Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh only after Leh, the summer capital of Ladakh. It is at an altitude of 2,676 meters above the sea level. It is also the capital of Kargil district. The Suru River (or Indus River) passes through the town. The river pumped life into the sparse landscape. The availability of water made it possible for settlement and the town to exist.
Kargil became a highlight after the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. Though the war was fought closer to Drass, Pakistan armies even entered Kargil.
It is predominantly a Muslim town today but during the 14th and 15th century they followed Tibetan Buddhism. Things have changed since Muslim missionaries conquered and converted them into Muslims. Today around 95% of Kargil residents are Muslims and the remaining 5% follow Tibetan Buddhism. The silent mountains and reclusive lifestyle are usually associated with Buddhism and Buddhist monasteries and I was expecting a similar cultural shift, i.e. a shift into a Buddhist territory from the Muslim culture of Kashmir. But as soon as I landed there Muslims culture was dominant. I was surprised to see a giant posture of Ayatollah Khomeini at the main market.
Kargil for that matter is not a big town. Like small town on the hills, most of the shops are confined along the main road. People living here are of Dard and Tibetan descends and so they have mongoloid features.
Apart from the exotic landscapes Kargil has no specific destination to visit. But the town is a nice stopover place for people heading to Leh or Srinagar. It falls between Srinagar and Leh. There are buses heading towards Leh from Kargil.
Except for the patches of trees along the river, it is still a very dry place and the land does not support farming. Fresh vegetables are expensive and are mostly brought from Srinagar and other places.
In the heart of the town is the beautiful turquoise coloured domed mosque. The sight of the valley and the river slithering through the town can be seen perfectly after few minutes climb from the bazaar. The green belt exuberant with life in the midst of barren, dry mountains is like an oasis or a fitting place where travellers quench their thirst after a weary trip!
How to get there and away:
Kargil is located almost midway between Srinagar and Leh; and the Srinagar to Leh Highway passed through the town. And so shared taxis are available through out the day. Government buses too leave for both Sringar and Leh. A govt. bus fare for Leh is Rs.350 where as share taxis charged around Rs.700.
Where to stay and eat:
Kargil has government guest houses and dormitories at reasonable prices but during peak season it is difficult to get rooms without prior reservation. But there are many guest houses and hotels in Kargil near the main bazaar. Though it is not a popular tourist destination, the name itself draws people or make them curious enough to stop for the night on their way to Leh or Srinagar. There are many places to eat along the main bazaar. Most of these restaurants serve both, vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Road side food vendors sell kebabs and other local meat delicacies.