Zanskar is profoundly remote - in the winter for months it can be snowed out of the normal access routes, and the only way to get to it, and around it, is over the treacherous but beautiful frozen river. But this truly is a fairy-tale land. The bright green and gold fields are a brilliant contrast to the austere rocky, craggy mountains all around. Turn a corner and suddenly you see the Zanskar River calmly threading its way down. The mountains, which can be from 5,000 - 7,000 m tall, look over impossibly deep gorges. When you least expect it there will be wildflowers and rose bushes to brighten the huge vista. The monasteries are some of the best preserved, with their statuary, murals, engravings and wood carvings having suffered from little more than time, in stark contrast to those in neighboruing Tibet. The occasional herders with their yak, or field on a cliffside seem of a piece with the land. This trek offers real isolation and a great opportunity to get a taste of high mountain spaces.
The Ladakhi people look like the descendents of marriages between Tibetans and other Central Asians, and Afghans and Iranians, and they speak a centuries-old version of Tibetan. The architecture of the old gomba displays Tibetan influence as well as a distinctcive style of woodwork. There are ducks here, as well as wild asses. and the usual lumbering yak. Ladakh and the valleys around it are connected by road, but the trails you trek feel as remote as the middle of nowhere. The prayer flags keep fluttering, and the mani walls, chhorten, monasteries and prayer wheels add a sense of calm and composure to even the most jaded traveller.
Day 1: Arrive at New Delhi's In dira Gandhi International Airport, transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Fly to Leh (3,500 m), enjoying the spectacular view of towering 5-7,000 m peaks, the high-altitude desert, the river snaking through it, and the green, yellow, and pink patches of cultivated land. Spend the day acclimatising.
Day 3: Look around the Old City of Leh, with its ehoes of Lhasa, before driving to Lamayaru.
Day 4: Today is a shortish, relatively easy walk up to a low pass (Prinkti La, 3,750 m), and then down through traditional villages to reach Wanla (3,250 m), where there is an old monastery worth a look, as are the little trails around the village.
Day 5: Today starts out with an easy walk to a lovely, gentle valley. Yet before the day is out you will have made your way to the awe-inspiring Zanskar, walking up a narrowing valley and realising that this is for real, the massive mountains of slate and granite, snow and ice, and the deep deep gorge through which the Zanskar flows. In the midst of all this to suddenly see wildflowers, and the painstakingly cultivated farms of the village of Hanupata (3,760 m) is humbling.
Day 6: Climb up the valley to begin the long, but not too steep, ascent to Sirsir La, or pass, (4,850 m). The view is brilliant, with the Zanskar mountains in clear relief, as wll as the next pass, Snigge La. Clinging to the mountainside is the village of Photsokar (4,200 m), with its equally impossible fields.
Day 7: Make your way to the Bumiktse La, at the same altitude as Photsokar to pass into the wide, green Photang valley. As you turn the corners along the trail, the contrasts continue - scrub and desert, streams and wildflowers, rock formations in the distance and old villages, and all manner of colours, light, and darkness, play with each other. Make the final push to Snigge La (5,090 m), on a trail marked by prayer flags and markers left by yaks, passing herders' huts, and with views of lovely 6,000 m peaks. Descend to camp.
Day 8: Top reach the bustling, quite prosperous village of Lingshed, cross a couple of more passes, make a steep descent or to until you can settle into the gentle trail that brings you to the Margum La (4,400 m), the last pass before Lingshed. Here are golden fields of barley and monks at their prayer.
Day 9: A steep switchbacking trail brings to you the Hanuma la (4,950 m). Then there's another variation on the classic Zanskar scene - deep gorges leading to wide, easy valleys, wild roses lifting the landscape from its austerity, yak herders who sometimes sell you fresh milk, yogurt, and cheese. Camp near the pasture settlement of Snertse.
Day 10: A new pass and a new river to walk along, the ever present possilivty of sighting a lovely group of blue sheep, and a general sense of well-being bring you lower down to the pleasant hamlet of Hanumil (3,400 m).
Day 11: Walk along the river, passing settlements so small along the way that they're barely villages, such as Pidmo, where half-a-dozen families live oblivious to the vagaries of the world. The larger village of Pishu (3,420 m) overlooks the former fiefdom of Zangla, and is reached by crossing one of the Zanskar's longest suspension bridges, all of 55 m.
Day12: It's a day of monasteries. An easy cling brings you to Rinam and a further amble to look at the spectacular Tengdo monastery. Walking along the banks of the Zanskar, reach Karsha (3,600 m). Karsha is home to one of the largest Gyeluk, or Yello Hat monasteries in the country. The 10th century gomba commands a strategic vantage point from its perch on a hillside, which makes for a broad, sweeping view.
Day 13: A very short walk brings you to the bustling local centre of Padum (3,530 m). The town, which is the urban centre of this part of Ladakh and Zanskar, allows us to restock all our supplies, as well as on occasion witness a ceremony or celebration for which people from all the outlying villages and valleys have arrived. Always an attraction in Padum are two classic of Ladakhi Buddhism - the Kanika chhorten, which is the largest stupa in the region, and the Sani gomba that houses it, which is a massive, well-preserved monastery.
Day 14: Follow the 4WD track passing villages and venerable Ladakhi monasteries, see wonderful mani walls and msasive prayer wheels along the way to the plateau that houses Mune (3,900 m).
Day 15: To make up for the day spent in a Jeep, the secong half of today is a tough walk as you keep pace with the river, often on dusty, scrabbly barely trails to reach Ichar (3,650 m).
Day 16: Cling to the sides of a massive gorge, avoiding the rockfall and stopping my small streams to finally reach a more easy on the eye greenness that brings you closer to Purne (3,700 m).
Day 17: Today you see an incredible settlement, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It will come as a surprise walking along the Tsarap river to suddenly see clinging on to a limestone cliff an entire monastery built into the side by using the natural caves. Some, like that which houses the main prayer hall, are huge, while others, which serve as monks' quarters (and are out of bounds to women), are cell-like. Also of of interest is the inscription in the asembly cave left behind by the Hungarian explorer Cosmo de Körös, who is renowned for his travels through, and meticulous documentation of, the Buddhist Himalya.Camp again at Purne.
Day 18: An excellent trail and walks past chhorten, farms, amd even a livestock breeding centre bring you to Tabley (3,800 m).
Day 19: Climb to the high village of Kargyak, at 4,050 m the highest permanent settlement in Zanskar and walk through a rocky trail with imposing views to a lovely pasture called Lakung (4,470 m).
Day 20: It's a well-trodden path up tp Snigge La (5,090 m) and down it, marked by prayer flags and markers left by yaks, passing herders' huts, and with views of lovely 6,000 m peaks. Camp in the meadow at Rumjak (4,300 m).
Day 21: To reach the last campsite of this trek, descend at first fairly easily, and then be prepared for a scramble to reach the river. You'll have to ford the river couple of times and cross it on an amusing manually-operated pulley bridge. Boulder hop to reach Pallamo (3,400 m).
Day 22: A quick and easy walk down the valley through the gorge and above it brings you to Darcha at the roadhead.
Day 23: It's a long, but fairly scenic drive to Manali.
Day 24: Make the 550 km-long drive through the valleys of the large Beas and Sutlej rivers, through parts of the Punjab and the north Indian plains to reach Delhi.
Day 25: Transfer to airport for your flight back home.
Cost on your request
1. Accommodation in Leh in B category hotel on full board basis (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
2. Arrival and Departure transfer by non-a/c jeep/ car in Leh
3. Full board during the trek section of the tour
4. English-speaking Ladakhi mountain guide for trekking
5. Cook, ponies (where needed), and porters
6. Complete kitchen gear and all supplies including gasoline
7. All tents for camping
8. Accommodation in Delhi in budget hotel with AC rooms
Cost does not include:
1. Lunch and dinner in Delhi ($ 5-10 per day per person)
2. Rescue in case of emergency
3. Medical and personal insurance
4. Tips, laundry, all drinks, telephone calls if any
5. Sleeping bags/ ropes/ crampon/ ice-axe/ other gear
6. Inner-line permit fee (US$12 per person)
7. Delhi-Leh-Delhi airfare (Current fare is US$164 one way)
8. Manali-Delhi car/ coach cost