Trekking with us in Ladakh-Zanskar
"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.
Ultimately, we care deeply about your experience and have fine-tuned our operation over many seasons.
+ get the India visa online - easy
+ best trek season: June-September with summer warmth, fine nearly every day
+ Ladakh is high altitude, we start at over 3000m/10,000ft
+ we cross 5000+m passes on all treks, optional scramble 6000m peaks on most
+ all our caravan treks are camping treks, sleeping in tents with meals provided by our kitchen crew
+ meals are better than Nepal camping trek meals with plenty of fruit (with all meals!) and lots of veg
+ filtered water provided
+ there is no lodge/teahouse trekking in Ladakh apart from busy homestays in the Markha Valley
+ our group sizes are small, 3-8 trekkers only!
+ our trek operation is basically the best, most comfortable in Ladakh-Zanskar
+ we meet you at Leh airport and everything is included except a few meals
+ we trek 4 to 6 hours a day, on a normal day meaning lots of time at camp in the afternoon
+ our treks are more adventurous than Nepal treks, and, apart from the Markha Valley, we cross areas with no trails, no bridges and meet no other trekkers
+ we always see wildlife and carry binoculars
+ no porters - ponies carry your duffel/kitbag
+ we only run 3-4 treks and 1-2 private treks a year
+ we have a comprehensive med kit including all altitude-related meds
Ladakh (and Zanskar) is a high altitude mountainous, desert area on the Tibetan Plateau but in India. It is north and over the main Himalayan range and so trekking in summer is pleasant in the rain shadow, unlike Nepal which is hit by the wet monsoon. The trekking is wonderful, incredibly scenic, although definitely different from Nepal as there are no lodges.
Markha: the stark layered hills are captivating, especially in the bright light of Ladakh - Jamie
Although we run our treks and expeditions in a similar 'caravan' 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-style jams and a wide variety of sauces, and use only the very best cooking oils, basmati rice, you get the idea. Our meals are delicious, we ourselves eat them three months a year and so really care. Our dining systems are well set up, breakfast outside if fine (eggs to order, fresh coffee), a no-waiting lunch on the trail, afternoon tea once at camp and dinner in our cosy dining tent.
Our cosy dining tent set up with back chairs and low table - Jamie
Breakfast outside if it suits (and afternoon tea, sometimes even dinner) - Jamie
Back from holidays I was 2kg heavier but 2,2% leaner! great job of the chefs! ...
Miss the mountains and the good time.
Luca, The Great Divide 2014
What is included? At the start of the trip we provide airport transfer and hotel. You are responsible for lunches and dinners in Leh (cheap) although we advise on the best and most hygienic restaurants and mostly 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 large single tent or a three-person tent for couples 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.
Lobsang with our pre-cooked lunch so no waiting on the trail, and relatively light but with real variety:
fried rice, chapatis with cheese and sundried tomatoes in olive oil, biscuits and fruit - Jamie
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 (other than the Markha Valley homestays), make it quite different from teahouse trekking in Nepal. We travel with all our gear carried on ponies and mules, with a local guide, a cook, a few 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.
Esther wanders along after walking through the spectacular vertical gorges behind - Jamie
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 big sky 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 for centuries. Villages are rarer than in Nepal, and there are few shops, no 'Coca-Cola' trekkers here! Instead, wide alpine pastures, sparkling lakes, colourful canyons, glaciated passes, and topped by snow-capped mountains.
For many trekkers their first experience of Himalayan trekking is the Everest trek in Nepal. Trekking in the Indian Himalaya is a very different experience. Consider that a good year will see as many as 50,000 trekkers in the Everest region whereas Zanskar will see around a thousand, only, and on many of our remote routes we take, we rarely even meet other trekkers.
Delightful camping, for singles we provide a 2 person tent for singles and for couples we provide a 3 or 4 person tent, so plenty of room.
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 must 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 crew set up a rope for this challenging river crossing - Jamie
The second discomfort is sickness. This is Asia and less frequently than in the past, there is a chance of some usually minor bowel problems or even a day you wish to forget. Luckily, these seem trivial compared to the whole wonderful experience and are becoming rare.
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 9 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 local guides there are, and wonderful cooks. All of this means more flexible approach, a boutique level of service and a really good value holiday.
Ram Lal, consumate horseman, leads his horses and mules in Zanskar - Jamie
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 ...
Esther picks her way across where there is no trail on our Zanskar Spring trek - Jamie
Fitness and trekking experience
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 a sense of humor.
For Ladakh-Zanskar, mid-June until early September is the standard trekking season. The days are warm, the evening pleasant at middle altitudes (pleasantly cool up very high), often with dramatic cloudscapes but little or no rain. We love trekking into later September as the monsoon retreats because it turns absolutely fine and peacock blue although definitely colder.
The major items you require are:
+ good wind/rain jacket
+ a light down jacket or primaloft jacket (or warm fleece jacket)
+ good boots, either light-weight trekking boots or tough hiking shoes
+ good 3-4 season sleeping bag
+ A comfortable day pack, preferably with a waistband
+ A can do, positive attitude - this is a holiday!
See our dedicated page on Ladakh trek gear for more detail.
The higher you go the less air there is. Our treks can involve weeks at a time at 4000m/13,000ft 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, to acclimatize prior to going higher.
A typical day
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 optional washing water then we pack our duffels. Breakfast is usually outside on our light tables and really comfortable camp chairs, refreshing in the open air. We brew fresh coffee and start with muesli or porridge then eggs to order, freshly baked bread with excellent jam, and more coffee or chai. By 8am or so we hit the trail.
All we need to carry for the day's walk is a small day pack containing water bottle, camera, sun cream, hat, rain jacket/warm jacket, just in case. The horses carry your duffel, the food supplies and all the camping equipment.
At around midday, we have a semi-packed lunch carried by Lobsang: typically veg fried rice or pasta (lightly fried), 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, read or play Scrabble, 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 barely changed, alternatively the children will certainly visit us.
Occasionally, we 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 local curd if we are near nomads. We use as much fresh produce as possible and our cooks and kitchen crew maintain excellent standards of cleanliness and food preparation hygiene. Coffee, tea, infusions and hot chocolate are also provided.
We sit in legless back chairs (Crazy creek-style) in our warm on Central Asian-styled carpets, so the evenings are cozy and social. And, of course, there is plenty of stargazing in the dark skies of the Himalaya. Life isn’t too bad!
After dinner, the evening will often be spent reading or reliving the day's adventures, before heading off to bed for a well-earned sleep.
Special dietary requirements can usually be catered for.
Choosing an India trek
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.