Zanskar is the little sister of Ladakh. At the lower tip of Kargil district lies the 7,000 sq km small enclave. With an average altitude of 4,000 metres, Zanskar is one of the highest inhabited regions on earth. Only about 10,000 people live in this small area. Most of them follow the religion of Tibetan Buddhism. And they live in extreme isolation: for seven months of the year, the gravel road to the former kingdom in the Indian Himalayas, which was only built in 1980, is covered in snow and ice. During this time, Zanskar is cut off from the environment. Due to its unique location, the indigenous culture in this small country south of the main Himalayan ridge is unusually well preserved. Over the centuries, the Zanskari have preserved their tradition and time-honoured communal values. One might think that time has stood still in this remote part of the world. But if you look closer, it flows like in any other place. Since 2021, there have been new roads across the Shingo-la and Singge-la, making Zanskar much easier to reach – only in winter they remain closed off.
Travelling to Zanskar involves some effort, but you are rewarded with a tour of an area that not many travellers get to. Warm-hearted Zanskaris cheerfully welcome you and make your trip a very special experience.
Below we briefly present some topics that may be of interest for a stay in Zanskar. We will be happy to provide you with further information – I spent an intense time with the Kamerakidz in Zanskar.
Up to now, there has only been one spur road to Zanskar – the 285 km route from Kargil to Padum. It is not in good condition and takes at least 10 hours. But you are compensated with an extremely varied drive through fascinating, impressive scenery. You could break the tour in the middle in Rangdum, a beautiful high valley with a uniquely placed monastery and a nice camp. Meanwhile, there are also roads via Wanla-Lingshed-Zangla-Padum (about 9 hrs from Leh) and the Shingo-la towards Keylong. This has made Zanskar very attractive for round trips!
There is not much choice in Zanskar. There are few buses, a strong taxi union keeps taxi prices quite high, there is little road (at least to all monasteries except Phuktal) – many Zanskaris thus cover long distances on foot. We think that at least walks or hikes should be integrated into a Zanskar tour – if not a trekking tour. This is the only way to get a good sense of the vastness and size of the landscape.
The accommodation situation in Zanskar is limited, especially in the better segment. There are few hotels in Padum and the surrounding area, which are at most in the 2**-star range. Few guesthouses are scattered in the Padum valley – the best option is to stay privately, i.e. in a homestay. Especially those in Karsha are run by very nice families – a good alternative to Padum. However, since 2022 there are new road accesses to Zanskar and thus more tourism and therefore more investment in new accommodation. We will then see what we can offer you concretely.
The Zanskaris follow Tibetan Buddhism (with a small Muslim minority in Padum) and recognise the Dalai Lama as spiritual-religious leader. There are 10 larger monastic monasteries and 6 smaller nunneries, as well as various supervised temple buildings, which can be found in all villages. Phuktal can only be reached on foot so far. All monasteries are open and worth a visit. In Sani, Karsha and Stongde, the monastery festivals popular with all locals take place in summer. Another important date in the Buddhist calendar is Buddha Purnima (birth, nirvana and death of Buddha), where the holy books from the Pothang are carried over Pibiting and Padum. The date is usually in May or June.
Zanskar is a trekkingparadise. Although the possibilities have been restricted by road building
Stongde-Ichar / 4 days
Stongde-Phuktal-Purne / 5-6 days
Rinam-Rangdum / 8 days
Zangla-Purne / 9 days
Tangtse-Sarchu / 4 days
Tangtse-Brandy Nalla / 7 days
Ating-Kishtwar / 7 days
Zangla-Juktak / 9 days
Kanji-Rangdum / 3 days
Zangla-Hemis / 9 days
Gletschertrek: Bardan-Miyar Valley / 7 days
Please contact us for organising these or other trekking ideas.
A school visit is always an interesting heart-warming experience. It is exciting to see the rudimentary conditions with which the pupils cope and learn eagerly and with concentration. There are government schools all over Zanskar – but some lack teachers and good education. For years, public schools sponsored by the West were the only conceivable alternative to the poor situation of the government schools. Those who want to continue their education after grade 12 have to leave Zanskar. In any case, as an interested visitor, you are very welcome to drop by a school! And most favourable we like to show you Secpad-School in Youlsum (nearby Karsha), where the Kamerakidz-Project was taking place.
The Zanskaris love to celebrate! Apart from the monastery festivals already mentioned, to which everyone flocks who is able to, the highlight of the year is the New Year festival Losar, which lasts several days. On 15.8, Indian Independence Day is celebrated in Padum with performances by various schools. Weddings are often celebrated in July, when agriculture doesn’t need quite so much labour, and archery competitions in the villages with merry drinking are another good way to celebrate. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to drop in on a celebration and be invited to join in. That’s when a not-too-tight flexible tour schedule comes in handy.
There are 45 villages in Zanskar, with some consisting of only 5 or fewer houses. Some villages are on existing roads, but few are accessible only by foot. All Zanskaris engage in agriculture and livestock farming and need to hoard food and fuel for the long harsh winter. Life is strictly regulated according to the seasons. Share the village life for a few days! See how the soil is ploughed, the grains sown, the fields irrigated. And when it comes to harvesting, there are many activities to watch such as reaping, threshing, separating, roasting, milling, storing. Much of the work is still done as it has been for centuries, but in some areas modern machinery is used. The driving down of the mountain pastures in autumn, when all the yak herds are driven back to the stables, is an event worth seeing.
Winter in Zanskar is a great adventure – only for the hardy…. So far, the only ways to get to Zanskar during the road closure on the Penzi-la are either an expensive helicopter flight or, in January and February, the trek across the frozen Zanskar River. The Zanskaris are among themselves, have lots of time for each other, for spontaneous celebrations, volleyball matches, the children whizz down the slopes on homemade skis and sledges, sled across frozen ice patches and the women knit, spin, comb wool etc. A good insight into the daily life of the winter in Zanskar gives the book Kamerakidz: Winter in Zanskar. We are eagerly awaiting the completion of the road along the Zanskar River – then Zanskar will be accessible by car from Ladakh all year round!