Set on the Northern edges of the stunning Himalayan mountain ranges, Zanskar Valley is a traveller’s delight. It is approximately 460 km away from Leh city. The elevation ranges between 3500-7000 meters. The journey from Leh to Zanskar is usually an overnight one as you will have to get to Kargil first from Leh. It is not advisable to travel during the night and tourists spend the night in Kargil and then continue to Zanskar Valley the next day.
Here are all the ways in how you can reach the Zanskar Valley:
The frequency of public transport is not too great and is severely limited as Zanskar is a remote area. However, it is also the cheapest mode of commute to Zanskar Valley. The bus service from Leh to Padum operates on a weekly basis. The bus departs from the Leh bus stand and directly halts at Kargil. It stays overnight there and then continues to Padum the next day. It is advisable to get your tickets beforehand as the availability of seats in this bus is uncertain. There are a few buses that commence their journey from Kargil. So you can get to Kargil from Leh on one bus and then change to another bus from there. However, the buses from Kargil go only until Sankoo, Parkachik and Panikhar. The bus starts from Leh at 2 p.m. and arrives at Kargil at 8 p.m. The fare up to Kargil from Leh is approximately INR 600 per person.
By Private Vehicle
There is only one route available to reach Zanskar Valley from Leh via Kargil.
Route: Leh – Lamayuru – Mulbekh – Kargil – Sankoo – Panikhar – Rangdum – Padum
Start from Leh early in the morning and try to reach Kargil as soon as you can. The route from Leh to Kargil is arguably one of the most scenic ones in Ladakh. It is advisable to break the journey in two halves. The journey from Leh to Padum will take you two days to complete, depending upon your speed, and you will have to opt for a night halt at Kargil. To get to Kargil, you can choose to go via Mulbekh and Lamayuru, which is the ideal route or the second route is via Batalik sector. Cross the Fotu la and Namik La passes and continue all the way till you reach Drass. When you leave from Kargil the next day, head to the beautiful Suru Valley. Continue travelling right next to the Suru river and reach Sankoo. A few kilometres after Sankoo, cross the Suru River over to its right and head to Panikhar. Roads are mostly good until Panikhar after which they turn bad and then worse until Padum. It is an unmetalled dirt road all the way long. Continue travelling right next to Suru river until you get to Rangdum. You can spend some time here and visit the famous Rangdum monastery. Then move south towards Pensi La which is a very easy pass to cross and enter the final stretch of the journey to Padum. Then descend into Zanskar valley.
An SUV with good ground clearance is your best choice of vehicle. That is because the availability of mechanics on the route is limited to Leh and Kargil. Even the smallest breakdown can be catastrophic as you will be driving through highly remote areas. Get your tank fueled in Kargil and it should be sufficient to get to you to Padum. You will easily be able to buy both diesel and petrol in Padum if need be.
Bringing your own motorcycle will definitely be the fastest and the most convenient way to commute to Zanskar Valley. It will give you the flexibility of planning your itinerary. However, since the journey is a long one and you will be carrying some amount of luggage with you, make sure that you are doing so on a motorcycle with a larger engine. Royal Enfield 350 CC or 500 CC ones are the best choices. The additional power will come in handy. There is no need of carrying extra fuel if your tank is filled to the brim in Kargil.