Route: Kargil - Sanko - Parakachik - Rangdum - Panzi La - Padum (Zanskar Valley)
Distance: 245 kms
Bus: There is a regular bus service run by J&K SRTC from Leh and Kargil for Padum with stops at various point in Suru and Zanskar Valley.
Taxis: You can get a seat in local taxis, which are normally run in the same manner as a local bus or you can hire one yourself. You can hire taxis from Kargil or Leh for Rangdum (Suru Valley) or Padum (Zanskar Valley).
Hiring Motorcycles: Motorcycle enthusiasts who are unable to take their motorcycles to Leh can get one for rent. One can find numerous bike rental shops at the old post office road or you can ask your hotel to arrange one for you. For reference, please read "Renting Motorcycles in India".
Zanskar Valley is one of the least visited spots in ladakh and this is mainly due to the distance and fact that roads here are dirt tracks for the most part. Most people like to take this excursion at the end of their trip while returning from Ladakh via Srinagar; however there are few who like to cover Zanskar first, while a smaller number do it in the middle of their trip. For more on how to reach Kargil, please read Srinagar – Leh route guide.
Kargil – Panikhar (Suru Valley) (68 kms): It is better to have your breakfast in Kargil itself and also to get the supplies, both for your vehicles and yourself from Kargil. Since there are no petrol pumps in Suru or Zanskar Valley so please ensure you have enough petrol/diesel to travel for 550kms.
From Kargil to Panikhar the roads are metalled and barring few freshly laid stretches, it’s full of potholes but easy to negotiate. First major town you will come across after leaving Kargil would be Sankoo, 42kms from Kargil. It is recommended to have your breakfast here if you haven’t already had it in Kargil, since the next major stop is Rangdum, 88kms from here.
Roads from Sankoo start improving as you enter Panikhar and you are greeted with lush green valley and snow covered mountains peaks and glaciers dotting the horizon. Panikhar is one of the most scenic places in Suru Valley and a photography stop here is highly recommended.
Panikhar – Rangdum (Suru Valley) (62 kms): As one leaves the town of Panikhar, road conditions start to deteriorate once again and the once metalled road becomes a dirt trail. From here onward it’s a dirt trail all the way to the outskirts of Padum.
Roughly 40 kms before the town of Rangdum is Parakachik, from here the vistas change dramatically and the real beauty of Suru Valley starts becoming apparent, to relish this beauty it is recommended to come here in late September or October since the grass at that time has shades of orange and that combined with the arid mountain backdrop makes it even more dramatic.
Rangdum itself is a small town with barely a dozen houses and couple of restaurants and guesthouses. If you are planning to reach Padum leisurely then this should be your preferred night stop, else have your lunch here and get ready for the final push of 115kms to the capital of Zanskar Valley, Padum.
Rangdum – Pensi La (Zanskar Valley) (25kms): 5 kms from the Rangdum village is the 18th century Rangdum Gompa and a stop here for photos is highly recommended. From here one can continue on the “road” or take a shortcut and ride on the dried up river bed (if it is dried up when you are there).
The ascent to the pass starts couple of kms after the Rangdum Gompa and for the most part is an easy ascent on dirt and rock filled trail, to which you would have gotten used to by now.
Couple of kms from the summit of the pass you cross into the Zanskar Valley and Darung Drung Glacier begins to make it appearance felt with few glimpses and the unmistakable chill in the wind owing to vast reserves of snow it has. You will also come across couple of small lakes before the summit of the pass, which are surrounded by marmots and their holes.
Pensi La a.k.a. Penzi La is easy to miss since the small board on the right hand side is easy to miss, which also tells to a certain extent how touristy the Zanskar Valley really is. At an altitude of 14,000ft, Panzi La is the highest point on the Kargil - Padum highway and provides a fantastic view of Drang Drung Glacier.
Pensi La – Padum (Zanskar Valley) (90 kms): From Pensi La the road starts descending to the plateau below, along side the Stod River. Journey from here on is pretty easy and having being acclimatized to the dirt trails, chances are you will start enjoying the road from here on as there is more dirt and less loose rocks, which significantly raises your speed as you leave the dirt cloud behind. However be extra cautious while driving here, since cows, goats, horses, marmots, dogs etc. here have a tendency to come in front of your vehicle to check your reflexes and nerves.
Few kms before Padum tarmac begins to make an appearance and is a welcome relief for most after 180 kms of off road driving.
Padum is small town and the district headquarter of Zanskar Valley, due to this and due to it being a popular trekking destination, it has quite a few amenities including an internet café, phone booth and a plethora of hotels and restaurants.
Padum also has quite a few monasteries one can visit; of these major ones are Sani, Stongdey and Karsha. For more information regarding these, please visit this link
Sankoo: Sankoo has J&K tourism bungalow where one can find cheap and clean accommodation.
Panikhar: Panikhar also has a J&K tourism bungalow.
Parakachik: Parakachik also has a J&K tourism bungalow.
Rangdum: There are two places where one can sleep in Rangdum, one is a PWD guest house and the other one is J&K tourism one. Accommodation at both the guest houses is cheap and amenities here are limited to solar powered lights and outside toilets. Beside this you can also pitch your tent either in the compound of these guest houses or near the two Dhabas next to the police station.
Padum: Padum has several accommodation options to offer, from guest houses to camping ground, Padum has it all. Although the J&K guest house at Padum is highly recommended and is relatively cheap as well.
Suru Valley: Suru Valley has little apart from basic amenities such as eateries at Sankoo, Panikhar and Rangdum and puncture repair shop at Sankoo and Panikhar.
Padum: Padum is the district head quarter of Zanskar Valley one can find phone booth, internet café and a verity of restaurants. However one thing that surely would be missed by people is the lack of a petrol pump.