Lee Royle

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India – Tsarap Chu & Zanskar

We had already decided that we didn’t have enough time to do the Tsarap Chu & Zanskar before our leisurely time on the Chandra and Chenab rivers, so when we arrived in Keylong on our way back we had a quick look at the calendar and decided that if we got on the bus towards Leh straight away, we might have enough time to do it and get back in time for a train from Delhi to the Malabar River Festival in the south of India we had already booked.

We sorted our things and then found that the bus wasn’t running till the day afterwards, giving us only a few days to do 300km of river we had never done before, which usually seems to take a week. Sounded like a good idea.


On the way to the put on the bus goes over a pass of ~5300m, not that we noticed the altitude as Rory was suffering from a serious case of something stomach related, and I hadn’t been able to eat properly for a week thanks to a similar problem.

We arrived at the put-on for the Tsarap Chu, just after the town of Sarchu at lunchtime, it was a beautiful day, the river was running blue and hiking the boats to the river didn’t leave us short of breath at 4300m altitude, things were looking good.


Mindful that we were in a bit of a rush for time, we paddled down quickly, not taking any photos and arriving at the confluence with the Zara Chu river in good time. At around 4pm, deciding that we had done well, and mindful that we might have some long days ahead of us, we found a beautiful camp spot and lounged around in the sun, miles away from the nearest person, which is a rarity in India.

Getting up the next morning we had some tea and lazily rolled onto the river at around 8, not the most urgent start. Paddling down we were expecting some flat water, but a recent(ish) landslide had backed up the river for around 10-15km, giving us a couple of hours of very scenic, but very slow flatwater.

The landslide had previously blown out in a big flood last year, destroying all of the bridges downstream, but water was now flowing over the top, forming a nice rapid and slowly washing away the debris.

Arriving at Phukdal monastery fairly briskly, we had a bite to eat and carried on down, knowing that Reru falls was around 3 hours away, and was described as a fairly arduous portage.

After some time, the whitewater picked up and we thought we were probably close to Reru. From the boats the rapids looked good, halfway down it started to look a bit bigger, and looking back up from the bottom we realised that it had to be Reru falls, as nothing else on the river had been quite as big. Having saved ourselves some good time there, we carried on down the river for some really good whitewater, and arrived at the town of Padum by 4pm, at the start of the Zanskar river, where we decided to stop and warm up again. Clambering up the bank to the town, we were taken in by a local family who thought we looked tired, cold, and wet. Which we were. They gave us a bed and a good feed, and we relaxed a bit after realising we now had more than enough time to leisurely paddle the Zanskar and still arrive in Delhi on time.

The next morning we set off down the Zanskar, a few hours of flat started the day before the exciting bits kicked off. The first big rapid was supposedly ‘down the middle, no scouting’, so we tried that, which led into the biggest hole on the river. Perhaps it wasn’t the first big one…

The river ran though an amazing series of mountains and landscapes, huge gorges and beautiful scenery followed the river the entire way down, interspersed with some big whitewater too, it would have been amazing to have time to spend exploring around the valley, but we pressed on to make sure we had time, Indian buses have a way of making you wait around longer than you want.

We camped near the end of the Zanskar as we felt like a rest and had found a place with fresh water & firewood, and a morning paddle out would only take an hour or so, and provide better chances for a lift to Leh.

We did that, and after a little waiting in the sun, we got on the back of a truck to Leh.


After getting into town, the bus back wasn’t running for another 4 days, but luckily a minibus was going at 1am straight through to Manali, so after a day in Leh we set off again and arrived back in time for dinner.

A highly successful trip, ~300km of river in around 21 hours of paddling time. From Keylong, paddling the rivers, and back to Manali took 5 days, and we could have done it in one less had we known the bus schedules. Not bad considering it’s normally 2 days each way drive anyway.

The Zanskar valley was amazing, and going back with plenty of time to spend exploring around and taking photos would be something well worth going back for.

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