This is a short hike that you could do return in one day, but it’s better to spend time at the gompa and do it with an overnight stay.
There are many share-jeeps in Padum that will drive you 2-hours to the start of the trek. It is 3500 Rs for the entire jeep. We were able to share the ride with 6 others making it much cheaper. You pass a few historic monasteries on the drive. In Aug 2018 the jeeps went as far as Dolma, a 2- house village.
There are 2 trekking routes that will take you to Phuktal. We went in on the high route and returned on the low route to do a loop. There is extra climbing on both routes, a little more on the low route. The high route is more scenic and shorter.
From the end of the road, there is a steep path on the left side that climbs to Cha (approx. 300m gain, 3900m). Cha is a cute village with about 20 flat-topped homes and a Gompa. The trail continues to climb for another 25m or so until you can see the town of Purne and the confluence of the of the blue Tsarap River with the muddy Kargiakh River.
The trek follows Tsarap River on the hills above, passed beautiful ragged, red cliffs. After a while, the trail goes down to river level and a raggedy bridge. Don’t cross the bridge, instead take the steep climb up a crumbly gully to the chorten at the top. When we were there they were building a kani. From here you can see the impressive Phugtal Gompa. Phuktal Gompa’s main red topped temple is built into a cave with the rest of the monastery buildings precariously hanging on the limestone cliffs below.
Before the monastery is a basic, run-down homestay run by the monks. They charge 1000 Rs per person and it includes dinner and breakfast. (2hr 15min)
You can explore most of the monastery on your own and attend their Puja at 3pm. There are about 60 lamas and monks including the novice monks who live at the Gompa.
On the way back to the jeeps we took the alternate route. Return to the rickety bridge and this time take it across the Tsarap River. Go one at a time as it is very wobbly. The trail goes up and down along this side of the Tsarap River to reach Purne. From here, continue straight to the Kargiakh River and cross on a sturdy wooden bridge. Now there is a lot of up and down climbing and going in and out of large gulleys. You will pass 2 rickety suspension bridges that will take you across to the road. We took the first one which was worse than the previous as it had large holes in it. We don’t know if the second is better or not. After the bridge it’s a very steep scramble to the road at the top. Walk down the road to the tea-house (tarp) and wait for a ride to pass. Cars can’t drive far past the tea-house and this is where the locals wait too. (3hrs 20min)
For more of our treks click here, or go directly to Markha Valley Trek (Ladakh), Kashmir’s Great Lakes, Everest 3 Passes, Manaslu Circuit, Upper Mustang, Jumolhari Yaksa Trek (Bhutan),Kalaw to Inle Lake (Myanmar), Pinnacles Trek (Borneo), Carstenz Pyramid(Indonesia).