Jamie McGuinness, Project Himalaya owner-guide
Leader Jamie McGuinness
Lobsang, star organizer


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Camping in Zanskar, near where Philip saw a snow leopard; dining tent and members tents not shown - Jamie McGuinness

Saving data; use your phone in landscape to see the detailed itinerary and more photos.


Here is an album Zanskar highlights on Flickr:

Zanskar Highlights

Click the photo to go to Flickr or use the arrow keys to see them here within this page.

Detailed itinerary

We plan to follow the itinerary however roads wash out, or are extended, occasionally people get sick, logistical challenges arise, or we hear of a better campsite, and so we will adapt it as needed.

This longform itinerary is a work in progress!

(Day 0 - arrive Delhi / early Leh arrival)

We spend three nights in Leh, so reasonable acclimatization to the 3480m/11,415ft altitude but if you are new to altitude or to Leh, perhaps plan to arrive one day early and we will arrange transfers and hotel and show you around.

Included in all our Ladakh treks are a couple of sightseeing trips, with or without a cultural guide (your choice) and it is your choice of where to go; many people joining are previous trekkers so have seen some places previously.

If you are more ambitious we can also help you arrange a day or overnight trip to Alchi (~3100m) and Basgo Gompas or further afield Lamayuru (~3500m), a day rafting trip on the Zanskar River or or hammer down the Khardung La on a mountain bike (best a few days into your Leh sojourn). If you have been working flat out you are welcome to just relax, kick back and de-stress too, and adjust a little more slowly to the time zone change.

Sophie admires a Basgo Gompa mural

Sophie admires the mural at Basgo - Jamie

Day 1 - meet in Leh 3480m

Phew, after a long series of flights, you are here - welcome to Leh! Look for a Project Himalaya sign or a simple sign with your name on it at the airport, and our wonderful drivers Ang Chuk or Pasang will pick you up.

Jamie meets you at the hotel on your arrival and we discuss altitude health over tea/coffee or breakfast and introduce Leh (if you are a first timer) and show you the better places to eat. Most people crash out for a few hours and spend the day relaxing; do drink plenty of fluids which helps the acclimatization process, perhaps pop some vitamins and let your body adjust to the new time zone.

We normally go out to dinner together, let's meet in the peaceful hotel garden at 6:30pm. We eat at some of our favourite clean (very important!) restaurants: Chopsticks, G Kitchen, Tibet Kitchen, Open Hand and Summer Harvest.

2 - Leh 3480m

This is a day for experiencing the revered gompas, monasteries and palaces of the Indus Valley, ie a short drive from Leh. We arrange a jeep or two (and a local culture guide if you like, included). Usually, we arrange as a morning trip with a late lunch out of Leh then you can relax in the afternoon although we can easily arrange a full day trip as an alternative.

Choosing what to see is the biggest challenge, there are so many special places to visit. Close by are Spituk Gompa and Stok Palace. To the east is Shey Palace, and the gompas Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna and Matho, although don't plan on visiting all of them in one day. Thikse also has a good restaurant for lunch.

Heading west out of Leh are Spituk, Phyang, Nyemo where the Indus meets the Zanskar River, and further afield are Basgo, Likir and Alchi.

Visiting a gompa is atmospheric and a timeless experience engendering respect for their philosophy.

We chanced upon this moving ceremony at Matho Gompa - Jamie

3 - Leh 3480m

After gentle sightseeing yesterday we exercise a little more today. In the morning we might wander up to the palace and gompa above Leh, and before dinner, perhaps up to the Peace/Shanti Stupa for a Leh sunset panorama.

Tomorrow we stay at ~4000m so at minimum we need three nights here in Leh prior to moving higher - which we have :)

Leh from Shanti Stupa

Leh from Shanti Stupa - Jamie

4 - drive Lhatoo 4000m with sightseeing

At last we are on our way. It is only a couple of hours drive so we will stop at a gompa or two en route. Once at our camp, there are amazing views of the rugged canyon walls that hem in the road just a few minutes walk away.

Ang Chuk with his Scorpio jeep

Lunch laid out, come and get it - Jamie

5 - drive Gatta Loops, trek Tsometsik 4100m

Our horses are waiting for us and once we are loaded up we trek a few hours along the river to leave the road behind and get into true wilderness. We are following the Tsarap Chu, a river well known to us both in its upper reaches, and also where it meets the Zanskar, doubling the volume and turning into a fearsome river.

Magnificent scenery and a view of one of our favorite camps on another area, taken from the road - Jamie

6 - trek Tichhip 4000m

7 - trek Normoche 4000m via Zara Chu crossing

8 - trek Trantrag 4100m

Have you ever seen water this crystal-clear? - Jamie

9 - trek Shade 4220m

Another glorious day's trekking.

A truly captivating scene in real life - Jamie

10 - rest Shade 4220m

This is one of the remotest villages in Ladakh. In 2013 we asked the locals how many trekkers come through in a season, the first answer was "lots". However asking further, lots meant perhaps five groups, of which Project Himalaya is usually one ...

Do watch the sheep-goat flocks being herded in during the early evening. Often they come right through our camp, so you will get some warning.

Sadly, most of the younger people have left this village, a lack of opportunity and especially a lack of healthcare.

Remote, peaceful Shade village - Jamie

11 - trek Nuri Chu side stream camp 4280m via Rotang La 4900m, Lar La 4680m

Leaving Shade we take a yak herding route up a side valley, climbing to a pass with ever more expansive views behind us. Over the first pass we normally meet Shade families camped in yak hair tents tending the animals, which are kept out of the village area when there are crops in the fields. Tea in a tent?

Continuing, we drop down to cross the stream and climb again for the second pass of the day, perhaps having a lunch break part way up. We are treated to more stunning panoramas at the top, and thankfully it isn't too far down to our camp by the sparkling stream.

The colours and textures are striking around here - Jamie

12 - trek Yarinchun 4430m

This is a remote area but there is still a definite trail with never-ending views of the "flame" rocks opposite. We have some steam crossings ahead, carry your river sandals, and don't dawdle too much as the streams rise in the later afternoon. Camp is gorgeous, as usual!

Don't they just look like flaming rocks? Especially on sunset too - Jamie

13 - trek Zangla Sumdo 3850m via Pangdang La 5150m

It is another sandals day, although not initially. Leaving camp, the ascent is gentle at first but becomes a steady climb to the top of the Pandang La, 5150m, the highest pass on our trek. The extensive views are glorious, especially out towards the Chacha La and Jumlam route. The price though, after an initial straightforward descent to our lunch spot, is increasing steep areas and crossings of the steam amid the willows.

Across the Pangdang La, the panorama is simply gorgeous - Jamie

14 - trek Zangla camp 3600m

It feels refreshingly remote and simply refreshing too, as we cross the stream repeatedly, making our way down the valley. At a main river junction we see signs of shepherd camps again but don't be lulled by this or the relatively flat nature of the small trail so far. Now we descend into another adventurous and forbidding but photogenic gorge with perhaps 15 stream crossings before the terrain eases. This is also ibex country, and we have spotted some on most treks through here; it could be ibex have spotted us every trek though, as they are hard to spot. Look and you will see!

Entering the steep-sided Zangla canyon - Jamie

Suddenly the valley opens out as we are close to the village of Zangla, only a ridge to traverse up and around to the ridge top palace-gompa. Then just as suddenly we see the huge main Zanskar valley, dotted with small villages surrounded by fields. We drop down to camp on a grassy area near the main Zanskar river, that like everything else in the valley, is a bit bigger; wider and faster too, than we are accustomed to. By now it is apparent why we take our side route through Shade, and just what an amazing and adventurous route it is.

15 - trek Hanumil / Zanskar sightseeing 3600m

The crew will resupply, perhaps taking a jeep in to Padum, and we can trek or take a jeep to the next camp, the location of which will depend on our route choice ahead, and a major bridge across the Zanskar that are probably functional. If by jeep, then it is partly a rest day.

Camping in the huge main Zanskar Valley - Jamie

16 - trek Nyete via Parpi La 3900m

17 - trek Sumdo via Hanuma La 4710m

Esther jumps for joy, another pass crossing - Jamie

18 - trek Lingshed

This is a shorter trekking day so giving time to visit the monastery.

Approaching Lingshed (and see the top banner for a Lingshed Monastery photo) - Jamie

19 - trek Yelchung 3900m / road head camp

Yulchung was once the best-kept secret of the Lingshed area, a delightfully friendly and stunningly set village but now increasingly popular with jeep tours; and this is indeed where we will meet our jeeps too.

Having tea, Yelchung - Jamie

20 - drive Leh

Sadly, our trekking has come to an end as we hop into our waiting jeeps for the approximately 8 hour drive back to Leh. The first obstacle is the 4960m Sengge La (Snow Lion Pass), a once remote pass that has poisonous flowers over the other side. Poisonous to horses, but hopefully not to our jeeps. The view from the top is as stunning as any, those colours and textures. Down the pass and over a small bump comes perhaps what was the most photographed or certainly the most admired village view in the region, Photoksar. Again, it was a dramatic photo of this village that surely inspired not just me but dozens of trekkers, years ago.

We are not done with the passes yet, the Sirsir La at 4805m comes next, and another majestic panorama that Jaroslav Poncar snapped, providing inspiration years ago. Instead of taking days to discover these views we take hours, and in some way lessening the achievement; luckily by trekking through Kargyak, Phuktal and Shun Shade we have explored on foot some other utterly memorable panoramas.

Depending on how the last section of the trek has worked out, we also have the option of visiting Lamayuru Gompa on the way back, let's see how the timing is.

Statna Gompa in the Indus Valley

Stakna Gompa, with this view we know we are getting close to Leh - Jamie

Day 21 - trip end

You are free to take the morning flight to Delhi or bus to Manali for the long way back, or just enjoy more time in this central Asian town of yore.