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Zanskar Valley – The Hidden Gem of Ladakh

Zanskar Valley is a breathtaking place up high in the northern part of Ladakh, which is a part of Kargil District. It has some of the most amazing views you’ll ever see. Covering over 5000 square kilometers, it has its own mountain range called the Zanskar Range, which is separate from the Himalayas.

Zanskar Valley is a special place in Ladakh with amazing views and fun things to do. You can see beautiful rivers, lakes, mountains, and fields. There are also very old Buddhist monasteries like Sani, Lingshed, Stongdey, Phuktal, and Alchi. If you like adventure, you can go rafting on the Zanskar River or try walking on the frozen river during winter, which is called the Chadar Trek. There are also other nice trails to walk like Padum-Darcha, Lugnak, and Zanskar-Sham Valley. Zanskar is a really pretty spot in Ladakh where you can have a lot of fun!

Zanskar Valley bike trip

Weather in Zanskar Valley

Zanskar has two main seasons: summer, from June to September, and winter, from October to May.

During the summer, temperatures range from -2°C to 30°C, which is perfect for exploring the valley. Streams flow, and the valley becomes lush and green because the snow from the surrounding mountains melts.

In winter, things get very cold, with temperatures dropping below -15°C. The entire valley freezes, creating opportunities for winter adventures like the famous Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar River.

Best time to Visit Zanskar

The best time to go to Zanskar is from June to September. June and July are peak tourist months, with roads fully open and hotels operational During this time, the weather is nice for tourism. The temperatures are usually between 15°C and 20°C, which is perfect for exploring the valley. Keep in mind, Zanskar  is quite isolated and offers basic facilities. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared for unpredictable weather changes. Make sure to pack clothing suitable for various conditions. Also, if you go in May or October, it can still be nice. Roads are blocked by heavy snow from mid-October to mid-April, cutting off Zanskar from Kargil. These months are quieter and more peaceful. Just know that it might be colder and some areas might not be easy to reach.

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How to reach Zanskar Valley

Travelers have various options to reach Zanskar.

By Air: The closest airport is Kushok Bakula Airport in Leh. From there, they can hire a cab to Kargil and then another to Padum. It’s advisable to rest in Leh or Kargil before heading to Zanskar.

By Train: Zanskar Valley isn’t directly accessible by train. Travelers can reach Jammu Tawi railway station and then hire a taxi to Kargil, followed by another to Zanskar.

By Road: From Manali, travelers can take the Manali – Jispa – Leh – Kargil – Zanskar route. Resting in Kargil before continuing the journey is suggested. Alternatively, from Srinagar, travelers can travel via Kargil, passing through scenic locations. Public transport or hiring a cab from Kargil is an option to reach Zanskar.

How to travel around Zanskar Valley

Getting around in Zanskar Valley can be tough because the roads are mostly challenging. They’re narrow dirt tracks filled with rocks and pebbles, and there are tall bridges and fast river crossings. If you’re planning to travel there, it’s best to rent an SUV with good ground clearance, like a Xylo. This will make your journey more comfortable. Alternatively, you can also use shared cabs to get around within Zanskar. Since there aren’t many mechanics or petrol pumps around, it’s a good idea to carry extra fuel, basic spare parts, and tools with you.

zanskar valley

Accommodation option in Zanskar

When it comes to staying in Zanskar Valley, there are choices for everyone’s tastes. Whether you’re a budget traveler looking for simple lodging or someone who wants unique experiences like staying in a monastery or camping in the beautiful scenery, there’s something for you.

Hotels are scarce in Zanskar, but Padum, the main village, has a three-star hotel. However, even campsites are limited, so it’s smart to bring your own camping gear. You can find good spots along the way to set up your tent.

Another option is to rent a room at one of the monasteries, like Karsha Monastery or Phuktal Monastery. This lets you experience the monk lifestyle and immerse yourself in the local culture.

For those on a budget, government-run tourist bungalows offer affordable accommodation options in Zanskar.

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Places to Visit in Zanskar Valley

Phugtal Monastery –

Phugtal Monastery, also called Phuktal Gompa, is a Buddhist monastery located in a remote valley in Zanskar, India. It’s been around for about 2,550 years and is built around a natural cave on a cliff. From far away, it looks like a huge honeycomb. The monastery is really important spiritually, serving as a place for monks to meditate, learn, and teach. About 70 monks live there. Inside, you’ll find a main temple, prayer rooms, a library with rare books, living spaces, classrooms, and a kitchen. Phugtal Monastery is famous for its peacefulness and history, drawing visitors who want to see ancient Buddhist customs and the beautiful Zanskar.

Phugtal Monastery Zanskar Valley

Drang – Drung Glacier

The Drang-Drung Glacier, also called Durung Drung Glacier, is a big glacier in Ladakh, India. It’s near the Pensi La pass on the Kargil-Zanskar Road in the Kargil district. This glacier is thought to be the second largest in Ladakh after the Siachen Glacier. It’s about 23 kilometers long and sits at an average height of 4,780 meters.

Located in the Zanskar Range, 142 kilometers south of Kargil and 331 kilometers east of Srinagar, it’s the source of the Stod River, which flows into the Zanskar River, then into the Indus River.

The Drang-Drung Glacier is a beautiful sight, with Doda Peak rising from it at 6,550 meters. You can reach it from Srinagar or Srinagar Airport. It’s a popular place to visit from July to August when the roads are open and the weather is nice.

Drang – Drung Glacier Zanskar Valley

Panikhar –

Panikhar, considered one of the most stunning places in the Trans-Himalayan region, is a must-visit spot as you enter the Zanskar Region. Found in the Suru Valley, it serves as the gateway to Zanskar. People come here to discover the area’s Buddhist history and enjoy its natural beauty.

Panikhar zanskar valley

Stongdey Monastery –

Stongdey Monastery, alternatively known as Stongde, holds prominence as a significant Buddhist monastery nestled in Zanskar, Ladakh, northern India. Positioned approximately 18 kilometers northeast of Padum, along the road to Zangla, it occupies a strategic location. Notably, it ranks as the second largest monastic institution in Zanskar, providing a residence for approximately 60 Gelukpa monks. With its imposing presence and spiritual ambiance, Stongdey Monastery stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Stongdey Monastery zanskar valley

Karsha Monastery –

Karsha Monastery, also known as Karsha Gompa, stands as a significant Buddhist monastery in Zanskar, Ladakh, India. Founded by Phagspa Shesrab, it is affiliated with the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Positioned 11 kilometers north of Padum, it holds the distinction of being the largest monastery in Zanskar, accommodating approximately 100 monks. Renowned for its exquisite shrines adorned with paintings by Lama Dzadpa Dorje, the monastery attracts visitors for its architectural grandeur and spiritual significance. Moreover, it annually hosts the Gustor festival, celebrated for its vibrant masked cham dances. With its combination of stunning architecture, religious importance, and lively festivals, Karsha Monastery remains a perennial favorite among travelers.

Karsha Monastery zanskar valley

Zangla –

Zangla, situated in the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh, India, lies approximately 18 kilometers northeast of Padum, the primary town in the region. The village boasts the renowned Zangla Gonkhang, an ancient Buddhist monastery adhering to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Adorned with breathtaking wall paintings, it stands as a premier destination for visitors keen on exploring Zanskar’s rich cultural legacy. Zangla also captivates with its picturesque landscapes, framed by the meandering Zanskar River coursing through the valley. Accessible by road from Padum, the village offers basic accommodation facilities catering to travelers’ needs.

Zangla zanskar valley

Activities to do in Zanskar Valley

River Rafting: Have an exciting time river rafting in the Zanskar River, known for its challenging rapids and stunning landscapes. Rafting in Zanskar gives you an adrenaline rush amidst the beautiful Himalayan scenery.

Trekking: Go on adventurous treks like the Chadar Trek and Zanskar River Trek, offering unique experiences in both winter and summer. These treks lead you through breathtaking landscapes, frozen rivers, and remote mountain terrain.

Exploring Monasteries: Explore the spirituality and cultural richness of Zanskar by visiting ancient monasteries such as Stongdey, Sani, Karsha, and Phugtal. These monasteries offer a peaceful atmosphere and a peek into the region’s Buddhist heritage.

Attending Festivals: Immerse yourself in the vibrant local culture by attending festivals like the Karsha Gustor festival and other monastery celebrations. These festivals feature traditional dances, rituals, and cultural performances, giving you a deeper understanding of the local traditions.

Homestay Experience: Experience the warm hospitality of the locals by staying in a homestay in Zanskar Valley. Live with local families, enjoy traditional meals, and discover the unique Tibetan culture and lifestyle of the area.

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Local delicacies to try in Zanskar Valley

If you’re planning a trip to Zanskar, it’s best to bring along all your essential food items and cooking gear. Zanskar is a remote village, so finding food can sometimes be difficult. However, you can expect to find homemade meals at a few places.

Here are some local dishes you might encounter during your visit:

Momos: These tasty dumplings, filled with meat or vegetables, are a popular snack in Ladakh. Look for variations like steamed or fried momos.

Thukpa: A hearty noodle soup with vegetables and meat, perfect for the cool mountain climate.

Skyu: A traditional dish made with dough balls, vegetables, and meat, cooked in a flavorful broth.

Chhurpe (Dried Yak Cheese): Experience the unique taste of this nutritious snack, enjoyed on its own or in various dishes.

Butter Tea: A savory drink made with yak butter, salt, and tea leaves, a staple in Ladakh.

Khura: A deep-fried snack made from flour, sugar, and milk, perfect with a cup of hot tea.

Teemo (Tigmo): Steamed bread served with vegetable stew, offering a unique Ladakhi dining experience.

Paba Thanthur: A traditional dish made from wheat, barley, and Ladakhi black peas, served with buttermilk and a flavorful tadka.

Mobile connectivity in Zanskar

In Zanskar Valley, mobile connectivity is limited, mainly provided by BSNL and Airtel. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Only postpaid connections work in Jammu and Kashmir, including Zanskar.
  • BSNL has wider coverage in Ladakh, but voice and connectivity can be patchy.
  • Both BSNL and Airtel offer good connectivity in Kargil, but it deteriorates towards Padum.
  • In Suru Valley, networks are sporadic, with BSNL working in Padum but with fluctuating signals.
  • Data speeds are slow, even slower than 3G, especially in places like Padum.
  • Airtel recently launched 5G Plus service in Zanskar Valley, covering multiple villages and improving connectivity, especially for tourists.

Availability of ATM in Zanskar Valley

In Zanskar Valley, ATMs are scarce, so it’s best to withdraw cash in Leh before your trip. There are no ATMs in Padum or anywhere else in Zanskar. Plan ahead and carry enough cash for your journey, as card payments may not be accepted everywhere.

Is it advisable to travel with kids & elder person in Zanskar Valley

Zanskar Valley is generally safe for tourists, but it’s not advisable for families with young children or elderly members. The high altitudes, ranging from 13,000 to 18,000 ft, pose challenges due to low oxygen levels. Medical facilities are scarce, and the roads are in poor condition, making travel difficult. Acclimatization is crucial to avoid altitude sickness, but it can be tough with kids and elderly individuals. Despite friendly locals, Zanskar’s remote location may not be suitable for family vacations with children and elderly members.

Is it safe to visit Zanskar Valley

Yes, it’s safe to visit Zanskar Valley for tourists. However, it’s important to be prepared for its remote and rugged terrain. With its high altitudes and limited infrastructure, planning your trip carefully is crucial. Additionally, ensuring you have adequate supplies and taking necessary precautions, such as being aware of altitude sickness and road conditions, is essential. Overall, visiting Zanskar can be a rewarding and memorable experience with proper planning and awareness.

Bike Trip to Zanskar Valley

Embarking on a bike trip to Zanskar Valley can be thrilling, but it’s crucial to prepare well. First, ensure your bike is in top condition. Plan your route carefully, considering road conditions and amenities. Pack essentials like food, water, and warm clothing. Be mindful of high altitudes and extreme weather. Respect local customs and prioritize safety by wearing appropriate gear and following traffic rules. With proper preparation, a bike trip to Zanskar Valley promises unforgettable adventures amidst stunning landscapes.

zanskar valley bike tripBike trip at zanskar valleyZanskar Valley Bike Trip

Safety precautions to keep in mind while visiting Zanskar Valley

Here are some crucial safety tips to remember for your journey to Zanskar Valley:

Acclimatization: Take at least a day’s rest in Leh before heading to Zanskar to adjust to the high altitude. Avoid alcohol and tobacco initially and carry medications for altitude sickness.

Road Conditions: Zanskar’s roads present challenges with rocky terrain and stream crossings. Opt for an SUV with good ground clearance and stay informed about weather and road conditions.

Clothing and Gear: Pack warm layers, gloves, waterproof gear, sunscreen, and sturdy shoes. Bring along a hat or cap for sun protection.

Medical Facilities: Remember that medical facilities are limited, with the only hospital situated in Padum. Pack a first-aid kit and any necessary medications.

Communication: Note that BSNL and Airtel offer limited connectivity in Zanskar. Consider bringing a satellite phone for emergencies.

Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance covering adventure activities and medical emergencies.

By adhering to these safety guidelines and adequately preparing, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip to the captivating Zanskar Valley.

Team IYC

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