Lungnak Trek in Zanskar: Day 1 – Raru to Dorzong

Steve and I sat like slugs on campstools while the crew made camp. It wasn’t long before locals herded their flocks of goats and sheep right through the middle of camp raising clouds of dust. The flocks wanted to linger, especially around the cook tent, but a few well-flung rocks by shepherds sent them on their way.  Our Raru campsite was right behind the German-run boarding school. The students were out in full force the next morning for a solid hour of exercise before their school day began.

The Lungnak Trek is an out-and-back trek, not my favorite kind. I prefer trekking from A to B rather than traversing the same trail and scenery. All other Zanskar treks are A to B’s, far too difficult for us. A horseman with assistant and horses showed up and began packing, weighing, and distributing everything on their horses. We set off on trek at 8:15a down a scree trail, accessing a road that continued over the Tsarap River. Almost the entire trek would follow along this river until it met with the Kargyag River. We’d then follow the Kargyag River to Phuktal.

German run school in Raru, Zanskar

breaking camp in Raru, Zanskar

one of our trek horses loaded and ready to go, Zanskar


The trail (actually what passes for a road in these parts) began nice and wide, relatively easy, until it crossed a bridge to the other side of the river. We stayed on this side of the Tsarap River and immediately had to make our way over a big stretch of scree on a landslide area that took all our energy. Neither of us likes scree. Actually, scree is one of Travels With Sheila’s big bugaboos. For non-hikers/non-trekers, scree is an accumulation of small broken rock fragments created by ice within mountain rock slopes. These tiny pieces constantly slide from under each footstep. Not only that, they are usually on steep slopes.

Added to our fears of sliding down into the river below, extreme heat! There was no shade. We were well above tree line and the high altitude sun was reflecting off stones, crisping bodies. Brutally hot.

an easy trail on the Lungnak Trek in Zanskar

the "we no like this" portion of trail on Lungnak Trek, Zanskar


This portion of the trail to Ichar had become a “non trail.” Two years ago, there was no road on the other side of the Tsarap River and everyone (locals included) walked this way. When the road was built, the trail fell into disuse. Terrible winters, snow, avalanches, disuse has caused the trail to completely disintegrate. In hindsight, we should have crossed the bridge earlier, hiked on the road bypassing all the scree or do what many other trekkers do. Begin the trek in Ichar further down the road.

wide open, arid Lungnak Trek area, Zanskar


This portion of the trek takes fit hikers only 2-1/2 hours from Raru to Pipula, campsite for the night. Super fit hikers can do the entire length to Purne in one day. Good for them but we were exhausted. There was no way we could make it to Pipula, still a two hour hike from here. Heat. Altitude of 4,000 meters/13,123 feet, 10 kilometers/6.2 miles already completed. Throw in a few sustained uphills and it’s no wonder we were ready to pass out.

Stanzin #1 waiting for us at the top of a long uphill climb, Zanskar

map of the general trekking route in Zanskar


Around 4:00p, we called it quits in a flat area of Dorzong along the Tsarap River. Only two families live here and Dorzong is considered part of Ichar Village seen on the other side of the river. This is the good part of not trekking with a group. It’s unnecessary to walk at someone else’s pace, you can change whatever you want and that is what we did. A conversation with Stanzin #1. The trek will have to be revised. The most important change was to begin earlier in the day, trying to avoid the intense heat. Guides on our infamous Hunza Trek in Pakistan had us begin trekking at 4:o0a each day to finish by 10:00a because it was so darn hot. And that was even higher in altitude. If it takes more time each day, so be it. If we have to eliminate the Karsha Festival, que sera, sera.

Trekking groups were continually coming and going through Dorzong. Our horses unpacked, camp set up in the squishy area next to the river, we cooled down and collapsed on mats.

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