Rangdum is midway on the 250km route from Kargil to Padum, headquarter of the remote Zanskar valley. A convenient halt on this long route, it is a tiny hamlet of ten houses and a couple of food stalls and guesthouses. Its geographic location makes it, essentially, the definition of "in the middle of nowhere".

Zanskar tour in the summer of 2020

An all-women tour to the high mountains of the Himalayas in a remote isolated valley of Zanskar, one of the last bastions of the age old way of life in these barren mountains. Unlike its high altitude counterparts around Leh and Spiti valley, Zanskar has managed to stay away from the tourist and commercial glare. People still live the way they did generations back in some of the harshest conditions presented by nature. 

An all-women tour to the high mountains of the Himalayas in a remote isolated valley of Zanskar, one of the last bastions of the age old way of life in these barren mountains. Unlike its high altitude counterparts around Leh and Spiti valley, Zanskar has managed to stay away from the tourist and commercial glare. People still live the way they did generations back in some of the harshest conditions presented by nature. 

For this reason, we will have the local people of Zanskar with us on this tour, all the time. They know this place like no one else, and are the best guides to have on this tour.

Since our visit to the Zanskar valley, Chetan and I have visited several remote places in the far corners of the world. But our time in Zanskar still remains the most special time in our lives. For its beauty, yes, but more so for the life that we lived here.

This tour is curated based on our first hand experience of the Zanskar valley. All the photos that you see here have been taken by Chetan.

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Why?

In this tour of Zanskar, you get to experience and embrace this way of life. You discover new levels of minimalism and a life so simple, it becomes extraordinary. We can assure you that you will be challenged. Your definition of comfort will be changed forever. And, in the company of the kindest people you will ever meet, surrounded by extraordinary beauty, you will discover something special about yourselves.

What’s so harsh about Zanskar?

Most parts of the valley are at altitudes higher than 3500 meters (11000 feet) above mean sea level. Most parts of the valley are covered in snow for several months of the year in the winter. The biggest “city” near Zanskar is Kargil, which itself is inaccessible in the winter. There is no airport here, which means the road is the only way to access the Zanskar valley, which makes it one of the most isolated parts of the Himalayas.

When?

11N/12D from 29th July, Wednesday to 9th August 2020, Sunday

Where?

We will start the tour in Srinagar and end it in Leh.

How?

We will travel in a high ground clearance SUV throughout the tour. 4 participants in each vehicle.
I, Sandeepa will be with you throughout the tour.

Who is this tour FOR?

  • Adventure curious women 
  • Women who believe that the journey is as important as the destination
  • Women interested in learning about a different and a rare-to-find culture
  • Women willing to challenge themselves by getting out of their comfort zones
  • Women wanting to travel to a special place on this planet where nature rules supreme
  • Women ready to experience the raw power of an isolated hidden valley

Who is this tour NOT FOR?

  • Those who are unable to walk short distances on a daily basis
  • Those dearly attached to material comforts
  • Those used to a fixed diet everyday 
  • Those who can’t live without internet

This is the detailed itinerary. 

The dates are chosen to make it to Zanskar in time for the Sani festival, a local monastery festival in Zanskar, attended by people staying in the far corners of this valley.  

Day 1: 29th July
Fly into Srinagar. Stay in Srinagar. 
The tour starts with your arrival in Srinagar. You reach Srinagar, either by flying over the Himalayas or by traversing passes along the Ravi and Jhelum rivers (by road). I will meet you at the Srinagar airport. We wait for the group to assemble at the airport from where everyone’s picked up and transferred to our hotel near the Nageen lake in Srinagar. We can now say your hellos to the chinar trees on the way.
Post check in and rest, we will visit the iconic Dal lake. The Chashm-e-Shahi garden is just above the lake. Seeing the sun set over the deep orange waters of the Dal lake is a magical sight.

Meals included: Evening tea and snacks, dinner
Highlights of the day: Dal lake, Mughal garden and the beauty of Kashmir

Day 2: 30th July
Srinagar-Kargil 
204 km

Landscape around Zoji la

We leave early in the morning from Srinagar and start the journey towards Kargil. A dense green landscape greets us as soon as we get out of Srinagar and gives us company all the way to Sonamarg, crossing places like Ganderbal and Kangan on the way. This is where the famous Great Lakes trek of Kashmir starts.
We halt for breakfast near Sonamarg. Store these greens in your eyes, it will be a while before we see them again. From Sonamarg it’s an uphill drive to Baltal (famous for being one of the starting points of the Amarnath yatra). Now the first high altitude mountain pass of our tour, the Zoji la, starts. Hold your breath. We will be in the Greater Himalayas by the time you have the heart to release it!
Post Zoji la, the landscape has transitioned suddenly to brown and barren. We will soon be in Drass, and if the clouds co-operate, you can even get views of the Tiger Hill. We pay our respects at the Kargil War Memorial and reach Kargil by late afternoon. 
In Kargil we check in and remember to take it slow today. We have transitioned into high altitude and our bodies need time to acclimatise. In the evening, we stroll around Kargil and visit the famous Aziz Munshi museum.

Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlights of the day: Sonamarg, Zoji la, Kargil War Memorial, Aziz Munshi museum in Kargil

Day 3: 31st July
Kargil- Padum 
230 km

Drang Drung glacier

Another early morning start as we will be travelling through some spectacular but isolated landscapes. After the brown mountains of Kargil, the greenery at the high altitude Suru valley will come as a surprise. The twin, hardly ever scaled Nun and Kun peaks will come into view. Most of the day will be spent driving through the middle of nowhere. We will halt for lunch at Rangdum, one of the tiniest hamlets we’ll see in this tour. Things get even more interesting after Rangdum, as we cross the high altitude mountain pass Penzi la, to officially enter the Zanskar valley. Drang Drung glacier will have you fixated and make it difficult to move away, as will the twin high altitude lakes.
We will reach Padum late in the afternoon and check in to our hotel. Though we’ll be travelling slow, we’ll still be at an altitude nearing 4000 meters. Rest and acclimatisation are a must for the rest of the day.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlights of the day: Views of Nun-Kun, Rangdum hamlet, Drang Drung glacier, Penzi la, driving through the middle of nowhere!

Day 4: 1st August
Padum

Barley fields in Padum

Today, we will spend the day in Padum, the headquarters of the Zanskar valley. It is another day of relaxation to let your body adjust to the weather and the high altitude. If your body doesn’t show any signs of being affected by the altitude, you can walk around the Padum marketplace and visit the barley fields. We will also visit the local Pibiting monastery.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlight of the day: Altitude acclimatisation

Day 5: 2nd August
Monasteries in Zanskar and overnight camping in Sani

Way to the Karsha monastery

After giving our bodies enough time to adjust to this altitude, we now set out to explore the Zanskar valley. Before stepping out, we will pack our bags and check out of our hotel in Padum – because tonight we change our location, to somewhere really interesting!
Once out, we will visit the ancient monastery in Karsha,  the model village of Zanskar. These white washed villages will reveal an architectural style unique to this region. Observe the way the houses are built, as you make your way to the monastery. 
Post Karsha, we will visit another monastery Stongde and the ruins of a palace at Zangla, on the opposite bank of the river. We will cross an army settlement and a hand cranked petrol pump – the only one in the entire Zanskar valley. You won’t be blamed if you mistake the landscape around you for another planet!  
After visiting the different monasteries and villages, we will make our way to another village called Sani. In Sani, by the holy lake of Tuthot, we will set camp for the day. Tonight, we will be sleeping under a million stars! 
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlight of the day: Ancient monasteries, unique architectural styles and camping by a holy lake in a tiny village of Zanskar

Day 6: 3rd August
Sani festival 

Monks dancing at the Sani festival

Today is the day of the Sani festival. It’s an important day in the social calendar of the people here. They travel from far off villages to attend this festival. 
Monks wear elaborate costumes and colourful masks and perform various dances in a trance like motion. Experience this festival along with the local people of this far off valley. They will come dressed in their traditional finery, including the new brides in their full bridal garb!  
We will also visit the Sani monastery and walk around Sani village and understand the local way of life. We will take a break from the festival for a beautiful lunch by the lakeside.
We will return to Padum in the evening.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlight of the day: Sani monastery festival

Lunch/breakfast preparation at a homestay in Zanskar
The Sani village

Day 7: 4th August
Phuktal trek
Back in Padum, we will have a relaxed start to the day. Today, we pack stuff we will need for the next 2 days as we leave for the trek to the Phuktal monastery. We will be accompanied by a local guide. We will make our way away from Padum, towards the Lungnak valley, an off-shoot of the Zanskar valley. Till as recently as a few years back, this valley was not motorable and one had to walk across the high mountains to access the villages here. We end our day at a village called Purne, at the banks of the Lungnak river and check into a homestay at Purne.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlight of the day: Lungnak valley

Trekking routes to the Phuktal monastery on both banks of the river. We will be taking the lower path.

Day 8: 5th August
Phuktal trek
Today is the main trek to the Phugtal monastery, the most remote monastery of the Zanskar valley, hidden in a cave. We will cross a few wooden bridges, over the Lungnak and the Zanskar rivers to make our way up to the Phuktal monastery. We will explore this monastery, set in a cave, in probably the most stunning location of this tour! We will join the monks for a blissful lunch.
Post lunch and a bit of relaxation, we will start our trek back to Purne. Overnight in Purne. And, as if the night sky wasn’t magical so far, tonight, we look up to see what’s probably the darkest sky view possible in India, without doing some serious trekking.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlights of the day: Phuktal monastery and the wooden bridges on the trek

Bridge crossing near the monastery
Lunch with the monks

Day 9: 6th August 
Back to Padum
This morning, we will spend some time by the river bank in Purne and in the village. After which, we walk back to the end of the road and leave this hidden valley as we make our way back to Padum. 
En route, we stop to visit the miraculously-built-on-a-cliff Bardan monastery. We check into our hotel in Padum. It’s going to be our last night in Zanskar.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlight of the day: Lungnak riverside, Bardan monastery

Day 10: 7th August
Padum-Rangdum-Suru
The time has come for us to now bid farewell to the Zanskar valley. We leave from Padum and make our way back towards the Suru valley. This time we aren’t just driving past the valley. We will visit the villages of Panikhar and Parkachik, and observe how the architecture changes as we slowly make our way back to dense (relatively!) civilisation. 
We now reach a special village, Kartse Khar. This village houses the highest statue of the Buddha in the world (after the Bamiyan statues were destroyed by the Taliban). Our halt for the night is close to Kartse Khar, in the village of Sankoo. We check into a guest house at Sankoo, another tiny village surrounded by some stunning mountains. Sankoo is the first village of the Suru valley, when travelling from Kargil. 
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlights of the day: Villages in Suru valley, Buddha statue at Kartse Khar

Day 11: 8th August
Sankoo-Leh
250 km
Today, we leave early from Sankoo and make our final dash, this time westward, towards Leh. Post Kargil, we cross high altitude mountain passes of Namika la, and then glide through what are probably the best roads in Ladakh – over Fotu la. Right after Fotu la is Lamayuru, famous for its moonlike landscapes. We make a quick halt to visit the Lamayuru monastery and the Moonland. Later in the afternoon, we jolt back to modern life as we reach Leh! We will pay a visit to Shanti Stupa, and prepare ourselves for our entry back into the modern world, as we stroll around the markets of Leh. Overnight in Leh.
Meals: Morning tea/coffee, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Highlights of the day: Fotu la, Moonland at Lamayuru, Shanti Stupa

Day 12: 9th August
Fly out of Leh
All good things must come to an end. So must this tour of Zanskar! We say our goodbyes as we part ways in Leh.

FAQs

Typical homes in Zanskar valley
  1. How do I know if I am fit enough to be a part of this tour?
    This tour is moderately adventurous and we will travel as comfortably as we possibly can – in such high altitude mountainous regions. So you will need a certain level of fitness for this tour. We recommend you have the stamina to walk at least 5 km everyday, and climb up 5-7 storeys of a building, without losing your breath. The good thing is, even if you do not have this level of fitness now, there’s still enough time to work on achieving it.
  2. Can you tell us more about the trek?
    The trek to Phuktal used to be a 5-7 day trek till just a few years back. The road now goes all the way to Purne. Which means that a visit the Phuktal monastery is a matter of trekking for just a few hours. Walking at a leisurely pace for around 3 hours will take us to the Phuktal monastery. It’s a good mix of walking up and down, as well as some flat stretches. A couple of bridge crossings are involved. All of it is at an altitude of around 3500 meters. Even a 10-step uphill climb can tire you out at these altitudes. The good thing is we have plenty of time and do this trek at a slow and steady pace. Regular trekkers could grade this as easy. For novices, it’s a moderate endurance level trek.
    A walking pole is a good to have accessory for this trek.
  3. What will the accommodation be like  for the tour?
    Accommodation for this tour is a mix of hotels, guest houses, homestays and camping. Srinagar and Leh are tourist hubs, and you can expect all the familiar comforts here. The levels of comfort will vary as we move to the more remote locations. Homestays provide mattresses and enough blankets to keep you warm.
  4. I am not finicky about food. But can you give us an idea about what we can expect for meals?
    Food will be healthy, organic, freshly cooked food. The vegetables depend largely on what’s available in the local market in Padum. In villages away from Padum, it’s usually what the families grow in their small vegetable patches. Expect rotis, rice and some greens. Thukpa (a soup with lots of vegetables, meat and noodles) is a delicious local food option. Sattu, a healthy coarse powder of roasted barley is also something that the locals have. We will have all of this for our meals. It’s tasty and healthy food.
  5. What are the toilet facilities?
    Hotels and guest houses are equipped with western toilet facilities. While camping and in homestays, we will use dry compost toilets. Zanskar is a high altitude cold desert, which means flowing water isn’t available except for the summer months. Which is why dry compost toilets are the norm here. They are hygienic to use and offer a truly eco-friendly experience.
  6. Will I get mobile network in Zanskar? What about data?
    BSNL phones work in Zanskar at the moment. Things could improve by next summer. We will keep you posted about this. This is a remarkable improvement than just a few years back, when a satellite phone was the only means for people to get in touch with the outside world. So, keeping in touch with your families back home is possible. But do not expect data.
  7. Will I need cash? What about ATMs?
    You will need cash only for personal shopping. There are ATMs  in Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. We recommend carrying cash instead of relying on ATMs. Also, debit and credit cards are not accepted.
  8. What’s the weather like?
    August is the peak summer month here. However, nights could and do get chilly. Thermals will not be needed. But a sweater and jacket, a woolen cap, and muffler for when it gets windy and a raincoat (poncho is even better) should be carried.
  9. Is Zanskar safe?
    As safe as it gets!
  10. What can I shop for?
    Handmade woolens, apricots (the best in the world), sea buckthorn juice, apricot products. Chang and Arhak is the local brew in Zanskar, and if you take a fancy to it, you can bring a bottle home.
Lunch at a homestay

Further reading

To read about our first hand experience in the Zanskar valley, these are a few links:

Dos and don’ts?

  • DO get as much of a local experience as we can. 
  • People here are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. DO respect them,  their culture, their way of life. 
  • If you want to take photos of the people, or their houses, DO first have a conversation with them, form a connection. They will probably themselves ask you to take a photo!
  • DO NOT do anything that damages the delicate ecosystem here. Behave responsibly, not just towards the people, but also the environment and nature on which their lives entirely depends.
  • DO make minimum use of plastic packed food and water. Bottled water will not be provided. If you don’t want to drink the local water (it is actually absolutely safe!), DO carry a filtering bottle, or water purification pills. We can guide you on where to buy them.
  • DO NOT offer chocolates, chips, or worse, money to the local kids, even if they ask you for it.

How much does the tour cost?

  • Only ₹48999 per person from Srinagar to Leh and everything in between.
  • Travel costs to Srinagar and to get out of Leh are not included
  • Any cost of a personal nature, including medical help are not included.

Get in touch

You can call or WhatsApp us me on +919833580574.

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