Zanskar The Uncharted Adventure Playground of India

Increased accessibility makes the destination within reach through both summer and winter. Make the most of it, this mesmerising harsh landscape mixed with the hospitality of the locals.

As I stand mesmerised, staring at the glorious sunset on the rugged snow-capped peaks of Zanskar, the stillness of the moment is awakened by the clashing of cymbals in Karsha Gompa, the largest monastery of Zanskar. There is an aura of eternal peace about this place, having been blessed by His Holiness, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. The Zanskar river hums a rhythmic symphony, the mountains stand tall as the wind whispers tales of ancient explorers in this untouched Shangri La. Zanskar is a land of contrasts with the harsh, rugged, barren landscape juxtaposed with the warmth, hospitality and infectious smiles of the hardy Zanskaris. It is during ‘Zen’ moments like this that my senses are heightened and I feel truly alive, blessed at having chosen the path of an explorer and adventurer on a ‘ road less travelled’.

Until recently this land, a part of the Union Territory of Ladakh, was cut off from the rest of the world during winter months, with the only passage to the outside world through the gorge of the frozen Zanskar river, a seven-day journey even for hardy Zanskaris.  With a new road across Shingo La and improved access, Zanskar and Kargil are becoming a trekking, mountaineering, river rafting, motorcycling and adventure hub of the country. There are a plethora of world class adventure opportunities in the region from climbing 7000 meter plus Nun, Kun peaks, to the ‘ Chadar’ trek along the frozen Zanskar river in the winter months and rafting expeditions on the Zanskar with a backdrop of the spectacular Zanskar gorge, the ‘grand Canyon of Asia’.

As an adventurer, I have explored many corners of the world, but Zanskar holds a special place in my adventure repertoire. My first visit to Zanskar was in 1990, as leader of a rafting expedition for the Indian Special Forces. After the first easy day of rafting from Padum, the river picks up in intensity and enters a spectacular gorge, perhaps more picturesque than even the Grand Canyon. The Zanskar River, with its fast-flowing rapids, offers one of the best white-water rafting experiences in India. The river’s course through deep gorges and expansive valleys adds to the thrill of the expedition. A new road blasted through this magnificent gorge will be completed this year and will shorten the commute from Padum, the capital of Zanskar to Leh considerably.

Zanskar is a paradise for trekking.  For centuries the only means for the local Zanskaris to commute to Leh and the outside world during winter months was on the frozen Zanskar river, called the ‘ Chadar’. The Chadar Trek has promoted winter tourism to a frozen Ladakh, a winter trail over the frozen Zanskar River. It is a challenging trek, requiring careful navigation of the icy path, but the experience is unparalleled. The landscape transforms into a winter wonderland, with frozen waterfalls and icy caves. In summer, there are many treks that take you through remote villages, high mountain passes, and ancient monasteries, offering a glimpse into the region’s rich culture and history. The Zanskar range is home to numerous peaks, providing ample opportunities for mountaineering. Climbing these peaks is a test of endurance and skill, but the panoramic views from the top are worth every bit of the effort. Zanskar’s diverse landscapes are home to a variety of wildlife. Snow leopards, Himalayan brown bears, and numerous bird species inhabit the region. Guided wildlife tours offer a chance to spot these elusive creatures in their natural habitat.

Zanskar is more than just a destination; it is an experience, a journey into the heart of the Himalayas. It is a place that challenges you, changes you, and leaves you with memories that last a lifetime.  As I stand atop a peak, looking down at the valley below, I am reminded of why I became an adventure seeker, an explorer. For the thrill, for the adventure, but most importantly, for moments like these and a strong yearning to preserve our wilderness areas like the Zanskar forever. The Zanskar is a natural wonder of the world, a gift, a heritage we must handover to our next generation in a pristine condition. In the words of Antarctic Explorer Robert Swan, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”


Ajeet is the founder and Managing Director of Snow Leopard Adventures Pvt. Ltd., four times National Tourism Award winning organization. He is President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) and served two terms in the past! Ajeet Bajaj was conferred the Padma Shri in 2012 by the President of India.


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