Last year three of us from St. Stephen's College, Delhi, went trekking through Lahoul, Zanskar and Jammu, starting from Manali and winding up at Kishtwar and one of us at Srinagar. We left Manali on May 27, taking with us a Ladakhi porter and a Zanskari youth who was returning home to Zanskar from Manali. Both were very good humoured and we got along mightily. The valley of Lahoul has been adequately written up. We got to Keylang, the capital of Lahoul, two days later.

We left Jispa on June14, and crossing the inner line at Darcha, trekked up the valley on the extreme left and arrived at a tiny meadow called Palamau. We camped by a babbling brook. The hills on either side are dangerously unstable. It is practically treeless, with a few silver birch and clumps of juniper bushes, very difficult to uproot. We stayed put for two days there because of intermittent rain.

The Shingola is a relatively easy pass (16,700 feet). We went up the Barsi Nullah and crossed it by noon the next day. We descended on the other side over dry, powdery snow, then negotiated half a kilometre of serrated glacier and camped four miles down in Zanskar at a ghadi (Lingti) on the right bank of the Kala Devi.

Our first view of Zanskar will remain unforgettable. The valley opens out to a quarter of a mile wide, largely barren and rocky for the first five miles. It must contain I suppose one of the most striking range of mountains in the Himalayas. A fluted sandstone mountain, chalk yellow in colour, is one of the most beautiful I have seen. We sighted it as soon as we descended into the valley. As we saw them the valley seemed to promise more magnificent things. But trekkers and mountaineers know well enough that the Himalayas promise nothing. It is sometimes indulgent, that's all.

Lingti is very exposed. Mr. Balbir Singh had resolved to sleep out but the cold wind forced him into the alpine tent. Firewood was just not available. We used yak dung and juniper to cook. Next day we made it to Kargaik, the first village in Zanskar. It joins the route from Lingti. As we approached it the hills became greener and the river finally settled course. Bird life I should guess is confined to jackdaws, snow pigeons and a few varieties of finch. Kargaik itself is a village of some 50 houses with extensive fields for farming down to the river. I had had my first taste of 'chang' in Lahoul. This is an undistilled drink made from barley. But I became most fond of choru lassi which is light and has a delightful tang. It is very slightly intoxicating. In Zanskar every family will offer you lassi free, but milk and butter are expensive. We paid five rupees for half a pound of butter.

Sketch map of Lahoul, Zanskar and Jammu

Sketch map of Lahoul, Zanskar and Jammu

The Zanskaris are hospitable people. They seemed to remember Mrs. Davie's party. One old, feeble landlord, rather prosperous, came asking us for medicine; and presented us with the bottle of arak (a distilled drink as good as good whisky) from his cellars, talked a great while about his travels both in and out of the hills.

Our next stop was a place about 14 miles down from Kargaik. The first four miles or so was a level walk over sand and rock. Kala Devi flows into the Lingti at Tetha, and then the valley suddenly narrows and the river enters a gorge. We lunched at a village called Surti, with men and children staring at us, curious to see what we were eating out of tins. Somehow we found them very inhospitable. They refused to sell us milk or flour. The hills are very unstable in these parts and we had to climb up and down continually over narrow, rocky tracks. A few climbs are pretty tough and the scenes unrewarding. Towards dusk we reached a place opposite Char which is tucked up a good deal above in the hills. We sent our porters to fetch some fiour, and then pressed on to Tsangi, consisting of one solitary house among manorial grounds and poplars. We camped inside the grounds but when we made modest demands we were received with a stony silence. Altogether, it is a delightful place. They told me tea is grown in these parts but I didn't confirm it.

We made Rari Muni1 the next day. It is an important big village second only to Padam. We made it after a tough 12- mile march in hot sun, stopping for lunch at a cool spot down on the river half-way. Rari Muni1 is situated picturesquely in a biggish maidan which is formed by a section of the hills spilling out, so to say. It is a quaint village, more like a miniature Muslim town. Light was failing when we arrived, quite exhausted, and camped in a field just behind the village. It was cold and windy, but a beautiful, crisp night with full moon two days ahead of us. Our porters got busy bringing water and fir wood from the village. Mr. Balbir Singh and Srivastava disappeared, and to my great excitement returned with a fellow carrying a fat sheep. We slaughtered the sheep with the help of a hunting knife. It had cost us twenty-six rupees without the skin and that equipped us with enough meat for a week.

Padam in many ways is the centre-piece of Zanskar. After a rather hot and tedious walk through dry, unattractive hills we arrived there late in the evening. The only redeeming feature had been the sweet lady who entertained us at her house in Tule. She happened to be our Zanskari porter's sister, and she let us have all the milk, lassi and bread we wanted. We were still walking through the gorge, but the gorge suddenly opens up two miles short of Padam, and one comes at the village round the corner and up a steep hill face. Padam is clumped round a stony knoll just below the crest. From the top of this face you can see the vast green plateau, 13 square miles in all, gently sloping down to the Lingti and Doda which meet to form the Zanskar river from which this valley takes its name. Padam is set by snow ranges all around and vast sloping pastures and the brown mountain range of Ladakh. Padam could be one of the most picturesque mountains resorts for three or four months in the year (it is under snow for the most part: height 11,000 feet) if access to it were easy.


  1. On the map there are actually two villages close by each other—Reru and Mune.—Ed.


We pitched tent in a grass field, just outside the village, but soon there turned up a gentleman who invited us to share his house. He was a wireless operator and occupied a large clay and wood house right in the centre of the village. We moved there.

The population of Zanskar is around 7,000 and Padam accounts for more than 2,000. It is part Jammu and part Zanskar. The Buddhists and Muslim populations are almost equal. Kashmiri influence is pronounced in the looks and dress habits of the people since Kishtwar is the obvious choice over Manali. Muslim girls are tastefully plump and pretty, and extravagantly bejewelled. But the people on the whole are lethargic. Acres of land remain untilled despite irrigation facilities; there is no fire wood, although poplars and willows can be grown without special care. There is no hospital, or post office, only one middle school. We heard government had plans afoot. It is true this area is not of strategic importance at the present, but its development is none the less essential. Curiously but not inexplicably, the Buddhists and Muslims intermix and participate in each other's festivals. Polygamy is prevalent throughout Zanskar ; the rationale seems to be to keep the family property intact. Every year all the villagers work together to build a new rope bridge across the Lingti connecting Padam to the villages on the other side; the people dance and sing and drink far into the night. June 11, therefore, turned out to be quite noisy and we had little sleep. At the invitation of Sri B. D. Kaul, the Tehsildar, we visited the bridge the next day and got ourselves photographed. When we approached Sri Kaul for ration, he put the government store at our disposal and we replenished our stocks of sugar, atta, kerosene and a few other odds and ends. We left Padam on June 13 and camped five miles beyond it at a village called Sunni where our Zanskari porter lived. He feasted us on milk, lassi, curd and ‘sin-sin' which sent us to sleep in the warm sun. We made Ating early the next day, five miles from Sunni, lunched, joked with the village girls, then continued past Zumkul Gumpa into the nullah on the left and reached Gaura, six miles from Ating and over level ground, in the evening. The Padar Nullah as it is called bifurcates, and Gaura is just at the bifurcation point. A level grassy patch, massive boulders and a shallow stream flowing through it. We broke camp early the next day, gained the entrance to the nullah over a glaciated hillside, then continued through it over rock and snow and patches of meadowland, a gradual climb, and made Retang four miles away (snow-field distinguished by a huge boulder and shelf) by 11. Distances are so telescoped that the pass itself, a mile away, seemed a stone's throw off. Perennially, snow-bound it averages a gradient of 30°. That's how it felt. It began to snow lightly and visibility became very poor. The last stage proved tricky. The Zanskaris hadn't yet begun to use the pass. We made it in three hours, climbing on the right shoulder, and we suspect that had we known the pass (our porter had never attempted it) we would have used less time and much less energy. The pass itself looks formidable from below and is just 10 feet across at the top marked by a pile of stones and prayer flags and iron tridents as thanksgiving to Shiva. We followed the example of our porters and offered coins as tokens. We tore shreds of yellow flags to take away as souvenirs. W6 descended on the other side, equally abrupt and steep, in thick snow by sheer guess-work, hoping we were following the curve of the nullah. But soon all efforts at finding the path had to be abandoned since there was danger from the broken glacier and crevasses. We camped in snow and needless to say spent a cold night doubled up in the tent, waiting for the dawn. In the morning we had excellent weather: a clear sky and sun and the snow-covered mountains in ‘infra-definition’. By noon we were down at the river jogging along across shingles and boulder strewn fields cut up by roaring streams and pieced together by patches of meadow flowers, largely button flowers, rioting yellow, blue and white. Sumcham is a small village of one joint family and a police chowki, very green at this time and at the foot of the sapphire mountain. The mines themselves are at 16,000 feet and three miles above the village. They were closed but work was going to begin within the fortnight.

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by the police who accepted our bona fides and Harilal who provided us with a room for the night and made a present of rice, potatoes, eggs and butter in exchange for a testimonial (thanks to the hangover from the British Raj!) One policeman also approached us for a testimonial and worked servilely for it. We gave him a testimonial that will make interesting reading!

The next march took us to Machail, six miles from Sumcham, through lovely forest of walnuts, chinars, sanols and silver birch and the Padar river turbulently flowing just below. I had my first glimpse of the fabled Kashmir scenery although it was brief. At the Machail Police Chowki the Deputy Inspector of Police entertained us to green tea and paratha, told us of the Pangi Nullah and its shocking poverty and backwardness, of the miraculous streams of the surrounding valleys, the strange customs of the people, their aversion to education, and their riotous festivals. We set off at 1 p.m., again through beautiful country, the river in rapids now and shade all the way. Just before nightfall we reached a grassy island on the river the approach to which was dry, a mile short of Masu and 14 miles from Machail. The island is wooded with walnuts and we enjoyed sleeping out.

We woke up late on June 18 and by a rapid march made Athauli, six miles on the descent, by noon. This village lies at the confluence of the Padar river and the Chenab issuing from the Pangi Nullah and is reached by crossing both over bridges. It's a filthy village, given over to flies and dogs and also a lot of shopkeepers. Eggs are very cheap. I was happy to quit the place. After lunch we marched to a hot spring, three miles away on the way to Saso. It is called Tatopani, and the spring is certainly not the most hygienic. Nevertheless we bathed and let out tiredness through our extremities. We bought a quarter kilo mushrooms at 100 rupees a kilo.

Saso, eight miles away, is a forest bungalow among walnuts, a little above the path and a quarter of a kilometre beyond a pretty waterfall. It does not involve a tough march with the exception of two short climbs, one mile in all. The forest contractors have a shop where one can pick up certain necessary things, even biscuits and dry fruits. Galahar we reached the next afternoon, a distance of 13 miles. It turned out to be a comparatively tough march but more than this it was hot and tedious, involving climbs in two nullahs. Galahar has a forest bungalow but we preferred to sleep atop a modest hotel, neighboured by mules and dogs, in great numbers. Flies kept us on our feet through the afternoon and at dead of night the entire canine population rose and barked their throats hoarse. Nobody knew why and the villagers, evidently used to it, took it in their stride.

From here Kishtwar is 17 miles by the forest route along the abandoned canal, meant to provide water to crops in Kishtwar, 20 miles by the lower route and 31 miles by jeep road, almost complete. The canal route is an outright boon to the trekker at his journey's end. It is cooler and absolutely level. From Saso this route entails a four-and-a-half mile climb to Baghna, then a nine- mile walk along the canal, meeting the lower route at Dhul Dhar and finally a descent of three miles. The first view of Kishtwar from the edge of the Dhul is a thrilling experience. We came upon it in the afternoon. A vast green plateau among low hills, cut into two uneven parts by the Chenab, the town of Kishtwar squeezed into a corner at the farther end. We were back in civilization. Mr. Balbir Singh pressed on to Srinagar across the Marble Pass taking the Ladakhi porter with him. The Zanskari went back. We felt rather sad to part company. The trip had taken us nearly 300 miles and four and half weeks.

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