One of the least explored places in the country and must be included in your Le Ladakh tour packages, Zanskar Valley is a hidden gem located near Leh, Ladakh which offers sublime scenic views of the snow-laced Himalayan range with sparkling blue river flowing at their foothill. It even provides an exotic experience of trekking, ‘Chadar Trek’, on a thick sheet of Ice on a river during the winter season.
Also known locally by the name of Zahar, Zanskar is a small district in Kargil, located in the eastern section of Ladakh. For the ardent traveller, Zanskar Valley is one of the most enchanting places to visit in the Himalayan region. Plan your visit to Zanskar Valley well in advance to ensure that you do not have trouble arranging basic amenities at the last minute. This valley is a semi desert, with a known affinity for Buddhist beliefs.
Zanskar Valley is eternally famous for its high snow capped mountains and surrounding landscape, featuring geographical attributes that are unique to this region. Reaching this place will introduce you to sparkling clean river waters and a pleasant climate that makes it worth exploring. Located 105 km from Leh, Zanskar Valley has earned fame among adventure enthusiasts. With a host of activities that can be tried out at the valley, it has become one of the most popular holiday hotspots for those travelling to the Himalayas.
Most visitors to Zanskar Valley plan a trip for 2 - 3 days. Surprisingly, it isn’t difficult to find accomodation in this remote region of the Himalayas all round the year.
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• Located at an average height of 6000 meters above the sea level, Zanskar valley is surrounded by the unmatched beauty of the serene mountains.
• In winters the Zanskar river freezes to form a blanket of thick ice, allowing the thrill seekers to go on a trek on this frozen river, popularly known as the ‘Chadar’ trek.
• One can enjoy white water rafting at the Zanskar river along with camping at night surrounded by the beautiful mountains.
• The treacherous terrain of Zanskar is perfect for adventure lovers to embark on challenging treks such as the Lugnak Trail Trek, Padum-Darcha Trek and Zanskar-Sham Valley Trek among others.
By Air: Reach the Kushok Bakula airport which is the closest airport to Leh. Opt for a hired vehicle to get to Zanskar Valley afterwards.
By Train: Reach the Jammu Tawi railway station and then, take a taxi or hired vehicle to take you to Leh and later to Zanskar Valley.
By Road: In order to reach Zanskar Valley, one must travel first to Kargil, which can be accessed via Srinagar or Leh. The distance between Leh and Zanskar Valley is 462 km, which can be covered under 11 hours if one travels via NH 1 and NH 301. Once you reach Leh, you can opt for a hired vehicle to take you via the road route to Zanskar, via Kargil. The best way to get to Leh is through Srinagar, which offers well connected roads and a safe route for tourists to reach their travel destination.
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Summer: The best time to visit Zanskar Valley is between the months of June to September. During this time, the weather is most decent for travellers who visit the valley. Before June, the early season is characterised by bad roads, which are not in a good condition for travel purposes.
Beyond this time, you can plan a visit maximum up to October month, which might pose slight difficulties but is still traversable.
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Winter: If you plan to visit during the months of December to January or February, the only way for you to reach the valley will be by walking over the Chadar trek since roads are not operational during this time. This season must be picked only if you are prepared to undertake that level of physical exertion.
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Via Srinagar and Kargil: This is the fastest route to reach the Zanskar Valley. You can either reach Leh via the Manali – Leh highway and then reach Kargil, or reach Leh directly via air or rail. From here, you can take the road to Padum. Speaking in terms of the shortest route, you will reach safely via the Srinagar – Kargil – Padum route.
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From Himachal: This route is presently under construction and will take another few years to complete. It runs from Darcha in Himachal to Shingo La and then to Padum. Another route runs from Leh to Nimoo and then to Chilling, taking you finally to Padum. Most of this route runs along the Zanskar river.
From Darcha: This 40 km route from Darcha to Shingo La takes you through the famous Phugtal monastery which can be visited while you access this route.
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Via Leh: This route is operational all around the year and provides easy accessibility to the Zanskar Valley. It will run through Leh to Chilling and then pave way to Padum. Most locals here remain out of reach to roads but when this route is complete, they will have a better way to commute.
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Also known as Chadar trek, this is one of its kind of trek that you will find all over the world. The word depicts a blanket, which resonates with the ice that forms over the Zanskar river during the extreme winters. This trek is a walking route over the Zanskar river, which is often frequented by the locals for trade purposes.
If you are planning to dare this adventure, then you better arrive here in the months of January and February when the sheet of ice is thickest. You will need to pass a medical fitness assessment at the local hospital in Leh, without which, you cannot undertake this trek.
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Here is a list of the most important things that you must not forget to carry along with you, to Zanskar Valley:
1. Appropriate clothing. Depending on the season during which you visit, you must be equipped with the right set of clothes for your comfort.
2. Medicines. Availability of medicines is sparse as you continue to head down the route to the valley.
3. Sun protection since chances of sun burns only increases at the high altitude.
5. Torches and emergency kit
6. Knick Knacks and ready to eat food items
7. Packaged water, maps and route information
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Given the difficulty level of reaching Zanskar Valley, tourists are prompted to make arrangements in advance and take note of the following tips to ensure that they do not have any trouble during their travel to Zanskar Valley:
1. Fuel pumps are fairly easy to find on the Srinagar – Kargil road but beyond that none can be found till Padum, where fuel is often in shortage. Make sure that you top up your vehicle in Kargil and refill whenever you get the chance.
2. You will find a single ATM in Padum market when visiting the Zanskar Valley. Needless to say, you must carry enough cash with you to meet the expenses of the trip since the machine can run out of cash or break down unexpectedly.
3. You will find a big government hospital in Padum and Kargil, if needed.
4. After crossing Sankoo, mobile connectivity is pretty dead.
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Yes. Zanskar Valley is blooming to become a tourist hot spot, which is why adequate assistance and help is available after every few stops during the journey to Zanskar Valley. However, you must observe the bare minimum precautions and stay aware of your surroundings when you visit an isolated place such as this one.
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When visiting the Zanskar Valley from Delhi, head to the Manali – Leh highway, which will take you through the Himalayan region and then to Kargil, which further leads to Padum through a well connected system of roads. Visitors can also opt to fly to Leh or take the rail route up to Jammu, to reach Leh and then Zanskar Valley. Local buses regularly ply between Leh and Zanskar Valley as well.
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The distance between Leh and Zanskar is no less than 460 km, which can be completed via road routes under 11 hours, when running non stop. The best route to take while crossing this road is NH 1 and NH 301.
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Geographically, a part of the Tethys in the Himalayas, the Zanskar range spans over an area of 7000 square kilometres and lies at an elevation of 11,500 feet to 23,000 feet. Within this range, Kamet is the highest peak, standing at 25,446 feet or 7,756 metres.
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Ideally, the best season to visit the Zanskar Valley is between the months of June to September. The temperature in the valley is quite pleasant during this time and quite convenient for the travellers. During this time, the roads are also in good condition and safe for tourists. At other times of the year, the absence of heavy tourist footfall in the region makes it susceptible to risks.
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