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With an optional shorter trek + Zanskar & Suru Valley jeep safari!

Another in our series of 'best-of' treks in India culled from our many exploratory treks in the Indian Himalaya, featuring a crossing of the wild Phirtse La pass in Zanskar. We consider this wild route in Ladakh & Zanskar one of our best itineraries ever, an exciting and challenging trek through the sublime canyon lands, far-flung valleys of remote villages, high Himalayan passes and hidden valleys of mythical Ladakh & Zanskar. It's a river trek, so bring good sandals with you!

Our trek begins in Ladakh, the land of high passes, at the idyllic villages of Photoskar, Yulchung and Nyeraks. Crossing high passes, fording rivers and exploring our remote 'bear valley', we trek towards mythical Zanskar, a fantastic route through which other Westerners ever venture. Zanskar, the land of white copper, is a timeless Himalayan region tucked away between the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges, once part of an ancient trade network with Tibet. Once in secluded Shade, the most set-apart in Zanskar, we have an extra day to experience traditional village life before setting off on our next adventure.
Next up, following the turquoise Tsarap Chu river, is an exciting, slightly exposed canyon route to arrive at Phuktal Gompa, one of the most spectacularly set monasteries anywhere on the planet. We are in Zanskari heartland now; the traditional villages we encounter along the way a vision of days-past in Tibet and a photographer's dream. The campsites are wonderful as we cross the high Phirtse La pass to finish our journey.

There are plenty days built in for exploration, and lots of time to relax, enjoy the Himalayan break and soak in the surroundings ...

Join us for this exciting journey!

Trip

Day 1 - Arrive Leh
Day 2 - Leh
Day 3 - Leh
Day 4 - Drive Photoksar
Day 5 - Drive Singge La. Trek Yulchung
 (cross Singge La 4970m)
Day 6 - Trek Nyeraks
Day 7 - Trek Nyeraks High Camp
Day 8 - Trek Bear Valley Camp 
(cross Takti La 4955m)
Day 9 - Trek Karmafu
Day 10 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp
 (cross Namtse La 4495m)
Day 11 - Zangla Doksa River Camp 
(optional Central Zanskar Gompas jeep safari)
Day 12 - Trek Tzazar Doksa Sumdo
Day 13 - Trek Bazza Camp 
(cross Pandang La 5175m)
Day 14 - Trek Yangdam Chen
Day 15 - Trek Niri Chun
Day 16 - Trek Shade
 (cross Lar La 4690m & Rotang La 4890m)
Day 17 - Shade
Day 18 - Trek Yatah
Day 19 - Trek Phuktal Gompa & Purne 
(cross Phuktal La 4005m)
Day 20 - Trek Tangze
Day 21 - Trek Zinchen or Phirtse La High Camp
Day 22 - Trek Chumik Marpo
 (cross Phirtse La 5570m)
Day 23 - Trek Berga Songchak
Day 24 - Trek Chumik Gyartse
Day 25 - Drive Leh
Day 26 - Leh
Day 27 - Trip Ends

Short Trip

Day 1 - Arrive Leh
Day 2 - Leh
Day 3 - Leh
Day 4 - Drive Photoksar
Day 5 - Drive Singge La. Trek Yulchung
 (cross Singge La 4970m)
Day 6 - Trek Nyeraks
Day 7 - Trek Nyeraks High Camp
Day 8 - Trek Bear Valley Camp 
(cross Takti La 4955m)
Day 9 - Trek Karmafu
Day 10 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp
 (cross Namtse La 4495m)
Day 11 - Zangla Doksa River Camp 
(optional Central Zanskar Gompas jeep safari)
Day 12 - Drive Rangdum
Day 13 - Drive Lamayuru
Day 14 - Drive Leh
Day 15 - Depart

Highlights+Reviews

Trip Advisor Reviews

Client Highlights
Outstanding trekking adventure, first class guides and personal attention - this is why Kamzang has so many repeat clients! We trekked with Kim Bannister and Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa for 22 days through remote Zanskar in Aug 2014. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Kim has many years experience and a loyal team of support staff and horsemen. Food and camping were very well organized; Kim and Lhakpa lead us through stunning scenery into remote Zanskari villages. Their detailed local knowledge and ability to speak with villagers made for a memorable rich experience. Over high passes and crossing rivers we always were in good hands. Thoroughly recommended if you really want to trek off the map.
- David R. & Kathy F (Canada), Wild Ladakh & Zanskar Trek 2014

This was the third time I've trekked with Kamzang Journeys and Kim and her crew it was lovely to be back amongst friends. Ladakh is a fabulous destination and a real step back in time to 'real' travelling. Trekking with Kim and her crew is authentic but also luxurious; a single tent as standard, the 'Festival Tent' for relaxation and meals, hot water for tea/coffee on 'tap', and great standards of cooking! No fears of food poisoning as hygiene is excellent. If you're stuck with June - September for your long Himalayan trekking Ladakh is the place to go and Kim and Kamzang Journeys are the people to go with!
- Sally L (UK), Nomads, Lakes & High Passes Trek, Wild Ladakh & Zanskar Trek + more

A bucket list must, and an expeditionary style adventure in a pristine environment. All at the good hands of Kim Bannister, the organizational wizard, and her extraordinary staff. Kim and her guide partner Lhakpa Dorji led us on an idyllic route through the remote and beautiful Ladakh & Zanskar region of northern India. My initial apprehensions, as a first time trekker, were quickly extinguished by the friendly and professional manner of the competent staff. It was the experience of a life time, certainly one that I will never forget. This trekking company deserves a "5 star rating"! You need only bring a good set of lungs, a strong pair of legs, a zest for adventure and a sense of humor. I will return!
- Tom B (USA), Ladakh & Zanskar Kora Trek 2013

Magnificent treks and highly professional! I have trekked with Kim four times, three in Ladakh in Northern India and one in Nepal. On all four occasions the treks were very well organised and run in a very professional manner. Kim's crew are all enthusiastic and are very happy to provide assistance where necessary. As trekkers you are very well looked after with individual tents and a large tent for socializing and dining. Kim and Lhakpa plan their treks so they are interesting and that they go off the beaten track and you are not walking in procession with other trekking groups, Kim is aware of the different needs and capabilities of her trekkers and her daily itineraries cater for all. On the more challenging parts of her treks Kim and her crew are always there to support. I hope to do more trekking with Kim and Kamzang Journeys and highly recommend them.
- Dennis B (Australia), Nomads, Lakes & High Passes Trek 2015, Wild Ladakh & Zanskar Trek 2013 + more

Thank you very much for a wonderful trek. I felt so very well looked after, from great food to river crossings to much needed breaks and always someone to see that we did not feel lost or alone. Your attention to detail, from the shopping expeditions both in Leh and along the way, from the variety and quality of food to making sure that everything we needed was provided and easy to access, is amazing. Also your energy and generosity of time and spirit in those extra expeditions to nomad tents, the fort etc. when many leaders would have signed off for the day.
- Leslie S (Australia), Nomads, Lakes & High Passes Trek 2012

I have done a number of treks with a variety of companies. One of these treks was to Ladakh, India with Kamzang. I found the trek’s organization and quality of food to be excellent. Equally important was Kim’s knowledge of the cultures that we trekked through, so that we, as relative outsiders, could gain some insight into their lives. However, two things stand out. Kim’s infectious enthusiasm: not just for the landscapes and cultures we passed through but for dad-to-day life on the trek. Secondly, the shared ‘mess-tent’, a haven of comfort and conversation. Very highly recommended.
- Roger E (UK), Nomads, Lakes & High Passes Trek 2011

What a trip! Thanks for all your hard work and imagination. Truly a spectacular journey and the clientele you attracted was a magnificent bonus.
- Chris R (USA), Wild Ladakh & Rupshu Trek

Wow! What an unforgettable experience you have given me. I was constantly amazed at your patience with the individual needs and concerns of the group and of the heartfelt care and connection you have with your staff and horses. You are a great leadership team and a joy to wake up to each morning! The landscape, the interactions with the villagers, nuns and monks along the way, the exhileration of the more risky bits of the trip and your smiling faces will not be forgotten. Thank you & Jullay!
- Annie K, Wild Zanskar 2010

I think about you and Lhakpa and everybody a lot; and I miss the trek, the beautiful mountains, the amazing sceneries and rich culture there. Every time when I go through my trekking photos, the memories of those great moments come back to me, speaking to me and asking me why I haven't packed my gears and signed up for my next Himalaya trip?!
 - Summer T (China), Wild Ladakh Zanskar Traverse

I have been on treks with Kim four times. All her trips are superbly well organized and smoothly run. Everything is take care of. The food is great and accommodation good. The only thing you have to do is the walking. It's a five star service and great value!
- Peter H (UK), Ladakh & Zanskar Treks + more

Read More Testimonials
Trekker's Comments

Trek Highlights

  • Exotic Leh & the historic Indus Valley
  • Dramatic canyonlands
  • The best of Zanskar & Ladakh
  • Wild Shade - Zangla route
  • Remote Bear Valley
  • Zangla Palace & Fort
  • Canyons, river crossings & far-flung villages
  • Tibetan Buddhist gompas of Zanskar
  • Challenging trekking & high passes
  • Sublime Himalayan scenery
  • Central Asian wildlife
  • Few other trekkers & our secret routes!
  • Extra days for exploration ...

Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography

Kashmir + Srinagar Photos
Kim Bannister Photography

Himalayan Photos
Wildlife
Himalayan Wildlife Photos

Birds
Himalayan Bird Photos

Flowers
Himalayan Flowers Photos

Travel Reading
Travel Books

Articles on Ladakh

Ladakh Diaries: Postcard from Paradise | India Today - Features Kamzang Journeys

Chang Tang Pa | Cat Vinton Photo Essay

Ladakh, Mountains & Men | Le Figaro

Blog Article | Za Rahula Local Nomadic God

Street Food in India | India Mike Blog

Ladakh, the Last Shangri La | National Geographic

A Journey to Little Tibet | National Geographic

Legends of Dha Hanu

India: Extreme Biking in Beautiful Ladakh - The Telegraph UK

The Grey Ghosts of the Mountains - Vimeo

Kashmir, the Inheritance of Loss - New York Times

Date+Price

2018 Dates
August - September (27 days)
August (15 days)

2018 Trek Price
$4180
$3280 (Short Trek + Zanskar Jeep Safari)

+ Flights NOT included (meet in Leh) 

+ Hotel Single Supplement $100-$200

Includes

  • Hotels in Leh (breakfast)
  • NO single supplement for camping
  • Restricted area permits
  • Personalized Leh sightseeing with Kim
  • Group transportation by private vehicle
  • Airport transfers
  • Kamzang Journeys Boutique Trekking
    Single Northface tents (2+3 person tents), delicious & plentiful meals with seasonal, fresh produce, French-press coffee, Indian Chai, Kashmiri & herbal teas, Katadyn filtered drinking water, warm washing water, trek library, full medical kit, our Kamzang 'lounge' with Indian rugs, Crazy Creek camp chairs, blankets & occasional music in the evenings. For support, our caravan of horses + mules, Western, Sherpa & local guides and our 5-star Kamzang Journeys team. Highlight is our signature yellow 'Kamzang' dining tent'. NO single supplement for single tents. AND flexibility, experience, adventure, challenge + fun!

Safety & Health Precautions

  • Thuraya satellite phone (when allowed)
  • InReach satellite messaging system (when allowed)
  • Updated route published on InReach site (when allowed)
  • Helicopter evacuation services (when allowed)
  • Oxygen saturation monitoring system
  • PAC bag (portable oxygen chamber)
  • Full medical kit & stretcher
  • Kayadyn filtered water
  • Safe, sanitary, delicious & plentiful food and drinks

Excludes

  • Domestic & international flights
  • Indian visa
  • Lunch + dinner in Leh
  • Travel or travel health insurance
  • Equipment rental
  • Alcohol & bottled drinks
  • Gompa (monastery) donations
  • Laundry
  • Tipping & other items of a personal nature

Tips & Extra Cash
Allow approx $300 for meals (while not on trek), drinks (on trek) and tips. We recommend at least $200 per trekker thrown into the tips pool for the crew.

Contact+Details

Trekker's Comments
Travel Books

Kamzang Journeys Contact
Kim Bannister
kim@kamzang.com
Kim Mobile: +(91) 9419 981715
Lhakpa Mobile: +(91) 9419 977569

Delhi Airport Transfers & Sightseeing | Dhruv Travels
Contacts: Prince & Rajesh
travelorganiserindia@yahoo.co.in
Office: +(91 11) 6536 8764
Prince mobile: +(91) 98104 85897
Rajesh mobile: +(91) 98993 73886

Kathmandu Contact
Khumbu Adventures
hiking.guide@gmail.com
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 235461, 9813 371542
Doma Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 510833, 9803 675361

On-Trek Contact
We are not able to access SMS or phone calls to our satellite phone in Jammu & Kashmir state because of security restrictions. In case of emergency, a few numbers are listed below, or contact Doma Sherpa of Khumbu Adventures (above)

Ang Chuk (driver) +(91) 9419 344641
Rinchin (Shaynam Hotel manager) +(91) 9906 990444

InReach Explorer
NOTE: We are probably not able to use this satellite messaging system in 2016 either, but in case of restriction changes, info below:
We have a MapShare page that works for sending emails to our InReach messaging device. Give this link to people who want to follow us and have them send us a message so we have their email in the system. We can email them back directly Please tell people not to expect updates every day. There is a ‘message’ button on the top left, and the message sender needs to put their EMAIL address instead of phone number to get a response. Messages are free, enjoy.

Follow Us on Facebook
Kamzang Journeys Facebook
(Posts before and after treks, from Leh)

Arrival Hotels Leh
Hotel Shaynam
Padma Guest House
Hotel Omasila

Hotels in Leh
We use one of the three hotels below as our 'arrival hotels' depending on availability and your preference. Our standard hotel is the Hotel Shaynam where Kim and the staff stay, a lovely family-run guest house with a blooming garden, deck chairs & umbrellas. We don't charge a single supplement here. There is a single supplement or small upgrade charge for Hotel Omasila &  Padma Guest House. We book all hotels for you regardless of where you stay. Please specify your preference when booking a trek. If staying at Shaynam or Padma we recommend 'Open Hand' down the road for a delicious meal or coffee & great atmosphere.

Hotel Shaynam
Single Supplement - No
Breakfast - Included
Extra Nights - Single $30, Double $35

Padma Guest House
Single Supplement - $75
Breakfast - Included
Extra Nights - Single $45, Double $55

Hotel Omasila
Single Supplement - $175
Extra Nights - Single $65, Double $75, Suite $115
Breakfast - Included

Alternative Hotels
We're happy to book other hotels of your choice for you. Some recommended hotels below.

Dragon Hotel
Single Supplement - $185
Extra Nights - Single $70, Double $80, Suite $120
Breakfast - Included

Luxury Hotels in Leh
We offer options to upgrade to one of Leh’s wonderful luxury hotels, which include breakfast in the tarriff. Indulge yourself! We’ll make the bookings for you, just let us know the dates …

The Grande Dragon Ladakh
Inquire for price
Breakfast - Included

Health Information
India Health Information
CDC

We also recommend bringing probiotics with you to help prevent infections while on trek. Doctor's recommendation!

Travel Medical Insurance
Required for your own safely. We carry a copy of your insurance with all contact, personal and policy information with us on the trek and our office in Kathmandu keeps a copy. Note that we almost always trek over 4000 meters (13,000+ feet) and that we don't do any technical climbing with ropes, ice axes or crampons.

Note that private helicopter insurance generally not available in India!

Global Rescue
We recommend that our trekkers also sign up for Global Rescue, which is rescue services only, as a supplement to your travel medical insurance.
Book package through Wicis-Sports via Carlota Fenes (carlota@wicis-media.com)

Medical
We have a full medical kit with us including Diamox (for acclimatizing), antibiotics, inhalers, bandages, re-hydration, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs etc. but please bring a supply of all prescription and personal medications. Kim has First Aid, CPR and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications as well as many years of experience with altitude in the Himalaya but is NOT a qualified medic or doctor, so please have a check-up before leaving home, and inform us of any medical issues. This is for YOUR OWN safety.

DO bring all prescription medications and good rehydration/electrolytes. We advise bringing your own Diamox, Ciprofloxin, Azithromyacin & Augmentin. We have all of these with us but the Western versions are always better than the Indian equivalents.

PAC Bag + Oxygen
We carry a Portable Oxygen Chamber, or Gammow Bag, with us on many treks. There is no charge for use of the PAC bag but oxygen is $300 per canister (cost price, pass on to insurance company).

Travel Books
Travel Books

Arrival India

Arrival in India
NOTE: Flights to/from Leh are NOT included in the price or itinerary. Everyone will need to arrange their own flight or overland trip to Leh. You can book your international flights all the way to Leh, Ladakh (IXL) which will ensure that your flight provider is responsible for hotels if your flight is delayed or cancelled. You might also want to come overland from Manali, breath-taking jeep safari, or from Srinagar, both some of the planet's most spectacular drives.

Email us your flight arrival details and have our contact details with you when you arrive in Delhi in case you need assistance. Kim will have her mobile with her, as will our agents from Dhruv Travels, so don't hesitate to call. We can help with hotels, flights, airport pick-ups and drops, sightseeing in Delhi or travels further to Rajasthan or Agra & the Taj Mahal (see Dhruv Travels).

Indian Visa
Be sure to have your Indian Visa before arrival in India. Most countries qualify for the new visa-on-arrival system, which is valid for 30 days. Information about the new visa-on-arrival for citizens of many countries (excluding the UK). NOTE that you need to apply and pay for the visa BEFORE arriving in India. You get the actual visa with your paid application once in India.
Indian Visa

Reference for Indian Visa:
Hotel in Leh: Shaynam Hotel, 20 Old Leh Road, Leh 194101
Travel Agent in Delhi: Dhruv Travels, 2464, Nalwa St, Chuna Mandi, Paharganj, New Delhi, 110055, India, +91 11 2358 2715
Hotel in Delhi: Jyoti Mahal Guest House, 2488-90 Nalwa Street, Chuna Mandi, Pahar Ganj, New Delhi,110055, +91 1123580523/24/25/26

You can print out + fill out your Visa on Arrival form before arriving in India, but you need to apply for the visa before leaving for India!

Delhi Airport Hotels
Delhi Airport Hotel

Delhi Restaurants + Bars
Zomato

Notes on Itinerary
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.

The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...

Temperatures + Clothing
Dress conservatively in Leh and on the trail as a rule. Shorts are okay if they aren't too short, mini skirts aren’t recommended. Sleeveless t-shirts are absolutely fine, but perhaps avoid tank-tops on the trail. Super tight doesn't go over so well with the village elders. Many of the younger generation in Nepal wear modern Indian or Western-influenced clothes, but remember that you haven't signed up for a beach or surf vacation. Use your good judgment, be an ambassador for western tourists! Please ask Kim or your guide if unsure about appropriate clothing.

Leh is generally very hot during the day (t-shirt weather) and cool at night (long sleeve shirt, fleece or synthetic jacket weather depending on month in the summer). A sun hat is essential during the day, sandals like Keens perfect for both a wander around town and trekking. Ladakh is very casual, a pair of jeans and shirt fine for evenings.

Trekking temperatures vary considerably, and you will need a wide range of trekking gear during the trek. Gear will range from sandals to boots, from t-shirts to down jackets. We suggest packing a warm sleeping bag, and bring layers. A full discussion of gear on 'Gear' tab.

Duffel Bags
We have North Face style duffel bags with Kamzang Journeys logos for sale (XL, orange). They are (mostly) waterproof, mid to lightweight (lighter than North Face) and good quality. Price $40. Please inquire early as we need to bring from Kathmandu.

Cultural Issues
Ladakhis are very open and welcoming, but there are a few issues you should be aware of to make your stay in Ladakh more fulfilling. Use your right hand to pass things, shake hands or do most anything. Left hands are somewhat taboo. Best not to pat kids on heads, or point feet ahead of you at monasteries. Don't walk over someone's legs or feet, but put your hand down in front of you to signal them to pull their legs to the side. Take off shoes and hats when going into Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, don't use flashes inside monasteries or temples in general, be respectful of a puja (prayer ceremony) if attending one. You can talk, all religious are very tolerant, but be aware of your level of voice.

Ladakhis don't anger quickly, so try not to raise your voice if exasperated or angry as it only will make a situation worse. Do bargain at shops, with taxis and rickshaws, but don't fleece them. They are poor and making a living, generally.

Give small donations on the streets if you choose, but try not to encourage begging too much. Be aware of who you are giving money to, and please only give small amounts. If you do want to donate to a cause, ask about our Kamzang Fund or other responsible organizations.

Note that Leh and Ladakh are melting pots of different religions: Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim, as well as a few Christians. Tolerance and acceptance of all religions tolerated!

Pampering Yourself in Leh
Inquire if you're interested in staying in one of Leh's high end hotels. A few suggestions ...

Stok Palace
'Built entirely by the Ladakhi craftsmen in 1820, the Stok Palace still continues to be a snug abode for the Namgyal dynasty. The Namgyal dynasty traces its origin to its founder –Lhachen Palgygon as early as 10th century. You are entering a historical property and the Palace stands 195 years old. The Stok Palace was opened to public in 1980 with blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and since it’s been over a decade and visitors continues to pour from all over the World. It encapsulates and reflects the lifestyle and history of Royalties set in the midst of the valley of Singey Sangpo which is known more popularly as Indus River.

Preserved from urbanity, this pristine natural landscape allows you to relax in serene atmosphere, pregnant with the delicious aroma of the country side and amazing views all around and takes the visitors through the imagery experience, detailing the softness of Snow, the brilliance of sunlight, billowing clouds, wandering pathways, and picturesque local architecture. As with anything embracing the grandeur and beauty of nature, the landscapes achieve a sense of timelessness; they envelop the echoes and silence of eons gone by. So come and enjoy the fine dining experience prepared from the family kitchen products coming from the local market and village. You can enjoy the pleasures of healthy and natural Ladakhi, Tibetan and Indian food.'

Nimmu House
'Nimmu House Ladakh is a sustainable Hotel in Ladakh, 30 km from Leh, in the village of Nimmoo. A noble house belonging to the cousin of the king of Ladakh, from the early 90s, surrounded by an orchard. Nimmu House includes five spacious tents scattered across the orchard and a room located in the house. Activities include Hiking, trekking, rafting, cooking classes, visits to the village of Nimmu and the monasteries of the Indus Valley'

The Ultimate Traveling Camp
'The first truly mobile luxury camps in India covering a calendar of destinations and festivals. This nomadic super luxury camp introduces the discerning traveller to different adventures in Carefully selected exceptional locations in the mountains, deserts, jungles and unexplored Countryside. Experience the many moods of exotic India with its dramatic landscapes, rustic and unexplored rural surroundings. Rediscover yourself…meet gurus from the far reaches of the Himalayas, raft down the River Indus, watch a game of Polo, a sport of the Royals, picnic in picturesque spots, celebrate tribal hues at the Hornbill Festival, explore quaint tribal Naga villages, or simply curl up in your ‘tent with a view’!

Tips for Staff
We recommend at least $200 per person to go into the tip pool for the staff. Please bring IC with you on the trek for the tips. It’s nice to buy the staff drinks on the last night. Or any other night that you feel like getting them a bottle of run!

Tips in General
Tips are always appreciated but they don’t need to be extravagant. 50 IC to carry bags to/from your room is fine. 100 IC for drivers to/from the airport. Round up taxi fares. A larger tip would be expected for a day trip in a car, perhaps 500 IC. 10% is included in some restaurant and hotel bills in India, and if it’s not included it’s still expected. Check your bills, and still round up at restaurants. Feel free to give out small change to the beggars in the streets (5, 10, 20 IC).

Cash + ATMs
You’ll want some cash with you on the trek for drinks, snacks, beer, sodas, etc. There are often  chances to during the trek, and usually local crafts to buy en route. (You’ll want your tip money IC as well). There are ATMs in Leh but they don’t dispense large amounts of cash so you’ll be best with currency to change. Traveler's checks not recommended in India.

Extra Days in India | Customize Your Journey
We are happy to book extra nights at the hotel, or a hotel of your choice, if you want to stay in Leh for a few extra days to explore our favorite Central Asian capital, or just to relax and soak in the mountain scenery. We are also happy to book trips to Nubra, sightseeing jeep safaris along the Indus Valley, rafting, bicycling down the Kardung La or any other activity you would like.

See our Extensions Tab for trip ideas!

Gear

Gear List
This is a guideline, not a bible, for the gear you will need on the trek. Ask if you have questions!
NOTE: Your duffel bag can NOT be any larger than a North Face XL (140 Liter, 32" x 19" by 19").
ONE duffel bag only. 20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit, please.

  • Strong, waterproof DUFFEL BAG (North Face are perfect, available online)
  • Daypack (35-35 Liter)
  • Rain Cover (optional)
  • Sleeping Bag (0 to -20F/-18 to -28 C recommended)
  • Down Jacket
  • Trekking Boots
  • Thermarest (Air Mattress)
  • Sneakers or Light Shoes (optional)
  • Crocs (for evenings & washing) 

  • Hiking Sandals (REQUIRED for river crossings)
  • Trekking Pants &/or Long Shorts (3 pairs)
  • T-Shirts (3)
  • Long-sleeve Trekking Shirts (3)
  • Fleece Jacket (daytime)
  • Fleece or Thermal Top (evenings)
  • Fleece or Thermal Bottoms (evenings)
  • Yoga-type Pants (evenings: optional)
  • 
Jacket (fiber-filled, soft or hard-shelled)
  • Lightweight Gortex Jacket & Pants (wind & rainproof)
  • Lightweight Long Underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
  • Socks (5)
  • Gloves
  • Wool Hat
  • Trekking Poles
  • Down Booties (optional)
  • Baseball Cap &/or Wide-brimmed Hat
  • Sunglasses (2: bring extra pair)
  • Nalgene or Sigg Water-bottles (3)
  • Bladder (optional but recommended)
  • Toiletries, Sunscreen with SPF, Lipbalm with SPF & Personal Medical Supplies
  • Watch (or small clock with alarm)
  • Extra Batteries & Battery Chargers
  • Headlamp 
(2: bring extra)
  • Water-purifying Tablets, Small Filter or Steripen
  • Folding Washing Bowl (optional, for clothes)
  • Laundry Detergent (Leh) or Bio-degradable Clothes Soap
  • Hand Sanitizer (lots)
  • Small Solar Panel (optional, recommended for iPods, iPhones, camera batteries, Kindles)
  • Book(s)
  • Zip-lock Bags
  • SOFT roll of Toilet Paper &/or Tissues (NOTE: we supply toilet paper but it’s not soft! You’ll want something softer for blowing your nose)
  • Baby-Wipes or Wet-Wipes (for personal cleaning)
  • Handi-wipes or Chux (optional: easy for a quick daytime clean, fast drying)
  • Rehydration/Electrolytes
  • SNACKS!

NOTE: We have a 'dress code' for the evenings in the tent, which essentially means you'll be changing out of your trekking clothes and into clean, dry evening clothes!

Medical Supplies

We strongly suggest bringing Western meds with you as there are a lot of Indian fakes on the market!

Suggested: Diamox, Azithromyacin, Ciprofloxacin, Tinidazole or Flagyl & Augmentin. Bring COMPEED for covering blisters & good tasting electrolytes &/or rehydration salts (Emergen-C is a good American brand). The local versions aren’t very appealing.
We also recommend bringing strong knee & ankle supports & braces, ACE bandages for sprains & strains, Tegaderm &/or other would coverings. Duct tape is always useful. We're happy to take excess medical supplies off your hands when you leave if you won't need them and pass them on to others. We use lots of the large amount we have with us to treat locals as well as our own trekkers ...

Comments on Gear

Layers are essential for trekking. Quality is more important than quantity. It’s worth investing in some of the great, warm, lightweight gear available in all gear shops or online. I generally wear a trekking t-shirt, light trekking pants, a mid-weight shirt or fleece jacket, a lightweight fiber-filled jacket (instead of a fleece usually) and always carry a wind & rain jacket (the same jacket). If the weather looks stormy or it’s a pass day I carry my down jacket with me. I always have a pair of gloves, a hat, a baseball cap and an extra pair of socks in my day-pack. Good trekking boots or shoes are essential as are a good pair of sandals for river crossings which you can hike in.

Nights are chilly to cold, so a down jacket and a warm sleeping bag are essentials. For your sleeping bag, we recommend a DOWN bag of 0 to -20 F (-18 to -28 C). Mine is -20 F. At lower altitudes I open it and sleep under it like a quilt and up higher am toasty warm during the cold nights. Campsites near passes can get COLD. Rentals available. The dining tent is a Tibetan style ‘yurt’, with blankets and camp chairs on the ground. It warms up in the evenings with the gas lamp but it is still important to have warm clothes for the evenings. I always use down booties which are great when it’s cold, but a pair of thick wool socks also work.

Trekking poles are not required but strongly recommended, especially for going down passes which can be quite steep, sometimes a bit icy. It’s also good (possibly essential) to have a pair of plastic Crocs for washing and the evenings; wear a pair of warm socks under them for going in and out of the dining tent which is a 'shoes off' zone. Tevas take a long time to dry, not recommended. You can bring a pair of light sneakers or running shoes for the afternoons or easy days if you have room in your pack, or if you are used to hiking in them.

Good, polarized sunglasses are essential; please bring an extra pair if you tend to lose them! Don’t forget a sun hat &/or baseball cap and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!

Bring extra large plastic bags or stuff-sacks in case of rain. You can pack electronics in them or stash your sleeping bag and clothes. The weather is changeable in the Himalaya, so again I recommend that everyone has a strong, WATERPROOF duffel bag for the trip. We supply covers that go over the duffel bags to protect them from rain, dirt & thorns.

Tents
Everyone gets their own Northface Dome tent (3 person, huge) without a single supplement. Couples share the same sized tent.

Daypack
We recommend a 35-45 liter daypack (ask at your gear shop if you’re not sure of the capacity). Better to have it too large than too small as on pass days you’ll need to carry more warm gear. Most have internal water bladders built in, which are good for ensuring that you stay hydrated. Make sure it fits and is comfortable before purchasing!

In your daypack, you will be carrying your camera, 2 liters of water, a jacket, wind & rain pants, hat, gloves, extra socks, sunscreen, snacks, electrolytes, water purifying tablets, filter, or Steripen camera, hand sanitizer, a pack-cover and often a down jacket. I slip my Crocs on the back in case of unexpected stream crossings or for lunch. Lhakpa & I carry small medical kits in our daypacks.

Water
We bring KATADYN expedition-sized water filters along on the trek for fresh drinking water, ecologically the best way to get water in the Himalaya’s fragile trekking regions. Bring your own filter pump, Steripen/UV purifier or iodine/chlorine tablets for fresh water while trekking. NOTE: To be extra safe with your drinking water, you can drop one purifying tablet into your water bottle after filling with our filtered water. Make sure you wait the required amount of time before drinking, and don’t add anything with Vitamin C as this negates the iodine.

Please bring at least TWO (and better three) Nalgene, Sigg or other unbreakable plastic/metal water bottles. Camelbacks and other bladder systems are good for trekking but can leak, so as a back-up it’s best to also bring a Nalgene or other water bottle.

NOTE: We do not provide boiled water for drinking on either our tea-house/lodge or our camping treks although there is endless hot water for herbal, black or green teas, hot chocolate, hot lemon as well as Indian chai and Kashmiri tea.

Snacks
You will NEED snacks hiking at altitude, even if you’re not a snacker. People crave unusual foods at altitude!  Energy bars, ‘GU’ gels, chocolate bars, dried fruit & nuts, beef jerky (or whatever) are important to have along for long days, pre-lunch bonks and passes. Lemonade mix, Emergen-C or similar drink mixes are great to have for hot days in your water bottles, and it is ESSENTIAL to bring electrolytes with you every day.  

Bring something to share in the tent in the evenings if you want. Cheese is great as a treat on a cheese-board before dinner (Blue, Stilton, Yarlsburg, good Cheddar, Brie, etc). If you would like, bring a bit of your favorite and we’ll throw it on a cheese board for appetizers one night.

NOTE: Nothing besides your personal snack food is required, but it’s fun to see what everyone comes up with!  Lots of basics available in Leh, so no need to over-load.

Rentals
We have Western down jackets to rent for $1.50 per day.  We also have good super-down sleeping bags to rent (0 to -10 F) for $2.50 per day. Please book these early as we sometimes need to bring from Kathmandu.

Packing & Storage
It’s easiest to pack and unpack from a duffel bag, especially when the temperature drops. It's a good idea to invest in a strong, waterproof duffel such as a North Face. You can store extra gear in Leh at your hotel.

Shopping
You can get some trekking gear in Leh, such as trekking poles, sleeping bags (about 0F), light down jackets, Chinese-made gear which is often quite wearable. Top up your gear in Leh if you need to, but best not to rely on purchasing too much there.

Extensions

Srinagar & the Jewels of Kashmir
Kashmir, Srinagar & Indus Jeep Safari

A great extension to any of our Kamzang Journeys treks in Ladakh & Zanskar, or a wonderful trip on its own. Kashmir and Srinagar are some of the jewels of the Indian Himalaya, often described by local Kashmiris as 'heaven on earth' ....

We are offering a wonderful nine-day itinerary, flying from Delhi to Srinagar and finishing in Leh via the overland route.
There are many ways to customize this trip, please get in touch to make this trip exactly what you are looking for!

Some of the highlights: old historic Srinagar & the Mughal Gardens, touring Dal & Nageen Lakes by shikara (local boat), the atmospheric morning floating market, a visit to Dacigram National Park, an excursion Manasbal & Wular Lake, the largest lake in Asia, a tour of
Yousmarg  and a visit to Naranag Temple, the oldest in Kashmir.

En route to Leh you'll have the option to drive the stunningly beautiful Indus highway via the Koji La, with a chance to visit idyllic Sonmarg and stop at several Tibetan Buddhist monasteries along the road to Leh. Or you can take a one-hour flight directly to Leh.

Enjoy the world renown beauty and hospitality of Kashmir!


Leh, the Indus Valley & High Lakes
Leh, Indus Valley Monasteries & Salt Lakes

We also have a nearly perfect extension, again also a trip on its own, of Leh, the Indus Valley monasteries (gompas, in Tibetan or Ladakhi) and a jeep safari to the breathtakingly beautiful and culturally interesting Tso Moriri and Pangong Lakes, the later partly in Tibet. Visit the nomadic communities at Tso Moriri, the traditional villages at Pangong Lake and explore the bustling Tibetan Buddhist monasteries en route to these lakes.

There is lots to explore in historic Leh and tucked away amongst the shady villages and intriguing alleyways of this Central Asian capital.

 

Itinerary

Day 1 - Meet in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away amidst the Ladakh mountains, part of the great Trans Himalayan range. If you arrive by air you'll feel the big jump in altitude and it will take your body a few days to adjust. If you arrive by road from Manali or Srinagar you'll have had some extra acclimatization en route, but will still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with plenty of water, stay away from beer for a few days, rest and don't over-exert yourself. Even walking up the stairs of the guesthouse, let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or two. 250 mg of Diamox twice a day is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally. We recommend starting the day before you fly up to Leh.

We stay at the family-run Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guesthouse with a lovely garden in the center courtyard, located just a few minutes south of the Main Bazaar in old Leh town. Your rooms will be booked for you, you'll just need to advise Kim of your arrival time, whether by air or by road.

Have a wander around town, or Kim is happy to take you on her short tour. There are Muslim (and other) bakeries, cafes, tandoori restaurants, old alleyways, Buddhist monasteries, mosques, Hindu temples and wonderful markets, especially the Main Bazaar. We'll meet for dinner in the evening at the Ibex, Chopsticks, Penguin or Summer Harvest, a few of our favorite restaurants.

Days 2 + 3 - Leh
We've scheduled two more free days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal's 17th century capital of Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh Palace, the ancient 15th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, other historic Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the Sunni Muslim mosques, narrow back alleys with steaming Muslim bread, tiny antique shops tucked away amidst the many ancient stupas and architectural remnants, the exotic Main Bazaar (c. 1840s) which once accommodated trade caravans, and even a polo field. Today, the Main Bazaar is a colorful street, the sidewalks crammed mornings and afternoons with Ladakhi women selling their fresh fruits and vegetables, and locals at the far end vending their dried nuts, apricots and apples.

Caravans of merchants from far-flung destinations such as Yarkand, Tibet, Kashgar and North India passed through Leh during ancient trade missions, trading salt, wool, Pashmina, tea and semi-precious stones, lending to the city its exotic allure. Pilgrims flocked to the monasteries of Leh and the Indus valley, explorers of old stopped in Leh to re-stock and weather out the harsh Himalayan winter and soldiers en route to plunder and conquer desirous destinations passed through Leh, all leaving their mark on this unique capital.

Kim will take you for a walk up the bustling Fort Road, lined with shops owned by Kashmiri, Tibetan and Kashmiri shop-keepers, to the crumbling but majestic Leh Fort (3680 meters) and the red, Maitreiya Tsemo Gompa, perched high on a craggy and crumbling hilltop overlooking the bazaars of old Leh. You can stop at 16th century nine-story Leh Palace, of a similar architectural design to the Tibetan Potala Palace, on the way down if you have the energy. Visit the museum, a worthwhile endeavor, as well as the nearby gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) - Soma Gompa, Chamba Lakhang and Chensrig Lakhang.

We might wander the willow-lines streets of Changspa to reach the many steps leading to the Japanese-built Shanti Stupa for a view over the green fields and white-washed Ladakhi houses of the villages surrounding Leh. The precariously perched Leh Fort guards the eastern edges of the fertile valley. Sankar Gompa (17th - 18th century), reached through shady lanes to the east of Changspa, lies in the midst of Chubi's groves of poplar and willow and is another wonderful morning or afternoon walk. The back route to Leh Fort starts in Chubi and passes through a desert-like Buddhist cremation ground before climbing to the fortress.

OPTIONAL MONASTERY + INDUS JEEP TRIP
Arrange (through Kim, our Tibetan jeep-driver Wang Chuk or the Shaynam Hotel) a 'jeep safari' through the fertile Indus Valley to visit a few of the living Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the crumbling ruins of ancient fortresses and palaces and the traditional villages that dot the banks of the region, the 'cradle of civilization' of much of the ancient world. Kim can help arrange jeeps and/or a guide for a day's excursion.

To the East: Shey, Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho & Stok.
To the West: Spiyok, Phyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Rizdong & Lamayuru.

OPTIONAL RAFTING TRIP
You can arrange a day rafting trip on the Indus (easier) or the Zanskar River, approximately $40.

Day 4 - Drive Photoksar 4200m (cross Sirsir La 4825m)
After breakfast we board our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at Photoskar, 6 or 7 hour drive through the historical, green Indus Valley. Leaving Leh we drive past the ancient Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village and Phyang Gompa and village to the right. We continue along a cliff-side road past the intersection of the Indus River with the Zanskar River, the Zanskar villagers' lifeline during the harsh winters. Look out the back windows for a spectacular panorama of the Ladakh range, which extends westward to meet the Karakorum range in the distance. About an hour later, we'll spot Basgo Gompa and Fort, a 500 year old World Heritage site, situated spectacularly on a spur above the Indus. Further down the Indus on the right is the link road to Likir Gompa, and to the left the turnoff to the 1000 year old Alchi Gompa, built in the Northern Indian style with wonderful frescos and murals inside the many prayer rooms. Just past Alchi is the link road to Rizdong on the right; soon afterwards we cross the Indus at Khaltse, and continue to the turn off to Panjilla a half hour down the road.

Panjilla is a lovely village lined with apricot trees and lively with villagers. We drive further to the Sumdo and then on the spectacular gorge road to Hanupatta. Pink Zanskar roses line the road, leaving behind a scent of cinnamon, and incredible spires of rock tower above at every corner. We continue on the new road giving access to Photoksar, passing through the long village of Hanupatta with ancient carved mani walls and chortens. The valley widens as we slowly ascend, and the rock-spires become ever more impressive, their hues of ochre and tans glowing gently in the morning rays. We cross the large-ish Spong Togpa river on a new Bailey's bridge, and soon afterwards crest the 4820 meter Sirsir La, our first of many Ladakhi passes (Ladakh means 'Land of high passes').

Expansive views of the craggy ranges surrounding us at the prayer-flag festooned summit of the Sirsir La. We descend the steep ridge to our left, passing yellow poppy-like flowers, 'bee balm' (bees love this flower) or monarda from which earl grey tea is made and marmots popping their heads out of their burrows. We continue to ascend easily, soon crossing a small stream and climbing a bit to reach an amazing complex of a white-washed kane (entrance) chorten, a mani wall and a lama's seat. Don't miss the view of Photoksar between the chorten door!

Just around the corner is the incredibly scenic village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside just past our camp, where if the wild flowers are in bloom, is one of the most beautiful spots in Ladakh, and certainly one of the most photographed. Our campsite has amazing views downriver to Photoksar, and the villagers, herding their flocks of sheep and goats, will stop by our campsite en route back to Photoksar with their herd of sheep and goats coming down from the high grazing hills.

We'll set you up in your tents, show you around our 'Kamzang' style dining tent and settle in with a mug of chai ... Take a walk along the river to the interesting village in the afternoon, well worth a bit of time, and spend the early evening watching the sun-rays filter through the village haze and the villagers heading back from the barley fields.

Day 5 - Drive Singge La 4970m. Trek Yulchung 3900m (cross Singge La 4970m)
Back in the jeep this morning as we head towards our second pass, the Bumiktse La at 4400 meters, passing a summer 'doksa' or grazing area. The deep gorge leading directly to Panjilla rises dramatically to our left, and we'll be greeted with great views of Photoksar and its fertile valley from the pass. Ahead is the Utah-like bulk of the Singge (lion) Peak and the Singge La (pass). This valley is the high pasture of the Photoksar villagers, and we pass their herds of sheep, goats and yaks en route to Yulchung. Next up is the prayer-flag festooned 5000 meter Singge La, the 'lion pass' where we'll have views across Ladakh and Zanskar. Our road snakes its way up to the top of the pass from the left of the valley while the old trail still goes up the middle through the wildflowers, by the small parachute tent owned by Nyawang Jigmet of Yulchung.

After a break to hang five-colored Tibetan prayer flags we drop steeply into the dramatic canyon on slightly exposed trails, contouring along old trails lined with Zanskar rose bushes. There are often blue sheep and ibex in this region, so have cameras ready and eyes open for falling rocks. The massive, ochre-colored canyon walls to our left as we descend have been smoothed and textured by millenniums of wind and water erosion which have left strange caves throughout. The valley heats up as we follow the small trail, through pastures of wildflowers, lichen-covered rocks and grasses, that leads to the isolated village of Yulchung, which means 'small kingdom'. Yulchung is a remote, traditional village with a five-hundred year old gompa on the upper reaches of the village and another smaller 'lhakhang' perched on a precarious rock-ledge in front of the crescent-shaped village. The straight rod-like rock on top of the craggy cliffs across the river from camp is called 'ranjung kazar pani'.

The staff has set up our camp behind the ancient chortens, in the threshing fields on the top edge of the village, right next to some wonderful old Ladakhi dwellings. The views from this village win Kim's vote for 'the-best-of-the-trek', and the villagers, not used to many trekkers, are welcoming and open. Tomorrow's pass is visible in the distance, as is the pass leading to 'bear valley', high up in the peaks in front of us, past the powerful Zanskar River. We'll have many local visitors during the course of the afternoon and evening, including Kim's wonderful Zanskari grandmother Sonam Yanskit, now in her early 80s (82) and will hope to have a chance to visit a traditional Ladakhi house and the gompa in the afternoon. Sonam Yanskit's husband Nyawang Jigmet looks like a real Tibetan, with his turquoise earrings and 'goncha', a dress similar to a chuba.

Below the campsite lives Sonam Yanskit's husband's nephew and his preschool teacher wife, in what used to be the King of Yulchung's house. They are descendants of this family although there is little that's still 'royal' about their house or lifestyle.

Day 6 - Trek Nyeraks 3710m
A fantastically scenic Himalayan trekking day as we hike down to the Zanskar River and back up to Nyeraks. Leaving camp, we wind our way through the extensive village and fields of Yulchung, passing the ruins of the old 'lhakhang' and hermitage on the opposite end of the cresent as we head towards the ridge that drops steeply out of Yulchung to the Zanskar River canyons far below. Keep an eye out for the red fox that lives in the vicinity, and for blue sheep grazing along the hillsides. After contouring around several hillsides, we have a small climb to the Chocho Khuri La (3865 meters), where we'll enjoy the spectacular views in both directions. We drop down a steep switchback, dusty, with a small spring and local berries, into the gorge of the Zanskar River, which we cross by a new wooden, cantilevered bridge, rebuilt after the floods of 2015. We climb up the hillside on a winding trail past a unique version of a 'lhatoo' (a shrine to the mountain deities the locals believe live on local peaks), a sculpture made from blue sheep horns, to the village of Nyeraks, perched on a plateau high above the Zanskar.

We begin to understand the harshness of life in such a setting, between pass and river gorge, a seemingly impossible place, with its own beautiful monastery, and even an old, sacred tree. The small Yulchung Gompa is wonderful, a real relic of times past which is white-washed yearly, a colorful event. The gompa was being renovated and repainted in 2015 by monks and painters from Lingshed, with which it is associated. We once saw the procession of the Ngari Rimpoche, who is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama, leaving remote Nyaraks after a visit to the monastery, an elaborate procession with parasols, musicians, horses and locals following.

Our campsite is another spectacular one, with incredible sunset views over the village and craggy peaks. The quality of light in this part of the Himalaya is breathtaking, so be sure to have an evening stroll through the village and take some shots. Sonam Yanskit's daughter, Thinle Angmo, lives in Nyeraks with her husband and four yound children. She's now an 'amchi', or Tibetan doctor, after several years of study at Lingshed Gompa, and treats local villagers for trade or a small donation. Her husband is often away, working at a medical center in Kaltze, a world away from Nyarks.

A large house at the top of the village, once the house of a high official of the king, has an exquisite house gompa that we may be able to visit. The cute son Gyalsean loves to play in the courtyard. Most of the houses are of traditional Ladakhi design, with an open courtyard in the center of the first floor of the house, where most work is done, and time spent in the sun. (4 1/2 hrs)

Day 7 - Trek Nyeraks High Camp 4675m
We head off on the first half of our steep, 1300 meter ascent from Nyeraks to the Takti La (4950m) pass, which separates Ladakh from Zanskar. We start climbing right out of the village, passing the white-washed chortens and through the wire gate, often steeply. We pass several cairns as we hike up a chain of several very steep hills, stopping at the top of each to rest, and look behind us towards the Singge. Nyeraks is now a patchwork of greens, browns and tans, far below us in the valley, and the hillside is peppered with ancient, crumbling chortens. The steep sided valley is made of black, oxidized iron ore which sparkles in the sunlight, small mountain flowers brighten the harsh landscape and marmots poke their heads out of their holes. Walking along an old irrigation wall, we soon reach a small pond fed by a mountain spring were we set up a spectacular high camp, cold but worth it for the evening and morning views! (4 hrs, 2.5 km)

Day 8 - Trek Bear Camp | Bear Valley 3980m (cross Takti La 4955m + OhShit La 4580m)
Fresh pressed coffee and chai are welcome on this chilly morning! Keep an eye out for blue sheep and ibex at the flat summit, and notice the glacier flower blooming though out the walk on our short, 1 1/2 hour trek to the pass. We ascend to cairn topped ridges, making our way carefully through the scree slope which contour around the peak and lead to the prayer flags at the grassy Takti La. Looking back across to the Singge La and the serrated ridges that we have crossed over the past few days is an awesome sight.

Descending on a very steep switchback to a glacial stream (we might be able to refill water), we have another short and more gradual climb to the OhShit La (named after the view upon reaching this pass from the other direction and seeing the Takti La looming ominously ahead of us). We have now entered our 'bear valley', and a steep, switchbacking trail down brings us down to the end of the valley, where we turn right into a green valley of willows and flowers, still following the small stream. Making our way on the small, overgrown trail, crossing the stream a few times, we reach to the clearing that we call Bear Camp (although we haven't actually spent the night there with one) in another hour.

We've entered our 'lost valley' of Zanskar! The crew will light a fire tonight to keep the bears at bay (although the rumors are that the villagers of Zangla shot them after the bears raided their sheep paddocks). Zanskar translates as 'land of white copper', a once remote collection of Himalayan kingdoms cut off from the rest of the world by the Himalayan Range to the south, and the Zanskar Range to the north.

Note: Our only actual bear spotting was in 2003, when our group did this trek for the first time. We spotted a brown bear cub right next to us, and then across the valley what we presumed to be its parents, not looking happy that a large group of trekkers were hanging out with their offspring. The next season we only spotted frozen bear scat and no prints, but in 2005 we again spotted fresh bear scat, so we presume that the bears are back! We hope to see them again! (5 1/2 hrs, 7 km)

Day 9 - Trek Karmafu (Pharkunsa) | Bear Valley 3780m
Today's half day's trek is an exciting and beautiful one, first along the willow-lined stream, jumping back and forth (possibly wear sandals), and then over (or under) an ice bridge and through a narrow canyon with ankle deep water (sandals). Next on the list of adventures is a short climb to the small Pangat La (3900 meters), followed by a high, exposed trail over the river followed by an easy river fording and another canyon trek on crumbling trails on the right side of the river. The staff have often had to rebuild this trail, and sometimes have to unload the horses. Just past this tricky section, we crest a small rise and have a lovely view down valley towards our plateau campsite, a spectacular one. We'll stop for lunch under the only shady tree in the valley, just after leaving the canyon, and perhaps jump in the river to cool down. Just afterwards, past more local 'bear berries' and seabuckthorne bushes, we pass junction of a small stream where (in 2005 Kim) set off alone to help get camp set up, heard a loud splashing very close to her which she assumed to be a bear, and came running back to the lunch spot. Joel and the boys, ever brave, came running out with the bear spray to do battle. Be on the lookout for the prints and scat of snow leopard, fox and wolf as well as bear.

We might do a bit of river walking, or we can opt to stay on the trail, which undulates on the scree slope, avoiding the thorns of the seabuckthorne bushes. These berries produce a delicious drink, very high in vitamin C, which you can find in Leh, sweetened with sugar. A few years ago Lhakpa and I saw fresh bear tracks while river walking, and over 10 years ago Joel, the group and I encountered a large Himalayan Brown Bear, turning our heads to see the even larger mother and father bears across the small stream. There are many brightly striped hoopoes in this valley, very hard to photograph and very shy.

We arrive in our plateau campsite in the early afternoon, in time to enjoy the views of the hoodoos across the stream, go for a dip below camp, and possibly spot some blue sheep and ibex that roam the hillsides. The hoodoos that line the riverbank opposite camp are amazing sculptures of eroded rock and mud, that hosted a show of acrobatic blue sheep several years ago. Our mules and horses got stuck in the mud flats below camp many summers ago, after extreme flooding in Ladakh that left the rivers clogged with quick sand-like mud, and a few years ago we left camp following the fresh tracks of bear prints up the valley towards Zanskar. We might build a campfire in the evening, a practice first started to keep the bears away years ago. (4 hrs, 8 km)

Day 10 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp 3430m (over Namtse La 4495m)
A small saddle above our campsite topped with a barrier of sticks leads us back down into a dramatic, narrow valley. Our small trail follows  the same willow-lined stream as yesterday which we follow as we ascend for an hour or so, often jumping from side to side. After hiking through the tight willows, the valley broadens and the views open in front of us as we ascend under hoodoos backed by brilliant blue sky. Chukkars chortle and rush up the arid hillsides and grazing yaks glance up as we invade their pristine territory. Continuing up a bit more steeply for another few hours, it's an easy crossing of the Namtse La, a desert-like pass at 4495 meters. If the weather cooperates this is our lunch spot, a scenic one!

Afterwards, we'll drop steeply into another valley of Zanskar roses which, after some three hours walking, brings us out onto the wide plain, the once-Kingdom of Zangla. One really gets a sense of why this remained a hidden kingdom for so many centuries. To the right, the hilltop fortress of Zangla, and past that several watch tours along the Jumlam route. Past Zangla, the Himalayan barrier, and the Umasi La to Kashmir; the wooden beams that are the center of most Zanskari houses came from there, laboriously carried by porters. Below the Zanskar curves away into the Muslim Suru valley and the Pensi La, closed for all but three months of every year and in front, behind the villages of Pidmo and Pishu, the Zanskar range cuts off approach for all but those like us, a well-equipped caravan.

After emerging from the gorge we have a one-hour walk through Honya Doksa and along the Zanskar plateau (or along the riverside, a slightly longer but nicer route) to our lovely riverside camp that we call Zangla Doksa River camp. Doksa means seasonal nomadic settlement in Ladakhi, and the locals from Honya Doksa will pass by in the evenings with their large herds of sheep, goats and donkeys, making for some classic photos of traditional life in Zanskar. The grass is green and the stream warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing from camp! (7 1/2 hrs, 15 km)

Day 11 - Zangla Doksa River Camp
Finally a rest and exploration day; options are to hang at camp and relax in this sublime setting or to hike up and explore the wonderful and historic Zanskari village of Zangla.

+++ Kim & Lhakpa will head to Padum to resupply for the second half of the trek. Some people might want to head to central Zanskar to make a wonderful Zanskar gompa tour.

ZANGLA VILLAGE + FORT TOUR
Climbing gradually out of our campsite, hike along the plateau past a weathered rock carved with thousand-year old Mon chortens, soon reaching Zangla Chomo Gompa (nunnery) to the northern side of the village. Follow the village road past the King of Zangla's house, where our Kamzang Journeys group had tea one summer with the royal residents, including the Queen Mother. The King of Zangla, Gyalthes Nima Norboo Namgial Ldey, of the Sonsten Gampo lineage, is the same age as the Dalai Lama (early 80s). Songsten Gampo was the great 7th century Tibetan king who unified much of Tibet, encouraged the spread of Tibetan Buddhism and was the patron of the creation of the Tibetan script. He had two wives, one Chinese and the other Nepali. The king's family is also of the Nyimagon lineage, a Tibetan king from the 11th century whose youngest of three sons, Ldey Tsugon, ruled Zanskar, Lahoul and Spiti. The other two sons ruled areas of western Tibet (Guge, Purang) near Mount Kailash.

We sometimes meet the king in the village, and rode into and back from Padum with him in 2015. The King's house now has a new horse stable in frong, and the new house right next to the somewhat dilapidated royal residence is the house of the village carpenter.

The piece de resistance of Zangla, however, is its fortress, presently being restored by an organization called 'Cosmos Room'. The ruins of the 900 year-old Zangla Fort, the old dzong (palace fortress) of the ancient Kings of Zangla, are a breathtaking site, built precariously on top of a ledge of rock at the intersection of the Zanskar River and the small river leading out to the Jumlam, or middle route. This route was an autumn trading route to avoid the high passes of Ladakh, and must have been open to invasions, thus the fort and series of lookout towers down the Jumlam valley. The dzong houses a wonderful prayer room, which we happened upon a few years ago. In 2005, over two straight weeks of continuous rain and wind literally 'melted' the dzong, and it is now quite as safe as it was previously. The famous Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros spent a winter in the 19th century studying Tibetan in order to make a dictionary in a room in the fort, now commemorated as his room. The fort is guarded over by a giant, new stupa built in 2009, while more ancient chortens with tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend back to the village and eventually to camp.

ZANSKAR VALLEY MONASTERIES JEEP TOUR | Sani Gompa, Karsha Gompa + Pipiting Gompa
Get a group together to hire a jeep to visit the fascinating, old gompas of Zanskar from Padum (3585m). You will have time to visit the 1000 year old Sani Gompa on the Stod River, the route out to Rangdum and the Suru Valley. Sani is a Drukpa Kargyu gompa with several resident nuns living in the monastery. The monastery is renown for its unique Kanika Chorten, presumed to date back to the time of the famous Kushan emperor, Kanishka (Kanika is the English transliteration of the emperor's name) who lived around 127 CE. Kanishka is well known in Buddhist literature as the promoter of Buddhism in this region, sponsoring a significant Buddhist conference in Kashmir.

From Wikipedia:
“Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, is said to have dwelt for five years in the small 'Gamshot Lhakang' squeezed between the main building and the corridor, to the right of the Kanika chorten. Inside may be seen a figure of Guru Rinpoche and historical scenes in half relief on both sides of the statue.  Apparently, one can just see the white opening to a cave in a cliff across the river from the monastery where Padmasambhava is also said to have meditated for several years and it is still used as a meditation cell.

The monastery is also claimed to be connected with the famous Indian Yogi Naropa (956-1041 CE). There is now small room next to the Kanika chorten where it is thought that Naropa meditated in which there is a veiled bronze statue of the yogi.

A group of Kargyu nuns established a small retreat centre at 'Starkhugnza' in the 1990s. It is a site above Sani which was founded by Ngawang Tsering (1657-1732), a famous Zanskar meditator. All of the nunneries in Zanskar are under the spiritual authority of the monks and few have much in the way of endowments.”

From Sani, take the back roads to the Gelugpa Karsha Gompa, the largest, most important, and possibly the most scenic monastery in Zanskar, built high up into the cliffs above the village of Karsha. The monastery is said to be founded by Guru Rimpoche, or Padmasambhava, and is under the control of the Ngari Rimpoche. A fire recently burned down the kitchen, but a new, larger kitchen was rebuilt. The inside of the main assembly hall is purely Tibetan Buddhist, with ancient murals on the walls, priceless statues and the usual Buddhist offerings.

To return, you will pass back through Padum where you can do some email or pick up supplies at the many shops. Padum is a very Central Asian feeling village, a transit point for goods coming and going from Leh to Kargil, with a large Muslim population. There are some thousand year old pre-Tibetan Buddhist Buddha carvings just below Padum, the Gyalba Rigsinga, worth a look if you're stopping in town. And pick up a plate of momos on the main drag! En route back to Stongde, make a quick stop at Pipiting Gompa on a small hill just past Padum.

STONGDE GOMPA TOUR
Hike steeply up the traverse, a half hour's climb, to the Stongde Gompa (3815m). Stongde Gompa, one of the oldest in Zanskar, was built in 1052 by Naropa's disciple, the famous translator Lama Marpa, and taken over by the Gelugpa in the 15th century, with Je Tsongkhapa as its present head. Stongde is the second largest monastery in Zanskar, with approximately 60 monks and many students, renown for its Gustor Festival during the summer. 

After the climb to the gompa, climb to the monastery roof for wonderful views of the patchwork of Stongde village and the Zanskar valley. It's one of the most lively and colorful monasteries, perched precariously up on a craggy rock ledge, and surrounded by lovely birch woods. We has many friends there, including Geshe Lobsang who lectures and travels around the world, and founded the monastic school. Geshe Stenzin and his brother, are also good friends; they might invite us for tea and give us a tour of the gompa, including its room of treasures in back of the oldest 'lhakhang', or prayer hall. We might be able to catch the evening puja in the butter-lamp lit prayer room, a surreal experience with resonating, deep chanting, cymbals, Tibetan drums, a step back hundreds of years ...

Day 12 - Trek Tzazar Doksa Sumdo 3825m
We start our wild, five-day route through the colorful gorges and canyons from Zanskar and Zangla to the remote Shun Shade valley, beginning with a section of the Jumlam, or 'middle road' route. The Jumlam is an old trade route leading into Zanskar when the rivers were low enough to trek along the riverbeds. Accordingly, we'll need sandals almost every day of this route.

Leaving our idyllic Zangla camp, we trek the 45 minutes up to the Zangla Ani Gompa (nunnery), continue along the road past the dilapidated king's house and then ascend for another half hour to the impressive Zangla Fort, home to the kings of Zangla of yore. Just afterwards we pass the protector deity's small lhakhang (god's house) on the right of the trail followed by ancient lookout towers on both sides of the valley, now crumbling and in ruins, attesting to the importance of the Jumlam route in trade centuries ago.

We walk along the irrigation ditch for a bit while descending and soon reach the green doksa of the Zangla people. From here we head left, or east, along the Zumlung Chu (river), crossing many times in the willow-shaded valley full of ancient beds of fossilized oysters. It should take us about five hours of easy walking and many river crossings to reach our campsite, just past the turnoff (to the right) leading to the main Jumlam route and the Charchar La. Our camp at Tzazar Doksa is warm and beautiful, surrounded by willows, but loses the sun early. After a wash in the stream right in front of us, take a 5 minute walk through seabuckthorne bushes to the doksa. (5 hrs)

Day 13 - Trek Bazza Camp 4250m or High Camp 4450m
We follow the shimmering Zumlung Chu, with plenty of 'Himalayan flat' throughout the day. The first two hours of hiking are easy, crossing the river many times in a magical valley which opens up as we head north. Note the amazing canyon on our left and the dramatic, soaring canyons in general as we hike today. The valley is full of 'dinosaur plants', willows and oyster beds, a rocky, narrow valley of large scree trails. At the second sumdo, or river junction, at 3950 meters the trail narrows and we trek through a batch of seabuckthorne bushes, probably without the tart, orange berries just yet. Our trail undulates as we negotiate the tricky valley floor, often climbing and descending to avoid sheer rocks dropping to the river or thick groves of underbrush. This route is known by villagers from Tsazar just south of Zangla, who use the valley as their summer pastures. Villagers from Shade also sometimes know this remote region ...

Finally, we make a sharp right, cross the stream and ascend steeply for a bit on a trail of loose scree and rocks, which eventually flattens out. Flowers and oasis of trees appear in the stark landscape, softening it, and our trail becomes more gradual. We soon turn directly left through a grove of willows and discover our hidden camp, a stunning, green pasture by a cold and clear stream. We've named this spot Bazza camp after Bazza, who celebrated his birthday here in during our exploratory trek.

We may hike another 45 minutes above Bazza Camp to the Pangang La High Camp if we have a small group. We encountered a herd of quite wild Zanskari horses at this dramatic high camp in 2016. (5 hrs)

Day 14 - Trek Yangdam Chen 4430m (cross Pandang La 5175m)
We start the day with a steep ascent through green pastures to the left side of the steep ravine which drops down below us. Blue sheep roam the hillsides, so keep your eyes open as you walk through the green plateaus ahead, passing several doksas en route. (This is if we come from Bazza Camp).

We have more steep ascents ahead of us, the meadows colored with pink and red lupines, and the views become increasingly spectacular as we look over the craggy peaks behind us into Zanskar. It should take us about 2 1/2 hours to crest the Pandang La (5175m), where we'll stop and admire the panorama of peaks for a while. The trail to our right at the pass as we look ahead towards Shade leads, eventually, to Ichar. A route to explore another year ...

We start the descent with an easy 20 minute of contouring to our left, followed by a steeper descent into the Niri Chu valley. We'll stop for lunch at the first green plateau about 45 minutes below the pass. From here, it's a half an hour to the green doksa near the river where we've set up a beautiful camp for the night right on the river. (5 1/2 hrs)

Day 15 - Trek Mitsok Doska
It's an adventurous and beautiful river day today. Leaving camp, we cross the river almost immediately and continue along the right banks for half an hour on a relatively flat trail. The rivers get high in the afternoon, so we've scheduled a short day to avoid crossing dangerously high rivers. We almost continuously cross and re-cross the river this morning, staying mostly at river level, so keep your sandals on all day and have your poles with you. We'll pass a large river valley at the large sumdo on our left that leads to the nomadic region of Kharnak.

Later in the day the canyon narrows as we skirt across a rock-ledge just above the river, afterwards cross the small, intersecting stream at the next valley. We have one last climb to the grassy meadows above and see our camp on the lovely, grazing plateau of Niri Chun. Climb the ridge after lunch for some great views, and again look out for blue sheep. (7 hrs)

Day 16 - Trek Mitsik Doksa 4285m (cross Lar La 4690m) - or Shade
Today brings yet another pass to cross en route to Shade, the Lar La (4850 meters). The valley is now a dramatic combination of soaring cliff-walls, canyons and green river valleys, lovely. Leaving camp, we contour on an easy trail, gradually gaining altitude until we reach a ridge named the Liyu La at 4375 meters. Taking a minute to absorb the views, we then descend to the wide, green valley below with a doksa which the locals call Lar (4280m).

Crossing this valley, we soon start up the Lar La (4690m), a steep grazing ridge which drops right down (again steeply) to a green doksa called Mitsik Doksa where we'll set up camp for the night on the pebbly riverside. Mitsik Doksa is a wide flood plain right on the stream, absolutely wonderful. Take the afternoon to do some laundry and explore down the river valley towards Niri Chu, which snakes through deep canyons below us.

We're right below the next day's pass, the Rotang La, so we will arrive at Shade early enough to explore this wonderful remote village.

Day 17 - Trek Shade 4270m (cross Rotang La 4890m)
It will take us less then three hours to climb to the 4890 meter Rotang La from camp, a relatively easy climb past Rotang Doksa (4470m) where we might find some fresh sheep-milk yogurt. From the doksa the trail switchbacks gradually to the pass at 4890 meters. The valley on the Shade side is colorful in shades of yellows, oranges and reds. It's a lovely and easy descent to Shade, with one small ridge between us, less than an hour away. We've seen snow leopard prints in this valley so keep you eyes on the trail. Just before the village we pass an extensive collection of white-washed chortens, signs of Shade's importance as an ancient trade route ...

Shade, not often visited by Westerners, is one of the high points of our trek, so we've scheduled an extra day to explore the village and the open grazing valleys north of our campsite.The village is a cluster of 14 traditional Zanskari mud-brick houses packed closely together, with corrals for the goats and sheep, grass drying on the rooftops, small vegetable gardens and an idyllic feel to it. There are approximately 95 inhabitants; three of the men are in the Indian Army, bringing a bit of extra wealth to the village. There are also five lamas/monks and one 'chomo', or nun, residing in the village, impressive for a remote village of this size. We'll visit some of the local houses for a glass of 'chang', the Tibetan barley beer, yogurt from the nearby doksa or some 'churpi', dried cheese.

Shade is surrounded by extensive fields of barley (ne), potatoes (aloo), sag (shema) and snap peas and they also have greenhouses in which they grow radish (labo), cilantro, cabbage, cauliflower and carrots. There is a small school here which is desperately in need of supplies, so this is a good place to off-load school supplies. Some of the locals stay up in the doksas north of our campsite, sometimes returning every few days and other times staying longer. The villagers rotate grazing their flocks and protecting them from the many wolves and snow leopards in the area! Local words for some of the wildlife we might encounter: snow leopard (shen), ibex (hin), blue sheep (nabo) and wolf (shanku). Our campsite is just past Shade village, on the only flat area next to a stream, a spot perfectly situated for sunrise and sunset photos of Shade village and its patchwork of fields. The villagers and village kids will be by in the afternoon, and Kim & Lhakpa will probably go into town to hunt for supplies. You're welcome to join and watch the sheep and goats bring brought into the closed paddocks for milking.

Day 18 - Trek Yatah 3995m
We have another amazing day in front of us, a six-hour trek to our next camp half way to Phuktal Gompa in central Zanskar. Leaving our Shangri-La via a trail directly below the village, we pass through the entrance chorten and descend past the harvesting villagers for about 45 minutes to where the river plummets through a narrow gorge and the canyon closes in on us. At the intersection of the Niri Chu (river) we reach the village 'lhatoo' (4100 m), a kata-covered monument dedicated to Shade's protector deity called Cho Gyumjang, a female goddess. Her peak is just to the left if you're looking up the narrow canyon towards Shade, and locals invite the monks from Phuktal Gompa to have a yearly puja for her (which we've been lucky to see). We have about ten minutes of slightly exposed trail as we head towards Trantrog Gompa (4020-meters), turning left at the lhatoo. Soon the valley opens, the turquoise river takes wide S turns and our canyons become dramatic hoodoos over the riverbed. We can see the tiny hamlet of Trantog ahead, with its small gompa said to be either 30-40 or 750 years old. Perhaps there was an ancient meditation cave at the site of this gompa, which the caretaker told us was built by a lama from Phuktal. The interesting woman who holds the key might be around to show us the village treasures. There are apparently only three people living in the village and about as many houses. Still, it's certainly a scenic spot built up on a craggy hill overlooking this idyllic valley.

From here, our trek becomes more dramatic as we descend to the Niri Chu which we cross, afterwards climbing on an exposed trail to a contouring trail high above the valley. Soon we reach 'Trantog Sumdo' (3960m) leading to the Shun Shade valley. We contour on a wide trail above the Nialo Kontse Chu, which the river has become after the last intersection, for another 1 1/2 hours. We pass a new and an old bridge across the river, the old one an original rope bridge. Three ridges later we've reached Tsarap Sumdo (3920m), after which the trail becomes a bit more exposed. One steep drop, slightly exposed, a similar climb back up to the trail and it's half an hour to camp at the high grazing pastures of Yatah. Yatah is about 150 meters above the trail to the right, an unexpected site after our narrow, steep-sided canyon, and it will take another half an hour to reach it.

Day 19 - Trek to Phuktal Gompa 3900m & Purne 3830m (cross Phuktal La 4005m)
Another six-hour day, either climbing 100 meters above camp to drop back down to the main trail, or taking the slightly treacherous lower trail, which means a bit of cliff-hugging and rock-climbing. We'll opt for the high route! After the flags at the top of the ridge, we descend back down to meet the main trail at the point where a new, cantilevered bridge is being built. On the other side of this small gully we contour on a good trail high above the Tsarap Chu and past several small doksa. It's a hot trail as the high altitude sun reflects off the mica-filled sandy hills around us, so dress accordingly. There is a long, dusty and hot climb to reach the Phuktal La (4005m) from where we're treated to a tremendous view over Phuktal Gompa and the lovely valley. Lunch here, followed by a short descent to the gompa.

Phuktal Gompa, spectacularly built into a cliff-side, is one of the most colorful gompas in Zanskar as well as one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Indian Himalaya. Phuktal Gompa has a school attached, and the young, lively monks are always keen to practice their English or to have a photo taken. The gompa itself is a real Central Asian treasure with ancient prayer rooms, an old library, a fountain with magical waters in the original cave, a Tibetan medicine center, a wonderful kitchen and many old friends. Singge, the young Zanskari boy that we sponsor for school at the Himalayan Buddhist School in Manali, stayed a few years at this Phuktal before being 'evicted' for bad behavior!

After exploring the gompa, we descend to the Tsarap Chu, crossing it on a long, wooden bridge, from where we have almost two hours of undulating trail to camp. It's a beautiful hike along the Tsarap Chu on a precipitous but recently improved canyon trail. Purne is at confluence of the Tsarap Chu and the Kargyak Chu and on the main Zanskar route so there are sure to be trekkers around. Camp is lovely, grassy and warm to take advantage of the free time to relax, do some laundry and have a cold beer from Dolma's shop. Dolma is the local amchi, a good friend of ours, and also has hot bucket shower on offer.

Day 20 - Trek Tangze 4015m
Leaving our idyllic campsite at Purne, we descend back down to the small bridge and then hike back up to the main Zanskar trail following the Kargyak Chu. Kargyak is a large village at the end of the Zanskar valley; Singge comes from this village, and his blind mother still lives there, migrating to the 'doksas' to take care of the animals in the summertime. We pass the small village of Yal, where fodder and kindling dry on the rooftops, in half an hour, and then continue on our high trail overlooking the Kargyak Chu for another hour until we reach the labyrinthine village of Testa, an oasis of green fields and traditional Zanskari houses. Next comes the colorful Kuru with its many threshing circles and white-washed mani walls. Trekking further along the trail past Kuru's long chain of mani walls, we descend crossing a small stream coming down from our right, and then continue along the river bank for another half an hour. We cross the Kargyak Chu on a large bridge, continuing for another hour or so to the village of Tangze, with its many-hued patchwork of fields. We'll stop at the small the small teahouse, owned by our friend Sonam Dorje, for a cup of tea. Above us to the right of the trail is Tangze Gompa, one of the oldest in Zanskar, backed by jagged, dun-colored peaks.

We set up camp somewhere near here for the night, leaving the main Zanskar valley behind us the day after tomorrow.

Extra Day - Tangze (daytrip Kargiak)
If we've made it through the trek without needing this extra day, we'll make a daytrip to scenic Kargiak village, the first southern village in Zanskar. Singge, the boy we sponsor at the Himalayan Cultural School in Manali, comes from this village, and we'll probably meet his blind mother. It's a two or three hour walk each way to Kargiak following the Kargiak Chu along a lovely, green valley, with the Gompa Rangjung monolith looming spectacularly in front of us in the direction of the Shingo La pass to Lahaul ...

The green oasis of Kargiak has a solar-powered school build and sponsored by a Czechoslovakian INGO, an old village gompa up top, large, tri-colored chortens to the south of the village and several sprawling multi-family houses forming the center of this scenic village.

Day 21 - Trek Zingchen 4605m or Phirtse La High Camp 4915
We're heading along an ancient trans-Himalayan trade route for the rest of the trek. Until the 1980s the Changpas from Tibet came two times a year to trade barley with the Zanskaris. Starting in Serchu on the Leh-Manali highway, they crossed the Phirtse La with their caravans and arrived at Tangze in the Lungnak valley to trade their salt and wool. See Janet Rizvi's 'Caravans of the Himalayas' for more about this ...

A beautiful day of trekking as we head west up the second valley just beyond Tangze. The checker of vibrant green field opens up below us as we climb higher, passing the tri-colored chortens at the far end of the village and entering the narrow gorge to our left and climbing steeply. We follow a trickle of a stream on colored river rocks, taking a sharp turn right up the steep hillside to our right. Look for blue sheep and horns as we hike. We climb through green pastures and a doksa, and an hour plus later we've reach a craggy ridge which we call the Tangze La (4585m) which offers magnificent views down to lower Zanskar and towards the Shingo La (pass) leading to Lahaul. Below us, spread throughout the Zanskar valley, the hillsides are colored in shades of eggplant, green and mustard. River deltas below create artistic patterns and blue flowers surrounded by a sage-like brush decorate the ground underfoot.

We descend gently, cross a few small streams and set up camp at what locals call Zingchen, an idyllic green campsite in the valley. We may head another few hours up the valley to a higher camp ...

Day 22 - Trek to Chumik Marpo 4775m (over Phirtse La 5570m)
Crossing to the other side of the valley 15 minutes past camp, usually jump able, we climb and descend on the left bank of the river as we head towards the pass. We pass a small doksa, a campsite for a small group, after an hour or so, afterwards crossing the river again to the left bank. Three hours from camp we finally reach Phirtse La High Camp (4900m), after which the trail turns rocky and we share the valley with grazing yaks. The colors of the valley turn more grey, black and ochre as we ascend on a good path, stopping for a break at a green patch with a large boulder and admiring the glaciers and snow-peaks that surround us. The last, steep, 400-meter switchback brings us, grindingly, to the crest of the Phirtse La at 5570 meters, an impressive climb and a view to match.

Heading down the right hand valley we enter another green, fertile grazing valley and follow the rolling hills for an hour, having lunch at a sheltered doksa. We cross the small stream next to us, climb a small ridge and then the right fork of the valley. After a steep climb and descent on a shale trail, jumping several small streams, we contour around brown hillsides, passing far above several local doksas. The valley widens and we reach another wonderful campsite called Chumik Marpo, which overlooks rolling green hills ahead. Behind is the route to Kargyak over the 4620 meter Surichun La.

Day 23 - Trek to Berga Songchak 4410m
We have a river crossing first thing in the morning so have your sandals ready. It will take us 45 minutes to reach a plateau camp, followed by a stone doksa on our right. We'll hike along the same side of the river for an hour to reach the wide and cold crossing, our first of the day. Afterwards more green valleys and rolling hills, just paradise. Valleys to the right lead to snow-peaks and the river grows as glacial melt adds to its volume. Lichen covered granite, weather-worn sedimentary rocks and purple flowers dot the landscape; we start to pass long, ancient mani walls signifying that we're entering nomadic lands. The walking is easy with flat trails and grass underfoot, with a few small climbs en route. We pass more signs of nomadic existence and then have to cross the wide and often difficult Khamberop Togpo (river) at Kham Krap. We may take people over on horses; at the least use poles and link arms.

We often pass local 'gaddi' shepherds from Lahaul and the neighboring Hindu valleys with their large flocks of sheep and goats as we continue towards Sarchu, past Kyonon doksa. We trek through this wide expanse of river, green valleys, blue sky and snow peaks, past mani stones with chortens carved into them, and over a few small ridges for an hour before heading directly down to the river and another idyllic campsite at Berga Songchak, right on the river.

Day 24 - Trek to Chumik Gyartse 4280m
We continue through this magical landscape, crossing several more small streams, trekking past ancient rocks deposited by glaciers eons ago, with several deep valleys to descend into and climb out of until we reach the canyons leading to Sarchu. Sarchu is across the large Lingti Chu (river) from our campsite at Chumik Gyartse. Just before our old campsite at Sarchu we have other medium sized river crossing, which can be larger depending on the water level. Afterwards, we hike through a briar patch of seabuckthorne, along a spring-fed stream, jumping or wading through a few intersecting streams. Soon we reach a large bridge spanning the Tsarap Chu and hike half an hour north towards our wonderful campsite at the waterfall springs just below Chumik Gyartse. Chumik Gyartse is where the Shun Shade valley inhabitants relocated years ago, and it's interesting to hike half an hour to their new village. There is much controversy over whether life was better or worse in their old valley, the elders tending to regret the move.

Ang Chuk and the boys will meet us at camp, having parked their jeeps at the Sarchu army camp. We can look across the river to the Leh-Manali highway but our campsite is isolated and beautiful, on the side of a small stream for washings. We'll have our tips party for the guys tonight ...

Day 25 - Drive Leh
The trek is finished, and we'll relax in our jeeps and enjoy the spectacular five hour drive through Rupshu and the Indus Valley along the Manali - Leh highway; a continuation of our wonderful journey.

Back at the Shaynam Guest House in Leh, hot showers and a clean change of clothes await, and tandoori food and cold beers are not far away at the Ibex, Chopsticks or Summer Harves

Day 26 - Leh
One last day in our favorite Central Asian capital ...

Day 27 - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends today, sadly. You have several options after the trip: a flight back to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all fronts, but Leh flights are not included in our India treks.

Extra Days in Leh
We are happy to book extra nights at the hotel, or a hotel of your choice, if you want to stay in Leh for a few extra days to explore our favorite Central Asian capital, or just to relax and soak in the mountain scenery. We are also happy to book trips to Nubra, sightseeing jeep safaris along the Indus Valley, rafting, bicycling down the Kardung La or any other activity you would like.

NOTE: If you have successive international flights that are not all part of the same ticket or following domestic flights we suggest planning more cautiously and leaving an extra day in Leh.

Short Itinerary

Day 1 - Meet in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away amidst the Ladakh mountains, part of the great Trans Himalayan range. If you arrive by air you'll feel the big jump in altitude and it will take your body a few days to adjust. If you arrive by road from Manali or Srinagar you'll have had some extra acclimatization en route, but will still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with plenty of water, stay away from beer for a few days, rest and don't over-exert yourself. Even walking up the stairs of the guesthouse, let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or two. 250 mg of Diamox twice a day is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally. We recommend starting the day before you fly up to Leh.

We stay at the family-run Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guesthouse with a lovely garden in the center courtyard, located just a few minutes south of the Main Bazaar in old Leh town. Your rooms will be booked for you, you'll just need to advise Kim of your arrival time, whether by air or by road. Once everyone has arrived and checked into rooms, Kim will show you around town: the bakeries, cafes, tandoori restaurants, email cafes, banks and wonderful markets. We'll meet for dinner in the evening at the Ibex, Chopsticks, Penguin or Summer Harvest, a few of our favorite restaurants.  

Days 2, 3 - Leh
We've scheduled two more free days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal's 17th century capital of Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh Palace, the ancient 15th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, other historic Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the Sunni Muslim mosques, narrow back alleys with steaming Muslim bread, tiny antique shops tucked away amidst the many ancient stupas and architectural remnants, the exotic Main Bazaar (c. 1840s) which once accommodated trade caravans, and even a polo field. Today, the Main Bazaar is a colorful street, the sidewalks crammed mornings and afternoons with Ladakhi women selling their fresh fruits and vegetables, and locals at the far end vending their dried nuts, apricots and apples.

Caravans of merchants from far-flung destinations such as Yarkand, Tibet, Kashgar and North India passed through Leh during ancient trade missions, trading salt, wool, Pashmina, tea and semi-precious stones, lending to the city its exotic allure. Pilgrims flocked to the monasteries of Leh and the Indus valley, explorers of old stopped in Leh to re-stock and weather out the harsh Himalayan winter and soldiers en route to plunder and conquer desirous destinations passed through Leh, all leaving their mark on this unique capital.

Kim will take you for a walk up the bustling Fort Road, lined with shops owned by Kashmiri, Tibetan and Kashmiri shop-keepers, to the crumbling but majestic Leh Fort (3680 meters) and the red, Maitreiya Tsemo Gompa, perched high on a craggy and crumbling hilltop overlooking the bazaars of old Leh. You can stop at 16th century nine-story Leh Palace, of a similar architectural design to the Tibetan Potala Palace, on the way down if you have the energy. Visit the museum, a worthwhile endeavor, as well as the nearby gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) - Soma Gompa, Chamba Lakhang and Chensrig Lakhang.

We might wander the willow-lines streets of Changspa to reach the many steps leading to the Japanese-built Shanti Stupa for a view over the green fields and white-washed Ladakhi houses of the villages surrounding Leh. The precariously perched Leh Fort guards the eastern edges of the fertile valley. Sankar Gompa (17th - 18th century), reached through shady lanes to the east of Changspa, lies in the midst of Chubi's groves of poplar and willow and is another wonderful morning or afternoon walk. The back route to Leh Fort starts in Chubi and passes through a desert-like Buddhist cremation ground before climbing to the fortress.

OPTIONAL MONASTERY + INDUS JEEP TRIP
Arrange (through Kim, our Tibetan jeep-driver Wang Chuk or the Shaynam Hotel) a 'jeep safari' through the fertile Indus Valley to visit a few of the living Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the crumbling ruins of ancient fortresses and palaces and the traditional villages that dot the banks of the region, the 'cradle of civilization' of much of the ancient world. Kim can help arrange jeeps and/or a guide for a day's excursion.

To the East: Shey, Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho & Stok.
To the West: Spiyok, Phyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Rizdong & Lamayuru.

OPTIONAL RAFTING TRIP
You can arrange a day rafting trip on the Indus (easier) or the Zanskar River, approximately $40.

Day 4 - Drive Photoksar 4200m (over Sirsir La 4825m)
After breakfast we board our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at Photoskar, 6 or 7 hour drive through the historical, green Indus Valley. Leaving Leh we drive past the ancient Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village and Phyang Gompa and village to the right. We continue along a cliff-side road past the intersection of the Indus River with the Zanskar River, the Zanskar villagers' lifeline during the harsh winters. Look out the back windows for a spectacular panorama of the Ladakh range, which extends westward to meet the Karakorum range in the distance. About an hour later, we'll spot Basgo Gompa and Fort, a 500 year old World Heritage site, situated spectacularly on a spur above the Indus. Further down the Indus on the right is the link road to Likir Gompa, and to the left the turnoff to the 1000 year old Alchi Gompa, built in the Northern Indian style with wonderful frescos and murals inside the many prayer rooms. Just past Alchi is the link road to Rizdong on the right; soon afterwards we cross the Indus at Khaltse, and continue to the turn off to Panjilla a half hour down the road.

Panjilla is a lovely village lined with apricot trees and lively with villagers. We drive further to the Sumdo and then on the spectacular gorge road to Hanupatta. Pink Zanskar roses line the road, leaving behind a scent of cinnamon, and incredible spires of rock tower above at every corner. We continue on the new road giving access to Photoksar, passing through the long village of Hanupatta with ancient carved mani walls and chortens. The valley widens as we slowly ascend, and the rock-spires become ever more impressive, their hues of ochre and tans glowing gently in the morning rays. We cross the large-ish Spong Togpa river on a new Bailey's bridge, and soon afterwards crest the 4820 meter Sirsir La, our first of many Ladakhi passes (Ladakh means 'Land of high passes').

Expansive views of the craggy ranges surrounding us at the prayer-flag festooned summit of the Sirsir La. We descend the steep ridge to our left, passing yellow poppy-like flowers, 'bee balm' (bees love this flower) or monarda from which earl grey tea is made and marmots popping their heads out of their burrows. We continue to ascend easily, soon crossing a small stream and climbing a bit to reach an amazing complex of a white-washed kane (entrance) chorten, a mani wall and a lama's seat. Don't miss the view of Photoksar between the chorten door!

Just around the corner is the incredibly scenic village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside just past our camp, where if the wild flowers are in bloom, is one of the most beautiful spots in Ladakh, and certainly one of the most photographed. Our campsite has amazing views downriver to Photoksar, and the villagers, herding their flocks of sheep and goats, will stop by our campsite en route back to Photoksar with their herd of sheep and goats coming down from the high grazing hills.

We'll set you up in your tents, show you around our 'Kamzang' style dining tent and settle in with a mug of chai ... Take a walk along the river to the interesting village in the afternoon, well worth a bit of time, and spend the early evening watching the sun-rays filter through the village haze and the villagers heading back from the barley fields.

Day 5 - Drive Singge La 4970m. Trek Yulchung 3900m (over Singge La 4970m)
Back in the jeep this morning as we head towards our second pass, the Bumiktse La at 4400 meters, passing a summer 'doksa' or grazing area. The deep gorge leading directly to Panjilla rises dramatically to our left, and we'll be greeted with great views of Photoksar and its fertile valley from the pass. Ahead is the Utah-like bulk of the Singge (lion) Peak and the Singge La (pass). This valley is the high pasture of the Photoksar villagers, and we pass their herds of sheep, goats and yaks en route to Yulchung. Next up is the prayer-flag festooned 5000 meter Singge La, the 'lion pass' where we'll have views across Ladakh and Zanskar. Our road snakes its way up to the top of the pass from the left of the valley while the old trail still goes up the middle through the wildflowers, by the small parachute tent owned by Nyawang Jigmet of Yulchung.

After a break to hang five-colored Tibetan prayer flags we drop steeply into the dramatic canyon on slightly exposed trails, contouring along old trails lined with Zanskar rose bushes. There are often blue sheep and ibex in this region, so have cameras ready and eyes open for falling rocks. The massive, ochre-colored canyon walls to our left as we descend have been smoothed and textured by millenniums of wind and water erosion which have left strange caves throughout. The valley heats up as we follow the small trail, through pastures of wildflowers, lichen-covered rocks and grasses, that leads to the isolated village of Yulchung, which means 'small kingdom'. Yulchung is a remote, traditional village with a five-hundred year old gompa on the upper reaches of the village and another smaller 'lhakhang' perched on a precarious rock-ledge in front of the crescent-shaped village.

The staff has set up our camp behind the ancient chortens, in the threshing fields on the top edge of the village, right next to some wonderful old Ladakhi dwellings. The views from this village win Kim's vote for 'the-best-of-the-trek', and the villagers, not used to many trekkers, are welcoming and open. Tomorrow's pass is visible in the distance, as is the pass leading to 'bear valley', high up in the peaks in front of us, past the powerful Zanskar River. We'll have many local visitors during the course of the afternoon and evening, including Kim's wonderful Zanskari grandmother Sonam Yanskit, and will hope to have a chance to visit a traditional Ladakhi house and the gompa in the afternoon. Sonam Yanskit's husband Nyawang Jigmet has a parachute teahouse on the other side of the Singge La and is often in Yulchung.

Day 6 - Trek Nyeraks 3710m
A fantastically scenic Himalayan day! We leave camp and wind our way through the extensive village and fields, eventually passing the ruins of the old 'lhakhang' and hermitage as we head towards the ridge that drops steeply out of Yulchung to the Zanskar River canyons far below. Keep an eye out for the red fox that lives in the vicinity, and for blue sheep grazing along the hillsides. After contouring around several hillsides, we have a small climb to the Chocho Khuri La, at 3865 meters. We then drop down a steep switchback into the gorge of the Zanskar River, which we cross by a wooden, cantilevered bridge that has definitely seen better days (look at the construction). We climb up the hillside on a winding trail past a unique version of a 'lhatoo' (a shrine to the mountain deities the locals believe live on local peaks), a sculpture made from ibex horns, to the village of Nyeraks, perched on a plateau high above the Zanskar. You begin to understand the harshness of life in such a setting, between pass and river gorge, a seemingly impossible place, with its own beautiful monastery, and even an old, sacred tree. The small village gompa is wonderful, a real relic of times past ...

Our campsite is another spectacular one (in a chain of them), with incredible sunset views over the village, gompa and surrounding peaks. The quality of light in this part of the Himalaya is breathtaking, so be sure to have an evening stroll through the village and take some shots. Kim's grandmother's daughter, Thinle Angmo, lives in Nyeraks and will be by for a visit for sure. One of the large houses near the gompa, perhaps formerly a royal dwelling, has an exquisite house-gompa inside which we can try to visit also.

Day 7 - Trek Nyeraks High Camp 4500m?
We head off on the first half of our steep, 1300 meter ascent from Nyeraks up to the 4950 meter Takti La, a difficult climb which will take us five to six hours (we'll just do about 2 1/2 hours of it today). We start climbing right out of the village, passing the white-washed chortens and through the wire gate, often steeply. Take time to breath and look behind you towards the Singge La and the village, now a patchwork of greens, browns and tans far below us. Walking along an old irrigation wall, we soon reach a small 'watering hole' were we'll set up a spectacular high camp, cold but worth it for the evening and morning views!

Day 8 - Trek Bear Camp 3980m (over Takti La 4955m)
Fresh pressed coffee and chai will be welcome on this chilly morning! We continue to climb and descend several times to cairn-topped ridges, finally after a few hours making our way carefully through the scree-slope leading to the Takti La. Notice the glacier flower blooming though out the walk. By lunchtime, we will be looking back across to the Singge La and the serrated ridges that we have crossed over the past few days, and an hour later, after a steep switchback to a glacial stream where we might be able to refill water and another more gradual climb, we will have crested our second, smaller pass (named Oh Shit La, at 4580m, after the view upon reaching this pass from the other direction, and seeing the Takti La looming ominously ahead of us). We have now entered what we call 'bear valley', and a steep, switchbacking trail down brings us down to the end of the valley, where we turn right into a green valley of willows and flowers, still following the small stream. Making our way on the small, overgrown trail, crossing the stream a few times, we reach to the clearing that we call Bear Camp (although we haven't actually spent the night there with one) in another hour.

We've entered our 'lost valley' of Zanskar! The crew will light a fire tonight to keep the bears at bay (although the rumors are that the villagers of Zangla shot them after the bears raided their sheep paddocks). Zanskar translates as 'land of white copper', a once remote collection of Himalayan kingdoms cut off from the rest of the world by the Himalayan Range to the south, and the Zanskar Range to the north.

Note: Our only actual bear spotting was in 2003, when our group did this trek for the first time. We spotted a brown bear cub right next to us, and then across the valley what we presumed to be its parents, not looking happy that a large group of trekkers were hanging out with their offspring. The next season we only spotted frozen bear scat and no prints, but in 2005 we again spotted fresh bear scat, so we presume that the bears are back! We hope to see them again!

Day 9 - Trek Karmafu 3780m
Our short walk today is an exciting and beautiful one, first along the willow-lined stream, jumping back and forth often, and then over (or under) an ice bridge and through a narrow canyon with ankle deep water (bring sandals). Next on the list of adventures is a high, exposed trail over the river followed by an easy river fording and another canyon trek on crumbling trails. Just past this tricky section, we crest a small rise and have a lovely view down valley towards our plateau campsite, a spectacular one. We often stop for lunch a at the junction of a small stream where in 2005 Kim set off alone to help get camp set up, heard a loud splashing very close to her which she assumed to be a bear, and came running back to the lunch spot. Joel and the boys, ever brave, came running out with the bear spray to do battle. Be on the lookout for the prints and scat of snow leopard, fox and wolf as well as bear.

We arrive in our fantastic, cliff-side campsite in the early afternoon, in time to enjoy the views, go for a dip in the stream, and possibly spot some blue sheep and ibex that roam the hillsides here. The hoodoos that line the riverbank opposite camp are amazing sculptures of eroded rock and mud, that hosted a show of acrobatic blue sheep several years ago. We might build a campfire in the evening, a practice first started to keep the bears away years ago!

Day 10 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp 3430m (over Namtse La 4495m)
A small saddle above our campsite topped with a barrier of sticks leads us back down into a dramatic, narrow valley. Our small trail follows  the same willow-lined stream as yesterday which we follow as we ascend for an hour or so, often jumping from side to side. After hiking through the tight willows, the valley broadens and the views open in front of us as we ascend under hoodoos backed by brilliant blue sky. Chukkars chortle and rush up the arid hillsides and grazing yaks glance up as we invade their pristine territory. Continuing up a bit more steeply for another few hours, it's an easy crossing of the Namtse La, a desert-like pass at 4495 meters. If the weather cooperates this is our lunch spot, a scenic one!

Afterwards, we'll drop steeply into another valley of Zanskar roses which, after some three hours walking, brings us out onto the wide plain that was the once kingdom of Zangla.  You really get a sense of why this remained a hidden kingdom for so long as you look around; to your left, the capital, Zangla and its hilltop fort. Past Zangla, the Himalayan barrier, and the Umasi La to Kashmir; the wooden beams that are the center of most Zanskari houses came from there, laboriously carried by porters. Below the Zanskar curves away into the Muslim Suru valley and the Pensi La, closed for all but three months of every year and in front, behind the villages of Pidmo and Pishu, the Zanskar range cuts off approach for all but those like us, a well-equipped caravan.

After emerging from the gorge we have a one-hour walk through Honya Doksa and along the Zanskar plateau (or along the riverside, a slightly longer but nicer route) to our lovely riverside camp that we call Zangla Doksa River camp. Doksa means seasonal nomadic settlement in Ladakhi, and the locals from Honya Doksa will pass by in the evenings with their large herds of sheep, goats and donkeys, making for some classic photos of traditional life in Zanskar. The grass is green and the stream warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing from camp!

Day 11 - Zangla Doksa River Camp
Finally a rest and exploration day; options are to hang at camp and relax in this sublime setting or to hike up and explore the wonderful and historic Zanskari village of Zangla.

ZANGLA OPTION: Climbing gradually out of our campsite, we hike along the plateau past a weathered rock carved with thousand-year old Mon chortens, soon reaching Zangla Chomo Gompa (nunnery) to the northern side of the village, and then follow the village road past the King of Zangla's house, where we had tea last summer with the royal residents, including the Queen Mother. The young King of Zangla is now in his 40s, and the new house right next to the somewhat dilapidated royal residence is the house of the village carpenter! The piece de resistance of Zangla, however, is its fortress, presently being restored by an organization called 'Cosmos Room'. The ruins of the 500 year-old Zangla Fort, the old dzong (palace fortress) of the ancient Kings of Zangla, are a breathtaking site, built precariously on top of a ledge of rock at the intersection of the Zanskar River and the small river leading out to the Jumlam, or middle route. This route was an autumn trading route to avoid the high passes of Ladakh, and must have been open to invasions, thus the fort and series of lookout towers down the Jumlam valley. The dzong houses a wonderful prayer room, which we happened upon a few years ago. In 2005, over two straight weeks of continuous rain and wind literally 'melted' the dzong, and it is now quite as safe as it was previously. The famous Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros spent a winter in the 19th century studying Tibetan in order to make a dictionary in a room in the fort, now commemorated as his room. The fort is guarded over by a giant, new stupa built in 2009, while more ancient chortens with tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend back to the village and eventually to camp.

ZANSKAR VALLEY GOMPA OPTION: Get a group together to hire a jeep to visit the fascinating, old gompas of Zanskar from Padum. You will have time to visit the 1000 year old Sani Gompa on the Stod River, the route out to Rangdum and the Suru Valley. From Sani, you can take the back roads to Karsha Gompa, one of the largest and most scenic in Zanskar or Ladakh, built high up into the cliffs above the village of Karsha. To return, you will pass back through Padum where you can do some email or pick up supplies at the many shops. Padum is a very Central Asian feeling village, a transit point for goods coming and going from Leh to Kargil, with a large Muslim population. There are some thousand year old pre-Tibetan Buddhist Buddha carvings just below Padum, worth a look if you're stopping in town. And pick up a plate of momos on the main drag! En route back to Stongde, make a quick stop at Pipiting Gompa on a small hill in the direction of Stongde. And that should be a full day!

Kim & Lhakpa will head to Padum to resupply for the second half of the trek. Some people might want to head to central Zanskar to make a wonderful Zanskar gompa tour.

Day 12 - Drive Rangdum
Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to trekkers from the longer trek. You have an incredible jeep safari through Zangla, the Suru Valley and finally the western Indus Valley ahead!

After returning to Padum (option to visit the central Zangla monasteries if you didn't yesterday), you will drive north from Padum heading for Rangdum. You'll stay the night at a homestay in Randgum, visiting its historic Rangdum Gompa, perched on top of a small hill in the midst of a wide Tibetan-style valley, guarded by massive, whitewashed chortens. Randum is one of our favorite villages, remote enough to not get many trekkers or visitors, with a distinctly Tibetan look although a bit of Muslim influence, and friendly villagers. You may have the chance to visit a local home, or at least have a cup of salt-butter tea with the homestay owners.

Rangdum Gompa is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Gelugpa sect at the base of the Suru Valley, with about 30 monks, situated next to the small hamlet of Zhuldo. The monastery was constructed about 200 years ago by Gelek Yashy Takpa during the reign of King Tsewang Mangyul of Ladakh. Both the village and the gompa rely on supplies from the Muslim villages of the Suru Valley as their summer growing season is too brief to sustain themselves during the long, harsh winters.

Day 13 - Drive Lamayuru
A continuation of the stunning and intensely intersting Suru Valley jeep safari, today through the Muslim sections of Ladakh. We'll pass through numerous Muslim villages, where the greeting is 'As-Salaam-Alaikum' (peace be with you), to which you answer 'Wa-Alaikum-Salaam'. The beautiful green and blue-eyed women cover their heads in patterned scarves and wear the colorful and practical salwar kameez. The often bearded men dress in a long, Muslim coat and have a disarmingly direct stare, a genuine smile and lovely crinkled eyes from the harsh sun. En route we drive past the spectacularly beautiful glaciers coming from Nun and Kun peaks, climbed from green base camps to our left as we head north. We drive through Suru village and then continue along this scenic and diverse road until we reach bustling, Mulsim Kargil with its many fruit and vegetable markets. 

Once past Kargil we turn right (east) and follow the Wakha Chu for an hour or so to scenic Mulbeck, were we'll stop for lunch an kilometer past town (if we haven't in Kargil) at a small but clean 'dhaba' and gaze at the ancient stone Chamba, an iconic statue carved into the rock face to the right of the road. Chamba (Tibetan) or Maitreya (Sanskrit) is the future Buddha. It is said to date back to the Kushan period of the early 1st or 2nd century. Modern scholars place it in the 8th century. To the front right of the statue is a small Buddhist shrine.

Nearby are ancient inscriptions written in Kharosthi script and an edict issued by King Lde, who ruled western Ladakh in the 15th century, to discontinue sacrificing goats. (Wikipedia): 'Every year at least once or twice in each village the heart was torn out of a living goat in front of an altar. King Lde had the following inscription carved: "Oh Lama (Tsongkapa (1378-1441) take notice of this! The king of faith, Bum lde, having seen the fruits of works in the future life, gives orders to the men of Mulbe to abolish, above all, the living sacrifices, and greets the Lama. The living sacrifices are abolished." Sadly, the people of Mulbekh found this too onerous to follow, for beside King Lde's edict, on the same rock, is an inscription saying the order was too hard to be executed. "For what would the local deity say, if the goat were withheld from him?" '


Kushan Empire (Wikipedia) - ‘The Kushans spread from the Kabul River Valley to encompass much of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, from which they took their first official language (Greek), Bactrian alphabet, Greco-Buddhist religion, coinage system, and art. They absorbed the Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians,[citation needed] and reached their peak under the Buddhist emperor Kanishka the Great, whose realm stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic Plain.

During the 1st and early 2nd centuries CE, the Kushans expanded across the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent at least as far as Saketa and Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares), where inscriptions have been found dating to the era of the Kushan emperor Kanishka the Great, which began about 127 CE. Though Kanishka greatly honored Buddhism, he is said to have protected the teachings of Zoroastrianism and Hinduism as well. Kanishka sent his armies north of the Karakoram mountains. They captured territories as far as Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkant, in the Tarim Basin of modern-day Xinjiang, China. A direct road from Gandhara to China was opened which remained under Kushan control for more than a century. The security offered by the Kushans encouraged travel across the Khunjerab Pass and facilitated the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China.’


History lesson over, you depart this history-laden spot and continue on towards Lamayuru, two hours of winding roads, crossing two small passes (the larger the Photu La 4090m) followed by the dramatic switchback to Lamayuru Gompa, with several wonderful viewpoints en route.

Once in Lamayuru you will check in to the Moonland Hotel and have time to visit Lamayuru Monastery in the evening. The light at dusk is sublime, and the hotel is perfectly situated to photograph the monastery as the sun sets ...

Day 14 - Drive Leh

You can stop at the gompa to visit the chapels in the morning before continueing the descent to the intersection of the road leading to Wanla and the start of the traditional Ladakh to Zanskar trek on the right of the river at the Yapola River. Another half an hour on a good, paved road and we meet and cross the mighty Indus, locally known as the Sengee Kha Babs (mouth of the lion river). Our scenic drive continues past the turnoff to Alchi, Basgo, the intersection of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, Spikuk Gompa and finally Leh, which is about three hours of driving from Lamayuru.


You'll have the opportunity to visit any or all of these monasteries en route if you choose.

Back at the Shaynam or Omasila in Leh, hot showers and a clean change of clothes await, and a delicious Asian fusion meal is not far away at Chopsticks.

Day 15 - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends today, sadly. You have several options after the trip: a flight back to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all fronts, but Leh flights are not included in our India treks.

Extra Days in Leh
We are happy to book extra nights at the hotel, or a hotel of your choice, if you want to stay in Leh for a few extra days to explore our favorite Central Asian capital, or just to relax and soak in the mountain scenery. We are also happy to book trips to Nubra, sightseeing jeep safaris along the Indus Valley, rafting, bicycling down the Kardung La or any other activity you would like.

NOTE: If you have successive international flights that are not all part of the same ticket or following domestic flights we suggest planning more cautiously and leaving an extra day in Leh.

Jullay!

 © Kim Bannister

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