Trekking to Zanskar
The Ladakh–Zanskar trek is most often undertaken as an agency-arranged group expedition with packhorses and full camping gear, starting at Photoksar village and being met at the other end by a vehicle at Pidmo Bridge.
If you prefer to organise your trek independently, note that the jeep road now extends as far as Gongma village just after the Kyupa La. Horses or donkeys and local guides are usually available at short notice in Lingshet, a couple of hours' walk away.
The main route can be done without camping in mid-summer, but homestays and tea tents are very limited, so carrying a tent and especially a sleeping bag is advised in case there is no space.
Day 1 From just past the Kyupa La it's a half-day walk to the sprawling, charming village of Lingshet whose large, welcoming gompa is at the settlement's upper north edge. Lingshet has plenty of widely dotted homestay options but few are signed, so you'll need to ask around.
Campers can consider continuing three hours further to a campsite at Lanang. A single building here has two small, ultra-basic rooms where you can overnight, assuming the caretaker turns up.
Day 2 Hike 10 hours from Lingshet or seven from Lanang, including three hard, steep hours up the Hanuma La (4720m). Sleep at Shnertse, which has camping and a tea tent with basic accommodation. Or continue around two hours further, descending to the bridge where there's camping and a single hut (often used by groups as a kitchen). More reliable for a homestay bed is Jingchen, a lonely farmhouse 40 minutes' walk up the side valley.
Day 3 and 4 Hike seven hours including over the steep 4020m Parfila La to Hanamur (Hanumil) village (one homestay). Most people sleep here but less attractive Pidmo (with a basic homestay) is just two hours further. A prebooked car can collect you from the far end of the Pidmo suspension bridge. Otherwise walk on a further two hours to Zangla.
An alternative camping route heading west after Lingshet takes you in a day to Lingshet Sumdo in the valley leading to Dibling village. Heading southeast (away from Dibling) you pass through an area of yak herders and rejoin the main trek after Jingchen.
In winter snow cuts off Zanskar’s tenuous road links altogether. But in February it is possible to walk in from Chilling following an ancient seasonal trade trail that essentially follows the frozen Zanskar River – often on the ice, crossing side streams on precarious snow bridges and camping in caves en route. This hazardous ‘Chadar Trek’ was once seen as an 'ultimate adventure', but, while it remains hazardous, increased popularity with Indian domestic tourists means that of late the trek can feel oddly overcrowded. Over 3000 Indian trekkers currently walk the route within a 40-day period.
If you attempt the trek, allow around six days each way, and when selecting a support company don't seek out the cheapest (which often have too few guides and porters per client). Climate change has made the ice less stable than in previous decades, so it's essential to have an experienced local guide who can ‘read’ the ice. Camping en route is in caves or riverside ledges, so you need excellent four-season gear. Carrying easy-to-access spare socks and a towel is essential; if you do put a foot through the ice you'll have to react fast to prevent frostbite. Indian trekkers need a medical certificate from Leh before they are allowed to undertake the trek.