Trip Report Sep/Oct-11 :18 days of bliss at Zanskar and Remote Changthang with family

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#1 Oct 22nd, 2011, 14:33
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#1
Managing Zanskar and Ladakh in one go for 18 days with kid, possible? The question was looming large but then planning to Demchok and Chumur adds more uncertainty and seems to be an insane idea. Now while going to Demchok from Hanle, crossing Photila and trying Tsomoriri directly from Hanle, won't it be crazy? Yes we started a well planned trip with lots of input from this forum but honestly it gone beyond sanity to try with just wife and kid. We enjoyed thoroughly and in God's grace got excellent weather. This is the time to share our experience.

I have been to Ladakh earlier and knew the challenges, challenge of acclimatizing your body with that height of 11K+ almost through out the trip, desolate and remoteness of the Zanskar Valley and Changthang Plateau, choosing the right window for travel considering the early and late seasons are full of uncertainties and actual small 2 month's window of July and August are terribly crowded. For me it was more challenging as I was going to take this trip with just my wife and kid of 6.5 yrs. Getting a car with reasonable price and knowledgeable drivers who have some ideas beyond Nubra/pangong/Tsomoriri were a must to make this trip a success. Number of Taxi Unions and their self proclaimed rules in their own areas were another mess you need to handle if you want to take up this trip. Kargil Cars can take you to Zanskar but can't take you back without paying a premium to Zanskar Union, for Zanskar sight seeing you have to take Zanskar Cabs, Kargil Cabs can take you to Leh but can't do sightseeing in Lamayuru etc. enroute. I was again lucky to get introduced to ex.Taxi Union President of Kargil Mr. Rehman, a nice gentleman who helped me to get Kazim, a middle aged person with a Scorpio and Xylo and it's because of him I was able to complete my Zanskar trip. Ladakh part was never be possible without Regzin, who was simply outstanding and being an ex. army of Ladakh Scouts and posted in all corners of Ladakh including Siachen, DBO, Chumur, Demchok for 18 years, he knew how to follow the tyre track and common sense for hundreds of km before coming across the first vehicle for opposite side without any direction or maps.

My trip was inspired by the awesome Changthang trips of Anirban (ADC), Harsh and Tanveer, all of them are active in T-BHP and BCMT and without their help, suggestions and tips I might never even think of venturing in these corners. I am a keen follower of HVK's log too for his extremely methodical documentation of his last 2 Ladakh trips. The map Harsh and Aarti had prepared is simply invaluable and to my knowledge the best map that is available for anyone wants to visit this area.


Another funny part was the plans and backups I kept, I had to cancel 5 sets of tickets for different sectors those were planned as my backup in different stages. My idea was to visit through Srinagar but had to keep Del-Leh flight open in case situation in Srinagar Valley turns volatile, similarly I kept my return plan open so that I can travel to Leh - Manali or can fly out from Leh directly which I did eventually. I even had to cancel a Del-Kolkata Rajdhani ticket while my Del-Kol flight was taxied to runway which I kept in case Leh-Del flight gets cancelled and subsequently my Kolkata connection would have missed.

Weather in this region was a big ask, you never know when that could change dramatically but with God's grace and good wishes of many other friends, I got probably the best weather possible, first time I saw cloud in the sky on my last day of the trip, it was absolutely cloudless and blue sky with fall colors all around.


22nd September : Kolkata - Delhi - Srinagar (Flight) - Sonmarg (By Road)

The previous night, when I was almost ready with all packing done, my kid suddenly started showing uneasiness and we found she had fever, a trip which was not expected to start in that way. We were little nervous but thought of moving ahead with the medicines we had. It was a 9.05 KF flight from Kol-Del and subsequently a 12.45 Del-Srinagar flight that took us to Srinagar by 2.15pm. We decided not to waste any time in a height of 5000+ ft at Srinagar and straight away proceeded to Sonamarg which was around 8700ft height. The checkout /baggage claims took hardly half an hour and were greeted by Kazim with his nice Xylo outside the airport. We did some last minute shopping of mineral waters, dry foods etc. from Srinagar, got some quick photo session near Dal lake and were on our way towards Sonmarg by 4.00pm. The NH1D to Sonmarg via Gandarbal, Kangan, Gund is around 3 hrs journey across amazing Kashmir Valley, road was superb. We were greeted by an awesome rainbow enroute may bring all lucks for our coming days. There are few options in Sonmarg regarding accommodations, Glacier view is nice private one but quite pricey with 2000+ room rent even in off season. We chose JKTDC with close proximity to market, nice ambience with running hot waters at 1000 for 2 adults and a kid. It was a bargain as 1300 is the official off season price if you try to book it through JKTDC web interface. The dinner was awesome there and fortunately the kid started showing improvement in her health but we felt the chilling nights even with all the blankets on.

Srinagar From Sky:

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Dal Lake, Srinagar:

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Gandherbal:

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Towards Kangan:

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Between Gund and Sonamarg we have seen this lovely rainbow and this really brought a lot of luck for our whole trip:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:31..
#2 Oct 22nd, 2011, 14:49
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#2
Looking fwd to more ! and lots of pics.
#3 Oct 22nd, 2011, 15:13
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23rd September : Sonmarg - Zojila Pass - Dras - Kargil - Sankhoo - Purtikchey

We knew about the restrictions of crossing Sonmarg towards Zozila between 6.00pm in evening and 11.00am in morning but we were told it could be managed if we start before 6.00am as no one would be there in the checkpost to stop us. Unfortunately that's not the case and we were stopped even before 6.00am just outside the JKTDC GH at Sonamarg near the checkpost. No amount of pleading was sufficient to make them understand we had to start early as our today's stop was even further to Kargil at Purtikchey. They just asked us to come after 11.00am which means loosing a day on the very start of the trip. Kazim came handy here, his brother was the driver of DIG, Kashmir and few phone calls there after, the same security guard came out and himself found out our car and made our roads with a smile and murmuring softly why we didn't tell him that we were the guests of DIG. Unexpected but we were through by 6.15am. In India, connection is the key The best thing is we were the only car going in opposite direction and we had ample time to take snaps with no cars behind. The road to Zozila was one way and full of dusts and definitely in a bad shape specially the ascent from Sonmarg. The road towards Baltal to Amarnath diverts from in between and after some delay with lots of truck traffic we were on Zozila top by two and half hours. Zozila to Drass was nice with mix of good and bad roads. Just before Drass you would find the diversion to Mushko Valley which was in headlines during 1999 Kargil War. The same road now is through to Tilail and Gurez and one can go to Srinagar via Bandipore by making a loop. The road was recently inaugurated by BRO in 2010 and yet to be opened for civilians. Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in earth as the JK Tourism board displays was a small and nice town with heavy army presence. We tasted first Namkeen Chay (Salt/Butter Tea) of our trip here and we got addicted to it, it was really nice. Drass could be a good pit stop for lunch before Kargil and road from here onwards crosses War Memorial, a must see enroute and colourful mountains and valley and the valley starts narrowing down after this and you would find you are following almost the LOC and Kazim was showing us the signs of shelling from other side of LOC on the road side poles, trees, mountains all through this section during 1999 Kargil War. Tiger Hill, Tololing and other commonly uttered names during Kargil Wars can be seen across the mountain ridge and the sacrifice of our army would surely touch your deepest. Just before Kargil, you would find Drass and Suru river meets and though non descriptive, you would find Kargil as largest town between Srinagar and Leh in this route. Road towards Zanskar via Suru Valley and towards Leh bifurcates here. Our destination was Zanskar and we first met Mr. Golam Rosul, Tourist Officer, JKTDC Kargil who was in charge of reservation for all the alpine bunglows across Suru and Zanskar Valley. Surprisingly he greeted us in Bengali and later we knew he was posted first 2 years of his service at JKTDC, Kolkata and quite familiar with Kolkata. A very nice gentleman with good sense of humour he advised us to choose between Sankhoo, Purtikchey and Panikhar situated in 8500, 9500 and 10000 ft height respectively. Height of night stay was important as we were trying our best to acclimatize as quickly as possible. Sankhoo and Panikhar were closer to shops and had a better chance to get foods arranged in off season while Purtichey is more scenic with perfect frames of Nun Kun you could see from Bunglow. We chose Purtikchey but Mr. Rosul gave us papers for staying either in Purtikchey or in Panikhar in case Purtikchey was closed. The tar road ends near Sankhoo around 40km from Kargil but the road is very scenic and you could see fall colors all the way in this road. After Sankhoo, the unpaved road starts for rest of the 234 km towards Padum but locals expect next year paved roads would reach till Panikkhar. 13km from Sankhoo on unpaved road we reached Purtikchey and luckily found the caretaker of the GH nearby. No guest stayed there in whole month of September and he was surprised with this sudden arrival of tourist but somehow agreed to Rice/Dal/Sabji kind of dinner from the winter stock he had. We caught the last rays of evening sun on Nun-Kun and after dinner quickly move to bed but it was one of the coldest nights in our trip. There are only 2 rooms in the nicely located GH but most likely you would get them unless you hit the region in July/August peak season.

Sonmarg in the morning:

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Sonmarg JKTDC, excellent value for money:

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Sonmarg:

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Road to Amarnath:

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Zojila Ascent at the Right:

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Zojila Top:

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Descent towards Drass:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:32..
#4 Oct 22nd, 2011, 15:32
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23rd September Continued:

Between Zojila and Drass all through panoramic landscape:

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Approaching Drass:

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Diversion to Mushko Valley before Dras, this road connects Srinagar via Gurez, not yet opened for Civilians.

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Dras War Memorial:

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Road to Kargil beside LOC:

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Just before Kargil, Dras and Suru river Meets, we will catch Suru from here and it would be with us till Pensila:

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Amazing Start of Suru Valley:

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#5 Oct 22nd, 2011, 15:55
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24th September : Purtikchey - Panikhar - Parkachik - Rangdum - Pensila Pass - Padum

Got up early to catch magnificent glimpse of first sunrays on Nun-Kun Peak from Purtikchey. Nice serene ambience but later we understood it's only the Nun peak that is visible from Purtikchey and Kun is towards left, out of vision, as the Suru river takes a U turn after Panikkhar towards Parkachik and Kun can be seen from Parkachik or Shafat Nalla areas. We started our long journey by 7.00 in the morning and after 13 km from Purtikchey just before entering Panikhar, we crossed the river and entered Namsuru Village to get a tarred bypass to avoid 15/20 odd km of unpaved road that goes through Panikhar. The paved road condition is nothing great but it gives you a brilliant view of Panikkhar village and Suru valley that widens here and presents a nice photo opportunity specially during morning time. From other side of the river, we could identify Tongol which is another 5 km from Panikhar on other side of river and the Nun base camp trek starts from here. JK Tourism has an alpine bunglow there too but not in a good shape. The road takes a turn along with Suru River and approaches to Parkachik which is around 10000 ft height and even had a high school apart from middle and primary school. The only college of the valley is at Sankhoo. Around Parkachik you would surely find students asking for lifts while going to school or coming back as public transport is almost non-existent in the region. Parkachik was famous for the glacier which you can approach sufficiently close if you don't mind walking for some time at that height just after crossing the village. After Parkachik due to building up of an irrigational canal, you would find some blasting work in progress which would slow you down sufficiently and the worst stretch of road starts between this place and Rangdum which is the highest inhabited place in this route at 12500 ft and even in end Sep, Rangdum was only place in this route where water was turning ice at night, later we had this experience in Changthang but that was much higher and we were in October by that time but Rangdum is surely a place with extreme isolation in the middle of high mountains and one panoramic monastery. The whole valley turns extremely scenic between Parkachik and Rangdum and the special red/yellow/green/brown grass of September and the isolated horses roaming and Zanskari people in the picturesque valley would certainly keep a lasting memory. Rangdum Monastery can be approached by a short cut from the deluxe camps ground, one of the many deluxe camps of the Zanskar/Ladakh region that was still operational because Himalayan Car Rally participants are supposed to stay a night here here during their run. The monastery is in awesome location with an excellent valley view and a must visit for anyone crossing Rangdum. It carries the awful experience of terror strike in early 2000 when few terrorists crossed over the valley from Kishtwar side and hijacked a truck with German tourists and gunned down many monks in Rangdum monastery and finally abandoned the truck by killing the driver and abducting the Germans and fled through Shafat Nalla. You would still find an army camp beside the monastery which is quite uncommon for any monastery starting from Ladakh to Bhutan. Rangdum is the last place where you find something for your stomach before you hit Padum which was still 100+ km ahead. We got some last few eateries open and had a lunch with roti - Omlette. The ascent of Pensila starts just few km after Rangdum and you would find you start loosing Suru River beside you that started even a few km ahead of Kargil. That clearly indicates you are approaching Watershed region and that indicates the topmost point of the terrain around you is approaching. In all probability you would find a new river from other side flowing with you. The twin lakes before the pass, the pass itself around 14000 ft being highest point on Kargil-Padum road and ofcourse the Drang Drung Glacier just when you start descent from pass would surely be the places to spend time and get few photo opportunities. The glacier is specially amazing and probably only one so close to a motorable road, it looks like as if a river is frozen there for good. After the glacier, you would enter the Zanskar Valley as Suru Valley ends before Pensila. Amidst of colorful mountains, you would find small village starts appearing in Zanskar Valley, Skyagam, Ating, Tungri are few big villages those appear before one reaches Padum. We found JKTDC GH has only one VIP room that is quite good but they didn't want to give that room(rest don't even have hot water), Gay Skit as recommended by Harsh was full, Kailash Chamling, recommended by Bijoy was also very busy with all stuff involved in arranging some local function in the hotel, we continued our search and finally zeroed in Marq GH, that finally turned up a brilliant hotel with big and spacious rooms and running hot water for 24 hours. The hotel which offered me 3000 in All meal plan per person per day over phone/ email was finally managed for 1000 for 2 adults and a kid with separate food, bliss of off season


Nicely located Purtichey Alpine Bunglow operated by JK Tourism:

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Brilliant Sun Rise on Nun Kun from Purtikchey:

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Panikhar Village from Namsuru, opposite side of Suru River:

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15km of alternative Tar Road through the opposite side towards Parkachik

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Tongal, 5 km further Panikhar, Nun Base Camp Trek starts here, see the trek road winds up in the mountain:

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Parkachik Glacier:

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Parkachik Glacier Up Close:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:33..
#6 Oct 22nd, 2011, 16:14
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#6
24th September - Continued Part - 2:

Suru Valley:

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Unnamed Glacial Peak:

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Suru river flows through valley bed:

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Zanskar, so desolate:

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The Road Ahead:

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Colorful Suru Valley near Parkachik

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Road goes towards Rangdum

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Amazing colors of Suru:

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Kun Massif from Shafat:

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Shafat Nalla joins Suru from left, the trek route to Kun Base Camp:

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#7 Oct 22nd, 2011, 16:37
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#7
24th September - Continued Part -3:

Closer to Rangdum and Suru valley at its best of colors:

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Towards Pensila:

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#8 Oct 22nd, 2011, 16:52
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#8
24th September - Continued Part -4:

Amazing Drang Drung Glacier:

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Entering Zanskar Valley crossing Pensila:

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First Village at Zanskar Valley:

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Zanskar Valley:

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Red Yak while approaching Padum:

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#9 Oct 22nd, 2011, 17:23
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#9
25th September : Padum - Strongde - Zangla - Padum - Bardan - Padum - Karsha - Padum (Padum Local)

Once you approaches Padum, the valley widens significantly and sandwiched between Zanskar Range at North and Great Himalayan Range in South. It's actually a trekker's paradise as many treks towards Lamayuru, Leh, Markha Valley, Darcha, Pangi Valley, Kishtwar starts from here in various directions. The long 274 km journey from Kargil and back in same way sometimes work as deterrent to visit this heavenly place. In next few years when Hanumil to Chilling would be connected along with Zanskar river Gorge, people can travel from Zanskar to Leh in just crossing 165km which is presently 500+ km via Kargil. Also road work is in progress between Reru and Zanskar Sumdo to connect Darcha in Leh-Manali highway to connect with Padum via Singo La. There is a plan of building a tunnel in Singo La as well and with Rohtang Tunnel if this can be done, Manali - Leh would be an all weather road bypassing it's present alignment across high passes of Barlacha la, Nakeela, Tanglang la. You should have 2 full days for Padum to do some justice to this place. Unfortunately we have only a day to spare. We started our day with Zangla Palace which in on the way to newly built unfinished road towards Leh in North. The valley view was awesome and we enjoyed an awesome Horse Shoe Bend on Zanskar River enroute, straight from geography text book. Car can't go till top and you have to walk if you want to go up on the palace to get a dramatic view of the valley. On the way we climbed a steep Strongde Diversion to see that Monastery as well. Absolute brilliant view from top. Bardan Monastery is on the southern side via the road towards Reru and it's completely different view with deep canyons and gorges all through. The monastery was built on a hillock and commands a majestic view. Better visit the place around noon when sun would be at top so you get better lights for photography, else this stretch is difficult for photography with deep canyons around. The Bardan experience was superb, the monk opened the door, explained us on history of monastery and the two different sect in Buddhism, Gelukpa (Monasteries like Karsha, Strongde, Rangdum fall in this category) and Drukpa (Bardan, Zongkhul, Topchilling, Gurugandhal, last two are in Keylong fall in this category). They offered tasty namkeen chay (Butter Tea) and also offered us the lunch. Their hospitality would surely touch you. We came back to Padum, take a little break and proceeded to Karsha to get the dramatic view from Karsha towards Padum Valley. Karsha is a must visit during sun set and experience the last rays of light kissing the valley floor, awesome experience indeed!! It was our last night at Padum and without the availability of cook (most of the support staffs in these hotels leave by Mid Sep and it becomes very difficult to manage acco and food specially if you are a large group during end season), the owner was kind enough to serve mutton, very tasty indeed in that height and cold.

Crossing Zanskar River near Padum:

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Towards Zangla valley:

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Strongde Monastery at right side top:

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From the Strongde Monastery looking towards Zangla Valley:

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Zangla Valley is very wide here:

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Zanskar flows majestically through Zangla Valley:

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Colorful Zangla Valley:

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Zangla Palace:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:34..
#10 Oct 22nd, 2011, 18:01
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#10
25th September - Continued Part -2:

Zangla Village:

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A Sweet Zanskari Baby, see the invalueable smile after getting the Cadbury:

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It's all about colors, really awesome during fall:

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Zanskar River taken a Horse Shoe Bend, Stratight from geography text book:

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What a place to stay:

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Towards Reru for Bardan Monastery:

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Dramatic Setting of Bardan Monastery:
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#11 Oct 22nd, 2011, 18:15
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#11
25th September - Continued Part -3:

Bardan Monastery:

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Karsha Monastery from other side of Valley:

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Towards Karsha:

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Zanskar Valley from Karsha Monastery:

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Karsha Monastery:

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#12 Oct 22nd, 2011, 18:32
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#12
26th September : Padum - Pensila Pass - Rangdum - Parkachik - Panikhar - Purtikchey - Sankhoo

I mentioned Padum Taxi Union is another bottleneck and they would force you to take their car for sight seeing and drop to Kargil. Here Kazim again taken a brilliant move, he managed a car requisition slip from Army where it's mentioned the car was requisitioned for army purpose form Drass and having army guests in it. Zanskar guys asked a few questions but Kazim outsmarted them with this and we had an excellent trip with him all through with no pressure of taking a Zanskar car anywhere. The return had to be in same route and honestly little scary if you think you have to travel same 274km of road again. We started early, quick look at Sani Gompa and then heading fast towards Drang Drung Glacier. We parked the car before the Pensila Ascent from Zanskar side and tried a small trek to glacier which was very much possible but even a 30 mins walk in that height with chilling wind is difficult to withstand. Also going to glacier was easy as you go down and know where you are heading, coming back to car was quite difficult as you can't figure height from below towards the road on top. I managed to hit the road atleast 2 km behind the car was parked and had to walk. We spent little more than an hour in whole but it was an amazing experience being so close to a glacier. Rangdum was a stop for quick lunch and we crossed the worst section of Rangdum and Parkachik in an hour and half. We dashed to Sankhoo as next day we were planning for Leh but Sankhoo GH of JKTDC seems to be in poorer condition than Purtikchey, though markets were closeby and getting foods were easier here. Purtikchey had geysers in the rooms, Sankhoo didn't have which was a necessary requirement in end September.

Retracing back the Zanskar Valley:

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Zanskari Girl with Yak at Skaygam Village:

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Colorful Canyons:

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Unnamed snow peaks:

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Pickup the colors:

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Drang Drung Glacier, Up Close after a short trek:

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A nice lake near Glacier:

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Drang Drung Glacier once more:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:35..
#13 Oct 22nd, 2011, 18:45
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#13
Wow! Kshil very nice writeup and beautiful photography. Kshil can we see more of your photos? Thanks.
#14 Oct 22nd, 2011, 18:51
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#14
26th September - Continued Part -2:

Zanskar - The Wild West:

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Once again Suru Valley at its magical best:

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Approaching Rangdum:

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Rangdum Monastery:

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Glimpses of colors of Suru Valley:

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#15 Oct 22nd, 2011, 19:12
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#15
27th September : Sankhoo - Kargil - Mulbek - Lamayuru - Khaltse - Leh

We started our day by visiting rock cut statue of 7 mtrs Maitreya Buddha of 7th Century at Kartse Khar village on the opposite side of Suru river from Sankhoo. Zainab, a local girl was very helpful in showing us the narrow walking path beside a stream towards the statue. Once we started from Sankhoo to Kargil, it was a welcome break from unpaved road and the surroundings were excellent with suru river flowing and the fall colors all around. We reached Kargil smoothly, refueled the Xylo and started moving towards Mulbek. In this stretch the road is narrow and one way and also blasting work was going on. We lost some time here before reaching Mulbek where we saw similar rock cut statue of Maitreya Buddha that we have seen earlier in day at Karshe Khar. The landscape, rock colors started changing and we clearly felt that we were approaching Ladakh once we crossed Mulbek towards Namikala and Fotula. Crossing Lamayuru through colorful rocks was a nice experience but I missed the Jilabi Road (Winding road of earlier years through top with much better views of surroundings). We had a very late lunch at Khaltse and when we approached Nimmu where river Zanskar and Indus meets, it was approaching dark. Reached at Leh around 7.00pm and straight away proceed to Kidar Guest House, Double bed and absolutely clean and spacious room and having a nice garden in Fort Road less than a km from market @ Rs. 700/- was a pure bliss.

Suru River at Sankhoo:

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Maitreya Buddha, Rock Cut Statue at Karshe Khar, just opposite side of Suru away from Sankhoo:

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The magical innocencee would surely touch you, she took us to the statue:

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The palace of Karshe Khar kings, the statue was built during their time:

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Sankhoo - Kargil Road:

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The amazing Fall Colors:

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Divine Calmness:

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Kargil Town, expanding:

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Rock Cut Buddha Statue at Mulbek:

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Last edited by kshil; Oct 23rd, 2011 at 02:37..
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