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Review of Zanskar Valley

Zanskar Valley
Ranked #26 of 128 things to do in Ladakh
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Owner description: This region is almost totally cut-off from the rest of the world for 9 months a year.
Reviewed 24 July 2013

Well from last 4 years visiting Zanskar was a dream. And dream fulfilled this year that also on a Royal Enfield bike driving 4300 kms in 37 days. Beauty of the valley speaks itself. Off roading of 500 kms to reach this valley makes your journey complete. Maybe that is the reason not many people visit this valley in Kargil district. Totally remote, out of the world zanskar is scenic beauty. Padum the town in the heart of Zanskar is small town. Very basic amenities for a place which is cut off with the world for 8 months in a year.

1  Thank DjDaman
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviews (73)
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"chadar trek"
in 13 reviews
"frozen river"
in 7 reviews
"river rafting"
in 4 reviews
"gum boots"
in 3 reviews
"fellow trekkers"
in 2 reviews
"water proof"
in 2 reviews
"entire trek"
in 2 reviews
"snow leopard"
in 2 reviews
"till date"
in 2 reviews
"freezing cold"
in 2 reviews
in 18 reviews
in 7 reviews
in 7 reviews
in 24 reviews
in 3 reviews
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55 - 59 of 73 reviews

Reviewed 27 June 2013

Sitting by the side of the ferocious Zanskar river, the cold wind sending a chill down to my bones, I used to often wonder – as great as this trek is, why did I sign up in the first place? Time isn’t a scarce commodity on the Chadar since there are only a few viable hours in the day when you can walk on ice. So I thought really hard. And this is what I came up with. Three things ushered me into doing this – Indian cities are a mess (all of them, yes, even New Delhi), my friend’s (the one who told me about Zanskar) oratorical sufficiency and Zanskar ‘s (the word’s) phonetic appeal. Really, that was about it.

Zanskar isn’t just about the word’s phonetic appeal. The Zanskar Valley lies in the Kargil district of Jammu & Kashmir. ‘Padum’ with a population of about 1000 is its headquarter. The Zanskar Valley has numerous villages, mostly along the Zanskar River. ‘New York Times’ did a piece on Zanskar Valley in 2011 calling it – “One of the most beautifully guarded secrets of the world”. It is widely acknowledged that Zanskar is one of the coldest continually inhabited places in the world. In summers, you can take reach the Zanskar Valley from Kargil by road. The real adventure, however, is reserved for the harsh, unsettling & unforgiving winter.

I flew into Leh from New Delhi. In winters, there is no other way to get to Leh or Zanskar. The Leh-Kargil highway (NH-1) is snow-barded. Similar is the fate of the iconic Manali-Rohtang-Leh route. The usually bustling town of Leh (the capital of Ladakh) is uncharacteristically somber during winters. Most of the shops/restaurants/cafés are shut down. The affluent Ladakhis migrate to Himanchal or Delhi. The town of Leh is all about bare minimums. And it is all about the ‘Chadar Trek’. Chadar is a local word for the sheet of ice that forms on the Zanskar River during winters. The intriguing thing about Chadar is its transient nature. One moment, your trek could be as unfettered as a ride on the NH-1, next moment, you could be holed up in a Himalayan cave – your only shield against a raging blizzard.

Confluence of Zanskar and Indus

Chadar, till date remains the only option for locals living in the Zanskar Valley to reach Leh during the long winter season. The locals have been using this route for ages to commute and transport goods when mother nature shuts down all other gates. A one way trek along the frozen Zanskar River takes about 7 days for chigyalpas (foreigners, not from the Kingdom of Ladakh, as Ladakhis call us). Of course, the locals can do it in about half the time. One of the main charms of the Chadar Trek is its “no point of return disclaimer”. In case of a blizzard, an avalanche, rock-falls or melting of ice, there isn’t much you can do by the way of improvisation. Often the Indian Military has to send helicopters to rescue people and parry them away into more civilized areas.

I didn’t do the complete Chadar Trek from Chilling (65 Kms from Leh) to Padum. Instead, I did a slightly abridged version from Chilling to Nerak and back. The drive from Leh to Chilling is absolutely stunning. On a sunny day, the mountains turn mischievous with you. The assortment of colors you see on the mountains make you wish you never have to return. My favorite spot during the drive was a narrow gauge where the shadow of one mountain rested magically on the other even as the Zanskar magically whizzed past between the two of them. You pass by the village of Nimmu on your way to Chilling. It is here that you can see the confluence of Indus and Zanskar. The view from edge of the road down into the valley where Zanskar meets its great counterpart Indus is breathtaking to say the least. You can see the circuitous road going down into the valley and thereafter along the frozen Zanskar River. This is where I left the Leh-Kargil highway and took the muddy road – clearly the road less travelled by.

When sun was out for the first time, we took a break from the trek!!

About the trek itself now. I began from the first base camp – Tilat Sumdo and went on to Shingra Koma, Tibb and Nerak. Every single day on the Chadar is different from the one gone by. The first part of the trek, all the way to Nerak was a walk in the park. Even though the weather kept playing spoilsport and it snowed heavily the first couple of days, the trek, however was smooth sailing. The way back was a different proposition altogether. The sun was out, a lot of snow on the adjacent mountains melted and the Chadar was flimsy. Walking on a glassy ice surface is disconcerting as it is; you add to it the small matter of ice crackling beneath your feet, the sound of an outraged gushing river below and then you say to yourself – ‘This is precisely what makes Chadar so nerve wrecking’.
I will never forget the night spent in Nerak – my final camp before we began the return. The temperature dipped to minus thirty at night. I kept looking up at the tiny lights that flashed from high up in the mountains. It was the Nerak Village. My guide told me that the village had around 20-25 houses, a population of not more than 100-150 people. As I shivered in my tent despite wearing numerous layers, I tried to fathom how those people battled the insane cold every single day for 4-5 months.

A frozen waterfall near Nerak

One of my most poignant memories of the trek comes from the night spent at the Shingra Koma camp. My guide Mr. Tenzing took me (and a couple of my friends) to a cave nearly a kilometer from our camp. The sun had already set a couple of hours ago. The mercury was beginning to dip. This cave was that night’s humble abode for our porters. Porters (generally locals from Zanskar) carry our food, kerosene and the other assorted gear on their indigenous sleds from one camp to the other. Most of them have their own farms back in Zanskar and they work as porters during winters to earn the extra buck. The porters had sealed the front of the cave with rocks placed on top of one another in an orderly manner and lit a big fire inside to keep the place warm. All of us sat in a big circle, warmed ourselves in the comfort of fire and had an extremely pleasant conversation about Zanskar – what the locals do, what do the women in Zanskar do, do they all have farms and much more. They asked us where we came from and how life was in the bigger cities.

There are numerous Himalayan treks out there. I am sure all of them are worth their salt. Chadar, however, isn’t merely a trek. It is an experience. It is a way of life for the people of the Zanskar Valley. To be able to go there, live it, feel it - is an experience worth every dime, every ounce of energy and every minute put into it.

8  Thank Sid08harth
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 26 February 2013

The river is so damn cold even in June. It is quite lengthy also. I had been to rafting in this river. It is not that adventurous as there were not many rapids of difficult level. The river was clean. We were given water proof clothing to prevent water from entering it just in case it splashed on us. But after the ride, I got in the water and the chilly water easily got inside the jacket. There is a restaurant near the river which serves food and some cool drinks.This is around 1.5 hours from central Ladakh.

1  Thank akarshbn
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 December 2012

people called one of the isolated place on earth .amazingly super valley of zanskar.i had travelled a lot to zanskar from sikkim and working in a bar in padum kailash bar for almost four years every year its diffrent .
People are friendly.but it is far from leh it takes two days to reach and have to cross kargil and beautiful indus river.

2  Thank phurbagrangden
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 19 November 2012

Since I have been a naturalist and wildlife photographer right from childhood, I had the opportunity to travel to various places arranged by many tour operators and trekking groups. But Mystic Himalayan Trails has truly been an exception. I went with them on their Chadar expedition which is one of the extreme environments in India. The four key points that puts them on a different level are:

1. They are through professionals with best guides and naturalists, most of whom are natives with a deep knowledge about the terrain, weather and the route.

2. They genuinely care for nature and wildlife and take every little step to reduce human impact on the landscape.

3. The amount you pay is also contributing to the conservation of Himalayan wilderness one way or the other.

4. They maintain best safety standards and gives high importance for guest's well being.

Their packages and trekking expeditions are ideal for people who wants to explore the beauty of the Himalayas apart from nature photographers, backpackers, mountaineers, trekkers and people from all walks of life. This will be a truly rewarding experience.

Some best luxuries which is hard for anyone to offer on such an expedition.

Picture this. You are walking on a frozen river where the temperature drop down to minus 30 degrees. 12 kilometres have to be covered everyday and the path is very tricky. It tests your endurance but you are guaranteed with some spectacular wilderness which you never get to see otherwise. While you crave to have a quick hot lunch which is near to impossible in such a terrain, here are few people who are waiting with to serve you hot lunch in the middle of nowhere! And still, not a single trace of human imprint could be seen in that fragile terrain. That's Mystic Himalayan Trails for you.

6  Thank Ramnath_Shekar
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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