route to the village can be viewed from the pass. It also provides majestic views of the Nun and Kun peaks and other Himalayan peaks in the region.
Another interesting attraction to see in Suru Valley is the Parkachik glacier. You can see it on your way. We saw a huge mass of ice forming the ice wall of the glacier. The melting ice of Parkachik glacier feeds the Suru River and Shafat Nala.
What can I say about Rangdum? The ethereal beauty of the place made me totally in awe of the last village of Suru Valley.
As you cross Parkachik, you are entering the Upper Suru Valley and you will gradually see the changes in the scenery. The greenery gives way to rocky and rugged terrains. The Suru River becomes more spirited and you can see more mountain peaks. By the time you reach Rangdum, you will be in a stark barren brown surroundings surrounded by mountain peaks. The landscape of Rangdum is more like that of Zanskar Valley than Suru Valley.
Rangdum is located midway between Kargil and Padum and is about 100 km from Kargil. The roads are really rough and rocky to Rangdum. But the views are just spectacular.
The village has only a few houses. There is a Guest house in Rangdum that was previously a JKTDC bungalow. You can stay at the guest house. There are also a couple of homestays in the village.
One of the major attractions of Rangdum is the Rangdum Monastery. The monastery is located about 5 km from the village. The Rangdum Gompa suddenly appears out of nowhere standing on a hilltop located in the middle of a flat land. The location of the Gompa, the ambience and everything makes you feel that you have arrived at some different place in a bygone era.
Rangdum Monastery was built in the 18th century and looks like a small fortress. The Gompa was, in fact, used by the army of General Zaorawar Singh during his invasion of Ladakh.
7. Pensi La Pass
Pensi La or Penzi La Pass is the mountain pass that connects Suru Valley and Zanskar Valley. Though technically not located in Suru Valley, you can consider it a part of your Suru Valley trip. Pensi La is located about 25 km from Rangdum at an altitude of 4400 m (14436 ft). It is one of the easiest passes to cross in Ladakh. The road leading to Pensi La is easy and gradual and does not take much effort. In fact, if the prayer flags and the sign board were not present, we could have easily missed it as a mountain pass.
While you can get down and click pictures at the Pensi La Pass, the main attraction of this pass is the Drang Drung Glacier and the twin Lakes.
8. Ta Tso and Lang Tso Twin Lakes
The twin lakes just sit on top of the Pensi La Pass and can be seen just before the pass approaches if you are coming from the Kargil side. The twin lakes can be easily missed if you do not keep an eye, because they are not that easily visible as the Sela Lake while crossing the Se La Pass on the way towards Tawang.
The two lakes are located next to each other and are named Ta Tso and Lang Tso. You can keep your car or bike at the top of the Pass and walk down a short distance to the lakeThere is a tower that you can climb to get a view of the twin lakes. . You will rarely find anyone at this place, with the place being totally unexplored.
9. Drang Drung Glacier
I believe that the Drang Drung Glacier is the ultimate attraction of Rangdum. Drang Drung Glacier is the second largest glacier in Ladakh after the Siachen Glacier and it looks majestic. The glacier can be seen from the top of Pensi La Pass, but the best vantage point to see Drang Drung Glacier is little ahead of the Pensi La pass.
There is a trek route to the top of the Drang Drung Glacier after crossing the Pensi La Pass. It is a one-day trek to the head of the glacier.
Life in Suru Valley
While the landscape and natural beauty is one of the major reasons to visit a destination, we also love to know about the life and culture of the place. Suru Valley was no exception. The time we spent in Suru Valley was not enough for us to know the place in entirety, but it was enough to get a glimpse into the life of the people.
The culture of Suru Valley is also different. While Zanskar and the rest of Ladakh is predominantly Buddhist, Suru Valley has a predominant Muslim population. However, Rangdum is a Buddhist village. What we felt is that this place has an amalgamation of both the cultures.
The people are friendly and smiling, something that I found in Zanskar and the remote villages of Ladakh.
Life in Suru Valley becomes difficult as we go deeper into the valley. However, as life gets difficult, it also gets simpler. People smile at you more.
Despite the remoteness of the place, there is no aloofness of hearts!
The houses of the villages are simple and made of local bricks made of locally sourced mud, stone and hay. What caught our eyes were the bright coloured door and window frames adorning the houses. This architectural style is quite common in the valleys of greater Himalayas.
Most of the villages in lower Suru Valley are farming. The major crops seem to be barley. The villagers also grow secondary crops like seasonal vegetables.
Most of the essentials in the village are brought from Kargil. Various food items, clothes, and even electronic items like televisions! Here lies the importance of Kargil town in the life of the people in Suru Valley. Sankoo, being the closest to Kargil, gets its advantages. Here the people are affluent and it is reflected in their houses. The houses in Rangdum have typical Ladakhi architecture.
How to Reach Suru Valley?
Suru Valley is located between Kargil and Padum in Zanskar Valley. The easiest way to reach Suru Valley is from Kargil. You can reach Kargil either from Srinagar or Leh. The distance of Kargil from Srinagar is about 200 km while Leh is about 216 km from Kargil. You can reach Kargil in the following ways –
You can reach either Leh or Srinagar by air and from there take a car to Kargil. Shared vehicles are also available from both Srinagar and Leh to Kargil.
The nearest major railway station to Kargil is Jammu. From Jammu, you have to take a bus or car to Srinagar and from there another vehicle to Kargil.
Kargil can be reached by road from both Srinagar and Leh. From Leh, you will get local buses and shared vehicles to Kargil.
You will also get buses and shared vehicles to Kargil from Srinagar.
Another way to reach Suru Valley by road is from Padum in Zanskar Valley. In this case, you are probably travelling to Zanskar and then returning via Kargil.
Distance Chart – Suru Valley
- Kargil to Sankoo: 40 km
- Sankoo to Panikhar: 24 km
- Panikhar to Parkachik: 16 km
- Parkachik to Rangdum: 46 km
- Rangdum to Pensi La: 25.6 km
- Rangdum to Padum: 103 km
Kargil to Suru Valley
Suru Valley starts from Sankoo and officially ends at Pensi La Pass. Sankoo is the largest town in the valley. Public transport like shared vehicles and buses are not frequent in this route and you have to break the journey.
There are shared sumos from Kargil to Sankoo. Then again, you have to look for another shared vehicle from Sankoo to further Panikhar. However, you can always hitchhike!
The best way to explore Suru Valley is to hire a private cab for sightseeing.
Remember: If you are hiring a cab for sightseeing in Suru Valley, get it from Kargil. The Union territory of Ladakh has some complicated taxi rules where taxis from Leh cannot go for sightseeing in the Kargil area and vice versa. So, get the car from Kargil.
In case you are travelling from Zanskar Valley to Kargil, then you can use the same car for travelling through Suru Valley. But that car from Zanskar or Leh might not want to take you to Kartse Khar (as it is nearer to Kargil town).
What is the best time to visit Suru Valley?
The best time to visit Suru Valley is between May to September. It is essentially the same time when it is best to visit Ladakh and Zanskar. The weather during this time is pleasant with warm days and cooler nights. It also happens to be the peak season for travelling to Ladakh and Zanskar.
The farmland and greenery give a unique landscape to Suru Valley and the greenery can be best experienced during May to September.
Suru Valley remains connected to Kargil and Leh almost the whole year. So if you are flying into Leh, then you can drive to Kargil and then to Suru Valley almost the whole year.
But winters in this region are quite harsh and we would recommend you travelling during the winter only if you can handle the hardships of winter in the trans-Himalayan region. Some of the places may be entirely covered by snow in the winters. So, choose your time with discretion.
Also, road blockages are common in winter. So be prepared to keep buffer days if you are planning to visit here in the winter months.
Where to Stay at Suru Valley?
Suru Valley is quite remote and so the stays here are quite basic. If you are looking for good hotels and guest houses, you should then stay at Kargil.
Sankoo has a few homestays and guesthouses as well.
Panikhar and Parkachik have a few local homestays. Both these places and Sankoo had a JKTDC bungalow a few years back. But after Ladakh became a Union territory, the properties are no longer run by JKTDC. Infact, both the properties were closed when we visited.
The best bet in these places is to talk to the locals and request them to make arrangements for your night stay. Most of the villagers rent their spare rooms to the tourists. They will charge a certain amount for the stay and food.
The stay will be simple, but clean and comfortable. You will also get fresh home cooked meals served by your host. You can also taste the local cuisines. The experience will be quite lovely.
Rangdum has a guest house where we stayed. The guest house is pretty clean and decent. The food was good too. However, the room heater was not working. But we were welcome to sit in the kitchen and talk and gossip with the locals all evening. There are also a few homestays in Rangdum.
During the summer months, a few camps with tents are also available for night stay at the main villages in Suru Valley.
How is mobile connectivity in Suru Valley?
Only postpaid mobile network works in Ladakh and thus in extension to Suru Valley. BSNL and the Jio network works in here. Airtel works in Kargil and to some extent in Sankoo. As you go deeper into the valley, the mobile network becomes intermittent. You might get a network in the villages, but not on the roads. Rangdum had a Jio network, but once we crossed the village, mobile network was non-existent.
4G Data connectivity can be found around Kargil and Sankoo. The rest of the places had poor data connectivity.
Some Tips for visiting the Suru Valley
- The places in Suru Valley are all in high altitude. So give yourself time to adjust to the high altitude. AMS is very real in these places and do not ignore it if you are having any discomfort.
- The villages in Suru Valley are quite remote and thus the accommodations you find there will be basic. Please do not expect to have lavish and luxurious stays as in Leh or Srinagar. The only luxury you will have here is the beauty of nature and the warmth of the locals.
- You will find ATMs only in Kargil. So, stock up your cash. Also, most of the places accept cash only as payment. They do not prefer UPI payments as well. Please understand the places are remote and access to banks and other financial institutes are difficult. So carry cash and do not insist on“digital India” in these remote villages.
- There are no petrol pumps in Suru Valley. If you are self-driving or riding, then get your fuel from Kargil. The next petrol station will be at Padum. Sankoo might have some shops selling fuel, but it might be costlier.
Suru Valley is a gorgeous place. The vistas are stunning and unique. This gorgeous place is easy on the eyes with its lush greenery. On the other hand, the place is equally challenging with stark landscapes and rugged mountains. It seems to have the best of both.
So if you are visiting Leh, don’t just stop at Kargil for the night and carry forward your journey. Spend some time at Suru Valley as well. And if you are planning on a Zanskar Valley trip through Kargil, spend at least a couple of days at Suru Valley instead of just rushing through the place. Believe me, it will be quite an experience.
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