A Road Trip to the Virgin Land- Zanskar Valley

My never ending fascination to travel around India has taken me places in the quest to explore the unexplored. The calling bells from these pristine lands have always charmed my senses and left me mesmerised, to make sure that I opt to make a comeback.

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Something similar I experienced when I solo backpacked Zanskar Valley in Ladakh. The trip happened to me like a dream and the sole look at Zanskar was enough to captivate me. I could clearly feel the embrace in air. Zanskar made sure to tune me up with its melody and make me fall in love with its virgin beauty.

Stongdey Village from Stongdey Monastery

My fondest memory in Zanskar is the way it hosted me. The guesthouse where I opted to stay took charge of my entire trip and made sure that I get to see even the tiniest part of Zanskar. Well I didn’t shell out much. I was treated like a family member. They didn’t cook Non vegetarian for days till the time I was living with them, when they learnt Iam a vegan.  Grandpa, the eldest member whom I met appreciated me when he learnt that I have traveled solo. According to him, everyone should Travel solo once in lifetime to see and experience what is the world all about. It feels good when you get to hear motivational words from them and see the inquisitiveness to share the stories of Old Zanskar. I still remember how I was not allowed to sleep without Dinner at the guesthouse when I returned from a Trek and felt tired. All this just put your faith back in Humanity.

Zanskar Valley is the most isolated of all the trans-Himalayan valleys which falls under Ladakh District, which is surrounded by Himalayan and Zanskar ranges. Due to heavy snowfall, the proximity to the area in winters remains limited for 6 months and can be accessed only through Chadar Trek, which means trek on frozen white river sheet. In Zanskari language Chadar is called as Hkado Sanglam. From adventure treks to camping amidst the surreal beauty, Zanskar has got everything a nature and adventure lover could seek.

From Padum Palace

To reach Zanskar, I took a flight from Delhi to Srinagar and halted for the day.  Day 2 I hit the road for Kargil, reaching in a little over 9 hours via state bus. We passed through Sonamarg, Zoji La Pass, Drass to enter Kargil. As we reached Kargil, I could sense Suru River (a tributary of Indus) welcoming us with its roar yet soothing sound which helped me to calm the exhaustion for the day.

Next day, I took an early morning shared taxi from Kargil to reach Padum, which is the administrative town for Zanskar. The Taxi had 2 foreigners who were backpacking in India for 6 months, a student who eventually became my travel companion and a local guide. We were fortunate that we had a guide with us as he would brief us on the locations and guided us with some amazing view on our way.

We passed through Suru Valley, Panikhar and Rangdum. Do not expect to find a soul on your way, especially after Panikhar and Parkachik village.

Nun Kun from Panikhar (1)

We took short halts at few places as I also wanted to get myself completely into the breathtaking scenery which I was witnessing on my way. I took myself to Damsna which is home to the trout fish farm and popular for its meadows. From here you can get the first view of famous Nun-Kun Peaks. Just before reaching Panikhar I stopped at Thangbu village which gave me the best view of majestic Nun-Kun. Do not miss on the glimpse of Parkachik glacier which is the base for expedition to Nun-Kun.

We took a mid halt for Lunch at Rangdum where we were served with Kidney Beans and rice. Rangdum is also the mid- point where few trippers opt to stay for a day as the place welcomes you with incredible views of the untouched beauty which it has.

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Rangdum has a small monastery situated at the uphill with an approximate height of 13,000 feet which belongs to Gelugpa set.

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Post Lunch, we continued our journey to reach Padum via Pensila Pass. At the height of 14,000 Feet, Pensila Pass is the gateway to Zanskar and the only route to enter the Valley. The Pass remains close for 6 months during the year due to heavy snowfall and the reason why Zanskar can be accessed in winters through the only mode of Chadar Trek.

Penzila Pass

We stopped at the Pass to get the mandatory clicks of Stupas, majestic Himalayan ranges and to relax ourselves by sitting at the sides of two small lakes, amidst its surreal beauty. A little ahead from the Pass, one can spot the mighty Drang Drung Glacier which is the largest Glacier in Ladakh region after Siachen. I was lucky enough to get the clear view of this giant held Glacier which is said to be cloud laden most the time. Drang Drung is sure to surprise you at once with its spellbound beauty.

Mighty Drang Drung Glacier onway to Padum

As I entered the Valley, the full bloom of flowers with rainbows gave me company throughout the route. I could see the sun going down adding its shades of color to the otherwise blue sky. We reached Padum by the evening.

Sun-rise at Padum (only town and administrative centre in Zanskar)

While at Zanskar, you can opt to visit the Old castle of Zangla which has a nunnery and a far away village. Stongdey which is the second largest Monastery in Zanskar, Zongkhul Monastery which designed as a Nest, Karsha Nunnery. Phugtal Gompa which is also known as Cave monastery and requires a two day Trek from Anmo Village (Will share the details in my next blog)

Make sure to carry few woollens along as it gets chilly in night. Carry the required lip-balm, cold creams, UV protected shades and Sunscreen with good SPF. Carry a postpaid BSNL as no other network works in the region.

In short, Zanskar Valley is a photographer’s paradise and a nature lover’s haven.

Distance from Delhi Close to 1200 KM
How to Travel By Train: Closest Railway station is Jammu, thereby taxi
By Air: Closest Airport is Leh
By Road: Srinagar-Kargil-Padum (Zanskar)
Where to stay Zanskar has got decent guesthouses and homestays. Kailash and Alpine Guesthouse are preferable
 
Best time May till September
SIM Card Carry BSNL postpaid SIM card. Nothing else works there
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