Discover Leh Ladakh has achieved another feat by becoming first to reach Zanskar valley of Ladakh using the newly built Manali Shinkula Zanskar road that has decreased the distance between Manali and Zanskar by over 630 KM.
The road between Darcha in Lahaul valley of Himachal and Padum in Zanskar is being built above 16,600ft high Shinkula (Shingo-la) pass for nearly 10 years now. Although the road is not safe for general traffic movement and is still under construction, team Discover Leh Ladakh successfully reached Padum, headquarters of Zanskar, in their SUV in just one day. Otherwise, Manali to Zanskar is a four-day-long drive and it is two days drive from Leh.
Zanskar is a Buddhist dominated valley in Kargil district of Ladakh. The beautiful valley which is home to a large number of huge glaciers, rivers, towering peaks and vast plateaus, is divided from Suru valley (Kargil) via Pensi-la pass. Kargil to Padum (Zanskar) is about 9 to 10 hours hectic but beautiful journey. Drang-Drung glacier and Nun Kun glaciers that almost touch the road are main attractions of this road trip. Zanskar is home to about 15,000 residents.
As their culture, trade relations and religion is similar to residents of Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal, they always wanted to get connected with Himachal. Despite old Kargil-Zanskar road, the residents used to come to Manali and Lahaul after covering large distance on foot via Shinkula pass. The residents of Zanskar valley celebrated coming close to Himachal by over 630km as they welcomed the first vehicle in the valley that arrived via new road after crossing the Shinkula pass on September 3, 2019.
Watching a vehicle coming into the valley from Shinkula pass, the three from Discover Leh Ladakh were given warm welcome by happy residents in many villages. The Border Roads Organization (BRO) officials, politicians and many organizations also congratulated the three for being the first to reach valley by Manali Shinkula Zanskar road which is expected to be fit for all kinds of vehicles by 2020.
“Initially we had planned to visit Shinkula and return back to Darcha and head to Kargil via Leh. We met with 70RCC commanding officer Deepak Bisht near the pass who encouraged us to give a try to this adventurous journey. We kept crossing nullahs, river and at some time no road. At one point near Lakhang, there was no road and the area was submerged in Zanskar river. BRO’s JE Keshav Kataria who asked us that he will help us cross our vehicle at any cost through the stretch helped us in making a road through river. We had no idea that we are the first people to reach Zanskar until we were told by BRO officials and locals,” Suresh Sharma, one of the three, said.
Zanskar, the southern part of Ladakh in Kargil district, was reachable by the only road via Kargil but now the valley is connected by two road. As the people of Zanskar have same culture and religion that of people of Lahaul valley of Himachal. Most of the children from the valley study in Kullu. Residents buy ration and other essential items from Lahaul or Kullu and ferry it with help of mules and horses.
The only connecting road to Zanskar headquarter Padum from Manali is over 910km and takes three to four days of travel time. The new Manali Shinkula Zanskar road is just 273km, about 630km less than the traditional route via Kargil and Pensi-la. Not just distance, but this road will reduce the travel time from three-four days to one day.
The Manali Shinkula Zanskar road is little challenging at some places with over a hundred hair-pin bends and the road is very steep at some places. The road offers panoramic view of Himalayan ranges, rivers and glaciers. Shinkula pass being higher than Rohtang and Baralacha pass, tourists can see snow here for most time of the year. This road is going to be adventure enthusiasts’ heaven in near future as its perfect for jeep safari tours to Ladakh.
“Our hard time has ended. I cannot explain how happy people are here. We can now go to Himachal to buy essentials and return back home the next day. As your vehicle from Manali has reached here, others will also dare to ply the road and BRO will keep maintaining it,” said Lobsang Tamba of Purne village who runs a homestay here. He added that earlier a few vehicles had attempted to drive on the route but could not cross the Lakhang section.
Some stretches of the road are in very bad condition and require serious maintenance. 70 Road Construction Company (RCC) of BRO maintains the road in south part of Shinkula pass while 126 RCC takes care of rest of the stretch. Nearly 3km stretch of the road at Lakhang was disputed for years and none of the company was maintaining it and is in worse condition. Finally, both the RCCs are building the road on war footing.
The Zanskar valley will soon get third road that will connect them directly with Leh. Soon the residents will be able to reach Leh in just few hours. The BRO is building Padum-Nimmu road on war-footing. This road will connect with Leh-Srinagar highway at Nimmu, 40km beyond Leh towards Kargil. When complete, Kargil and Leh will be reachable easily and faster by both Indian Army and the civilians. The tourists will also have multiple options to explore the vast Ladakh.
“We are extremely happy that our Ladakh has been made a union territory. Connecting us with Himachal with shortest possible distance is second happy news for us. We need not to go to Kargil or Srinagar for shopping. Opening of this road will bring prosperity to the valley. People here are also demanding to make Zanskar a separate district of Ladakh,” Tundup Angdus, a prominent personality of Padum, said while welcoming the vehicle in the headquarters of Zanskar valley.
Rigzin Dawa and Tashi Langzom, the king and queen of Zanskar, after hearing the news about the arrival of the vehicle after traversing Shinkula pass, gave a traditional welcome to the Discover Leh Ladakh team at Zangla palace. Rigzin said opening of this road will end the hardship of the people of dozens of villages of Zanskar. He said Zanskar is vast and is home to a large number of ancient monasteries that would be easily accessible to the tourists. “Our new generation will definitely have a good time. They will have a comparatively comfortable life. This road will generate livelihood options for our people. The road has connected many remote villages,” he added.
As Manali-Leh highway passes through four high mountain passes and remains blocked in winters for seven months, BRO was looking for another option to keep Ladakh connected round the year. After Rohtang tunnel, BRO was planning to construct another tunnel below Shinkula pass to make Manali-Padum road all-weather.
38 Border Road Task Force (BRTF) commander Colonel Uma Shankar told us that were have registered ourselves in record books by becoming first to reach Zanskar on the vehicle by this route. “The Darcha-Shinkula road is being widened. The black-topping of the road is also continuing. People can soon enjoy a smooth and scenic ride to Shinkula and further to Zanskar valley,” he said.
126 RCC second in-charge at Zanskar, Ashish Ranjan, congratulated the three and said Padum-Shinkula and Padum-Nimmu road works are continuing at multiple stages. “A large portion of the road has been double-laned and black-topped. We have informed the seniors that Shinkula is now connected with Padum by the road as you people have made it possible. Our JE on the field had sent the message that your vehicle had successfully crossed the Lakhang stretch.”
About Zanskar (Zangskar Valley)
Zanskar is a tehsil of Kargil district of Ladakh. Zanskar is a high altitude semi-desert lying on the Northern flank of the Great Himalayan Range. The Zanskar Range is a mountain range in the union territory of Ladakh that separates Zanskar from Ladakh. Geologically, the Zanskar Range is part of the Tethys Himalaya, an approximately 100-km-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series. The average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Its eastern part is known as Rupshu. This mountain range acts as a climatic barrier protecting Ladakh and Zanskar from most of the monsoon, resulting in a pleasantly warm and dry climate in the summer.
Rain and snowfall during this period are scarce, although recent decades have shown a trend towards increasing precipitation. Several water-driven mills were built during ancient periods of drought at a great distance from the villages, but have been abandoned because running water is now available nearer to the settlements. Zanskari houses, though otherwise well built, are not adapted to the recently increasing rainfall, as their roofs leak, catching their surprised inhabitants unprepared. Most of the precipitation occurs as snowfall during the harsh and extremely long winter period. These winter snowfalls are of vital importance since they feed the glaciers which melt in the summer and provide most of the irrigation water.
Parts of Zanskar valley are considered some of the coldest continually inhabited places in the world. The first traces of human activity in Zanskar seem to go back as far as the Bronze Age. Tourism is probably the major disruption that Zanskar has experienced during recent times. The opening of this region to foreigners has brought benefits such as the financing of schools and the restoration of monasteries and roads, but has also taken its toll on this fragile mountain environment and its population.
Zanskar covers an area of some 7,000 square kilometres (2,700 sq mi), at an elevation of 3,500-7,135 metres (11,500–23,409 feet). It consists of the country lying along the two main branches of the Zanskar River. The first, the Doda, has its source near the Penzi-la (4,400 m) (14,450 ft) mountain-pass, and then flows south-eastwards along the main valley leading towards Padum, the capital of Zanskar.
For locals and trekkers alike, the Shingo La is technically one of the easiest 5000m passes in Indian Himalaya, involving no glacier trekking nor steep climbs.The second branch is formed by two main tributaries known as Kargyag river, with its source near the Shingo La (5,091 m) (16,703 ft), and Tsarap river, with its source near the Baralacha-La. These two rivers unite below the village of Purney to form the Lungnak river (also known as the Lingti or Tsarap river). The Lungnak river then flows north-westwards along a narrow gorge towards Zanskar’s central valley (known locally as jung-khor), where it unites with the Doda river to form the Zanskar river.
Flora and fauna
Being high altitude and rain shadow area, Zanskar receives very less annual rain. That is the reason most of the Ladakh, including Zanskar, is dry with almost no vegetation. Most of the Zanskar’s vegetation is found in the irrigated villages, and on the upper slopes which receive more precipitation and where it consists of alpine and tundra species. Most impressive are the meadows covered with thousands of edelweiss. At the foot of the Gumburanjon Mountain blue poppies can be found. Crops including barley, lentils, and potatoes are grown by farmers at the lower elevations. Domesticated animals such as the yak, dzo, sheep, horse, and dog are found in the region. Marmot, bear, wolf, snow leopard, bharal, alpine ibex, wild sheep, goats and the lammergeyer is the wildlife found in Zanskar.
Distance chart (Manali Shinkula Zanskar road)
Manali to Darcha – 144km
Darcha to Shinkula – 40km
Shinkula to Purne – 39km
Purne to Padum – 50km
Manali to Padum via Shinkula – 273km
Manali to Padum via Kargil – 910km
What to see in Zanskar valley
Phugtak (or Phuktal) monastery
Zangla palace and monastery
Dzongkul or Zonkul monastery
Drang Drung glacier
—Stay tuned to get fresh updates—
Disclaimer: Please travel on Manali Shinkula Zanskar road only after confirming from the local authorities and BRO. This road remains blocked with snow from October to mid-June. The nullahs and rivers on mid-way get swollen in monsoon season and landslides are common. The road is under construction and will become a super highway very soon. Till then, take extra precautions.