The Ruins of Zamskhang Palace

This Article, in a shorter form, also appears on Atlas Obscura 

Zamskhang Palace Ruins

Tegar, Nubra Valley

Ladakh, India

Shoyok and Nubra Valley Map

Shoyok and Nubra Valley Map

Nubra Valley, also called the Valley of Flowers, is situated in the northeast corner of Ladakh, near the Chinese border. At one time it was located on the southern Silk Road trade route between Yarkhand, in Xinjiang, and Leh, the capital of Ladakh. This obscure corner of the Himalayas is reached from the capital by traversing the Khardung La, at 5,602 meters it is referred to as the “highest motorable pass in the world”. A special permit must be obtained in Leh before the journey can even be attempted.

To reach the Zamshang Palace most people will stay in the nearby village of Sumur (3,096 meters) on the Nubra River side of the valley. The actual ruins are a steep hike from the road, starting at the village of Tegar. The hike itself winds past ancient chortens, one of which is adorned with flaking frescos on the inside of a passageway.

Little is known about the history of the Zimskhang ruins, though locally it is said to have been built in the 17th century to house the governor’s family (gzims khang, literally ‘sleeping place/house/room’). The palace itself is abandoned, but there is small prayer room on the top floor that is still being used. The statues and thankhas in this prayer room are of exceptional quality and well worth the effort.

The main structure, though in a poor state of repair, is an excellent example of Tibetan Palace architecture, similar to the King’s palace in Leh. The massive building has three floors and a line of four balconies on the second story. There is also a terraced open square with a long bench built against the retaining wall. The ruined structure has straight mud walls with perpendicular angles, and uses abundant mortar without integrated boulders. The rooms average three meters, with some as long as 8 to 10 meters. An elaborately decorated stone stove sits in the ruined kitchen. Part of the roof has collapsed so caution should be exercised when exploring that section. Recently there has been talk of renovating the site.

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