Zanskar Valley is a remote corner of Ladakh region of India, tucked deep in the Himalayas. Before modern road was built, even the valley’s biggest town Padum was only accessible three months of the year due to blockade by heavy snow. Recent years, a new road has finally completed, linking Padum to Manali in the neighbouring province. Explore Zanskar through this epic road trip, venture into isolated villages and solitary monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism, observe local culture and lifestyle, and embrace the hospitality of Zanskaris.
Late afternoon flight to Delhi, arrival at night, transfer to a hotel nearby the airport. Retire early to bed, in preparation for next day dawn flight to Ladakh region in the Himalayas.
Early morning transfer to airport, catch a domestic flight to Leh, once the imperial capital of Ladakh Kingdom. During the flight journey, admire spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges rolling into the horizon. Upon arrival, transfer to guesthouse. Afternoon rest and relax to acclimatize to high altitude, as Leh is located at 3524m. Avoid strenuous activities to keep high altitude sickness at bay.
Sightseeing around Leh. Visit Shey Palace located on a hillock, once the summer capital of Ladakh Kingdom. Explore Thiksey and Matho monasteries, both mighty structures of Tibetan Buddhism standing on hill top by the bank of Indus River. Enjoy lunch at a century-old heritage house in Stok. Late afternoon back in Leh, free & easy.
Take a scenic drive westward, en-route passing the confluence of Indus River and Zanskar River. Journey through the “Magnetic Hill” at a height of 4,267m, here you could experience the unusual sight as if your vehicle is going upwards on its own with the engines off. Upon arrival in Lamayuru, known for its moon-like natural landscape, visit the 11th century Lamayuru Monastery, one of the oldest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, with some 300 monks. Overnight in Kargil, a Muslim dominated town.
Proceed towards Zanskar Valley, en-route visit Suru Valley located at an elevation above 3,600m, view of the magnificent twin peaks of Nun and Kun, both above 7,000m height. The mountain range separates Zanskar from the Suru valley and other parts of Ladakh. On top of a pass, enchanting view of towering mountain ranges. Just before arriving in Rangdum, the valley gets broader with green and lush meadow.
Morning visit Rangdum Monastery before continuing the drive to Padum. En-route, impressive view of Drang Drung glacier, which flanked the way up to the pass of Pentse La (4,200m). On top of the pass, there’re two small and greenish lakes – Sato and Langto – said to be the birthplace of the famous Zanskar breed of ponies. Around sunset arrival in Padum, our base for the next few days to learn more about Zanskari lifestyle in isolation.
Today explore nearby communities, visit Karsha monastery with a large collection of Tangka (silk Buddhism paintings) and Chushikjal Nunnery that provides spiritual education for young girls. Later proceed to the hamlet of Sani, where an ancient monastery standing by a sacred lake. Walkabouts in Sani and mingle with the locals, gain up-close contact with the local way of life. Back in Padum for stay.
Drive to nearby Zangla village, where a ruined fort perched high on a hilltop. To enter the village, cross a rickety wooden suspension bridge, with fast-flowing Zanskar River roaring beneath. Later, visit the oldest monastery in Zanskar – Stongdey, which offers sweeping view of the Zanskar Valley and the farmland at foothill.
A scenic drive along Tsarap river to Cha Village, en-route visit Barden monastery. After lunch in Cha, start hiking to Phuktal monastery, which is so remote that only accessible on foot. Perch high on a cliff 4000m above sea level overlooking a gorge, the honeycomb-like structure of Phuktal monastery has a surreal appearance, as if growing out of the rocks and exploded out of a cave. Overnight stay at the monastery, immerse in its solitary and divine aura.
Rise early, join the monks for morning prayer at Phuktal monastery, have a taste of monastic lifestyle. Later, explore and admire the complex of prayer halls, library, chortens, and collection of Tibetan Buddhism arts. Afterwards, trekking downhill to the tiny hamlet of Purney, the few signs of civilization in this far flung corner of the world. Overnight at homestay in Purney, enjoy home cooked meal and mingle with the locals.
It takes some 7-hour drive to cover less than 100km in distance. After passing the last village of Zanskar – Kurgiakh – the winding mountain road ascends to an elevation of 5,150m at the high pass of Shinko La, which borders Ladakh and the next-door province of Himachal Pradesh. Journey through winding mountain road full of hair-raising sharp turns, yet the scenery en-route is enchanting. Overnight at Jispa campsite. Star gazing at night.
Drive to Manali over the high pass of Rohtang La (3,978m). The mountain pass provides a natural divide between the arid high-altitude Lahaul and Spiti valleys with a Buddhist culture (in the north), and the Kullu Valley with a primarily Hindu culture (in the south). Impressive view of mountain ranges along the drive over numerous hairpin turns that lasted for some 7 hours.
After two days of tiring long drive, enjoy a relaxing day in Manali that exudes with laidback atmosphere. Morning visit Hadimba Temple, a 16th century wooden structure built around an ancient cave temple, dedicated to Hidimbi Devi, wife of Bhima, a figure in the Indian epic Mahabharata. The temple with three-tier pagoda-style roof is surrounded by cedar forest at the foot of the Himalayas. Afternoon free & easy.
After early breakfast, transfer to domestic airport in Kullu (50km), board a flight to Delhi. Later at night, catch an international flight bound for Kuala Lumpur. Arrival at destination the next morning.
Morning arrival in Kuala Lumpur. End of tour.
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A passionate globetrotter, Lam Li once spent two years on an overland journey from Asia to Europe, and another half a year tramping along the ancient Silk Road in Central Asia. A former journalist, Lam Li is keen on collecting local tales while on the road, and she strives to understand the social and political fabrics of places she visited. She has lived and worked in Beijing for six years, and has published a book in Chinese entitled “The Wall Street Diary: US under Financial Storm” . She has also recorded her travelogue on film, and directed a feature-length documentary named “Surviving Beijing”.
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