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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Zanskar Valley: One of the remotest places in India!!

The remotest places on our planet often offer the most adventure and it is no different that the Zanskar Valley situated in one corner of India in the Western Himalayas offers its fair share too. To reach Zanskar valley, one can take one of the many flights to Delhi and then from Delhi, you can either fly to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh region or drive to Leh through the highest series of mountain passes in the world (Manali –> Rohtang Pass –> Keylong –> Barlacha Pass –> Sarchu –> Tanglang Pass –> Upshi –> Leh).

Scenic Zanskar river - beginning to freeze - once completely frozen, the famous Chadar trek on the river begins 
In summer, one can take the road from Leh to Padum via Kargil to reach the Zanskar valley and in the winter months, one can do the short drive from Leh to Chilling and then onwards walk this rugged terrain.

Spectacular Zanskar valley 

The Zanskar valley is a mecca for adventure travel enthusiasts. In summer, adventure lovers come here to raft on the ferocious Zanskar river where the rapids are typically Class 4 and Class 5. Rafting trips can be as short as 6 hours to as long as 7 days. The river rafting expedition begins near Padum and ends just after the Sangam (the place where the Zanskar river joins the mighty Indus river). A closer look at the terrain and you will figure out that the gradient from Padum to Sangam is steep throughout ensuring a high adrenalin experience all the way.

This stretch of the Zanskar river has completely frozen 
And come winter, the hard core trekkers come here to do the famous Chadar trek, where the entire river is completely frozen and people live on and around this river for the next fortnight or so. In fact, the Chadar is the age-old trade route taken by the people native to the Zanskar valley to get food supplies from Leh and Kargil during the bitterly cold winter months. In today’s world, trekkers from all over the world join the locals in walking the frozen river in a world that is enveloped by ice. The insane pictures from this trek coupled with its sensational stories have made this trek go right up on my adventure travel bucket-list.

Road from Nimmu to Chilling, runs parallel to the Zanskar river 
I was there in the heart of this valley last winter, but I was a good 15 days early as the river had just started to freeze. Another 15 days and the entire river would have frozen making way for the Chadar trek. But, Chadar or no Chadar, the terrain, the river, the people, all make for a great experience in one of nature’s best kept secrets. And I guess we will have to thank the mighty Himalayas for making it such a tough place to get into.

The amazingly picturesque Zanskar Valley - one of the remotest places on earth 
Apart from the Zanskar river rafting expedition and the Chadar trek, one can indulge in other adventure activities too. There are other equally tough treks that can be taken to explore this remote region. The Markha valley trek running parallel to the Zanskar river is one of the toughest and the prettiest. A lot of treks are also undertaken from the Himachal Pradesh side of Keylong. And if you are interested in seeing the snow leopard, go on a winter trek into the Zanskar regions and increase your chances for spotting the rarest of the big cats. In summer, Himalayan bears, kiangs (Tibetan Wild Ass), Marmots and other mammals can be seen here.

Enjoying the beauty of the partially frozen Zanskar river

The Zanskar valley is also the place where the Himalayan car rallies are held every year. Though, this is ideal terrain for rally racing, the locals tend to think otherwise. They mention that the rowdy car drivers damage their already sensitive connecting roads leading to gradual weakening of the roads and a decrease in passenger safety during local commute.

Bridge over the frozen Zanskar river 
While traversing this region, remember the age-old maxim,which says ‘where there is adventure, danger is not too far away’. And the chances of recovering from danger is also quite low given the remoteness of this region. Hence, ensure that you are reasonably fit before signing up for any of these adventure expeditions, take all necessary precautions and pack all the right gear especially in the winter. Enjoy the adrenalin rush, but don’t do anything stupid. If you do come back in one piece, you will remember the rush for your entire lifetime. Such is the magic of Zanskar Valley, one of the remotest regions in India!!



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