Ladakh: Zanskar River Expedition

Join me, Annie, Rana and other esteemed river rats, in the Grand Canyon of Asia

  • Zanskar River: August 28–September 9, 2017: 13 days

  • With the Nubra Valley extension: August 23–September 9, 2017: 18 days total

Welcome

Paddling between the sheer cliffs of the Zanskar River

Paddling between the sheer cliffs of the Zanskar River

We begin with a flight over the snow capped Himalaya to Leh where we have time enjoy this beautiful mountain setting, acclimatize to the altitude (3300m), and visit some remarkable monasteries and villages. From here we take an unforgettable three-day drive to our put-in on the Zanskar. Along the way, we visit more monasteries, traverse across high passes with views of vast meadows, hanging glaciers, and towering snowcapped peaks. We then begin our self-contained whitewater expedition with vast panoramas, spectacular canyons, secluded villages and intoxicating whitewater!

The world’s paddling community considers the Zanskar River to be one of finest multi-day river trips found anywhere–and our local team of guides and I will personally make sure you are hooked on paddling whitewater in the wilderness long before the trip is over!

To extend the fun and adventures in the Himalayas, come with me on the trip extension and enjoy easy cycling, hiking and paddling on the edge of the Karakoram mountain range in the Nubra and Shyok valleys.

The trip is open to all river rafting experience levels, and class IV whitewater kayak-bums. This is a great trip for families! If you have any questions please contact me.

A letter from 2016 Zanskar River participant, David Irwin
Zanskar River, Ladakh, India

Lunch in the lower canyon beside a waterfall emerging through a limestone cliff

Highlights

  • Enjoy a spectacular flight over the Indian Himalayas
  • Tour Leh Palace and other important Ladakhi monasteries, temples and villages found alongside the headwaters of the Indus River
  • On the way to the Zanskar River drive across spectacular passes over 3,600m and camp beside Nun and Khun two famous peaks above 7,000m
  • Visit with the friendly monks at Karsha Gompa, a Buddhist monastery perched on a cliff beside the Zanskar River
  • Spend six days paddling the pristine Zanskar River canyons deep in the heart of the Himalayas
  • Enjoy hikes up spectacular side streams and beside cliff faces
  • Experience people living traditional lives, many of whom trek the frozen Zanskar in the winter

Join the trip extension in the Nubra Valley!

  • Bicycle—downhill only(promise!)—from two of the world’s highest motorable passes, the Wari La (5312m) and the Kardung La (5602m)
  • Hike up and bike down through the impressive Hundar gorges
  • Ride a friendly local Bactrian camel
  • Camp beside and paddle the Shyok River

Zanskar River, India, Himalaya

Careful, whitewater is addictive!

Zanskar River, rafting

Big water fun!

Paddle forward!

Ladakh, Himalaya, India

On the tour extension, downhill only from the Khardung La, at 5603m

Recommended Reading

Ladakh

Snakes and Ladders (Highly recommended by me)

Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists

Main Itinerary

Zanskar River, Indian Himalaya

Superb scenery and whitewater

India, the land of many surprises and exciting opportunities, is an excellent place to keep you on your toes. We make every effort to keep our plans, but we will also remain flexible so we can adjust to unexpected problems and take full advantage of new and interesting situations.

Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days as noted in the itinerary.

Map of our Journey

Day 1, 8/28: Arrive Delhi

When you arrive in Delhi, you will be greeted by a company representative who will take you to your hotel. You will be on your own for the rest of the day, no meals are included.

Days 2 & 3, 8/29 & 30: Arrive Leh

You should have booked Air India flight AI 445 departing Delhi 05:55 and arriving Leh 07:15. If the flight cancels and you must overnight in Delhi, I will arrange transportation back to the hotel, but you will have to pay for the hotel and any meals.

*Please be aware; although I have had good luck in the past, Delhi to Leh and return are Himalayan mountain flights with weather that can occasionally be unpredictable. Flights may be delayed or even canceled while the plane is on route. Other airlines offer acceptable flights to Leh, but Air India is the only one who will try to get you to Leh asap, and usually without charging anything.

In the early morning, a local guide will take you to the airport. Be sure to book a window seat on the “A” side for better views, and have your camera handy! The Himalayan scenery is spectacular, and on a clear day, you can see as far as K2 in neighboring Pakistan.

These two days are very important for acclimating to the altitude at 3,524 meters (11,562 ft), so we will all need to dial it back and take it easy–especially on the first day. On arrival at our hotel, I will give a talk about the altitude, and more generally about how to stay happy and healthy in the Himalayas.

During these two days, you will have free time to wander around Leh on your own; consider visiting the Peace Stupa, Leh Palace, the Leh markets and more.

On the second day, we will travel in vehicles through the upper Indus River valley. We visit the imposing Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, and Hemis.

Days 4 – 6, 8/31 – 9/2: Travel to the Stod River put-in

We take our time getting to the put-in because there is a lot to see on the way, and there are three high passes to safely cross with our steadfast driver Mr. Ali behind the wheel. In my opinion, this is the most scenic drive to be found anywhere across the entire Himalaya!

On the first day, we follow the main highway between Leh and Srinagar to the town of Kargil. We stop at Lamayuru monastery, which dates from the 13th century and belongs to the Kagyu order. After a picnic lunch, we cross the Fatu La (4,108m) and the Namika La (3,718m) and spend the night in a new hotel in Kargil.

One the second day we head off the main road and spend the day driving beside the gorgeous north-flowing Suru River valley with the Nun Kun mountain range as our up-close backdrop. We camp near Rangdum monastery, in a meadow with spectacular sunset and sunrise views of the famous mountaineering peaks of Nun (7,135m) and Kun (7,077)m. We arrive early, so we have time to go for a hike and visit with the friendly monks at this remote two-hundred-year-old monastery.

On day three, when you think that the scenery couldn’t get any better it does! We cross the height of land at Penzi La (4,400m), where the combination of high altitude and amazing scenery will leave you feeling giddy and blissful! After descending on countless switchbacks we follow the tumultuous south-flowing Stod River, which is fed by numerous unnamed glaciers and precipitous streams. By mid-afternoon, we arrive at our campsite near Remala village. We have time to go on another short hike and prepare for tomorrow’s first day of river running on the Stod River.

Day 7, 9/3: Karsha Gompa

Our first day on the water! Our local lead guide Rana will give a river running safety talk, and we then spend roughly four hours floating down the Stod River to the confluence with the Tsarap River and the point where the Zanskar River officially begins.

There are easy class II rapids today, making for a good warm up for first-time paddlers. We stop for a hot lunch alongside the river and then camp a littler further downstream near Karsha village.

In the afternoon a walk up to Karsha Gompa is highly recommended. This monastery is perched on a cliff face. Roughly one-hundred monks here follow the Gelugpa Order, and it is the largest monastery in the Zanskar region. From the top of the monastery, there is a beautiful view of the upper Zanskar valley, with the town of Padum in the distance.

Day 8, 9/4: Pidmo

Today we paddle through class II and III rapids. We pass a few villages where farmers are bringing in the last of their barely from the year’s short growing season. In this area, the river is lined with 6,000m peaks, many of which have permanent snow.

We will reach our campsite by mid-afternoon and there is time to hike to the settlement of Pidmo, and this flat campsite is a great place for doing yoga!

Days 9 & 10, 9/5 & 6: Nyerak & layover

The rapids increase as the mountains close in and we enter Grand Canyon of the Zanskar. With a narrow river, campsites are limited and we camp beside a small sidestream below Nyerak village.

We layover here as it’s a great place to chill-out, play cards and take a bath in the clear sidestream. Grab a packed lunch and join me on a half-day hike up to beautiful upper Nyerak village. Or walk a short way downstream from our campsite to the river’s narrowest point where there’s a very old wooden cantilever bridge that is still in use.

Day 11, 9/7: Lamaguru

The river is now in a deep gorge and there are many fun rapids throughout the day. At one point this massive river goes through a narrows that is only eighteen feet wide. At higher levels, this section of river can be quite a swirly and may need scouting.

We stop for lunch at a beautiful spot beside a waterfall that emerges from the side of an enormous limestone cliff face. There’s more whitewater excitement this afternoon and the canyon walls through here are an amazing palette of colorful purples and greens.

Our final campsite is at the confluence with the Markha River. There’s usually some driftwood nearby and we can enjoy a bonfire, sing songs and tell a few river stories.

Day 12, 9/8: Confluence with Indus and to Leh

Today’s rapids are among the most exciting, and the sheer cliffs that line the river today are the highest yet. We depart early so we can enjoy the final four hours of paddling at a leisurely pace, perhaps scout a rapid or two, and still reach the confluence with the Indus River by lunch time.

AT the take-out we help our guides pack all our gear into vehicles and drive about an hour-and-a-half back to Leh.

Back in Leh enjoy hot showers and your last chance for shopping therapy. Tonight we have a special final dinner and party-hearty!

Day 13, 9/9: Fly to Delhi and home in the same day

We have an early breakfast, and before heading to the airport, say our sad goodbyes to our wonderful team of local guides. Return to Delhi on Air India flight AI 446 departing Leh at 07:55 and arriving Delhi 09:20 (am). Due to possible delays, flights out of Delhi should be scheduled for the late afternoon or evening.

Extension in the Nubra Valley

  • August 23—31, 2017: 8 days (4 of these days overlap with the main tour)

  • Don’t miss it! 6 nights in hotels, 1-night camping, 1-day rafting, 3 days cycling, a half day hiking, and a camel ride
  • Bicycle—downhill only(!)—from two of the world’s highest motorable passes, the Wari La (5312m) and the Kardung La (5602m)
  • Hike up and bike down through the impressive Hundar gorges
  • Ride a friendly local Bactrian camel
  • Camp beside and paddle the Shyok River
  • Please note: This extension overlaps with the first four days of the Zanskar River expedition
Map of our Journey

Cycling from the Wari La

Cycling below the Wari La

The Hundar valley

Hiking in the Hundar valley

Our 2016 group before downhill from the Khardung La, at 5603m

Our 2016 group at the Khardung La at 5603m, before heading downhill all the way to Leh

Itinerary

Day 1, 8/23: Arrive Delhi

When you arrive in Delhi, you will be greeted by a company representative who will take you to your hotel. You will be on your own for the rest of the day, no meals are included).

Days 2 & 3, 8/24 & 25: Leh and the Upper Indus Valley

You should have booked Air India flight AI 445 departing Delhi 05:55 and arriving Leh 07:25. If the flight cancels and you must overnight in Delhi, I will arrange transportation back to the hotel, but you will have to pay for the hotel and any meals.

*Please be aware; although I have had good luck in the past, Delhi to Leh and return are Himalayan mountain flights with weather that can occasionally be unpredictable. Flights may be delayed or even canceled while the plane is en route. Other airlines offer acceptable  flights to Leh, but Air India is the only one who will try to get you to Leh asap, and usually without charging anything.

In the early morning, a local guide will take you to the airport. Be sure to book a window seat on the “A” side for better views, and have your camera handy! The Himalayan scenery is spectacular, and on a clear day, you can see as far as K2 in neighboring Pakistan.

These two days are very important for acclimating to the altitude at 3,524 meters (11,562 ft), so we will all need to dial it back and take it easy–especially on the first day. On arrival at our hotel, I will give a talk about the altitude, and more generally about how to stay happy and healthy in the Himalayas.

During these two days, you will have free time to wander around Leh on your own; consider visiting the Peace Stupa, Leh Palace, the Leh markets and more.

On the second day, we will travel in vehicles through the upper Indus River valley. We visit the imposing Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, and Hemis.

Day 4, 8/26 Shyok Campsite

With a truckload of mtn bikes and river running gear we head east up the Indus valley and then head north on a very quiet road to the Wari La (5312m).

At the pass, we mount our steeds and head downhill on endless switchbacks through the amazing Himalayan scenery. On route, we pull over for a hot picnic lunch, prepared by our mobile staff. Don’t just keep your eyes on the road; the trip in 2016, we saw a few herds of blue sheep, countless marmots and pika and many large birds of prey. If you need a break from riding, there’s always a vehicle following nearby that can pick you up.

At the bottom of the pass, we reach our campsite beside the Shyok River.

Day 5, 8/27 Shyok River and Disket

After a whitewater safety briefing hit the water and paddle the braided Shyok River. There many easy class II rapids and just before lunch we bash through one exciting class IV rapid–all great fun!

After having lunch beside the river we head to Diskit monastery. It was founded in the 14th century and follows the Gelugpa lineage. Nearby is a new, enormous seated image of Maitreya the future Buddha.

In the late afternoon, we head to the Hundar sand dunes and go for a short camel ride. It’s pretty touristy, but still, very enjoyable. These docile Bactrian (two-humped) camels are well treated and don’t spit or kick or have horrible breath, the way Dromedaries do! We stay at a well appointed local hotel in the village of Disket.

Day 6, 8/28 Hundar Gorge

We spend the morning hiking up through an amazingly narrow riverine gorge–a small narrow tributary of the larger adjacent Hundar River. In places, this no-name stream is only about three meters wide but with cliffs rising a few hundred meters above us. After we reach a small plateau, we cross over to the glacier fed Hundar River and meet our vehicles which take us up to the top of the Hundar Gorge where there is a beautiful remote village surrounded by terraced barely field.

We have lunch at the top of the gorge with gorgeous views of the Karakorum mountain range. and then cycle down through the stunning Hundar River gorge and back to our hotel in Disket. The cycling is very easy, and as usual, if you tire you can always get a ride in the sag wagon.

Day 7, 8/29: Khardung La and Leh

We make an early departure and head back to Leh via the Khardung La (5603m), the world’s highest motorable pass. After taking a few celebratory photos you have the option to hop on to your bikes and ride downhill all the way, to Leh. Roughly three-quarters of this road is paved and in excellent condition, You will find there is a lot of traffic here–especially as compared to the peace and quiet of the Wari La–but this ride remains an amazing downhill cycling adventure!

We stop for lunch at a local Dhaba and arrive Leh in the late afternoon. The day is on your own.

Note that those people who are on the main tour will have arrived early this morning from Delhi. We will all meet up this afternoon for chai and a Zanskar trip briefing, and then dinner.

Day 8, 8/30: Leh

Take the day off and relax, you’ve earned it! And if you’re up for it there’s plenty to do around Leh. Plus I can arrange a day of rafting on the Indus, or if you like motorcycles, hire a classic Enfield bike and tour the valley. (Those who arrived yesterday will be touring the valley separately today.)

Go to the main itinerary: Days 4 – 6, 8/31 – 9/2: Travel to the Stod River put-in

Leaders

Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983, Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. He now leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips; as well as expeditions across the Himalayas, throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia, Ecuador and the Galapagos islands.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Druv Rana

Druv Rana

A pioneering river runner in India, Druv Rana has been working as a guide since 1995. Across the Indian Himalaya, he helped open up the Siang, Subansari, Lohit, and Tons Rivers for commercial river running. He has led river trips and treks throughout the greater Himalaya and well as international river trips in Europe and on the Zambezi River in Africa.

Rana has run the Zanskar River more than fifty times, and yet he never tires of introducing paddlers to the river’s spectacular scenery and exciting whitewater. He is a natural born leader, with a great sense of humor, and when things get a “little tricky,” you can be sure he will jump in and take charge with a calming and confident demeanor.

More about Druv Rana…coming soon (he’s on a river at the moment!)

Annie Miniscloux

Annie Miniscloux

Annie is one of Compass Rose’s most enthusiastic and engaged trip leaders, especially on photography tours. As a creative director at a Bangkok design agency, she has significant experience in critiquing the quality and usefulness of images, photographs, and design concepts. She has designed more than a dozen coffee table books. 

She takes a leading role in developing all the design elements for Compass Rose Expeditions, including web development, videos, photography selection, and clothing design. (See her portfolio.) She goes on many exploratory trips with Jock and helps design itineraries. Annie is also Jock Montgomery’s wife–so he pays extra attention to everything she says.

More about Annie Miniscloux…

And of course on this expedition, we will have a talented kitchen crew, and more accomplished raft guides and safety kayakers.

Gallery

Ladakh, Himalaya, India

Ladakh

Photography Project

Photographs of people and religious sites in Ladakh

The Zanskar River

Photography Project

Photographs from our 2016 expedition

Nubra Valley Adventures

Photography Project

Photographs from our 2016 trip extension

Dates

Zanskar River: August 28—September 9, 2017

Nubra Valley extension: August 23—31, 2017

Prices (in $USD)

Main Trip

  • $2765/person, 8-11 participants
  • $2545/person, 12 or more participants
  • Single room supplement, contact Jock
  • The roundtrip flights Delhi-Leh-Delhi you must book by yourself, (roughly $200)

Extension

  • To be announced, 6-11 participants
  • $1300/person, 12 or more participants
  • Single room supplement, contact Jock

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit: $1000 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation Fees

  • 61-90 days prior to departure 50% of trip cost
  • 60 days or less prior to departure 100% of trip cost

Required

What is Included

  • All ground transportation
  • All entrance fees
  • Hotel porter tips
  • All meals except the first day, (only dinner is included) and the last day en route to Delhi (only breakfast is included)
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodations as specified

What is not included

  • International and domestic airfare
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Immunizations
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etc.
  • Overweight luggage charges

Reservations

1) Send Deposit

An invoice will be sent by email with instructions for payment. A non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place on a trip. If paying the full amount, an itemized invoice will be sent. (Same price for cash or credit.)

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3) Purchase Travel Health Insurance

Traveler’s health insurance is required for all Compass Rose Expedition trips.

We strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance.

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