++ Pangong Lake Jeep Safari, Indus Valley Sightseeing, White Water Rafting + Indus Cycling extensions! ++
Welcome to northern India!
Another in the Kamzang Journeys' series of BEST OF trekking routes culled from our many exploratory treks over the past few years in Ladakh and Zanskar, the Indian Himalaya. We consider this wild Great Himalayan Trail route one of our greatest trips, an exciting and challenging trek through the remote canyon lands, crossing many high Himalayan passes (5000+ meters), and trekking through hidden valleys of mythical Ladakh and Zanskar. The Wild West Ladakh Traverse is a Himalayan passes and river trek, so bring good sandals with you!
From the remote village of Kanji, we trek along sparkling river valleys that lead over the high Kanji La pass to the Suru Valley and traditional villages, fortresses and ancient Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of the Zanskar River valley. From Stongde Gompa (monastery), perched high above the Zanskar, we cross the formidable Stongde La pass to enter the remote Shun Shade valley, where we trek along the turquoise Tsarap Chu River to little visited Shade village, where we have a few days to explore and experience traditional Zanskari village life.
Trekking back into remote canyon lands and continuing down valley, we spend almost a week trekking along the breathtakingly beautiful Shun Shade river valley, with eerily deserted settlements and great campsites. We trek over the challenging Morang La pass to reach the pasture lands of the Tibetan nomads of Rupshu. We'll camp with the nomads (and their sheep, goat and yaks) on the Changtang plateau, drink some salt-butter tea and experience their dying way of life.
Summers in the Indian Himalaya are wonderful. Campsites are green and breathtakingly beautiful, days are long and sunny, traditional villages are bustling with activity, glacial rivers sparkle and Himalayan panoramas from the passes are spectacular. The nomadic settlements we encounter along the way are timeless, vignettes Ladakh and Zanskar from centuries past. There is always plenty of extra time built in for exploration on our treks. A photographer's dream, a perfect trip!
Join us for this wonderful journey through Ladakh and Zanskar, a unique adventure through old Tibet!
Day 1 - Thursday, 16 August 2018 - Meet in Leh
Day 2 - Leh
Day 3 - Leh
Day 4 - Drive Kanji
Day 5 - Kanji
Day 6 - Trek Kanji La Base Camp
Day 7 - Trek Kanji Sumdo (cross Kanji La 5270m)
Day 8 - Trek Puzdong Base Camp
Day 9 - Trek Dibling (cross Puzdong La 5020m)
Day 10 - Dibling
Day 11 - Trek Lingshed Sumdo
Day 12 - Trek Lingshed Gongma (cross Barmi La 4680m)
Day 13 - Trek Zingchan (cross Hanuma La 4710m)
Day 14 - Trek Hanamur (cross Parfi La 3900m)
Day 15 - Trek Zangla River Camp
Day 16 - Trek Stongde
Day 17 - Trek Stongde High Camp
Day 18 - Trek Suslantaktak (cross Stongde La 5165m)
Day 19 - Trek Sum Shade Zingchan (cross Shringi La 4260m)
Day 20 - Trek Shade
Day 21 - Shade
Day 22 - Trek Tantok Base Camp
Day 23 - Trek Hormoche (cross Gotundal La 5150m)
Day 24 - Trek Satok
Day 25 - Trek Tsokmitsik (cross Satok La 4406m)
Day 26 - Trek Morang La Base Camp
Day 27 - Trek Sangtha Valley Camp (cross Morang La 5130m)
Day 28 - Trek Zabuk Barma
Day 29 - Trek Narbus (cross Narbus La 4850m)
Day 30 - Drive Leh
Day 31 - Saturday, 15 September 2018 - Trip Ends
Watch a Kamzang Journeys Ladakh Trek!
Kamzang Journeys | Kharnak Nomads | MrMennoBen
Kamzang Journeys | Markha Valley | MrMennoBen
Kamzang Journeys | Changthang Nomads | MrMennoBen
Kamzang Journeys | Rupshu Nomads | MrMennoBen
Leh + Indus Valley | MrMennoBen
Trip Advisor Reviews
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
- 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 Wildlife Photos
Himalayan Flowers Photos
Articles + Videos | Ladakh + Zanskar, Indian Himalaya
Kamzang Journeys | Kharnak Nomads | MrMennoBen
Kamzang Journeys | Markha Valley | MrMennoBen YouTube
Kamzang Journeys | Changthang Nomads | MrMennoBen YouTube
Kamzang Journeys | Rupshu Nomads | MrMennoBen YouTube
Leh + Indus Valley | MrMennoBen YouTube
Ladakh Diaries: Postcard from Paradise | India Today - Features Kamzang Journeys
On Snow Leopard Mountain | BBC Planet Earth
Child Monks of the Himalayas | BBC - In Pictures
Chang Tang Pa | Cat Vinton Photo Essay
Silent Roar, The Snow Leopard | National Geographic Documentary
Shepherdess of the Glaciers | Trailer YouTube
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
India: Extreme Biking in Beautiful Ladakh | The Telegraph UK
The Grey Ghosts of the Mountains | Vimeo
Kashmir, the Inheritance of Loss | New York Times
In Search of Gandhi | BBC Documentary
Aug - Sept
2018 Trek Price
+ $5280 (1+2 - Private Trip)
+ Hotel Single Supplement - $300
+ NO Single Supplement for camping
+ Flights NOT included (meet in Leh)
- 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
- Domestic & international flights
- Indian visa
- Lunch + dinner in Leh
- Travel or travel health insurance
- Equipment rental
- Alcohol & bottled drinks
- Gompa (monastery) donations
- 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.
Kamzang Journeys Contact
Kim Mobile: +(91) 9419 981715
Lhakpa Mobile: +(91) 9419 977569
Delhi Airport Transfers & Sightseeing | Dhruv Travels
Contacts: Prince & Rajesh
Office: +(91 11) 6536 8764
Prince mobile: +(91) 98104 85897
Rajesh mobile: +(91) 98993 73886
Srinagar & Kashmir Contact
Mehraj Deen (GM & Ladakh Operations)
Mehraj Mobile: +(91) 9419013874, 9858986512
Office: +(91) 0194 2502083
Shangaloo Travels Tel : +(91) 0194 2502082|2502083|2502084|2502085|2502086|2502087|2502088|2502089|2502090,
+(91) 9596 787001 -20
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 235461, 9813 371542
Doma Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 510833, 9803 675361
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
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)
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.
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
Single Supplement - $175
Extra Nights - Single $65, Double $75, Suite $115
Breakfast - Included
We're happy to book other hotels of your choice for you. Some recommended hotels below.
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
India Health Information
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!
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 (email@example.com)
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).
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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 ...
'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 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!
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 please.
20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit for treks
- Duffel Bag
- Day Pack (35-45 L)
- Sleeping Bag (-20F/-30C recommended)
- Down Jacket
- Trekking Boots
- Air Mattress
- Crocs (evenings & washing)
- Hiking Sandals | Running Shoes (REQUIRED for river crossings - Crocs will also work)
- Trekking Pants (2-3)
- T-Shirts (3)
- Long-sleeve Trekking Shirts (2-3)
- Trekking Jacket
- Gortex (or similar) Jacket & Pants
- Fleece or Thermal Top (evenings)
- Fleece or Thermal Bottoms (evenings)
- Lightweight Long Underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
- Socks (5)
- Gloves (lighter & heavier for passes)
- Wool Hat
- Baseball Cap or Wide-brimmed Hat
- Camp Towel
- Trekking Poles (optional, recommended)
- Down Booties (optional, recommended)
- Sunglasses (2)
- Water Bottles | Nalgenes (2-3)
- Bladder (optional, recommended)
- Toiletries, Sunscreen with SPF, Lip Balm with SPF
- Watch (with alarm)
- Extra Batteries
- Battery Chargers
- Head Lamp (2)
- Yak Trax (for treks with icy passes)
- Water Purifying Tablets, Small Water Filter or Steripen
- Camp Washing Bowl (optional, collapsible for clothes)
- Laundry Detergent (Kathmandu) or Bio-degradable Clothes Soap
- Hand Sanitizer
- Small Solar Panel (optional, recommended for iPods, iPhones, camera batteries, Kindles)
- Zip-Lock | Plastic Bags
- Soft Toilet Paper | Tissues (we supply toilet paper but you will want something softer for blowing your nose)
- Baby-Wipes | Wet-Wipes (for personal cleaning)
- Handi-Wipes, J-Cloth or Chux (optional: easy for a quick daytime clean, fast drying)
- Rehydration | Electrolytes
- Personal Medical Supplies
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!
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 the great, newer lightweight trekking gear available in all gear shops or online.
Kim's Gear Suggestions: I generally wear a trekking t-shirt, light trekking pants, a mid-weight shirt, a lightweight synthetic jacket (instead of a fleece), a lightweight jacket and pants for wind and rain. If the weather looks stormy or it’s a pass day I carry a lightweight down jacket and a storm-weight jacket. I always have a pair of lightweight gloves (heavier ones additionally for pass days), a hat, a baseball cap and an extra pair of socks in my day-pack. I generally trek in low Merrill hiking shoes, and Keen boots on very cold days and over passes. I always carry Crocs with me in case of river crossings, or to air my feet at lunch. I carry a 38 L (although it looks larger) Black Diamond day pack although I also love Osprey packs. On pass days I carry Yak Trax and trekking poles, and I always have an extra pair of sunglasses, electrolytes, my camera, a medical kit, a Steripen, snacks and lots of water in my pack. My favorite gear brands are Patagonia Mountain Hardwear and Marmot.
Good trekking boots are essential. High boots are best, but you don’t need climbing or plastic boots (for mini-crampons or micro-spikes). You can also get away with low, sturdy trekking boot, which I wear quite often except for over the passes. Trekking poles are not required but strongly recommended, especially for going down passes which are often steep and icy and for treks with river crossings. Bring gators if you tend to use them but they’re not required if you don't own a pair. Micro-spikes (mini-crampons) or YakTraxs are almost always useful (or essential) for the pass crossings. We will have at least one ice ax with us. It’s also good (possibly essential) to have a pair of plastic Crocs for washing and to wear in the lodges in the evenings. Tevas take a long time to dry and are relatively heavy.
Good, polarized sunglasses are essential. Do bring an extra pair. Don’t forget a sun hat and/or a baseball cap, an extra headlamp and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!
The weather is changeable in the Himalaya, so again I recommend that everyone has a strong, WATERPROOF duffel bag for the trip (although they do tend to weigh more). We supply covers that go over the duffel bags to protect them from rain, dirt & rips.
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.
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.
Everyone gets their own Northface Dome tent (3 person, huge) without a single supplement. Couples share the same sized tent.
We recommend a 35-45 liter day pack (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 day pack, 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 day packs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 1 - Meet in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away amidst mountainous Ladakh, part of the great Trans Himalayan range. If arriving by air, you will feel the jump in altitude and it will take your body a few days to adjust. If arriving by road from Manali or Srinagar, you will have had some extra acclimatization en route but still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with plenty of water, stay away from alcohol for a few days, rest and don't over-exert yourself! Even walking up the stairs of the guesthouse, or the steep steps leading to Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first few days. We recommend starting the day before you fly up to Leh, and consider taking Diamox before you fly to Leh.
We stay at the family run Shaynam Hotel, a lovely guest house with a beautiful garden courtyard, located just below the Main Bazaar in Leh, with options to stay at Omasila in Changspa, north of Leh. Kim will take you on a short tour of old Leh once you've settled into your room. Central Asian Leh is packed with Muslim bakeries, modern cafes, Western and tandoori restaurants, old, winding alleyways, antique and pashmina shops, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, picturesque mosques, Hindu and Sikh temples and wonderful, atmospheric fruit and vegetable markets along the Main Bazaar.
We will 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 Kanji 3850m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at Henasku, a five 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 an hour later are rewarded with the awesome sight of Lamayuru Gompa perched magnificently on a hillside far above the Indus. Another hour will bring us to the intersection of the village of Henasku, from where we continue along a dirt road through a dramatic, narrow gorge to our first campsite at Kanji.
Kanji is a village of approximately 40 families (300 people) in the Kargil region of Ladakh, a wonderfully scenic whitewashed village with an old lha-khang (a small gompa either built by Rinzin Zangpo or 200 years later with wonderful murals inside) as well as a newer gompa. The lively village provides wonderful photographic opportunities in the evening light when the villagers are back from the fields and the kids out of school. We set up camp just below the village by the river on a grassy site with a teahouse just above, looking out at a willow grove, pea fields and the spectacular valley that we will head up tomorrow.
We meet our horsemen, set you up in your Mountain Hardwear & Big Agnes tent and will show you around our 'Kamzang' style dining tent.
Day 5 - Kanji
We've scheduled and acclimitization day in Kanji so get out and do some exploring and photographing of this idyllic village and valley. There are plenty of opportunities to wander up adjoining valleys to spots like Dumbar and Dumbar doksa, and Kanji a lively village ...
To Dumbar: After spending a leisurely morning at camp, we can opt to trek the 2 1/2 hours to Dumbur, a seasonal settlement of the Kanji people. Turning left just out of camp and crossing a bridge crossing the main Kanji River, we head left up the Chomothang Togpo (river) along a slightly explosed trail for a bit, soon reaching green pasturelands. Behind us we'll have wonderful views of Kanji and we look ahead to tomorrow's pass. The doksa is only home to a few villagers; there is a new mani wheel in the village and side valleys leading to climbing peaks to the right of the village.
Day 6 - Trek Kanji Base Camp 4345m
Our Himalayan trek begins, and we've got a six+ hour day river-crossing ahead of us; have your sandals with you as you'll be walking in them much of th day. Venturing further and deeper into this hauntingly beautiful gorge, we trek along a small trail, past several small river junctions, heading towards the base of tomorrow's pass, the Kanji La. Trekkers have seen snow leopard tracks in this valley, so we'll keep our eyes open.
Leaving camp by heading past the village and into the eastern valley, we pass an organically-shaped mushroom rock with prayer flags strung on top, just past the many tsatsas piled in the old chortens in town. Heading up valley past the barley and pea fields, we trek along the right side of the winding river, stopping to put our feet in the water when it gets too hot. The small settlement of Kelcha is about an hour away. Two hours after this, we reach an interesting doksa called Kwongdo Doksa where the Kanji-pa stay for a month with their animals in the summer. They often have fresh yogurt, delicious. Kwongdo is at the river junction (sumdo) of three rivers, and we take the far right valley towards camp, where the valley narrows. You'll need your sandals almost all the way until camp after this point, so keep them on. We'll stop for lunch soon after Kwongdo, and continue to cross the river, sometimes jumping from rock to rock and other times wading through. It can get large in the afternoon if it's a sunny day; we'll have nearly three hours to go until reaching our camp at Kanji Base Camp, the last 45 minutes gaining much of altitude. Camp with it's mineral spring is a welcome site!
Day 7 - Trek Kanji Sumdo 4310m (cross Kanji La 5270m)
Our first Himalayan pass and a long, 9-10 hour day so we'll be up early with a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee before starting our ascent of the formidable Kanji La, 5270 meters. It's a tough climb of 935 meters, at least a four hour effort, so have snacks and plenty of water in your pack. Leaving camp we cross the small stream and head right up the steep slope at the cairns, switch backing to the first cairn-topped ridge. Looking down valley we can see the intersection to a more westerly valley below us. Contouring down for just a bit we soon climb again on rough scree, walking sometimes on the lateral morraine and other times on the glacier. It's not quite as steep for the first section but becomes very steep as we near the crest (which will probably have some snow). From the top, we'll have incredible panoramic views of the Ladakh range to the north, and the Zanskar range which stretch out as far as the eye can see. K2 is said to be visible in the far distance if you climb for another 20 minutes past the pass. After a good rest at the pass, we'll start the long descent of the shale valley towards the river which marks the intersection between Rangdum and the Suru Valley, and Zanskar. We'll have lunch along the way, about 350 meters down, in a sheltered spot. From here the trail is good, on large stone slabs. We soon reach several snow bridges which span the river bed and have to hike on somewhat exposed trails, crossing the river many times. Almost at the river junction at the base of the valley we'll have to pass through a narrow canyon which channels a small stream; shoes off or sandals on. We reach Kanji Sumdo leaving the canyon; it's a small campsite on a bluff overlooking the muted colors of the willow-lined river valley, a lovely spot to set up our tents. If Kanji Sumdo is too small for our group we will continue on another half hour or so to another campsite further up the valley.
Day 8- Trek Puzdong Base Camp 4550m
After breakfast we cross the large river right from camp, head to the right at river level and switchback up quite high to intersect the main trail coming from Rangdum. We continue to contour, staying high through grassy, rocky hillsides with marmots sticking their heads out of their holes, sunning themselves on rocks and whistling at our approach. It's 1 1/2 hours to the intersection of the route to Dibling (at our old campsite across the river), the 'sumdo' of two major river valleys. We continue along a similar trail and reach a smaller valley where we descend, cross a small stream and then hike back up. The valley is rockier, more undulating; we soon see camp across a wide valley in front of us. But before reaching it, we have to descend again to a surging river and try to cross on an old bridge, often washed away. Adventure is never far! One more climb and we've reached our lovely campsite atop a flat-ish plateau, a snow-capped valley to our right.
Day 9 - Trek Dibling 3850m (cross Puzdong La 5020m)
Ahead of us is a sublime, diverse part of the Himalaya; our trek is a mix of gentle river crossings, broad plateaus, passing seasonal herding settlements (now deserted) and ascending narrow canyons. We cross the 5020 meter Puzdong La, again with spectacular vistas. Last year we saw a herd of ibex standing statuesquely on the high cliffs above our campsite, looking down on us! A scene from the walls of a pre-historic cave dwelling ...
Another one of our favorite trekking days; we start the morning by switch backing right out of camp and hiking past fantastic, narrow canyons with sculpted walls. Trekking along a glacial riverbed, we jump the river for an hour and turn right at the cairn on the high cliff. We continue to climb on the right of the valley towards the pass. One last small descent to the stream, an easy switchback and we've reached Puzdong La (5035-meters), decorated with multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags. After a rest at this scenic pass we have a steep descent on scree, switchbacking down into the wonderfully green valley below. We jump the river at the bottom of the valley and continue to (and through) the willow grove which is Dibling base camp. We'll have lunch here by the clear stream before continuing on to Dibling another 2 1/2 hours down valley.
Soon after lunch we have a small climb to a ridge on the left side of the river. We drop back down to the valley bottom and pass a large seasonal herding settlement (doksa) of the Dibling inhabitants, now with several older Dibling-pa tending the sheep, goats and yaks in their basic houses. We can take a peek inside one of these, perhaps picking up some fresh yogurt from a villager. Inside these dark houses, with beams of sunlight shining through the chinks their only light, locals live as they have for centuries, making cheese and butter, weaving their sheep and goat wool and chanting their Buddhist prayers with their mani beads in their free time. We continue along the small, willow-lined stream, crossing it several times and stopping for spring-water at the source of the spring (which we'll share with the yaks) as we head towards the intersection of the Oma Chu and the magical village of Dibling. We pass through Dibling's extensive fields of barley and peas, the villagers out in the fields, and look up-valley to see the Dibling Gompa and chortens silhouetted against the canyon wall. Dibling, with its white-washed houses, mani walls and prayer wheel, exists timelessly, with dried grass, fodder for the animals and insulation for the houses, lining the roof-tops in preparation for their harsh winters. Our campsite ten minutes from the village is idyllic, one of our 'best of' anywhere in Ladakh, and the villagers see few Westerners so are very welcoming and genuine.
We have the afternoon to wander through the village at harvest time, visit the ancient gompa which guards the village from above, and wash in the gurgling river that runs by our
Day 10 - Dibling
We've scheduled a rest day to take advantage of this wonderful and remote village of twelve houses and approximately fifty inhabitants; one day is not nearly enough to appreciate this remote outpost of Tibetan Buddhist life. Enjoy a leisurely morning at our grassy campsite washing in the river, or with a camp-chair and book. Spend the rest of the day exploring Dibling, having salt-butter tea with the villagers or wandering up the beautiful canyon beyond Dibling. The villagers will be busy harvesting their barley, peas and hay, and you'll see them hoisting large bundles of hay to the rooftops to be stored for the sparse wintertime. This village is cut off from the rest of Ladakh & Zanskar for six months of the year, so it's essential that they be self-sufficient. At the top of the village is a 100-year-old village gompa featuring murals painted with natural pigments. Wildlife and birds abound in this region, so bring your binoculars and sit quietly for a bit. The locals tell us that there are bears in the late summer raiding the fields. The horsemen often use our free days to re-shoe the horses, a wild event.
Day 11 - Trek Lingshed Sumdo 3680m
We head up the river valley towards Zanskar today, following the willow-lined, sparkling Oma Chu for the entire day. We'll share the path with yaks, up in the valley grazing, and cooling down in the river, and possibly see bear scat on the trails as we've done in years past. It's a lovely day, classic river-side trekking with time to stop and enjoy the visas on rounded beach rocks.
Leaving camp, we'll stay on the newly-built trail (for the village kids to get to school safely at Lingshed) for the first half hour of the morning, staying on the left of the river. We'll then have to cross the river 5-7 times in the next half hour or so, often trekking upstream against the current, a nice way to spend a hot Ladakh day! . Approximately two hours after leaving camp we'll climb to a small cairn on a ridge at the sumdo (river junction) leading to the Marpo La. As we continue, staying above the river, there is a bit of exposed trail. Just after this, back along the river, we'll reach a green doksa and see many yaks grazing on the nearby hillsides. One last river crossing and we reach our scenic campsite at Lingshed Sumdo, at the junction of the Barmi La route to Lingshed and the river and canyon route directly to Zanskar. Another great bathing spot.
*** We may head up the valley a bit further and camp at another lovely campsite towards the next day's pass.
Day 12 - Lingshed Gongma 4010m (cross Barmi La 4680m)
It’s a beautiful hike climbing the narrow, colorful valley towards the pass. We crest the Barmi La, at 4680 meters, the hillsides hues of reds and greens, and be treated to views over to Lingshed village and the Lingshed Gompa, backed by craggy rocks. We traverse and descend steeply down to our campsite in a sheltered, sparkling valley below the Hanama La. There are opportunities to hike up this narrowing valley in the afternoon, and possible blue sheep sightings ...
Day 13 - Trek Zingchan 3410m (cross Hanuma La 4710m)
A pass day as we swith-back steeply right out of camp for about 2 to 2/1/2 hours to the top of the Hanuma La (4710-meters), a spectacular narrow pass with even more expansive views over to Lingshed and further into northern Ladakh. The trail down isn’t steep, a lovely walk through a mica-lined valley past a few small doksas and further on past the southern high camp. We’ll jump the river a few times as the valley narrows and at the high camp veer to the right along a somewhat precipitous trail which leads up to a narrow crest. Fanstatic views as we descend steeply from here, swith-backing through a greener and wider valley back down to the Oma Chu at the point where it intersects our smaller stream.
We'll set up camp in an amphitheater surrounded by peaks, passes and valleys, in the spot where we often lunch if heading the opposite way. There is a small tea house next to the campsite, run from an old man from Hanamur; he told us of the trail, newly re-built, through the canyon to Lingshed Sumdo. The locals all use this trail now to avoid the long, high route over the 4700 meter Hanamul La but horses have a difficult time on the cliff-side trails. Have a swim in the river right next to camp, heaven.
Day 14 - Trek Hanumil 3420m (cross Parfi La 3900m)
We enter Zanskar today, from camp looking up the steep switchbacks to our pass far above, the 3900-meter Parfi La. The swithbacks are well graded so it's just a 1 1/2 hour slog to the crest of the Parfi La. The views from the top are fantastic, with the Zanskar River gorge below us and the craggy, dun-colored Zanskar range spreading out in all directions. The descent is equally scenic as we drop steeply to high, contouring ridges, sometimes on slightly exposed trails. It should take us about two hours to reach the plateau above the river where we'll stop for a break on some flat rocks. Half an hour more of easy hiking down to and along the river, and we'll have lunch after crossing a (usually) small, intersecting stream, cooling down with our feet in the water. From here it's less than an hour of hiking along the Zanskar River, with one last climb, to our camp at the two-house hamlet of Hanumil, where cold beers are waiting at the local shop and parachute tents set up to cool down on a hot day ...
We watched the threshing of the summer's harvest in Hanamur one year, an interesting window into a dying way of life, and a good photographic opportunity. Welcome to Zanskar, the land of white copper ...
Day 15 - Trek Zangla Doksa River Camp 3430m
Leaving Hanumil and crossing a small bridge just past the two houses, we continue along the banks of the Zanskar River along a trail lined with seabuckthorne bushes and Zanskar roses to the next village, Pidmo, a larger village which sees the winter trekkers who follow the Chaddar Route along the frozen Zanskar River.
Pidmo is an interesting, traditional village on the Chadar route, surrounded by extensive barley fields, with a prayer wheel in the center of town. We take a right turn in town and cross the Zanskar River on a large, wooden bridge to the plateau on the eastern side of the river, staying high until we reach the large, walled Honya Doksa, the seasonal grazing settlement of the Zangla-pa (pa means people in Tibetan/Ladakhi), which oddly has several trees on its grounds.
From Honya we have an hour's walk 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 16 - Trek Stongde 3585m
Climbing gradually out of our campsite, we soon reach 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 his relatives. The piece de resistance of Zangla, however, is its fortress. 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 look-out 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 unsafe to enter, although someone always wants to go inside. 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. Ancient chortens with tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend back to the trail and continue trekking to Stongde.
We have a few options for the rest of the day, one of which is to hitch a ride to Stongde (see options below). Today is the only day where we intersect the new road built through much of Ladakh and Zanskar. But we have ways to avoid this, and can spend much of the day 'off-road', passing through the still-remote villages of Tsazar and Shillingskyid en route to Stongde.
Our campsite at Stongde sits right below Stongde Gompa (see below), and we'll be visited by some rather energetic village kids in the afternoon.
*** Kim and the staff will need to re-supply in Padum for the exploratory section of the trek which we start tomorrow from the upper Stongde Gompa trail. You have a few options for the day:
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 ...
ZANSKAR VALLEY GOMPAS 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.
“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, 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.
Day 17 - Stongde Doksa High Camp 4335m
Hiking the steep forty five minutes up to Stongde Gompa, we'll meet Geshe Stenzin and his brother Yongton and listen to the resonating chanting of the monks at their morning puja, the drums, the ringing of bells and the clanging of cymbals, a sublime event. Afterwards, continuing past the rows of gigantic white chortens which line the trail leading to the Stongde La, we have only two hours of somewhat steep climbing, contouring around several hillsides and crossing a few green, swampy spring valleys to reach our high camp below the Stongde La. Stongde Doksa High Camp is a grassy plateau which affords wonderful views of Stongde Gompa and up and down the Zanskar valley. There is a cold spring above camp, and a doksa just above us where three lovely, elderly Stondge ladies (widows?) often reside and take care of the sheep and goats. Yogurt might be available, not for the squeamish . We can see tomorrow's pass far above us ...
Look for blue sheep above Stongde Gompa and near our camp, and Kim will tell you stories of the 'hidden' village nestled in the high, fluted cliffs above camp.
Day 18 -Trek Suslantaktak 4290m (cross Stongde La 5165m)
Another pass day, a long and hard day starting with an 800-meter climb to the Stongde La (5165-meters), so don't skimp on breakfast or coffee! We'll have a good 3-4 hours of ascending, again contouring around green valleys where yaks and dzobkyos graze, to the windy and often cold Stongde La. There is one steep switchback just before the crest although the top is quite broad. From the pass we are rewarded with great views of the Namtse La, Zangla village, Stongde Gompa and village and the wrinkle of craggy mountains which make up the Zanskar Range. The descent is also long and gradual, again 3-4 hours to camp. It's a spectacular walk on this side of the pass; I remember being blown away by the beauty and colors of the hillsides and canyons a few years ago when we did this exploratory section for the first time.
We'll spend the first 1 1/2 hours descending carefully on a trail of large scree and rocks, difficult for the horses to navigate, hiking high above the turquoise Shingri Chu which winds its way through the canyons below us. We'll have to cross the river, usually small but if it's a very hot day possibly large, from where the path is better and the going easier. Look for blue sheep grazing on the nearby hillsides, and note the fossilized oysterbeds in large chunks of rocks once back at the river. After half an hour of hiking along a trail high above the right bank of the river we drop down to the riverbed and follow the trail through small groves of willows, a wonderful riverside walk during which we'll probably have to cross and re-cross the river. Finally, we arrive at our plateau-top campsite, green willows lining the riverbanks surrounding us. We are at the intersection of the trails leading to Ichar and Phuktal, a route we didn't manage to complete last year. We might share the campsite with local Stongde-pa, bringing back their yaks from the doksas along this river. Don't miss the cliffs lit up with the late afternoon sun ...
Day 19 - Trek Sum Shade Zingchan 4100 (cross Shringi La 4260m)
A classic, beautiful trekking day, continuing to following the willow-lined Shingri Chu, with many chilly river crossings to keep things exciting. Don't forget your sandals for the next few days! This valley is called the Sum (or Sun) Shade valley, after the river junctions (sumdo) and Shade village, the most prominent village in the valley and one of the only ones inhabited these days. Many of the other villagers left their villages, their houses and roofs still filled with furniture, wood, dried grass and blankets, and re-situated themselves in houses built by the Ladakhi government to house Tibetan refugees. The Tibetans apparently didn't like the location, so the new dwellings were taken over by many of the Sum Shade inhabitants.
We'll have one small climb after the river crossings, at the intersection of Niri Chu, up to the Shringi La (4260-meters), a high grazing pasture where we'll perhaps stop for lunch. From here it's an easy hour or less of high contouring to reach Zingchan, our wonderful campsite. Zingchan sites high up above the river on a plateau, with spring water and wood for a campfire in the evening. Go carefully to the edge of the large rock that forms the cliff above the river for amazing views up and down valley ...
Day 20 - Trek Shade 4270m
Yet another idyllic river day, started with half an hour of trekking along the plateau, high above the river on a slightly exposed trail, to the river intersection where dramatic hoodoos rise from the valley bottom. There are many blue sheep in this area, in fact all the way out to Narbus, so keep an eye on the jagged cliff-sides above us, or down next to the streams if they have come down for water. We switchback steeply to the intersecting small stream which we jump before ascending steeply again to the crest of the plateau. We continue to contour for another 1 1/2 hours to a doksa on the edge of the plateau. From here we drop to the river and hike for 5-10 minutes before crossing to the other side of the wide river, now called the Niri Chu. Another climb to a high trail along the left side of the river followed by a hike along another slightly exposed, high trail cut into the cliffs for half an hour or so. Look down to the old, wooden bridge where the river makes a sweeping S turn far below. Pass through the gate to keep livestock in (or out), descend slightly to a small bridge spanning the small Shade stream and we'll reach an interesting lhatoo at the opposite side of the intersection (4010-meters). The kata-covered lhatoo is dedicated to the god Cho Gyumjang, a female protectress of Shade and the neighboring villages. The peak on top of which she resides is to the left of Shade stream as we look up towards Shade. We've been lucky to happen upon local puja, performed by visiting monks from Phuktal Gompa, honoring her. From this lhatoo at the intersection of the Niri Chu and the narrow gorge leading towards isolated Shade, we follow a good trail along the stream, crossing over it once we've passed the deep gorge behind us. We'll trek up 250 meters (or an hour) to Shade village; along the way, we'll pass the villagers working in the fields, happily greeting us as we pass by.
Just before the village we'll pass through the patchwork of fields and Shade's entrance chorten. Our campsite is just past Shade village, on the only flat area next to a stream, a spot perfectly situated for Shade is a village of 14 traditional Ladakhi houses with 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. 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 21 - Shade
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 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. 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, caultiflower 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).
Above our campsite, past a line of chortens, a trail leads to the high pastures, a soft, open area of brick-red, mustard and green hills, a great afternoon walk. The trail eventually leads to Zangla village and fort in the Zanskar valley. We'll update after our 2012 exploratory trek along this route ...
Day 22 - Trek Nyalo Kuntse High Camp 4410m
Leaving our Shangri-La via the same trail, we'll have a five hour day as we trek further into the Shun Shade valley. The other three villages in this region are Marshun, Yarshun and Satok, all now deserted. Once back at the lhatoo, we turn left at the river junction and follow the meandering, turquoise river far below us to Trantrog Gompa (4020-meters), a little-visited 750-year-old (or 30-4o-years-old?) gompa above the small hamlet of two houses, a tree and a watering hole. 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.
We continue along the willow-lined trail down to the Nyalo Kuntse Chu, where we've spotted red fox last year, and soon afterwards climb a short switchback to a plateau and viewpoint overlooking the Tsarap Chu intersection leading to the cliffside Phuktal Gompa. Turning left, we descend briefly to a small bridge made of willow branches to the opposite side, from where we hike along the small, clear Tok Chu for half an hour. We'll probably have lunch before our ascent to camp, a tough 1 1/2 hour (350-meter) ascent on a swithbacking trail of scree to our slightly spartan high camp.
We ascend along a rocky, open trail towards the pass, and set up camp at a small high camp, next to a spring. It will be a cold campsite, so get your down jacket on! (5 hours).
Day 23 - Trek Hormoche 3970m (cross Gotundal La 5150m)
We'll be up early with a good breakfast in us for our two-pass day, by any reckoning a long and hard day of Himalayan trekking, but a fantastically beautiful and diverse one. It will take us a few hours of climbing, a 400-meter ascent, to reach the 4830-meter Nyalu Kuntse La, where we will take a break and marvel at the incredible mountain vistas. A little bit f Tibet, and classic Ladakh and Zanskar! From the crest of the pass, we look out on our second pass, the Gotundal La, straight up the neighboring ridge. It would be easier if we didn't need to drop, traverse and switch-back up again, but alas.
Another 2 1/2 hours later, we reach the top of this pass, at 5150-meters. As if we hadn't suffered enough already today, we drop down the valley a bit to a small watering hole, and then are forced to traverse several ridges to a last crest, where we have yet another breath-taking view. It's all worth it, especially the next section, a bizarre moonscape, starkly beautiful, resembling the remains of a volanic upheaval. To the left as we descend are two small opaque, turqouise lakes and below us rocks hollowed out by wind, water or heat. Geologists welcome! We soon reach a lone doksa, partially overgrown with high grasses, from where we descend very steeply on a sandy switchback, cross a small stream and emerge from this narrow canyon to our incredible campsite right along the turquoise Tsarap Chu.
Before collapsing in the dining tent, grab a hot chai and take a wander through the newly planted willow-patch, look down on the semi-abandoned houses across the valley (Marshun village) and absorb this sublime, expansive landscape.
Day 24 - Trek Satok 4025m
A six-hour sandals day. These next few days are just mind-bogglingly beautiful, with no other trekkers in sight, and we will take some time to enjoy them as we trek. We leave our idyllic campsite and walk past the few small dwellings of Hormoche, which seems to be (have been) only a seasonal settlement. There is an 'chomo-gompa' or nunnery half an hour down the trail, now sadly unoccupied, its statues gazing blindly out on the empty assembly hall. We follow the eastern bank of the magnificent Tsarap Chu, heading southeast, on a high mesa which drops to the river below in dramatic hoodoos. We have to descend and ascend three times into eroded slide regions making the hike harder than it would seem, but the views make up for it. We'll share our trail with chortling chukkars, a partridge-like bird found around much of the Himalayan ranges. The Tsarap Chu, far below, ranges in color from a striking turquoise blue to brown depending on the volume of water pulsing though it's canyons. 2 1/2 hours from camp we drop to the river to cross the large, intersecting Zara Chu. This is our 'Zara River Camp' where we camped in 2011 because of unusually high waters. The Zara Chu leads to Rupshu, and we will see it again later in our trek.
After crossing the river our trail ascends and we climb on a loose scree and sand trail, afterwards contouring around several hillsides. It's half an hour to the scenic, small bridge on the right leading, we imagine, to high pasturelands. We pass through several seasonal settlements, now abandoned, before arriving at the deserted Munele village where we stop for lunch by a rocky spring, in the grass. Another few hours of beautiful hiking along flat plateaus peppered with large rocks with a bit of exposure en route leads us to the ancient chorten above Satak. Satak village was deserted a few years ago, the inhabitants now occupying houses built for Tibetan refugees on the Leh-Manali highway. It's hard to imagine what prompted them to leave such a wonderful spot for their new haunts. The village is now a museum; the last time we camped there, we explored the small alleyways, peeked into the windows and even borrowed some salt. Many of the villagers belongings are still inside, and grass and wood for the winter is still piled on
Day 25 - Trek Tsokmitsik 4100 (cross Satok La 4406m)
Leaving camp, we descend into and climb out of the narrow, willow-filled canyon ahead of us, side-stepping the grazing yaks and jumping the small stream, and then have a 2o-minute hike across the flat plateau. From here we start to climb on a slightly exposed, contouring trail on the left of the river, and far above the Tsarap Chu which snakes its way between deep canyon walls below us. We reach a flat pleateau which we cross and then continue to climb to a flat rock protruding over the canyon, continuing our approximately 350-meter ascent. There are several ridges to crest, each with a drop afterwards, but the trail is good, so it's not a difficult hike. We've named the ridges Satok Ridge (4375m) and Satok La (4406m). From the last ridge, actually a pass, we're treated to wonderful views behind us, but especially in front of us in the direction of the Morang La which we'll cross in a few days. If the weather is good we might have lunch here before starting the straight-forward descent down to the river. Once a bit lower, we'll pass several doksa followed by a wolf trap (in which we've actually found wolves). Another small climb and descent, and then one more hot climb to our last plateau which we cross before descending to our campsite just around the corner.
The campsite is another idyllic one right on the river, at the intersection to the Morang La trekking route, and we can set up our tents river-side and jump in for a well-deserved dip! Perhaps tonight even warrants a few glasses of rum ...
Day 26 - Trek Morang La High Camp 4810m
Another wonderful day as we pass through the narrow canyon, with ancient fossil beds, and hike up a narrow river valley towards the Morang La. You might want your sandals today depending on the water level as we cross a stream for the first few hours. Heading through the narrow canyon which soon widens, we jump back and forth across the small, willow-lined stream for the first 20 minutes and then start to climb, continuing until we reach a small doksa. From here we drop back down to the river, the sun shimmering on the willows hanging onto existence between the high canyon walls. Heading to the left we'll start to ascend again, this time more steeply as the valley narrows and becomes more rocky and stark. From camp it should take us 1 1/2-2 hours to reach the base camp from where we head up the right fork of the valley and switchback quite steeply for 1 1/2 hours. The valley eventually widens again and cliff faces soar above our rocky camp at Morang La High Camp. There are green, grazing pastures above us so we might have visitors in the afternoon ...
Day 27 - Trek Bong La Camp 4525m (cross Morang La 5130m)
Up and over the Morang La and into the nomadic region of Rupshu! It should take us 1 1/2 hours to crest the Morang La (5130m), starting the day switchbacking on a scree trail and heading right towards the hill with the rocky outcropping on top. Once on this flat section we have another switchback to the Morang La, where we're treated to views of the snow-capped Himalayan range behind and the Zanskar range in front.
We descend steeply on a gravely trail, jumping the river after 30-45 minutes, and will stop for lunch soon afterwards at a grassy knoll. From here we trek for another beautiful hour or so to camp, again jumping the small stream, during which the valley narrows and becomes greener. Our grassy camp is at the bottom of this idyllic valley at the head of an extremely narrow canyon. The trail out of camp the next day is above camp to the right, bypassing this canyon. Enjoy the afternoon ...
Day 28 - Trek Zabuk Barma 4350m
and descend to Takstago and Tozak before climbing again to the smaller Bong La, 4400 meters. Once over this crest, we are home free, cruising along to a campsite called Lung (or Sangtha Valley Camp), where we set up our tents for a rest. Lung is at the intersection of the Zara River, which we crossed after Hormoche camp, and another large river, a wonderfully scenic spot.
Today we head into Rupshu, familiar and well-loved nomadic territory where Tibetan and Ladakhi nomads live as they have for a millenium and one of the most interesting sections of the trek. We climb right out of camp and then drop back down to the small stream that we followed yesterday, the river valley widening as we head east. We've got about an hour of trekking along this wide, sandy valley to reach the base of the Bong La (4565m); on the way look for snow leopard and blue sheep prints which we found in abundance near the watering holes in 2011. It's a quick climb to the Bong La from where we'll continue to contour to a more easterly section of the pass, continuing to contour around hillsides and cliffs on a slightly exposed trail for another hour. Below us the magnificent Zara Chu winds its way through the canyons below, and a wonderfully contorted mass of rock rises across the river. Dropping steeply to a grassy river valley, we stay low for the rest of the day, following the clear Zara Chu past many sparkling river intersections and nomadic settlements (doksas), the first one called Zhabuk Yogma, to reach Zhabuk Barma a spectacularly-situated seasonal settlement of the Karnak nomads where our camp has been set up for the night.
To the east the Tozay Chu leads to Pang on the Leh-Manali highway and the Ladakhi nomadic region of Kharnak, and is bordered by a fantastic canyon of sculpted rocks and hoodoos. Sangtha, further up the Zara Chu valley, marks the intersection of the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomadic regions, a semi-permanent settlement built of rounded river rocks, littered with goat droppings and discarded clothes, which local Karnak-pa inhabit in the autumn.
The campsite is wonderful and green with perfect swimming holes along the river and a cold, fresh spring in back. Look back across the Zara Chu to see the 'Five Sisters' peaks, the dwelling of the five mountain goddesses that live in the distinctly shaped range. There are three tri-colored chortens in a shallow cave above the stone doksas, worth a steep climb up for views over the campsite and down the valley. And just to the left of these, a steep valley leading up to a fantastic plateau with vast vistas, a must-do in the afternoon with the perfect light. Keep your eyes on the hilltops next to camp for kyang (wild ass), Himalayan hare and blue sheep, all common in this area.
We'll have a yak-dung fire in the evening ...
Day 29 - Trek Narbus 4820m (cross Narbus La 4850m)
We have a wonderfully dramatic hike today as we re-cross the Zara Chu right out of camp and climb to a high plateau just above us. Heading slightly around the hilltop to our right we cross the pleateau on a sort of natural bridge and reach the fantastic canyons above the Tozay Chu to reach the sculpted canyons. The multi-hued spires of rock sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion make for amazing photos. The river valley below our camp leads to the small settlement of Pang, which is off the Leh Manali highway from Narbus. We hike along this plateau, a feast of textures and colors high above the valley below, eventually contouring left towards the Narbus La.
It will take us four or five hours from camp to crest the 4850-meter pass. From the wide crest, marked by a small cairn, we can spot the canvas and yak-hair tents of the Tibetan nomadic settlement of Narbus where we set up camp for the night. Our nomadic Tibetan friends camp here for about four months every summer, and we can take a look at the inside of a nomad tent or two in the afternoon. Be ready, as we will be offered treats such as salt butter tea and fresh curd (yogurt) from their flocks of goats and sheep. Narbus is a good place to donate your supplies or extra clothes; years ago we had a meeting of a the women from each tent and distributed evenly much needed school supplies and extras. Another year we bargained for yak and sheep-hair blankets and nomadic knives with binoculars, a Leatherman and some cash.
The evenings are a wonderful time of the day as the orange orb of sun begins to set, the nomads returning to camp herding their hundreds of sheep and goats, and the yaks wandering back to the tents followed by the haunting yells of the Tibetans.
Day 30 - 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 ...
Day 31 - 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 no flights are included in our India treks anymore.
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.
© Kim Bannister