Zanskar is undoubtedly the best part of Ladakh - raw and unspoiled, till the Darcha - Padum road is done, maybe another year. Make it before they break it! 

Overview of Zanskar Valley Photography Tour

The Zanskar Valley Photography tour is one of the most scenic tours in India but one of the less visited. The Suru Valley and Zanskar Valley are not as popular due to bad roads and poor infrastructure but one of the best tours in terms of photographic opportunities. If you are interested in shooting Landscapes (Mountains, Rivers, Milky Way), Beautiful Villages, and their People, Ladakhi festivals, this tour is for you. This is less popular compared to our Ladakh tour but no less in terms of beauty and photographic opportunities. And you will not find many tourists around.

 

Itinerary for Zanskar Photography Tour 

Day 1 Arrive in Leh (3,524 metres / 11,562 ft), travel to Kargil  (2,676 metres / 8,780 feet) (Distance 217 kms)

Day 2 Kargil to Drang-Drung Glacier Campsite 150 km (3,657m /11,998 ft) (Distance 126 km)

Day 3 Drang-Drung Glacier to Padum 50kms (3,657 metres / 11,998 feet)

Day 4 Drive to Gonbo Rangjon via Bardhan, Kurgiak

Day 5 Phuktal / Phugtal Monastery Trek (3,669m / 12,037 ft), Back to Padum

Day 6 Padum to Lingshed o/n Lingshed  (3800m / 12500ft)

Day 7 Lingshed to Leh 

Day 8 Fly Out

 

Day 1 Arrive in Leh (3,524 metres / 11,562 ft), travel to Kargil  (2,676 metres / 8,780 feet) (Distance 217 kms)

We start from Leh, have our breakfast leave the city and start our journey to the wilderness. Today's journey gives you an idea of the barren landscapes of Ladakh. 

We drive most of the time beside the river Indus.

Before reaching the Lamayuru Monastery, we pause at this amazing formation called Moonland. I have never seen this kind of geological formation anywhere else. 

Lamayuru monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh. Located on the National Highway 1 (Srinagar Leh Highway), it is one of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh. 

There is a huge statue of Chamba. You can read more about it here.

We stay overnight in Kargil, take good rest.

There is a huge statue of Chamba. You can read more about it here.

We stay overnight in Kargil, take good rest.

You can read more about the monastery here on Wikipedia.

LamayuruMonasteryLadakh_114

Though photography is not allowed in the main prayer hall, you can take pictures in the monastery compound. This is where you will get the best pictures. With monks going around circumambulating the whole day, you will get some great pictures with some interesting backgrounds.

We cross the passes Fotu La and Namik La and proceed. Just before we reach Kargil, we pause for some time at the Mulbekh monastery. 

MulbekhMonasteryLadakh_021

The Mulbekh Monastery

Day 2 Kargil to Drang-Drung Glacier Campsite 150 km

This 150 km will be one of the most beautiful and adventurous miles of your life. 

Suru Valley

Kargil is on the banks of the Suru river and we continue beside the river for the whole day. Suru valley is green and beautiful and you can call it the Valley of Flowers of Ladakh. Unfortunately, like any flowering valley, the flowers bloom at their best for only 2 weeks and it does not happen based on any calendar.

The people are warm and friendly across the whole region of Ladakh. However, photographing people can be a little difficult as people are quite shy. You have to make them comfortable.

SuruValley_075

We soon see the majestic Nun Kun peaks, these are one of the more difficult peaks for mountaineers. If we are lucky, we will get a clear view of the snow-clad mountains. 

SuruValley_096

This is where we have our breakfast on the banks of the river and continue.

ParkachikGlacierZanskar_016

Later we see the Parkachik glacier. It's huge. 

In a few hours, we reach Rangdum. This is almost in the middle of Kargil and Padum.  It is mostly windy and cloudy except for a few lucky days. We have our lunch here in the only hotel available here.

Rangdum_011
Rangdum_021

From Rangdum we go further through amazing landscapes and reach the Penzi la pass (4400m), the highest pass on this route. It is better not to spend too much time here as it is cold and windy and you might also get hit my AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)

It's amazing how along with the landscapes, the culture also changes. The Buddhist population starts here, beyond the Pensi La.

We see the mighty Drang-Drung Glacier and then retire at our tents in this remote location. It is very cold here. This is one of the best places to shoot the stars. Absolutely no light pollution, not a single light within kilometers!

Drung Drang Glacier is the second-largest glacier in India after the Siachen glacier which is located in the northernmost part of India. 

 

PensiLa_005
PensiLa_015
Lang Tso & Stat Tso Lakes are the twin lakes near the Penzila Pass. These are absolutely beautiful.
PensiLa_018
PensiLa_019
DrangDrungGlacier_002
Drang-Drung Glacier is one of the highlight of our tour. It is the second largest glacier in India after the Siachen. You just can't stop taking pictures here.
DrangDrungGlacier_011
DrangDrungGlacier_019
DrangDrungGlacier_041

Our campsite near the Drang Drung glacier.

Day 3 Drang-Drung Glacier to Padum 50kms (3,657 metres / 11,998 feet)

Today is a relatively easy day. We get ready and pass by the plains leading to Padum. We stop at Sani Gompa, one of the oldest in the region. 

We also spend some time at the newly made statue of Padmasambhava at Sani village and then continue. Sani gompa is also a great monastery to have a look.

KarshaGustorFestival_037
SaniVillageZanskar_001

We reach Padum, have our lunch, and go to the market in the evening. It is a nice stroll and a good opportunity to meet people and photograph them.

RangdumPadumRoute_032

The Himalayan Marmots is a cute animal from the squirrel family. You will find a lot of them on this route.

RangdumPadumRoute_122

You will find a lot of interesting opportunities to take pictures on the route like this one where a family is working in the fields and their kids are enjoying the sun.

RangdumPadumRoute_127

 

The statue of Padmasambhava in Sani Village is a quaint place

Padum City Pictures

Padum is a small town, the only town in Zanskar and the administrative center. It is named after Guru Padmasambhava. You can go around the town and get some good pictures. At night, you can also get some opportunity to shoot the Milky Way. There is fair amount of light pollution though.

 

PadumZanskar_005

Pibiting Village is a lovely village to take a walk.

PadumZanskar_010
PadumZanskar_016

The Pibiting Monastery with some lovely light.

PadumZanskar_021

While walking around Pibiting village, I found this lovely elderly lady and got this.

PadumZanskar_031

A yound kid trying to help his mother working in the fields around Padum.

PadumZanskar_039

Day 4 Drive to Gonbo Rangjon via Bardhan, Kurgiak

This road was made in 2020 and before that these places were accessible only by foot. We pass through some beautiful villages and stop for pictures wherever there is an opportunity. 

We pass through Bardhan Monastery, Muney Gonpa, Rafu village, Dorzong, Anmo, Char and Purne village. This is the place from where we take a diversion to go to the Phuktal monastery along the Tserap river. We go to the monastery while coming back the same way.

We continue through villages Icher, Tetha, Dangze, Testa and finally reach our camping site of Gumbok Rangan (Gonbo Rangjon)

This campsite is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to, definitely the most I have seen by road. We take time to prepare ourselves for the eventful night. If the weather is kind, we will be able to see an unbelievable amount of stars and some shooting stars as well.

Being in the middle of nowhere, this place has no light pollution.  This is one of the highlights of the tour.

 

PadumtoGonboRangjonZanskar_042

The confluence of Tsarap Chu and Kurgiak Chu. Chu means river. You will have to be there to believe the color of the water is real. It may vary based on the season. This is at Purne village from where the trek route to Phuktal monastery starts. We come back the next day and do this route.

PadumtoGonboRangjonZanskar_064

Kurgiak village. This is the last village on the Ladakh side of Shingo-La (Shinku La). After crossing the pass, you enter Himachal Pradesh.

The Majestic Gumbok Rangan or Gonbo Rangjon.

This mountain is considered to be sacred by Buddhists. They believe that you can see the face of Buddha on the mountain face. Gonbo Rangjon was an important stopping point along the Darcha- Padum Trek route which now is gone due to the roads.
GonboRanjon_006
GonboRanjon_008
GonboRanjon_017
GonboRanjon_034
GonboRanjon_039
GonboRanjon_040

Day 5 Phuktal / Phugtal Monastery Trek (3,669m / 12,037 ft), Back to Padum

This will be a tiring day. We pack our bags and reach Purne village. 

Purne is the place where the river Tsarap Chu (river) meets the Kurgiak Chu (river) which flows from the mountains at Shinkhu la

This is where the trek to Phuktal gompa starts. We walk all the way beside the river Tsarap. The colour of the water is amazingly turquoise. The intensity of the colour changes with the season.

The road is narrow and tricky with lots of ups and downs. Because of the altitude, oxygen is rare and we really pant for breath with every step. We see the two bridges on the Tsarap River, one is old and dangerous and not in operation. The newer one is bigger and sturdy and safe.

It's a relief to see the monastery gate but that's not the end. After that, there is still a steep climb of stairs to the monastery. It is advisable to carry a packed lunch. You will get cold drinks and other basic refreshments at the small canteen run by the monks. 

After spending some time with the monks, we come back to Padum and take a rest. 

PhugtalGompa_016
PhugtalGompa_025
PhugtalGompa_084

Day 6 Padum to Lingshed o/n Lingshed  (3800m / 12500ft)

Today we drive from Padum to Lingshed and beyond. The drive is through beautiful valleys and those who are interested in photographing textures, this drive is for them. You will see textures of all kinds, you will have to see it to believe it.

LingshedLamayuruRoute_020

Day 7 Lingshed to Leh 

We drive from Lingshed to Leh. 

We travel through some great routes. There are two high altitude passes - Sisir La and Singe La. We pause at the passes to take some pictures and then later join the highway to Leh. 

It feels great after completing the arduous journey with memory cards full of awesome pictures and of course some experiences of a lifetime. 

Day 8 Fly Out

Tips for photographers

Zanskar is not easy to reach and very vast like an ocean. If you want to take great pictures and make the most of your time, you might like to join a Photography Tour to Zanskar with Ssaurabh A Chatterjee. He will make sure that you get your shots. You can reach out to me on WhatsApp at +919004106715 or email me to join this tour.


Thanksgiving

Thanks to all who joined my Photography Tour to Zanskar Valley


This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.He strives to make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks.
All rights reserved. No copying without permission of the author Saurabh Chatterjee

Share with others