Xplorearth led a mixed group of ADV-Motorcycles and 4x4s into Zanskar during the onset of winter. The last of the truly untouched regions in the high mountains, Zanskar remains one of the most challenging and rewarding riding or driving destinations anywhere on the planet today!

Date : OCTOBER 1-10, 2023



The group congregated in Manali for the start of the event. Registration formalities were complied with, bikes and SUVs were checked up and small niggles fixed, and a briefing was provided to all participants about what to expect for the coming days.

An acclimatization day for the group. We set out from Manali and passed through the Atal Tunnel, before turning right towards Gramphoo and then hitting the off-road stretch to Chattru, a taste of what was to come in the days ahead. We were greeted by unseasonal rain and icy cold winds, and the riders had a challenging time making it there and back, before continuing on towards Sissu for the night. 

The weather Gods were on our side after giving us a scare the previous day, and we woke to bright and clear skies as we made an early start towards Shingo La. The Pass was surmounted and we entered the Zanskar Valley, with the road ranging from dirt to smooth tarmac all the way through. Lunch at Purne was followed by a technical run till we met the tarmac 30 odd km short of Padum – our halt for the night.

The most challenging day of the trip. We set off early and enjoyed the smooth tarmac till Zangla, before the road turned to dirt. We followed the stunning Zanskar River for a distance, branching off towards the sleepy hamlet of Yolchung, an axis freshly opened mere months prior! The roadworks have been incessant and we found smooth tarmac in many spots where there previously was none. Singge La and Sirsir La were surmounted before hitting the main highway and we made our way to Kargil for the night.

A new day, and a new route (for most!), taking us into the Batalik Sector and beyond. Largely off road and challenging, the group crossed Humboting La and rode further through the town of Kushko, before rejoining the highway to Leh, our stop for the night.

An exciting day for all, as we left Leh and made for the village of Hanle – only recently accessible to the general public! The roads are sublime and give one the perfect opportunity to enjoy the stunning vistas throughout. We arrived in Hanle by the early evening – a village devoid of cellular signal and with some of the most stunning views of the Milky Way anywhere in the world!

An early breakfast and we began the climb to Umling La – the world’s highest motorable pass! There are two routes, and we decided to follow the unpaved path on the way up, riding through the completely unmanicured terrain and crossing Norbu La en route. We made the climb to Umling La (19024 ft), and carried on to Demchok, the Indo-Chinese border on this access. After a generous lunch provided in the military run canteen there, we made our way back to the pass and returned via the tarmac route. The road was superbly tarred and we encountered plenty of wildlife en route, before climbing Photi La and eventually descending back to Hanle.

The long run back to civilisation. We started early, braving the sub-zero temperatures till we hit the Leh-Manali highway. From then on the journey was fast and hassle free, till we encountered the snow and slush packed Baralacha La (approx. 16000 feet above sea level), always a tricky pass to climb! Once we descended from the pass we were soon back in Himachal Pradesh and the group reached Jispa in the dying hours of twilight. 

A short run from Jispa to Manali, keeping in mind the rigors of the ride and the long transit legs home for many of the participants in the days to follow! We stopped by at a biker themed café for lunch, before making it to our hotel in Manali in the early afternoon. A celebratory barbeque followed by the certification ceremony capped off a fantastic experience for all brave enough to make the journey!

Zangskar remains one of the most challenging destinations in the world, whether  on 2 wheels or 4, despite the speed of the roadworks in the region. It truly is the last of the (relatively) untouched regions in the Himalayas that is accessible to the general public, and one that provides a unique experience every single time we go back!

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