The region of Ladakh is quite accessible now and this has resulted in the tourists visiting the region to swell in numbers. However, the region of Zanskar still sees a very few number of tourists owing to the connectivity. This has helped Zanskar to work on a sustainable model for tourism and remains the last Shangri La in the region. The moon-like landscape coupled with ancient monasteries, authentic homestays and great hiking experiences makes Zanskar a fairy-tale destination for the conscious traveller.
Post landing at Leh and some rest to get acclimatised. A relaxed day starts with the panoramic view of Leh from the Shanti Stupa. The 17th century Leh Palace is next on the list. Peek out the windows for a lovely view of the Stok Kangri and the Zanskar ranges. End the day with a visit to the Leh market where on display are the Pashmina shawls and winter wear to handcrafted prayer wheels and unique turquoise jewellery.
The day is planned out for you to see some of the most interesting things near Leh. Begin your day out in Leh with a quick breakfast before the 15-kilometre drive to Ladakh’s summer capital, Shey. Perched on a hillock, from afar Shey Palace and the Shey Monastery seem impervious to the passage of time since 1655.
Drive on to Thiksey monastery, around 4 kilometres away. Now one of Leh’s largest monasteries, there is a separate residential building for women as well. With fascinating wall paintings throughout the 12-storey complex, stupas, thangka paintings, statues and numerous artefacts make for a very interesting visit.
The scenic last leg of the day’s visits takes you through the valley’s rugged terrain over 25 kilometres from Thiksey to Hemis. Built on a green hill, hemmed between lofty mountains, Hemis is literally India’s Shangri-La. Although founded in 1672, Hemis monastery is said to have existed before the 11th century. The annual festival where the fascinating Cham mask dance is performed is in June-July for 2 days.
Time for a drive down to Kargil. First up is an inspirational visit to the Hall of Fame. Constructed in memory of Indian soldiers who have lost their lives in India-Pakistan wars, the memorial contains information on the wars fought, the soldiers and their sacrifices, and some artillery used in the Kargil war.
Next is the earthy Spituk Gompa Monastery. This lovely 11th century monastery overlooks Leh airport’s airstrip on one side and the gorgeous Indus on the other. Home to about 100 monks, ancient masks, beautiful thangka paintings, miniature chortens and idols adorn the halls here. A little higher up is the Mahakal Temple with its veiled Vajrabhairava deity; witness its unveiling if you do visit in January for the festival here.
On the way take a pit stop at the revered Gurdwara Patthar Sahib and Sangam. A drive of nearly 48 kilometres from Leh town would take you to the point where the rivers Indus and Zanskar meet. Just before Sangam, get up close and personal with the super-charged famed magnetic hill. Watch your eyes deceive you as a car climbs up without any thrust on seemingly uphill tarmac.
Set out for the beautiful Rangdum from Kargil in the morning. Amazing landscape at every turn leaves you speechless here. Check in to the private camps set in the green pasture. After lunch, head out to explore the Rangdum monastery. Enjoy a warm dinner under the blanket of a thousand stars. Share some stories around a bonfire and head back to your tents.
After breakfast, head out to Padum. On the way explore the twin lakes at Penzila pass and then the Drang Drung glacier which is Asia’s longest glacier. It’s a great day for some excellent photographs. Check in to your hotel in Padum for the night.
Wake up at leisure today and after breakfast head out with your guide to explore the best of Zanskar.
Karsha, situated a distance of 14kms from Padum, is the largest and most important monastery in Zanskar. It is attributed to Padmasambhava, and there are ancient rock-carvings at the site. The oldest remaining structure, an Avalokiteshvara temple, Chuk-shik-jal, contains wall paintings which seem to associate it with the era of Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055100 monks reside in this monastery.
Zangla was the second main capital of Zanskar after Padum where the royal family resided in the Zangla Palace supposedly built in the 11th century. Even today the royal lives in Zangla in their new home below the old palace. The Zangla palace houses a small gallery with the memoirs of the Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros (also known as the father of Tibetology) who edited the first ever Tibetan to English dictionary while living in Zangla Palace in 1823.
Take a hike to the Shilla waterfall. In a cold desert, this is a sight to behold.
A long drive back to Kargil awaits you this morning. We take the route via the surreal Suru valley. With a lot to gaze at, this route is one of the most beautiful routes to take. Check in to your hotel at Kargil in the evening.
This day is dedicated to all the things offbeat in Kargil. You start off with Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, a local family run museum preserving the Silk Route trade history of Ladakh. Then we will head towards Hundurman border village, an abandoned settlement on the Line of Control which is now transformed into a heritage museum. Post this, we drive towards Drass for lunch and a whirlwind experience of white water rafting.
Today we will drive from Kargil to Leh through the alternate route of Aryan valley. This route runs along the lower Indus area after crossing Humbotingla pass and due to its lower altitude the area is rich in vegetation and fruits. Stop for lunch at a homestay in Garkone village and enjoy a private folk performance by the Aryan tribe. Reach Leh by evening and check into hotel.
Time to depart after a wonderful journey through the lesser seen parts of Ladakh and Kargil region. During this trip you have contributed towards the efforts of the communities to make travel sustainable in the region.