Photography tour to Zanskar, Ladakh-8 days of bliss

  • Ravi gives a day by day account of the wonderful 8 days he spent during Zanskar Photography Tour and shares wonderful pictures.

Day1 Arrive at Leh

After spending almost two years indoors, I was excited to go to Zanskar (in Union Territory of Ladakh) on a photo trip with Darter Photographers. There were five of us with a mentor.

The snow clad Himalays were spectacular as we approached Leh. I was visiting Leh after fifteen years. The day was spent at the Ecopoplar resort in Leh to get acclimatized to the high altitude. The resort has many apple and apricot trees which you can just pluck and eat. Leh is at about 11,000 feet so acclimatization is a must.


At our evening briefing we were in for a shock. The usual route to Zanskar could not be used as there was a dispute between the Taxi associations of Kargil and Leh. So instead to going through Kargil and Suru Valley to Zanskar valley, we would have to do it the other way around. We would stay in camps and there would be no mobile phone coverage in most places. This was the road less travelled.

Day2 Leh to Photoskar Gompa

We left early in the morning as we wanted to reach camp at Photoskar before sunset. We stopped at Nimoo to admire the Sangam of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. We were planning to follow the Zanskar to reach Padum, the capital of Zanskar district. This is the road version of the famous Chadar trek, but that goes alongside the river itself in winter.

Dirt road. Green patch are terraced slopes.

We drove over dirt roads stopping for photos on the way to a small river valley. There were isolated villages on terraced slopes forming a green contrast to the Ladakh desert landscape. We passed a few Gompas, cattle and children.

Road enroute. 

Our Camp was on a river bed. This was my first stay in an expeditionary tent. It was a challenge to enter and exit the ten by squatting. I was breathless each time due to the high altitude.

Drive enroute, note village homes. 

The night sky was sheet of a million stars. For the first time in my life I saw the Milky Way. It was a magical. We got our first training in Astro photography. After struggling with the sleeping bag I went to sleep to a star spangled dream.

Day3 Photskar to Zangla, Singe La Pass

Our tent with Milky Way.

We left after breakfast for Zangla. We crossed the Singe La Pass at 16590 ft.

Author at Singe La Pass. 

The journey showed us how extremely remote and harsh the conditions are. For city slickers to see a village once every four hours was at once beautiful and desolate. The dirt road formed lovely designs on the sandy slopes while the Zanskar River flowed at the bottom of the valley. The village houses and fields were in stark contrast to the desert landscape

Dirt road on sandy slopes. Amazing terrain. 

We reached the Camp in time for evening tea. This campsite was next to a small river very far from anywhere.   


After a quick dinner, we were again among the stars and the Milky Way. We were now learning how to shoot the stars on our own.

Day4 Aksho Village, Padum

We were up early morning for some sunrise photography. After a hearty breakfast, we were on our way. We first stopped at a park which had a very large Maitrei Buddha facing a small lake surrounded by mountains. There were many monks visiting for prayers as well as some families who had come to picnic.

Maitrei Buddha. Pranams. 

After lunch, we drove toward Aksho Village for our campsite. As we neared the village we found the road has become very broad although it is still a dirt road. A lonely truck passed raising an enormous cloud of dust. We camped in a small grazing plot in the village. There are yak, dzo and sheep grazing. A boy brought his pet donkey for grazing. 


Aksho village is one of the villages close to the Doda range. The snow clad mountains are just behind the village. At night we had cold wind from the glaciers.

Day5 Camp at Pensila, Tsang Tso, Drang Drung Glacier

We now drove to our highest camp near Drang Drung Glacier. We passed through Padum, the capital of Zanskar. We crossed the Pensi La pass at 14,436 ft crossing over from Zanskar valley to Suru valley.


On our way up we got our first sight of the Drang Drung Glacier. This is the second longest glacier in Ladakh at 23 kms and one of the longest outside the Arctic Circle. It was a majestic sight.

Drang Drung glacier.  

We proceeded to our campsite at near the glacial lakes – Stat Tso and Lang Tso. The place is desolate with little greenery. We have marmots for company. They have their burrows in the loose soil. They are very watchful and have shrill tweets to warn each other if we get close. 

Lovely pic of lake and reflection in water. 

After tea we drove back to the Glacier to get some sunset shots. We waited on the cliffs opposite the glacier. It was very cold and windy. The monsoon clouds hid the sunset but we got some lovely shots.

Day6 Camp at Pensila, TsangTso

We took a short trek around the lakes after breakfast. It was a lovely bright day. The vegetation is mostly very short shrubs and flowers. The marmots were calling out to each other. I got some lovely shots of the lake and the mountains.


After dinner, we went back to Drang Drung glacier for night shots. While there are clouds, we got some shots of the Milkyway over the glacier. When we got back, I got some nice shots of the Milkyway over the mountains and the lake.

Milkyway-backdrop Drang Drung glacier. 

At night we had a campfire with some singing.

Our camp site, backdrop glacier. 

Day7 Rangdum Monastry, Suru Valley, Paratikchik Village, Nun & Kun, Suru River

I got up to a beautiful morning by the lake. Today we drove along the Suru River to Paratichik Village. The view was rugged and desolate with occasional villages. The biggest was Rangdum which had a monastery.

Rangdum Monastery.

Suru Valley. 

We camped outside Paratikchik village near a mountain stream. We were now in Kargil district. The entire scenery drastically changed and resembled Kashmir – very green with tall trees. The campsite offered spectacular views of Nun (23400 feet) and Kun (23200), the two highest mountains of the Doda Range, near Panikher.

Nun and Kun Mountains. 

Day8 Suru-Kargil, Drass River Lamayuru,Leh

I got up early hoping for sunrise photos on Nun and Kun only to be disappointed due to the clouds. We bid goodbye to our support team and stared our journey back to Leh through Kargil. The roads are metalled and villages much more prosperous with larger houses and farms. The people look more like Kashmiris and there were mosques and posters of the Supreme Leaders of Iran.

Maitreya Buddha. 

We stopped at Mulbekh Monastery on the way. This has a huge Maitreya Buddha carved on rock during the Kushan period similar to the Bamiyan Buddhas. I really wonder how they managed to create such a large carving in those days.

We then proceeded through winding roads to Lamayuru. This has a unique landscape like Cappadocia, Turkey. The Monastery seemed to be standing on a large block of cheese.

Lamayaru Monastery.

Moonland formation near Lamayaru. 

We celebrated our trip with dinner at The Tibetan Kitchen in Leh. I am told that this is the best restaurant in Leh. The food was and ambience were outstanding.

Day 9 Fly back

Time to pack up and fly back with lots of wonderful memories and photos. The monsoon clouds hung over the mountains. I was tired and sad to leave but looking forward to being home again.


Author is a  senior finance professional, who is passionate about photography.


Also read/see

1. Aerial view Leh flight  

2. Drive from Leh to Kargil

3. Drive from Manali to Srinagar

4. Cycling Manali to Leh

5. Hall of Fame, Leh

6. Travelogue drive Leh to Zanskar Valley


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