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While I’ve written several posts about my Zanskar trek from the Zanskar Valley to the Indus River in northern India, there is still much that I’ve yet to share. This post will give you a day by day account of the trek – including the highs and the lows along with one photo from each day from the time we left Leh until we returned. I think it will provide a better overall explanation of what you can see.
On a side note – we never really tracked mileage on the Zanskar trek. We did keep track of daily elevation gain and time on the trail but for the most part distance didn’t play into the equation.
Day 1: Leh – Lamaryu Monastery – Kenji (3790 m)
- Interesting and scenic 4.5 hour drive from Leh to the Lamaryu Monastery with a stop to see the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers
- Highway signs warning of perils of speed and drinking kept us entertained
- Monastery perched above the village – quite beautiful; visited the cave used by Naropa for meditation
- About another hour’s rough drive to camp over roads you couldn’t pay me to drive
- Meet up with our horsemen, 15 horses and donkeys; camp is set up at the edge of a small village where people are busy at work on the harvest
Day 2 on the Zanskar Trek: To Shila Kong (campsite at 4500 m) via Yokmu La (4650 m)
- Effects of altitude are felt immediately as walking speed on what looks like a moderate grade is way slower than normal
- In hindsight one of the most beautiful days on the trail with lots of fall colour and incredible views to the pass
- Sucking wind at the final campsite – where it snows and is bloody cold; wonder if the whole trip is going to be this cold
Day 3: To Doksa (campsite at 4570 m) via Negutse La (5100 m)
- Wake to frosty tents, ice covered streams and blue skies
- Takes us 3.75 hours to ascend the pass – and then the beauty on the other side is like nothing any of us have seen before; followed wolf tracks part of the way up the pass
- In hindsight wish we’d lingered between the pass and camp as it only took us 1.5 hours to get to camp
- It was a clothes and hair washing kind of day
Zanskar Trek day 4: To Photoksar (campsite at 4357 m) via Sisir La (4720 m)
- Only a two hour climb to the pass
- Crossed road (only one car) several times and eventually followed the road to a camp above Photaksar
- Marvel at the site of a precariously perched monastery still in use
- Bloody hot in the afternoon!
Day 5: To Yuljung (campsite at 4461 m) via Singgle La (5050 m)
- Hard day; 5 hours to the pass and then 2 hours down to a so-so camp but delicious Chinese food for dinner (food matters a lot on a trek like this and the cooks are very good)
- Dramatic scenery accentuated by the beautiful fall colours
- All of us are describing altitude induced wild dreams at breakfast
Day 6: To Lingshet (campsite at 3880 m) via Khyupa La (4360 m)
- Short hike to a pass and then a long steep descent to a small town
- Hillsides a mass of yellow and orange
- Met lots of villagers climbing up (including a pregnant lady) the pass to walk to a bus stop to get to Leh (what a lot of work!)
- A second pass was longer but gradual followed by a steep dusty descent to Lingshet, home to a monastery
- Visited the monastery and listened to the monk’s chanting; could have listened for hours
- Dusty campsite with one pipe providing water for washing up
Zanskar trek Day 7: To Lanak La (campsite at 4006 m) via Neruka La (4310 m)
- Short day today to make tomorrow manageable
- Lots of ups and downs with steep goat like trails
- Camping in a canyon by a stream; windy but otherwise very pleasant
Day 8: To Zinchan (campsite at 3413 m) via Hanima La (4706 m)
- Day starts with a two hour climb to a pass followed by a one hour descent down a dry canyon to a lunch spot
- Another 3.25 hours of hot hiking to a camp by the river
- Hiked through an ice tunnel and along a trail with major exposure
- Very hot hiking down to camp; hikers we met coming up in mid-afternoon were red faced and tired
- Bonus – fried coconut balls for tea
Day 9: To Hanimul (campsite at 3420 m) via Parpi La (3909 m)
- On top of the pass (pictured above) in 75 minutes; spent a leisurely 45 minutes hanging out, taking in the views
- Descend to the Zanskar River on narrow paths to the settlement of Hanumil; you can buy cold beer here
- One horse died today – not too far from camp – reportedly ate poisonous grasses and then ended up convulsing. Very sad for the horseman – as it’s a huge financial loss. Bit of a black cloud over camp today because of that.
- Nearby you could watch the horses threshing the grain
Day 10: To Zangla
- Long, frigging, hot dusty day
- Started off along the Zanskar river to Pidmu – a traditional looking Buddhist Village
- Then onto Pishu, about 5 hours in total hiking
- From Pishu hopped in a truck and took bumpy roads to a suspension bridge
- Crossed the river on foot and then drove to Paddam – a resupply town with not much going on – no working internet but one great latte from a Korean woman running a small cafe
- Interesting and awful at the same time to see the highway workers – and the conditions they were living in
- Another hour’s drive back to Zangla and a pretty camp beside a highway; very little traffic but our tent is about 10 feet from the road so spend the night imaging drunk drivers hitting our tent
Day 11: To base of Cha Cha La (campsite at 4,000 m) – no pass; canyon hiking
- After a bad sleep hiking by 7:30 to an old fort above the town of Zangla
- Interesting walking down into a canyon in view of an old aqueduct
- Stream-river crossings for the next few hours
- Total hiking time about 5 hours at a slow pace
Day 12: Base of Cha Cha La – via Cha Cha La (4890 m)
- 6 AM wakeup so we could hit the trail early and climb 1000 metres with a gnarly finish that gets your attention
- Views of some 6,000 m peaks
- Descend a shale covered slope to a canyon through a dramatic landscape with golden walls and lots of barely consolidated rock
- Canyon really narrowed in places – and blue-green in colour
- Pretty campsite with big mountain views and a nice meadow but dusty and windy
Day 13 on the Zanskar Trek: To Tilat Sumdo – no pass – a wading through rivers kind of day
- On the trail by 7:15 AM
- Walked for 9.5 hours up a long canyon – sometimes tedious, other times spectacular
- Wore runners with socks and crossed the river at least 50 times
- Only the rare group travels here; hard for horses
Day 14: To the base of Rubrang La (campsite at 4,400 m) – no pass
- Started with a frosty 75 minute crossing of the Dat River multiple times; feet completely frozen and painful at the end of the crossings
- Another long walk up a canyon; one spot in particular had a lot of exposure and couldn’t imagine sitting on a horse going up
- Joss, an Aussie women is on the horse for much of the day as skin has peeled off her toes because of grit in boots from river crossings
- Arduous day with 6.5 hours of hiking
- Beautiful camp with lots of sunshine and time to wash up
Zanskar Trek Day 15: To Humlung Village (campsite at 3860 m) via Rubra La (4865m)
- Hike up Rubra La in 2.5 hours
- Working on almost no sleep – perhaps because of sleeping at altitude
- Five hour walk down a river bed under a blazing hot sun to reach the Markha Valley
- Into a campground in a village by 4:45; always prefer the wilds to the village camping – more privacy and cleaner
Day 16: To Nimaling (campsite at 4800 m) via Cairn Pass
Lovely start to the day via a walk to Hanka Village; some people stopped for tea and cookies.
Straight forward climb followed by a walk through a meadow to reach a teahouse under a circus like tent – long lunch enjoying the views and the birds.
More climbing – never steep with great views of a 6000 m plus peak.
Camping on a windswept grazing field listening to donkeys and cows.
Camp is at 4800 m so very cold.
Day 17 on the Zanskar Trek: To Shang Sumdo (campsite at 3690 m) via Kongmaru La (5150 m)
Can’t believe it’s the last day of on our Zanskar trek
Takes 90 minutes of grunting to reach the pass; looks like nothing but breathing is laboured
Take lots of time on top, chatting with other trekkers before a long but magnificent descent down a spectacular gorge – lots of old trails used by villagers when the river floods
Descend to Chondo and a cold mango drink – luxury
Then a drive – though could have walked on a precarious road to a so-so campsite with a lot of litter
Last meal as per our request – no curry; instead tomato soup, French fries and a grilled cheese sandwich. We’re all in heaven.
Day 18: To Leh (Omasala Hotel) via a stop at the Hemis Monastery
Final drive to Leh via an hour’s stop at the Hemis Monastery
We’re all trying to decide what to do first – hot showers, internet or a latte and cake. Latte and cake won.
Shopping in local markets followed by a celebratory dinner.
We’re done. No major injuries on anyone’s part though bad blisters from walking in water one day for one woman. We’re all thinner by at least 10 pounds.
This was a World Expeditions trek – the only company I am aware of that does such a traverse.
Further reading on hiking in India
- Places to Visit in Leh, India if You Have 48 Hours
- 20 Photos to Inspire a Trek in Northern India
- The Exceptional 3 Day Markha Valley Trek in India
- Trekking in Ladakh Zanskar – What a Day Looks Like
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