Zanskar Trek: Day by Day Highs & Lows

iful hiking with some serious drop-offs for a stretch

This post on the Zanskar trek covers the Zanskar Valley to the Indus River in northern India. It should give you a good idea of what the trek looked like on a day to day basis. I’ve included the highs and the lows of the trip 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 the Zanskar trek.

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.

Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Hiking to Pishu along the Zanskar River

Described is our 18 day Zanskar trek on a day to day basis

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
 A stop at the Lamayuru Monastery en route to our first camp
A stop at the Lamayuru Monastery on route to our first camp
Our first campsite on the Zanskar trek enjoyed a spectacular location
Our first campsite enjoyed a spectacular location

Day 2- 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
On the Zanskar trek enjoy stunning scenery on the backside of the pass
Stunning scenery on the backside of the pass

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
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Phenomenal hiking on the backside of the pass

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!
Our campsite overlooked the village of Photaksar; it spends most of the winter in the shadow
Our campsite overlooked the village of Photaksar; it spends most of the winter in the shadow

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
Himalayan marmots are bigger than their North American cousins

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
 Grand mountain scenery on the Zanskar trek
Grand mountain scenery

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
Doing the Zanskar trek in fall is a wonderful time to be hiking
Fall is a wonderful time to be hiking in the Zanskar Valley

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
Beautiful hiking on the Zanskar trek with some serious drop-offs for a stretch
Beautiful hiking with some serious drop-offs for a stretch

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
 Heading for the Zanskar River
Heading for the Zanskar River

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
Crossing the Zanskar River

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
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
The last of any villages we’ll see for many days

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
Ascending the Cha Cha La on the Zanskar Trek
Ascending the Cha Cha La

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
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Close to 50 river crossings over 9 hours – and this water wakes you up

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
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
First few times I saw this white stuff I thought it was plastic caught in the vegetation; but they are the most delicate, amazing ice crystals that shatter when touched

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

Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows

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.
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Enjoying the dramatic backdrop of 6400 m Kangyaze

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.
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Our last descent from the highest pass of the trek into a world of red rock

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.
Trekking in Northern India: Day by Day Highs & Lows
Burning incense at the Hemis Monastery

This was a World Expeditions trek – the only company I am aware of that does such a traverse.

Further reading on hiking in the Zanskar region of India

Click on the photo below to share to your Pinterest board.

The 16 day Zanskar trek in northern India



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