A Trip Into Far, Far Away Zanskar in Ladakh, India

Travels With Sheila’s mind is always spinning, thinking about future travel possibilities. While with Guide Erik and Lobsang (Skywalker Adventure Tours) in Ladakh, 2010, I began picking minds and gathering suggestions for a return to Ladakh. The out-of-this-world (almost literally) Zanskar Region is one area we hadn’t visited. Zanskar is composed of several valleys to the south of Leh that can only be reached by road coming from the north or on foot. Most of the established trekking routes into Zanskar are extremely difficult and far beyond our physical abilities. That being said, where there’s a will, there’s a way; take easier hikes and attend the Karsha Festival. This yearly festival has less visitors because of its remote location. (Unlike the most popular festival in Ladakh, Hemis Tse Chu outside of Leh.)

Electrification is marching into this area, pole by pole, and it makes me laugh when told, “Travel insurance for medical evacuation is mandatory.” Duh…there are no cell towers for mobile phone use…and…no telephones! By the time a guide runs the distance in “pony express” fashion during a life-threatening emergency, you’ll be dead.

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young monks in the fields of Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
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nun on a roof in Ladakh


Perhaps you never realized that Northern India contained a mountainous region called Ladakh. I know most travelers don’t know Ladakh exists based on comments when we say where we are going. Ladakh exists and you don’t know what you are missing.

Zanskar would involve camping since it’s difficult to find guesthouses with toilets in most places. E-mailing back and forth with the always amiable Lobsang, owner of Skywalker Adventure Travel in Leh, we came up with a tentative plan, all subject to change once in Ladakh:

– Drive into the Zanskar Valley from Leh via Dha Hanu, and camp one night since Dha Hanu’s guesthouses are primitive;



– A six-day easy trek into the the Zanskar Valley on what is referred to as the Lungnak Trek/Zanskar Trek. Easy? By no stretch of the imagination. This just happens to be the easiest of all the Zanskar Treks. Leh is at an altitude of 3,505 meters/11,482 feet and it only gets higher throughout Ladakh. Nothing is easy at that altitude;

– One day at the Karsha Gustor Festival commemorating the victory of good over evil. The Karsha Monastery is built on a steep mountainside a short distance from Padum;

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Ladakhi women at the Hemis Festival, 2010


– Sightseeing around Padum would include the ancient palaces of Zangla, the former capital of Ladakh, various monasteries; and

Days of driving. That is not a typo. The roads (please…”road” is too nice a word to describe them) to remote Zanskar are beyond pathetic.

Had to pass on another area of interest in Zanskar, Snertse with a river bed loaded with fossils. (Love beach-combing and digging for fossils.) The Zanskar range was formed 50 million years ago when the Indian plated slammed into Asia and the river bed has layers of sediment from the ocean floor. Die-hard hikers will have a chance to look for fossils on the more difficult Zanskar treks.

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Sonny, Sheila and Erik left their mark on a mountain valley in Ladakh


ex-Marine (husband, Steve) and I love Ladakh and couldn’t wait to return even with Steve’s high altitude worries, and Lobsang’s dire “road warnings.” Ladakh has stupifying sights, warm people, and an ancient Buddhist culture. What’s not to like? (The roads.) So, on to planning Zanskar…

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