The isolated valley of Zanskar lies on an altitude of more than 3500m in the Indian Himalayas. Although road construction is going on to connect the valley with Leh in Ladakh, it will still take some years before one can travel by car to this valley. Until then Zanskar will remain one of the most authentic valleys of Ladakh.
Till now Zanskar can only be reached by foot on the famous Trans Zanskar Trek or by jeep with a bumpy ride from Kargil. In wintertime adventurers can go to Zanskar along the Frozen River, one of the most extreme expeditions in the Indian Himalaya.
Zanskar: buddhism in its purest form
Travelling in Zanskar gives you to opportunity to experience authentic buddhist culture in its purest form. Old monasteries are perched on rocky cliffs or hilltops, innumerable buddhist shrines and prayer flags line up on the high passes and in sleepy villages. Every year in summer some important buddhist festivals take place in Zanskar where one can witness old rituals and maskdances of the monk.
The buddhist monasteries of Karsha and Stongde are very famous, but our favourite is Bardan Gompa which can be reached by a nice 3-hour walk from Padum. In one of the numerous sidevalleys you find the cave-monastery of Zhongkul.
Meet the people
Zanskari people still live in a very traditional way and try to make a basic living by farming and herding cattle like yaks and goats. In summertime they focus completely on getting enough livestock and supplies to get through the harsh winter. The Zanskari are friendly and openminded people, so don’t be surprised if you are invited for a cup of tea when passing through a small village.
The Land of Glaciers
Zanskar is called the Land of Glaciers. The 23km long Durung Drung glacier, just across the 4500m high Penzi La, is one of the most accessible glaciers of the Himalaya. From the roadside you get a full view of this impressive glacier, surrounded by snowcapped peaks.
On the road from Kargil to the capital Padum, you come along some other glaciers and you have beautiful views on the holy twinpeaks Kun and Nun.
The mountains of Zanskar might be not as high as those in Nepal, but they definitely are beautiful. The colors of the hillsides change from hour to hour and if you are looking for a spectacular sunrise, be sure to get up early when you sleep in the wide river valley of Rangdum.
The best time to travel in Zanskar is from the end of June till the end of September. Although an occasional thunderstorm can occur, you are likely to have dry weather with nice temperatures.
If you go earlier the high passes to Zanskar might still be closed by ice and snow. From october onwards the temperatures drop dramatically and snowfall is possible.
In wintertime Zanskar can only by reached by foot along the gorges of the Zanskarriver. This is the famous Chadar – The Frozen River Trek, one of the most extreme journeys you can make in this part of the Himalaya.
Please ask us about the right time for your travel plans.
There is no airstrip in Zanskar for commercial flights.
Untill the new road to Chilling will be completed, Zanskar can only be reached by trekking or by a bumpy jeepride from Kargil.
Most people take two days to cover the 250km between Kargil and Padum, although it can be done in a long drive of 12 – 13 hours. However, the scenery is so beautiful that it is better to split the journey and stay overnight near the impressive gompa of Rangdum. Start early in Kargil so you have time enough to enjoy the green Suru-valley, the views of Kun and Nun and the glaciers close to Parkachik. The second day will take you across the Penzi La, along the famous Durung Drung glacier and finally to the valley of Padum.
If you go trekking you have 2 options. One is to start in Darcha (on the Leh- Manali Highway) and trek for 8-9 days to reach Padum. The other one is to start near Lamayuru (in Ladakh) and trek for about 8-10 days to Padum. The last part of the treks can be covered by jeep if you want.
One of the most classic treks you can make in the Indian Himalaya is the complete Trans Zanskar starting in Lamayuru and ending in Darcha with some spare days in Padum to visit the most important places like Karsha and Stongde. Count at least 26 days (starting in Leh – Ladakh and ending in Manali). We can organise this camping trek for you.
Zanskar is mostly combined with a trip to Ladakh or Kashmir.
If you come in from Kargil by jeep and want to experience Zanskar, you should need at least 5 -7 days (Kargil to Kargil).
If you go trekking, all depends of course on which trekking you would like to do.
Tourist season is very short in Zanskar and there are not much options for accomodation in the valley of Padum. Some local guesthouses cater for travellers. Some of them have rooms with private bathrooms, but don’t expect a fancy hotel.
In Rangdum one can sleep in a tented camp at the foot of the Monastery.
While trekking you go camping. A local crew of guides, cook, ponymen and horses keep you company on the trek, pitch up the tents and prepare delicious meals. Tables, chairs, cookery, dining tent, sleeping tents, … everything is provided by local outfitters.
Healthy people that have a flexible attitude can travel to Zanskar
We advise people with cardiovascular problems however to first consult their physician as you are sleeping at altitudes of about 3800 – 4000m.
If you want to go trekking to Zanskar, you need to be in good shape and be prepared to walk for 6 – 8 hours a day across passes of more than 5000m. It is advisable to prepare yourself for the trip by taking regular exercise a couple of times a week (running, hiking, cycling,…)