Zanskar Valley, nestled in the remote corner of Ladakh, is one of the most enchanting places to visit in Himalayas. It is located on the eastern corner of J&K state and is separated from Ladakh by Zanskar mountain range. In ancient times, Zanskar & Ladakh together were part of kingdom of Guje in Western Tibet. It is connected through Kargil by road and Darcha in Himachal Pradesh by a trekking route over Shingo La pass. Once you visit this wonderland, you will just fall in love with its wide open vistas, fresh aqua blue water streams gushing through the valley, the compelling aura of total remoteness and the massive glaciers which appears to be just a touch away 🙂 🙂 …
Each year adventurists and Himalayan lovers embark on their journeys to these remote places in trans-Himalayas. In recent past, Zanskar Valley has started getting enough attention from travellers of all walks of life across the globe. Thanks to the much popular Chadar trek where hikers walk over the frozen Zanskar river, now a days you see tourists footprints in Zanskar even in winters. If you were to ask me, which one is more beautiful among Ladakh, Zanskar Valley and Spiti Valley, I will politely pass it for you to travel to these magical places and judge how difficult it is to choose among them 😉 😉 … Today in this article, I will write a detailed travel guide which will help you plan your trip to Zanskar Valley with much ease and convenience.
Best Routes to reach Zanskar Valley
Srinagar – Kargil – Padum is the best & fastest route to reach Zanskar Valley. However, one can also travel from Manali – Leh Highway to reach Leh and then travel from Leh to Kargil – Padum route. In case, you are planning to come from Manali side and exit from Srinagar side, then plan the Zanskar Valley trip through Leh – Kargil route. Otherwise, shortest route to reach Zanskar Valley is through Srinagar – Kargil only.
Alternate Routes to Padum, Zanskar Valley
There are couple of new routes to Zanskar Valley which are under construction right now and expected to be completed in next 2-3 years. One route runs from (Himachal) Darcha to Shingo La to Padum and the other route runs along the Zanskar river (Chadar trek), that is, Leh – Nimoo – Chilling – Padum. The route from Darcha – Padum runs along side Phugtal trek and Darcha – Padum trekking route. So, once open, you can also pay visit to Phuktal monastery while coming from Darcha side to Padum. Currently, the 40 KM route from Darcha to Shingo La has been opened and BRO is working to connect rest of the route to Padum beyond Shingo La. The route from Leh to Chilling to Padum will provide year round connectivity to Zanskar Valley through Leh when Pensi La pass gets closed in winters. Once completed, it will be big change in the lives of local people who have to remain land locked for almost 5-6 months in an year in winters.
Best Season to Travel to Zanskar Valley
The shortest route to reach Zanskar Valley from Delhi is to travel first to Srinagar and then take Srinagar – Leh highway to reach Kargil. Once you reach Kargil, you have to travel rest of 250 KM to Padum on Kargil – Padum road. However, the 434 KM long Srinagar – Kargil – Leh Highway remains closed for about 6 months in an year starting from middle of November to early May due to presence of heavy snow on Zojila pass. Kargil – Padum road also pass through Pensi La pass which also remains closed for entire winter due to heavy snowfall on it. Both Pensi La pass and Zojila pass starts receiving snowfall in the month of November and it becomes extremely difficult for BRO to clear the snow in winters which results in closure of both these roads.
As winter resides, BRO begins the snow clearance process in March and repair the damaged roads, bridges and other parts of the highway. Finally, after completing this rigorous job of snow clearance, BRO announces the opening of Srinagar – Leh Highway generally around early May. Pensi La Pass, connecting Kargil with Padum in Zanskar Valley, may take another month or so to open as snow clearance operations starts later on it. It is around starting June, the snow from Penzi La pass gets cleared and Kargil – Padum road is also thrown open for vehicular traffic.
Hence, the season to travel to Zanskar Valley is only between June to September/October. In the early season, the roads are in bad conditions and take couple of weeks after opening to stabilise for safe travels. In winters, the only way to reach Zanskar Valley is through long freezing walk over frozen Zanskar river popularly known as Chadar trek. You can also read the detailed article to know more about the Best Time to Travel Ladakh & Zanskar
Different Modes of Travel to Zanskar Valley
Private Vehicles i.e. Cars and Bikes | Self Drive or Ride to Zanskar Valley
Many people traveling to Zanskar Valley and Ladakh prefer a self drive car or a bike ride to travel. The main reason is to live the adventure of driving or riding through one of the toughest and adventurous terrains accessible in India by road. You can take your own or rented, car or bike to Zanskar Valley but one must be careful while driving or riding through slushy roads, snow and water crossing or nallas. Also, it is always handy to learn little maintenance tasks of your vehicle prior to the start of this remote & arduous journey. The road from Parkachik to Padum is nothing but a dirt track and offer a very bumpy drive.
For cars, although an SUV/MUV is good to have and a 4WD SUV will definitely help but I have seen hatchbacks (including Altos) and sedans doing the Kargil – Padum road as well. The smaller cars will take a definitive toll on its body and under bellies for sure. Also, at times the road ahead of Parkachik can be worse enough to turn back and cancel the trip 😉 … Hence, with sedans / hatchbacks one must be flexible with travel plans and drive with extra care / caution because one mistake can get you stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Believe me when I say that the road from Kargil to Padum will definitely make you pray at least once “when will it finish !!” 😀 😀 … Please note whenever you are in doubt, always step out of your car, walk down the path, inspect with your foot and plan the path of exit before crossing a dangerous landslide or water crossing on your vehicle. You can also park aside and see how others are crossing the risky section to plan your route of escape. In deep water crossings try to maintain the momentum without any half clutch measures and complete the entire stretch in one go only. Similarly, in slush stretches do not force the issue rather keep the smooth momentum with required speed to pass you through, without half clutch measures. Do keep an eye on the direction of the vehicle too. If you get stuck in slush then try to back and forth your vehicles to get out of the stuck position. It is always handy to ask your fellow co-travelers to get out of the car and push the vehicle from behind incase the car is struggling to pass through the slush or water crossing stretch.
Basic toolkit, screw driver set, small hammer, puncture repair kit, iron rod, two or three “2 ltr” empty bottles of pepsi / coke / limca etc to carry extra petrol or diesel (jerry cans will leak, cold drink bottles do not leak), funnel, towing rope, spare tube (must for bikes), elfy or fevi quick (2-3 sachets), jump start cables/wires, M-seal to prevent leakage etc. were among the few things which I carried along on my trip to Zanskar valley. Also, do not forget to get your vehicle (car/bike) serviced about 2-3 weeks before the start of the Zanskar valley journey. This will ensure that you have proper time in advance to test your serviced vehicle and get fixed any hitches that may have been introduced in that service.
Hiring a Private Taxi | Costly mode of travel to Zanskar Valley
Zanskar Valley has one of the most complex taxi rules when compared to rest of the regions in Ladakh. In Zanskar Valley, you can only get in using a Kargil numbered taxi which operates based on the token system. The taxi in Kargil who has token for next day can only take you to Zanskar Valley. The Kargil taxi is only allowed to drop you in Padum. Once you get into to Padum, you have to hire Padum based taxi for sightseeing purpose which can only drop you back to Kargil or Leh or Srinagar whichever is your end point.
You can get in touch with any of the drivers listed under: List of Taxi Drivers for Ladakh – Srinagar – Leh – Manali. Otherwise, after reaching Srinagar, you can go to the taxi stand and bargain with the local drivers for a drop to Kargil. Do not involve any tour operator or hotel staff at any stage to save some bucks. The local taxi drivers will charge about Rs 6500-7000 for a drop to Kargil. Once, you reach Kargil, you will hire a Kargil taxi for a drop to Padum which will cost you about Rs 13000-14000. The rates for local sightseeing within Padum are about Rs 3500-5000 depending upon what all local places you are planning to cover while your stay in Padum. Then, the drop back to Kargil with overnight stop at Rangdum will cost you about Rs 15000. Hence, you will end up spending about Rs 50,000-55,000 in the taxi from Srinagar to Zanskar Valley and back.
Public Transport – JKSRTC Bus Service | Economical mode of travel to Zanskar Valley
JK SRTC ply buses on Srinagar – Leh Highway which are available at Srinagar Bus Stand near Lal Chowk. I guess JK SRTC have both standard as well as semi-deluxe buses which can drop you to Kargil. The tickets for Srinagar to Kargil bus may cost you about Rs 300 for standard bus and Rs 400 for the semi-deluxe types. You may also find few private bus operators running semi-deluxe buses between Srinagar – Kargil route as well who charge about Rs 300-350 per seat. You can also catch the Srinagar – Leh bus service and get down at Kargil. Similar fare is charged if you are coming from Leh to Kargil direction. These buses generally stop at Sonamarg for tea and snacks if coming from Srinagar side and at Lamayuru in case coming from Leh side. The JK SRTC buses may not be as comfortable though but comfort comes with the price.
Once you reach Kargil, well, the JKSRTC bus to Padum is very infrequent and does not have a daily frequency. Hence, you can check at Kargil bus stand in case bus is running then you can hop onto it. There is a bus that runs from Leh to Padum on weekly basis when the roads are open. The bus takes overnight stop at Kargil and reaches Padum the next day. Do not count on the availability of the seats in this bus though. There are buses that runs daily from Kargil to Sankoo, Panikhar and Parkachik but this leaves you at the mercy of a hitch hike or shared ride for rest of the journey to Padum.
Public Transport – Shared Taxis | Most suitable economic option of travel to Zanskar Valley
You can also buy yourself a seat in a shared taxi which runs every morning between Srinagar to Kargil, Leh to Kargil. The shared taxis are also mostly available between Kargil – Padum as well because locals from Padum and Kargil travel to these places in the shared cabs only. These shared taxis do not stop overnight between Kargil – Padum and makes a 12 hrs run with few tea/snacks/food stops in between.
You need to pay about Rs 1400 to Rs 1500 per person for a drop between Kargil – Padum in these shared taxis. The Srinagar – Kargil and Leh – Kargil can be done in JKSRTC buses to save some money as shared taxis will cost about Rs 600-700 for a drop. Of course, since it is local shared taxi with 7-8 other people plus the driver, these does not stop for any sightseeing in between Kargil to Padum. Also, you can imagine the level of comfort yourself considering the 12 hrs bumpy road. This one is the second cheapest mode of travel to Zanskar Valley but mind you, it could be the toughest on the body too 🙂
Planning night stays on the way to Zanskar Valley
Based on my experience, you can opt to plan a journey to Zanskar Valley either from Leh or from Srinagar as already mentioned in the article. I have already detailed out Zanskar – Most Common Itinerary for you which can be referred to successfully plan a trip to Zanskar Valley. However, I will still touch upon briefly how you can break your journey to Zanskar Valley in one of the following ways –
Three Day Journey on Leh / Srinagar – Kargil – Padum Route
In case, you are planning for a three day journey to Padum from Srinagar with night halts at Kargil and Rangdum, I will suggest that you plan it while coming back from Padum to Kargil / Leh / Srinagar. Rangdum is a harsh place to spend a night without proper acclimatization. Hence, you might suffer a sleepless night especially when you are coming from Srinagar side. So, this option is only preferred when you are either coming back from Padum or you have been acclimatized enough within Ladakh and coming to Padum from Leh.
Two Day Journey on Srinagar – Kargil – Padum Route
When traveling from Srinagar side, it is best to make a two day trip to Padum with overnight halt at Kargil. I know the 12 hr journey to could be tiresome especially when you have roads which can never let you sleep. However, it is still the safe option considering AMS issues in Rangdum. Padum village is less harsh and better equipped with medical facilities in case you may need any. Hence, I always travel and prefer this option of travel while going to Zanskar valley, especially while going from Srinagar side.
Sightseeing in Zanskar Valley
There is too much to see within Suru and Zanskar Valley that this longish article may also not be enough to jot down all the sightseeing places. I will be writing detailed articles on the sightseeing places in Suru and Zanskar Valley in time to come. I will link them within this article below as and when they are published.
- Phuktal Monastery Trek – Travel Guide
- Kargil – Rangdum – Padum Road – Travel Guide
- Local Sightseeing in Padum
- Local treks in Zanskar Valley
Accommodation or Stay Options in Zanskar Valley
Both on Srinagar – Kargil route and Leh – Kargil route, you will find plenty of options of stay. I will try to enlist the names and contacts in a separate article. However, just that you must be aware, following are the places where you can find options of stay in Suru and Zanskar Valley.
- JKTDC Alpine Huts (Rest houses) are available at Kargil, Sankoo, Purtikche, Panikhar, Parakchik, Rangdum, Padum. Each passing town towards Rangdum from Kargil, the facilities and cleanliness degrade in these alpine huts. Rangdum being the worst of all of them.
- Rangdum has few options of stay including home stays in the village as well as couple of high cost camps.
- Padum has many accommodation available ranging from low budget to high budget.
- Srinagar – Sonamarg – Drass | Decent number of accommodation options available at Sonamarg & Drass
- Drass – Kargil | Many accommodation options available at Kargil
- Kargil – Mulbekh | Few basic / home stay accommodation options available at Mulbekh
- Mulbekh – Lamayuru | Decent number of accommodation options available at Lamayuru
- Lamayuru – Alchi / Likir | Few basic / home stay accommodation options available at Alchi / Likir
- Lamayuru – Leh | Many accommodation options available at Leh
- Alchi / Likir – Leh | Many accommodation options available at Leh
Acclimatization and its importance in Zanskar Valley
When you travel to Zanskar Valley, acclimatization is always an important factor to make it a memorable trip. In case you are traveling from Leh – Ladakh to Zanskar valley after visiting all local places like Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley, etc.., you are better acclimatized. However, if you travel from Srinagar – Kargil route, the body will not be acclimatized for altitude like Rangdum or Padum. Hence, its always good that you take enough precautions to minimize the effects of high altitude sickness. Here are some tips which will help acclimatizing the body:
- Try to cover the Srinagar – Kargil – Padum journey in two days with a night halt at Kargil. Avoid night stay at Rangdum and stay at Rangdum while coming back from Padum.
- Keep your body properly hydrated.
- Avoid sleeping at high altitudes.
- Avoid over exertion.
- Avoid tobacco and smoking and alcohol and other depressant drugs.
- Keep your body warm and eat lots of carbohydrates.
- Avoid sleep during the day.
- Sleep in upright position, if possible.
- Carry preventive medicines for AMS.
- Immediately descend, if symptoms increase.
For more information on Acute Mountain Sickness and all above acclimatization tips, please refer the following link at least once: Acute Mountain Sickness and Importance of Acclimatization
Fuel or Petrol Pumps in Zanskar Valley
It is fairly easy to find fuel or petrol on Srinagar – Kargil road but once you leave Kargil and enter Suru Valley, you will not find any petrol pump till Padum. Even in Padum, the availability of fuel could be limited at times and they provide you a limited capacity of fuel only just enough to reach back to Kargil. Black fuel is also available at times at Rangdum village. Hence, it is very important that you top up at Kargil and then you must top up at Padum or fill in whatever they are offering during your visit.
ATMs Availability in Zanskar Valley
There is one J&K bank ATM in Padum market (thanks to Debashish for the input). However, ATMs are available at Ganderbal, Drass, Kargil apart from Leh and Srinagar ATMs. You should carry enough cash with you in Zanskar Valley because ATMs at these limited places can run out of money or become un-operational at any day or time. Hence, it is better to carry enough cash.
Medical Facilities in Zanskar Valley
Kargil has a a very decent hospital and so as Padum which also has a big govt. hospital. I have been admitted to Padum hospital due to AMS issues and believe me, though govt. running, everyone took good care of me in that hospital 😉 ;)… The cleanliness was also up to the mark when I visited it. Apart from these two, there is not much to offer in between 250 KMs of Kargil – Padum road. Hence, carry your basic medical kit with you and avoid any heroics because basic medical help is also hard to find in these remote places of Himalayas.
Mobile Connectivity in Zanskar Valley
Kargil has mobile connectivity and once you cross Sankoo, you enter a dead zone where there will be no phone or mobile connectivity. Only BSNL postpaid connections work in Padum, Zanskar Valley and it is fairly limited to about 15-20 odd KMs around Padum only. Hence, it is important that you follow the tips mentioned under: 10 Tips on Mobile Phone Connectivity in Leh – Ladakh
Srinagar \ Leh – Kargil – Padum Road Distance Chart
I will be writing a detailed travel guide about Kargil – Padum road but just for the reference, below is the outline of the distances between various places that comes on Srinagar – Kargil, Kargil – Padum, Kargil – Leh routes.
- Srinagar – Sonamarg (80 KMs)
- Sonamarg – Drass (65 KMs)
- Drass – Kargil (55 KMs)
- Kargil – Sankoo (42 KMs)
- Sankoo – Panikhar (25 KMs)
- Panikhar – Parkachik (31 KMs)
- Parakchik – Rangdum (40 KMs)
- Rangdum – Pensi La Pass (27 KMs)
- Pensi La Pass – Padum (90 KMs)
- Mulbekh – Kargil (40 KMs)
- Lamayuru – Mulbekh (70 KMs)
- Leh – Lamayuru (125 KMs)
I hope this article on Zanskar Valley will help you in planning most aspects of your trip. In case you still have any doubts or questions, feel free to post them either in DoW Community or comments section at the end of this article. I will be more than happy to assist with each and every question you have in order to make your trip to Zanskar Valley, a memorable one 🙂 …
On the other hand, have you been to Zanskar Valley before or planning to make your next trip to Zanskar valley? How about sharing your stories or thoughts with other lovers of Himalayas in DoW Community? It will certainly help other fellow travelers to plan their own journey to one of the remote yet beautiful places in Himalayas. I will eagerly wait to hear or read about your experiences of this wonderland called Zanskar Valley.