A ride to an isolated region in Ladakh and see a piece of virgin land- that was one secret agenda I had when I planned my Leh ride. And Zanskar happened to be the ideal location for my pilgrimage. An isolated valley in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, less explored by tourists, a beautiful and peaceful valley to experience the real peace of mind- That is Zanskar.
Area: 5000 square Km
Road Access: June mid till Oct mid
Place and people
Zanskar lies south- west of Leh and south- east of Kargil. As of now this is the most isolated valley in Ladakh surrounded by mountains and the only road to reach there is from Kargil which is one of the toughest in the region with 240km of gravel/sand roads with lots of water crossings.
With less than 1500 population, Padum is the administrative headquarter of Zanskar. Apart from few places closer to Kargil there are no options for even food or water on the way to Padum.
More than 50% of Zanskar population is Buddhists, but Muslim population is very close to that of Buddhists’. People here are warm and friendly in approach and trust the stranger travelers. The reason probably is that the kind of travelers come to Zanskar today are different from other parts of our country.
My host family had this story to share with me. 21years ago one trekker from Europe (I forgot his name) visited Zanskar on foot from Lamayuru. He came back next year and started a school at Padum. That is the most prestigious school in the region now. Last year 20th anniversary was celebrated; the founder couldn’t come due to old age though. Many Padum kids are sponsored by travelers to Zanskar and their associates.
In winter when the roadway is blocked, the best option to reach the outside world is to walk the frozen Zanskar River and reach Nimmu and Leh.
And thankfully people are not literally isolated even in the winter. In case of a medical emergency district administration can even initiate an airlift.
There are two valleys to be covered in this route. First one is Suru which starts at Kargil and ends at Penzi La (155km from Kargil). There it is the beginning of the Zanskar valley.
If I describe the route from Kargil to Padum with Km readings it can be like this:-
124 Rangdum village
130 Rangdum Gompa
145 Beginning of climb to Penzi La
154 Beginning of Zanskar valley.
156 Penzi La Top
161 Drang-Drung Glacier and beginning of descent to Zanskar valley
173 Beginning of Abrang region
193 End of Abrang region
215 Ating hanging bridge and check post
225 Tungri (Bridge to west side of Stod river)
(Readings as per my bike’s odo)
View Larger Map
1. Riding gravel/sand road with uneven and unpredictable surface for a no. of days.
2. Riding the bike with the extra dead weight of the additional 15 ltrs of fuel and the extra care to protect the petrol cans. If you damage one and lose fuel, your trip is cut short. Anyway I carried a fourth can as spare, never used it though. (getting fuel at Padum in black market depends on pure luck)
3. The unpredictable water crossings- Those at the Zanskar side are relatively easier compared to the ones at the Sure valley side. At suru valley side you will see mother of all the water crossings you have encountered in the entire Ladakh. Some with depth and some with heavy current and some are combination of both. The challenge is more on the way back. Suru valley will be cleared during afternoon and that is the time when the glaciers melt more contributing more water to these streams.
1. Motorcycles condition should excellent. The shock absorbers are going to take all the beating thought the ride.
2. Rider should be comfortable doing rough road for longer periods with extra load. Unless you ride very slowly, the duration you need to be on foot pegs is obviously more in this route. So better be prepared physically.
3. Riding with a pillion is the last thing you would want to do.
4. Keep an extra jerry can. In case if one of the cans cracks/breaks, the spare one will be your savior, or else your journey is cut short.
5. Your natural instincts will take you diagonally through the heavy current water crossings.
6. I followed a strategy of keeping two cans of petrol (10ltr) untouched till the morning I started my return ride to Kargil. How much ever I burn there, as long as I have those cans saved for the final day, my ride is safe. Those precious things were kept safe inside my room till I saddled up for the return.
7. Keep food parceled.