Day 01: Drive to Chilling (3350m); Trek to Darbau (3400m) via Tilat Sumdo
Morning drive to the village of Chilling, lying on the banks of the Zanskar River. The village itself is famed for its handicrafts and it is reputed that the artisans of Chilling are the only ones to work with traditional metals, such as copper, tin and silver. These craftsmen today are the descendants of the artists who arrived in Ladakh from Nepal some 600 years ago to create the 7.5m golden statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha of Shey, once the old capital of Ladakh. We have time to explore something of the village and witness for ourselves the skill of these artisans, before meeting up with our porters for the trek. we settle down beneath a mantle of stars as we prepare ourselves for the days ahead, the river's frozen flow pointing the way for our coming journey. Begin our trek in earnest, with a 5-6 hours walk following the course of the river south. Over the next few days we will traverse a landscape of frozen waterfalls where the harsh winters have preserved the traditions and cultures of the local people in a frozen Shangri-La. We stop for lunch at Tilat Sumdo at the confluence of the Tsarap Chhu, before we continue towards our second camp at Darbau, located next to a cave. The Zanskar Valley is the most isolated of the Trans-Himalaya valleys and that true sense of remoteness will become all the more evident as we approach our camp. As evening falls we sit down to a well-earned and much needed dinner in our comfortable dining tent. Trekking distance 5/6hours.
Day 02 : Trek to Tip Yokma (3400m) via Na Chhumchhar waterfall
Camp life will begin to take on its own routine, with a hot drink to cut through the morning chill and a nourishing breakfast to set you up for the day. Continuing through this breathtaking landscape we follow the meandering course of the river as it turns west, towards the waterfall of Na Chhumchhar. This harsh environment might seem a desolate wilderness, but life is very much in evidence as we trek through the valley. Wildlife has adapted to the conditions of this frozen desert and the valley is reputedly home to bears,wolves, yak and various species of goats and sheep, including Ibex, Nyan and Urial. After lunch we continue on to tonight's most unique of camps, a large natural cave at Tip Yokma, where we can shelter together from the biting icy winds and enjoy the prospect of camping outdoors, indoors! Trekking distance 6/7 hours
Day 03 : Trek to Lingshed Do (3700m)
From Tip Yokma we continue west, passing an ice-fall and forests of juniper trees enroute to the small settlement of Yulchung, on the border of the Leh and Kargil districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Continuing through plunging canyons, normally inaccessible, but for the frozen river, we take lunch in the lea of a juniper forest. Sometimes you can hear locals calling down into the valley, a local custom, designed to scare away the spirits that haunt the ice. Above us the craggy cliffs rise to precipitous heights, their slopes sometimes inhabited by fearless ibex and, as we near our camp, we see a bridge high above. This links Zanskar with Ladakh during the summer months, when the river is impassable. Our camp is close now, located below the village of Nyrak near to the summer grazing lands of its people. Trekking distance 5/6 hours.
Day 04 : Trek to Lingshed Village (3800m)
Departing from the Chadar route today we enter into the Lingshed Nallah. The trek to Lingshed takes us through the passes of the Netuke La and Khyupa La and, as we traverse the undulating landscape, we are afforded some spectacular views of the valley below. Following a small stream we climb higher, across ground criss-crossed by trails used by ibex and blue sheep, their natural instinct taking them towards the gompas of the highlands where life is sacred and hunting banned. As we ascend the altitude will begin to take affect, so it is important that you take it easy today, a task made all the more unhurried by the breathtaking views as we continue to climb. Stopping for lunch we then take a walk up to a locally renowned gompa, majestically located in the shadow of a high cliff, its walls pitted with meditation caves. The monastery and its adjoining school presents us with an exhilarating visit and as we head for our nighstop, in local houses, we will doubtless have much to discuss over dinner this evening. Trekking distance 4/5 hours.
Day 05 : Lingshed Village
Today has been left free to relax from yesterday's trek and explore some more of these most scenic of surroundings. In the distance you may catch a glimpse of Morgon La (4100m) and the massive ice wall of Hanuma La, part of Zanskar's summer trekking route. Lingshed is somewhat unique,not only for its splendid isolation, but also for its remarkable 'Solar School', where the local children are afforded the luxury of year round education by the merits of their solar powered classroom. A stroll through the village will also reveal the villagers green houses, what appear to be abandoned homes, that are actually covered in plastic sheeting in the summer and used to grow vegetables. Lingshed will prove to be a most enlightening and spectacular setting in which to recharge our batteries for the journey back.
Days 06 to 09 : Trek back to Chilling; drive to Leh
The next 4 days will see us retracing our steps as we journey back towards Chilling. Averaging 5-6 hours walking a day we enjoy the spectacular scenery, frozen waterfalls and isolated wilderness of this awe inspiring landscape. Superlatives seem to pale into insignificance before the natural wonders we encounter. But all good things must come to an end and eventually the river brings us full circle back to Chilling. From here we return to Leh by vehicle.