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Adventure Activities in Zanskar


There are few places on earth as secluded as Zanskar. Hemmed in by the high Himalayas on all sides, Zanskar’s inaccessibility, its extreme cold and back-of-beyond location has, across centuries, left it cut off from much of what has been happening around the region, and given it a Shangri-La-type lure among travellers.
But if there’s anyone who would venture into this “Land of White Copper”, to Leh’s west, it is the tribe of trekkers and hardcore rafting enthusiasts. Because Zanskar is snowed in for much of the year, the trekking and rafting season is very short. But if you’re hardy enough – and brave enough – this is a journey worth making. The otherworldliness of the landscape will remain with you long after you’ve left.


Zanskar, save main town Padum, is pretty much as it was when the peripatetic Padmasambhava (or Guru Rinpoche, as he was better known), the Indian monk, came passing through in the 8th century. It has its own king (though this role is purely ceremonial) but not its own local government – it is administered from Kargil. This has often bred resentment in Buddhist Zanskar (Kargil is predominantly Muslim). But Zanskar’s remoteness, which has contributed in preserving the area’s unique ethnic character, may soon be a thing of the past: a road is being built in the valley, which will connect Padum to Nimmu on the Leh-Kargil road.


Zanskar is the creation of a glacial valley system fed by three rivers – the Stot, the Tsarap and the Zanskar. The Stot and the Tsarap come together and flow to the north as the Zanskar. Towering passes, from anywhere between 13,000ft-plus (4000m) to 16,500ft (5000m), are clogged with snow and ice in winter, leaving this part of Ladakh pretty much cut off from the outside world from November to May (the only access is on the frozen Zanskar River).


Zanskar is not just cold but seriously so. In winter, snow blankets the valley and temperatures can plunge to as low as -40C. There are very few populated places on earth as bitterly cold as Zanskar. Thankfully, summers are mild enough for those interested in trekking and rafting to make a beeline here.

How to reach

Padum, the capital of Zanskar, can be reached from Leh via Kargil (240km) by taxi or jeep. A non-stop journey would take 14hrs – or as little as 10hrs, depending on the vagaries of nature (realistically, give between two and three days of travel). The bus ride along the same route would take anywhere between 14hrs and 18hrs.

Getting Around

There’s little else besides a twice-weekly public bus going to Zangla from Padum (and back, on the same day). Taxis are expensive.

Where to go


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