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Classic Zanskar Traverse
Zanskar is perhaps the most beautiful region of an incredible area and we traverse it on the best Zanskar route there is.
- Kim Bannister
Luke is leading this trek and will write his own itinerary after the trek; in the meantime here is Kim's writing - thanks, Kim!
The itinerary has the right number of days but is a work in progress - it is approximate!
Day 4 - Drive Hanupatta 3960m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek, about a 6 hour drive along the Indus Highway. Just outside of Leh, we pass Spitok Gompa on the left and Phyang Gompa on the right; look out the back windows for a spectacular panorama of the Ladakh range, which extends westward to meet the Karakorum range in the distance. We approach the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers far down below our cliff-side road; note the melting of the blue and the brown rivers into one larger volume Indus River. About an hour later, we come to Basgo, a 500 year old World Heritage Monument situated spectacularly above the Indus. We'll stop for a visit, as it's an incredible site, presently being renovated. If we have time, we will make a side-trip to the 1000 year old Alchi Gompa, built in the Northern Indian style with wonderful frescos and murals inside the many prayer rooms, and a lovely, serene setting perched on the bank of the Indus in a checkered valley.
We plan to arrive at camp late-afternoon; the staff will have the camp and tents set up and tea brewing will show you around your new home for the next three weeks. We'll have a chance in the early evening to take a walk through Hanupatta, a lovely village lined with apricot trees and lively with villagers.
Day 5 - Hanupatta
A rest day for acclimatization, and to spend a bit of extra time in one of our favorite villages! For anyone interested in a day hike, we'll start after breakfast, and head up the valley to the west of the village to a wonderful viewpoint, at about 4300 meters. From here, we'll be able to look down on one of the village 'kharkas', or summer grazing settlements, and will have a panoramic view of the surrounding ranges. If the flowers are in bloom, it's a colorful day! We arrive back in camp for a late lunch, and in time for a wash in the pools of the stream running by our campsite ...
Day 6 - Trek Photoksar 4200m
We'll head off early this morning, as we have a big day in front of us. We will climb our first pass today, the 5000 meter Sirsir La, a trek of approximately five hours from camp. Expansive views of the craggy ranges surrounding us reward us at the prayer-flag festooned summit, and if it isn't too windy, we will have lunch up top. Afterwards, we descend to the incredibly scenic village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside just past our camp, where if the wild flowers are in bloom, is one of the most beautiful spots in Ladakh, and certainly one of the most photographed. Our campsite is one of the best on the trek, with amazing views downriver to Photoksar, and 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 ...
Day 7 - Trek Singge Valley Camp 4430m
Our day isn't so long today, so we have time to take a short detour into Photoksar for a visit, and then cross the old, wooden bridge which leads to our second pass, the Bumiktse La at 4400 meters. There is an a great view of Photoksar in back 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) ahead of us. This valley is the high pastures of the Photoksar villagers, and we pass their herds all day en route to camp at the base of the pass. Bring sandals, as there are two rivers to cross during the day. Camp is set in a wide valley with plenty of space and no one else around ...
Day 8 - Trek Yulchung 3900m
We'll have an early start this morning to catch the views across Ladakh and Zanskar from the 5000 meter Singe La. After a break to hang prayer flags, we'll drop into the dramatic canyon that leads to the isolated village of Yulchung, translated as 'small kingdom', with its 500 year old gompa, traditional village and grassy camp just on the edge of the village. The views from this village win Kim's vote for 'the-best-of-the-trek', and the villagers, not used to many trekkers, are wonderful and open. We'll have many visitors in the evening, and a chance to visit a traditional Ladakhi house and the gompa in the afternoon. Don't miss sunset from the gompa!
Day 9 - Trek Nyeraks 3710m
Past the ruins of an old hermitage, we head through the village and towards the ridge that seems to drop out of Yulchung deep into the canyon below. Keep an eye out for the red fox that lives in the vicinity, and for blue sheep grazing along the hillsides. After contouring around several hillsides, we have a small climb to the Chocho Khuri La at 3865 meters. We then drop down a steep switchback into the gorge of the Zanskar River, which we cross by a bridge that has definitely seen better days (look at the construction). We climb up the hillside on a winding trail past a unique version of a 'lhatoo' (a shrine to the mountain deities the locals believe live on local peaks), a sculpture made from ibex horns, to the village of Nyeraks, perched on a plateau high above the Zanskar. 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 (in a chain of them), 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.
Day 10 - Trek Bear Camp 3980m
Up early for our steep, 1100 meter climb from Nyeraks up to the 4800 meter Takti La pass, which should take us four or five hours. By lunchtime, we will be looking back across to the Singge La and the serrated ridges that we have crossed over the past few days, and an hour later, we will have crested our second, smaller pass (named Oh Shit La after the view upon reaching this pass from the other direction, and seeing the Takti La looming ominously ahead of us). We have now entered what we call Bear Valley, and a steep trail down brings us to the clearing that we call Bear Camp (although we haven't actually spent the night there with one) and into our 'lost valley' of Zanskar. The crew will light a fire tonight to keep the bears at bay (although the rumors are that the villagers of Zangla shot them after the bears raided their sheep paddocks) ...
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, so we presume that the bears are back! We hope to see them in 2007 ...
Day 11 - Trek Karmafu 3780m
Our short walk today is an exciting and beautiful one, first along the wooded riverside, and then over (or under) an ice bridge and through a narrow canyon with ankle deep water (bring sandals if you want). Next on the list of adventures is a high, exposed trail over the river followed by an easy river fording and another canyon trek on crumbling trails. Just past this tricky section, we crest a small rise and have a lovely view down valley towards our plateau campsite, a spectacular one. We often stop for lunch a at the junction of a small stream, where in 2005 Kim set off alone to help get camp set up, and heard a load splashing right next to her in the river, which she assumed to be a bear ... Joel and the boys, ever brave, came running out with (or without) the bear spray! We're also on the look-out for snow-leopard, fox and wolf prints and scat. We arrive in camp early afternoon, in time to enjoy the views, go for a dip in the stream, perhaps climb up for some more views, and possibly spot some blue sheep and ibex that roam the hillsides here.
Day 12 - Trek Zangla Doksa Camp 3430m
A small col above our campsite takes us to the trail, following a willow lined river, which we slowly ascend for a few hours before heading up a bit more steeply for an easy crossing the Namtse La, a desert-like pass at 4430 meters. If the weather cooperates, this is our lunch spot; a scenic one! Afterwards, we'll drop steeply into another valley, that, after some three hours walking, brings us out onto the wide plain that was the once kingdom of Zangla. You really get a sense of why this remained a hidden kingdom for so long as you look around; to your left, the capital, Zangla and its hilltop fort. Past Zangla, the Himalayan barrier, and the Umasi La to Kashmir; the wooden beams that are the centre of most Zanskari houses came from there, laboriously carried by porters. Below the Zanskar curves away into the Muslim Suru valley and the Pensi La, closed for all but three months of every year and in front, behind the villages of Pidmo and Pishu, the Zanskar range cuts off approach for all but those like us, a well equipped caravan. After emerging from the gorge we have a one hour walk through Honya Doksa and along the Zanskar plateau to our riverside camp, which we call Zangla Doksa Camp. Doksa means seasonal nomadic settlement in Ladakhi, but the sheep only pass through our campsite on their way to Honya Doksa ...
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!
From here there are several different routes to Sarchu. We might take the route that Jamie and team took last year, or take Kim's itinerary; partly this also depends on river levels. Either way takes the same number of days.
Day 13 - Trek Stongde 3600m
We'll have to walk much of the day along the local road, but we can get 'off-road' a bit and wander through the villages of Tsazar and Shillingskyid, 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 campsite at Stondge by lunchtime, and have the afternoon free to wander through this interesting village.
Day 14 - Stongde
We have a free day in Stongde today to re-supply for the exploratory section of the trek which we start tomorrow from Stongde Gompa. While the crew shops, we'll hike the half hour up to the gompa for some wonderful views of the patchwork of Stongde village and the Zanskar valley. Stongde Gompa, about 750 years old, is one of the oldest in Ladakh or Zanskar, and one of the most colorful, perched precariously up on a craggy rock ledge, and surrounded by a lovely birch woods. we will probably be invited us for tea, and given a tour of the gompa, including it's room of treasures in back of the oldest 'lha khang', or prayer hall. We might be able to catch the evening puja, which is a surreal experience, a step back hundreds of years in time ...
Day 15 - Trek Suslantaktak (Exploratory Section Start) 4290m
It's a long, hard day, at least seven hours, so be ready with extra snack food and gear for changing weather (as usual in Ladakh!). We begin the day with a gradual ascent to a beautiful doksa, and then climb an additional gradual two hours to the pass. From the pass, we get great views of the Namtse La, Zangla village and Stongde. The trail down is quite good, following the left side of the river and hillside. Three hours and two river crossings bring us to a lovely campsite with a few trees, where we might camp with locals on their way out to the Leh - Manali highway as well.
Day 16 - Trek Zingchen 4100m
It's an early morning, as the sun hits camp just before 7:30 am, so we'll be up with the sun to enjoy the day (and our first cup of fresh coffee!). We start our four hour day with a descent through a narrow gorge and a hilly trail; bring your sandals, as the next section of the trail crosses the river approximately 15 times! A climb up from the river rewards us with great views of an open valley to the south of us, and another hour of easy trekking brings us to our campsite for the evening, a great location with spring water and lots of sun, so relax and enjoy the afternoon!
Day 17 - Trek Tantak Gompa 4020m
Another four hour day with a river crossing after an hour and a half of hiking along the left side of the river, and a climb to reach the intersection to Shade on the right side. We're in a beautiful gorge valley, with wide open space all around. Our campsite is below Tantak Gompa, a little-visited 750 year old monastery. There is no resident monk, but there are two households left in the small village which was once much larger. Apparently there was a migration of the villagers, and we are not sure why, so will do some investigative work tomorrow!
We can explore a bit in the afternoon, or do some much-needed washing ... or perhaps just a few cups of chai in the dining tent?
Day 18 - Tantak Gompa (Daytrip to Shade)
A chance to see some village life, as we head early from camp for our daytrip to Shade village, the only village of any size in this valley. We'll bring a picnic lunch, and make a full day of it.
Day 19 - Trek Hormoche 3970m
Back on trail, and it's a hard Himalayan trekking day, so have a substantial breakfast and an extra cup of java! We head towards the Nyalo Kuntse La at 4800 meters, crossing the river two times before we reach the top before we ascend. And then another pass 2 1/2 hours away, the Gothurstap La, straight up at 5150 meters! And another (really), but this isn't much of a pass since we are already so high, and there is great lake view from the top. Another 1 1/2 hours brings us to our camp at a local doksa; we'll get our tents set up quickly, the cooks will get the water boiling for tea, and we'll collapse before dinner ...
Day 20 - Trek Satak 4030m
The trail isn't great today, but is quite flat, and we'll have plenty of grazing yaks for company. These yaks don't see many trekkers, so keep a good distance from them as they can be a bit temperamental. It's another sandal day, perhaps, with one river crossing (the Zara Chu, which leads to Sangtha and Rupshu, where we run our Caravans trek). Camp is in a nice spot, above another deserted village.
Day 21 - Trek Tsokmiksik 4100m
A steep, 350 meter ascent to start the day, but the trail is good, so it's not difficult. We contour around three hillsides, and after about four hours of trekking in a stunning, wide valley, descend to our campsite. The campsite isn't the best, but is at the intersection to the Morang La trekking route, so well used. We'll make up for it with a few glasses of rum in the evening!
Day 22 - Trek Brandy Nala 4180m
A short day along the river to our final campsite at Brandy Nala, right on the river. This one is a great campsite, and we'll celebrate our last day with the horsemen with a party, tips and a few more glasses of rum, perhaps ... It's the end of a long and adventurous journey, so we deserve a little reward!
Day 23 - Drive Manali
Our journey continues, but by road along the Leh - Manali highway back to Manali. The drive will take us about 8 hours, but you'll be glued to the window for the entire trip. The scenery along this section of road must rival any road in the world, and in fact many tourists come ONLY to drive the Leh - Manali highway, a trip of about 450 kilometers. We'll arrive back in Manali in time for a hot shower and the best pizza in the Indian Himalaya at Il Forno. AND they have chilled beers; what better way to end our journey through Ladakh and Zanskar?
Day 24 - Manali
Rest and relax! This is also a spare day for all those "just in case's".
Day 25 - Overnight Bus to Delhi
Most of the day is free today as the Luxury HP Sleeper Bus leaves at 5pm, so enjoy the time to roam the bazaars of Manali, or to relax on the deck of the Mayflower.
Day 26 - arrive Delhi
The bus generally gets in mid-morning or earlier. You can either depart tonight, as most flights leave early in the morning, or relax for the day in Delhi and leave the next day. Check your departure dates carefully.