How to Travel the Kingdom of Zanskar

In Summer 2018, I shot a documentary in Zanskar and got to see most of the countries hidden gems. I want to share this experience with you guys, as it was so remote and very local. It’s important to note that we did this trip between June 6-16 due to the road conditions. Roads to Zanskar are only open a few weeks per year. In the winter, traveling in and out of Zanskar as a tourist is nearly impossible. You’ll have to drive on frozen lakes or hike through the snowy mountains.


Leh is a town in the Indian State Jammu and Kashmir, considered as one of the more civilised places in the region. Like Kargil. We flew from Delhi to Leh with GoAir. As far as I know, there is only one flight a day arriving and leaving Leh airport from Delhi. In Leh you can do a lot of sight seeing. There is a local pedestrian area where you can buy lots of branded (definitely fake) hiking gear, carpets, souvenirs, local food, and several places to exchange money. In a side street we discovered a local common area where they served free food for the poor. The place was covered with Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels and many locals sitting, eating and chatting. 
Main Pedestrian Market Square in Leh
Locals hanging out under Tibetan flags in Leh
There is the great Shanti Stupa. This place is always full of local tourists. It is a huge Buddhist white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa. You need to get here by car. It’s only 30 min away from the city center.
The Great Palace of Leh is definitely a highlight and well worth to check out.
Leh Palace
Shanti Stupa in Leh
There are a lot of good hostels, Hotels and BnBs in Leh. Some more luxurious than others. We stayed at the Munshi Continental Hotel. It’s a simple 3-star hotel with very good service and newly renovated. Breakfast AND dinner were included and the food was really good! They serve mostly local food.
Very important hint: Take the first 1-2 days off and rest. Your body has to adjust to the height and the lack of oxygen in the air or else you will get height sickness. It doesn’t matter if you are a sporty and fit person or not.
Hotel Munshi Continental (3-star)
nice room after 1 night


The roads here are good. Though the landscape is very dry in the summer, you will mostly see grey, stone landscapes and dry colorless mountains in the background. On the streets, everything is full of coloured trucks and you notice that everything is branded TATA. The most common heavy steel industry is run by this company. The government does a very good job in putting up signs on the side of the road to discourage speeding ad encourage safe driving.

One of many typical TATA trucks


When driving from Leh to Kargil, you will pass by Lamayuru. If you are a backpacker, you can start your treck here through the Lamayuru Valley. Otherwise, you can also do some sight seeing. There is a great monastery here. Just pay a low entrance fee and then you can explore the huge monastery. (link)
When you enter the Lamayuru region, you will find it has an awesome landscape already. Just see for yourself:
Lamayuru Monastery
Our 4x4 driving through the windy roads of Lamayuru region
epic dry mountains in Lamayuru region in summer

KARGIL is considered to be a more industrialized city just like Leh. We didn’t have a chance to explore the city, instead we just passed by and slept at the Malla Guest House in Lankerchey. It was a small and cute homestay. We got our private rooms and it was like staying at a local families place. They prepared dinner for us and we got to talk with them about the region. It was 1000 better than staying at a hostel or hotel. I didn’t regret not staying in Kargil because our journey will bring us to places far more beautiful with more natural landscapes. So unfortunately I can not write anything about Kargil here.

Landscape after Kargil heading towards Rangdum


At some point, the roads heading towards Rangdum stop being paved. So prepare for bumpy driving and passing through many checkpoints, as these are common places where hikers can get lost. The landscape is more wild here and we start seeing gigantic snowy Himalayan mountains in every direction. In Rangdum you can stop for a small local meal and a short rest. It’s basically just a few houses surrounded by snowy mountains.

resting and having a lunch stop in Rangdum
Our cook in Rangdum


The journey to Padum is an adventure. You basically drive through mountain passes, white Himalayan mountains everywhere you look and we stopped regularly to grab some fresh mountain water from the side of the road. We even picked some wild rhubarb from the side of the mountain and snacked on it. The highlight was the grand glacier we discovered and the entrance to Zanskar up in the mountain. It was a small stupa covered in Tibetan praying flags.

Our small travel group traveling to the Kingdom of Zanskar
Grand Glacier surrounded by Himalayan Mountains
The Entrance to Zanskar

Padum is the capital of the Kingdom of Zanskar. There used to be an old Padum which is now deserted. The new Padum sports restaurants, hostels and even a hospital with western doctors. Still padum, is very rural and local and you don’t see a lot of tourists here. Because it’s very small, everyone knows each other and the community seems very happy and they create a very homey atmosphere in the kingdom of Padum. It took us 2 full days to get here by car from Leh.

Padum - The Capital of Zanskar
Stupa overlooking old Padum


Zangla was historically one of the two main capitals of the Zanskar Kingdom, the other being Padum. It is only a 1 hour drive from Padum. Zangla is basically a province. It is blessed with green fields and very accomodating home stays. Zangla only gets 4 hours of electricity a day from Padum. There’s no running water either. The people get their water from downstream in huge buckets. We stayed at a very nice and comfortable home stay with locals. They cooked local food for us.

Zangla Nunnery

Zangla is surrounded by incredible mountains. It has an awesome nunnery. A Hungarian scholar edited the first Tibetan-English dictionary while living at Zangla Palace in 1823.

View from the Balcony of the Nunnery


This village is a bit bigger than Zangla especially because of its huge monastery (gompa).
The Karsha Gompa is a Buddhist monastery in the Padum Valley of the Zanskar region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India.
The villagers here are also blessed with green fields and a mountain range view that is unforgettable. Here, we slept at the house of our tour guide. We met his wife and kids and had awesome local food.
Entrance to Karsha Village
View of Mountains surrounding Karsha Village


Padum and especially Zangla, and Karsha Village are places you will not find a lot of tourists. If you are a photographer, this is the best best place to do night photography, as you are very high up in the mountains and there literally no light sources to obstruct your camera. In these small villages, you usually stay in guest houses and/or home stays. So depending on what was agreed upon, you are dependent on the locals there when it comes to food and transportation. We had a guide with us at all times. He organised accomodation, food and transportation for the entire 10 days. Eventhough we had a guide, we mostly did untouristy things because we were shooting a documentary.


Throughout the whole trip I learned that locals usually eat vegetarian in summer and a lot of meat in the winter. In the summer, it is har to store meat as you will need to freeze it and many do not have a freezer or refrigerator. In the winter, vegetables do not grow or are hard as stone and meat can easily be stored in the cold.

Here is a Youtube video about Ladakhi food,
created on this trip by my dear friend Arseny:

Chicken Curry


Nowadays, there is this checkpoint system introduced by the government. You have to pass a certain checkpoint by showing your passport if you leave or arrive at a certain region. So in case if someone gets lost, they can just check the last time they registered your passport and then they can search only that area.


Tour Guide:
Tel: +91 94694 58192  / +91 9622156580