Playground Outdoors

Kang La

One of the Indian Himalayas’ best-kept secrets, and truly an epic journey. Not for beginners, Day 1-3 of this route lay low in the thriving flower & crop fields of Miyar Valley. Following the river, the trail passes remote shepherd routes, caves rumored to hold treasure, seven glass-smooth holy lakes and Hindu shrines of Ibex skulls before rising onto the glacier - one of the longest in the Central Himalayan Range - an 18-mile ice expressway riddled with treacherous crevasses and frozen waterfalls. Finally, the trail crosses state lines over the 18,000ft icy Kang La Pass to access Zanskar, a high-altitude desert home to one of India’s most remote communities.

Difficulty

SAC T6 Demanding Alpine Hiking

Mostly without path. Climbing sections up to II. Paths are not marked most of the time. Often very exposed. Tricky craggy ground. Glaciers with increased danger of slipping.

Duration

14 days

Delhi to Delhi
6 days travel & rest
8 days hiking & camping

Distance

100 km / 60 mi

Maximum Altitude

5450 m / 17880 ft

Price

₹1,75,000 $2500

Itinerary


Fly and/or drive from Delhi to Manali. Mode of transport is subject to weather conditions and availability of flights.

You’ve had a long night’s journey to Manali, so use today to rest up and prepare for your adventure ahead. Your home for the night will be our Playground headquarters, Playground Manali, where we will meet for the first time as a team, and receive a briefing on what the upcoming journey has in store for us! For the day, take a trip into town or enjoy the hostel culture we have right here among fellow travelers. We often host cozy movie marathons, cake & coffee tastings from our cafe on the terrace, bonfires out back, game nights (we challenge you to a game of Exploding Kittens), tetherball tournaments, local Himachali cooking/handicraft classes - you name it. Tomorrow, your adventure begins.

Today we drive up and over the famous Rohtang Pass at 13,000ft and down into the Lahaul region and follow the famous Manali - Leh Highway until diverting to Udaipur. Look around - you are now in the lower reaches of the Miyar Valley, already towering on all sides with mountains bigger than we’ve seen the previous two days. From Udaipur, we drive the final stretch to the small, riverside village of Changut where we will stay the night. If the night is clear, the night sky view from here is brilliant.

Today, we trek! After a 45-minute drive to the village of Shukto (fun fact, when we were scouting this route for the first time, we caught a ride on a tractor there), we begin our gradual ascent. Shukto is the last sign of civilization you will see for many days, and as you move up past the last family homes, old Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas, the neon-green valley floor widens, making way for the gushing Miyar River that flows down the middle. The first few kilometers weave their way through the village’s agricultural fields. The soil here is incredibly rich, and common crops along the trail include delicious sweet peas, broccoli, cabbage, natural ayurvedic medicines used by the locals and grasses for broom-making.
If you look closely after a few kilometers, you will see the stone ruins of what locals call a “ghost village.” According to legend, a monk would ride his horse over the villagers’ crops each day, until their patience wore thin and they killed him. But after their transgression, a mysterious plague hit their crops, causing them all to die of starvation or flee.
Just after lunch, we climb to the top of a hill, where a Hindu shrine made of ibex skulls rests. This marks our first view of the upper valley floor. Mountainous cliffs line either side of the valley, with pink fleece, a signature Himalayan wildflower of this region, carpeting the grass at Yolithang where we spend the night.

We continue our gradual ascent along the river, passing an occasional shepherd herding their flock of sheep or goats across the grass fields. The expanse of this section plays tricks with your eyes. With only enormous, pyramid-like mountains to use as a distance reference, the trail is such a gradual incline that it seems to almost tilt downhill, until you turn around and realize you’ve been climbing. From here, the river and valley veer left past Gompa, an area home to a small pond bordered by reeds. While some people camp here, we’ve got something even better up ahead - Zardung. Nestled at the base of a huge, interlinking rock structure with hidden caves and buttresses jutting hundreds of feet into the sky, we’ve nicknamed this spot “rock” castle. At its base is said to be the face of a demon that used to wreak havoc in the area, now frozen into the rock as punishment. Rumor has it by the locals that a precious gem called the “ruby-diamond” is embedded into the rocks. We couldn’t think of a better place to set up camp for the night.

Today is extremely special, but you’re going to need some water-friendly sandals. The name of tonight’s campsite, Kesar Yon Chhaap, which translates literally into “seven holy waters,” is a pretty good clue to what makes it so spectacular, but first we need to cross the Miyar. And cross it again. And again. Just before we reach the terminal moraine of the Miyar Glacier (where the river turns from water to ice), the river snakes out in a half-kilometer-wide stretch of smaller rivulets. Linking arms, we’ll cross one after the other until we reach the other side. After a much-deserved sunbathing session to dry the glacial water from our feet, we round the corner and find today’s prize: seven deep turquoise lakes tucked among the rock piles left behind by the glacier. Patterned pyramid-like peaks cast some really unusual reflections onto the waters’ surface.

From tomorrow, more difficult terrain and rapid elevation changes will characterize this route, so we will spend the day rejuvenating, hydrating, hiking to find the nearby holy lakes and then a treat in the evening - a hands-on lesson into making momos for dinner (a Tibetan dumpling popular in the area). And of course, a post-lesson momo feast.

Today will be long, but ends with an unforgettable first glimpse of the massive Miyar Glacier. We leave behind the wildflowers and soft grasses of the lower valley for a world of boulders as we climb the lateral (side) moraine (rock fields left behind by the glacier) and scree up past subsidiary moraine from the Jungpada Glacier. The peaks on all sides become taller and more jagged, funneling you up and finally on to the first icy steps of the glacier itself, the enormous frozen highway that has been feeding the Miyar River you’ve been following for days. We trek a while more to a less-angled section of ice where we will set up camp for the night.

The route splits into three sections today, gradual glacier ascent, another few kilometers of rock and scree, finally a last gradual glacier ascent to camp. This icy world feels more like another planet than Earth as we pass over strange frozen formations, waterfalls that cascade into bottomless crevasses and tiny streams of water etching new channels across the surface of the ice. Don’t miss the chance to fill your water bottle in these for a taste of the coldest, cleanest water you’ll find. We pitch camp earlier today and rest early for our itinerary’s most difficult day - Pass Day.

Today is what we came for! We’ve got our work cut out for us, so after a hearty breakfast, we will set out early. The first few kilometers rise steadily but gradually, providing a nice warm-up for the steeper climb ahead. At the end of the gradual section, the final push to the pass rises 400 meters in front of you, in what looks like a wall of ice dead-ending into razor-sharp mountains, but the trail is being deceiving again. Just off to the left of the top is a small passage up and over - our goal. The final push up the left side is laced with deep crevasses, and here we will rope up with harnesses for protection if need be. From the top of the pass, your reward is the chance to stand in two different states of India at once, with the striking mountains of the Zanskar region rising on one side and those from the Lahaul region you are now leaving behind on the other.
The descent down into Zanskar begins with navigating over five more kilometers of glacier, before we finally set up camp on solid ground again after spending 48 hours on ice.

A strange feeling to be back in a landscape consisting of more than ice, we descend along the Temasa River and valley, navigating another barefoot stream section (deja vu anyone?) and a rocky slope & ridge section until finally signs of human life begin to emerge once more. A network of stone huts for shepherds grazing their sheep come into view, and then suddenly, the road! From here, we will make the short drive into the town of Padum, a spark of life in the high-altitude desert of Zanskar that is so remote, it is inaccessible to the outside world during the six winter months each year. The sunsets here are fiery orange, and illuminate the mosque minarets, cliffside monasteries and buddhist carvings that cover the area. Tonight, we trade our tents and sleeping bags for cozy, warm guesthouse beds.

Give your tired legs a rest today - you’ve earned it! We will begin our journey today out of the remote Zanskar region heading towards Leh by car. After a few hours, we will begin climbing a series of turns bringing us up and over Pensi La, a stunning 14,400ft pass which carries you into the neighboring Suru Valley. We will hop out for a moment here to stretch our legs and have a picnic with the Drang Drung Glacier, several high-altitude lakes and a 23,000ft peak in the background. We will rest in Kargil for the night in a guesthouse.

Today is bittersweet - we drive the beautiful final stretch through the arid mountains of Ladakh into Leh, an ancient Tibetan kingdom now renowned for its centuries-old palaces and monasteries that characterize this high-altitude desert. Spend the evening exploring the handicrafts and coffeeshops of the main bazaar, following narrow alleyways built into the mountainsides to find locals baking fresh, hot bread out of their tandoors, taking a look through the Central Asian Museum, taste-testing local dishes - you name it, Leh is truly a marvel to take in. Our journey ends here, but yours doesn’t have to. We always recommend maintaining a buffer day or two in Leh before your flight home in case of bad weather or road diversions, and we can think of few new places more fascinating to explore for a couple days than Leh. Congratulations, you are one of the few to be able to say - you’ve trekked Kang La!

Fly and/or drive back to Delhi. Mode of transport is subject to weather conditions and availability of flights.

Playground Perks


Handcrafted & Curated

We don’t copy our itineraries off the internet. We scout and design all trip offerings personally. This ensures enough time to acclimatise at high altitude, explore around the campsite, and indulge in authentic local experiences so you don’t miss out on anything.

Everything Included

Honestly, everything. Internal flights, best-in-class travel insurance, personal camping equipment, and all meals - we’ll take care of everything that most travel operators will mark with an asterisk. You pay for nothing except personal purchases from the day your trip starts.

Equipment & Safety

4 season Mountain Hardwear tents and sleeping bags, emergency oxygen reserves & PACs to provide a safety net against AMS, UIAA Safety Label glacier rescue kits for technical trails, WAFA/WFR & CPR certified guides, best-in-class adventure insurance - we’ve always got a plan B.

Personalised & Bespoke

We curate bespoke adventures and trips every day because we recognise that everyone’s travel bug is unique. When it comes to adventure travel, there are different ways to experience the world’s most beautiful places, because every traveler is different - which is why we’ve stepped in to provide a space for environmental advocacy, cross-cultural connections, wellness and adventure to combine - all through travel.

Responsible Travel

Responsible travel starts with acknowledging that travel and tourism often contribute to the global climate crisis. We believe in the positive power of travel to transform mindsets & generate a sense of preservation towards wild spaces. We follow LNT Principles, minimise our carbon footprint, adopt regenerative practices & give back to local communities - from making sure our field staff are well equipped to higher-than-industry-standard compensation.

Self Guided & Operated

We’ll never hand you off to someone else - we run all trips ourselves. We minimise external contracting and only partner with people we know and trust personally. While we employ and collaborate with local guides and support staff for their unparalleled expertise and knowledge of the Himalayan ranges, our trips are led by one of our core team members so you always have a single point of contact.