Nestled in the Himalayas on the Srinagar-Leh highway, Kargil is a major transit hub, second largest urban centre in Ladakh and base for adventure activities like mountaineering, high altitude trekking, camping, river rafting etc. in the Himalayas.
Located just 11 km from the Line of Actual Control which divides India and Pakistan, Kargil holds strategic importance for India. Kargil has been the subject of movies and much written about as it was the scene of Pakistan’s infiltration and subsequent war in 1999.
Situated at a height of 2676 meters in the Suru Valley, Kargil has been a prominent trading post and an important stopover on caravan routes. Kargil is about 205 km from the state capital Srinagar. Kashmir Valley lies to its south and to the west lies Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
If interested in adventurous activities like mountaineering, high altitude trekking, camping, river rafting, etc. then head to Kargil. Those looking for adventure can trek through Sumdo Chinmu village to Alchi and see the monastery. The route also passes through Stakspi La. Another popular trekking route is through Padum to Lamayuru. Trekking to Zoji La is another route popular with trekkers.
Places near Kargil are a sightseer’s paradise. Scenic valleys, remnants of martial past and quaint old Gompas or monasteries, which hark back to the regions connection with Tibet; all can be found around Kargil. Suru valley, drained by Suru river a tributary of the Indus, offers breathtaking views of the mountain range. During winter, the river bed turns into a venue for ice hockey.
Kargil is a very conservative Muslim town so wearing revealing and tight clothes is best avoided.
The name Kargil is said to be derived from two words ‘Gar’ and ‘Khil’. Gar in the local language means ‘anywhere’ and Khil means a central place. Another school of thought believes that Kargil was formed from the words “Khar” and “rKil”. Khar in the local language means castle and rKil means centre. The second theory makes credence as Kargil was in the middle of many kingdoms.
Kargil came into prominence again after the partition of India and Pakistan. Several battles were fought around Kargil, Drass and Zoji La Pass. In 1948, most of the area was reclaimed by Indian troops.
After the Tashkent Agreement, India had to return Kargil after the second Indo-Pak war. In the 1971 war, Kargil was captured by Indian troops. Kargil has been part of India since then. Kargil was carved out as a separate district in Ladakh from Leh in 1979.
Kargil is inhabited by various communities like Tibetan Muslims (Burig), ethnic groups from Baltistan (Balti), Gilgit in Pakistan (Shina) who are Shia Muslims and Yarkhand in China (Arghons). The town has a smattering of Sunni Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists too.
Tibetan influence is visible everywhere as also traces of Persian culture. The Persian influence is visible from the use of Persian words, religious songs and phrases.
Remember to buy dried apricots in Kargil. You can also buy brass vessels, handicrafts, pashmina shawls and carpets. You can also buy flint and tobacco pouches along with travel hookahs. Kargil is also a good place to buy semi-precious stones.
Carry warm clothing while visiting Kargil.
Kargil had a lot importance in the past as it was a prominent stopover on the ancient caravan routes.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation options are limited in Kargil. Luxury hotels are not available. Budget and medium-range hotels are available but the numbers are limited. As Kargil is an important stopover during the journey to Ladakh, booking hotels in advance is a good idea.
WHERE TO EAT
Kashmiri, Punjabi and Tibetan food is widely available in the Main Baazar. Food is relatively inexpensive as there are several dhabas in town which cater to locals and the tourists. Kargil has no bar as it is a conservative Muslim town but tea is available in every dhaba.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
April to September is the best time to visit Kargil. The winter months are best avoided as the temperature drops to as low as 25 degree Celsius below zero at the peak of winter. Summer months are best time to go to Kargil.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SURU VALLEY
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Suru Valley is as given below. The best time to visit Suru Valley is also specified.