It’s been a while but Zanskar Valley stays with me. The love with the valley cannot be described because pure love can only be felt. Any amount of words will never do the justice. So when you read this article, read beyond what is written. Read between the lines!
Here is the Complete Guide on Road Trip from Delhi to Suru & Zanskar Valley. Do have a check on all the points before you leave.
Road Trip from Delhi to Suru & Zanskar Valley
- It will take 8 days of non stop travel from Delhi to Zanskar Valley, J&K and back to Delhi via the Srinagar-Kargil-Zanskar and same route back.
- There are hotels or home stays everywhere on the way.
- Food is not a problem anywhere. Still carry your own eatables for the journey between Kargil and Padum, just in case!
- This trip is for die hards. If you are the ‘touch me not’ types, stay in Delhi.
- Carry all your medicine supplies.
- Carry the basic air pump, puncture repair kit.
- Phone signals will go weak as soon as you enter Jammu. Kashmir will have major signal problems and no phone signal post Kargil.
- You will see a different side of India, a side you could never imagine. Kashmir has more jawaans on the road than civilians. You will feel so patriotic that your blood will boil, literally seeing the Pak ranges. You may want to attack them, single handedly. You will be ready to do anything to get back the POK.
- Visit the Drass War Memorial. Pay your tribute to the country. Stop at Drass for chai. There is an Army canteen on the highway. Enjoy garam garam samosas there.
- Keep a day for Dal Lake at Srinagar.
- Keep the Road map print out of the route from Kargil to Padum (you can take it from Google maps) handy with you. You would need it time and again to be sure of the way, to align your days and keep a track of your road activity.
- One thing is for sure, you will never come back the same. The hustle and bustle of Delhi/your city will cringe you for a week. It will eat you away, it will choke you and then you will get used to it.
- There are many hotels on the way. Take the print out with their names, address and phone numbers with you. There is no need to advance book. Road trips are not that certain. You will find accommodation everywhere unless you really have a very bad day.
- Keep a track of time of the day, kms to daily destinations so that you reach everywhere on time. I would recommend to follow the itinerary that we followed.
Distance from Delhi to Zanskar Valley:
1300 kms approx each side via Chandigarh, Ludhiana- Jalandhar- Pathankot, Uddampur, Patnitop, Srinagar, Sonamarg, ZojiLa, Drass, Kargil, Suru Valley and finally to Padum in Zanskar Valley. A total of 2800 kms approx including detours and via the same route back.
Distance between Kargil and Zanskar Valley :
250 kms approx over a 10-12 hour journey over non-metalled, dustry, rocky tracks. Best keep 2 days to enjoy the beauty of valley. Move at leisure pace to see the valley in its pristine beauty.
Best Time to Go to Zanskar Valley:
September- October- To see the brilliant shades of autumn.
April-May- To see the Snow ladden white beauty.
The valley becomes inaccessible on road by October end and opens in April-May.
How to travel to Zanskar Valley?
- Own car (preferably an SUV or a sturdy car)
- Flight till Srinagar and thereon by road.
- By train till Jammu. Thereon by road.
Taxi and Bus services are available from Srinagar and Kargil. You can hire your own personal taxi or get a seat in a local taxi plying between Kargil and Padum. A regular bus service is run by J&K SRTC from Kargil to Padum with stops in Suru and Zanskar Valley.
Hotels to stay on the way:
- Ample in Punjab on the Highway
- Ample in Jammu on the highway.
- Ample in Pahalgam
- Ample in Sonamarg
- Ample in Kargil
- Sankoo: J&K Tourism bungalow
- Panikhar: J&K Tourism bungalow
- Parakchik: J&K Tourism bungalow
- Rangdum: One by J&K Tourism + one PWD guest house + one Hostel accommodation. Camping option near Rangdum Monastery.
- Padum: Several accommodation options are available. J&K guest house is available too. Basic hotels are available too.
- You can pitch your tents anywhere on the way.
Amenities on the way :
- No problem till Kargil. Many dhabas, eateries, hotels are available on the way.
- From Kargil to Zanskar via Suru Valley: Eateries at Sankoo and Rangdum. Carry your food for this part of the journey. No phone signal, very less population. Supply trucks and taxis plying on the way in very limited numbers.
- Padum: Sigh of relief. Good food and all kinds of food options available from Indian to Tibetan to Chinese to pastas. Phone booth, internet cafe and a fuel station available.
Last one at Kargil. No petrol pump till Padum. One available at Padum. Carry diesel/petrol with you for the distance between Kargil and Padum and back to Kargil. Carry a 20 litre can. You would require it.
Major attractions on the way:
- Jawahar Tunnel to enter Kashmir.
- Dal Lake, Srinagar
- Zoji La between Sonamarg and Dras
- Dras War Memorial
- Tiger Hill, Kargil
- Nun Kun at Panikhar
- Parakchik Glacier
- Rangdum Monastery
- Lakes Stat Tso and Lang Tso at Pensi La
- Drang-Drung Glacier near Pensi La.
- Padum- The Final Destination
Some Facts about Zanskar Valley:
- Zanskar is a district in J&K. Administrative centre is Padum.
- It lies in the eastern half of J&K.
- The Zanskar Range separates Zanskar from Ladakh with average height of about 6000m (19,700 ft).
- Sanku, Panikhar, Parakchik till 25 kms of Rangdum Monastery fall into Suru Valley. The famous Pensi La leads into Zanskar Valley.
The Journey & the Itinerary for the road trip from Delhi to Zanskar Valley
We travelled at the end of September to beginning October which is the best time to see the autumn hues, changing colors of the flora and fauna. The grass starts emitting shades of green, orange and red, making it a picturesque setting.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Delhi to PatniTop
Day 2: PatniTop to Sonamarg
Day 3: Sonamarg to Rangdum
Day 4: Rangdum to Padum
Day 5: Padum to Kargil
Day 6: Kargil to Srinagar
Day 7: Srinagar to Pathankot
Day 8: Pathankot to Delhi.
There are 2 circuits to do. One is the above and second is via Leh. The Leh circuit takes a day additional.
From Kargil, there are 2 ways to reach Delhi back-
1. Via Kargil to Srinagar, Jammu and Punjab to Delhi.
2. Via kargil to Leh via Manali to Delhi.
You can follow our above itinerary to the T to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. That’s my guarantee! You can add your own adventure too.
Detailed Journey between Sonamarg and Zanskar Valley
Sonamarg to Kargil via Zoji La (120 kms)
The road deteriorates on the way to Zoji La. Some stretches are totally muddy. You manoeuvre your way through heights to reach the Zoji La Pass. Cobbled road is the first sign for the upcoming pass. There are a couple of chai dhabas at the pass. Definitely stop here to have a cup of tea or the famous Kashmiri Kahwa with Maggie or the available snack options. Zoji La done. This is also the gateway to Dras and Kargil. It’s a different feeling to be here.
Stop over at the Dras War Memorial. Pay your tribute to our army. Speak to the jawaans there and share your chocolates, biscuits or whatever good eating options you have with you. Have your chai with them and listen to their tales. It’ll not take more than half an hour.
Next, Stop over for food at Kargil. Have a fill here because its basic beyond this till Padum.
Very Important: Points to note at Kargil before you leave for Zanskar Valley:
- Get your car filled with fuel and carry a 20 litre can for the way. Since there are no fuel stations till Padum, be careful on this. There is one in Padum but its still better to carry your own fuel.
- Have a full meal here and get packed some for the way.
Distance between Kargil and Padum: 230 kms each side so around 560 kms to and fro.
Kargil to Panikhar, Suru Valley (65 kms)
As you move 40 kms from Kargil, you will reach Sankoo in Suru Valley. Eat here if you need to. There is nothing beyond this. 25 kms from Sankoo is Panikhar, the place to have a full view of the Nun Kun Himalayan peaks. You are greeted with snow covered mountain peaks at Panikhar, the first sign of arriving in the Suru Valley. This is a very beautiful scenic spot and a photographer’s delight. Click the famous Nun Kun here. Be a little careful here, you may miss these peaks in the road zigs.
The road conditions start deteriorating beyond Panikhar.
Panikhar to Rangdum ( 55 kms): The metalled road is long gone. Here onwards its a dirt trail till the outskirts of Padum.
Parakchik is 20 kms from Panikhar. Here onwards the terrain starts to change and one can see the true beauty and vastness of Suru Valley. The arid mountains and the changing landscape makes it larger than life. September- October is the time when the grass starts changing its colors to the hues of orange and red. You have to see it to believe it. You can also spot the Parakchik glacier here.
Rangdum is the place to take a night halt. There is nothing for the next 115 kms between Rangdum and Padum. It is not advisable to night drive at these places. Also, there is a lot to see and enjoy between Rangdum and Padum that can only be done in daylight.
We stayed at the J &K Guest House here. The caretaker made awesome patta-gobhi and dal for us. Bed condition and toilet- nightmare. Just close your eyes.
Rangdum to Padum via Pensi La (Suru Valley to Zanskar Valley) (115 kms): The final leg of the journey and the most mesmerising.
Pass through the Rangdum Monastery, about 5 kms from the Rangdum village. You will be stopped here and your details will be taken for travelling ahead. Take photos here.
Enjoy the non-tarmac drive in the vast valley from here. The trail is dirt and rock filled road but manageable. Also, one gets used to it by now. See the cute marmots on the way.
Pensi La is 25 kms from Rangdum. It is the crossover from Suru Valley to the Zanskar Valley. Stop over at Pensi La Top and soak in the feeling- “You have arrived!”. It is the highest point between Kargil and Padum.
A few kms from the pass is the Giant Drang Drung Glacier. This mountain glacier is so huge that it takes a minute or more to realise it. It is so big that words fall short. Its magnanimity hits you on your face. The vast expanse of snow, the crystal white color and the close proximity makes it a true wonder.
The twin Stat Tso and Lang Tso lakes are another marvel. Click many pictures here.
The final stretch to Padum starts from here. Padum in Zanskar Valley is 90 kms from Pensi La. The journey is smooth and you can pick speed (which means 30 kms/ hr) at some stretches. The tarmac makes appearance few kms before Padum, which also is a sign of the arriving destination. Padum is a small town in Zanskar Valley and is a popular trekking destination. It has a few basic amenities like phone booth, internet cafe and quite a many hotels with good food options. What a relief! You can visit few monasteries here- Sani, Stongdey and Karsha.
There are various treks that operate from Padum. Phugtal trek is very famous. Chadar trek is another famous trek.
We drove around Padum, talked to the locals and enjoyed momos and macroni with hot tea. Night photography gave us shining time lapses.
The Journey back
We started the next day at 7 in the morning to reach Kargil by 7 evening. Stay put there.
Next day: Kargil to Srinagar by late afternoon. Stay put there and enjoyed the Shikara Ride at Dal Lake.
Next Day: Srinagar to Pathankot by late night.
Final Day: Pathankot to Delhi by late afternoon.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss,
Sometimes it feels like a dream. And at other times I look back at Zanskar Valley in pictures time and again.
If you are planning a trip and have any doubts, you can write to me in the comments below. Subscribe to the blog for frequent updates. Like the Facebook & Instagram Page. We are Best Friends Now and Best Friends Stay in Touch!
P.S: Thanks Kartik Virmani for these striking pictures. You always make my work easier.