Zanskar Valley is a place that is bound to leave its effect on you. There is just so much to see here, sights that you will not get anywhere else in the country, not even in Ladakh. From the majestic peaks’ stunning natural beauty to the people’s simplicity and charming cultures, Zanskar has it all.
So what do you see in Zanskar? Well, the list can be long. The lush green of the hills of Suru, the barren brown of a cold desert, the gracious white of mighty glaciers, the deep blue of the lakes, and the noisy flow of the rivers are just to name a few.
In the post below, I will provide complete information on how you can plan a trip to Zanskar Valley, including details on how to reach, where to stay, itinerary planning, and several other tips. If you have any other questions, you can contact me on Instagram and I will happily answer. You can also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and asking a question there.
To organize your trip to Ladakh, book a taxi, rent a bike, or get the best hotel rates, you can contact Kunal @ 9910402252. From luxurious hotels to budget stays, he can help get you the best rates possible.
How to reach Zanskar Valley?
Let us first talk about how you can reach Zanskar Valley. Depending on your mode of travel, time in hand, and overall itinerary, there are three different routes that you can take to get here.
How to reach Zanskar Valley from Kargil?
The oldest, most common and easiest way to reach Zanskar is via Kargil. It is a 230 kilometers long road that starts from Kargil and ends in Padum in Zanskar. The route will be as mentioned below.
Delhi – Jammu – Srinagar – Sonamarg – Dras – Kargil – Sankoo – Parkachik – Rangdum – Pensi La – Padum
Until a few years ago, this used to be the only way in and out of Zanskar Valley. It is still the most commonly used road that takes you through Suru Valley, crosses over the Pensi La Pass, and offers some stunning views that will remain in your memory for a long time.
The condition of the road on this route is a mix of average and bad, mostly bad. The travel time will be anywhere between 10 – 12 hours, depending on your speed and breaks.
This route is best suited for someone who is approaching Zanskar Valley from Srinagar or Leh. It remains open from May to October and is also the only route that has public transport available on it.
I have talked about this route in detail in another post, Kargil to Padum Travel Guide that you can take a look at. You can also check out the video below of this entire route for more information. You can also take a look at the video below.
How to reach Zanskar from Manali
Now let us take a look at the second route you can take to reach Zanskar. It is best suited for people who want to reach here from the Manali side or are returning from Leh via Manali Leh Highway. This route also remains open between May and September only.
Manali – Rohtang (Pass or Tunnel) – Jispa – Darcha – Shinku La – Gonbo Rangjon – Purne – Padum
Depending on whether you traveled via Rohtang Pass or Tunnel, the total distance by this route will be between 220 to 250 kilometers. It is a day-long journey that will easily take you anywhere between 10 to 12 hours.
The road is a mix of good, bad, and ugly. The ugly part is mostly between Shinku La Pass and Purne. Work to improve the condition of the road is in progress and it is expected to improve in the coming years.
This route was declared open only a few years ago. It provides direct connectivity between the valleys of Zanskar and Lahaul and offers a shorter and direct way to reach Padum from Manali, without having to go to Kargil first.
I have talked about this route in detail in another post, Manali to Padum via Jispa, Darcha, and Shinku La, which I will request you to take a look at.
How to reach Zanskar from Leh
The third route connects the town of Lamayuru to Padum via the passes of Singe La and Sirsir La. This is possibly the toughest of all three routes and passes through a highly remote region.
It is mostly an alternate route that you can opt for while you were on the Srinagar Leh road. Rather than going to Padum via Kargil, you can first go to Lamayuru and then approach Zanskar from there. Or you can reach Zanskar via Kargil and then circle back on Srinagar Leh road via Lingshed.
This route came into existence only a few years ago but has already been attracting a lot of adventure seekers. The distance between Padum and Lamayuru by this route is approximately 210 kilometers. Of this, only about 50 kilometers are tarred and the remaining is a dirt road.
The travel time can be anywhere between 8 to 10 hours depending on your speed and breaks. It took us almost 11 hours to cover this but with a lot of breaks in between. The route remains open from May to September.
- Lamayuru – Wanla – Sirsir La – Photoksar – Singe La – Lingshed – Zangla – Padum
If you want to read more about this route, you can take a look at this post, Lamayuru to Padum via Lingshed. You can also take a look at the video below.
By Private Taxi
In order to get to Zanskar by a private cab you can either fly into Srinagar or Leh and rent a cab from there to get to Padum. You can also get to Manali first and then rent a cab to reach Zanskar via the Shinku La route.
A private taxi will cost you Rs. 10,000 from Leh to Kargil. The same cost will apply to traveling from the Srinagar side as well. You will then have to pay another Rs. 13000 for Kargil to Padum.
The cost will be around Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 from Manali, depending on the time of your travel and your negotiation skills.
By Shared Taxi
Now since private taxis cost so much money, an even better way to travel would be by shared taxis. I am not saying that it would be less troublesome but would at least save you some money.
There is really no set timings of these shared cabs and you will have to just arrive at the bus stand to board one. It will be easier to find a shared cab from Srinagar or Leh to Zanskar but finding one from Manali will be a little difficult.
Depending on whether you were traveling from Leh or Srinagar, you will first have to find a shared cab for Kargil. This will cost you about Rs. 500 to Rs. 600 per person.
From Kargil, if you were lucky enough, you may find a shared cab all the way to Padum which will cost you another Rs. 500 to Rs. 600. If not, then you will have to break the journey into several parts.
The good news is that it is not too hard to do but can be a bit time-consuming. From Kargil, you can first board a cab for any of the places in between like Sankoo, Panikar, Parkachik, or Rangdum.
From that town then, you will have to find a cab for your journey onward. There are no shared cabs for sightseeing in and around Padum and you will have to hire a private cab for that.
Yes, you can complete this journey by Bus as well which will cost you about the same as a shared cab. The problem however is that the frequency of the bus is not that great. There is in fact no bus available from Manali to Zanskar yet.
You can find a bus from either Srinagar or Leh to Kargil. These ply on daily buses and you can board one from either Srinagar Bus stand or Leh Bus stand.
The problem however arises between Kargil and Padum. There is just one weekly Bus on this route which comes from Leh and goes all the way to Padum. So when you are in Kargil, check at the Bus stand for the availability of a Bus for Padum.
If there is one indeed then you can board it. Otherwise, you will have to complete the journey by shared cabs as I explained above. For more information on buses on this route, please read Public Transport Services in Zanskar Valley.
Where to Stay in Zanskar
Hotels and guest houses in Zanskar Valley are available and not a costly affair at all. Padum is the largest town in the valley and has the best choices available but you can easily find accommodation at other places as well.
You will easily be able to find a place to stay in almost every town on the way, including Sankoo, Parkachik, Panikhar, Rangdum, etc. Within Zanskar, you will find accommodation in villages like Karsha, Zangla, Purne, etc.
Please take a look at Accommodation in Zanskar Valley: Hotels, Guest Houses & Camp Sites. In this article, I have covered in detail where you can stay in Zanskar and along the route with information on some recommended hotels.
What to see in Zanskar
Zanskar Valley has a long list of tourist attractions that can keep you busy for days. Right from the town of Kargil to Padum, you will continue coming across both natural and man-made wonders.
I have covered the topic of all these tourist places in detail in another article that you can read at Tourist Attractions in Zanskar Valley and its Vicinity. In this post, I will provide a list of all these places but if you want to know more in detail, please take a look at the other article.
- Parkachik Glacier
- Drang Drung Glacier
- Pensi La
- Shingo La
- Nun-Kun Massif
- Ta Tso and the Lang Tso lakes
- Fort of Rangdum
- Zangla Fort or Palace
- Sani Monastery
- Bardan Monastery
- Dzongkhul Monastery
- Rangdum Gompa
- Karsha Monastery
- Pibiting Monastery
- Stongdey Monastery
- Phuktal Monastery
- Sheela Waterfall
Mentioned above are the names of all the places that are worth a visit. How many can you cover will entirely depend on the number of days you have in hand.
Things to do in Zanskar Valley
Apart from visiting all of the above-mentioned places, there is not really much else to do in Zanskar. If you arrive here in winter, you can try the famous Chadar trek. In the summer months, you can go rafting, bookings for which can be made in either Leh or Padum.
If you are up for a bit of walking, then you can trek to the beautiful Phugtal Monastery, also known as Cave Gompa. Please read Phugtal Monastery – A Complete Travel Guide for details on how to complete this trek.
Even if you weren’t up for either of the above-mentioned activities, then just spending a couple of days doing nothing will be an experience in itself.
Just enjoying the complete peace and tranquility of the mighty Himalayas is something that you can never go wrong with. Arrive in Zanskar, spend some time away from the rushed lives of cities, and trust me, you would want to stay here forever.
Weather in Zanskar Valley
Cold and unpredictable are the two words that describe the weather of Zanskar Valley the most. The place remains buried under snow from January till March, completely inaccessible by road.
The snow starts to melt in April and the road from Kargil to Padum gets declared open by either late April or early May. The routes from Lamayuru and Manali side open toward the end of May.
From May till September, the weather mostly remains on the pleasant side during the day and freezing cold by night. Winter arrives in October and by November, it can snow here anytime.
The weather in Zanskar will also change depending on where you were and at what time. The sun at this altitude is quite harsh and will give you some serious sunburns if you weren’t careful despite the cold climate. Days will be slightly warm in summer but temperature at night will drop drastically.
Best time to visit Zanskar Valley
Considering the fact that you can only travel to Zanskar by road from May till October, anytime during these months will be good enough. But the best time to visit Zanskar Valley will also depend on what you want to see, and there are a few things that you will have to consider.
If you want to see some snow on the ground, then try traveling early in the month of May. If you want to avoid monsoon on the way then do not plan in late July or August.
October is generally considered a bad month to visit due to the cold weather and the fact that it can snow anytime and block the road. But this is a good time if you want to catch a live snowfall.
On an overall basis, June and September are usually considered the best time to visit Zanskar Valley. The weather will be pleasant and you will enjoy your time here.
Monsoon would have passed but the scenery on the way around Sonamarg, Drass will be green still. The desert of Zanskar will be thriving with colors all around and you will fall in love with the place. If you were lucky, then you may even catch a light spell of snow towards the end of September.
I have actually covered this topic in detail in another article, When is the Best time to visit Zanskar Valley that you can also take a look at.
Clothes for Zanskar Valley
Like the best time to visit, this too will be different for everyone depending on what time you arrived here. From November to March, you cannot reach Zanskar Valley so I will leave these months out.
October and April are still the time of winter so a trip in these months means that you have to bring woolen clothes, gloves, woolen socks, a muffler, thermals, and a good quality heavy and windproof jacket. From May till September, your regular cotton clothes, some light woolens, and a heavy jacket will do.
The trick is to bring clothes that you can wear on top of one another and in layers. The weather in Zanskar really fluctuates depending on the time of the day and place you are at.
During the day, it will be quite warm and you can easily walk around in regular cotton clothes. At night, however, it will turn freezing cold again. Standing in the sun will make you feel warm but you will feel the chill the moment you step in the shade.
So while you are packing clothes, do not bring all heavy woolen clothes. Just bring the ones that are a bit loose enough and comfortable to be worn in layers. If you feel cold, then you can add another layer. If you feel warm, you can remove a layer.
For more information on clothes to pack, please read Clothes for Ladakh Trip – What to Pack. It says Ladakh in the name but the details are the same for both Ladakh and Zanskar.
Mobile Network in Zanskar Valley
The first thing to know is that only postpaid phones work in Zanskar. So if you were carrying a prepaid cell, it will be dead the moment you enter the valley.
Another important thing to remember is that mobile phones here work only between 6 am to 10 pm. There is usually no network available after 10 pm but sometimes it may remain connected.
BSNL has the widest coverage in this area. It works in all remote areas but while the call quality on a BSNL / MTNL phone is decent enough, the data speed is really slow.
The best mobile network in Zanskar is Jio. It offers good connectivity and 4G data speed in most parts of the valley and the on the road leading to the valley from Kargil, Lamayuru, and Manali sides.
Between Kargil and Padum, your Jio phone will remain connected for most of the route. There are stretches where you will be off the network but for most of the journey, especially when you are near a village, your phone will be back on the network.
The same applies to Padum – Lamayuru and Padum – Jispa roads as well. With a Jio phone, you will continue getting and losing connection but will not be off the network entirely.
None of the other networks work in Zanskar. For more details on this topic, you can also take a look at Mobile Phone and Data Connectivity in Zanskar Valley.
Zanskar in Winter
Reaching Zanskar Valley during the peak months of winter is not really an option. You can travel to the valley only as long as the road remains open.
From Srinagar, you can make this journey between the months of May till October while the Srinagar Leh highway remains open. Once Zojila gets snowed out, you cannot even reach Kargil from Srinagar and can only travel as far as Sonamarg.
The road between Leh and Kargil remains open throughout the year. But in winter, the Kargil Padum route gets blocked and can only be traveled from late April till early November.
If you were traveling from the Manali side, you can only do so between late May to early October. From Leh, the window widens a little bit and the journey can be made in late April and November as well.
Acute Mountain Sickness in Zanskar Valley
Acute Mountain Sickness will not really be a problem during a Zanskar trip. The only time you may experience altitude sickness is if you landed in Leh, and drove non-stop to Padum which I doubt anyone will do.
If you reached Ladakh by flight then yes, you will definitely be suffering from altitude sickness at least on Day 1. My advice, in this case, will be that you rest in Leh on Day 1 and allow your body to acclimatize better.
The next day, if you feel better, you can travel to Kargil and spend the second night there. This way, you will arrive in Padum on Day 3 and the effects of AMS would be long gone by then.
If you were driving from the Srinagar side, then the chances of getting hit by mountain sickness are much less Your gain in altitude will be gradual and you would already have acclimatized by the time you reach Zanskar.
For more information on what AMS is and what its symptoms are, please read How to Deal With Acute Mountain Sickness.
Zanskar Valley Itinerary
A trip to Zanskar Valley can either be planned to cover only Zanskar or incorporate it with Ladakh. An example of an itinerary in both these manners is mentioned below.
Leh to Zanskar Itinerary
- Arrival in Leh – Day 1
- Leh to Kargil via Lamayuru – Day 2
- Kargil to Padum – Day 3
- Sightseeing in Padum – Day 4
- Sightseeing in Padum – Day 5
- Padum to Kargil – Day 6
- Kargil to Leh – Day 7
Srinagar to Zanskar Itinerary
- Arrive in Srinagar – Day 1
- Srinagar to Kargil – Day 2
- Kargil to Padum – Day 3
- Sightseeing in Padum – Day 4
- Padum to Kargil – Day 5
- Kargil to Srinagar – Day 6
Manali to Zanskar Itinerary
- Arrive in Manali or Jispa – Day 1
- Jispa to Padum via Shinku La – Day 2
- Sightseeing in Padum – Day 3
- Sightseeing in Padum – Day 4
- Padum to Manali – Day 5
I have explained all these itineraries in detail in another article that you can take a look at. Zanskar Valley Itinerary – An Ideal Travel Plan talks about how you can plan this journey if you want to spend most of your time in Zanskar Valley.
Another article you can check out is Leh to Zanskar Itinerary – How to Plan your Journeywhich talks about how Zanskar can be best incorporated into your Leh Ladakh itinerary.
Best Vehicle for Zanskar
An SUV with good ground clearance will be the best car for Zanskar Valley. It does not necessarily have to be a 4×4 but good ground clearance is a must.
With that being said, I have a lot of people travel by Sedans and Hatchbacks as well. A lot of local drivers use Maruti Hatchbacks as taxis on the route. You too can do the same as long as you have good enough experience on the wheel and know how to handle your car on some really bad roads.
If you are traveling by a Sedan or a hatchback though, I will not recommend traveling on Manali – Padum road and I will definitely advise avoiding the Singe La and Sirsir La road, the Lamayuru route.
If you were traveling by motorcycle with a pillion, ensure that you are doing so on a motorcycle with a larger engine, like Royal Enfield 350 or 500 CC ones. The additional power will come in very handy when you have two people on the same motorcycle with all their luggage. =
It doesn’t mean though that you cannot ride on a smaller-engine motorcycle. You can in fact do this trip on a 125 CC bike as well. Just make sure that you are riding solo and as light as possible.
Petrol Pumps in Zanskar Valley
You do not really need to carry spare fuel for Zanskar Valley. A tankful at Kargil will be sufficient to get you to Padum and back. Even in Padum, you will easily be able to buy both Petrol and Diesel.
There are petrol pumps in Padum so fuel will not be a problem. Kargil to Padum is about 230 kilometers so a tankful in Kargil should actually be enough. Lamayuru to Padum and Manali to Padum is also a journey of only about 200 kilometers approximately.
If you were riding a bike to Zanskar, observe carefully the mileage of your motorcycle and then decide if you would have to carry spare fuel or not.
There are mechanics available in Padum but only for some minor fixes or flat tires only. For anything major, you would have to bring your vehicle back to either Kargil, Leh, Manali, or Srinagar.
Banks and ATMs
Finding an ATM will not really be a concern during this trip. There is an ATM in Padum itself where you can withdraw cash. The next available ATM then is near Sankoo and then in Kargil.
Traveling from Srinagar, you will find ATMs at almost all the towns en route. From the Leh side as well, you can withdraw cash in Leh City and then Kargil.
My advice would be to not rely on the ATM in Padum or Sankoo because these are remote areas and cash sometimes may not be available. Withdraw enough cash from either Leh, Srinagar, Manali, or Kargil that can last you for your stay in Zanskar Valley.
Zanskar Valley Road Condition
Starting from Srinagar, the road is mostly good all the way to Kargil with a few bad stretches, mostly around Zoji La. From Leh, the road is in excellent condition till Kargil.
Between Kargil and Padum, it is in good condition till Sankoo but then turns into a dirt trail entirely. There will be no tar on the road till Padum and the condition of the road continues to deteriorate as your journey progresses. That is why the 200 kilometers from Kargil to Padum can take you an entire day to complete.
The road from Padum to Lamayuru via Lingshed is extremely bad and mostly a dirt road. Only about 50 kilometers of this road is tarred near Lamayuru and between Padum and Zangla.
The road from Manali to Padum is very bad around Purne and Shinku La Pass. It is however a good road between Manali and Shinku La Pass.
Within Zanskar Valley though, the roads are butter smooth. You will find the roads from Padum to the nearby villages to be in even better condition than the city roads.
That pretty much covers all that there is to know in terms of planning a trip to Zanskar Valley. I hope the information provided above was of help. If you have any questions, you can contact me on Instagram and I will be happy to answer. You can also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and asking a question there.
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