Duration: 18 days, 11 days trekking
Accomodations: Camping on trek
Best time: January-February
The Zanskar region of Ladakh is one of the oldest inhabited regions of the world. It has wild and solitary valleys at over 13,000 ft (4000 meters) in the Himalayas. In winter, Zanskar is isolated. Only in January and February is there a way to visit this incredibly unique world: the canyon of the Zanskar River. This trek is an adventure on the so called Chadar or ice covering the river from the village of Chiling to Lingshed.
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1: ARRIVE DELHI. Our Local representative will greet you at the international airport and help you transfer to the hotel.
DAY 2: FLY TO LEH. You will have an early morning transfer to the domestic airport for the flight up to Leh. This surely is one of the most sensational scheduled flights in the world, taking you right over the top of the Greater Himalaya before dropping down in a series of steep turns, to land at the small military airport at Leh. Flight time is about 1 hour. You will be met on arrival and driven through Leh to check into your Hotel. Leh is at an altitude of 11,500 ft and therefore we recommend that the rest of the day is spent resting to help adjust to the altitude.
DAY 3: SIGHTSEEING AROUND LEH. Leh is the ancient capital of Ladakh and has many hilltop forts and palaces to visit including the Royal Palace which overlooks the town. The town is situated on the old Silk Route and still has a trading tradition- it is well worth wandering around the colourful bazaar. Overnight hotel includes a view of Leh and the surrounding mountains, including the Shanti stupa.
DAY 4: DRIVE TO CHILLING AND TREK TO TILAD DO. (3100m/10230ft)
After breakfast we will be on the move, driving through the suburbs of Leh, then along the Indus valley. The road climbs slowly past Spitok Monastery, and bus loads of Ladakhi kids heading for where the Indus has been diverted into shallow pools for skating. We reach about 3700m where we normally stop to stretch our legs and take in the view behind. Leh nestles at the foot of the Ladakh range, its location dictated by the high route to China behind. From here you can really see how geography dictates history. We drive on, descending to the Indus again to its confluence with the Zanskar. A dirt road from here takes us to Chilling, as far as the jeep can go. Here we have a simple lunch, then it is on the ice. It takes an hour or so to get into a comfortable rhythm, and we have found that using crampons tends to be more of a hindrance, as they are not suitable for all ice conditions. As the gear list says, good trekking poles are essential. Again, as on the gear list, you must have boots with good, new soles that 'stick'. Luckily there are rarely any ice puzzles on this first day, except at the camp, where you ascend a frozen stream. The camp is on a sandy plateau to one side of the Zanskar, where on this first day our tents will have been erected for us. We will introduce you to camp routines and our warm and cozy dining tent, followed by dinner, soup and a good, varied vegetarian meal. Evenings in the dining tent, which is big enough to stretch your legs but small enough to be easily warmed, are very comfortable. Before bed, as part of the daily routine, we fill your bottles with boiling water.
DAY 5: TREK TO GYALPO CAMP (3170m/ 10461ft) The morning cold is eased by the hot beverage of your choice that comes to your tent, and hot washing water. Breakfast call is 7:30, but your gear and tent have to be packed by then! Breakfast is as much hot coffee or tea as you can drink, fresh baked bread, jam and honey. Departure time is normally around nine, and the days soon assume a familiar pattern.
The first few days are generally problem free, but we can, and will, encounter times when we have to wait while we scout the best route. We prefer to stay on the river, and you will see Zanskaris take real risks to avoid rock climbing. For this reason you must have plenty of warm layers to throw on, and of course, dry socks. The ice conditions are too varied (and beautiful) to list, but there are one or two things to bear in mind. You will find yourself rapidly relaxing as you walk, enjoying the views; watching for wildlife. Look out particularly for snow leopard prints, Ibex on the gorge walls, and the crazy 'Dipper' birds that dive from ice into the river, turning over pebbles looking for edibles. You will develop a sense of the safe and unsafe ice, and learn to catch yourself if you slip. Be sure to use your poles if you want to sound the ice. Your feet are unclean, and although the gods who inhabit the ice will allow you to walk, to stamp with your foot is not acceptable to them (thus of course you never use the ice as a toilet).
The ice conditions change quickly and what takes an hour at noon can take three hours by 3pm. We do not rush; but we do not dawdle! Today we will pass through what the porters call 'Chadar Gate', a little surprise for the trekkers. By 3-4pm we should be in camp on a plateau above the river. Today we start putting up our own tents.
DAY 6: TREK TO DIB CAVE (3225m/10642ft) This is a stunning day as the river starts to curve and you can see the uphill slope of the ice as we ascend the river into Zanskar. We pass incredible waterfalls on our left, normally frozen into aquamarine ice cliffs. The waterfall was said to have come from a river given to local people who visited Tibet centuries ago to plead for water for their barren land. They were given a box which they were told they must open only on their return home. The curious Zanskaris were nearly home when one of them opened it; out jumped a tiny fish, and the river sprung from the ground high above here. Also today we will probably have to climb briefly above the river - on the sharp bends the speed of the current breaks up the ice. Lunch is on a rocky beach by the river, and camp is near one of the many caves that are blackened by centuries of use by the fires of locals.
DAY 7: TREK TO NERAKS CAMP. (3390m/11187ft) Another beautiful day starts with crags that seem to leap up from the frozen river surface, and ibex can usually be seen defying gravity far above. After lunch we pass the 'incense tree', so called because the locals use its branches to burn in their morning rituals, and the prayer flag draped tree marks the entrance to Zanskar proper. The porters will normally take a few twigs from the tree, then tear a small piece of prayer flag to wrap it in, and present it to you. Welcome to Zanskar!
An hour later we turn a corner, and there, high above the river, is the bridge that links Zanskar with Ladakh, and Neraks village with Lingshed Monastery - in summer. Then the valley gorge opens up, and we see the small huts that mark some of the summer grazing of the Neraks villagers. The village is far above. A trail is normally beaten through the snow to these huts, where we camp. And rum is possible!
DAY 8: TREK TO LINGSHED. (3870m12771ft) We follow a narrow gorge to Lingshed village. Around Neraks is probably the most dangerous area on the Chadar, but this is not the only reason we leave earlier then normal. The views as we arrive in the village of Lingshed are another. After up to two hours of trekking we turn off the river, and start following a side stream up a valley which shows so many ibex and blue sheep trails it seems hard to believe. There is a reason for this; traditionally all life was sacred near monasteries, so wild life naturally gravitated to where it was not threatened. Despite the fact that all hunting is banned now, a larger population of wild animals still tends to be found near the gompas. We are going higher today, and you will feel it. Add fresh snow, and it will be harder still. On arrival we are staying with friends in the village; a room will be swept clean for us, and we can spread our mats out on the floor, and enjoy sitting and eating around a stove. Tomorrow is a rest day!
DAY 9: REST DAY - VISIT LINGSHED GOMPA. (4000m/13200ft) We climb the steep trail to the famous monastery spectacularly situated below a cliff face studded with old meditation caves. High to the right you can see the Morgon La, at 4100m/13530ft on the summer trekking route, and as we climb, look back over your shoulder to that huge icy wall - the Hanuma La, familiar to all Zanskar summer trekkers for its brutally steep descent.
DAYS 10 - 14: TREK BACK TO CHILLING AND DRIVE TO LEH. You have not done the Chadar unless you walk both ways! It is four easy gently downhill days back, if the Gods are happy with us; we have a spare day to play with. We use different camps on the way back (usually) and it really is even more beautiful. Weather changes, light comes from different angles, illuminating different colours. And of course, the ice! The last day we have an easy three hour walk, and there are the jeeps waiting for us high above the river. Have we really been walking on water? It is a three hour drive to Leh, then that hot shower.
DAY 15: RELAX IN LEH. You will have a chance to relax in the relative luxury of Leh, and do any last sightseeing and exploring. There will no doubt be a chance to have a final celebration with your guide and crew before the flight tomorrow. Overnight in the hotel.
DAY 16: FLY TO DELHI. Our representative will meet you and transfer you to your hotel.
DAY 17: RELAX IN DELHI. International flights usually leave after midnight, so sleep in and relax. Leave for the airport about 10 pm.
DAY 18: FLY HOME.
Land COST: on Request
- All Accommodation in Delhi and Leh with breakfast.
- Camping accommodation as per the program with all meals during the treks.
- Expedition with expert leader
- All monastery entrance fees, wild life fees and Camping fees.
- English-speaking guide in monasteries and in the safari.
- Service of cook and attendants.
- All Camping equipment including North face or equivalent sleeping tent, foam mattresses mess tents dining tent & toilet tent
- All Transportation from pick up from the Delhi Airport to Airport.
What’s not included:
- Medical and evacuation insurance
- Miscellaneous expenses and tipping to the staff
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and food in Leh and Delhi.
- International Air ticket to and from Delhi.
- A single supplement.
- Laundry and other services not mentioned in the package. If you need any arrangement, please let us know.
IMPORTANT TREK NOTES
Whilst every effort is made to keep to the above itinerary, clients will hopefully appreciate that this is Adventure Travel in a remote mountain region. There will quite likely be changes to the itinerary in terms of anything from on-the-spot choice of campsite to when a rest day is taken. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns off the beaten track, local availability of, horses or yaks, can contribute to the need for changes. The Trek guide will do everything in his power to see that you are inconvenienced as little as possible in such circumstances. Timings are approximate.
© Yama Adventures, 2019.