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The Zanskar Valley is a relatively lesser-known and undeveloped destination located in the Kargil district. In ancient times, the Zanskar Valley along with Ladakh was part of the Guge Kingdom of Tibet. Around the 10th century, the Kingdom of Guge occupied vast amounts of land in Zanskar Valley, the Upper Kinnaur region, and the beautiful Spiti Valley.
About Zanskar Valley
Located at a distance of 250 km from Kargil town, Zanskar town is home to the Zanskar Range, a mountain range in Ladakh UT. The average height of this mountain range is about 19,700 feet with the highest point at 25,446 feet! Colloquially, the Zanskar valley has been known by many names and some of these include Zangskar and Zaskar. The origin is said to be from the Tibetan word Zangs which means copper. The Zanskar Valley was said to be rich in copper at that time leading to the name Zanskar!
The Zanskar is a high-altitude cold dessert similar to Leh region and Spiti Valley. The mountain ranges surrounding Zanskar stop the rain-bearing clouds to come into the valley so this region falls under the rain shadow areas!
Zanskar valley was relatively unexplored till about the early 90s when people starting traveling to the secluded region. Nowadays, trekking enthusiasts make a beeline to do the Chadar trek and the popularity of this trek is taking a toll on the valley. Tons of garbage left behind by the tourists are starting to block streams and cause damage to the surrounding environment.
Places to visit in Zanskar Valley
This is a Gelugpa monastery located near the Lingshet village and was founded in the 15thcentury. The monastery is home to about 60 monks and falls on the route from Zanskar valley to Lamayuru.
The Kursha monastery is located in Padum next to the Doda river. It is the largest and the most important monastery in the Zanskar Valley and is home to over 100 monks.
The Zongkhul gompa is located in Stod valley of Zanskar and belongs to the Drukpa school of Buddhism. It is said that its foundation was laid in the early 10th century and contains a collection of rich artifacts, sacred texts, and a beautiful crystal stupa.
Located in the Kargil district, the scenic Suru valley is a highly fertile region fed by the Suru river and views of the Nun-Kun peaks. Known for its beauty, the Suru valley is home to numerous picnic spots.
The Shingo La is a high-altitude mountain pass located at an altitude of 16,700 feet. The pass connects the Zanskar valley with the Lahaul region and has a beautiful lake just below the pass.
The Sani Monastery is located next to the Sani village in Stod Valley. It is thought to be the oldest religious site in the entire Zanskar valley and Ladakh region. From Padum, it’s just 6 km and is a two-hour walk away.
The 14-km long glacier is located just 85 km from Kargil and gives rise to the twin Nun-Kun peaks. It is used as a base to climb Nun-Kun and during summers it provides water to the Suru River.
Best time to visit Zanskar Valley
Without a doubt, the best time to visit Zanskar valley is during the summers. The period from May till July is ideal for a trip as the weather is sunny and you should be able to roam around freely in cool weather. The pleasant weather will continue till the end of October and the onset of the winters is from November onwards.
If you plan to visit Zanskar between December and February, then the only way to get there is through the Chadar trek. Most roads are frozen and to get to Zanskar Valley the locals make the arduous trip over icy roads.
Facilities in Padum
The Zanskar Valley isn’t a developed tourist destination, and well, that’s the beauty of the place! Modern facilities are hard to come by so it wouldn’t be wise for you to expect the world when you visit the valley. However, do make note of the following when you plan your trip to Zanskar valley
- There is one ATM in Padum but don’t expect it to work. Carry enough cash reserves
- Beyond Sankhoo (45 km from Kargil), mobile connectivity will tend to get worse. Consider it gone once you cross the village. Only BSNL works in Padum village and that too around a periphery of 10-15 km
- Only one fuel pump exists in Padum, and that too can experience supply issues. So, carry enough fuel to last the trip back to Kargil
- In case of medical emergencies, you can visit a government hospital in Padum. If the hospital isn’t equipped to handle your condition, then you will have to get to Kargil
- You will not find your favorite CCD, MacD’s, or Burger King in the Zanskar valley. Local food is served in a couple of restaurants so you will just have to be happy trying something new
How to reach Zanskar Valley
By air – to get to Zanskar Valley, you will first need to reach Kargil. The closest airport to Zanskar is the Srinagar airport, and from there you need to head to Kargil first. Alternatively, you can also fly to Leh city and drive down to Zanskar.
By train – The nearest railway station is located in Jammu and from there you will first need to layover at Srinagar. From there, Kargil and then finally to Zanskar.
By bus – JKSRTC has a regular bus service from Srinagar to Kargil, offering standard and semi-deluxe bus services. From Srinagar, you can get to Kargil is about INR 500. From Kargil, the bus services to Padum in Zanskar Valley are not at all regular. You need to get to Kargil and enquire at the bus station when the buses will ply. However, if you want to do this circuit from Leh, then there are weekly buses from Leh to Padum as well.
By taxi – Ok the most important thing you need to know is that to get to Zanskar Valley in a taxi, you need to hire it from Kargil. Only Kargil registered taxis are allowed inside Zanskar and they will only drop you in Padum village. If you want to engage in local sight-seeing, then you will need to hire a local taxi there. Pls, note – if you are planning to hire a taxi to get to Padum from Srinagar and then travel back as well, you will spend at least INR 45,000 on the rentals! From Srinagar to Kargil the fares will be around INR 8,000 and from Kargil to Padum INR 15,000!! So, it’s cheaper to use a self-drive car or to take the bus!
By shared taxi – If you want to save money yet travel in comfort then shared taxis are the best option. You can get shared taxis from Srinagar to Kargil and Leh to Kargil. From Kargil too, you will get shared taxis to Padum village.
By road – If you plan to drive or ride to Zanskar valley, then there are two routes. One through Kargil and another from through Leh. We recommend the Kargil route as you gain altitude gradually and there are fewer chances of contracting AMS. There is another route to Zanskar that goes through Darcha in Himachal Pradesh. From there you will head to Shingo La and finally Padum village. However, this route might not be in a good condition so we would not recommend it. Also, after Kargil to only petrol station can be found in Padum, 250 km away. So, plan accordingly.
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Well written. And covered most of the places.
2 places that I can include is, …
– Drang drung glacier
– Phutkal Gompa.
Your write up reminded me of my visits to this place twice, both during summer and winter.
In the first instance, we trekked from Palmo to Padum. Most scenic and tough… . And then drove to Kargill. One of the most memorable road journey – around 200 km took around 14 hours.
The next visit was during Chadar Trek. We trekked up to Zanskar Sugmdo (?), And then drove till Padum. White, white everywhere.
I can’t forget both my visits during two different seasons.