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Darcha Lamayuru Trek
Season - July to September
The trek begins with a drive from Manali to Darcha over the Rohtang La (13,050 ft/3,300 m), passing through Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahoul. Camp in a large river basin and prepare for the trek.
Day 02 : Darcha to Takpachan - 5 to 6 hours
Walk up the Barai Nala through the last Lahouli villages of Rarik and Chika to a campsite on a small meadow by the river. A cold stream has to be forded. Overnight camping.
Day 03 : Takpachan to Ramjak - 6 to 7 hours
Make an early start to enable you to cross the Jhankar Nala while the water level is low. An hour's walk along the Barai Nala leads to the crossing point. The Jhankar Nala, flowing down from the Shingo La, can be tricky crossing, especially for the horses. A sharp turn to the right up a steep slope along the Jhankar Nala leads to the campsite on a shepherd's meadow beyond Ramjak.
Day 04 : Ramjak to Lakong Sumdo over Shingo La - 8 hours
This is a long day, following the Jhankar Nala which gradually ascends to the Shingo La (16,700 ft/5,091 m) to the left of an old glacier. A steep descent is made to a meadow above Lakong Sumdo, a summer pasture for sheep and yaks, where camp is set. A cold mountain stream must be forded. You are now in Zanskar. Overnight camping.
Day 05 : Lakong Sumdo to Kargiakh - 6 to 7 hours
Climb down a mass of fallen rocks then cross several streams. Pass beneath the face of Gumburanjon Peak and continue an easy descent towards the village of Kargiakh, on the right bank of the Kargiakh river. A beautiful day's walk, crossing high meadows strewn with wild flowers. Camp is set near the village.
Day 06 : Kargiakh to Purne - 8 to 9 hours
Continue on the right bank of the Kargiakh river, a major tributary of the Sarap Chu, along an easy path. Half an hour before the small village of Tandze, there is a bridge across to the left bank. The going is monotonous, across morainic terrain. A slight rise leads to Kuru, a village of livestock breeders. From here an excellent path leads steadily down to the beautiful village of Testha and continues downward to the river. Stay on the left bank, then climb gently up to Jal. A steep descent leads to a large bridge across which is the village of Purne, at the confluence of the Kargiakh Nala and Sarap Chu, where camp is set.
Day 07 : Purne to Phutkal and back to Purne - 4 hours
Go up the left bank of the Sarap Chu into a gorge. Cross a bridge and arrive at the confluence of the Tsarap Chu and a small tributary with clear blue water. Go up a rocky ledge and turn left. From here you get one of the most spectacular sights in Zanskar, the Phuktal monastery. Cross a series of chortens, climbing steadily to Phuktal. The gompa belongs to the Gelug-pa (yellow hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism and is built inside a massive cave, blackened over the ages by soot. The spring that gurgles deep in the cave is still out of bounds to women. Return to Purne for overnight in camp.
Day 08 : PURNE to ICHAR - 5 to 6 hours
From Purne go back downwards, cross the bridge and then go up the left bank. The trail that overhangs the Tsarap Chu is sometimes tricky and hard-going, with frequent small canyons. Pass above a hanging bridge which leads to the village of Cha. Two hours later arrive at Kaydang, a small village in a poplar grove. Pass below the village of Surle. The trail is still not good - several stretches are difficult for horses. Arrive at a large bridge which leads to Ichar, an interesting fortified village, where camp is set for the night.
Day 09 : Ichar to Mune - 5 hours
Cross over to the left bank, then climb gradually up to a bridge over a major tributary. A gradual descent leads towards Reru, a beautiful plain covered with wild flowers in July, and then on to Mune. Camp is set near a pond above Mune village. There is a small monastery at Mune, worth visiting.
Day 10 : Mune to Padum - 5 hours
From the monastery, go down a steep incline to the main trail. After two hours, arrive at Bardan, a Kagyu-pa (red- hat) gompa, famous for its 180-cm high prayer wheel. A dusty but motorable road, leads to Padum. Several beautiful villages lie on the opposite bank. Overnight camping.
Day 11 : At Padum
Rest day. Padum is the capital of Zanskar and is linked by a motorable road with Kargil - a two-day journey over the Pensi La. Overnight camping.
Day 12 : Padum to Karsha - 3 to 4 hours
Head towards Pibiting, then on a dusty plain towards the Doda river. Cross a new bridge over the river and then climb towards Karsha. There is a beautiful Gelug-pa monastery here that dates from the 15th century. Overnight camping.
Day 13 : Karsha to Pishu - 5 hours
This is an easy stretch on the often hot and dusty bank of the Zanskar river. Before Pishu make a small detour to see the longest hanging bridge over the Zanskar (55 m). It leads to Zangla, from where a trail goes to Padum via Tsazar and Thongde. Camp is set below the village of Pishu.
Day 14 : Pishu to Hanumil - 5 hours
Continue on the left bank. The going is easy - sometimes along the river, sometimes across the morainic plateau. Cross a bridge before Pidmo and continue to the tiny village of Hanumil, consisting of two houses, both owned by the same family. Camp is set in a beautiful willow grove.
Day 15 : Hanumil to Snertise over Parfi La - 6 hours
About an hour beyond Hanumil, cross a small stream on the left and start a steep climb away from the Zanskar river, which at this point forms a deep gorge, across a plateau, to the foot of the Parfi La (12,795 ft/3,900 m). A steep and arduous climb up the pass. The horses may have difficulty in crossing the pass.
A steep descent leads to the Oma Chu, a tributary of the Zanskar river, with crystal clear water and willow trees bordering both the banks - an excellent rest stop. Cross a bridge and go up a 500-meter sandy slope, from where wonderful views are available. Continue along the slope to the sheep folds of Snertse, where camp is set for the night.
Day 16 : Snertse to Lingshed over Hanuma La - 9 hours
A tiring day, which involves a long gradual ascent, through a gorge, past a sheepfold, towards Hanuma La (15,420 ft/4,700 m). The views from the top are breathtaking. In the distance you can see Lingshed monastery, a good 4 to 5-hour walk away. A thousand-meter steep descent is followed by a 300-meter climb along the mountainside. From this small pass, it is an easy descent towards Lingshed. Camp is set near the monastery.
Day 17 : At Lingshed
Rest day. Visit Lingshed gompa, belonging to the Gelug-pa (yellow-hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The gompa complex clings to the mountainside, rising tier upon tier from the valley floor. Lingshed village is one of the more prosperous in Ladakh, is well spread out, with houses surrounded by rich barley fields.
Day 18 : Lingshed to foot of Singi La - 6 hours
An easy hour's climb leads to Murgum La (13,450 ft/4,100 m). Continue climbing, pass an escarpment then go along the slope. There are wonderful views of the valley of Nierag on the opposite bank of the Zanskar. A gentle descent towards the village of Gongma (12,600 ft/3,840 m) and Siumpta is followed by a steep climb as far as the Kiupa La (12,630 ft/3,850 m). Then climb gradually along the mountainside up to the foot of the Singi La, where camp is set for the night.
Day 19 : Base Camp to Photoksar over Singi La - 7 hours
A rather steep climb to the Singi La (16,405 ft/5,000 m) taking about two hours, is followed by a short descent into a broad valley. The going is easy, then a gentle climb towards the Bumiktse La (13,780 ft/4,200 m) from where beautiful views are available. Descend towards Photoksar, a splendid village at the base of the huge mountain walls. There is an abandoned gompa some 20 minutes away above the village. Camp is set on the banks of the river, half an hour's walk beyond.
Day 20 : Photoksar to Hanupatta over Sirsir La - 7 hours
From the village, a gentle climb leads to a large chorten, followed by a long ascent of Sirsir La (15,750 ft/4,800 m). An easy descent is then made to the river. Cross onto the left bank and descend into a stony valley. Camp is set a short distance before the village of Hanupatta.
Day 21 : Hanupatta to Wanla - 6 hours
From Hanupatta, continue across the slope until you enter the gorge. At the junction of the rivers, chortens and prayer flags are seen. Go down up to a bridge across the Yapola and on to Phenjilla. A little beyond the village, cross again onto the left bank and continue on a flat stretch to Wanla. There is a beautiful gompa here worth visiting.
Day 22 : Trek Wanla to Lamayuru - 3 hours. Drive Lamayuru to Leh - 5 to 6 hours
Go up the Shillkong valley along the right bank, cross it and then arrive at Shilla. Pass the village and go on to a big chorten, then turn sharply to the right into a narrow and dry gorge as far as the Prinkti La (12,225 ft/3,726 m). An easy descent leads to an escarpment. Crossing the river, go towards the monastery of Lamayuru - amongst the oldest and largest gompas in Ladakh and an important centre of Buddhist learning . It also houses a large collection of antiquities and is particularly renowned for its fine collection of thangkhas (Buddhist scroll paintings). A short climb towards the monastery leads to the road, where transport is waiting for the 5-hour drive to Leh.