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"The art of Himalayan travel, and indeed of all adventure,
is the art of being bold enough to enjoy life now."
- WH Murray
Trekking in Ladakh-Zanksar is less famous than Nepal but shouldn't be!
Although we run our treks and expeditions in a similar format to most trekking companies, we excel at details, for example providing readily accessible filtered water (and change the filters regularly), we choose delicious homemade jams and a variety of sauces, and use on the very best cooking oils, you get the idea. Our meals are delicious, we ourselves eat them three or four months a year so really care. Our dining systems are well set up, breakfast outside if fine (eggs to order), a no waiting lunch on the trail and dinner in our cosy dining tent.
What is included? At the start of the trip we provide airport transfer and hotel or guesthouse. You are responsible for your own meals in Leh although we advise on the best and most hygienic restaurants and often eat out as a team. Basically, we include everything on the trek, just bring your personal trek gear. We provide three wholesome meals a day, and afternoon tea, a single tent with basic mattress and a group toilet tent. There are more details at the bottom of the home page and on the right on the trek pages.
Trekking in India still follows the pattern set by the early English explorers who ranged through these areas in the 1860s. It is possible to backpack these regions, but the altitude, and absence of even a rudimentary lodge system, make it quite different from teahouse trekking in Nepal. We travel with all our gear carried on Tibetan ponies and mules, with a sirdar-the boss of our 'caravan', a cook, a few of muleteers-ponymen and all our food supplies.
Trekking is simply walking; it is not mountaineering or climbing. You walk mostly on reasonable trails and will only very rarely encounter a little snow. We trek to enjoy, so the walking days are not long and we stop frequently, most days involve 4-7 hours actual walking, so you don't need to be an athlete, although there will always be the occasional tougher day.
Ask anyone where the Himalayas are, and they will invariably answer, 'Nepal', and for the first time individual trekker, Nepal is an easier destination; tea houses line the popular routes. But for us India has always been the place to be. Love Nepal as we do, there is something so much wilder and wider in India. The captivating hugeness of high plains of Ladakh; the vertical gorges of Zanskar, but above all, a beacon drawing us back again and again, the smiling people and their timeless way of life.
Many of the trails are ancient trade and pilgrimage routes, and, especially in Ladakh and Zanskar, it really is a land of passes that locals have crossed and recrossed for centuries. Villages are rarer than in Nepal, and there are very few shops, no 'Coca-Cola' trekkers here! Wide pastures, sparkling lakes, colourful canyons, glaciated passes, and lower down, alpine pastures.
For many trekkers their first experience of Himalayan trekking is in the Annapurna or Everest regions of Nepal. Trekking in the Indian Himalaya is a very different experience. Consider that a good year will see as many as 25,000 trekkers in the Everest region whereas Zanskar will see around 1000, only, and on many of the routes we take, we barely even meet other groups.
Every trek is an adventure, a journey in the true sense of the word. Even getting to the start of our trek might be an adventure. Roads wash out, jeeps (rarely) break down, but we always get there and the great moment comes when we rendezvous with our pony caravan. For trekking here we have to bring everything in, tents, stoves, food, the lot. For the trekker, the only action required is to get up, pack you gear into a kitbag, eat breakfast, plan water and snacks and set off. Carrying only your daypack, the days can vary from a ramble through high pastures, zig-zagging across a crystal icy stream while descending a canyon to a freezing pre-dawn start and a high snowy pass. But at the end there is always our wonderful camp and crew, out come hot drinks and snack then later dinner. We have lazy evenings, the flick of pages or cards, the chink of cutlery and the crew laughing over their rum.
Trekking sounds - and is - idyllic but there are challenges; for the unwarned the first is the physical effort required. Although the first few days may seem short, you realize that trekking day after day at altitude requires reasonable endurance - and leaves you very fit by the end. The second is the adventurous nature, all treks are across challenging terrain, narrow and exposed remote areas trails, some with multiple real river crossings but all are wonderful, flowing journeys.
The second discomfort is sickness. This is Asia and no matter how careful you are, count on some usually minor bowel problems or even a day you wish to forget. Luckily, these seem trivial compared to the whole wonderful experience. To enjoy the Himalaya you don't have to be the tough outdoorsy type. Like rucksacks and cameras, trekkers come in all shapes and sizes, and with widely differing aspirations. Trekking is physical but certainly not beyond the majority of people. Most important is knowing that you enjoy the concept. Bring along a traveller's curiosity and a sense of humour, and before you know it you will relish the thought of another trek.
Your crew and the leader are the most important people (second to you!). Our operation is small and personal, run by a handful of special people who enjoy taking care of people. We limit our groups to 12 trekkers (most overseas competitor's 'small' group treks are 16 clients, max, and 8 minimum). This means a more relaxed dining setup and a far more manageable crew and horse team. The leader is truly responsible for ALL arrangements and budget without middlemen and we have our own crew teams who have worked with us for years, utterly reliable horsemen who don't mistreat their animals and some of the most experienced, knowledgeable sirdars there are, and wonderful cooks. All of this means more flexible approach, an almost boutique level of service and a really good value trek.
The trails of the Indian Himalaya can be scary, but they are not suicidal. Kim writes:
"watching your team of pack horses, mules and Tibetan ponymen carefully making their way across steep scree slopes hundreds of metres above you, and then carefully having to traverse the same terrifying slopes yourself. Trekking over a 5000m pass, rounding the corner, and discovering the trail looks down 2000m to a gorge directly below you. Vertiginous trails that cross recent landslides of arid, loose earth which fall thousands of metres to the barely visible river at the bottom of the valley..."
We are asked many questions about fitness levels for the treks and our guidelines are basically that you should be healthy, active, adventurous and spend time in the outdoors. Past trekking experience isn't necessary, although it will help you understand what a "trek" involves. The most important factor for enjoying the trek is a positive attitude, and perhaps a sense of humor.
May until mid-October is the time for Ladakh and Zanskar, especially at either end of the season. To the end of June and September onwards are mostly gloriously clear; July and August feature dramatic cloudscapes as well although the light hail or rain rarely disrupts.
The lower treks in the Pir Panjal and the Parvati valleys are wonderful during late May and June, September and October.
The major items you require are:
+ good wind/rain jacket
+ warm fleece jacket or jersey, or better, a light down jacket or primaloft jacket
+ good boots, either light-weight trekking boots or light full leather boots
+ good 3-4 season sleeping bag
+ A comfortable day pack, preferably with a waistband
+ A can do, positive attitude - this is a holiday!
The higher you go the less air there is. Our treks can involve weeks at a time at 4000m plus. Your body needs time to adjust - time to acclimatize. We take the time and plan the first part of our itineraries around acclimatization, for example, we normally spend 2 full days in Leh, ie 3 nights, if we fly in, just to acclimatize.
One of the great joys of trekking in India is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax with the simple day to day routine of life on the trail.
The day begins with a call for fresh brewed coffee and tea, either in your tent or outside for the morning views. Hot washing water is available. We pack our duffels then move onto breakfast, eggs to order, freshly baked bread with excellent jam, muesli or porridge, and more coffee or chai. By 8 am or so we hit the trail.
For the day's walk all we need to carry is a small day pack containing water bottle, camera, sun cream, hat, rain jacket/warm jacket, just in case. The horses carry your gear, the food and all the camping equipment.
At around midday, we have a semi-packed lunch: typically delicately veg fried rice or pasta, pita bread, sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, hummus, simple salad, cheese, peanut butter, and local jam, followed by biscuits and fruit. No shortage of variety.
The afternoon's walk is generally shorter and we usually arrive at our destination in time for afternoon tea. Afternoons are a wonderful time to relax or read and do a bit of washing. On some days we will arrive at our destination by lunchtime (a lunch camp) and the entire afternoon will be free. Sometimes we visit a nearby village where the way of life has not changed for centuries alternatively the children will certainly visit us.
We sometimes treat ourselves to a light happy hour with rum or whiskey, when altitude allows. Dinner starts with soup, leading into our cooks' extravaganza for the evening, simply some of the best food on the sub continent, top quality rice and fresh vegetable dishes prepared in different ways, followed by fresh fruit salad, perhaps even a camp baked cake or dark chocolate, or curd if we are near nomads. We use as much fresh produce as possible and our cooks and kitchen crew maintain good standards of cleanliness and food preparation hygiene. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also provided.
We sit in camp chairs in our Tibetan tent, or ‘yurt’ on Central Asian styled carpets, so the evenings are cozy and social. And, of course, there is plenty of stargazing in the Himalaya. Life isn’t too bad!
After dinner, the evening will often be spent playing cards and reliving the day's adventures, before heading off to bed for a well-earned sleep.
Special dietary requirements can usually be catered for.
Yes, our website is weak on helping you with this. I hope to rectify sometime!
You are responsible for obtaining your visa for India before you arrive - read our Visa info page.