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Across Ladakh and the Zanskar Range 3

Across Ladakh and the Zanskar Range

Overview

Ladakh is an unmissable corner of the Indian Himalaya. Its stark, dramatic landscapes and ancient Tibetan culture are guaranteed to leave an indelible impression on all who have the fortune to visit. With its combination of breathtaking panoramas, ancient settlements and deep spirituality, the former kingdom offers superb trekking and cultural experiences.

Ladakh is a region administered by India as a union territory since 2019, constituting a part of the larger region of Kashmir. It extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range to the north to the main Great Himalayas to the south.  Snowcapped peaks, high mountain passes and striking landscapes dotted with prayer flags and Buddhist monasteries await you in this remote and majestic Himalayan region.

Explore the fascinating high altitude city of Leh, a cultural crossroads of Buddhist stupas, hilltop forts and bustling market bazaars. In the old days, seven caravan routes converged at Leh. Follow these ancient routes on an unforgettable trek across the Zanskar Range. Take in Pangong Tso Lake, located right on the border with Tibet (China), the largest high-altitude salt lake on earth (4400 m); the Nubra and Indus valleys with their ancient monasteries and friendly people.

This is a privately guided trek – you will be accompanied by a qualified bilingual guide and your luggage transferred by porters. Spend the overnights in charming, clean guesthouses and in tent camps in the high mountain.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Leh

Fly from Delhi into Leh (you can book a return ticket through us and you can optionally book extra nights in Delhi before or after the holiday).

Although it takes only one hour, on a clear day the flight to Leh is by no doubt one of the most spectacular flights in Asia. After leaving the North-Indian plains you’ll cross a number of ranges, including the glacier-clad Pir Panjal Range, before flying over the actual Himalayan Range. Leh is situated at 3500 m above sea level. After stepping down from the aircraft you may feel the altitude, but even if you don’t, it is wise to take the rest of the day off. Stay at the hotel or at best walk around the Leh bazaar. Only if you wake up next morning without a headache you may consider yourself fit to go on not too strenuous excursions in the area.

Days 2 & 3: Leh

The next two days are for acclimatisation and Leh has a lot to offer.

Leh is a bustling little town. It’s small size and laid-back atmosphere belie a very prominent and historically important position. Before the closing of the border between India and China-held Tibet, Leh saw daily caravans going to and coming from Yarkand and Kashgar, Kashmir, Kullu, Baltistan and Lhasa. It was a hub where seven different important caravan routes converged. Yaks, donkeys and camels were parked outside the city waiting for new cargo and in the main bazaar, a multitude of languages could be heard, such as Turkmeni, Balti, Tibetan, Kashmiri and Chinese.

While in Leh, there are numerous things to do. Apart from short walks in and around town, you can browse the little streets and allow yourself to be lured into some of the many little shops, most of them run by Kashmiris and Tibetans, that sell beautiful Tibetan artefacts, carpets and jewellery. Leh abounds in restaurants that cater to all tastes, quite a number of them located on a rooftop or in a pleasant garden.

If you are interested in the work of the many NGO’s that try to make things better, the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh are highly recommended. Both have won international acclaim for the promotion of sustainable development.

On Day 3, we advise taking a short tour in and around Leh. This could include a visit to Shanti Stupa, a large Chorten overseeing Leh and the Indus Valley built by a Japanese monk; visiting small but quaint Sankar Gompa set amidst a maze of small allies with traditional houses; and a walk up to Tsemo Gompa and the old palace, where you get even better views of Leh. Also, it is highly recommended to take a taxi and visit some of the delightful Buddhist monasteries in the Indus Valley to the southeast of Leh. Apart from the traditional trio of Shey, Thikse & Hemis, you may also consider visiting Matho and Stakna, maybe in combination with Stok Palace.

Day 4: Leh – Shyok

After breakfast, an almost 5-hour drive will take you to Shyok River Lodge. En route, you’ll cross the 5360 m high Chang La pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the world. This is the old caravan road to Tibet.

During the climb to the Chang La you get magnificent views of the oasis of Sakti-Takthok and the Zanskar Range on the other side of the Indus Valley. Here, you’ll also find two of Ladakh’s lesser-known gompas that are definitely worth a visit. The first one is Chemre Gompa, perched on a hill in front of impressive mountains. Takthok (meaning rock roof) started as a cave used for meditation by hermits, including the famous apostle of Buddhism, Padmasambhava (or Guru Rimpoche) who is credited with the foundation of many gompas all over the Himalayas.

Shortly after the oases of Durbuk and Tangtse come into view your driver will veer off the road and enter a seldom-travelled canyon that gives access to Shyok on the wide and wild Shyok River. The village of Shyok, though accessible by road, sees little traffic movement. Here, amidst the waving, green barley fields and looking out on the easternmost part of the Karakoram Range, Shyok River Lodge will be your comfortable abode for the next three days.

Shyok River Lodge is a community-based accommodation. The lodge is part of a traditional Ladakhi house and can not be distinguished from the neighbours on the outside. The family lives downstairs under the same conditions as most Ladakhis. Your own residence, however, is on the first floor, clean, with luxury mattresses and a private bathroom.

  • Car transfer: 125 km, 4-5 hours
  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 5: Shyok

After an extensive breakfast (and sleep as much as you like!) one of our local guides will take you through the fields and to the small village gompa. On the way, the guide will tell you about the Ladakhi way of living. They grow barley and vegetables, which is a particular challenge in this desert-like environment. This is only possible thanks to sophisticated irrigation systems and social organisation.

The gompa houses the Buddha Maitreya (Buddha of the future), Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) and many bodhisattvas. When you arrive at the gompa, the monks, if present, will be happy to provide you with tea and tell you about their way of life. The monks are not always there, but the monastery can always be visited.

  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 6: Excursion to Pangong Tso Lake

If you thought Tsokar was a huge lake, you’ll be surprised today. Pangong Tso, located right on the border with Tibet (China) is the largest high-altitude salt lake on earth (4400 m). It is not only a spectacular lake, but the route to it is beautiful, in itself more than enough reason for the trip. It is only a 2-hour drive from the lodge and there is plenty of time to stop along the way for photos and the like. You can enjoy a picnic at this beautiful lake. If you are tired of all the travelling you are most welcome to take it easy today, with a book in the garden, and skip the excursion.

  • Car transfer: 2+2 hours
  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 7: Shyok – Nubra Valley (Sumur)

After breakfast, you’ll embark on a thrilling 125 km jeep drive following the untamed Shyok, stream-upwards. Thanks to a new rough road, which has been opened up a few years ago, there is no need to travel all the way back to Leh in order to reach Nubra from Shyok. Instead, we follow the wide valley of the Shyok, passing small hamlets of Ladakhi farms, crossing small rivers and sand dunes that are reminiscent of the Taklamakan Desert that lies on the other side of the Karakoram. We’ll make a short stop for a picnic lunch.

Note: There is a chance that part of the road gets blocked due to flooding by the Shyok River. In that case, the journey becomes longer (8 hours drive). First, you’ll cross back over Chang La and immediately after descending you climb back in the northeastern direction towards the Wuri La (5250 m) before descending to the Shyok River.

  • Car transfer: 4-5 hours, 125 km
  • Accommodation: Lharimo North (cottage with attached private bathroom). Dinner and breakfast included.

Day 8: Exploring the Nubra Valley

Due to the lower altitude (approx. 3000 m) Nubra enjoys a relatively mild climate as compared with Ladakh proper (the Indus Valley). As a result, the growing season is longer than in Leh and Shyok and most villages are surrounded by lush green groves of willows, apricot trees, almond and even chestnut trees.

There are many things to see in Nubra. Among the most noteworthy gompas are Samsthanling Gompa in Sumur (not far form your lodge) and Deskit Gompa in the small town of Deskit, the ‘capital’ of Nubra.

Inside Sumur village there is an ‘Old House’, an erstwhile family house of a well-to-do family that has been well preserved and is now open to the public for seeing the old Ladakhi way of life.

Near Hundar, west of Deskit, you can do a camel ride through the sand dunes (optional, book and pay on-site). The camels are Bactrians, two-humped camels that directly descend from animals that worked the caravan trails to Yarkand and Kashgar till 1962 when the border was closed. Though right on the banks of the river, the landscape is a true desert here and riding the camels you may easily forget that you’re actually in between the Himalayas and the Karakoram! After that, you can visit two Deskit Gompa and the little ‘main street’ of Deskit with its many mani walls and stupas.

Alternatively, you can follow a small mountain trail that climbs high above the Nubra river to a remote little gompa. This is a walk of about 5 hours.

  • Walking for the day: 5 hours (optional)
  • Accommodation: Lharimo North (cottage with attached private bathroom). Dinner and breakfast included.

Day 9: Nubra (Sumur) – Leh

After breakfast, your car will take you to Leh, crossing the famous Khardong La (5450 m). This pass is supposed to be the highest motorable road in the world. The drive is spectacular, and especially the dramatic views over the oasis of Leh while descending from the pass won’t be forgotten easily.

Day 10: Leh – Shang; Trekking Shang (3950m) – Shang Phu (4250m)

The drive through the Indus Valley to the start of the trek takes about 1.5 hours. There, the horsemen will be waiting with their animals. Arranging the luggage in such a manner that every horse gets a similar and evenly balanced load (2 parts on each side of the body) is a bit of a puzzle for the horsemen, that can take some time. It is also quite interesting to watch.

Today’s walk is not long but it goes up gradually so be sure to find the right pace at which you don’t exert yourself too much. You’ll walk through green fields of barley along the Shang River. Our camp will be set up near Shang Phu which is the summer grazing area for the yak, sheep and goats of the villagers of Shang. The scenery around is superb with the magnificent Ladakh Range in the backdrop.

  • Walking for the day: 3 hours
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 11: Trekking Shang Phu – Shang La (4925m) – Matho Phu (4200m)

The trek you are doing does not see many trekkers as it is hardly promoted by other travel agents because very few horsemen know the trail. Even though you are, as the crow flies, not very far from the main road that runs through the Indus Valley, today’s walk will give you the feeling of a truly remote mountain trail.

Today’s first part consists of a gradual, later steeper climb of 3-4 hours. The last part zig-zags up to the pass. The view from the top is impressive with the mountain wall of Matho Kangri (5900m) just behind and above the pass. The path then descends gradually to Matho Phu, also known as the 2nd camp of Gangpoche.

  • Walking for the day: 5-6 hours
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 12: Trekking Matho Phu (4200m) – Base of Matho La (4350m)

Today the trail travels across the Gangpoche meadows until it reaches the base of Matho La. Again you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the Indus Valley and the Ladakh Range behind it.

  • Walking for the day: 5-6 hours
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 13: Trekking Base of Matho La (4350m) –  Matho La (4930m) – Mankarmo (4480m)

Today we climb the gentle slopes to the top of Matho La (4930m). The trail steadily ascends to a series of grassy slopes. Yak herders from the nearby villages live in stone settlements at the foot of the pass and the view from the pass is absolutely amazing, with the Stok Kangri, the highest mountain of the Zanskar Range (6151m) right behind you. From the pass, it is about an hour descending to the campsite at Mankarmo.

  • Walking for the day: 4.5-5.5 hours
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 14: Trekking Mankarmo (4480m) – Stok La (4800m) – Rumbak (4100m)

Another pass awaits you today. It will take you at least three hours to scale the Stok La (4800m). After that, there is an easy descent into the high valley of Rumbak. Rumbak and Markha fall within the Semis High Altitude National Park declared thus in 1981 for conservation and protection of its unique flora and fauna. There are many rare and endangered animal species and flora found in this part of the cold desert, amongst these are the elusive Snow Leopard, Ibex, Tibetan Antelope, Blue Sheep, Shapo, Marmot, Tibetan Hare and a number of birds including the Snow Patridge, Golden Oriole, Snow Cock, Golden Eagle, Horned Lark, Red Billed Chuff etc.

In Rumbak you will say goodbye to your tents and stay in a homestay (if you choose; you can also opt to continue wild camping till the end of the trek). This will give you an opportunity to see the life of the Ladakhis up-close. If you opt to homestay (highly recommended!) your pack horses and kitchen staff will leave you here. In the following days, you’ll stay in homestays where your food will be prepared as well.

  • Walking for the day: 4.5-5.5 hours
  • Accommodation: Homestay. Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 15: Exploring the Rumbak Valley

Today you can explore the valley of Rumbak. You can walk explore to the little villages of Zinchen and  Yurutse (a few hours walk) or take it easy and stay in Rumbak itself.

  • Walking for the day: 3-4 hours (optional)
  • Accommodation: Homestay. Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 16: Trekking Rumbak (4100m) – Ganda La (4900m) – Shingo (4200m)

Today you’ll cross the last of the passes on this trek, the 4900m high Ganda La. It is again a steady, moderately steep climb that can take up to 4 hours. On the top, views of the lofty Zanskar and Stok Ranges will leave you breathless. The usual Chorten and prayer flags mark the top of the pass, where you may see Ladakhi blue sheep, marmots and argali (the Asian big-horn sheep) roaming the hills. After a short rest, we will make a gradual hour-long descent to the two-house village of Shingo where you’ll spend the night in a homestay.

  • Walking for the day: 5-6 hours
  • Accommodation: Homestay. Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 17: Shingo – Chilling (3200m) & Drive to Leh

Descending from Shingo through a beautiful gorge you’ll reach the small hamlet of Skiu. From here, its is another 3 hours level walking to Chilling. Just before reaching Chilling, you’ll cross a bridge over the raging Zanskar River before you reach the road head. Here, the car wil be waiting that will take you back to Leh.

Day 16: Departure

Note that most flights from Ladakh depart in the early morning because of the high altitude. The thin air makes it especially difficult, and later in the day, it becomes even more difficult due to turbulence. You can optionally book flights and extra nights in Delhi through us. The flight takes about 1 hour but is spectacular. First, you’ll fly over the barren but colourful mountains of Ladakh and Zanskar, then the heavily glaciated Himalayan Range, the deeply forested mountains of Himachal Pradesh (Pir Panjal) and lastly the shimmering North Indian plains.

Hotels

Accommodation is in a boutique guesthouse in Leh, the charming Shyok River Lodge (both with private en-suite rooms), Lharimo North (cottage with attached private bathroom) and two-person tents and/or homestays in the high mountains. All places have been carefully hand-picked by us, and their quality is regularly monitored. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Meals

All meals while trekking in the mountains, as well as all breakfasts in Leh and all breakfasts and dinners in Nubra, are included. In Leh, there is a great choice of restaurants and inns.

Travel

Delhi is the most convenient international airport. Return flights can be booked independently or we can do this for you.

Baggage Transfers

Luggage transfers are included as per itinerary, and we will arrange them from your current hotel to your next hotel (or tent camp). Porters (sometimes horse porters) will transport your luggage in the mountains, so please limit your main luggage to 15 kg per person and put it in a soft duffel bag.

Country Info

India is an extraordinary country, and after visiting Ladakh you will surely come back with unique
travel experiences. Up-to-date travel advice on India is available here. Detailed travel information and hints will be provided in your holiday information pack.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance WorldNomads

We strongly recommend protecting the cost of your trip and other non-refundable travel expenses with travel insurance. Our Signature Travel Insurance allows you to insure all of your expenses. While a Signature Travel Insurance policy can be purchased at any time, purchasing a policy within 20 days of making your initial trip deposit gives you the widest range of policy options, including a Cancel for Any Reason coverage. For complete peace of mind, we also recommend enrolling with Global Rescue, the worldwide leader in field rescue, evacuation and security extraction services.

Read more and get a quote online

Trip Info

Difficulty Grade: Moderate to Strenuous

There are no long steep ascents, no scrambling involved and no exposed paths, but this holiday is graded moderate to strenuous due to some fairly long days (up to 6 hours of walking) at high altitude. You should be in a good physical condition and have experience of multi-day trekking before undertaking this trek. The effect of altitude should not be underestimated (read more about difficulty grades).

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a significant concern when trekking above 3500m and although our itinerary is designed to minimise the chances of you suffering from AMS by providing enough acclimatisation days before the actual trek and ensuring a gradual increase in altitude, each individual is affected differently by height. If you have any pre-existing health conditions that you think may make you more susceptible to AMS, we recommend that you consult your doctor before booking this trip.

Private Guides

Qualified guides make the difference between a regular trip and an unforgettable experience. Our English-speaking guides are qualified and trained. All have many years of experience of guiding trekkers in the area. They will bring a wealth of knowledge to your journey, opening your eyes to the legends, culture, food, flora and fauna of the region.

Route Navigation

We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. Your private guide is highly experienced, and you should always follow their advice.

When to Go

This trip is available between July and October. The flexibility of the privately guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your holiday on any date in the season. During the summer and early autumn, the days are generally dry and bright. Summer is the monsoon period for most of India, and therefore unsuitable for trekking. Ladakh is an exception – so it makes the perfect trekking destination for those limited to holidays during the summer. The winter in Ladakh is exceptionally cold, and so we don’t organise any of our tours for this time of year as mountain passes are closed and rivers freeze over.

What to Bring

While trekking you will only have to carry a day bag with water, snacks, spare clothes and your camera. Your main bag will be moved by a porter. We will provide a detailed equipment list as part of your pre-departure information pack. You will need normal walking and travelling gear as well as a sleeping bag and warm clothes.

Included

  • Qualified English-speaking guide and porters in the mountains and experienced local guide/driver during the transfers/in the lowlands
  • 15 overnight stays in private rooms, homestays and tents as listed in the itinerary (3-star hotels where available, best hotels/guesthouses in towns, optional homestay instead of tents on some days)
  • 15 breakfasts
  • 9 lunches
  • 11 dinners
  • All car transfers as listed in the itinerary
  • Inner Line Permits for visiting the areas bordering China/Tibet
  • Luggage transfers (by car and porters)
  • Pre-departure travel and tour documents
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative in Ladakh

Options and Extras

  • Single room supplement for group members (single tent use in the high mountains)
  • This holiday is NOT available for solo travellers
  • Optional extra nights in Leh or Delhi are bookable on request
  • Return flights Delhi-Leh

Excluded

  • International flights
  • Visa fees
  • Travel insurance
  • Sleeping bag for camping during the trek
  • Personal expenses such as drinks, snacks, phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Tips for the guides and porters
  • Any items not specifically mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme

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