Zanskar, the last outpost of Ladakh

Our first view of Nun, one of the 7000m  giants of the Kashmiri Himalayas
Our first view of Nun, one of the 7000m giants of the Kashmiri Himalayas

Zanskar valley, one of the more isolated and remote areas of Ladakh that has retained much of the Ladakhi (Zanskari) tradition. We cycled amoungst the giants of the Indian Himalayas – Nun and Kun (over 7000m) and alongside the snouts of giant glaciers. Stunning vibrant crimson and yellow high altitude sedges lined the way, while munchkin marmots were at play. A lonely chorten marked that we were once again in a buddhist area. Vast stretches were unpopulated and those that were consisted of a handful of homes where farmers diligently harvested barley, wheat, fodder and collected dung for the winter that isolates them for 6mths of the year. A herd of 200 yaks nonchalently munched away at sparse vegetation while the dzos were milked for their super rich milk. Gumburanjon, a shark’s fin of a granite monolith marked the way to the Shingo-la pass.

Entering the Zanskar valley -  a 12 day trip of some of the hardest but most beautiful cycling.
Entering the Zanskar valley – a 12 day trip of some of the hardest but most beautiful cycling.
Everyone in Zanskar was wrapping up with their wheat and barley harvest
Everyone in Zanskar was wrapping up with their wheat and barley harvest
The lower part of the Zanskar valley is Muslim, people generally have their roots from the Balti people of Northern Pakistan
The lower part of the Zanskar valley is Muslim, people generally have their roots from the Balti people of Northern Pakistan
I loved the way they stacked the harvested wheat and barley, sometimes almost 2 stories high.
I loved the way they stacked the harvested wheat and barley, sometimes almost 2 stories high.
While it was harvest season, it was also Ramadan, which could be great for field workers and it certainly was great for us - food was very scarce until 7pm.
While it was harvest season, it was also Ramadan, which couldn't be great for field workers and it certainly was great for us - food was very scarce until 7pm. Nun and Kun peep over the horizon.
Dr Ali and team looked after us in Panikhar when we were scrounging around for food. Tea, lunch and dinner, they provided us with the lot.
Dr Ali and team looked after us in Panikhar when we were scrounging around for food. Tea, lunch and dinner, they provided us with the lot.
Village girls near Panikhar
Village girls near Panikhar
Aryan features, there are apparently villages close to the Pakistan border where everyone has blue and green eyes and fair skins.
Aryan features, there are apparently villages close to the Pakistan border where everyone has blue and green eyes and fair skins.
Approaching Nun and Kun
Approaching Nun and Kun
7000m giants Nun and Kun, they felt so close we could touch them, but they were still 3000m above us.
7000m giants Nun and Kun, they felt so close we could touch them, but they were still 3000m above us.
Me and the mountain
Me and the mountain
The mountains were shining in crimson with these amazing little high altitude plants. Looking down on Panikhar
The mountains were shining in crimson with these amazing little high altitude plants. Looking down on Panikhar
High alt = good pastures pastures for yakkity yaks.
High alt = good pastures for yakkity yaks.
Back into Buddhist country half way along the Zanskar valley
Back into Buddhist country half way along the Zanskar valley
Rangdom Monasty 'Gompa School', Zanskar.
Rangdom Monastry 'Gompa School', Zanskar.
Rangdom monastry monks painstakingly making sand mandalas, this one will take 4 -5 days to make and will then be washed into the water during 'puja' cleansing ceremony.
Rangdom monastry monks painstakingly making sand mandalas, this one will take 4 -5 days to make and will then be washed into the water during 'puja' cleansing ceremony.
Diary writing in tent
Diary writing in tent
The amazing Pensi-la Pass overlooks the snout of the impressive Durung glacier, Zanskar
The amazing Pensi-la Pass (4400m) overlooks the snout of the impressive Durung Drung glacier, Zanskar
Drang Drung Glacier, is the largest in Ladakh
Drang Drung Glacier, is the largest in Ladakh
We followed 250km of some of the worst road we encountered up the Zanskar valley to Padum, but it was well worth it: little traffic and spectacular landscapes.
We followed 250km of some of the worst road we encountered up the Zanskar valley to Padum, but it was well worth it: little traffic and spectacular landscapes.
Sonam Ringzens home in hamlet, Abran Jokma. He was so hopsitable and made us dinner and breakfast.
Sonam Ringzens home in hamlet, Abran Jokma. He was so hopsitable and made us dinner and breakfast.
I helped the Ringzens cutting fodder, we stopped for a picnic of cha (salt tea) , tagi (lovely fat Ladkhi breads) and bsicuits.
I helped the Ringzens cutting fodder, we stopped for a picnic of cha (salt tea) , tagi (lovely fat Ladkhi breads) and bsicuits.
OUr final 10km into Padum in Zanskar was blessed with tar, thanks to the Indian roadworkers!
OUr final 10km into Padum in Zanskar was blessed with tar, thanks to the Indian roadworkers!
Tenzin Plamo, a nun from Zangla Nunnery 30km from Padum, making delicious tagi
Tenzin Plamo, a nun from Zangla Nunnery 30km from Padum, making delicious tagi
Tenzin and Tenzin, bith nuns from Zangla cooked us the best meal we had seen in at least 10 days.
Tenzin and Tenzin, both nuns from Zangla cooked us the best meal we had seen in at least 10 days.
OUr lunch cooked by the nuns. We were particularly delighted by all the greens!
OUr lunch cooked by the nuns. We were particularly delighted by all the greens!
We followed the uncomprehensibly blue Zanskar river from Padum for 5 days that took us over the 5100m Shingo-la pass. I just still cant get over the blue!
We followed the uncomprehensibly blue Zanskar river from Padum for 5 days that took us over the 5100m Shingo-la pass. I just still cant get over the blue!
Roses bushes were in fruit, excentuating the vivid turquoise of the river.
Roses bushes were in fruit, excentuating the vivid turquoise of the river.
While scenary stunned, the raod deteriorated into a single track. This is in fact a trekkng route, however as our horseman lost our horses we were forced to porter and ride our bike when we could. Some exhilarating and terrifying drop-offs!
While scenary stunned, the road deteriorated into a single track. This is in fact a trekkng route, however as our horseman lost his horses we were forced to porter and ride our bike when we could. Some exhilarating and terrifying drop-offs! Carlos enjoying some of the high alt single track
Sheer drop-offs, resulted in me using my special one-footed cycling technique! (other foot used as 2nd brake)
Sheer drop-offs, resulted in me using my special one-footed cycling technique! (other foot used as 2nd brake)
In parts it became a 'goats track' one wrong step and that would be it!
In parts it became a 'goats track' one wrong step and that would be it!
Friendly villagers along the way
Friendly villagers along the way
Carlos takes on some precarious tracks
Carlos takes on some precarious tracks
Still following the mesmerizing river.
Still following the mesmerizing river.
We hiked up to Phuktal Monastry, an amazing site to see it crammed into a cliff.
We hiked up to Phuktal Monastry, an amazing site to see it crammed into a cliff.
Phuktal Monastry in its fairytale setting.
Phuktal Monastry in its fairytale setting.
It was as if the the lamas had disappeared in a 'puff' of smoke. The prayer hall fill of lamas' cloaks in Phuktal Gompa.
It was as if the the lamas had disappeared in a 'puff' of smoke. The prayer hall fill of lamas' cloaks in Phuktal Gompa.
Tsering Lama from Phuktal
Tsering Lama from Phuktal
Purni, one of the villages we camped at en route to the Shingo-la
Purni, one of the villages we camped at en route to the Shingo-la
High plateau in the Kargyak valley on the way to the Shingo-la. Nice open single track!
High plateau in the Kargyak valley on the way to the Shingo-la. Nice open single track!
Precarious slate stone bridges
Precarious slate stone bridges
Single track passing chortens, Kargyak valley, Zanskar
Single track passing chortens, Kargyak valley, Zanskar
Little Zanskari boy, Purni
Little Zanskari boy, Purni
In the Kargyak valley
In the Kargyak valley
Wheat and barley harvest and picnic
Wheat and barley harvest and picnic
Baby munchkin helping with the harvest,  just love the traditional yakwool outfit.
Baby munchkin helping with the harvest, just love the traditional yakwool outfit.
Exquisite villages and geology
Exquisite villages and geology
Horses loaded up with bags and soon to be bikes! Lobsang our Horseman
Horses loaded up with bags and soon to be bikes! Lobsang our Horseman
Bike on horse. This photo was taken after the pass just after the 2nd horse had bolted across the rock scree, loosing and buckling a front and back wheel. A bent drop-out too. Not too impressed there wasnt much we could do except bang the wheels into shape and wobble on once we got to the national road to manali.
Bike on horse. This photo was taken after the pass just after the 2nd horse had bolted across the rock scree, loosing and buckling a front and back wheel. A bent drop-out too. Not too impressed there wasnt much we could do except bang the wheels into shape and wobble on once we got to the national road to manali.
Little Kargyak boy
Little Kargyak boy
Kargyak village
Kargyak village
4 Yakmiads were in charge of a herd of 200 - milking for cheese, curd and butter.
4 Yakmaids were in charge of a herd of 200 - milking for cheese, curd and butter.
Gumburanjon , the sharks fin, dominated the skyline. An incredible 1500m granite rock face that would delight any rockclimber.
Gumburanjon , the sharks fin, dominated the skyline. An incredible 1500m granite rock face that would delight any rockclimber.
Riding with yaks
Riding with yaks
Last camp before the Shingo-la pass (5100m)
Last camp before the Shingo-la pass (5100m)
Up the Shingo-la (bike on horse, finally!)
Up the Shingo-la (bike on horse, finally!)
We met a fabulous dog on the top, who escourted us over the pass and down to Rumjack.
We met a fabulous dog on the top, who escourted us over the pass and down to Rumjack.
Shingo-la (5100m) -our last 5000m
Shingo-la (5100m) -our last 5000m
Sustenance en route. Days of maggi noodles and biskoots were enough urge us on to the land of cakes and capaccinos in Manali
Sustenance en route. Days of maggi noodles and biskoots were enough urge us on to the land of cakes and capaccinos in Manali
Heading for Manali with 2 buckled wheels and 1 bent drop-out later
Heading for Manali with 2 buckled wheels and 1 bent drop-out later

Bridget Ringdahl

Pedaling has been natural to me since the tender age of three. Cycling is practical, fun, it gets you to the corner café, across countries, continents, keeps you fit and is by far the most efficient and environmentally friendly transport option around, being virtually carbon neutral.

I live in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal which is great cycling country, within 10 minutes I can be bouncing along some of the finest single tracks in the province.

Latest posts by Bridget Ringdahl (see all)

26 thoughts on “Zanskar, the last outpost of Ladakh
  • ashutoshmahajan

    Hey hey.....What a blog I would say!!! Truly mesmerized by the pictures you have shot.It would have been a nice experience for you to get acquainted to people here in India,specially the Ladakh region. And since you were riding all the way,it must have been a great adventure indeed. I traveled ladakh on a motorcycle this year recently.It was a thrilling experience for me either. Ladakh is simply....The Heaven. Good…

    • blondeonbike

      Hey Ashu thanks for your email - you are so fortunate to live 'so close' to those amazing mountains ! Are you going back for another motorbike trip? I know that I will have to revisit this fascinating 'kingdom' again... as you say Ladakh is a heaven. I only hope that all the western consumer driven values dont erode the fragile and sustainable lifestyles of the ladakhis.. Do you have…

  • ashutoshmahajan

    Yeah, fortunate indeed as you said,I am :) I may go around Ladakh this year, not sure about it. You are right, all the western consumer driven values would erode the fragile and sustainable lifestyles of the ladakhis.... I was fortunate to meet the district commissioner of Leh, I made a personal appeal to him to preserve the culture in Leh, not to spoil as what happened in case of…

  • Ashwin Johari

    Hi Bridget, I am Ashwin from Mumbai. Read your blog and obviously got inspired. They are really really good pictures. I am planning to visit the Land of Dreams in July/Aug 2011. I had earlier planned to go there by motorcycle but i am glad i changed my mind and now i am going by a cycle. I just extended the number of days to live every moment i spend…

  • mohit

    ..wow.wow..wow...major achievement bridget..loved ur pics..i have done,,manali leh. route..been to pangong lake..nubra valley..khardung la..Spiti valley..chander tall. kunjum la..but am still hungry for more...( on a mobike though..)..Zanskar is my next target..( doing leh - kashmir this year)..i plan to reach padum on a mobike ..n thn want to go for a few treks..or cycle trips..pls advice ...ur blog n pics are great source of inspiration..HATS OFF TO U LADY..

  • Marcel Schlamowitz

    Fantastic blog! I am truly inspired by your epic adventure! What time of year was this and where did you start and finish the ride?

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      thanks Marcel! This was simply the Manali - leh highway. There are many superb routes in the area - see blog post of 2009. The best time for this region is late July through to Sept.

  • Lisa

    Bridget: How long did you have to wait to hire horses in Padum? I'm riding that way in early Sept and trying to figure how much time to allocate getting organized with horses and guide for the "hike and bike" to Darcha. I know the road is a bit more built now so I can cycle a bit longer than perhaps you did and take off a day from the…

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      Hi Lisa, our initial plan was to collect ponies that we had booked in Padum at the next village up - about 19k, we booked these on the day we arrived in Padum to leave the very next day. But when we got to the village our pony man had let us down and had already left. We kept going to Itchar, which was pretty much as far as we…

  • Andras

    Hi Bridget, I think You are true, it is the Heaven. I found your blog only now, but it was really stirring. I've been on Manali-Leh road by cycle in 2001. Now we go back to cycling from Darcha to Lamayuru via Padum in July. We plan mountain biking without ponies and guides. So we will take only the topmost needed gear in a 30L backpack and a small/max 2kg…

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      Hi Andras - glad you are inspired to do this route before the road is completed. You can make it without camping equipment and rely on the little villages along the way... at the base of Shingo-la there is a very basic and tiny dhabba that I am sure you can squeeze into for the night. But do take sleeping bags and thermo rests. Am curious to know how your…

  • ashokkumar

    Hey Bridget, Loved reading your blog, neatly narrated with lovely pictures. very informative and inspiring. I am doing a motorcycle ride next month from Kanyakumari to Leh (via manali) then to zanskar Valley and riding back to Newdelhi via Srinagar. Hopefully will plan a trek along the Zanskar River next year. Cheers, Ashoka.

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      Hey Ashoka We might see you en route to leh (from Manali) on bikes of course, we are taking another 10 cyclists this year. All the best with your trip, sounds fabulous and def make a plan to go to Zanskar at some stage. See you on the road!

  • Param

    Hi Bridget, A very inspiring and well documented trip-log. The pictures are just superb. Admire the fact that you did ride further ahead of Itchar on a track scary enough to walk on. I had trekked to Phuktal Monastery in 2010, when i had gone to Zanskar on the motorbike. Planning to ride a to Zanskar on the bike/cycle soon. Came across your blog, which has further motivated me. Thanks.…

  • davinder

    hi . it reminded me of good old time when i was working as a doctor in PHC Padam in 1989 . that time i trekked to manali via shingu la . your pictures mesmerized me as if it was yesterday once more .

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      thanks Dr, am glad it brought back good memories. A beautiful place for sure! Would loved to have been there in 89, must have been very few tourists around.

  • rajendra

    being indian,it is our badluck that we cant see this heavensom region,but after reading this i must decide that i would visit leh as soon as possible thanks again and blessings 4 ahead.

  • bridget--- I'm currently in Manali doing some paragliding and using it as homebase for 2-5week bike tours. I'm going to start with Manali-Leh, Leh-Srinigar, but wanted to get lost in the Zanskar area for a while, too. Would you mind responding to me via email so I could pick your brain for route information and ask some other practical questions? I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks, ---jim bennett http://transglobalist.com

  • Hi Bridget, amazing blog and fantastic pics... Truly inspiring. I am based in Delhi and a few friends together are planning a trip to Zanskar on motorcycles (the ubiquitous Bullets you may have encountered on your trips). I wanted to check with you if it is feasible to do Zanskar via the Shingo La pass on motorcycles. We are planning to travel in Aug 2014. Any thoughts, advice, tips will…

    • Bridget Ringdahl

      Namaste Deepayan! Thanks for your enthusiasm, i must say that North India is perhaps one of the most inspirational places I have ever been too.. Great that you are planning on a bike trip, a much better way to see the amazing landscape and have the freedom to stop when you want to. I think it would be really really tough getting over the Shingo-la with the enfields, you would…

  • Hi Bridget, thanks for your response. That is helpful advice. I am sure it is absolutely worth the detour. I will reach out to you for more info as we get the detailed planning going. I had one question - till what point can jeeps/ etc. be driven up to? Is that Padum or Itchar? The other option to consider is to drIve till that point and then trek/ cycle…

    • Deepayan, I just rode that way (bicycle) with friends in August. The jeep-able, rideable road ends exactly 48km south of Padum. From that point your options are trekking or hiring ponies. I did the latter, crossed Shingo La, and reassembled my bike at Zanskar Sumdo on the Himachal side of the pass, riding the rest of the way back to manali. Some people do push/carry their bicycles over part of…

  • Amazing experience!!! very helpfull for me ill try do the same in 2015! thanks to share!

  • Jonny Mutch

    Hello Bridget, Lovely photos! I'm planning to retrace your route by bicycle in either July or September 2015. What time of year did you go? Is September still workable? Did you use anyone in Leh or Zanskar to help with your plans? Loads of other questions.... Thanks! Jonny

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