Northern India Trekking

Zanskar India trekking Photos by Partha De Sarkar.

The Zanskar Trek in Ladakh

By Wing Commander (Retd) Partha De Sarkar

I was posted at Ambala, a leading fighter base. I was on weekend plus casual leave. I found out that one of our aircraft would be flying from Palam to Leh with a stopover at Ambala. I took permission of the then Air Commodore Nadkarni, later Air Marshal, to fly to Ladakh and spend a few days there.

Ladakh is a region of India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir.

In Jispa, a high altitude shrine.
In Jispa, a high altitude shrine.

A few officers and airmen joined me and we formed in Leh. Then we drove down to Manali with a local guide, a cook, a horseman and altogether 7 ponies and a horse. Ponies were of the army. Before the trek started we spent one night and day in Keylong (3350m), and also a day and night at Jispa, close to Darcha (3300m).

It was important to acclimatize to high altitudes because the first pass on our route, Shingo La, was at altitude over five kilometers.

Four days later the trek proceeded to a climb over Shingo La, gradually rising from 3300m level at Kylong/Jispa/Darcha to above 4500m before rising to pass.

Though the rise to 5100m did happen gradually, even hardened IAF guys felt quite breathless for the last few hundred metres. One of us had hellish pains in his neck as his body couldn’t acclimatize to the altitude.

At the top there was a small shrine, with mantra flags and stones engraved with the Avalokiteshvara mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. Horseman made offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and our cooks quickly made hot roti and dal with steaming cups of tea thickened with yak milk. Sun was shining brightly, my breath calmed down at rest and the slight headache that had haunted me during the last few hundred metres just disappeared.

lingshed windypass 2
Lingshed windy passHad there been more time, I would have liked to spend more time there.

Descending down to camp was another effort and we were dead tired when we reached the camp at Lakong. As it was so often, horseman and guide had walked much faster than us and were patiently waiting for us as if they had been on a nice & short day walk.

And what a view opened on the other side! Kargiakh River was running on the valley towards Padum. The valley photo was taken at Lakong (4400m) on our first camp after Shingo La.

Lamayuru woman
Lamayuru womanter the sunset with long exposure time on a tripod.

The purple mountain photo was taken at Kargiakh (4000m), a second camp after Shingo La, just af

The same mountain shows also on the valley photo taken at Lakong from a different angle. We had a camp at Purne from where we were able to do a day visit to Phuktal gompa.

The valley photo is taken just before Purne Valley before Purni (3750m).

The most magnificent monastery on the route was unquestionably Phuktal Gompa. It is built like a beehive on the rock wall. Its history begins from the 11th century and it is highly respected. The name means “through cave”. There is a grotto above the monastery. Below are photos from inside the monastery.

The moonlight photo was taken on next camp after Purni, near Ichar, using several minute exposure time. The Stupa with Mani Wall was taken between Ichar and Mune. Bardon gompa was a last gompa on the route just few hours before Padum.

Alchi women threshing corn in the traditional manner.
Alchi women threshing corn in the traditional manner.en at village Nerag, after descending from Nerag La.

Some photos are at halfway between Padum and Lamayuru. Zanskar river photo is tak

We hiked through Netuksi La and Kuba La, where there is a small settlement, Skimpata, which I passed on the route from Nerag to Lingsit. I wanted to see Lingsit as it was famous for its many thanka paintings.

I took part in Puja there – though obviously couldn’t recite with monks. Nowadays I could do it in Hindi though… The young novice there was very interested about our cameras. Along with Phuktal, this is one of the places I would love to see some day again, if possible.

Phuktal Gompa settlement.
Phuktal Gompa settlement.

My trek ended at Lamayuru Gompa. I am sure Lamayuru. We spent two days at this striking monastery. The nature has created a mysterious surrounding with moonscapes all around.

The monastery itself sits on a crag. It was really a memorable place. Two days later I proceeded to Uley – tokpo, a picturesque overnight halt. You can see me sitting over a boulder by the river.

Then we proceeded to Alchi Gompa. Paintings at Alchi were mind-boggling.

I love the photo of two Ladakhi girl harvesting, their grace was far more than any city bred girl. We left from Alchi on an Army Gypsy, views from there and when leaving from the village I saw how locals were thresh corn.

These are the passes we crossed on our trek.

Phuktal Gompa
Phuktal Gompa

Shingo La (5100m) 16.7.
Shing La (4500m) 26.7.
Nerak La (4770m) (two passes
Phuktal Gompa the monestery built into the mountainside.near each other) 28.7
Two unnamed saddles, 3390m
& 3930m 29.7*
Kuba La (3800m), 30.7 &
Netuksi La (4800m), 30.7
& 31.7
Shingo La or Singe La
(5060m) 1.8
SirSir La (4990m) 2.8*
Prinkiti La (3900m) 4.8.

The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. It is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bhutan and Sri Lanka; a majority of Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists and the rest are mostly Shia Muslims.

Partha de Sarkar is a retired Indian Air Force officer and a freelance writer from India.

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