12 days
Duration
India
Location
5/10
Physicality
Aquaterra
Operator
$1,387
base price per person

Raft the Zanskar River in Ladakh

One of the highest inhabited places in the world, Zanskar in Ladakh is a hidden kingdom, only accessible to the outside world in the winter by trekking across the frozen Zanskar river. In the summer, the river thaws, giving way to a rush of grade 4 and 5 rapids that have ominous names like the ‘Constrictor’ and ‘Dislocator’.
You’ll drive through western Ladakh, visiting monasteries, palaces and villages, passing a surreal landscape of multi-colored mountains and lush valleys. Arriving at the Stod river, you’ll begin a self-contained multi-day river adventure down the spectacular Zanskar river gorge.
Float through the desolate canyon, its walls rising a few thousand feet out of the river bed, culminating the trip at the mighty Indus river after which India is named. End your journey in the high-altitude city of Leh, where you can sample Tibetan cuisine and visit the bustling bazaar.

 

Itinerary

1

Day 1 - Arrival

Fly from Delhi to Leh. We’ll land in a very barren landscape as the plane nearly skims the sides of Spituk Gompa on one of the most difficult landings in the world. Reach the airport early to get a window seat on the ‘A’ side for great views.
Note: as this is a high-security flight, be prepared to be checked more thoroughly than average. As well, keep a pen and your passports handy as your visitor’s registration will be needed on arrival. At an altitude of 11,500 ft, climbing a few stairs or struggling with a tight sleeping bag could leave you short of breath in Leh. Many people may need up to 24 hours to acclimatize. Headaches and breathlessness usually can be controlled with rest and very light exercise, if any.
You will then meet your guides at the basic, but charming hotel Mogol, nestled in the quiet part of Chanspa, a ten-minute walk to the town square. You will be briefed about the trip and encouraged to hydrate and rest all day. A nice walk into the market can be a delightful way to spend your evening.
2

Day 2 - Leh

Today you will have plenty of opportunity to acclimatize, hydrate and go sightseeing. If you’re feeling energetic, a visit to a few monasteries such as Shey, Thikse and Hemis can be arranged. If not, choose to relax and walk into town, exploring its bustling market and outdoor restaurants. Again, the mantra is to rest and hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. In the evening we meet for a packing update, where we discuss what goes on the trip and what can be left behind at the hotel in Leh.
3

Day 3 - Drive from Leh to Kargil

Today we set out after an early breakfast, traveling west of Leh towards Kargil. 36 kilometers outside of Leh we’ll reach Nimu, the confluence of the Zanskar and the Lion rivers. 6 km after Nimu, we’ll pass the temples and derelict fort at Basgo. After another 10 km, we reach the painted caves at Saspol. The historic gompa of Alchi is only a 4 km diversion from here. 44 km further down the road we reach Khalsi where the road crosses the Indus river and slowly winds its way 27 km up to the beautiful gompa at Lamayuru. We’ll continue climbing for 15 km up to the highest pass on the route, the Fatu La (13,450ft). After another 36km we’ll cross the Namika La pass (12,210ft) and then the road descends 15 km to the village of Mulbekh. Just before the village, there is an ancient 9 meter sculpture of Maitreya, or future Buddha carved into the rock. From Mulbekh, the Wakha river leads up to the cliff face Gompa of Gyal. 41 km further is the town of Kargil which marks the transition to a predominantly Muslim area from where one can either continue west to Kashmir or take the rough road south up the Suru valley into Zanskar, which is our destination. There we’ll settle into the hotel D’Zojila in a quieter part of town.
4

Day 4 - Drive from Kargil to Rangdum

A spectacular drive past Panikar and Parkachik, with magnificent views of the 7000 meter Nun and Kun massif, hanging glaciers and large meadows. We’ll drive until Rangdum Gompa (12,000 ft). From Kargil, the road runs south up to the Suru valley for 67 km to Panikhar. The Balti settlements along this valley are surrounded by lush fields growing a wide variety of crops and fruits. As we gain height the mighty snowcapped peaks of Nun (23,410ft) and Kun (23,220 ft) begin to dominate the view. The road swings to the east for 63 km, past the last Muslim settlement of Parkachik, to the Buddhist Gelukpa monastery of Rangdum, sitting astride a small hill in the middle of a wide plain. There will be an optional hike around this huge meadow. We will camp here overnight.
5

Day 5 - Drive from Rangdum to Remala

Today we drive to Remala, the starting point for our rafting trip on the Stod river, a tributary of the Zanskar river. We drive over the Pensi La (14,500 ft), revealing great views of the Zanskar peaks, at the bottom of which the Drung Durung glacier feeds the Zanskar. The road descends to the Stod or Doda river which it now follows to Padum, the capital of Zanskar. A little more than a large village, it has a surprisingly large Muslim population, mainly Baltis from the Kargil area, who have settled here since the mid 17th century.
6

Rafting Expedition Begins at Remala

Today we’ll raft 30 km in 4-5 hours, including a break for lunch and refreshment. We are surrounded by 6000 meter high peaks. The river section today includes a Class II section, a good introduction for first timers as well as to the river in general. There will be an optional hike around the camp in the afternoon. For the energetic, a long walk to Karsha Gompa is also possible.
7

Day 7 - Karsha - Honyo/Pidmo

 After a late morning start, we raft from Karsha up to Honyo / Pidmo (3361m; 11,025 ft; 3 hrs). This stretch is approximately 25 km with Class II and III rapids. Another easy day to get used to the river and the altitude, and to hone our paddling skills.
8

Day 8 - Nyerak

After packing up camp, we’ll raft 25 km to Nyerak (3286m; 10,780ft; 3 hrs) a Class III section. The gorge narrows in on the river–there is now a new rapid formed at the entrance to the canyon due to the construction of the road as well as a fallen JCB machine. This indeed is a Grand Canyon in its own right. We stop for the day to set up camp in a gorge below Nyerak village.
9

Day 9 - Nyerak

Rest day at Nyerak. Take a hike to Nyerak village or relax under the cool shade of the willows at our Campsite. Wash up at the campsite stream and enjoy the day off.
10

Day 10 - Nyerak to Lamaguru

Today’s 35 km rafting section takes us from Nyerak to Lamaguru (3190m; 10,465ft; 6 hrs) through the core of the Zanskar. A classic whitewater day with continuous Class III rapids, and a few Class IV rapids where the river squeezes between a gap of about 18ft. We’ll stop for lunch near a huge waterfall and continue to camp at the confluence of the Markha and Zanskar rivers. Rock formations, spires and an amazing palette of colours are wonderful bonuses to this part of the trip. Camp overnight.
11

Day 11 - Lamaguru - Nimu - Leh

We raft 40 km of Class III/IV white water from Lamaguru to Nimu (3154m; 10,345 ft; 3-4 hrs) today. We’ll raft past the village of Chilling and exciting rapids as the Zanskar plunges out of the canyon to meet with the Indus at Nimu. We end our trip at the confluence of the Zanskar with the Indus and will drive an hour back to Leh. Last minute retail therapy and a hot shower before spending the night in a hotel. 
12

Day 12 - Departure

Transfer to Leh airport. Fly Leh – Delhi. 

 

Read The Outdoor Journal’s article on this trip here:

Journey to the Copper Star | Rafting the Zanskar River

By Himraj Soin

Out of all the great canyons and rivers, a world classic- the last lost horizon, the land of White Copper, the Grand Canyon of Asia- the River Zanskar!

Overview

TRIP DATES 6 – 17 August 2018 18 – 29 August 2018
ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE LOCATION Leh, India
INCLUDED All travel by road and rail
All arrangements for camping while on the trip
Accommodation on twin share basis in tents, guest houses and hotels
Professional guide
All rafting, kayaking, and safety equipment
All meals
NOT INCLUDED Bottled water & alcoholic beverages in Srinagar/Leh/Kargil hotels
Any costs arising out of unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather, landslides, etc.
Medical insurance
Airport transfers in Delhi
Accommodation and meals in Delhi
Restaurant meals outside Srinagar/ Leh/ Kargil hotels
Sleeping bag
Personal expenses

Checklist for Essential Personal Items

  1. Warm sleeping bag (to minus 5 degrees C at least)
  2. Woollens/thermal underwear
  3. Wind/rain proof jacket
  4.  Hiking/trekking shoes & spare sandals
  5. Woollen socks / Gloves
  6. Water Bottle
  7. Flash Light and spare batteries – important
  8. Sun Shade/Hat with Brim/woollen hat/gloves
  9. Sunglasses
  10. Sunscreen/Sun block above SPF 70
  11. Vaseline/Lip Salve
  12. Insect Repellent
  13. Personal Toiletries – towels/soap etc.
  14. Rucksack/duffel bag to carry your baggage
  15. Karimat / Thermarest (optional)
  16. Small daypack to carry camera, packed lunch, water bottle and wind/rain jacket on a walk.
  17. Long trousers / long shirts / T-shirts etc.
  18. Good pair of shorts, one quick dry to be worn over wetsuit
  19. Swim suit for ladies
  20. Alcohol / cigarettes – not available on trip

We provide wetsuits, wet boots, wet gloves and all rafting gear. You live in 4 season tents to withstand weather extremes, if any on the trip. Other items of personal nature need to be added by you especially personal medication, if any. Temperatures are going to vary between 25-30 degrees Celsius to 5-10 degrees at night. Long pants and long shirts are handy because of the strong sun and lots of sun tan lotion.

Additional Information

Temperatures : temperatures on the trip will vary from a maximum of 24 degrees to minimum 10 degrees celsius. Its best to be prepared for lower temperatures due to wind chill or the weather turning bad. The days are hot and the nights refreshingly cool.

What to carry : Keep it light – although what you carry with you is a very personal decision. Some of our guests love to travel as light as possible while others are only happy when they have countless bits of equipment for every possible occurrence, most of which will never be used. The list we sent out covers all essentials that you must carry.

A day pack is great to carry things that you will need throughout the day, such as your camera, water bottle, packed lunch, waterproofs, a fleece or a jumper.

Good footwear is very important – most trails in Ladakh are pretty rough and steep so a good pair of shoes is important. Sandals work well on the raft (even though you have wetsuit booties as an option) and also for visiting monasteries (where footwear needs to be taken on and off, frequently). Socks, both for walking and a pair of warm ones for keeping feet warm inside the tent at night, is a good bet.

Clothes: A good base layer which could be a thermal top (polypropylene), with a T-shirt on top will keep you warm and dry. Mid layers provide insulation so anything that is warm will do e.g. a medium thickness woolen jumper or a mid-weight fleece top, along with another lightweight fleece top will suffice. If you really feel the cold, substitute the thinner layer with a down jacket. The outer layer is the final layer between you and the elements and must be capable of keeping out the wind, rain and snow. Any good waterproof, windproof jacket would do the job. Leg wear in the form of thermal long johns are invaluable. Cotton trousers or long skirts (long skirts for ladies also double as a `port-a-loo’) worn over this layer can keep you very comfortable. A good sun hat is very essential. Sunglasses which offer 100% UV protection are necessary to combat strong daylight.

Shelter: You will camp out from Rangdum onwards, expect the first night to be windy and chilly, so wear everything that you have brought on the trip to stay warm, on this night. Things get warmer here onwards. Your tents are 3-person tents used by two persons per tent. They have a patio that you can use to stow your bags / dry bags within for ease of access.

Important: This is a full fledged expedition, and you are expected to set up and pack your tents. We are happy to help, but it will take time as central areas, kitchen, setting up facilities will take priority so you are better off doing this daily routine yourselves. It takes no more than ten minutes.

Your team of guides and staff run the show on this trip. They are very experienced, and know the river and the terrain very well, and are responsible for getting teams into shape to hike, camp and raft. They do it very well. Everything from getting hot meals on the table to setting up toilets, to ensuring you remain hydrated with safe to drink water, is done by them. They will instruct you to get your dry bags to the rafts by a certain time, pack your tents after breakfast etc. but that’s really all you are expected to do, take care of your shelter and your belongings. Expect 6-8 guests per raft, plus a staff raft, a safety / gear cataraft plus safety kayaker/s. Add 3-4 kitchen staff, and you have a real motley crew!

A good quality sleeping bag ensures a good nights sleep after a long day outdoors. Do not compromise on your sleeping bag – err on the side of carrying a warmer bag, than carrying a light one which may give you many sleepless nights.
Carry any personal medication that you may need, or let us know should you be suffering from any particular ailment.

How to carry: Its best to carry your belongings in a large, tough duffel bag or a big rucksack. A bum / waist bag is handy to have your camera, film rolls, flashlights (handy when visiting monasteries) and a guidebook, when you are sightseeing. Pack similar things such as clothes, washing things, camping equipment etc. in separate stuff sacks or polythene bags so they are easier to pull out and add to the waterproofing in your bag.

Altitude considerations
Travel to any part of Ladakh deserves a little more respect than many other high altitude destinations because the whole region lies over 2600 meters (8500 ft). People in good health should not get alarmed by this but if you have a medical condition such as high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, you must take the advise of a doctor who has experience with the effects of altitude. We do not take heart or lung patients, or pregnant mothers on this expedition. Any kind of exercise which gets you fitter before this trip is advisable, as it will enable you to enjoy the region more, even though all hikes are optional and the rafting not of a very strenuous nature.

Headache, Nausea & Dizziness, Loss of appetite, Fatigue, Shortness of breath, Disturbed sleep, General feeling of malaise are fairly common symptoms on arrival by air into Leh. These can also be tackled by complete rest on Day 1, sleeping well and drinking lots of fluids (atleast 4-6 litres of the non-alcoholic kind!) and not smoking too much. On all our Ladakh trips till date, nearly all have acclimatised very well and we have had only one instance of a person being in hospital on the first night, on oxygen after which she seemed to have extra bundle of energy throughout the trip.

Activity Level
Our expedition trips are designed for energetic and flexible people who have the spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Previous experience in the outdoors and camping helps, though is not a must. These trips are participatory in nature, and everyone is expected to pitch in, set up and break down their own tent, clean their own dishes and help with loading and unloading the rafts.

Why choose Aquaterra Adventures?


Voted one of the 'Best Adventure Companies on Earth' by National Geographic

In 2008 and 2009, Aquaterra Adventures™ was twice consecutively listed as one of the ‘Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth’ by National Geographic Society’s global survey.

Awarded 'Favourite Boutique Tour Operator' by Outlook

In March 2014 Outlook awarded Aquaterra Adventures the Favourite Boutique Tour Operator In India.


ATOAI Hall of Fame Award 2014

Aquaterra Adventures is a member of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India – ATOAI

Voted 'Best Adventure Resort in India'

By ATOAI in 2016

Aquaterra Adventures is:

  1. Recognised as an inbound adventure tour operator by the Government of India’s Ministry of Tourism
  2. A member of The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO)
  3. A member of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI)
  4. A member of The Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO)

Aquaterra Adventures is known for its:

  1. Impeccable safety record
  2. Highly skilled professional guides
  3. State-of-the-art equipment
  4. Comfortable Camping
  5. “Eco-sensitive” approach to adventure travel

Aquaterra Adventures Offers:

  1. An excellent range of cuisine
  2. Tailored flexibility to offer trips to a diverse range of clientele
  3. The capability to run remote and logistically challenging wilderness trips
  4. Unique, innovative trips in the Indian Himalayas

Why TOV loves Aquaterra Adventures:

Aquaterra’s team of guides has years of experience of travel throughout the Indian Himalayas, rafting rivers and leading treks – from the barren Zanskar to the tropical rainforest of Arunachal Pradesh. They speak English, have completed graduate school, are First Aid & CPR certified and form the most experienced guiding team in the country today.

Equipment on all Aquaterra adventure travel trips match worldwide standards. On treks, they use 4 season 2-person tents, which can withstand the harshest weather conditions while keeping you dry and protected from the elements.

Safety is taken very seriously. On rafting trips they use only self-bailing rafts, with a cataraft or kayaks backing up to add another layer of safety. Participants are encouraged to raft all sections of the river because the biggest rapids (which you may be tempted to walk around) create priceless memories which last years after the trip is over.

Aquaterra staff is trained in hygienic preparation of meals and offers a great variety of food on an outdoor trip.

Aquaterra has its own transport to ensure trips always run on schedule.

Aquaterra run all their trips themselves – there is no sub-contracting on these trips. They are directly responsible for your safety, from start to finish of your trip.

Aquaterra trips are excellent value for money. They are priced to keep standards high and your trip smooth. Cost is a factor for many a trip, but for a real adventure like this, the deciding factor should be confidence in your operator.

Aquaterra Charity Trust

Aquaterra Adventures runs numerous expeditions to remote areas of north, north-west and eastern India, spanning the entire Indian Himalaya. During these trips, guests come into contact with highly impoverished, rural communities that, for a multitude of reasons, remain disconnected and underdeveloped. The Aquaterra Charity Trust (ACT) aims to facilitate a means for guests and friends of Aquaterra Adventures to understand the myriad issues that plague Himalayan populations, and to give back to the communities that enrich its culture. It allows for guests to make a positive difference in the lives of those in less fortunate positions, in a sustainable, culturally sensitive and responsible manner.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to state their preference of community they would like to see their donations go to, or they may allow the ACT to determine the most pressing need their gift may be used towards. Projects are determined based on community needs, assessed by observation, our experience in working in these remote regions, and holding discussions with the community in consideration, as well as with local, or regional organizations concurrently working in the area.

A portion of Aquaterra Adventures profits is also given back each year to assist in causes that need urgent attention.

The ACT began on a voluntarily and informal basis helping to support a primary school in the remote village of Nyerak, deep in the heart of the Zanskar canyon. The children there lack basic access to notebooks, stationary, reading materials, and sometimes, even teachers. The ACT has been able to sponsor education for older children moving out of the village, in pursuit of higher education.

On June 16 and 17, 2013, India was hit by the country’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami when a multi-day cloudburst centered on the North Indian state of Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and landslides. The damage was monumental and the local population left to pick up the pieces. Since 95% of Aquaterra staff are from this region, the ACT feels particularly strongly about giving back to the areas affected. It has sought to strategically assist in long term rehabilitation and helping rebuild community life.

In 2015 the ACT distributed 52 laptops to schools in the mountains, who previously had no access to computers.

In 2016, the ACT built a computer room in Singtalli Village which can be accessed by schools and local communities.

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This is a multi-day trip with fixed departure dates. Some trips have different itineraries or lengths, so please check that you've chosen exactly what you want, and the correct trip start date. If you have any questions at all, please use the chat feature and we'll answer as quickly as possible.

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Tour Reviews

5.00 based on 6 reviews
Sophie P
July 1, 2016

I more than warmly recommend it if you crave for outdoors Adventures.
Excellent organisation, logistics, security, hygiene and comfort (considering that is camping). Food is excellent and very generous! The landscapes and villages we crossed were amazing. An experience of a lifetime!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Sasha
July 30, 2016

I just completed the 11 days Zanskar Rafting Expedition with my 2 friends from Europe (German and Polish) and Aquaterra Adventures beat expectations in almost every area.

Food: There were major concerns about food from my European friends before the trip. Now that the trip is over, I can confidently say that we were overwhelmed by the amount of importance given to hygiene during this trip. Needless to say, my friends and all expats on this trip finished the expedition without any medical conditions arising out of food hygiene.

Safety: Again, they beat expectation here. I myself fell off the raft in a long grade 4+ rapid and within 12 seconds rescue kayakers had reached me and pulled me on to safety in no time. The team was well equipped with the required first aid kit and the rafting equipment met all expectations in line with international standards.

Logistics: This is the most important part of any adventure trip which most of us don’t realize but the work done in the background by the kitchen and other staff is what made the trip a really comfortable one for us. The staff is well trained to ensure a “customer first” approach in all their dealings.

Overall a 10 on 10 to Aquaterra in every area from me. This was my first trip with them and definitely not the last. Highly recommend to everybody considering a trip with them! Cheers 🙂

PS: Forgot to mention that the rafting guides and kayakers are the best in the country and with 20+ years of experience!

Source: Tripadvisor

Trey S
August 9, 2016

The Aquaterra crew are absolutely incredible. Having worked with adventure companies in many unique parts of the world, including throughout the US, Aquaterra is right there with the very best of them. We could not have run our expedition without them and their amazing guides, cooks, drivers and logistics team. The food was excellent, the transportation comfortable and safe, staff and guides extremely personable and kind, and the lodging provided a wonderful sense of rejuvenation throughout our experience.

If you are adventuring in India, this is your crew!

Source: Tripadvisor

Madhuri Chowdhury
January 18, 2017

I rafted the Zanskar river with a group of friends in the summer of 2013. We drove through Ladakh’s beautiful landscape of multicolored mountains and green valleys, where marmots lay lounging in the sun, to reach the starting point of the river trip, Stod. The first day lulls you into a false sense of calm before the river churns out grade 4 and 5 rapids that have ominous names like Constrictor (named after the narrow river gorge) and Disclocater (because the first river guide who ran this rapid apparently dislocated his shoulder). Apart from the great whitewater and the surreal high walls of the canyon, the highlights of this trip for me were camping out on the riverbank, exploring waterfalls and visiting a monastery. It was a smooth experience throughout, with great food and knowledgable guides like Rana who made every day safe and fun. I’d definitely recommend a journey to the Copper Star with Aquaterra.

Montana Bozeman
April 6, 2017

Aquaterra runs a first class operation at the highest international standard of quality and safety. Guides speak perfect English and are trained in first aid. And the trips are extremely fun!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Nanaki Singh
April 8, 2017

The quiet under the starry night sky, sunset pinks and green campsites were my favourite time apart from when we were on the thrilling rapids. The technique of paddling came quite naturally since our instructors and guides made it seem so easy. Their confidence and good humour made me feel safe, wanting to take on a challenge with grade IV and V rapids. Playing with the rosy cheek(y)ed kids and being part of a prayer ceremony at the Karsha Monastery has stayed with me since my trip in 2013.

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