How exactly isolated is the Zanskar valley?
These are some quick facts about the location of Zanskar valley. Zanskar is part of the Kargil district in India’s northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir. Kargil is inaccessible by road through winter because of heavy snowing on the treacherous mountain passes that connect Kargil to the rest of India. Padum, the headquarters of Zanskar valley is further 250 km away from Kargil.
In the winter, the Zanskar river freezes. Walking over this frozen river is the only way then for the people to access the outside world, which is why this river freezing is essential to their survival in winter. For those who respect this lifeline, the Chadar trek can be an expereince of a lifetime.
If the aim is to reach Padum in good light, the journey from Kargil should begin by 5 AM. Hiring a personal vehicle here is the fastest means of getting to Padum, the headquarter of Zanskar valley. We wanted to visit places en route as well, so opted to take the public buses.
Soon after Kargil, the Suru valley starts
A zig zag road follows this river. We crossed the river at several places over rickety bridges through villages like Sankoo, Panikhar, Tangole, and Parkachik.
Nun, Kun and Suru
Our bus reached Parkachik in the evening. We spent a couple of days in the trekker’s cottage of the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department, hiking up to Parkachik la. Two other couples in our cottage were also heading to the Zanskar valley.
How to proceed to Zanskar valley beyond Parkachik, was the real challenge.
The caretaker of the cottage advised us to wait by the road at 8 AM, which is when the vehicles that had left from Kargil would reach Parkachik. We could accommodate ourselves in their empty seats.
Two hours later, our stretched out thumbs hadn’t borne any results. We were still all waiting. The locals told us the time was up and all the vehicles would have passed off by then. Hopes were low, but we didn’t give up (not that we had a choice!). Our optimism was rewarded in the form of two humongous Indian Oil trucks! The six of us managed to fit in the two trucks and finally, we were off to Zanskar valley!
A kilometer later, we saw the Parkachik glacier.
Through the Suru valley, we had noticed a receding number of houses in each passing village. After Parkachik, civilisation had vanished. We now had the Suru river and the massive imposing Greater Himalayas for company in the vast nothingness of our surroundings.
An hour into our truck ride, it was clear we wouldn’t make it to Padum by nightfall.
Post noon we were at Rangdum, the midway point of the Kargil Padum journey.
It is a tiny hamlet of around ten houses, a couple of food stalls (travelers usually halt here for lunch) and a few guest houses (again, for travelers who want to halt for the night). Rangdum, essentially was a definition of “in the middle of nowhere”.
This little hamlet brought with it signs of life. The locals here are mostly shepherds and their flock was enjoying being out in the sun during the summer months.
They seemed to have cracked the secret of being happy in the middle of absolutely nowhere!
How did we cross through the Penzi la?
The isolation and beauty of Penzi La (and the entire journey) were a perfect setting for some adrenaline rush! No wonder then, we saw cyclists braving these rough roads. They were cyclists from France, heading to the Zanskar valley to volunteer as teachers in a school they had helped build earlier.
Penzi la and the Drang Drung glacier
As our trucks trudged up to 4200 m, a board announced that we were at the highest point of Penzi la. We now kept our eyes out for the Drang Drung glacier.This is the source of the Suru river that was keeping us company all day long.
We were now in the Zanskar valley – one of the most remote valleys in India, connected by a single motorable road with the rest of India!
We were delighted and even did a little jig in the truck to celebrate this. By evening, we started to get news of some communal tensions in Padum, making our chances of getting to our destination even bleaker. The drivers decided they would halt here for the day.
Where exactly were we? Till date, we do not know for sure!
All we know was, we spent the night by the river in the lap of the Greater Himalaya mountains. We could see specs of dim lights all the way over the horizon. Thankfully our drivers were well prepared for such occasions. They would always carry a mini kitchen with them. They lent us a stove and a wok to cook our dinner of noodles and oats.
We hadn’t really anticipated being out in the open for any night and weren’t carrying sleeping bags or tents. The drivers were kind enough to let us have a truck all to ourselves.
“Lock the doors from the inside, you’ll be warm and safe”, they told us.
With 12,000 liters of diesel behind us, we made beds out of the truck seats and slept blissfully.
We met some locals in the morning who told us we were in fact, quite close to Padum, but it would be unsafe to venture there just yet. We hired a local jeep which took us to Sani, a village 6 km before Padum, where we attended the Sani monastery festival.
The journey to Zanskar valley was a humbling experience. We sensed the power of raw untouched beauty of nature. It left us overwhelmed. We knew it was a special privilege to be where we were!
Tips for traveling to Zanskar valley:
- Hiring a cab (sumo or an SUV) from Kargil is the fastest and also the most expensive way to travel to Zanskar valley.
- Public transport to Zanskar valley is sparse. A weekly bus service runs from Leh in Ladakh to Padum in Zanskar. It halts for the night at Kargil. If seats are available (this is an uncertainty), one can travel to Zanskar valley in this bus.
- In the morning, buses leave from Kargil for Sankoo and Panikhar, villages in the Suru valley. Once a day, a bus leaves for Parkachik. These buses are what we used. This way we could also visit the villages in Suru valley.
- There are a couple of Sumos in Parkachik, which can be hired to get to Zanskar valley. If not, be prepared to hitchhike.
- It is also possible to halt at Rangdum. Stay facilities are extremely basic; homestays are the only option (dry compost toilets are used from here onwards further into Zanskar valley).
- Padum, the headquarters of Zanskar valley is equipped with tourist facilities like hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
68 thoughts on “Journey to Zanskar: India’s remote valley”
Zanskar valley is one of the remotest valley in Leh Ladakh. The valley remains inaccessible during winter time, When i visited there for the first time, i had a very wonderful experience and enjoyed a lot. If you are planning to visit Zanskar valley, visit during the summer months. Because In summer season the valley looks magnificently beautiful and stunning. The blog is very informative, provides such a great information about the Zanskar valley. Very helpful for the travelers who are planning to visit Zanskar valley.
Great Blog post. Really exciting. Keep up the good work.
beautifully narrated, pictures are treat to the eyes 🙂
We are offering bus hire Delhi for outstation travelling. You can book bus on rent at cheapest rate with ac/non ac tempo traveller and more.
I live from one Himalayan trip to the next.
Planning a Leh-Kargil-Padum-Back to Leh in early October 2017.
Am aware of acute mountain sickness and will be on diamox (prevention)
Hey Namita, that’s a wonderful way of living your life, kudos 🙂
There’s lots to see on the way from Kargil to Padum as well. The entire Suru valley is beautiful and inviting. Even once you reach Padum, we will highly recommend staying on for a few days and exploring the tiny villages and monasteries of Zanskar, ahead of Padum too. How you heard of Phuktal, probably India’s most remote monastery? Our only concern is October…hope you get the routes all open. Thankfully, there’s just one pass en route Zanskar, which closes later. And efforts are made to keep Fotu La open through the year. So fingers crossed, you should be fine! It’ll be quite cold though, so carry sufficient woolens!
Excellent ?.. would like to know when one can stay in zanskar . Looking forward to hear from you. Thanks
Hello Falgunee, you can stay in Zanskar all through the summer months. Winters are a bit too harsh. If you mean where – there are a few campsites in Karsha, even in Purne on the way further ahead to Phuktal. You can stay with the locals in Sani or any of the villages in Zanskar, for that matter. Tourist facilities like guesthouses, hotels (with toilets as we know them, not the dry compost toilets that the people of Zanskar use) and restaurants are available only in the headquarters of Zanskar – Padum.
Hi Sandeepa, your blog really helpful and wonderful too. Is it possible to reach Zankar from Manali, I mean not from upper part like leh or ladakh ? is there any bus or vehicle to rent from Manali to Zankar ? Thanks so much
The only way to reach Zanskar directly from Manali is trekking up to there. They are making a road from Darcha onward to Padum via Shing la (which will go close to Phuktal). But that’s gonna take ages to complete. As of now the only realistic way to get to Zanskar is from Kargil. Get to Kargil either via Manali-Leh or via Srinagar.
In a way it’s a pity they’re building a road from Darcha. We trekked on foot from Darcha to Padum, over the Shing La, any may other passes, in lots of snow (in early May, 2002) – the trek of our life. From Padum we continued our trek to Lamayuru, 3 weeks in total, to get a vehicle to bring us to the first hot shower, in Leh.
Sandeepa, great blog, by the way – love the one about Tso Moriri too! Thank you!
Cheers, Peter (Dutch ‘flat-lander’ now living in the French Pyrenees)
PS: Do you have any upgates on the ‘progress’ of the Padum-Darcha road? On your photo of around Purne on your way to Phuktal monestrary, the path doesn’t yet look like a road, no?
Whoa whoa whoa!!! Is there anywhere we can read about your experience? What 3 weeks those must have been! Was it difficult to breathe in normal oxygen levels later? 😉
Know what you mean by the road being a pity and things will not be the same once (if) it gets done. But then again, it’s the question of “tourist vs locals”. Do we even have a right to have an opinion about it, I wonder – considering the isolation (and obviously the difficulties) the people there live in. At this point, we have no idea how much the road has progressed. It was done almost till Anmu (on the other side of Purne). However the next year saw bad floods and the road was washed out (the only reason we know this is because a fellow traveller visited Phuktal that year). The news about Zanskar never makes it to mainstream media and such few visitors (esp Indians) get there, that there really is no way to know!
I fully agree with you about (not) having to right to oppose other people’s progress. I does/may mean I’ll have to go somewhere else for off-the-beaten-track tourism, although Zanskar’s unlikely to ever become that popular i suppose, given its natural barriers. I’ll post a link to a short story we wrote about our trip:
Unfortunately I don’t how to upload photos.
Keep up those wonderful blogs!
Can’t thank you enough for sharing this! What an adventure, and what a team you had! Wow, just wow!
About the altitudes (5000m): we were luckily already acclimatised, coming off a 5-week trek (without porters) in Nepal, from Jiri (1900m) to Kala Patthar (5545m) next to Everest Base camp, via several other 5000m hills. Once at normal O2 levels you feel you can fly – back home we went straight to the French Pyrenees and trekked at 1500-2500m levels and it was a doddle! (BTW, 15 years later/older, not anymore…)
Yes, the local team was AWESOME (a word I actually never use). I just saw Project Himalya is still working with this same crew http://project-himalaya.com/about-crew-india.html for their Ladakh treks, although their own (foreign) guide, Joel Schone, has unfortunately passed away (in June 2010).
Can you say anything about the safety of trekking in Zanskar? Planning to go there in September this year, but not sure if it’s really safe? A lot of travel advice says, not to go to Jammu and Kashmir except Ladakh… but what about Zanskar?
thanks for your thoughts!
We can assure you, Zanskar is a safe place to travel as well as trek. We met many solo female trekkers during our stay in Zanskar and they had nothing to complain about. The situation in Kashmir (Jammu side is generally quiet) can be volatile, at the moment people are planning summer holidays there and things are under control.
The only concern about Zanskar is the route to get there. The quickest connection is via Zoji la–>Kargil–>Penzi la–>Padum. If the situation in Kashmir becomes uncertain, then access to Zoji la is a problem. In that case, you’ll need to fly into Leh (or take the Leh-Manali highway) and come back to Kargil and proceed to Zanskar. Have a look at the map for a clearer picture.
Hi Sandeepa, I wish go to Zanskar in Sept, I travel alone. I go to Kargill from Srinagar and it is possible that very late evening that I arrived at Kargill to get a car shared and to leave the next morning early to Padum?
Septemeber is the perfect time to be in the high altitude Himalayas. There is no guarantee of getting shared cabs in Kargil immediately. The way it works is – if there’s a cab that’s arrived from Padum and when they get enough passengers – they leave. There is no timetable. So a cab could be just waiting for one passenger and you might get lucky to leave right the next day. Your hotel/guest house person will know about this. (There is also a weekly bus that from Leh to Padum that halts overnight at Kargil, so you could coincide your visit with that day). Also, there’s a lot to explore around Kargil.
Hi sandeepa and chethan,
which camera and lens you have used…?
Have a look at our Travel gear.
just got back from trekking in Ladakh and found your wonderful post-wish I had seen it before I went-amazing experience!
Hi Sandeepa and Chetan,
I am fan of your blog. I am planning to visit Zanskar in September on my bullet. I am planning to cover these places,
Kargil – Zanskar – Leh – Nubra – Pangong – Tso Moriri – Spiti.
Is it advisable to do this in September? And what is the best way to reach Zanskar, through Kargil or through Leh?
Thanks Sachendra! There is only one way to reach Zanskar – through Kargil. A quick look at the map of the Zanskar and Ladakh regions will make the route clear. Have a good trip!
dear sandepa – chetan we 4 friends are travelling this september second on our bikes to suru zanskar. we plan to start from kargil . is it possible to reach padum on the same day ? is it possible to book accommodations at padum in advance ? any contact details ? we plan to stop at Parkachik on our return leg from padum and then head for leh. are there accommodations available at parkachik ? any contact details “
Hello Rajeev, if you start early in the morning from Kargil, you can reach Padum the same day. Sumos reach in half a day, taking one lunch halt at Rangdum. You would probably want to stop at more places along the way, so give yourself enough time. The landscape is spectacular and you don’t want to miss out on that travelling in the dark. There are plenty of stay options in Padum, no need of booking in advance. We had stayed at Mont Blanc, at the far end of the town of Padum. In Parkachik, you have a guest house of the Jammu Kashmir tourism department. Again, no need to book in advance. If you aren’t comfortable with arriving unbooked in Parkachik, you can meet the caretaker on the way to Padum, tell him about your plans. Hope you aren’t planning on just reaching Padum and leaving back, because there is loads to explore in the Zanskar valley. Have a wonderful trip to the Suru and Zanskar valleys.
I m travelling to zanskar day after tomorrow from srinagar to zanskar.being a bit confused i want u to guide me with ur knowledge. Is it safe to my own car ( xuv 500). And also Wat should i keep with me and what should i expect from the valley
Hello Danish, great to know of your travel plans. Do make sure the conditions are suitable to travel through Kashmir on your way to Zanskar. We traveled from Srinagar to Kargil in a hired taxi, it was a Tavera. They have equivalent cabs to get to Kargil or further ahead to Leh. On Zoji la however, we also spotted a Maruti Omni. This should give you a fair judgment about your vehicle’s suitability. About wat to expect from Zanskar, the best thing we can say is untouched beauty. For more information on what you can do in Zanskar and en route to the Zanskar valley, have a look at our travel stories from the Zanskar valley.
Hello, I will be in Zanskar for a trekking next august, flying from Italy. I need to keep in touch with my family, can anybody tell me if there will be a cell phone connection and internet there? Thank you,
I was just in Padum for 4-1/2 weeks in June. Sporadic Internet through a few Internet cafes in town, none in the hotels. No telephone unless you have a satellite one, and even then, not reliable. The electricity in the valley is all Solar so only a few hours worth at night. Great hotel in Padum is Chamling Kailash — as you drive into the town, it is on the left and the door has little drapes (about 6 inches up and down across it. Go up the stairs on the right when you enter. Tell the owner you were referred by a member of the US medical group from June. There is a restaurant in there, too and the owner and the guys are amazingly wonderful.
Hey Linda, thanks for the latest updates. When we were there, one hotel had wifi but it was extremely expensive. Most shops were still closed after the communal riots that had happened, so there was no internet. Landline phones worked, though.
Epic landscapes…. epic journey!
hello. we are planning to visit ladakh by end of june. we are planning to take road trip from Manali to Leh. stay put at Leh. and then visit Zanskar Valley and come back to Leh. then take flight back to Delhi. Is it right way of doing it? kindly advise
Hello Himanshu, if you are flying out of Leh, then yes. This is the correct route. However you can not travel to Zanskar valley and return back to Leh in the same day. You will have to stay atleast a day each at Padum and Kargil. Unless you travel to/from Leh in the dark. Then you cna manage with a one night stay in PAdum. (we do not recommend such a rushed visit to Zanskar). As you can see, the journey to the Zanskar valley is spectacular.
hello to all and a big hello to @sandeep Chetan, nice to see u all and to u mr sandeep for writing abt ur experence in our region i.e ladakh hope this year more people come and enjoy the natural beauty of zanskar region , iam from taisuru which in in between zanskar and kargil region and we wellcome u all in our valley in the comming summer for any kind of infromation please mail me i will ty to help u all, i am a student i stay in delhi ringt nw and waiting for my vacation in july , hope u all enjoy this summer
Hello Muzu, we are in fact planning to visit again this year. Suru valley and Zanskar are beautiful unexplored regions.
My husband and I from the UK, will be travelling by bus from Srinagar – Leh – Manali – Delhi. We have found so much helpful information from your site, to help us plan our 6 week trip.
We will be arriving into Kargil by bus. Do you have any recommendations of places to stay in Kargil, not too far from the bus stand?
The next day we will have to bargain for a taxi to take us to Mulbech, Lamayuru and Temisgam.
Hello Val, we are glad our travel stories helped you plan your trip. Ladakh is a dream come true and we wish you an awesome time there. The hotels/guesthouses near the Kargil bus depot are more or less the same an fall under truly budget accommodation. At the far end of the main road are two bigger hotels (can not remember the names though)! We had just walked in to ask if they had rooms available and they had. So guess booking isn’t absolutely necessary.
Do you know how much is the rate for shared taxi/vehicle per pax from Kargil to Padum ?
Hi guys! I am KOMATHY from Kuala Lumpur. It’s a dream to go to Ladakh, Leh and of course Zanskar! What would be the best entry point into Zanskar from Delhi? We can fly into Delhi or Amritsar from Kuala Lumpur. Also I tend to get some motion sickness – any tips for that? I admire you both and your addiction to travel and adventure. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, please do contact me. Cheers.
Dear Komathy Ganesan-Mogan,
Best entry point to Zanskar (and entire Ladakh region for that matter) is Leh, which is accessible by air throughout the year but you can travel into interiors of Ladakh only during late summer months between July to September.
Acclimatization is the best remedy for your motion sickness. Stay in Leh and explore surroundings of this beautiful city for first 2-3 days and then only move forward towards interiors.
Being a Doctor, I would recommend that medicines also help fighting motion sickness. Try taking Metoclopramide 10 mg tablet, half an hour before starting journey. Drink adequate quantity of water. Practice Pranayama regularly before before and during your journey.
Once in Zanskar, one option is to exit from Kargil-Srinagar route so, you can visit beautiful Kashmir valley as well.
Stay fit. Enjoy your trip.
Thank you Dr.Hiren for your expert advice to fellow travelers.
As Dr Hiren explains, the only way of accessing the Zanskar Valley, is via Srinigar to the West in Kashmir, or via Leh to the East. The latter provides a military airport at 11.500 ft, and it is advisable to take the first day off resting, due to the sudden change in altitude. If arriving in Srinigar at lower altitude, you will acclimatize gradually over the Zoji-La Pass, which only stays open from late May until the end of September. All roads lead to Kargil, at the head of the Valley, even if coming by road from Delhi via Manali and Leh ! The road from Kargil is treacherous in places, and time consuming, taking between
8-13 hours, depending on stops! After a tiring journey, Padum is a welcome relief, with hotels and restaurants, shops, and a starting point for rafting, trekking and horse riding/trekking . It desperately needs an airport, but local authorities seem somewhat lacadaisical about such a project, even if it was paid for from outside sources! The journey to Padum through the valley, must be one of the most exciting journeys in the world, and should not be missed!
nice to see people like u looking to travel in our region , actually i am from kargil and that af suru region which comes in between kargil and padum, i stay in delhi for study purpose and if u dont mind i can help u showing route to our region and about the places which u can visit in our region . Iam a student at delhi u can mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You guys made it look very easy. Me and my husband planning Zanskar in July’16. Can we drive our little maruti swift till Padum? If not can we hire a taxi from any places between kargil and padum. Hiring a cab from kargil is the last option. Which one do you prefer? Of course would love to get hitchhiked!
If your Maruti Swift is in Kargil, then we assume you have either crossed the Zoji la or the Leh Manali route. In that case, Penzi la, the pass on the way to Zanskar valley would be a piece of cake. The only problem would be the lack of tarred roads after Parkachik, almost upto Padum. But we saw a MAruti Omni drive through this route (it was in fact, an ambulance from Padum!). Self driving will give you a chance to stop through all the wonderful places in Suru valley as well. Hitchhiking is great because the people are really friendly, but it can be a time consuming experience 🙂 Wish you an awesome trip to Zanskar!
I had gone trekking with YHAI from Parkachik to Pannikar to Rangdum in 1988. in Parkachik, We had stayed in tents right next to a gushing river, sound of which kept us awake all night. Next day we went sliding over the snow bridge which was naturally formed over the same river. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of that place and don’t remember the name of that river (Suru ?). Did you see a place similar to what I am describing ?
Hey Preeti, the river would most likely be the Suru river. The tents must have been on the open land where the tourism board’s guest house now is. Not sure about the snow bridge, in fact we saw very little snow in Zanskar. But it could be near the Parkachik glacier; we didn’t walk up to it, just saw it from the truck we were traveling in. It must have been such an amazing trek! Wonder if YHAI still conducts this one.
Notify me about any upcoming trip to north or zanskar valley, I will be very thank ful to you
I want to go to zanskar valley, my biggest dream… But I think Only a group of people can go there. Can you let me know if any group is going to zanskar valley so that I could come with my husband. Please notify me of any trip to North
Hello Sanober, you do not need a group to travel to Zanskar, you can easily go there on your own. You can get shared taxis from Kargil to Padum. There are many guest houses in Padum, you do not need to pre book. Happy travels!
Hi, I am also planning to go to Zanskar.
July/14th ~ July/24th/2016. (Srinagar-Zanskar-Srinagar).
As I am traveling solo, I would be happy if I find someone to travel with me 🙂
I am not sure, if I can share the details from other websites.
Hello Rohit, we are hoping to join our friend on his tour to remote parts of Ladakh and Zanskar this summer, July 2016. We can assure some good travel company!
This is really like paradise on earth !!
wonderful representations and clarity for visitors.Thanks a lot having given the opportunity to road less traveled in picturesque land .kudos to you and those who traveled with you in such extreme conditions
Thank you, Murli Dhar Jha for your appreciation. Traveling to Zanskar, especially in a truck was a journey of a lifetime for us!
Awesome blog.. Nun, Kun and Suru are so amazing place to visit once in life… really its great experience for every one that make you something memorable.
Thank you, Rina!
An incredibly adventure and stunning images!
Hello Andrew, thank you so much! Our journey to Zanskar was indeed incredible. And looking back at it, it was quite an adventure 🙂
Hi Guys. Stumbled upon your blog.. My my…:-) By the way.. which camera do you use to shoot the pics. ?
Hello Brindha, all the photos here are shot with Canon 5D.
Extremely beautiful place. Lovely snaps with the sweet little calf.
Thank you, Anusia! The calf is cute, isn’t it? And so much more hairy than the cows we see away from the Himalayas!
Again, another excellent account of your journey and experiences, Sandeep and Chetan. I look forward to reading every one of them and your pictures make me so jealous (in a nice way), both for their quality and for you having seen all that spectacular scenery ‘in the flesh’, so to speak. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015 to you both.
Thank you so much, once again, Kim! This reply is a bit too delayed, better late than never 🙂 Looking back at the travels, sometimes even we find it unbelievable that we have actually been there (hint: need to travel again!). Merry Christmas to you!