Scenic treks can take you into magical, roadless villages and across dazzling stark mountain passes in Zanskar. Novices should start with little walks to the gompas around Padum before attempting the longer treks. It is also possible to create your own itinerary and cover only a part of a standard trek.
Padum to Chamrat (6 days, 108km): The Big Daddy of all treks in Zanskar winds down from Padum to Chamrat, almost three-fourths of the way into Manali. It is considered one of the most challenging traverses of the Himalayas with spectacular views and a 28km descent of the Miyar glacier. Highlights include crossing boulders and snowfields to the crest of the Kang La (5450m) enclosed by 6000m high peaks and rocky cliffs.
Mune to Darcha (6 days, 95km): The highlight of this trail is a side trip to Phugtal Gompa from the village of Purne a couple of days into the trek. The challenging section of this trek emerges on the fifth day- a long stage that traverses over Shingo La (5050m), offering spectacular views of the 6000m peaks in the vicinity of the pass as well as a backdrop of glaciers and snowfields.
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Padum to Honupatta (8 days, 111 km): Stop for a visit to the Karsha Gompa and take a detour to visit Zangla Valley before crossing Purfi La (3850m), Hanuma La (4710m) and Singge La (5010m). From the last there are unrivalled views all the way down to the Zanskar River. There are lodges and parachute tents on most stages of the trek.
The Chadar Ice trek (9 days, 70km): The most unique trek in the country, this trek over the frozen Zanskar River connects villages in the Zanskar valley with Chilling (on the road to Leh). The best time to make the trek is February when the ice sheet is considered thickest and most stable, but it’s still a slippery exercise. The Zanskar River is fast-flowing, and rising temperatures over the past few years have made sections of the trek treacherous. A good guide is absolutely essential. To add to the challenge, temperatures range from -5°C in the day down to -20°C at night. Perhaps the biggest reason to make this trek is that it’ll be consigned to history within the next decade when the thinning ice will make walking over it impossible.
Top Tip: Travel light
Carry light layers rather than bulky jackets. Opt for ponies, porters and guides as carrying backpacks at such a high altitude can be very tiring. You can also choose a trek that has plenty of stops at homestays along the way.