I once somewhere read that sometimes the least known or visited places turn to be the most beautiful or worth visiting ones. When it comes to Zanskar valley, this quote stands quite accurate. It is one of the remotest areas of our country but at the same time, is one of the most beautiful ones. Visit Zanskar and memories will last a lifetime. It is a place standing still in time offering peace and tranquility that it hard to experience elsewhere. There are several tourist places in Zanskar which are worth a visit but the biggest attraction of course remains to be the natural beauty. From the majestic Himalayas, to the lush green of Suru river to the absolute white of Drang Drung glacier and the barren beauty of a cold desert, you get to see it here. For anyone planning a trip to Ladakh, including Zanskar on your itinerary is a must, if time allows. What do you see in Zanskar valley? Well, below is a list of some of the tourist places in Zanskar valley and its vicinity.
Tourist Places in Zanskar Valley
I am in no way claiming this to be the most comprehensive list. I am only adding here places that I know of. If you feel there is a place that I missed, please feel free to suggest in the comments section below.
Suru Valley: Contrary to common belief, your entire journey from Kargil to Padum is not through Zanskar valley. Half of the journey, from Kargil to Rangdum, is actually Suru valley and it is after Rangum that Zanskar valley starts. You will be surprised by the lush green you will witness in Suru which is in complete contrast with the neighboring Zanskar, a barren cold desert. This spectacularly beautiful valley is a sight to behold in itself but surprisingly doesn’t receive much attention as most of the people just pass through rushing towards Padum. The Suru Valley is the starting point for rafting trips (in Suru River), and it also provides a base for mountaineering expeditions to the Nun Kun mountain massif.
Shafat Glacier: It is a 14 kms long glacier in Suru valley which gives rise to the peaks of Nun and Kun and also provides base to climb these two mountains. Water from this glacier forms a stream known as “Shafat Nala” which adds to the flow of Suru river. It is a broken, ice falling glacier melting at an alarming rate due to the Global warming.
Parkachik Glacier: Located at a little distance of Parkachik, it is a majestic mass of ice moving slowly down the slopes of Nun and Kun peaks. You can walk up to the glacier via a suspension footbridge over the Suru river. Huge slabs of ice occasionally peel off the 300 ft high front wall of Nun Kun and and fall into the Suru River, providing a magnificent view of the huge ice-fall.
Drang Drung Glacier: At the top of the Pensi La pass, you will be greeted with breath taking views of massive Drang Drung glacier. It is more or less a river of ice and snow and is considered to be the largest glacier in Ladakh outside Karakoram range, second only by Siachen Glacier. It also gives rise to Doda peak which lies in the rear side of the glacier and is the source of Doda (also known as Stod) river.
High Altitude Passes
Parkachik La: The only way to reach this pass is an easy trek from Panikhar. If you are staying overnight at Panikhar, you walk up to the pass and return by evening. Another way is start from Panikhar, cross the pass and descend down to Parkachik on the other side. This pass provides amazing views of Nun – Kun massif and other peaks in the main Himalayan ridge separating Kashmir from Ladakh.
Pensi La: Known as the Gateway to Zanskar, this is a relatively easier pass to cross as compared to other passes in Ladakh. As a matter of fact, you will be on top of the pass before you even realize that you are climbing up. The descent from Pensi La towards Zanskar valley is actually steeper than the climb up from Rangdum but not too difficult. Pensi La is 4,400 m (14,436 ft) above sea level and connects the Suru Valley region to the Zanskar Valley region.
Umasi La: Accessible only by a tough trek, this 5342 meters high pass connects Zanskar to Lahaul valley. There is no road across this pass yet and getting atop this pass is a tough, several days long, trekking expedition.
Shingo La: This pass is on a long-distance footpath linking Zanskar and Lahaul valleys, from Darcha to Padum. For trekkers it is a relatively easier pass with no glacier trekking or steep climbs. A road running across this pass, connecting Darcha in Lahaul and Padum in Zanskar is currently under construction but for now, it is only accessible by foot.
Nun-Kun Massif: If it is a clear day, you will continue to see the rising twin peaks of Nun and Kun for most part of your journey towards Rangdum. Nun is the highest peak in the part of the Himalayan range lying on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Together, these two beautifully mysterious mountains are one of the biggest attractions of Suru valley. Nun is forever covered in snow, a white peak whereas its next door neighbor, Kun is barren black. These two mountains are right next to each other, a perfect beautiful combination of black & white that never changes.
Ta Tso and the Lang Tso lakes: These are two small lakes located at the top of Pensi La pass.
FORTS / PALACES
Fort of Rangdum: 5 Kilometers from Rangdum, located on a small but stEep hill, is the Rangdum Gompa which was actually used as a fortress by Dogra armies of General Zorawar Singh.
Zangla Fort or Palace: In ancient times, Zanskar was under two different kings, one ruling Padum and other ruling Zangla. The ancient Zangla fort or palace was the residence of the king of Zangla.
Doda River: Also known as Stod river, it is a 79 kms long river which forms the Stod valley within Zanskar. This river is famous for adventure sports and rafting events are organized throughout its length.
Zanskar River: The Zanskar river is formed after Lungnak river merges into Doda river near gzhung khor, (Zanskar’s central valley). Zanskar river finally merges in to Indus river near Nimmu.
Suru River: For most part of your journey through Suru valley, you will be travelling on the banks of Suru river. This river, originating from Panzella glacier which lies at Pensi La pass near the Drang Drung Glacier, is a major tributary of Indus river and is also the sole reason behind the lush green of Suru valley. The Suru River has extensive possibilities for rafting which is practiced during the summer.
Zanskar valley is said to have the longest uninterrupted Buddhist heritage of any region in the world. It is believed that it was through Zanskar that Buddhism made its way into Ladakh. Some of the oldest Buddhist monasteries are located here and are definitely worth a visit. Below is a list.
Sani Monastery: Considered to be the oldest religious site in the whole region of Ladakh and Zanskar, this monastery is located at a distance of 6 kilometers from Padum in the village of Sani. It is said to be founded by the famous Kushan emperor, Kanishka.
Bardan Monastery: Located approximately 12 kms from Padum towards Reru, it is a 17th century monastery. The location of this monastery is quite scenic, on a huge rock right next to the river. The monastery consists of a large Dukhang or assembly hall which has some grand statues of Buddhist figures and several small stupas in clay, bronze, wood and copper.
Dzongkhul Monastery: Located near the village of Ating, this monastery is famous for murals believed to be painted more than 300 years ago. This monastery also offers mesmerizing views of the valley leading to Umasi La Pass.
Rangdum Gompa: 5 Kilometers from Rangdum is the Rangdum Gompa. Located on a small but steep hill, this monastery looks like a fortress and in fact was used as one by Dogra armies of General Zorawar Singh. It is an ancient monastery from 18th century and a visit is recommended.
Karsha Monastery: Karsha is the largest and the most important monastery in Zanskar. It is directly under the control of the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. There are ancient rock-carvings at the site and the several wall paintings from 958-1055 AD.
Pibiting Monastery: Another ancient monastery located near the village of Pibiting, on the road towards Hanumil.
Stongdey Monastery: Also known as Stongde, Stongday, Tonday or Thonde, this monastery is located approximately 18 kms from Padum on the road to Zangla. It is believed to be founded in 1052 AD.
Phuktal Monastery: Also known as the cave gompa, this monastery is an almost 4 to 5 hour walk from the village of Anmu. It is a 14th century monastery famous for 700-year-old mural fragments in the Alchi style. The view of the surrounding valley from this monastery though are its greatest appeal. This monastery also offers rooms for rent so you may go trek there, stay at the monastery for the night and return to Padum the next day.
If you are lucky, you may be able to catch some wildlife in Zanskar like marmots and foxes.
Chadar Trek: This is a trek that only happens in the months of January and February (sometimes even March). The word “Chadar” is used to describe the sheet of ice frozen on the Zanskar river. Trek is from Nimmu to Padum and you walk alongside the frozen Zanskar river.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would be glad to answer. Alternatively, if you feel I missed a place on the list, please do suggest and I will add to the article.