Padum, also known as Padam, is Zanskar’s main town and administrative center and was previously the capital of the Zanskar empire. It is the most populated hamlet in Zanskar and is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 3,500m (11,640ft). The 240-kilometre road linking it to Kargil was finished in 1981. Numerous tiny settlements surround Padum. The historic centre of the town is located under the gompa, where two huge chortens tower over ancient houses. Padum offers several hotels and eateries for visitors.
Padum is populated mainly by Buddhists, although a sizable Sunni Muslim community (approximately 40%), primarily Balti, has been in Padum since the 17th century. In recent years, Padum has seen the construction of a mosque (the only one in the Zanskar area) to serve the local Muslim community.
Padum serves as the starting point for several challenging treks, including the Padum-Darcha through Shingo La, Padum-Lamayuru via Singge La, and Padum-Leh via Cha Cha La, Rubrang La, and the Markha Valley.
Around Padum, visitors may see the Starrimo Monastery, which houses approximately 30 monks, and the Pibiting hamlet, a commanding hilltop monastery. Bardan, around 12 kilometres from Padum on the way to Darcha, features a 17th-century gompa worth seeing.
Karsha, about three hours’ walk from Padum, features one of Zanskar’s largest and most significant gompas, dating from the 11th century. It is a vast white structure that houses around 100 monks. The pujas (rituals) conducted here are considerably distinct from those held elsewhere in Ladakh.
About two hours’ walk from Padum, Sani Gompa is thought to be Zanskar’s oldest Ka-ni-ka gompa.
Stongde gompa, located 20 kilometres from Padum, is Zanskar’s second-largest Gelukpa institution after Karsha.
It is 204 kilometres from Srinagar and 230 kilometres from Kargil via air. There are frequent bus services between Kargil to Padum (240 km). Hire a jeep for the remainder of the drive from Padum. Part of the Kargil-Padum road (the first 90 kilometres from the Kargil side) is only available from July to October. Thus getting there before then is only feasible by hiking.