Although the expenses incurred depend heavily on factors such as mode of travel, duration of travel and personal spending habits; a minimum cost calculation can still be made, which I talked about in the previous post. Continuing along the same lines, in this article, I will suggest some simple tips on how you can reduce the total cost of taking a budget trip to the Zanskar valley. After that, you can efficiently reduce the cost of your trip and make your trip fun without making a hole in your pocket.
Ladakh has recently seen a major boost in tourism in recent years. What was once an almost unknown destination, has now become a favorite place for tourism. As a direct result, the cost of visiting here has also increased significantly. Zanskar, on the other hand, still maintains its infrequent etiquette. Only a very small proportion of people visiting Ladakh travel to the Zanskar valley, so it is still not that expensive. Keeping in mind a few things, which I will talk about in the article below, you can still make your trip easy and easy here, without the total cost coming out of the roof.
I think the biggest confusion when it comes to traveling to Zanskar is due to its proximity to Ladakh. People tend to be confused about whether to visit just Zanskar or incorporate it into their trip to Ladakh. For a brief introduction, Zanskar is the area around the small town of Padum. To get here, you will have to take the Kargil road towards Rangdum. First you will travel through the Suru valley, reach Rangdum, cross Pensi La Pass and cross the Zanskar valley to reach Padum. When you are done visiting here, you will need to return to Kargil the same way you came.
A new road is under construction between the Zanskar and Lahaul valleys. When this road is completed, it will connect the cities of Jispa and Padum; on the other side of the Shinku La high-altitude pass, however, it will still be at least a few years before work on that road is completed. So, for now, the only way to visit Zanskar is to drive here via Srinagar and Kargil and return the same way.
Travel by public transport
The biggest expense of your trip if you are a personal vehicle will be fuel. It doesn’t matter if it was a car or a motorcycle, the money you will end up paying for gas will be almost half of your total expenditure. If you were on a tight or tight budget, the best way to save that money is to travel to Zanskar by bus or shared taxi. Your first destination will obviously be Srinagar, and it is not difficult to get there by bus or train. After Srinagar, there is a regular bus connecting you to Kargil that you can take advantage of. From Kargil, you can travel to Padum by bus, but its frequency is not that good. Another better and more economical option will be the shared taxi, more frequently and with which the locals also depend more.
These are all common JKSRTC buses that locals use to travel and the ticket price is very nominal. Almost half of your money will be saved; and another advantage would be to travel with the locals and get a first hand experience of their lives. I covered the topic of traveling to Zanskar by public transport in more detail in How to travel to the Zanskar valley by shared buses and taxis.
Local shared taxis
After the local bus service, this is the most economical travel mode available in Ladakh and Zanskar. They take place daily in all major cities and places along the way. The fare is almost the same as for a bus, and you can easily find these taxis at bus stops. Most locals use them for travel and don’t really rely on buses. The only problem is that you cannot take a shared taxi from Kargil to Padum all the way; and may have to interrupt the journey in parts. For example, you can first board a taxi to Sankoo or Panikhar, then another to Rangdum and finally to Padum.
I did it myself and so can you. Fortunately, there is still not much of a tourist rush in Zanskar, and if you give up a ride to a truck pass, they will let you in. I traveled from Kargil to Rangdum in a shared taxi, then hopped on a local truck carrying vegetables and groceries. A friend of mine made the trip from Sankoo to Padum in an Indian oil truck. Obviously, this will be completely free, unless you decide to give the truck driver something he accepts.
Travel at the beginning or end of the tourist season
This means traveling in the months of May, October or early November. Those months would be better in terms of accommodation. Most hotels and inns are closed during peak winters and late April is when they open for business. There are not many tourists at this time and your chances of getting a good deal on accommodation will be great. Hotels will be more likely to lower their prices and allow more than 2 people in the same room.
Traveling to Zanskar before April and after November is not really an option at the moment. From Srinagar, you will not be able to cross either Sonamarg due to heavy snowfall. If you flew to Leh City, you can only travel to the Suru Valley via Kargil, but no more. If you went in November, you risk being there in an extremely cold climate, with a great chance of getting stuck if the weather approaches. Therefore, the month of May marks the beginning of the tourist season here and October practically ends. If you have spent one of those two months, there is a great chance of getting a good deal on accommodation, as there will not be many tourists around. Owners of hotels and guest houses at the moment tend to agree for a lower price than quoted.
Do not book your stay in advance
With the increase in tourism, more hotels and inns continue to appear in Ladakh and Zanskar every year. It is not difficult to find a place to stay, no matter the month of your trip. However, if you booked your stay in advance, you are likely to end up paying more. A better way would be to arrive at your destination first, find a hotel to your liking and negotiate a deal on the spot. Zanskar has a lot of budget hotels and you can easily find a hotel for Rs. 500 – Rs. 700 per night. Another great place to stay would be the J&K Tourism Bungalows, which never costs that much.
Another point to consider may be that a trip to Zanskar definitely has an air of uncertainty. There may be a roadblock or maintenance work due to which you may not be able to reach your desired destination in time or in a day. Or it may just be the weather that can get close and force you to postpone your day trips. In that case, any money spent on booking a hotel in advance will be wasted in the worst case. At best, you will be running on bad roads because you have a hotel booked in the next city that is still far away.
Be on time
If you are looking for an on-site arrangement for accommodation; try to get to your destination well before dark. This will give you enough time to hunt for the hotel. If a particular hotel did not lower its price; then you can try the next one, because there is still some sunlight left. The hotel owners will also notice this. If you arrived at a hotel after dark, they are likely to quote a higher-than-normal price and not lower it; because they know you’re out of time and with choices. Even the hotel owner will know that you will agree to a higher price because you are already tired and in an unknown city after dark.
Cost of food in Zanskar Valley
After crossing Kargil and then to Padum, there are really no fancy restaurants between places. For most of the trip, you will be traveling on a remote Zanskar; villages or small towns where the cost of food will not be so great. Almost everywhere in between, you will continue to find small restaurants where you won’t have to pay a lot for a meal. On a general basis, you can easily complete the total cost of the day’s meal between Rs. 200 to Rs. 300
Avoid traveling alone
No, I’m not saying that you find a huge group of 25 members to ride a bicycle; but always save money if there are other people accompanying you on the trip. For example, if you are on a motorcycle and have a croup, the cost of fuel and accommodation will be divided in two. The same goes for traveling by car. The biggest expenses will be with fuel and, if you are in a group of 4 to 5 people, this cost will be divided. The cost of accommodation will also be divided if you are traveling in a group of 3 to 5 people. I know it’s not always an option and not everyone will have their friends joining the trip. In that case, you can try to find a travel partner online who can accompany you on the trip.
When traveling to a place like Zanskar and on a budget, you really need to be flexible in several places; and I mean that in terms of accommodation and meals. You cannot be too demanding or specific about things, because sometimes it can cost more than you can afford. In several places and several times; you will be asked to work with what you have received for reasonable prices. You must remember that, in any case, you only need one place to stay overnight; as you left the next morning, be ready to adjust a little bit.
Pitch your own tent
Bringing your own camping gear is a great option if you already have one. Otherwise, not even buying a new one will cost a lot if you compare it to the total rate you will pay for accommodation in hotels. If a friend of yours has good camping equipment, you can also ask him to loan you his. Zanskar is a vast landscape where you can set up your tent almost anywhere for free; and save some money that you will spend for a night at the hotel. Or you can choose to pay a few hundred dollars to any of the Dhabas along the way; and ask them for a place to camp. In return, you can also use the restrooms and even eat at that particular dhaba.