Time 9 days
Level Easy to Moderate
Ideal Season Jun to Sep
Location Lugnak Valley, south-east of Zanskar, to Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh
Padum to Darcha is an easy trek and very convenient for a first- time trekking experience in the trans-Himalayas. There is only one pass, which is quite rare in this area, and many villages and campsites, so if you want to make it in 10 days or more, it’s quite easy to organise. The only steep bit you have to encounter will be on the day you cross the Shingo La (5,050m), but if you start from Padum rather than the reverse route, it won’t be as tough as you get acclimatised well before reaching the pass. If you do the trek from Darcha to Padum, it can be tough and dangerous as you start at 3,300m and zoom up to 5,050m in the first three trekking days. Bad acclimatisation can lead to altitude sickness, which is decidedly unpleasant and therefore to be avoided. This trek will lead you towards Lugnak, the valley south-east of Zanskar, used by locals historically for trade between Lahaul in Himachal and
Zanskar. Many children from Lugnak Valley today go to school in Manali as schooling in Zanskar is quite poor and the connection with Manali is easy. The Himalayan jewel of Phuktal monastery is halfway from Padum to Darcha. After that, you will meet the magnificence of the Gombu Rangjom rock surrounded by yaks grazing in pastures full of wildflowers. If you connect this trek with the Lamayuru-Padum trek, you can make this a great 20-day experience. This is a classic and beautiful trek and if you want to do it, I advise you to not wait forever. Do it within the next five years before the road-building exercises in the region destroy Zanskar’s aura of the ‘lost valley’.
DAY ONE PADUM-SHILLA CAMP
TIME 11/2 HOURS
Before starting the trek, if you have the time it’s really worth visiting places in the Zanskar Valley like the old, impressive monasteries of Tongde, Zangla, Karsha and Sani. You can do it in a small 4-day trip or even in one day by jeep. In Padum, you will find shops, restaurants and even basic guesthouses (Ibex Hotel is the best place in town). TIP If you are camping in Padum, there are risks: watch out for thieves who could whisk away money, cameras and trekking equipment if you aren’t careful! A better option is to camp across the river facing Shilla Village. There is a dirt road, so you can ask to be dropped here to start the trek, or you could hike the short distance from Padum. Go through the upper and older part of town heading south. Find the road following the Tsarap River and follow it upstream for 11/2 hrs. You will then see a mani wall, grassland and clear water. If you are lucky and there aren’t a couple of other trekking groups crowding the place, this makes for a perfect campsite. On the other side of the river, you will see Shilla Village with a beautiful waterfall.
TIME 5 HOURS
From the camp, keep to the same jeepable road heading south-east. Walking a little over an hour will bring you to Bardan Gompa, a Kagyu or Red Hat monastery linked to Hemis, which is worth visiting because of its enormous prayer wheel. Continue on the road to Mune Gompa. Just after Bardan there is a new wooden bridge and a little further perhaps the last rope bridge you will find in Zanskar. Don’t use it as it’s difficult to know when it will finally collapse and everybody uses the new one! Around the bridge is a stony landscape and if you look carefully you will find some prehistoric carvings on stones, which prove that Zanskar was inhabited by ibex-hunting nomads thousands of years ago. Two more hours along the Tsarap River leading over a plateau will lead you to Mune Monastery. There is a nice campsite just before the gompa if you’re tired and want to quit for the day. From Mune you can avoid the road and find a short-cut on the plateau till Reru Campsite, which is before the village just near a small reservoir.
TIME 6-7 HOURS
The good news of the day is that, from now on, you walk on a path that won’t have a truck or jeep passing through. Keep going east-south-east following the Tsarap River, up and down through a dark rocky landscape. There will be some stream crossings. On the other side of the river is Ichar Village with its fortress. There’s a wooden bridge and a rope bridge below the track. Carry on up on the track to Pepula where there is a tea shop and a large campsite of grey sand. The place is quite dusty and windy, so it’s better to keep on going for an hour until Changpa Tsetan, which is a better option since it has two houses and a good campsite in the fields.
TIME 4 HOURS
Cross the small stream and head east keeping the Tsarap River on your left all day. On the other side of the river you will see Enmu Village. Walk past the villages of Surle, Kalbok and Zantang with its tea shop. After the confluence of the Tsarap and Kargyak rivers, cross the bridge and go up
north-east to Purne Village. There are two houses and a nice campsite, which can be quite busy in peak tourist season. All trekkers prefer to camp here so that they can head to Phuktal the following morning. There is a nice waterfall just beyond the camp, towards the fields. DAY FIVE PURNE-PHUKTAL-PURNE TIME 4-5 HOURS LEVEL MODERATE From the camp, take the path going up north towards Kangsar (one house only) and walk through the Tsarap Gorge along the Tsarap River. When you reach the bridge, go right if you want to start by visiting the village (30 mins) or cross the bridge on the left and you will discover the fabulous gompa nestled in the cliff. This Gelugpa Monastery was first built in a cave on the cliff and the later additions were almost beehive-like accretions. On the upper side is an old juniper tree that dominates the entire valley. If you keep hiking up the cliff towards the juniper, you’ll find a path going to Shade Village (2 days away) and Tongde Gompa via the Tongde La (5,200m). This is a nice and remote trekking option, possible only in September when the water level is low enough to cross the rivers. At Phuktal, the monks are very friendly and accustomed to visitors. They can arrange lunch and even sleeping quarters at the gompa. The cave has a water point, that only men are allowed to visit. Allow 11/2 hrs for the return journey. DAY SIX PURNE-KARGYAK TIME 6-7 HOURS LEVEL MODERATE It’s a long but easy day today. Head back south to the bridge on the confluence of Tsarap and Kargyak rivers. Then head south-east along the Kargyak River towards Yal Village, after which you cross the big village of Testha. Thereafter, continue straight down to Kuru Village. After the village, head down to a bridge and cross the Kargyak River, and continue walking south-east. Cross Tanze, a quiet but important village. It is another 4 hrs to Kargyak from here. In June or July, you will cross a number of summer camps called Doksa with lots of yaks. If you stop in one of them you may get a chance to taste jo, curd made of yak’s milk. The best place to camp is opposite Sking Village, 45 mins before Kargyak, just after the confluence of two rivers.
TIME 6 HOURS
Suddenly the valley is wider and greener than in the past week of trekking. Remain on the same side of the valley (left bank) and walk southeast to Kargyak (45 mins) until you see the Gombu Rangjom, a monolithic rock that you keep on the left. The path is very clear. Cross the river and there is a good campsite here, but I would advise you to soldier on for one more hour moving south-west to the Shingo La Base Camp.
SHINGO LA BASE-SHINGO LA-RAMJAK TIME 7 HOURS LEVEL TOUGH
Stay on the left side of the valley, going up slowly. The ascent is not so steep and quite easy if you start smoothly. The only problem can be snow on the path, in which case ensure that you have competent guides who can steer you through bad weather. Just before the pass you have to cross snowfields, which will take an hour or two. Shingo La is marked by cairns and prayer flags and, at 5,050m, is the highest point of the trek. The views are fantastic but the place is cold and windy. After the pass, the track goes on for half an hour at the same altitude, crossing a torrent (sometimes it’s knee-deep). It then starts a steep descent on a path full of rocks and scree for 2 hrs to Chumik Nagpo (camp possibility at 4,600m) better and 3 hrs more to Ramjak (camp at 4,300m).
TIME 7 HOURS
Today is the momentous day that we leave the rocky landscape of Zanskar and enter Lahaul, the vista gradually becoming green. It is a gradual descent on an easy path southwards, crossing a bridge at Zanskar Sumdo, where you can take a break at the tea shop. Then cross a few streams barefooted and follow the river till you are in Pal Lhamo, where there is a good camp and tea shop. Cross on the left bank again (good bridge) and after 2 hrs you reach Chika where the road starts. If you asked for a pick-up, the jeep or bus can come up to here, otherwise follow the road down to Darcha to catch a bus to Manali. For a hassle-free online bus booking, travellers can use ixigo app and get great discounts.