Walking the Darcha Padum trek, Ladakh, India:
Darcha Padum trek is the first part of the famous twenty days Darcha Lamayuru trek. Darcha Lamayuru trek is also sometimes refereed as Manali Leh trek or Zanskar trek or Valleys of Zanskar trek. Darcha is one day drive from Manali and Lamayuru is a six hours drive from Leh. The trek starts in Darcha, climbs to 5000 m Shingo La Pass and than continues for 4-5 days along the beautiful Zanskar valley to the capital of Zanskar, Padum.
First day - from Darcha (3350 m) to Palamo (3600 m) 4 hours on the paved road, from Palamo 1.5 hour towards Jankar Sumdo (night camp before crossing the river).
Second day - 1 hour to Jankar Sumdo (3860 m) (tea house and campsite) , from Jankar Sumdo going up to Rumjak (4290 m) (there is absolutely nothing at Rumjak aside from grassy area) and than more up to the tea house near Chumik (4600 m) (4-5 hours from Jankar Sumdo to Chumik). It is a long day, but the ascent is gradual and definitely doable.
Third day - from Chumik 2-3 hours up to the Shingo La Pass (5000 m), going down from the pass to Lakong (4470 m) (tea house and campsite) - 2 hours .
Forth day - from Lakong to Kargyak village (4050 m) 4-5 hours, 14 km - walking in Zanskar valley.
Fifth day - from Kargyak to Purne (3700 m) (tea house and campsite) 6-7 hours, 20 km
Sixth day - Side trip from Purne to Phugtal Gompa monastery (3850 m) 1.5 hours each way, 0.5-1 hour staying there. From Purne to the next village after Surle - 3-4 hours.
Seventh day - from Surle to Reru - 6 hours.
Eighth day - from Reru to Padum on the paved road. It is possible to drive with jeep from Reru to Padum.
Books and maps:
Lonely Planet "Trekking in the Indian Himalaya" book includes a schematic map and route description of this trek. In this book the trek is called "Phugtal Gompa & Shingo La" trek.
"Trekking in Ladakh", 3rd edition, by Charlie Loram and Jim Manthorpe in the Traiblazer Publication serious, also includes a bit more detailed map and a route description of the trek. In this book this trek is called "Across Zanskar" trek.
The best available map is Leoman series 1:200,000 sheet 3, which can be purchased in the "Book Worm" shop in Manali. This map is NOT detailed enough and is almost not possible to navigate with.
Check out this 1:250,000 map of Darcha to Shingo-La and the map of Zanskar - from Shingo-La to Padum to Lingshet.
Alone or with a guide: The route, although not marked, is quite clear almost all the way. Still, since there is no good map and the description in the books is not detailed enough, it could be a good idea to hire donkeys and walk with a horseman. The bottom line is: this trek could be done alone, without a guide and a horseman, but in such case you need to be careful and try not to loose your way.
Carrying your own stuff or hiring donkeys: this trek is not especially difficult. The second day of going to Chumik is quite long, but the ascent is gradual. The fifth and seventh days are quite long and not very easy, since the route tends to go up and down a lot of times. If it is your first trek in this season, my recommendation is definitely to hire donkeys and use a horseman as your guide (there is no need for an additional guide, the horseman is enough). On the other hand, if you have already trekked recently and feel you are in a good shape - you can do the trek alone.
It is possible to hire donkeys/ponies/horses (they are really donkeys) in Manali. Do not go to Darcha before organizing the donkeys in Manali, since it could be not possible to find donkeys in Darcha.
Equipment: You will need to be fully self supplementary: tent, sleeping bag, warm clothing, walking polls, stove, food for at least 8 days (DO NOT expect to buy food on the trek from the villages). [of course, you can have your trek fully organized by a travel company from either Manali or Leh. In such case you will probably be provided with all equipment, food, guide, donkeys, etc...]. There are also tea houses along the way in most, but not all, campsites, in which you can buy hot tea and instant nodules.
Getting there and back:
Darcha is one day drive from Manali and could be reached by a bus that goes from Manali to Leh.
Padum, the "capital" of Zanskar, is quite a small and shitty place. Padum is not the place to get stuck - you don't want to stay there for more than one day. You can stay in Kailash hotel and you MUST eat in the great Chang Tang restaurant. There is a bus going once in two days from Padum to Leh, starting at ~4:00 AM and arriving to Kargil at the evening. It takes another day (~10 hours drive) to get from Kargil to Leh. The bus from Padum tends to be cancelled occasionally, for example if the driver feels he is too tired to drive. The other options are hiring a jeep from Padum to Kargil (the best price we were able to negotiate was 7000 Rupees for the whole jeep) and continuing the next day from Kargil to Leh by bus by or walking from Padum to Lamayuru, thus completing the whole Darcha Lamayuru trek.
Lamayuru is a six hours drive from Leh and could be reached either by a direct bus or bus going from Kargil to Leh.
More information: Short description of the Manali Leh trek (in Hebrew)
On the trek:
There are a lot of river crossings involved in this trek. The water will not get above the hips and will usually be only up to the knees (depending on the season - in rainy season it would definitely be higher), but the current is usually very strong, so be careful. It is best to cross the rivers in the morning, since the later you get in the day, the higher the water level will get (due to the snow melting). Therefore, it is sometimes better to camp near/before the river and cross it early in the morning. Listen to your horseman's advice (if you have one) regarding camping places. It is advisable to bring sandals and carry them with you in the small bag (not on donkey) and put them on each time you cross the river.
When going down from the Shingo La Pass to Lakong, approximately 1-1.5 hour from the pass, you need to cross the river from the true left side (the left bank as you look downstream) to the true right side. There is no clear place for the crossing. Do NOT go all the way down to the valley below, but cross the river approximately half way from the pass to the valley floor.
Last updated 11-01-2008