Leh to Zanskar Itinerary – How to Plan your Journey ?

by Vargis.Khan

As the tourism in Ladakh increases, the tourist footfall in nearby areas like Zanskar Valley too has gone up. More and more people have started to plan a visit here; to areas that were mostly unknown until a few years ago. Including Zanskar valley to your existing Ladakh trip is an addition of just 2 more days on the minimum side and comes highly recommended. To give you an idea on how to do so, in the next couple of articles, I will be suggesting a few sample travel plans explaining the route and the journey in detail. I will first begin with a Leh to Zanskar Itinerary; that will help you understand how you can travel from Leh to Zanskar valley, where to stay and what to see. Next I will recommend an itinerary that will exclude Ladakh completely and will have you travel only through Zanskar.

Image: Wiki

I know I said 2 days but that is just a minimum time that I mentioned here. There is plenty to see in Zanskar valley and you can easily spend a week here exploring the place. For the sake of this article, I will suggest an itinerary for 6 days to and from Leh city. This is however a very comprehensive itinerary that will help you to see all that there is to see in Zanskar. Depending on the number of days you have in hand, you can add or remove places for this plan to better suit you. If you need my inputs or want to run your itinerary with me, please feel free to do so in the comments section towards the bottom of this page.

Also Read: Zanskar Valley Itinerary – A Sample Travel Plan

Why Visit Zanskar

A common thought around Zanskar is that people think of it as the same like Ladakh. And since they have already visited Ladakh, they tend to avoid Zanskar valley assuming that they vistas will anyways be the same so why bother. This really cannot be any farther from the truth. While the scenery may look similar, the fact is that Zanskar has a charm of its own that you just cannot miss. The beautiful contrast of green and brown between Suru and Zanskar valleys; the magnificent white of Drang Drung Glacier; the change of culture from entirely Muslim to Buddhist; these are just some of the things that will make a trip here well worth your time.

The Dispute of Taxis and Motorcycle Rentals

An important thing that you need to remember is in regards to the motorcycle and taxi rentals. Any vehicle that you have rented from Leh city will not be allowed in Zanskar and can only be used to get you as far as Kargil. From Kargil then, you will have to rent another bike or cab which will bring you to Padum, show you around and then take you back to Kargil. This is a great hassle that I wish I could tell you a way around but there really isn’t any.

Leh to Zanskar Itinerary

Below is an example of how you can plan a visit to Zanskar Valley from Leh. I will first suggest an Itinerary that I recommend followed by a few alternate versions of it. The itinerary below assumes that you are coming to Zanskar from Leh and then will journey back to Leh city only.

  • Leh – Day 1
  • Leh to Kargil via Lamayuru – Day 2
  • Kargil to Padum – Day 3
  • Padum – Day 4
  • Padum – Day 5
  • Padum to Kargil – Day 6
  • Kargil to Leh – Day 7

Why am I recommending traveling this way? Because this is pretty much a simple and straight journey that can be completed irrespective of your time and mode of travel. It does not matter if you went by your own vehicle or public transport; early or late in the season.Following this itinerary, you will conveniently be able to travel to Zanskar valley from Leh and return. A detailed explanation of the itinerary is as mentioned below.

Also Read: Mobile Phone Connectivity in Zanskar Valley

Leh – Day 1

Now this day could be in two possible ways that I can think of. First one is that you just flew into Leh city in which case you should spend Day 1 resting and allowing your body to acclimatize. Second one is that you were already in Ladakh and returned to Leh today from any of the other places like Pangong or Nubra valley.

Not much for me to write about Day 1 really because it will entirely depend on your itinerary so far. If you however flew into Ladakh today, then AMS will be your biggest concern. People who catch a flight to Leh are most prone from suffering from altitude sickness because of the sudden gain in altitude. You must not exert yourself and take plenty of rest in order to allow your body to acclimatize. If you are feeling better by evening, then you can visit some of the local attractions in Leh city like Leh Palace, Shanti Stoopa and the local market.

Leh to Kargil – Day 2

Your destination for second day will be the small town of Kargil. Total distance of the journey will be about 220 kilometers; doable in 6 hours easily. Road is mostly all good until Kargil. There are plenty of places that you should visit on the way like Mulbekh Maitreya, Lamayuru Monastery, Moon Landscape, Gurudwara Pather Sahib, Magnetic Hill, Indus Zanskar Confluence etc. Cover as many places as you can and then you can visit the rest while on your way back.

Also Read: Zanskar Valley Taxi Union Rates : Leh, Kargil & Local

Kargil to Padum – Day 3

The distance between the two towns is not really that great; just slightly over 230 kilometers but due to some bad stretches of the road, it may very well take you an entire day to cover. Then there is also the fact that there will be plenty of sightseeing involved as well so an early start from Kargil is highly advised. The route of the journey will be Kargil, Sankoo, Panikhar, Parkachik, Rangdum, Penzi La and finally to Padum. The area before Rangdum is all Suru valley and after Rangdum is all Zanskar. You will be amazed by green it is all around in Suru valley and how it changes to barren landscape slowly as you enter Zanskar.

I have covered the journey on this entire section in detail at Kargil to Padum Travel Guide. Take a look at the post below to know more about the route and places you should be visiting here. Pensi La Pass, Drang Drung Glacier, Sta Tso, Lang Tso Lakes and Nun-Kun Massif are some of the must see place en route.

Also Read: Kargil to Padum Travel Guide and Road Map

Padum – Day 4 and 5

I have kept 2 days for sightseeing in Zanskar; covering places in Padum and nearby but you can cut it down to 1 day if you were short on time; or make it 3 if you could afford to. For a complete list of tourist attractions in and around Padum; please read Tourist Places in Padum and its Vicinity. You will not really be covering a huge and most of the nearby local villages are within a day’s drive. If you arrived in Padum by public transport, then you can rent a private taxi for a day that can show you around.

Also Read: Local Sightseeing and Accommodation in Padum

Padum to Kargil to Leh – Day 6 and 7

On day 6, you will return to Kargil via the same route that you took to get here. After spending the night in Kargil, you will then go back to Leh on Day 7. Plan your journey on this route in a way that you are able to cover all tourist attractions between Leh, Kargil and Padum. Some can be visited while on your way to Padum and rest on your way back.

There are two roads from Kargil to Leh. One is via Lamayuru that you took to reach Zanskar valley. A second road exists that is rarely traveled by anyone. It takes you through the Batalik sector which is extremely close to India Pakistan border. From Kargil, you will travel via Batalik and exit on Srinagar Leh highway away just before Khalsi. Please note though that this is the longer of the two road and will easily take you about 8 to 9 hours to complete. So if you wanted to change the itinerary a bit, you can reach Zanskar from Leh via Lamayuru and go back via Batalik.

This is of course just one of the many ways that you can plan this journey. Depending on your own overall Ladakh itinerary and a few other factors, you can tweak it any way that is of convenience to you. Let me also suggest a few other alternate itineraries if this one did not fit in to your plans well.

Also Read: Tourist Places in Zanskar Valley and its Vicinity

Leh to Srinagar via Zanskar

Two most popular ways to cover Zanskar are to either visit here while returning from Ladakh to Srinagar; or to plan a trip while going to Ladakh from Srinagar.  If you too were thinking on the same lines, then let me also recommend how you can do so.

  • Leh – Day 1
  • Leh to Kargil via Lamayuru – Day 2
  • Kargil to Padum – Day 3
  • Padum – Day 4
  • Padum to Kargil – Day 5
  • Kargil to Srinagar – Day 6

This itinerary is mostly the same that I suggested above. The only difference is that on the last day, rather than going back to Leh, you will reach Srinagar via Drass and Sonamarg. If you however wanted to try a different route for return journey and were in for a bit of off-roading then you can also travel like this.

Also Read: Accommodation in Zanskar Valley : Hotels, Guest Houses & Camp Sites

Itinerary # 2
  • Leh – Day 1
  • Leh to Kargil via Lamayuru – Day 2
  • Kargil to Padum – Day 3
  • Padum to Rangdum – Day 4
  • Rangdum to Drass via Umba La – Day 5
  • Drass to Srinagar – Day 6

Traveling in the manner above, you will spend first half of Day 4 sightseeing in Padum and return to Rangdum in the later half. You will spend the night in Rangdum and then reach Sankoo the next day. At Sankoo, a road that was recently asphalted goes towards Umba La top and then descends down to Drass on the other side. This is more like a short cut between Sankoo and Drass. Do keep in mind that even though it is tarred, the road is very steep with a lot of hairpin bends. Weather too at this pass can change any minute. Before you take this road, please make sure to talk to the locals and only proceed after you get an idea of how the road and weather ahead was.

Also Read: Zanskar Valley Road Map

Srinagar to Leh via Zanskar

Now the above two itineraries were assuming that you were on your way home via Srinagar and covered Zanskar on the way. If you were however going to Ladakh via Srinagar and wanted to visit Zanskar on the way then you can travel like below.

  • Srinagar – Day 1
  • Srinagar to Kargil – Day 2
  • Kargil to Padum – Day 3
  • Padum – Day 4
  • Padum to Kargil – Day 5
  • Kargil to Leh via Lamayuru or Batalik – Day 6
Or like below
  • Srinagar – Day 1
  • Srinagar to Drass – Day 2
  • Drass to Rangdum via Umba La – Day 3
  • Rangdum to Padum – Day 4
  • Padum to Kargil – Day 5
  • Kargil to Leh via Lamayuru or Batalik – Day 6

Also Read: Public Transport Services in Zanskar Valley

Leh to Zanskar valley

And this is pretty much it. Those are some of the itineraries you can follow for your trip to Zanskar. Mentioned below are some of the other details of the journey which I believe can be of help.

Leh to Zanskar distance

Rangdum is actually the place where you cross over from Suru valley in to Zanskar. Leh to Rangdum is a total of about 350 kilometers but if you traveled all the way to Padum, then the distance increases to about 450 kilometers.

Leh to Zanskar Bus

There is no direct bus from Leh to Zanskar valley. You will first have to board a bus from Leh to Kargil and then another one for Kargil to Padum.

Leh Zanskar trek

The famous Chadar trek happens only in winter season if that is what you were wondering about. Apart from Chadar trek, there are numerous other trails too but for that, you must hire an experienced guide from Leh along with some porters.

Leh to Padum

Leh to Padum is a 2 day’s journey minimum. There is really no way that you can do it in a single day. Though the distance of about 450 kilometers seems doable in a day, you must keep in mind that you will be driving through a hilly region and some bad road that will severely limit your average speed.

Leh to Rangdum

Leh to Rangdum can be attempted in a day but it will easily take about 12 to 14 hours depending upon your speed an break. You must start from Leh by first light of the day and even then, you will probably reach Rangdum by late evening only.

Leh to Drang Drung Glacier

A trip to Drang Drung Glacier from Leh is a 3 days affair at the least. The glacier is visible from the top of Pensi La pass and even if you drove non-stop, you will probably not make it there by dark. If you were interested only in Drang Draung and not all of Zanskar then you can first travel from Leh to Kargil on Day 1. On Day 2 you can do some local sightseeing in Suru valley including the glacier and town of Rangdum. You will then return to Leh on Day 3 either via Lamayuru or Batalik.

Leh to Drang Drung Glacier Distance

Total distance between Leh and Drang Drung Glacier is about 370 kilometers.

Kargil to Drang Drung Glacier

Kargil to Drang Drung Glacier is a total of 155 kilometers approximately

Kargil to Rangdum Distance

Kargil to Rangdum is a total of 130 kilometers approximately.

Kargil to Padum Road

The entire stretch of road between Kargil to Padum is a dirt trail mostly. Fir the first 40 kilometers, until Sankoo, the road remains in an excellent condition but deteriorates shortly after and remains so until Padum. Good news however is that it never gets so bad where it may become too inconvenient. There are some bad sections indeed but for rest of it, it is a “not so bad” dirt trail.

Leh to Padum Bus

The bus service from Leh to Padum is on weekly basis. This bus starts from Leh, halts at Kargil and then continues to Padum the next day. Availability of seats in this bus too is an uncertainty.

Kargil to Padum Bus

It is the same bus that comes from Leh and then continues to Padum. There is no bus that starts from Kargil for Padum. Buses from Kargil go until Sankoo, Panikhar and Parkachik only.

Kargil to Padum Taxi Fare

For taxi fares, please read https://vargiskhan.com/log/zanskar-valley-taxi-union-rates/

Leh to Padum Distance

Leh to Padum is a total of 450 kilometers approximately.

Kargil to Rangdum

Kargil to Rangdum is a total of about 130 kilometers traveling through the towns of Sankoo, Parkachik and Panikar.

Kargil to Padum Distance

Kargil to Padum is a total of about 230 kilometers.

Leh to Padum Road

The route from Leh to Padum is as mentioned below.

Leh – Lamayuru – Mulbekh – Kargil – Sankoo – Panikhar – Prakachik – Rangdum – Pensi La – Abran – Padum

Conclusion

I hope the information above on Leh to Zanskar itinerary was of help. If you have any other questions; or need further clarification about any part of the journey described; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.

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5 comments

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pritesh February 26, 2020 - 8:20 am

Hi Vargis. Is it possible to go from Leh to Zangla following the Zanskar River on a Royal Enfield Himalayan ? Google maps show some road till near Skiu besides the zanskar river in Hemis National Park and then again the zanskar valley road north of zangla.

So there is a portion of about 100 kms between those two where it shows no road and wonder if you would be familiar if there is a dirt track or something connecting the two or if the terrain is something that the himalayan can take on ? alongside zanskar river ?

Any help will be highly appreciated – want to do something different than the regular manali leh kargil srinagar this july 2020 and hence looking at this route

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Avatar
Ann July 11, 2019 - 1:49 pm

* Padum and Darcha

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Vargis.Khan July 11, 2019 - 2:45 pm

There is but it is not completely motorable yet

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Ann July 11, 2019 - 1:44 pm

Hi !

Is there a road that connects Padum and Zanskar ?

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Avatar
Vargis.Khan July 11, 2019 - 2:45 pm

There is but it is not completely motorable yet

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