Up and Over The Penzi La Pass into Zanskar

The easiest (gag-gag) approach into Zanskar leads from Kargil through the Suru valley and over the Penzi La/Pensi La Pass on the first and only road in Zanskar. Two small, turquoise, high altitude lakes and views of surrounding permafrost mountains were highlights of the Penzi La pass; not as dramatic as other passes in Ladakh. Once you’ve headed up and over the Khardung La Pass (“la” means pass in Tibetan) at an elevation of 5,359 meters/17,582 feet, the highest motorable pass in the world, nothing else will compare. The Penzi La Pass was more of a table land and nowhere near as formidable or scary as other Ladakh/China passes but there were prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. It was after this pass that the scenery became even more dramatic, if that was possible.

shepherds house at the Penzi La Pass, Ladakh

Stanzin #2, Steve and Sheila at the Penzi La Pass, Zanskar

top of the Penzi La Pass, Zanskar


We were now officially in Zanskar. “Are we there yet?” No! We were in Zanskar but no where near our final trailhead. There was a small shepherd encampment at the pass and other tourists rushed down to watch a woman making cheese from yak milk. (There was a very artistic arrangement of yak shit drying on rocks that inspired a fast pee-pee break.)

yak dung drying to be used a fuel in Zanskar


Back in the car, and down the other side to gawk at the very impressive Drang-Drung Mountain and Glacier. Drang-Drung glacier is the largest and longest glacier in Ladakh; a 5 kilometer/3.1 mile winding river of ice and snow. We met a geologist towards the end of this trip who had been on a mining reconnaissance for the Government and said the glacier was loaded with sapphires and garnets. Ladakh/Zanskar has untapped riches that will never be mined until the Pakistan-India conflict is resolved.

Drang-Drung Mountain loaded with hanging glaciers, Zanskar

Drang-Drung Glacier flows for 5 kilometers, Zanskar


map of the Zanskar area, Ladakh


By now I would have killed for a single engine Cessna into Zanskar. Does anyone want to invest in a start-up business?  However, the day was never going to be over if we didn’t start moving. The Zanskar road wound down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley. It is from the cliff-like snout of Drang-Drung Glacier that the Stod/Doda River, the main tributary of  Zanskar River, rises.  S-L-O-W-L-Y…we bumped along…


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