Zanskar is one of the most isolated regions in the world, and for most of the year, this high altitude valley is covered in snow. The only way out in the winter is a ten day frozen trek on ice, though in the summer once the snow has melted, it is a fascinating place to visit. I loved the tiny patches of green which marked a village, and the beautiful monasteries throughout the valley. The climate and topography in this region make for some of the harshest living conditions in the world, and these Tibetan Buddhists who have been living here for thousands of years still live for the most part as they have for centuries.
Distance: 250km; Lamayuru (close to Leh) to Padum (Zanskar); Padum to Dartcha (close to Manali)
Time needed: 8-10 days for each half, 18-20 day for the full Lamayuru to Dartcha distance.
Highlights: Staying with a family, beautiful tiny villages, monasteries.
Traffic: We met two other trekkers during our time, but it is a very popular trek so expect to meet other westerns.
Best season: June-September. Completed June 2014.
Water/food availability: No shops along the way, so bring for the whole time or pay to stay with families along the way who will feed you a meal (though you still need to bring your own lunches and snacks).
Solo female: Definitely one of the safest regions in India for females as they are Tibetan Buddhists.
Overall difficulty: Reasonably difficult; prepare for some long days and lots and lots of passes.
You can free camp just about everywhere except in a village itself. Many of the villages have set up “camping spots” (meaning just a designated flat space of land) which they will charge you for. I would suggest either staying with the families in their homes (which you pay for) or just free camping away from anyone in the heart of the mountains.
Depends on how often you would like to stay with a family which would be ten to fifteen dollars a night for lodging and food.
Though the dozens of tour agencies in Leh will try and sell you a packaged tour, this is a trek easily done by yourself, especially since you have the option of staying with families along the way.
It is hard to carry your food for the whole time (Kevin and I tried), and it is fun to stay with people along the way, so I would count on spending ten or so dollars a night at least a few times throughout this trek to stay with a family (who will feed you) in their traditional home. Either way, I would still suggest a tent and some food as some of the villages are very far apart for a one day walk.
Though this is a very remote region, and the villages found off the trek are still very very isolated, there have been tourists trekking through the region since 1985 meaning that they are more than accustomed to seeing western faces.
We only did the ten day trek, though the whole thing is about twenty days (I would suggest the whole thing, Kevin was sick for it so we had to call it quits a bit earlier than anticipated).
We left our bikes in our guest house in Leh, and then bused to the beginning, and bused from the end of the route back.
You can find a map in Leh, or lots of information online as its been a popular trek for years.
Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, corrections, or updates in order to help others looking to complete this route too.