"The Ends of the Earth" - often a term used to describe imaginative, fictitious places. Few realize that one such world lies in our own backyard.On our first trip to Zanskar valley, our driver earnestly told us that the first time the Zanskaris saw a army chopper, they went with food thinking that an injured bird has made its way into their land ! Undiscovered and beautiful...
Zanskar was – until recently one of the most inaccessible places in the world. It is a large area of abut 5000 sq.km. made up of two valleys, the Stod, which connects up with the Suru and Kargil regions, and the Tsarab, which follows the Zanskar River up north.
Zanskar remains inaccessible for nearly eight months every year due to heavy winter snowfall resulting in closure of all access passes. Because of its remoteness, Zanskar is often described as “the lost valley”. During our first trip to Zanskar valley, our driver in his very informative and earnest tone told us - the first time an army chopper had gone there for a rescue operation, the villagers had thought a huge bird had flown to their land and they welcomed it with food! Strange as it may sound, less than 10% of the tourists traveling to Ladakh actually go to Zanskar through the 240 km dusty Kargil-Padum road.
In June - July, the summer is at its peak in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route, free from vehicular traffic of any kind and with the countryside freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy. For those who dare to do it, this translates into an unique Zanskari experience.
Flora and fauna
As expected much of Zanskar's vegetation is found in the lesser altitudes of the valleys, and consists of alpine and tundra species. Most impressive are the meadows covered with thousands of edelweiss. Blue poppies can be found at the foot of the Gumburanjon mountain. Crops including barley, lentils, and potatoes are grown by farmers at the lower elevations, as well as apricot trees. Domesticated animals such as the yak, dzo, sheep, horse, and dog are found in the region.
Among the wildlife that can be found in Zanskar are the Himalayan marmot, bear,the Himalayan wolf- which is the oldest species of all wolves in the world, the elusive snow leopard, kiang, bharal, alpine Ibex, wild sheep and goats, and the famed lammergeier - the bearded vulture known to have a wingspan of 3 mts.
Zanskar is the tehsil or sub district of the Kargil district. The region gets its name from the Zanskar mountain range which separates Zanskar from Ladakh. The most popular meaning among scholars for Zanskar is "Copper Star". Zanskar covers an area of 7000 sq. km. at a height between 3500 mts to 7000 mts. The famous passes in the region are Pensi La (14,450 ft), Shingo La(16703 ft) and Baralacha La. Each of these passes are sources to tributaries of Zanskar river, namely Doda, Kragyag and Tsarap respectively.
The easiest approach leads from Kargil through the Suru valley and over the Pensi La. It is along this track that in 1979 the first and only road in Zanskar was built to connect Padum with the main road from Srinagar into Ladakh. Zanskar along with Ladakh were declared restricted areas and were open to foreigners in 1974.