About this blog: If you have reached this page, then probably you are interested in knowing how to reach Zanskar Valley. These days, you can reach Zanskar either from Leh or Manali. Before visiting Zansker, we had found very little information about Zanskar on the web. So we decided to write down about our experience in Zanskar Valley and all the relevant information about the place in our blog. In this blog, you will find how to go from Leh to Zanskar. You will also find ways to travel from Manali to Zanskar via Shinkula Pass. Read on and if you have any queries, drop a comment or send us a mail.
Even a few years ago, Zanskar Valley was a difficult place to reach. The high mountain passes remained closed most of the year making Zanskar almost inaccessible during those times. Travelling from Leh to Zanskar Valley was literally an ordeal. Reaching Zanskar by road was possible only during the summer months. This was one of the reasons that Zanskar valley had very few outside influences. It also made the place one of the least explored places in India for the domestic tourists.
During the winters, walking over the frozen Zanskar River was the only way to reach Leh. There are other trekking routes as well to reach Zanskar. The traditional one is from Chilling village to Padum via Lingshed. This is also the trail for the overtly popular Chadar Frozen River Trek. There is also a trail from Lamayuru to Padum. The locals would mostly prefer to trek through the mountains if they had to reach Leh, which is the main commercial hub. During winters, walking over the frozen Zanskar River was the only way to reach Leh.
But with time, Zanskar Valley is gradually changing. Roads are being built; mobile towers are installed. Very soon, Zanskar will be connected by all-weather roads. There are also talks of connecting Zanskar by flight. Zanskar Valley will be accessible to more travellers, especially the ones who did not wish to trek for days to reach the place.
The change has already started. We travelled to Zanskar via one of the new routes in October 2021. Although we were not the first few to travel through this road (just as we were in the case of India to Myanmar by road), the route was quite new and relatively unexplored. Infact, it was not even on Google Maps at the time we ventured on the epic off-roading trip!
Manali – Padum (Zanskar) – Leh Map
How to Reach Zanskar Valley?
As I mentioned earlier, new roads have been constructed to lessen the travel time to Zanskar Valley from Leh. Earlier, the only route from Leh to Zanskar was via Kargil, the distance was almost 440 km and it would take 2 days to reach from Leh to Padum. With the new route, the Leh – Zanskar distance is reduced by 160 km and the travel time has also been considerably reduced.
You can now also reach Zanskar from Manali by a new direct road constructed by the BRO, bringing the region closer to Himachal Pradesh by 600 km. The road between Darcha in Lahaul Valley and Zanskar has finally opened up for tourists in mid-2019 after decades of planning and execution.
In this article I will try to give details on how to reach Zanskar Valley and other information that might help you to plan your next Zanskar Trip.
How to reach Zanskar Valley from Leh?
One of the ways to reach Zanskar Valley is from Leh. Of course, one of the routes from Leh to Padum is via Kargil (the old one). Now there are a few other routes as well. The route through Singe La Pass and Lingshed village opened up in 2020. There is another route from Chilling to Padum. This road is being constructed and roughly follows the route of the Chadar Trek. When we visited Zanskar Valley in 2021, this road was yet to be opened.
Here we will give you the details of 2 routes from Leh to Zanskar – one via Lingshed and the other via Kargil. Both the routes are immensely beautiful.
Leh to Zanskar Valley via Kargil
This is the traditional route from Leh to Zanskar that had been used for a long time. The overall distance of this route is almost over 450 km and the journey is covered in at least 2 days. The entire stretch of journey is quite beautiful. You will travel across the Suru valley, cross the Pensi La Pass and enter into the Zanskar Valley. The views are undoubtedly spectacular.
Leh – Kargil – Sankoo – Panikhar – Parkachik – Rangdum – Pensi La – Padum
Leh – Kargil
The journey starts from Leh along Srinagar – Leh Highway till you reach Kargil. Those who have already travelled along this highway know that the road conditions are good and the landscape is extremely beautiful.
The notable attractions that you will find on this road till Kargil are the Sangam point (the confluence of Indus and Zanskar River), Magnetic Hill and Gurudwara Patthar Sahib. You can also explore the Sham Valley and visit Lamayuru Monastery, as well as Alchi and Likir Monastery, provided you have sufficient time. If you have sufficient time, you can also stay at Kargil.
Kargil – Rangdum
From Kargil, you will start your journey towards Zanskar Valley. This day is going to be a long one, so start early. Soon after Kargil, you will enter the beautiful Suru valley. The Suru River flows through the valley keeping the entire region fertile and quite green.
The scenery changes as you enter Suru Valley. From the stark landscapes of Leh and Sham valley, you will gradually enter the green and lush Suru Valley. The vistas are greener and different from what you have seen the previous day.
Sankoo is the last big village that you will cross after Kargil. After Sankoo, there are a number of smaller hamlets till Padum. At Kartse Khar near Sankoo, there is a grand rock carved statue of Maitreya Buddha.
After a few kilometres from Sankoo, you will cross the Suru River on to its right side. Here you will get the first glimpse of the Nun and Kun peaks. As you approach Panikhar, the scenery becomes quite beautiful. There will be greenery all around along with the views of the snow-capped mountains.
Just a few kilometres ahead of Panikhar, you will get a grand view of the Nun-Kun peaks with the Suru river flowing along the left side. The Nun peak is always covered in snow while the Kun is a barren black peak. These are one of the major attractions of Suru Valley.
After crossing Panikhar, the roads become bumpy and remain a dirt road till Padum. Another 40 km from Panikar lies Parkachik, another beautiful hamlet along the road.
Once you cross Parkachik towards Rangdum, you will get the first glimpse of the Parkachik glacier. From here, you leave the lower Suru Valley and enter the higher Suru Valley. The sceneries also change – from the green fertile lands to the starkness of cold desert.
The greenery that you had all along will decrease until the landscape becomes quite barren. The Suru River will keep you company till you reach Rangdum.
Rangdum is the first Buddhist village in the route. It is a small village with a few houses and is roughly the mid-point of the entire journey from Leh to Padum. If you wish and have time, Rangdum is a good place to stay for the night. There is one guest house and a couple of homestays for staying for the night.
Rangdum also boasts of a beautiful monastery that you can visit. The Rangdum Monastery is located about 5 km from the village over a small hillock in the middle of nowhere. Rangdum is the last inhabited place in Suru Valley. After that, you cross the Penzi La Pass and cross over to Zanskar Valley.
Pensi La Pass
The distance from Rangdum to Pensi La Pass is only about 30 km. The ascent to Pensi la is not very difficult. There is a small board and prayer flags that marks it as a pass. Once you cross the Pensi La Pass the valley opens up and you have entered the Zanskar Valley.
Very near to the pass, there is a twin lake. These two small lakes are known as the Ta Tso and Lang Tso.
After crossing the lakes, comes the highlight of the day – the Drang Drung Glacier. You will feel the chill in the air as you approach the glacier and the change in scenery is definitely dramatic. You can stop there and create some wonderful memories. It is highly recommended.
After admiring the Drang Drung glacier, start your final stretch of journey towards Padum. The road remains a dusty gravel path until a few kilometres ahead of Padum. The landscape is once again breathtaking. You will have the urge to stop at various places and click pictures.
You will cross a number of small villages on the way before finally reaching Padum.
This route from Leh to Padum via Kargil is a long one. But the best part of this route is the various changes in scenery. First you will get the rugged landscape of Leh and Sham Valley until you enter Suru Valley. The landscape of Suru Valley is completely different with views of greenery, rivers and snow-capped mountains. And once you leave Suru Valley, you once again encounter the starkness of the Zanskar Valley (which is different from that around Leh). So, if you have time, go for this route!
Distance Chart – Leh to Padum via Kargil
- Leh to Kargil: 217 km
- Kargil to Rangdum: 127 km
- Rangdum to Padum: 110 km
Leh to Zanskar Valley via Lingshed
This is the new route from Leh to Zanskar Valley. The opening of this route has considerably reduced the distance by 160 km and thus the travel time to one day. However, this road is not yet fully constructed and there are parts where there are no roads at all. Travelling by this road is definitely going to be an adventure and an epic off-roading experience.
This entire route can be done in one day if you start quite early from Leh.
Leh – Khaltse – Wanla – Hanupatta – Sir Sir La – Photoksar – Singe La – Lingshed – Zangla – Padum
The initial journey from Leh to Khaltse is through the good old Srinagar – Leh Highway. You will travel through the highway till you reach Wanla. It is here where the road diverges. There is a signboard by BRO showing the way. Well, Wanla is not a mountain pass, but a village!
Once you take the road towards Padum, soon you will arrive at Wanla village. There is a beautiful monastery above the hilltop at Wanla. You will get a tarmac road here whose condition is pretty good, but only for the first few kilometres till Hanupatta. After that, the real journey began. The terrains became rough and rugged. But once again, the views were simply mesmerising. The Zanskar river kept us company on the left as we travelled across the rugged terrain.
There are two major mountain passes on this route. The first one is the Sir Sir La located at an altitude of 4565 metres. The ride to the pass is not very difficult. There is a small board and a few prayer flags as seen in most of the mountain passes.
Once you cross Sir Sir La, the roads will become only a dirt track. Soon you will reach the Photoksar. The village is quite pretty located at the base of the hills. The route will not require you to go to the Photoksar village unless you plan to stay for the night there. We don’t think stopping at Photoksar is required. You will get some good photographs from the vantage point at the other side of the village.
There is a small Maggi point on the road at Photoksar where you can have tea and food. We did not get any other food joints after this till Padum. But I have heard that there are a few tents pitched on the roadside providing food. I am not sure about this information, though.
After Photoksar, start driving through the dirt roads again. There is an ascent till you reach Singe La Pass at an altitude of 5100 metres (15590 feet). Singe La is the highest point in this route. There is not much difference in scenery on either side of the Singe La Pass.
After crossing Singe La, there is a gradual descent and then the road becomes a bit wider and a bit better. Finally, you will reach a point where the main road goes towards Padum and another road diverges towards Lingshed village.
Lingshed is a pretty Zanskari hamlet with a few houses. The village also has a beautiful monastery on the hill top. If you wish to visit the monastery, take a slight detour uphill.
You can identify the road towards Padum by a small and easily missed sign post and a bunch of prayer flags on the sides of the road towards Padum. There is a steep ascent for a little and then you come to one of the trickiest parts of the road.
If you are taking the opposite route, i.e Padum to Leh, then the ascent through these hairpin bends is quite difficult. We saw a couple of vehicles on the route that had stopped because of overheating. We also found a Scorpio having quite difficulty negotiating the steep ascent.
There is quite a steep descent here, traversing almost 20 hair-pin bends. Here you have to drive quite carefully.
After the steep descent, you will come across the Lingshed River. Here is a small river crossing that can be negotiated without much difficulty. The journey after this is quite adventurous. There is a lack of proper roads and you will definitely need your best driving skills here. But once again, the views are spectacular.
There is a point on the road where you will once again meet the Zanskar River. This is also one of the trekking trails of the famous Chadar Trek during the winters. The Zanskar River flows all the way towards Padum, thus forming the trekking trail towards Padum during the winter.
The roads are dusty, non-existent, but the experience will be absolutely thrilling.
After traversing the rough terrains, soon you will come across a wide valley of sorts. The road conditions start improving and soon you will be driving on proper tarmac roads. You have reached the realms of Padum. The first major village that you will come across is Zangla.
Zangla was the ancient capital of Zanskar and is known for its old Zangla palace and Zangla Nunnery. You will encounter a number of smaller villages till you reach Padum.
This is one of the most beautiful roads towards Zanskar Valley as you cross two mountain passes and a number of beautiful villages. The scenery is quite breathtaking as well. And the best part is that it takes the least amount of time to reach Padum from Leh!
Distance Chart – Leh to Padum via Lingshed
- Leh to Wanla: 115 km
- Leh to Sirsir La: 153 km
- Sirsir La to Photoksar : 12 km
- Photoksar to Singe La : 22 km
- Singe La to Lingshed : 26 km
- Lingshed to Padum: 88 km
How to reach Zanskar Valley from Manali?
To be honest, travelling through this new road from Darcha to Padum is one of the ultimate off-roading experiences, as of now. The journey is long and tiresome and will require skilled drivers and riders, but it is undoubtedly extremely beautiful.
With the opening of the Atal Tunnel, Lahaul Valley has become easily accessible. While, in the meantime, the Border Road Organisation (BRO) has worked tirelessly in extreme conditions to construct a road across the Shinku La Pass to connect Lahaul valley with Zanskar Valley. This road will eventually join the road constructed from Zangla to Lamayuru across the Shinge La. When fully constructed, you will have another route from Manali to Leh via Zanskar.
Manali to Zanskar Route
Manali – Atal Tunnel – Sissu – Tandi – Keylong – Darcha – Zanskar Sumdo – Shinku La – Lakhang – Gombo Ranjan – Kurgiakh – Purne – Padum
We recommend covering this entire route in at least 2 – 3 days.
Day 1: Manali – Darcha
Those who have already travelled the Manali – Leh Highway already know about the first part of this route. The first part of the journey from Manali to Darcha follows the conventional route, even though the addition of Atal Tunnel saves a lot of time
Well, this is one route where the changes in scenery is quite drastic. The moment you enter Lahaul Valley, almost after 10 km of crossing the Atal Tunnel, you will see a change in scenery and will be greeted with amazingly beautiful vistas.
Sissu is a beautiful place. If you have time, you can stay for a night here. The next important stop is Tandi.
Tandi is important because it is the last point on the Manali – Leh highway as well as this Manali – Zanskar road where you will find a petrol pump. The next one you will find it in Padum. So, get your tanks filled up for the journey ahead. Carry fuel with you if you are riding a motorcycle.
The next major places you will cross before reaching Darcha are Keylong and Jispa. You can stay the night at either Jispa or Darcha.
Day 2: Darcha – Purne
At Darcha, the path differs from the Manali – Leh Highway. There is a sign board that points towards the Shinku La Pass (also known as Shingo La – please do not confuse it with the Singe La). And once you take this road, the real adventure begins.
For this road will take you to literally unexplored territories. You will travel across virgin roads with very few people in sight. This is the part where you will view the beauty of Lahaul Valley in full glory.
However, the main highlight of the day’s journey is the crossing of Shinku La Pass at a staggering height of 16580 feet. The roads are yet to be constructed. So, brace yourself for some tough road conditions.
The road from Darcha to Zanskar Sumdo is pretty good initially until you reach the off-roading part nearly 25 km from Shinku La. The construction of proper roads is still underway. Very soon the arduous climb to the pass begins. The scenery changes again with barren mountains, rugged terrains along with most gorgeous cobalt blue skies. And it is simply beautiful.
There are a number of river crossings on the way. This means that you definitely need to start early for the journey this day.
You can almost feel the lack of oxygen as you near the top of the Shinku la Pass.
Once you get to the top of the pass, you will get a view of the path you had taken to reach there. And believe me, the feeling will be amazing once you are at the top of the pass. The feeling is great after covering most of the tricky part of the journey. And the amazing scenery makes you feel alive more than ever.
The top part of Shinku La pass is a bit longer compared to that of other mountain passes. So you will remain at a height for a longer time.
Shinku La is known as the gateway to Zanskar Valley.
The next set of adventures starts after the descent from Shinku La Pass. The road descends to Kurgiakh Chu (river) having multiple hairpin bends. The route is still new and patchy in most parts. The crossing of Kurgiakh Chu is perhaps the most challenging part of the journey, especially during pre-monsoon season (June). The water quantity is high as well as the speed of the flow. We recommended doing this road by 4-wheel drive with large tires. The river shallows down a bit after the monsoons. Nevertheless, this road is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
After crossing the Kurgiakh River, it is a bumpy and rough ride till the Kurgiakh village. And there will be multiple river crossings. The ride might be bumpy, but the views, however, will leave you breathless. You will see some of the most stunning vistas with towering peaks, meadows and grazing yaks.
But before you reach Kurgiakh, you will encounter one of the most beautiful mountains of the valley – the Gombo Ranjan. The mountain stands tall and barren amidst a spectacular landscape. Gombo Ranjan is revered by the Zanskaris. They consider it to be as auspicious as Mt Kailash. No wonder, you feel an absolute peace and a sense of surrealism here.
And then you will finally reach Kurgiakh village. Kurgiakh is the first village of the Zanskar valley from this side. Located by the Kurgiakh River, this little hamlet is quite a place of peace.
Darcha to Kurgiakh is in fact the toughest part of the journey. You will find no villages, no food and no help. There is literally nothing at this stretch of the road.
If you want, you can stay here for the night at a homestay. But once again, I will remind you that the homestays are quite basic here. You literally get to stay at the home of a local. The houses are typical Ladakhi style with the toilets usually away from the main rooms. And yes, the toilets are also Ladakhi styled. So, please do not expect any luxury here, at least for now. Who knows what will happen after a decade?
After spending some time at Kurgiakh, carry forward your journey towards Purne, the next village. The Kurgiakh Chu will keep you company till you reach Purne. The drive till Purne will give you some fantastic views. The landscape opens out as you drive towards Purne. You will cross a few villages and small stupas, but mostly the landscape is barren. It is here you will realise the beauty of nothingness.
Once you reach Purne, you have to cross the bridge over River Tsarap. We recommend you to stay at Purne for the night. Purne is a small Zanskari hamlet having a couple of homestays. And while you are at Purne, do not miss trekking to the Phugtal Monastery, located only 8 km from Purne village.
A visit to the Phugtal Monastery is an experience in itself. It is one of the most enchanting monasteries that I have ever visited. Hidden amidst the cave looking like a honeycomb, Phugtal Gompa is also known as the Cave Monastery.
The trek from Purne towards Phugtal Monastery is a moderate one. There are a couple of tricky portions, but nothing much difficult. It takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to reach the monastery. The trail is scenic and the Tsarap River keeps you company throughout the trek. And once you reach the monastery, the experience is simply mind blowing. It seems that the huge monastery has been simply carved out of stones.
I might give pictures, but they do not do justice to the beauty of the place and the feeling of completeness that you will have once you reach there.
So, I whole-heartedly suggest you to spend a day at Purne and trek to the Phugtal Monastery. Infact, I recommend you to stay another night at Purne and start towards Padum the next day. In that way, you can spend sufficient time at Phuktal Monastery.
But if you are short of time, you can start early in the morning towards Phugtal Gompa and return by afternoon to Purne and then start your journey towards Padum. However, let me remind you that this will be a bit hectic.
Day 3: Purne to Padum
The journey from Purne to Padum can take upto 5 hours with a few uphill and downhill stretches. In some parts, you will get an off-roading experience, but not like the road you have already crossed. There will be no river crossings here. The river will only keep you company throughout the journey towards Padum.
You will cross a number of beautiful Zanskari villages. You can stop at some of these hamlets and spend some time there. Village Ichar has a big Maitreya Buddha statue located atop a hillock. You will also find homestays at some of the villages, in case you are not upto travelling.
As you head towards Padum, there are 2 beautiful monasteries that you can visit – Muney Monastery and Bardan Monastery. Also, the conditions of the roads will be much better as you are nearing Padum.
If you want the ultimate off-roading experience along with the changing views of Lahaul and Zanskar Valley, this new route to Zanskar from Manali is a good one. But do remember, that this road is a difficult one. You will definitely need a good car and an experienced driver. Also keep a track of the weather conditions on these roads. Shinku La Pass is at quite a high altitude and heavy snowfall cut off the entire route. I am sure you would not like to get stuck at a place for days due to excessive snowfall. Though it sounds adventurous, believe me, it is not a very great experience.
Distance Chart – Manali to Padum via Shinku La
- Manali to Keylong: 72 km
- Keylong to Darcha: 32 km
- Darcha to Kurgiakh: 83 km
- Kurgiakh to Purne : 29 km
- Purne to Padum : 56 km
So, what do you think? Which one of these ultimate road trip experiences are you going to take?
But before you embark on this epic road trip to Zanskar Valley, there are a few important things to remember.
Things to remember for Zanskar Road Trip
Fuel availability in Zanskar Valley
There are only 2 petrol pumps in the entire Zanskar valley and both are located at Padum. One is located about 3 km from Padum market towards Zangla and another about 2.8 km from Padum Market towards Rangdum.
There is actually a dearth of petrol pumps in all these mentioned routes. If you are travelling from Leh you will get petrol pumps at Leh and Khaltse on Srinagar- Leh Highway. The petrol pump at Khaltse will be the last one if you are travelling by the new Leh to Padum road via Singe La Pass before reaching Padum.
Petrol pumps are also available at Kargil and Sankoo.
If you are travelling from Manali, then the last petrol pump will be at Tandi.
Fill up your tank to full or carry fuel as required. As for bikers, you need to carry fuel with you.
The next important point is acclimatisation. AMS is very real in these areas and acclimatisation is important. Padum is located at an altitude of 11998 feet and Leh at 11480 feet. Travel at your pace and if there is the slightest discomfort, stop and rest. There is only one hospital at Zanskar. Medical centres are scarce in Zanskar.
Shared Vehicles to reach Zanskar
There are shared sumos and vehicles available to reach Padum in Zanskar Valley. Shared umos are available from Manali to Padum and back, but the numbers are few. You have to book your seat beforehand.
Shared Sumos are also available from Leh to Padum and this one goes via Lingshed. It takes one day from Leh to Padum in these shared vehicles. Here also, you have to book your tickets in advance.
Shared sumos from Leh to Kargil are available in plenty. But beyond that, shared cabks become a bit tricky. You might have to break your journey several times to reach Padum.
No buses ply in any of these routes to Padum.
Other points to remember
- Drive carefully at the river crossings. We advise you to start early. As the day progresses, water flow in the rivers can become intense.
- There are a few checkpoints where your documents might be checked. Though you do not need any ILP to visit Zanskar, they might check your IDs.
- In the mountains, we always advise to dress in layers. During the season (July to September) the mornings can be quite sunny and warm. The sun can be quite scorching. In the evening, temperatures drop suddenly. Keep a jacket handy.
- Sunscreens are a must. It is also advisable to carry sunglasses and a cap or hat.
- Carry basic medicines for fever and stomach upsets with you. Also carry Vaseline petroleum jelly. If your nose gets blocked at night while sleeping (it happened to me), then apply Vaseline petroleum jelly around your nose before sleeping.
- Always carry a couple of power banks for charging mobiles and other gadgets. Electricity is quite erratic in Zanskar Valley and the power banks may come handy.
- The accommodations in Zanskar are mostly basic. Padum has a few hotels that are quite good in hygiene and cleanliness. Please do not expect luxury there. Staying at the village homestays is an experience in itself. You will literally live like the locals there. In a village homestay, you might not get a proper western toilet and bathroom, but you will definitely cherish the love and warmth you receive.
- Zanskar still follows the old ways of life. If you are travelling to Zanskar valley, I am hoping that you will appreciate their culture and ways of life. Be kind to the people, you will get it back increased manifold.
- Have buffer days in your Zanskar trip.
- Stay warm and hydrated. Try to avoid alcohol at high altitudes.
- Start early and sleep early. That is the best policy to follow in the mountains.
- Finally, keep the place clean and plastic free. Avoid using plastic as much as you can and please do not throw wrappers and whatnots here and there. As they say, take only memories and leave only footprints.
How to Reach Zanskar Valley (FAQs Answered)
You can reach Zanskar Valley either from Leh or from Manali. If you are starting from Manali, then you have to drive to Darcha, cross the Shinku La Pass and then travel via Kurgiakh and Purne to Padum. From Leh, there are two ways to reach Padum in Zanskar – one via Kargil and the other via Lingshed.
Zanskar Valley is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in India. Due to its remote location, tourism is not yet fully developed, but the valley is known for its rugged natural beauty, secluded monasteries and the traditional ways of life. Zanskar is also known for various trekking routes.
The best time to visit Zanskar is between the months of July to September. It is the time when the weather remains the best. Also, the high mountain passes remain opened to facilitate movement of vehicles.
Only postpaid connections work in Zanskar Valley. You will find a wide coverage of the BSNL network. Jio postpaid also works in and around Padum. Connection works in limited areas only. You might not find any mobile connectivity on the way. The data connectivity is patchy and can be found only in Padum
We hope with this blog we could help you with information on how to reach Zanskar Valley. If you have any questions about the roads from Leh to Padum and Manali to Padum new road, ask your questions in comments below or send us a mail. We would try our best to answer your queries on how to reach Zanskar.
And if you are planning a trip to Zanskar Valley, do check out our Complete Guide on Zanskar Trip.
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