Remote lands of Zanskar

Journeys in Ladakh & Zanskar, culled from our many years of exploratory treks in the wilds of the Indian Himalaya.

Trek to remote lands of Zanskar

Journeys in Ladakh & Zanskar, culled from our many years of exploratory treks in the wilds of the Indian Himalaya, this is a cultural and challenging trek through sublime canyon lands, over high Himalayan passes and through hidden valleys of mythical Ladakh & Zanskar.

Trek to remote lands of Zanskar

Our trek begins in Ladakh, the land of high passes, at the idyllic villages of Photoskar, Yulchung and Nyeraks. Crossing passes in the Zanskar Range, fording rivers and exploring our remote ‘bear valley’, we trek towards Zanskar, a route through which other Westerners rarely venture. Zanskar, the land of white copper, is a timeless Himalayan region tucked away between the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges, once part of an ancient trade network with Tibet.

Tour Highlight

  1. Exotic Leh & the historic Indus Valley
  2. Dramatic canyonlands
  3. Wild Shade – Zangla route
  4. Remote Bear Valley
  5. Zangla Palace & Fort
  6. Canyons, river crossings & far-flung villages

Itinerary

Leh –  Photoksar – Yulchung – Nyeraks – Bear Camp – Karmafu – Cha – Purne – Tangze – Chumik Marpo – Gyartse – Leh – Delhi

Day 01 : Delhi arrival
Namaste! Upon arrival at the airport, your driver will greet you to drive you to the hotel. If the fatigue of the trip has not invaded you, you are free to explore the Indian capital at your leisure by taxi or tuk-tuk. Your desire for discovery should bring you to the essentials: Old Delhi, the first center of Mughal power, has ancient monuments, narrow streets and bustling bazaars; admire the Red Fort, built in 1648, in a pedicab, cross the "Chandni Chowk" or the Silver Street, where all your senses will be aroused in this very lively avenue. Then, visit the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, completed in 1658. Return to your hotel to rest well before your big adventure in Ladakh, nicknamed "little Tibet".
Day 02 : Delhi - Leh (Flight)
Today we will go to the airport early for your flight to the Ladakh region. The flight to Leh offers us a magnificent view and you will be swept away by the feeling of going to a special place! You will be met on arrival at Leh airport and transferred to your hotel. Leh is at 3,500 meters above sea level and some people may feel a little breathless. You are advised to relax today so; the rest of the day is free for acclimatization. We will probably have a late afternoon stroll through the Leh market district to take some pictures and explore the city.
Day 03 & 04 : Leh
We’ve scheduled two more free days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal’s 17th century capital of Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh Palace, the ancient 15th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal
Day 05 : Drive Photoksar 4200m (drive over Sirsir La 4825m)
After breakfast we board our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at Photoskar, 6 or 7 hour drive through the historical, green Indus Valley. Leaving Leh we drive past the ancient Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village and Phyang Gompa and village to the right. We continue along a cliff-side road past the intersection of the Indus River with the Zanskar River, the Zanskar villagers’ lifeline during the harsh winters. Just around the corner is the incredibly scenic village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside just past our camp, where if the wildflowers are in bloom. We’ll set you up in your tents, show you around our ‘Kamzang’ style dining tent and settle in with a mug of chai. There is an Amchi Phuntsok’s house (Tibetan doctor) is just before the village.
Day 06 : Drive Singge La 4970m. Trek Yulchung 3900m (drive over Singge La 4970m)
Back in the jeep this morning as we head towards our second pass, the Bumiktse La at 4400 meters, passing a summer ‘doksa’ or grazing area. The valley heats up as we follow the small trail, through pastures of wildflowers, lichen-covered rocks and grasses, that leads to the isolated village of Yulchung, which means ‘small kingdom’. Yulchung is a remote, traditional village with a five-hundred year old gompa on the upper reaches of the village and another smaller ‘lhakhang’ perched on a precarious rock-ledge in front of the crescent-shaped village. The staff has set up our camp behind the ancient chortens, in the threshing fields on the top edge of the village, right next to some wonderful old Ladakhi dwellings.
Day 07 : Trek Nyeraks 3710m
A fantastically scenic Himalayan day! We leave camp and wind our way through the extensive village and fields, eventually passing the ruins of the old ‘lhakhang’ and hermitage as we head towards the ridge that drops steeply out of Yulchung to the Zanskar River canyons far below. We climb up the hillside on a winding trail past a unique version of a ‘lhatoo’ (a shrine to the mountain deities the locals believe live on local peaks), a sculpture made from ibex horns, to the village of Nyeraks, perched on a plateau high above the Zanskar. Our campsite is another spectacular one (in a chain of them), with incredible sunset views over the village, gompa and surrounding peaks.
Day 08 : Trek Nyeraks High Camp 4650m
We head off on the first half of our steep, 1300 meter ascent from Nyeraks up to the 4950 meter Takti La, a difficult climb which would take five to six hours in one go, but we’ll just do about 2 1/2 hours of it this morning. We start climbing right out of the village, passing the white-washed chortens and going through the wire gate. The hike is mostly steep, contouring up the many hillsides, through pateches of glacial rocks, always lovely. Take time to breath and look behind you towards the Singge La and Nyeraks, now a patchwork of greens, browns and tans far below us. Walking along an old irrigation wall, we soon reach a small, green ‘watering hole’ were we will set up a spectacular high camp, cold but worth it for the evening and morning views! (2 1/2 hrs)
Day 09 : Trek Bear Camp 3980m (cross Takti La 4955m)
Fresh pressed coffee and chai will be welcome on this chilly morning! We continue to climb and descend several times to cairn-topped ridges, finally after a few hours making our way carefully through the scree-slope leading to the Takti La. We have now entered what we call ‘bear valley’, and a steep, switchbacking trail down brings us down to the end of the valley, where we turn right into a green valley of willows and flowers, still following the small stream. Making our way on the small, overgrown trail, crossing the stream a few times, we reach to the clearing that we call Bear Camp (although we haven’t actually spent the night there with one) in another hour. We’ve entered our ‘lost valley’ of Zanskar! The crew will light a fire tonight to keep the bears at bay (although the rumors are that the villagers of Zangla shot them after the bears raided their sheep paddocks).
Day 10 : Trek Karmafu 3780m
Our short walk today is an exciting and beautiful one, first along the willow-lined stream, jumping back and forth often, and then over (or under) an ice bridge and through a narrow canyon with ankle deep water (bring sandals). Next on the list of adventures is a high, exposed trail over the river followed by an easy river fording and another canyon trek on crumbling trails. We might build a campfire in the evening, a practice first started to keep the bears away years ago!
Day 11 : Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp 3430m (cross Namtse La 4495m)
A small saddle above our campsite topped with a barrier of sticks leads us back down into a dramatic, narrow valley. Our small trail follows the same willow-lined stream as yesterday which we follow as we ascend for an hour or so, often jumping from side to side. After emerging from the gorge we have a one-hour walk through Honya Doksa and along the Zanskar plateau (or along the riverside, a slightly longer but nicer route) to our lovely riverside camp that we call Zangla Doksa River camp. The grass is green and the stream warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing from camp!
Day 12 : Zangla Doksa River Camp
Finally a rest and exploration day; options are to hang at camp and relax in this sublime setting or to hike up and explore the wonderful and historic Zanskari village of Zangla.
Day 13 : Zanskar Valley Tour. Drive Ichar 3740m
We will embark on a great Zanskar Valley Gompa tour today, hiring a few jeeps to visit the fascinating, old gompas of Zanskar. First we will drive up to Stongde Gompa, with a lively monastic community, a school and an active monastery with daily pujas in their ancient and mystical assembly hall. Some might opt to hike steeply up the dusty traverse, a 45-minute climb, to Stongde Gompa for some wonderful views of the patchwork of Stongde village and the Zanskar valley. We’ll will visit the 1000 year old Sani Gompa on the Stod River, the route out to Rangdum and the Suru Valley. From Sani, we can take the back roads to Karsha Gompa, one of the largest and most scenic in Zanskar or Ladakh, built high up into the cliffs above the village of Karsha. We’ll have time in the afternoon to hike up to this village, with a small school, small monastery and newly rebuilt, large chorten to have a visit with the locals.
Day 14 : Trek Cha 3880m
A classic day of Zanskar trekking, hiking along the main Zanskar trail to our next campsite at Cha, a new camping spot for us (although we’d struggle to call this day exploratory!). We cross the Japanese-style bridge just below camp and continue south along a flat, hot trail which often descends right to the river-beach.
Day 15 : Trek Purne 3830m (via Phuktal Gompa 3900m)
We take the high route high above the Tsarap Chu to Phuktal Gompa, spectacularly built into a cliff-side, is one of the most colorful gompas in Zanskar as well as one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Indian Himalaya. Phuktal Gompa has a school attached, and the young, lively monks are always keen to practice their English or to have a photo taken. Purne is at confluence of the Tsarap Chu and the Kargyak Chu and on the main Zanskar route so there are sure to be trekkers around. Camp is lovely, grassy, and warm to take advantage of the free time to relax, do some laundry and have a cold beer from Dolma’s shop. Dolma is the local amchi, a good friend of ours, and also has hot bucket shower on offer. (4 hrs)
Day 16 : Trek Tangze 4015m
Leaving our idyllic campsite at Purne, we descend back down to the small bridge and then hike back up to the main Zanskar trail following the Kargyak Chu. Kargyak is a large village at the end of the Zanskar valley; Singge comes from this village, and his blind mother still lives there, migrating to the ‘doksas’ to take care of the animals in the summertime. We set up camp in the campsite just opposite the teahouse, next to billowing fields of barley. We’ll be leaving the main Zanskar valley behind us the day after tomorrow. (6 hrs)
Day 17 : Trek Kargyak 4200m
We set off on a scenic hike to Kargyak village, the southernmost village in Zanskar. It’s a three hour walk to Kargyak following the Kargyak Chu along a lovely, green valley, with Gompa Rangjung monolith looming spectacularly in front of us in the direction of the Shingo La pass to Lahaul. En route, we pass several mani walls, followed by a series of ancient, whitewashed chortens, with small hamlets across the river; a beautiful hike.
Day 18 : Trek Surichun La High Camp 4800? – exploratory!
We’ll be exploring a new route to the Phirtse La, one not taken by many other trekking groups. We descend gently, cross a few small streams and set up camp at what locals call Zingchen, an idyllic green campsite in the valley. We may head another few hours up the valley to a higher camp …
Day 19 : Trek to Chumik Marpo 4775m (cross Surichun La 5570m?)
Crossing to the other side of the valley 15 minutes past camp, usually jump able, we climb and descend on the left bank of the river as we head towards the pass. We pass a small doksa, a campsite for a small group, after an hour or so, afterwards crossing the river again to the left bank. Three hours from camp we finally reach Phirtse La High Camp (4900m), after which the trail turns rocky and we share the valley with grazing yaks. The colors of the valley turn more grey, black and ochre as we ascend on a good path, stopping for a break at a green patch with a large boulder and admiring the glaciers and snow-peaks that surround us. The last, steep, 400-meter switchback brings us, grindingly, to the crest of the Phirtse La at 5570 meters, an impressive climb and a view to match. The valley widens and we reach another wonderful campsite called Chumik Marpo, which overlooks rolling green hills ahead. Behind is the route to Kargyak over the 4620-meter Surichun La.
Day 20 : Trek to Berga Songchak 4410m
We have a river crossing first thing in the morning so have your sandals ready. It will take us 45 minutes to reach a plateau camp, followed by a stone doksa on our right. We will hike along the same side of the river for an hour to reach the wide and cold crossing, our first of the day. Afterwards more green valleys and rolling hills, just paradise. We often pass local ‘gaddi’ shepherds from Lahaul and the neighboring Hindu valleys with their large flocks of sheep and goats as we continue towards Sarchu, past Kyonon doksa. We trek through this wide expanse of river, green valleys, blue sky and snow peaks, past mani stones with chortens carved into them, and over a few small ridges for an hour before heading directly down to the river and another idyllic campsite at Berga Songchak, right on the river.
Day 21 : Trek to Chumik Gyartse 4280m
We continue through this magical landscape, crossing several more small streams, trekking past ancient rocks deposited by glaciers eons ago, with several deep valleys to descend into and climb out of until we reach the canyons leading to Sarchu. Sarchu is across the large Lingti Chu (river) from our campsite at Chumik Gyartse. Just before our old campsite at Sarchu we have other medium sized river crossing, which can be larger depending on the water level We can look across the river to the Leh-Manali highway but our campsite is isolated and beautiful, on the side of a small stream for washings.
Day 22 : Drive Leh
The trek is finished, and we’ll relax in our jeeps and enjoy the spectacular five hour drive through Rupshu and the Indus Valley along the Manali – Leh highway; a continuation of our wonderful journey.
Day 23 : Leh
One last day in our favorite Central Asian capital … Also day for stand by flight incase of weather condition at Leh Airport.
Day 24 : Leh – Delhi
We will start the day early by going to Leh airport to take the flight to Delhi. Say goodbye to this Himalayan chain nestled in this corner of the country that had made you live beautiful emotions. You will be met at Delhi airport by your private driver and taken to your hotel. You will have the choice to relax at your hotel and take advantage of its services or if the taste for discovery haunts your mind, do not hesitate to go to unmissable sites such as the Lotus Temple or the large Qtub Minar minaret or even the gardens of Lodhi. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 25 : Delhi - Departure
Depending on your flight schedule, you will be able to plan your day accordingly. If your departure is in the afternoon or at the end of the day, visit or activity options are available to you. You will have your private driver which will allow you to move easily. As a suggestion, we recommend that you see India Gate, the gateway to India, the equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe or the incredible Humayun tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 'UNESCO. Also, you can offer yourself a moment of relaxation by treating your body with an Ayurvedic massage. When the time comes, your driver will drive you to the airport for your flight to your new destination.
  • Best Season:  From 01 June  –  30 September
The high lights of this trip

Leh

Leh, in Jammu and Kashmir, is the main city in the Ladakh region, one of the coldest deserts in the world. Perched at a height of over 11,000 ft above sea level, the city of Leh is a haven of adventure sports. Its rugged terrain and gushing rivers provide ripe opportunities for activities like trekking, river rafting, camping, mountain climbing and biking.

Zanskar Valley

Perched at a height of 13,154 ft, Zanskar Valley is a semi-arid region nestled in the northern flank of the Great Himalayas. What draws tourists to this area are the beautiful snow-capped mountains here, pleasant weather, Zanskar’s sparkling water bodies and a lush landscape. The valley lies 105 km away from Leh and is a hotspot for adventure sports like trekking, paragliding, water rafting, among others. Here, you can also opt for popular trekking options like Lamayuru to Darcha, Lamayuru, Padum trek. Centuries-old monasteries like Zongla, Zongkhul.

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Phuktal Gompa

Phuktal Gompa, spectacularly built into a cliff-side, is one of the most colorful gompas in Zanskar as well as one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Indian Himalaya. Phuktal Gompa has a school attached, and the young, lively monks are always keen to practice their English or to have a photo taken.

Photoksar

Village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside, where if the wild flowers are in bloom, is one of the most beautiful spots in Ladakh, and certainly one of the most photographed. village has amazing views downriver to Photoksar, and the villagers, herding their flocks of sheep and goats.

  • Cultural 60% 60%
  • Landscape 97% 97%
  • Adventure 90% 90%
  • spirituality 50% 50%

Very special experience

“ We did this trek in summer 2017 – it was a very special experience. As promised, the route was wild & remote. Overall I can say that the trip was very well organized, we had a very competent guide (Motup) and an excellent cook (Rimi). The trek is physically quite demanding, but the experience is well worth it. Especially the river crossings …“

Constanze, Friburg, Switzerland

C’était formidable !!

“ Salut l’équipe à India Travel Pundits – Nous avons tardé à vous répondre, enfin nous vous donnons des nouvelles. Pour nous tout va bien, le retour s’était bien passé et nous avons encore pleins de souvenirs dans nos têtes. Encore mille mercis pour ce beau trek! C’était formidable, plein de magnifiques paysages et de très belles rencontres!“

Marc & Catherine, Paris, France.

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