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Ancient Trails of Ladakh & Zanskar
'The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a
A Project Himalaya classic: our early summer trek in the Indian Himalaya, during the colorful planting season. This timeless traverse of the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges passes through the remote Tibetan Buddhist regions of Lahaul, Zanskar and Ladakh, just south of the vast Tibetan plateau.
And we've thrown in a bit of exploratory trekking to keep it interesting!
Our journey starts in the green hills of Manali, tucked away in Himachal Pradesh, and continues over the Rotang Pass to Lahaul, where we begin our trek in Darcha village. The glaciated Shingo La (pass) is the gateway to Zanskar, 'the land of white copper', a land of harsh beauty, cathedral-like rock spires, lively, white-washed villages, billowing fields of barley and grazing sheep and goats. We spend wonderful days walking through this landscape in flux, camping at beautiful sites, exploring the many historic gompas (monasteries) and visiting old friends in the villages. The unique and fragile Zanskari culture is the highlight of this section of the trek, accentuated by the spectacular landscape.
We reach the Zanskar River, the plains of Padum and the Kingdom of Zangla mid-trek, with the Himalayas looming grandly in back of us, and continue north towards Ladakh, en route exploring the ruined forts and labyrinthine villages and visiting some of the breathtaking cliff-side gompas.
Now the adventure begins; ascending steeply up into remote 'Bear Valley', we cross snow-bridges, negotiate rocky trails high over narrow gorges, cross rivers and eventually enter Ladakh, 'the land of high passes'. Here, Tibetan Buddhist lamas travel the same trails as us, crumbling, cliff-side monasteries appear on the horizon and ancient villages pepper the valleys between the passes. Our first two villages, Nyeraks and Yulchung, are well off the tourist trails, and fantastically set amongst jagged peaks which glow burgundy in the sunset. Surrounding us, a wonderful panorama of snow-peaks and craggy, dun-hued ranges put everything into perspective. We continue over many high passes and through more timeless Ladakhi villages until our jeep picks us up, three wonderful weeks later, near the Srinagar Leh highway.
Don't miss this wonderful traverse of Zanskar and Ladakh!
*Note that although we try to follow the itinerary here, at times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on our trekkers' acclimatization rates.
Arrival in India
Most flights into Delhi arrive late at night or very early in the morning; plan the date and time of your arrival carefully. Please email us your flight arrival details as soon as possible, and have our contact details with you when you arrive in Delhi. Kim will have her mobile with her, as will our drivers from Dhruv Travels, so don't hesitate to call.
Day 1 - Arrive Delhi
A representative from Dhruv Travels will meet your international flight at the New Delhi airport, so look for a yellow Project Himalaya sign as well as a sign with your name on it.
2 - Drive Manali 2000m
We take the Himachal Pradesh Luxury Overnight Tourist Bus from Delhi to Manali, check-in time 6 pm, so have the day free for some sightseeing in Delhi, or to rest up after a long flight to India.
3 - Manali
We arrive in Manali around noon, and have the rest of the day free to explore Manali and its bazaars, or just to relax at our wonderful hotel next to the pine forest, The Mayflower. We'll go out for the best wood-oven pizza in northern India tonight, just up the road at Il Forno, and celebrate our first night in the hills with a few cold beers ...
4 - Drive Jispa 3200m
We head off from Manali after breakfast, stopping at the Tibetan colony to pick up some supplies, and heading towards the 4000 meter Rohtang Pass. Crossing the Pir Pinjal is simply spectacular, and on the other side the monumental nature of the Himalaya is equally breath-taking. Once over the pass, we have entered the region of Lahaul, a distinct Himalayan region. (Have your passports with you for the check post just over the pass, where we stop for a 'bhatti' lunch). The entire drive is wonderful, and we'll have time to stop and take in the views as we only have a six hour drive to Keylong. We will notice the different style of dress in this region, and the Lahauli women are known as some of the most beautiful in the Himalaya.
After passing through Keylong, the principal town of Lahaul, we continue another half and hour and set up our first camp in lovely Jispa, part of our acclimatization program for the trek. Here, we'll meet the horsemen with their horses, and get to know the routine of camp a bit.
5 - Drive Palamo, camp Palamo 3680m
Another 1 1/2 more scenic hours of driving brings us to Darcha, a collection of tea houses, where we head off the Manali-Leh highway on a small, new road to Palamo. Have your passports ready as there is another check post at the bridge just before Darcha. At camp, you'll meet your home for the next few weeks, a Tibetan style dining tent ('gur' in Ladakhi) and your own Marmot or Big Agnes tent; two person tents for singles, and three person tents for couples. Our campsite in Palamo is wonderful and grassy, stretched out along the meandering stream, and we will have plenty of time to show you how to set up the tents. Grab a camp chair and stretch out by the stream with a book for the afternoon; or, if you've got energy to spare, there is also a ridge to the west, heading up towards a waterfall, for additional acclimatization and a good hike. But take it easy!
*** We have short days the first few days of the trek, as we are gaining altitude, and it is essential to ascend slowly and within 500-600 meters maximum per day. It is vital during the early days of the trek to not over-exert yourself, and to keep hydrated. We recommend at least three liters of water per day, and a sun-hat or cap.
6 - Trek Zanskar Sumdo 3940m
Sumdo means river junction, and the junction that we head for today leads to our destination, Zanskar. We'll have a five hour trek today which you should feel, as we're getting close to 4000 meters. The trail first passes some fields of peas, often flowering, and barley, intersects the new road a few times, and then snakes up and down the scree-fields on the side of the hills to our right and along grassy, rocky plateaus. There will be two river crossings today, and if it's been a winter with heavy rainfall, expect to need sandals and perhaps your trekking poles. For glacial valley lovers among you, today's walk will be a classic, as will tomorrow's. We set up camp at the far end of Zanskar Sumdo, along a grassy section of the tiny stream, spring water, as scenic a campsite as any.
7 - Zanskar Sumdo
A rest day for acclimatization, so if you feel like a walk, Kim will help orient you. If you want to rest, it's a good idea; don't feel like you have to do anything besides head in and out of the dining tent or catch up on your reading today. IF everyone is feeling fine, we might consider skipping this rest day and using it later in the trek, but we'll make that decision at ZS.
8 - Trek Gaddi Tach 4515m
Heading further up the valley towards the Shingo La, the gateway to Zanskar, we start the day with a rickety bridge crossing and a small but steep climb up the narrow valley banks. As we climb towards the base of our first pass, we see our first real snow-peaks looming above us in the distance. As usual, it is important to trek slowly today, as we are ever gaining altitude; and of course to drink lots of water and stop and rest when your body tells you to. There is no pressure to go fast or to walk as a group; we have adequate staff to spread our group out, and take our time. Look out for grazing sheep and local shepherds en route. We camp at Gaddi Tach, a basic campsite an hour or so below the 'high camp' and near the base for climbing Ramjack Peak.
9 - Trek Lakong (Sumdo) 4490m
We cross our first pass early this morning, so have your headlamps out! The Shingo La is our gateway to Zanskar, 'land of white copper'. It is a long, slow ascent in the thin air, but a spectacular one. It will take us 20 minutes to reach the campsite of Chumik Nakpo, and another hour to 'High Camp', all on trails similar to yesterdays but in the early morning light, and over small streams that might be still frozen. We trek over snowy plateaus with fantastic mountain views all around, stopping to admire the fantastic glacier flowers blooming around our feet. In another hour we reach the small doksa (nomadic campsite) after which we have to jump or trek through a larger river. Next, we'll negotiate our way through sculptural, wind-blown snow and then ascend a steep trail to the wide saddle just before the top. We either jump a small, icy stream and climb to the pass on the right, or follow the left bank of a small lake and reach the pass by the left trail, whichever looks the best once up on the snow plateau. The Shingo La at 5000 meters is a classic Himalayan pass with a prayer flag festooned top, and a steep drop down to Lakong, which means 'gateway' in Ladakhi. It will take us a few more hours of steep, switch-backing descent to reach our campsite at Lakong Sumdo, so we will stop early for lunch on some flat rocks, perfect for crashing for a half an hour. You'll be exhausted after the pass, so take a rest as we get the dining tent set up, and chai will be out soon!
The Gumbarajon (on the map, more literally Gompa Rangjin), which translates as 'naturally formed gompa (monastery)', is a 6000m granite monolith which dominates this valley, the Kargyak Chu. This is our first view upon entering Zanskar, and we see it change forms as we trek by it for the next few days. Now that we are over the first pass we slowly descend over the next week to central Zanskar, one of the most pristine and scenic region of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the villages and doksas pieces of traditional Zanskari culture ...
10 - Trek Kargyak 4110m
The approach to Kargyak village is nothing less than spectacular. The space and colors of the valley are awesome, made all the more dramatic by the small details: flowers, lichen, shimmering river rocks, marmots, pikas, mountain birds and of course the Zanskaris herding their yaks, sheep and goats. It is an easy day’s walk, during which we might stop for a bowl of fresh yogurt sprinkled with tsampa at one of the three doksas that we pass en route to Kargyak - Kargyak, Sking (Hi on the map) and Shankha doksas. Tsampa is one of the basic foods of all of the Himalayan regions, extremely nutritious roasted barley, ground into a fine powder, and eaten in a variety of ways. Look for the wolf trap on the opposite bank of the Kargyak Chu, before reaching the chortens.
We spot the entrance chortens in black, red and gold from a distance, and finally look down on the checkered barley fields and houses of Kargyak below. Kargyak is our first Zanskari village, and we are almost always invited to visit a Zanskari home for tea, and some of the local brew called ‘chang’. Singge, the Zanskari boy that we sponsor (now in Manali), comes from Kargyak, and we will be visiting his family in the village to give them news of his progress in school. The village kids will be out en force to visit our dining tent; they are some of the few that we really indulge, as we've known them all for so long.
The town is well worth a visit in the afternoon, and a short hike up to the old gompa affords wonderful views back down on Kargyak. The local girls will emerge into the village (and our campsite) from the doksas in the late afternoon, and a bit later we are treated to a spectacular sunset over the Gumbarajon.
11 - Trek Testa 3950m
Don't miss the first rays of the sun filtering through the wood and dung smoke from the Kargyak chimneys as you get ready for breakfast in the morning!
Classic Zanskar scenery all around as we trek down valley, past a series of long mani walls and chortens, and then past the white-washed village of Sking (Hi) on the left bank. We will cross the small, wooden bridge and make a detour to the village on the way to Testa, as it's one of Kim's favorite villages in Zanskar, a myriad of activity, friendly villagers, lovely setting. Back down to the river, we'll trek along a sandy trail of rounded river rocks, past the trail leading to the Phirtse La on the right, and eventually reach the large red, black and white chortens leading to Tantse and its patchwork of fields. We'll stop at the small teahouse, owned by our friend Sonam Dorje, for a cup of tea. Above us to the right of the trail is Tantse Gompa, one of the oldest in Zanskar, backed by jagged, dun-colored peaks.
Before reaching our lunch-site in a threshing circle at Kuru, we drop back down to the river and cross on the new bridge. The old one has character, but isn't for the faint of heart. It can be a scorching day, so drink lots of water and be ready for it. Another scenic hour of easy trekking leads us to the green fields and labyrinthine village of Testa, another of our favorites. We camp at a wonderful campsite surrounded by old chortens, nearby our friend Tashi, the local the amchi's (Tibetan doctor) house. The village is a lively one, and we'll have the afternoon to explore, or visit with the kids who will be at camp to see what's happening ...
12 - Trek Purne 3840m
Only a three hour day today, starting with a gradual climb to the Zanskari village of Yal, where fodder and kindling dry on the rooftops, and then along a great, high trail overlooking the Kargyak Chu, now much larger. Descending back down to the river, we trek along side of it, not crossing the first wooden bridge to our right but continuing back up to the high trail. Look across the river at the old trail cut into the cliff-side! A steep, sandy descent leads to our bridge over the Kargyak Chu, after which we follow the trail back up to our campsite at Purne. It's good to start early to beat the sun and arrive at the shaded oasis of Purne in time for a shower and to do some clothes washing. Our good friend, Dolma, also an amchi, runs the showers and one of the campsites, and her shop has ample supplies of cold beer and soft drinks. We'll have lunch under one of the shops shaded awnings, and wait for the horses to arrive to set up camp. Enjoy the afternoon, and the wonderful sunsets ...
For those with energy to spare, climb to the 'lhatoo' with prayer flags above the village for a view down on camp and the intersections of the Tsarap Chu with the Kargyak Chu.
13 - Purne (trek to Phuktal Gompa)
The spectacularly perched Phuktal Gompa, a two hour walk up a narrow gorge on exposed trails, is one of the oldest sites in the Indian Himalaya with a large community of monks. The easy hike out tot he gompa is also a beautiful one, so everyone should really try to make it. Phuktal Gompa has a school attached to it, and the young, lively monks are always keen to practice their English, or to have a photo taken. The gompa itself is a real Central Asian treasure, with ancient prayer rooms, an old library, a fountain with magical waters in the original cave, a Tibetan medicine center, a wonderful kitchen and many old friends. Singge, the young Zanskari boy that we sponsor, stayed a few years at this gompa before being 'evicted' for bad behavior!
Back at camp, lunch is waiting, and you'll have the afternoon free for a shower, a nap, some laundry, a beer, whatever ...
14 - Trek Ichar 3900m
We follow the river along a lovely cliff-side trail with broad views, contouring around the hillsides, first by a small, colorful tea-house across from Cha village and then by two other villages, Kalbok and Surle. Stop for a look back towards Purne and the confluence of the rivers at the large chorten on the trail, and then across the Tsarap Chu to the tiny meditation retreat of Cha, tucked into the cliffs way above the river. This is an ani gompa, or nunnery, with little funding but lots of dedication; we don't recommend the trail on the opposite bank of the river, though. An hour later we should arrive at the few small houses and green fields of (Changpa) Tsetang, and then have to switchback steeply all the way down to a small stream, cross a rock bridge, and then ascend all the way back up. We might have lunch on the rocks near here. An hour of hot, cliff-side walking later we reach the campsite and teahouse of Pepula, climb again, descend to some black beaches on the bank of the river, and reach another pair of large chortens. Look across the river at an old monastery or fort built into the rock face while taking a short rest. After crossing the second Japanese-style bridge, our campsite is right there, over looking the river on a grassy bank just below Ichar village. After about seven hours of trekking, it's a welcome site!
***15 - Trek Ichar Doksa (exploratory)
We have plenty of time to explore the fortress-like village of Ichar (35 houses, 300 inhabitants) this morning, so after breakfast and a steep climb past thick mani walls and irrigation ditches up to the village, we'll spend a bit of time watching life go by. From Ichar, we descend down to a small stream with a working barley mill, and then start our exploratory three days of trekking to Stongde up the valley to the right of the village, eventually setting up camp at Ichar Doksa. We've talked about doing this route for years, and only last summer when we trekked a remote valley - the Sum Shade Valley - did we meet locals en route who could confirm that the route from Ichar to Stongde was good and doable all summer. The other side of the valley was so spectacular and remote that we decided we want to check out this route as well!
16 - Trek Salung Taktak 4200m
Another day of exploratory trekking, today crossing a pass to reach the seasonal settlement of Suslantaktak, where we camp at a lovely campsite amongst the willows. We did camp at this campsite last summer, arriving after crossing the Stongde La from the other side. It was late in the season, so the locals from Stongde were collecting their yaks, which had been grazing in the valley all summer, to bring back to Stongde. A real step back in time, as they cooked in basic tents, stone huts or out in the open and herded the yaks with great yak-calls.
17 - Trek Stongde 3600m
It will be a long and tough but spectacular day, so we'll set off early in the morning towards the Stongde La, keeping mostly to the left of the river and eventually climbing high above the river towards the pass. The scenery en route is breath-taking as we climb from the willows by the river above a high gorge, and the ranges open up around us. It should take us about four hours up, and about two hours down, past the Stongde 'doksas' to Stongde Gompa, where we will take a break. Stongde Gompa is dramatically set in an open birch wood, large, white chortens leading to the inner courtyard. If our friends Geshe Lobsang or Geshe Stenzin are at the gompa, we'll certainly be invited in for tea. Those who are interested can stay a bit and catch the evening puja (4:30 - 6:00pm), a timeless ceremony of drums, horns, bells and resonating chanting. There is also an ancient prayer rooms with all sorts of treasures from the past, really worth a browse.
Look back towards Padum for breathtaking views of the green patchwork of Stongde village, and back to the Himalayan barrier. We have now entered what was once the ancient Kingdom of Zangla, and we are heading towards the capital, Zangla itself; the kingdom is bordered by the Zanskar and Himalayan ranges, and the five hundred year old monasteries that testify to its antiquity dot the valley rim. And from the gompa roof, there is an incredible view back towards the Stongde La, now about 1000 meters above us!
It's a quick, steep descent down to Stongde, a village of about 80 households, of which many men have been in the Indian Army; and by this time we hope the horsemen and our staff have gotten camp set up and tea ready!
18 - Stongde
*** We send off the Ancient Trails Zanskar group this morning.
We've scheduled a rest day here so that we can re-supply from Padum for the rest of the trek, send off the Zanskar Group and welcome the Ladakh group (if we have people doing the shorter treks). People who want to can head to Padum, perhaps taking a side trip to Karsha Gompa or Sani Gompa. We can help make these arrangements if you'd like, but it is separate from the trip:
*Padum is a great village with a wild west feeling to it, a real Central Asian town, a mix of Buddhist and Muslim, with a gompa and a mosque, Muslim fruit sellers and Buddhist trinket shops, jeeps waiting for rides, trekkers waiting for a lift back to Leh (a two day drive, and a wonderful trip), restaurants with beer and momos; lots to see! Take some time and have a wander through town ...
*Karsha Gompa is one of the most scenic and active in the Indian Himalaya. It's a 30 minute jeep drive from Padum, or a two hour walk through Pipiting village, which also has an old gompa. Karsha is spectacularly perched in the hills above Karsha village, the oldest meditation rooms almost 1000 years old, with a lively community of monks of all ages in attendance. You might catch a puja either in the prayer room or the outdoor courtyard, and the monks always welcome us as old friends.
*Sani Gompa is a 1000 year old gompa, perhaps the oldest in the region, set amongst willows by the river at the start of the Suru Valley. It's also a half hour drive out, and you can combine this with Karsha to make a great day-trip.
*** We meet the Ancient Trails Ladakh group this afternoon.
19 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp 3430m
We'll have to walk much of the day along the local road (but with great views across the Zanskar River), but we can get 'off-road' a bit and wander through the villages of Shillingskyid and Tsazar, well off the main trekking route, to get a taste of life in old Zanskar. Last year we ran into a red fox just above the road while exploring alternative routes, so this year we'll try to 'pioneer' new ways to avoid the road as well. We will reach our lunch spot by a natural spring just before Zangla by noon, and then trek up to the 500 year old Zangla Fort to explore the ruins ...
The Zangla Fort, the old dzong (palace fortress) of the kings of Zangla, is a breathtaking site, built precariously on top of a ledge of rock at the intersection of the Zanskar River and the small river leading out to the Jumlam, or middle route. This route was an autumn trading route to avoid the high passes of Ladakh, and must have been open to invasions, thus the fort and series of look-out towers down the Jumlam valley. The dzong houses a wonderful prayer room, which we happened upon a few years ago, but is now closed off. In 2005, over two straight weeks of continuous rain and wind literally 'melted' the dzong, and it is now unfit to enter, unfortunately. An aside: the famous Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros spent a winter in the 19th century studying Tibetan in order to make a dictionary in a room in the fort, now commemorated as his room.
Ancient chortens with tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend to Zangla village. After some time in the village, we head across the plateau to our campsite, Zangla Doksa Camp. The grass is green, the stream warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing from camp! The locals from Honya Doksa will pass by in the evenings with their large herds of sheep, goats and donkeys, making for some classic photos of traditional life in Zanskar.
*** The Zanskar Traverse group departs.
20 - Trek Karmafu 3780m
Up valley, we pass through Honya Doksa, past pink rose briars, and up the unbelievable trail which leads us steeply up what seems to be a rock face and into 'Bear Valley'. We have a steep but beautiful 1000 meter climb to the 4430 meter Namtse La (the name means Top of the Sky Pass), the top quite otherworldly as we leave the wooded gorge behind. After lunch at the top of the pass if the weather cooperates, the trail snakes down into an arid plateau where the villagers of Zangla bring their yaks to graze, and then further down runs into a gurgling stream, lined with willows. Another few hours of trekking past spectacular 'hoodoos' in the sculpted canyon sides, we crest a tiny pass and descend into the next valley and our campsite at Karmafu, on a flat ridge over the river, cathedral-like sculptures rising above us across the valley. It's a great campsite, the hills having been sculpted into strange shapes by water, wind, and the passage of centuries. It's also a perfect spot for a bath, sheltered by the trees at the riverside, but don't venture too far away, as there may still be a few bears in the valley. In the evening, the guys will build a campsite both to keep the bears away, and because it's one of the only places in the Indian Himalaya where there is enough wood to make one!
Note: Our only actual bear spotting was in 2003, when our group did this trek for the first time. We spotted a brown bear cub right next to us, and then across the valley what we presumed to be its parents, not looking happy that a large group of trekkers were hanging out with their offspring. The next season we only spotted frozen bear scat and no prints, but in 2005 we again spotted fresh bear scat.
21 - Trek Bear Camp 3980m
Further into our 'lost world' of our remote Zanksari valley, our short walk today is an exciting and beautiful one. After a leisurely breakfast, we head off along the shimmering river, pass the spot where we spotted the bears a few years ago, and climb a small crest for magical views down the valley which we just walked up. The trail down the canyon from this point often slides, so Kim and Lhakpa will check out the trail first, and we will all walk the tricky bits together. Next, an easy stream crossing (bring your sandals along) followed by a high, exposed trail over the river far below us. Keep an eye out for ibex and blue sheep, which often roam high up in the nearby cliffs. Next on our list of adventures, a narrow slot canyon with ankle-deep water followed by an ice bridge that we either walk over or under, and a further half hour afterwards we arrive at Bear Camp! We'll have another fire tonight ...
22 - Trek Nyeraks 3710m
Up early for a big climb to the 4800 meter Takti La, about 900 meters above us; we follow the stream upriver for half an hour before veering left up the rocky valley leading to the pass. We first reach the 'Oh Shit La', so named for the view of the Takti La which awaits us. But the pass is a lovely stopping point, and we have great views of the Himalayan Range in back of us as we contemplate the pass in front of us. Back down briefly, and then a steep group of switchbacks up a scree-filled hillside leads us eventually, exhausted, to the pass. Ki ki so so lha gyalo! But what a view, and we forget all of the pain of the morning as we look out over the Singge La to the serrated ridges of the Sirsir La, our goal a few days ahead. After lunch at the top, we head back down, again steeply as we lose the same amount of altitude as we gained. An hour later we see our goal, the village of Nyeraks, and another hour of contouring down, past centuries of sheep, goat and yak trails, we reach camp just next to the village.
Nyeraks is one of our favorite villages, far from the main trekking route, surrounded by dramatic swirls of contorted rock, the Zanskar River far below cutting a wide swath in this amazing landscape. Wander through the maze of small lanes in the village as the villagers pen their sheep and goats for the evening, and perhaps go inside one of the traditional houses; a real step back in time. You begin to understand the harshness of life in such a setting, between pass and river gorge, a seemingly impossible place, with its own beautiful monastery, and even an old, sacred tree. The small village gompa is wonderful, a real relic of times past ... Our campsite is another spectacular one, with incredible sunset views over the village, gompa and surrounding peaks. The quality of light in this part of the Himalaya is breathtaking, so be sure to have an evening stroll through the village and take some shots.
23 - Trek Yulchung 3900m
It's a nice change as we head straight down to the Zanskar River this morning, officially entering Ladakh, and cross the river on an old, cantilevered bridge far above the Zanskar. Just before the river, note the cairn of sheep horns piled like a sculpture by the large chorten. Then back up, steeply switch-backing for the last half hour at the approach of the Chocho Khuri La, with its chortens, at 3800 meters. Ahead of us, we see one more small, wind scoured pass that we have to crest; at the corner before the pass is a perfect lunch promontory, so we'll take a break for some food and enjoy the spectacular views. We saw a red fox right here a few years ago, so keep your eyes open, as well as for blue sheep. One more winding traverse, and we cross the last ridge to Yulchung village, translated as 'small kingdom', another of Kim's favorite's. We pass the ruins of an old hermitage to the left, and head through the village, past fields of barley and white-washed houses, to our perfect campsite set on a plateau at the bottom of the village.
Tea in our Tibet dining tent overlooking the incredible, convoluted valley, and a visit to the 500 year old gompa is the plan for the afternoon. Yulchung is a magical village, made more colorful by the villagers, adorned in the season's flowers, who visit the dining tent, wool carders in hand.
24 - Trek Singge Valley Camp 4430m
It's not such a long day, but we as ever we have elevation to gain, and we climb slowly away from the precipitous gorge, through the rock platforms of Singge La High Camp, to the 5000 meter Singge La. Behind us loom the Himalayan barrier and Zanskar, ahead of us much of Ladakh and the Ladakh Range; we are presently crossing the Zanskar Range. It's hard not to feel insignificant in such a huge, dramatic landscape. We drop steeply from the pass, past the Ladakhi parachute tea-shop to our lovely campsite at Singge Valley Camp. You might awake to grazing yaks next to your tent in the morning, so don't be surprises at raspy grunts nearby ...
25 - Trek Photoksar 4200m
Back on the Zanskar traverse, a trading route from days of yore, we have a relatively easy day down the valley, across two rivers (a sandal day), contouring along several mani stone bordered trails to our pass of the day, the 4400 meter Bumiktse La. This valley is the high pasture of the Photoksar villagers, and we pass their herds all day en route to camp There is an a great view of Photoksar in front of us from the pass, as well as the Singge La valley, the Utah-like bulk of the Singge (lion) Peak and the Singge La (pass) behind. Down from the pass, we'll have time to cross the old, wooden bridge and make a short detour into Photoksar for a visit. Photoksar is one of the most photographed villages in Ladakh, easy to understand as the village clings impossibly to the hillside, and during certain months of the summer, the fields are either blanketed in lavender wild orchids, flowering pea pods or billowing, vivid green fields of barley. And the village itself is perched perfectly at the edge of the valley and the intersection to another valley, backed by large, swirling cliffs.
We'll try to pick up some fresh salad greens from the village greenhouses, and maybe even some fresh yogurt if anyone has brought some back from the doksas. We settle in at another especially wonderful campsite, with truly amazing sunsets, the village of Photoksar basking in the pink afterglow. The villagers, herding their flocks of sheep and goats, will stop by our campsite en route back to Photoksar with their herd of sheep and goats coming down from the high grazing hills ...
26 - Trek Hanupatta 3960m
We climb gently out of our camp to the chorten that marks the village bounds, and up the valley we see our last pass, the 4700 meter Sirsir La, an easy two hours hike away. Expansive views of the craggy Zanskar Range behind us and the sculpted valley to the west leading to the Shillakong Valley, a route only passable in low waters, reward us at the prayer-flag festooned summit. If it isn't too windy, we will have lunch up top before a long and gentle downhill to the green oasis of Hanupatta. Our camp is a ten-minute walk above the village, next to the river. It's yet another spectacular campsite, a perfect setting for our last evening of camping. We'll have a party tonight for the staff and horsemen, and give out their well-deserved tips ...
27 - Trek Panjila, drive Leh 3500m
Leaving camp, we arrive at Hanupatta village after walking through the trail lines with fading pink Zanskar roses, old rock walls and the fields of Hanupatta village. Enjoy the cathedral like rock spires, the blue, blue crashing river, and grab the shade while you can, as today can be hot. We'll reach a teahouse at the intersection of the trek to Photoksar (the shortcut) after about two hours, and soon after crossing the bridge over the river (but NOT the bridge just after the teahouse, leading BACK to Photoksar), we will reach the extent of the new road, sadly moving closer and closer with each year ...
Our jeep awaits us either at the new bridge, or at Panjila an hour further down the road, depending on the road conditions, and then we'll have a four to five hour drive back to Leh; en route, we'll pass the intersection of the Zanskar and Indus river, as Basgo Fort, Phyang Gompa and Spitok Gompa. We should arrive at the Shaynam Hotel in time for a shower and dinner.
Our first days of real Himalayan trekking, starting with an hour's walk along the new road being built to connect Ladakh with Zanskar. After crossing the new bridge, we continue on the dirt road for half an hour, eventually reaching the trail through the spectacular gorge leading to Hanupatta. Pink Zanskar roses line our trail, leaving behind a scent of cinnamon, and incredible spires of rock tower above at every corner. There is a chance for tea at the corner of our gorge and another leading to Photoksar, and an oasis of a spring soon afterwards to fill up water bottles. After another two hours of hiking, we enter the long village of Hanupatta, with its ancient carved mani walls and chortens, and continue another half hour to the rickety bridge that leads to our camp on the river.
28, 29- Leh
We have two days to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this little piece of old Tibet, King Tashi Namgyal's 15th century Himalayan capital. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town, and Kim knows it well; the fort and palace, colorful gompas, the mosque, a museum, back alleys with steaming Muslim bread and tiny antique shops tucked away, colorful bazaars and even a polo field. Of course, we'll show you the bakeries, cafes and the best tandoori restaurant in Leh (with cold, post-trek beers) for our last dinner together ...
We'll spend part of one day visiting some of the wonderful Tibetan Buddhist gompas and ancient forts which make the Indus valley such a scenic and historic region.
Day 30 - Fly Delhi, depart
We are up early for our Jet Air flight back to Delhi; you'll have spectacular views of Ladakh, the many ranges of mountains and the Indus Valley on the way back. You'll be met at Delhi airport by Druv travels and taken to the hotel to store your bags for the afternoon, to the international airport for your departure, or where ever else you chose to go for the afternoon. You could fly out of Delhi later in this day; most flights are at night and you should be back in Delhi by mid-morning to noon.
If you have successive international flights that are not all part of the same ticket or following domestic flights we suggest planning more cautiously and departing tomorrow. Let us know if you need us to book an extra room for the night.