I was introduced to Zanskar valley through a photograph of the Phugtal Monastery almost 8 years ago. It was then I had tried to know more about the place and had started planning a trip there. But information about Zanskar was not quite easy to get, especially at that time. Zanskar valley was also a difficult place to reach. The place literally remains under snow for almost 7 months of the year. The only way someone from Zanskar could connect to the outside world is by walking over the frozen Zanskar River!
The remoteness gives an aura of mystery to Zanskar Valley. After visiting Zanskar Valley, we can definitely say that Zanskar is one of the most enchanting and beautiful places in India. Zanskar Valley is located in a remote corner of Ladakh. Reaching there can be tricky and difficult. So, after spending some time at Zanskar and exploring this wonderland, we are sharing our best tips to visit Zanskar Valley. If you are wondering how to plan your Zanskar valley trip, then you have come to the right place. Read on!
About Zanskar Valley
Zanskar Valley is like a hidden world. Located at an altitude of 13154 feet in the northern part of the Great Himalayas, Zanskar Valley is literally cut off from the rest of the world due to geographical constraints. Without the influence of outside influences, Zanskar valley has remained one of the last strongholds of the ancient Tibetan Buddhism culture and tradition.
Even a few years back, Zanskar valley was a self-sustaining community living off the land by farming and cattle rearing. The winter season is quite harsh in Zanskar. Temperature goes down as low as -40-degree Celcius. The Zanskaris, therefore, work, trade and travel during the summer month and store for the winter season.
The valley gets cut off from the rest of the world for almost 7 months in a year due to snowfall. Roads get blocked and Zanskar is yet to have an airport. The only way to connect to the outside world is by walking over the frozen Zanskar river, popularly known as the Chadar Trek. The almost 100 km Chadar (meaning blanket) trek is the only way by which the locals can get out of this remote valley.
And this trek is only possible in the months of January and February because of the challenges of walking over sheets of ice on the Zanskar river. However, the Zanskaris have well mastered the art of reading the ice and have found a way to traverse the icy ways.
Things, however, are changing. Earlier, there was only one road to reach Padum, the main town of Zanskar valley. It was the 230 km road crossing the 5000 m Penzi La Pass from Kargil to Padum.
But last year, in 2020, two new roads opened up. Although these roads are not yet fully constructed, you can definitely travel through these roads. The road from Leh to Padum through the Singe La Pass has considerably reduced the time taken to reach Padum from Leh. Earlier, you would have to travel to Kargil from Leh (220 km) and then travel another 230 km from Kargil to Padum.
The second road is from Darcha near Manali, Himachal Pradesh via the Shinku La Pass. Although the road is barely constructed, you can still reach Padum in 2 days.
Another road is being constructed from Leh to Chilling to Padum. When constructed, this will reduce the time of travel considerably. This is also going to be an all-weather road, thus providing all-year connectivity to Zanskar Valley when the rest of the roads are closed during winter.
We also heard that very soon Zanskar will have an operational airport soon.
With changing times and exposure to the outer world, life is also changing in Zanskar Valley. Earlier, children used to attend schools in Zanskar Valley. Now, many students are sent to Leh and Kargil to attend schools and colleges.
The ancient and traditional practices are also getting replaced by modern technology. Earlier, the locals used yaks and dzo (a hybrid between yak and domestic cattle) for the farm work. Very recently one village had started the use of tractors. Electricity and water are gradually reaching every house in Zanskar villages. Mobile network has also reached most of the villages. So, Zanskar is on the threshold of modernization.
Life in Zanskar Valley – A Cinematic Film
How to reach Zanskar Valley?
Reaching Zanskar Valley has always been quite tough. Earlier, Zanskar was connected to the rest of Ladakh by only the Kargil-Padum road. It is almost a 250 km journey on this road taking 2 days.
But last year 2 new roads were opened to Zanskar Valley which makes reaching Zanskar a tad bit easier.
Zanskar does not have any airports yet. You can either fly into Srinagar or Leh and then carry on towards Zanskar Valley.
Reaching Zanskar from Leh
Kargil – Padum Road
Earlier, Kargil – Padum Road was the only way to reach Zanskar. The distance covered is almost 250 km on this route. The Kargil – Padum Road crosses the Pensi La Pass (4400 m or 14436 feet) and remains closed during the winter due to snowfall.
The route is as follows:
Kargil – Sankoo – Panikhar – Parkachik – Rangdum – Padum
You can either start from Srinagar or Leh and reach Kargil, and then carry forward towards Padum. You can halt at either Panikar, Parkachik or Rangdum for the night and then carry forward towards Padum the next day.
Leh to Padum via Lingshed
This is the new route opened in 2020. This makes travelling to Zanskar easier from Leh. You do not have to travel all the way to Kargil. Instead, you can take this new road towards Zanskar Valley. If you start early enough from Leh and do not stop on the way very much, then you can reach Padum on the same day itself.
The route is as follows:
Leh – Khaltse – Wanla – Sir Sir La – Photoksar – Singe La – Lingshed – Zangla – Padum
A few kilometers beyond Wanla, the trail is totally off-road having mainly dirt tracks. But travelling on this road is an adventure for sure.
Reaching Zanskar from Manali
This is another road that opened in 2020 and the best thing about this road is that it connects the Lahaul Valley to Zanskar Valley via the Shinku La Pass (16580 feet). So basically, you can start your trip from Manali and reach Zanskar Valley.
The route is as follows:
Manali – Keylong – Darcha – Kurgiakh – Purne – Padum
Beyond Darcha, there are no proper roads yet. All you can find is a dirt track. The road runs parallel to the Manali – Leh route and you will find a similar landscape on the way, but far more isolated!
You are going to cover almost 270 km from Manali to Padum. So, a night stay is definitely recommended.
All these roads remain opened only during the summer months. Winters witness heavy snowfall at the passes and the roads remain closed.
READ MORE ABOUT HOW TO REACH ZANSKAR VALLEY
Private Vehicles – Bike Ride or Self drive
Reaching Zanskar Valley is an adventure in itself. And if you want a real feel of thrill on road, then you can ride self-drive or ride your bike to Zanskar Valley. You will drive through one of the most adventurous and tough terrains in India. You can take your own car or bike and can even take a rented one.
However, be careful while driving through these roads. Be prepared to drive/ ride through dirt roads, muddy trails and crossing over streams and nallahs.
For cars, we recommend using an SUV on these roads. There are parts in the roads from Leh to Padum via Lingshed and the one from Darcha have parts that can be maneuvered only by SUVs. A 4WD will definitely make driving easier.
Zanskar by hiring a private taxi
To be honest, transportation in Zanskar Valley is quite expensive. So, hiring a private taxi for your Zanskar trip can be a bit expensive.
Public Transport to reach Zanskar Valley
Shared taxis are available these days in all the 3 routes mentioned above.
Shared taxis to Kargil from both Leh and Srinagar are easily available. You will also get shared taxis to Padum from Kargil.
Shared taxis from Leh to Padum via Shinge La and Manali to Padum via Shinku La Pass are fewer in numbers and you have to inquire beforehand and book your seats.
What is the best time to visit Zanskar Valley?
The best time to visit Zanskar Valley is during the summer months. And summer here means the months between June to September. During this time, the temperature remains pleasant. The mornings are usually bright and sunny and the evenings are cool, without being chilling. The roads to Zanskar also remain open during these months.
October is a shoulder season. During October, the temperature dips. The mornings are cooler, but evening and night tend to get quite cold. Also, I would recommend you to visit Zanskar within the first 2 weeks of October. After that, the weather becomes quite unpredictable and there are chances of the roads getting closed due to snowfall.
We visited Zanskar Valley during October. We had great weather and clear blue skies during our entire trip. But two days after we returned to Leh from Zanskar, we heard that both the Shingay La and Shinku La Pass had been closed due to snow. So I am saying it once again, if you want to visit during October, it is better to do so within the first 2 weeks.
Where to stay in Zanskar Valley?
For your first time in Zanskar Valley, you will probably base your stay at Padum and then explore the area. Padum is the main town of Zanskar Valley. It is a small town having a few hotels and guest houses.
You can also stay at homestays located in villages around Padum. We stayed at a homestay at Tsazar near Padum.
While travelling to and from Zanskar Valley, we recommend you to make night stays on your way. Here are a few recommendations for night stays on the way to Padum.
Kargil – Padum Road
You can stay at Panikhar, Parkachik or Rangdum. There are homestays available at all these places.
Leh – Padum via Singe La Pass
If you start early from Leh, you can reach Padum in a day. However, if you want to take a break at night, you can stay at Lingshed village. Lingshed has a few homestays.
Manali – Padum via Shinku La Pass
Start early from Manali and cover as much distance as you can on the first day itself. You can stop for the night at Kurgiakh or travel forward to Purne. If you stop at Purne, you can plan a trek to the Phugtal Monastery as well.
What to do in Zanskar Valley?
Now that you have reached Zanskar Valley, you will probably want to do some sightseeing. There are a lot of things to see and experience in Zanskar Valley. However, for the first time, you can definitely do the following:
- Phugtal Monastery Trek
- Visit the monasteries in and around Padum
Zanskar is one of the places where traditional Tibetan Buddhism is still practiced. And there are beautiful monasteries around Padum. I will list here the monasteries that you should not miss around Padum-
- Zangla Palace and Nunnery
- Stongdey Monastery
- Karsha Gompa
- Sani Gompa & Sani Lake
- Dzongkhul Monastery
- Pibiting Monastery
- Stakrimo Monastery
- Statue of 5 Dayani Buddha
- Bardan Monastery and Muney Monastery (These can be done on your way towards Phugtal Monastery)
- Visit the local villages
- Hiking and trekking
There are numerous beautiful trekking trails in Zanskar Valley, the most famous being the Chadar Frozen River trek taking place in the winter months of January and February.
Suru Valley is also gorgeous in its own right. So, if you are travelling through the Kargil – Padum Road, then we recommend you to take your time and explore a bit around Suru Valley as well.
Acclimatization in Zanskar Valley
Just like Ladakh, acclimatization is quite important in your Zanskar trip. Padum is located at a similar altitude to Leh. If your body is not ready for the higher altitude, then your trip will be spoiled. So please take acclimatization seriously.
- If you have flown into Leh, spend at least one entire day in Leh before heading towards Zanskar Valley. Also, it is better to take stops in your journey. Here are a few tips for better acclimatization –
- Drink enough water and keep your body hydrated.
- Try to avoid sleeping at high altitudes.
- Refrain from tobacco and alcohol for these few days.
- Do not sleep during the day.
- While travelling to and from Padum, try to cover the distance in 2 days, stopping somewhere during the night. This goes for all the three routes I have mentioned above.
- Carry medicines for AMS.
- If you find any symptoms of AMS, visit a doctor. If your symptoms increase, it is better to descend to a lower altitude.
Medical Facilities in Zanskar Valley
Leh and Kargil have proper medical facilities that include decent hospitals and doctors. Padum also has a good hospital where you can visit if need arises. However, the hospital at Padum is the only hospital you will find in Zanskar Valley.
When we visited Phugtal Monastery, there was a bike accident. The patient had to be taken to Padum for treatment.
What to Pack for a Zanskar Valley Trip?
- Let us first talk about clothes. During the summer months between June to September, carry cotton clothes, light woolen and a jacket. The mornings are usually quite sunny and warm.
- For October, carry enough woolen and jackets. Also carry gloves, socks, scarfs and woolen caps. The evenings get quite cold during this time.
- If you are visiting Zanskar during the winter, you have to carry enough warm clothes, thermals, heavy jackets, socks, scarves, gloves and balaclava.
- Whenever you visit Zanskar, do not forget to carry a good sunscreen. The sun in the morning is particularly harsh and a good sunscreen is required.
- Carry Vaseline with you. Zanskar is a dry region and Vaseline can be a lifesaver there.
- Also, please do not forget a cap or hat. It will help protect you from the harsh sun rays during the day.
What to eat in Zanskar?
At Zanskar, you can try Tibetan dishes. There are small restaurants at Padum Market that serve good Tibetan dishes. The dishes you can try in Zanskar are:
- Tingmo – Tibetan bread
- Thentuk – a soupy broth containing noodles, vegetables, chicken and more
- Mokthuk – A broth containing Noodles and momos – it is like thukpa having momos in it.
- For drinks, you can try butter tea. It really keeps you warm. However, butter tea is an acquired taste.
If you want to have North Indian dishes, then there is one restaurant at Padum Market serving North Indian fares. The samosas are really tasty in that restaurant.
Zanskar Valley Trip (FAQs Answered)
Zanskar Valley is definitely worth your time. The valley, tucked in a remote part of Ladakh is both naturally beautiful and culturally enriching. The landscape of Zanskar is absolutely stunning with rugged mountains, barren browns and beautiful monasteries located in remote locations. While Zanskar is known for its stark landscapes of a cold desert, Suru Valley is famous for its lush greenery. You will definitely not be disappointed in your Zanskar trip.
Zanskar Valley is known for its high mountain passes, mountains and beautiful landscape. The place is also culturally enriching. It is one of the few places that still practices the ancient Tibetan Buddhism traditions. There are a number of beautiful Monasteries in Zanskar Valley. The Phugtal Monastery, one of the most secluded monasteries in India is located in Zanskar Valley.
The language of Zanskar is Zangskari.
The best time to visit Zanskar Valley is the summer months between June to September. During this time, the weather remains pleasant. October is the shoulder season, but we would recommend you to visit within the first 2 weeks of October.
Winters are extremely cold in Zanskar Valley and temperature often dips down to -30-degree celcius. Also, the roads to Zanskar valley gets closed down during the winter due to snowfall.
There are only 2 petrol pumps at Padum. You will not find any other petrol pumps elsewhere in Zanskar Valley. You will also not find any petrol pumps on your way to Padum to Kargil or Padum to Leh or Padum to Manali.
There is one ATM at Padum Market. Please remember to carry enough cash in Zanskar Valley. Cards, wallets and UPI are usually not accepted at the local shops, petrol pumps and restaurants.
Only Postpaid connection works in Ladakh. You will get BSNL and Jio connections almost everywhere in Zanskar. Our Airtel Postpaid did not work in Zanskar Valley, not even in Padum. Jio worked fine. The Internet, however, is slow and intermittent once you are out of Padum town.
Zanskar Valley in Photographs
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