In extreme northern India between Pakistan and China lies Zanskar, a region cut off from the rest of the world by the mountains and snows of the world's greatest mountain ranges.
Departure: New Delhi
Duration: 31 Days
Best Season: June to September
Trek Grade: Demanding
It's a "hidden kingdom" where Tibetan Buddhism still thrives expressing itself in the colorful dress of the Zanaskari people, the spectacularly sited cliff side monasteries, and exquisitely carved mani walls lining the trails. Until recently, neither ancient trade route nor road penetrated this magnificent, desolate landscape, reinforcing the timeless quality which makes journeys here so memorable. A paradise for mountain lovers, our journey through Zanskar takes us across the three great Himalayan ranges: Pir Panjal, Great Himalayan and Zanskar. If you are looking for an unforgettable Himalayan adventure this tour is for you.
Day 1: Delhi
You are met at the airport in Delhi and transferred to your hotel. The day includes a sightseeing tour of Sir Edward Lutyens' New Delhi, the garden city built in 1911 by the British. We also visit the Birla Mandir (Lakshminarayan Temple), the President's House, Humayun's Tomb (the forerunner of the Taj Mahal), and India Gate.
Day 02-03: Manali
Today we travel by air to Bhunter, where we have a two hour drive to Manali. We visit the Dhoongri Temple, believed to be 1,000 years old and dedicated to goddess Hadimba; Vashist Springs; and Jagatsukh, the ancient capital of Kullu, famous for its spectacular temples; and Naggar, the capital of the Kullu Raja for over fourteen hundred years. In Manali we stay in a hotel.
Day 04: Darcha
Today we journey by road from Manali to Darcha, crossing the Pir Panjal Range over the Rothang La and descending into the Lahoul Valley. We camp overnight in the valley and prepare for the beginning of our trek.
Day 05-15: Trekking from Darcha to Padum
Our first days of trekking are challenging as we trek towards and over the first great pass, Shingo La (5090 m). Along the route we will camp at various places and visit the last of the Lahouli villages, following the meanderings of the Jhankar Nala River. After the pass we descend steeply to our first camp in Zanskar. We have a long, easy descent to the village of Kargyak, passing meadows filled with wild flowers. From Kargyak we proceed to the confluence of two major rivers, the Kargyak Nalla and the Starap Chu. We also enjoy a day hike up to one of Zanskar's most spectacular sights---the Phuktal Gompa (monastery). Hiking past beautifully carved slate mani walls and chortens, we climb steadily to Phuktal, where a monastery of the Gelupa Buddhist sect is carved into the walls of a massive cave, blackened over the ages by soot. We continue our trek through Zanskar towards Mune via Ichar, an interesting fortified village. Crossing a fairly level, scenic plain, we visit Mune and its 200-year-old monastery. On the final day of this segment we journey to Padum, capital of Zanskar, where we visit the 17th century Bardan Gumpa on its fortress-like perch high above the river. A road links Padum with Kargil, providing us with a means to re-supply for the onward trek. We enjoy our first rest day here.
Day 16-25: Trekking from Padum to Lamayuru
We traverse level plains, rivers, gorges, and cross several passes before reaching Hanuma La (4950m), where we will find what are perhaps the most spectacular views of the Zanskar Range. After descending from this pass we take a rest day in Lingshed village. We explore the prosperous little village and Gompa, a temple complex clinging to the mountainside, rising tier upon tier from the valley floor. From here we continue past a number of villages and valleys before reaching the foot of Singe La (5050m). Next day, we make the steep climb over the pass, followed by a short descent into a broad valley. Crossing Bumiktse La after a gentle climb, we enjoy more beautiful views, then descend towards Photaksar, a splendid village at the base of the huge mountain walls. The final stage of our trek is the long ascent of Sirsir La (4850 m), followed by an easy, scenic descent to the river and Hanupatta village. Our last trekking day takes us through the river gorge - a flat trail much of the way to Wanla, a picturesque village with a beautiful Gompa.
Day 26-28: Leh
In Wanla we are met by jeeps that take us along the Indus River to Leh. On the way we stop to visit Alchi Gompa. Alchi Gompa has beautiful wall paintings dating back almost a thousand years. It is a beautiful monastary set in a lovely village perched above the Indus river. From Alchi we continue on to Leh where we stay in a hotel. Leh is a bustling little town that is dominated by the ruins of the ancient castle perched above the main bazaar. People are friendly and are quick to say "Julley!" (hello). From the women selling vegetables in the main bazaar to the laneways studded with stupas and the green agricultural fields above the town – Leh is a lovely place for walking and exploring. Based in Leh we visit a number of interesting monasteries (Shey, Thiksey, and Hemis) as well as the Palace at Stok, which houses a fine private museum open to the public. There is superb collection of Thankas, said to be the best in the world. Some of them have been worked in pure gold and paints made of crushed semiprecious stones.
Day 29-30: Agra
We return to Delhi by early morning flight. We are met at the airport by our deluxe coach and continue by road to the Mughal splendor of Agra. Agra is, of course, home to the unforgettable Taj Mahal as well as the majestic Red Fort. The Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world. It was built in 1652 by Emperor Shah Jahan. It took 22 years and 20,000 skilled artisans to complete. The Agra Fort lies across the river Jamuna. It was here that Aurangzeb, the third son of Shah Jahan, kept his father under house arrest. One can get a fantastic view of the Taj from the little octagonal tower in the Fort.
Day 31: Delhi
Today we drive back to Delhi visiting Govardhan en-route. This site, near where Krishna is said to have been born, is significant as according to legend Krishna lifted the Govardhan hill on the tip of his finger to shelter the inhabitants of Braj from a deluge. The entire hill is circumambulated by thousands of pilgrims every year. The tanks where devote Hindus come to bathe are said to have been manifested for Krishna's cleansing after he killed the demon bull Arishta. It's a fascinating place to visit. Back in Delhi we visit the Old City, where we take a bicycle rickshaw ride through the narrow laneways to the Jama Masjid – the largest mosque in India.
Day 32: Delhi
Our tour finishes with breakfast and transfer to the airport for your international departure.