This is a fabulous trek and most people don't realize it can be done predominately by homestays. It is also possible to do either half as there is transportation from Padum (administrative center of Zanskar) and Leh. The Lamayuru Padum half which has several steep passes is a much more strenuous trek than the Padum Darcha half which has one high pass. There are two nights you will have to sleep in your own shelter or in a tea tent on the Lamayuru Padum half and one or two nights on the Padum Darcha half. This is one of the best treks in Ladakh. It has everything diverse scenery, from high mountain passes to narrow gorges, beautiful villages, spectacularly situated monasteries, and the homestays are warm and authentic not like half hotels of the Markha Valley. If you have the time this is a must do trek.
Do It Yourself Information
Do It Yourself information for the Across Zanskar Trek
I brought a plastic tarp for emergency shelter, good sleeping bag, and dried food. If you have a tent its probably wise and a bit safer.
Food: Dried fruit and nuts are useful as well as candy bars, peanut butter and cheese to put on biscuits and chapatis for lunches. You can usually get some extra chapatis from the tea tent or home stay to take with you for lunch.
If you are trekking out of season you will need more since the tea tents will be closed, and you will also need better shelter for nights not spent in villages.
I used the trailblazer guide trekking in Ladakh you can get it in the Ladakh book shop in Leh for a steep 1185 rupees. List price is $20 USD. Its now out of print an alternative is the Ladakh Trekking Guide by Cicerone
Home stays available in every permanent village along the way usually for between 100-200 rupees (in 2008 prices have probably risen) with food just start asking people and eventually you will find a place.
Its possible to stay in Wanla, Phangila, Hanupata, Potoksur (most beautiful village on the trek), between Potoksur and Lingshed you need to either stay at the Tea tent on the Lingshed side of the Sengi La, or if you are trekking out of season there is a covered stone shelter at the first campsite after the pass (Lingshed side) In a very long day it may be possible to make it to Gongma from Potoskur and stay in one of the two homes there. I stayed in the tea tent. After Lingshed the other tough day is to Snertse where there is a tea tent in season. Out of season there are some cave shelters to the East of the camp sites, where we actually stayed since the tea tent was not so great. I won't say its impossible to make it from Lingshed to the next village of Hamumil (home stay possible) but it would be a dawn to dusk hike with not much rest over two of the steepest passes on the trek (coming from Lamayuru). To avoid a tedious walk along the Zanskar River cross the bridge at Pigmo and go to Zangla (stay in at the gompa with the nuns to the left as you enter the town from the Northwest) far better than the home stay we stayed at there. There is a bus that leaves between 7:30 and 8:00 am to Padum. Then it’s worth either hiking the 1.5 hours to Karsha or taking the 4 pm bus.
For the second half you can take a shared jeep to Reru to avoid a long walk on a road. The jeep leaves Padam in the late afternoon check locally. It’s possible to stay in Reru at the house to the left sort of across from the school. It’s a long but doable day to Purne (or Purni) where there are a couple of pricey (compared to the rest of the trek) guesthouse/homestays plus a couple of very well stocked stores. Better than Padum, but more expensive of course. Phuktal gompa side trip is highly recommended. It’s quite possible to go from Purne to Kargyak but we also stayed in Tangzen. Home stays available in both villages just start asking people. If you have the time in Kargyak you can cross the river a little south of town and climb the opposite ridge for great views, 2 hours of steady climbing. From Kargyak there is a tea tent at Lakang Sumdo, if trekking out of season there is a good covered shelter just above Lakang Sumdo on the right but no close water source. Over the pass (Darcha side) the best option for shelter out of season is a cement roofed shelter to the riverside of the trail a half hour to hour past Chumik Nakpo camp site. We stayed in a make shift tent (from the plastic) at Zanskar Sumdo since the tea tent there was closed. There is another tea tent at Palamo and in a very long day it would be possible but not fun to go from Lakang all the way to the next village at Chika. There is a bus from Rarik to Darcha and on to Keylong that leaves Rarik around 2:30 to 3:00 pm.
Morning bus goes from Leh to Lamayuru.
There is a bus from Zangla to Padum in the morning.
Shared Jeeps go from Padum to Reru
There is an afternoon bus from Rarik to Darcha (if you want to cut out the walk along the road) and to Keylong its better to stay in Keylong than Darcha and no matter which way you are going its more likely you get a seat on the bus.
A Possible Trekking Itinerary
Day 1: Lamayuru - Wanla (3250 m) ~5 hrs
Day 2: Wanla - Hanupatta (3760 m) ~6 hrs
Day 3: Hanupatta - Sirsir La (4850 m) - Photoksar (4200 m) ~6 hrs
Day 4: Photoksar (4200 m) - Singge La (5050 m) -Singge La Tea Tent ~6 hrs
Day 5: Singge La Tea Tent - Lingshed (4000 m) ~6 hrs
Day 6: Lingshed - Hanuma La (4950 m) – Nyertse (3850 m) ~6 hrs
Day 7: Nyertse - Purfi la (3950 m) - Hanumur (3380 m) ~ 6 hrs
Day 8: Hanumur - Zangla
Day 9: Zangla-Padum (bus) - Karsha (or hike ~5 hrs)
Day 10: Karsha - Padum (3610 m) ~3 hrs hike or bus
Day 11: Padum (A day to re-supply)
Day 12: Padum - Reru (jeep)
Day 13: Reru - Purne (3820 m/5 hrs)
Day 14: Purne - Phuktal Gompa - Purne (3 hrs.).
Day 15: Purne - Kargyak (4050 m/ 8 hrs. trek).
Day 16: Kargyak - Lakang (4320 m/6 hrs.).
Day 17: Lakang - Chumi Nakpo - over Shingo La (5100 m/7 hrs. trek).
Day 18: Chumi Nakpo - Rarik (4150/ 5 hrs.).
Day 19: Rarik (bus to Darcha or Keylong)
You can shave a few days off this with a day less in Padum and starting in Wanla or you may even be able to get to Hanupatta now by road.