Exploring a Land Far Away – Zanskar Valley

Tips & Techniques

On my fourth trip within the Himalayan Region of India, I came to know about a beautiful place tucked deep inside the mountain range: Zanskar Valley. I decided to embark on an eight-day journey there for landscape photography. This time, there was no detailed itinerary preparation or planning involved (which I love to do alone), as I opted for photography trip with thescape rather than a solo one.

Zanskar is an antidote for photographers who are tired of popular tourist destinations. It lies at an altitude of 4000 meters / 13,000 feet, cloistered within dramatic mountains, with deep gorges and glaciers of the Great Himalayan range. The place remains under snow for more than half of the year. During winter, the only way to get between Zanskar and the outside world is by walking over the frozen Zanskar river, known as the Chadar Hike, in -40 degree weather.

Zanskar has plenty of copper deposits and therefore is called the “Valley of Copper” (and Zang means copper in the Tibetan language). It has a mix of Tibetan and Buddhist culture. Though the place is getting some popularity among serious travelers, it still is largely untouched, due to rough terrain, difficult road conditions, long drives, and desolation. The drive there through deep ravines is scary sometimes. But once you manage to galumph past the treacherous roads, you will be gifted with beautiful scenery beyond imagination. You need to see and experience Zanskar to believe that its ethereal allure is real.

The valley is only accessible by road during summer. The path to reach it goes from Kargil toward Padum via the towns of Sankoo and Rangdum via Penzi La Pass. This takes about 3-4 days of driving, covering close to 400 kilometers / 250 miles of rough and sometimes nonexistent roads.

There is always a bit of risk, a bit of adventure, and a lot of luck involved in any Himalayan expedition. But this one turned out to be a more than what I anticipated. We were welcomed by unexpected rains, landslides, and broken bridges, and we were unable to visit few places as planned.

The famous saying of the locals held true: Sahib, Mumabi ki fashion, Pahaad ki mausam, aur biwi ka mood pe koi barosa nahin. (“You can never rely on Mumbai’s sense of fashion, the weather on the mountain, or the mood of your spouse.”)

On this eight-day trip, I only saw two colorful sunsets and no good sunrises. It shows the importance of mentally preparing yourself to seek alternate ways to capture a scene. Luckily, that fits my recently favorite theme of dark and moody photography. Rain and overcast conditions also present plenty of opportunities to create drama in your photographs, and we had no shortage of rain!

To me, landscape photography is my personal interpretation of nature. Expeditions like this will make you believe in nature’s miracles, and you’ll be intrigued to find that everything has a backstory of its own. I always find there are new places to explore, especially in India. Life is short, folks, so enjoy it as long as time permits. And now, let me show you the photos from this expedition.

Day 1 – Suru Valley Base Camp – 3000 meters

For my camera gear, I used the Nikon Z7 II, Nikon Z 24-70 f/2.8, and Nikon Z 70-200 f/2.8 during this trip.

Suru Valley Base Camp 1

Day 2 – Rangdum – 3657 meters

En route we captured the beautiful Nun Kun peak and rainbow patterns before reaching the base camp.

Rangdum Himalayas 1

Rangdum Himalayas 2

Rangdum Himalayas 3

Rangdum Himalayas 4

Day 3- Twin Lakes of Stat Tso and Lang Tso – 4324 meters

From here, we witnessed an iconic view of Drang-Drung glacier. Luckily for us, the weather cleared after a rainstorm, opening up vibrant colors and a glorious sunset. The Drang-Drung Glacier is likely to be the largest glacier in Ladakh, covering close to 25 km.

Twin Lakes of Stat Tso and Lang Tso Himalayas

Twin Lakes of Stat Tso and Lang Tso Himalayas 2

Twin Lakes of Stat Tso and Lang Tso Himalayas 3

Day 4 – Sani Village

This area is usually known as the wetland. Frequent rains are very common here.

Sani Village Wetlands Nature Photo Himalayas

Sani Village Wetlands Nature Photo Himalayas 2

Sani Village Wetlands Nature Photo Himalayas 3

Day 5 – Zangla – 3930 meters

Zangla Himalayan Mountains 1

Zangla Himalayan Mountains 2

Zangla Himalayan Mountains 3

Zangla Himalayan Mountains 4

Zangla Himalayan Mountains 5

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