Zanskar Valley - The Valley that Echoes Chants.
The magnificent rugged, remote valley lies in the interiors of the newly formed Union Territory of Ladakh. Zanskar Valley is a sub-district of Kargil with Padum being its administrative centre, it is one of the known Buddhist kingdoms of the western Himalayas within an elevation of 12000 feet.
A vast plain surrounded by immense rocky Himalayan peaks with snow-capped tips, for countless centuries a powerful river flows through the region. As you stroll down through the alley of an arid cold desert in deep gorges and glaciers, you will find yourself passing through various passes, a gorgeous turquoise lake with an enchanting landscape which is dotted by many timeless monasteries.
From different shades of brown rock formations to the warm hospitality of its people- Zanskar has all the elements that entice the explorers into the Lost Valley!
Let’s take a tour to the valley that echoes chants…
How to reach Zanskar
- Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh is the nearest airport to reach Zanskar Valley. You can rent out a private vehicle from the airport or you can also choose to take public transport.
- Leh – Padum has Heli service of Pavanhans, it is approx. 30-40 minutes ride to Padum. (Season Sensitive)
- Reach Jawi Tawi Railway Station and then take a means of public transport or private vehicle via Kargil to Zanskar Valley.
- You can start from Leh via Kargil to Padum – 447 km.
- Another route from Manali via Shingo La – 227 km.
- Pensi La is only open from May – October
- Shingo La, recently opened route August – October
Zanskar valley being quite offbeat roads and many parts are only accessible on foot.
Here are the must-visit places in Zanskar Valley. You don’t want to miss out!
1. SURU VALLEY– The Definition of Beauty
Suru valley is nestled in the Himalayan mountain range – surrounded by snow-capped mountains, pristine rivers, and verdant valleys. Panikhar is a small village located in Suru Valley by no means it is a large inhabited by people of Dard and Tibetan descent. With lush green valleys filled with willow, mulberry, poplar, apricot, and apple trees and mighty Nun Kun rising atop, this is a peaceful and secluded place to go off the beaten path.
2. RANGDUM – Trekking Base Of Himalayan Wilderness
Village in the middle of nowhere is an ideal camping place in the Himalayan wilderness of Suru Valley and it serves as a base for different trekking routes. Having the arid and barren look to the place, Rangdum monastery gives the final touch to the picturesque on a top of a hillock like an ancient fort. Being the 200 – year – old monastery, stones are carved in mandalas along with usual inscription with the wide collection of Tibetan and other artifacts in a museum, it is the home to around 40 monks.
3. DRANG DRUNG GLACIER – The Natural Marvel
You will witness one of the most picturesque natural marvels situated near Pensi La Pass called Drang – Drung Glacier. Largest glaciers towering height of 4,780m, it spreads alluring charm to a distance of 23km – as Doda River originated from here and flow to Padum to join Tparap Chu to form the might Zanskar River
4. DZONGKHUL MONASTERY – The Cave Monastery
The exceptional cave monastery is spectacularly nested on the rock facing the Ating Gorge. The two-meditation caves are built behind the rock walls, the legends say that the Indian yogi Naropa used these caves for the solitary meditation purpose and his footprints are embedded on a rock. The monastery contains images and thangkas of famous Drukpa lamas along with some of the frescoes on the cave walls created almost 300 years ago by Zhadpa Dorje, with a rich collection of artifacts like an ivory image of Samvara, a crystal stupa, and spiritual songs and biographies.
5. PADUM – The Heart of Zanskar
On this massive stretch of land imagine a small village nestled in the centre of a lush green field with colorful followers and the traditional old houses with clear blue skies and bright sun; a cold gust of mountain wind blows across the land as the grass field dances in rhythm – that’s Padum for you! Once being the capital of the ancient kingdom, now Padum is the largest and administrative centre of Zanskar. The ruin of the old palace is still visible on the outskirts of the main bazaar. Sani Gompa & Sani Lake, Shilla waterfall, Stongdey Monastery & the Karsha – the largest and wealthiest Monastery are the few places you can visit in Padum.
6. ZANGLA PALACE – The Ancient Ruins
Around 30 km away from Padum, the three-story ruin of a 17th-century royal palace sits on a crag surveying Zangla village. On the other hand, the ancient monastery in Tsa Zar should be visited for its beautiful frescoes. Zangla is an important point for trekking in Zanskar like Chadar trek and Padum-Strongdey-Zangla-Karsha-Padum trek, Padum-Markha valley and Padum-Lamayuru trek.
7. PHUKTAL GOMPA – The Jaw-Dropping Honeycomb Monastery
Phuktal Gompa is no ordinary resident for Buddhist monks, it is located at the mouth of the lateral gorge of the Lungnak or Lingti-Tsarap River away from the main town which is accessible only by foot. This surreal projection of gompa resembles like a honeycomb and the rock-cut caves look embedded in the mountain. Being 2500 + years old – it was established in the early 15th century by Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Around 70 monks who are residing in the monastery are always seen chanting or meditating.
8. GUMBO RANJAN – The Sacred Mountain of Zanskar
At high – altitude semi-desert, whitewashed village, glacier mountain, and narrow gorges – Gumbo Ranjan the mountain of gods is located in the remote Kargyak Valley; one of the sacred sites for Zanskari Buddhists.
From here you can take a new route, Shingo La – one of the main passes of the Great Himalayas, entering Zanskar.
Apart from these mesmerizing places, you should also explore the interiors of Zanskar – Purne, Parkachik, Shade, Sheela, Kargyak, and Ichar village. Small villages located at the isolated points of the valley with the incredible walk through rocky landscapes and immense valleys in between which flow huge, the sacred decade-old river will leave you craving for more, and are bound to create memories that will last a lifetime!
Best Time to Visit Zanskar Valley
The ideal time to visit Zanskar is between June to September, you can extend your trip till mid – October.
If you want to enjoy the Chadar Trek on the Frozen Zanskar River, January to February is the best time to visit!
Before you start exploring the vast land of Zanskar, here are the few things you need to know in advance to ensure you do not face any trouble in traveling on these paved roads.
Fuel pumps are easily found on Srinagar - Kargil road but beyond that, you will only find them in Padum. Make sure you top up your vehicle and refill enough fuel in Kargil. Black fuel is also available at times at Rangdum village.
Carry enough cash with you, as ATM is available in the Padum market but there is a quite chance for ATM to run out of cash.
Poor mobile connectivity. Only BSNL postpaid connections work in Padum.
You will find hospitals in Padum and Kargil. (if needed)
Undoubtedly the hidden treasure of India – Zanskar Valley is waiting to be found… We hope the above information has helped you plan a memorable trip with ease and convenience!