The majestic Zanskar Valley covers a large area of 5000 sq km made up of two valleys, the Stod/Doda and the Tsarap/Lugnak, which meet to form the Zanskar River at Padum, which in turn meets the Indus at Nimmu, west of Leh. Snowed for the most part of the year, the Zanskar valley can be reached by a treacherous connecting Padum with Kargil, or through the more adrenaline-inducing walk across the frozen Zanskar River.
The Zanskar River is a north-flowing tributary of the Indus and although the Indus is 500km away from its source near the Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet, Zanskar is its first main tributary. In its upper reaches, the Zanskar has two main branches─the Doda, which has its source near the Pensi-la and flows south-eastwards along the main Zanskar valley leading towards Padum and the second branch, which is formed by two main tributaries known as Kargyag river and Tsarap river. These two rivers unite below the village of Purne to form the Lungnak river which then flows north-westwards along a narrow gorge towards Zanskar's central valley, where it unites with the Doda river to form the main Zanskar river. This river then takes a north-eastern course through the dramatic Zanskar Gorge until it joins the Indus near Nimmu in Ladakh.
With its greyish-blue water, the Zanskar river offers some of the best opportunities for rafting in India, especially through one of the most remote and isolated regions. One will head west from Leh across a beautiful, eerie moonscape, over the Fotu-La pass, out of the Indus valley and past Kargil; through the Suru valley and over the Pezi-La pass (the only access to the Zanskar valley). The rafting experience covers a whole gamut of this river’s moods from the gentle rapids of the Stod River to the high-level rapids after the point where it meets Tsarap, just beyond Padum, to form the Zanskar. The journey through icy waters will take you past the Karsha monastery, after which the waters become more violent as one enters the Zanskar gorge in an amazing display of force, cutting between enormous cliffs. Finally, once the rapid waves subside, one bobs into the Indus, just short of Nimmu.
Another noteworthy occurrence is the complete freezing up of the Zanskar river in the period from between mid-January and mid-February. With the temperature dropping down to-30 degree Celsius, the Zanskar river becomes a solid sheet of ice, frozen up to a depth of 6-10 feet. This is when the Chadar trek is undertaken by both locals and adventure-seekers, being the only way to access the equally allusive Ladakh region.
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