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Caravans of the Changthang (Markha Valley to Kibber)
Rugged, colourful gorges contrast with the azure rivers, spacious valleys and yak-wool nomad tents. All classic Ladakh trekking, as good as it gets.
The Changthang is the name given to the captivating high mountain plateaus of Western Tibet, an area which sits at an average elevation of 4500 to 5000m. This remote and fabled region is peopled by Changpas, the traditional traders of the Changthang, who have wandered these high pastures with their gurs (nomad tents) and flocks of pashm goats and sheep for centuries. This traditionally Tibetan region lies in part in the Indian Himalaya, although the culture remains purely Tibetan.
This trek is a unique experience; a journey in time during which we witness a way of life that has not changed for centuries. It is a true journey in the classic sense, traversing remote passes to visit remote people. Essentially we are trekking into the ancient Tibetan Kingdom of Guge, home of the Bon religion which pre-dates Buddhism by hundreds of years, and emerging into the present day Indian Himalaya.
Project-Himalaya has been trekking this remarkable area since it opened in the late 90s with our Tibetan sirdar, Lobsang, a Changpa himself from a nomadic family of herders.
We are Himalayan experts and professional guides and our treks are motivated by a deep love and respect for the peoples and regions of the Indian Himalaya.
Preparation and trekking with us
Note that most flights into Delhi arrive late at night/very early in the morning. Plan your arrival time-date carefully and ask if you are not sure.
Customizing your trek
Every year we have trekkers join us for different sections of this stunning trek; for those with a shorter vacation, it is possible to join (or leave) at Pang, day 16. We have the logistical skills and the jeep drivers to do it, so get in touch!
Wednesday 7 July 2004, Day 1 - arrive Delhi
Joel, Kim or a representative will be at the airport to meet you and take you to the atmospheric Metropolis Tourist Home in Paharganj, near Connaught Place in central Delhi.
8 July - Day 2 - fly Leh 3500m
We are up early to board the spectacular flight to Leh, crossing the main Himalayan Barrier to the capital of Ladakh, Tashi Namgyal's 15th century Himalayan capital at 3500m. The clear high air will catch at the throat when we arrive, and now we start the serious business of acclimatization; and eating, as after we settle into our hotel we have a long leisurely breakfast It will take your body a few days to adjust to this high altitude. It is important to drink plenty of (non alcoholic) liquids, and do not attempt to rush around. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house will make you breathless at first! We will discuss this in detail. Note that we have planned plenty of acclimatization time into our itinerary.
Day 3 - Leh 3500m
We have a full day to explore the fascinating Central Asian bazaars and narrow, shop-filled alleyways of historic Leh, as well as the striking Indus valley which surrounds it, visiting some of the most ancient forts and gompas of the Tibetan Buddhist world. Joel and Kim are lovers of what we call the ‘great Asian Bazaar,’ and we have many memorable walks around Leh, as well as many shopkeeper friends, some of them descended from the original caravaneers that made this place such a crossroads of high Asia.
4 - drive Chilling then trek Kiu/Skyu
We have a leisurely breakfast in the sun then leave by mid morning for the classic drive across the high plateau with great views behind us of the Ladakh range, then we turn off the main road where the Indus meets the Zanskar. We stop to watch the brown Indus, "Lion River" blend into the green blue Zanskar, then drive on a rough road to Chilling. There is a bridge being built, but for the moment our crew load our stuff into cable cars and pull us over. On the other side our horses will be waiting. From there its a two hour walk through villages in to our camp at the junction of the trail from Spitok, where we settle in for our first night on the trail. We are at a lower altitude than Leh, which will help with acclimatization. The village has an old gompa (Buddhist temple) we can visit and the village children are delightful.
5 - Chumik 3500m
An easy day as we follow the Markha River through the wide forested gorge to our camp in a grassy clearing. If it is hot there are many opportunities to bathe in the clear river.
6 - Markha 3710m
There is a small elevation gain but no real climbs as we follow the deservedly popular Markha valley. In summer this section sizzles, so it is important to drink plenty of water and to use lots of sunscreen. Markha is a pretty, balmy village, unspoiled by the many trekkers that pass through. We camp in a grove of willows, and spend the evening exploring the ancient gompa above the village.
7 - Hankar 3900m
Again, a mellow walk, gaining elevation slowly with the marvelous high walls of the Markha valley above us. Bring some sandals as there are some easy stream crossings today. We lunch by golden barley fields, and by four o’clock we will be camping under the high fortified gompa of the Singge Namgyal period, Ladakh's celebrated King.
8 - Hankar 3900m
We have our first rest day here to explore this lovely village. The ruins of the “dzong,” or fort, are spectacular, and worth half a day’s worth of exploration and photos.
9 - Nimaling 4650m
We begin early for a gentle ascent through dun-colored gorges, which gradually widen out to give us great views back into the Markha valley. We lunch, feasting on the views and Tenpa’s food, and then wind past small lakes to Nimaling, one of the loveliest high altitude plains in the Himalaya, where villagers from the Markha valley graze their sheep in summer and make curd from the milk of their livestock. Above us towers the snowy summit of Kang Yaze, at 6400m. We are now in snow leopard territory, and we have seen many paw marks and scat here over the years.
10 – Tikyu, base camp for Zalung Karpo La 4800m
We cut away from the main Markha Valley trekking route. crossing the shoulder of Kang Yaze to begin the climb up to the 5090m Konka Ngonpo pass. Following a steep drop to high grazing areas where we stop for some lunch, we begin a gentler descent to the valley of the Langthang Chu and the shepherd camp of Tikyu.
11 - Tsokra (Sorra) Valley 4000m
A gentler climb today as we zigzag up the trails, with Kang Yatze behind us, to the top of the pass. From the summit, we are treated to stunning views of the gorges and crags of Zanskar. There is another steep drop to the valley base, and we camp at one of many pleasant campsites in the Tsokra gorge, with views of an ancient dzong on the hillside that once guarded the gorge against invaders.
12 - Dat 4250m
To Dat, the major herding village in the valley. When Joel first came through this valley many years before, he was amazed by the sheer cliff faces and the wooded valley floor. It is still one of his favourite Himalayan valleys. In the morning, we quit camp early to avoid the heat and drop through the valley of the Kharnak Chu. There is an old fort on the peak overlooking the valley, and a many of the peaks in the area are believed by the locals to have Gods residing on them. Thus the altars with flags and blue sheep horns lined up with a lot of their summits. Soon we are in a pretty valley, wooded, with clear streams, sheer cliffs all around. After lunch, the valley opens up, and we walk through wide meadows and past mani walls leading to the nomad settlement of Dat, normally deserted at this time as the inhabitants are at summer pastures with their herds. If you have the energy the local gompa, seemingly deserted, is worth a visit. In fact, it is still an active place of worship. The lay monk who holds the keys will appear at some point to collect our camping and grazing charges, summoned by some form of bush telegraph!
13 - Dat
Time to laze in the sun or explore the wildlife infested high valleys. There is a chance to see kiang, or Tibetan wild ass, marmots, Himalayan hare, Himalayan field mice, and the occasional wolf. The valley to the east is a wonderful day walk, and the plateau just next to the campsite is lovely at sunset …
14 - Lungmoche 4550m
Another early start to cross the desert stretch approaching the Yar La. It is a fairly easy climb to the 4950m pass, but the desert stretch, with ever expanding views back of the rock spires in the valley, is scorching when the sun gets up, so the water bottles must be brimming. Once on the pass (with some of the most intricately carved mani stones on the trek), it is an easy drop to the pleasant meadow outside Lungmoche where we camp.
15 - Sangtha 4300m
Flat, wide, and high; Lungmoche may seem like a long deserted ghost town, but the inhabitants have simply headed up to higher pastures for the summer, leaving the stone rings they pitch their tents around to the pikas and marmots. If we are lucky, the herd of kiang that we have spotted here every year will return – they are curious animals, and no camping group goes unnoticed! Sangtha marks the end of Loach herding areas and the start of Tibetan areas. With its cold, clear river, it is also a great bathing spot, and a walk above the camp for the sunset is spectacular.
16 - Yoghurt Camp (near Pang)
Another day, another pass, and a cold river crossing to start the day off right! The pass is a relatively short one; we climb the Pogmar La (4905m) and then switch-back down to the summer camp of the nomads from Pogmar/Spagmur village. These locals have become old friends as they have charmed us with curd and salt-butter tea many times in past years. Lobsang has relatives in the settlement, which make our welcome even warmer. We will probably be picked up by jeeps and taken to Pang (4450m) where we have fresh supplies and perhaps fresh trekkers, and then continue to a camp a few kilometres upstream from Pang.
17 - High Camp for Gyarmo La 5000m
An early start for a longish day - pack your sandals as we cross several streams. We lunch by some delightful rock pools then climb to camp in the high pastures below our next pass.
18 - Gyarmo 5100m
A steep climb to amazing views back over the Indian Himalaya, and then a long drop to our camp at 5100m in this high altitude grazing area.
19 - Karzok Phu 4530m
Yet another steep climb to start the day, and a final gentle climb to the Kyamaru La. We are then rewarded with a steep drop with incredible views of Lake Tso Moriri, glittering turquoise below us in the high altitude sun.
20 - Nomad Camp 4500m
We skirt the lake, and in sandals, cross the shallow clear waters of the wildlife reserve to our camp at the nomad tents. This is a wonderful camp surrounded by peaks and yak-wool nomad tents, and we will probably have lots of visitors for the evening. Sunsets turn the mountains wonderful shades of gold and pink …
21 - Mid-Camp
One of our discoveries in 2001 was this tiny camp by a spring, with awesome views. In 2003 our trekkers (briefly!) swam in the lake, which was much needed after the sweltering, but beautiful, walk along the banks of the lake.
22 - Dungri 4460m
The route out along the eastern shore of Tsomoriri is a wonderful day, at times on a sandy beach, at times climbing high above the shore with the sparkling lake contrasting with Parilungbi. 6 hours walking brings us to the pastures of Dungri.
23 - Norbu Sumdo 4400m
Distant Kiang, nomad herds, and Lake Tsomoriri drops slowly behind as we walk across classic central Asian grassland to the river junction with the Parang Chu.
24 - Umlung (Rock Camp) 4700m
A valley the size of Nepals' Kali Gandaki, but empty, and a cold river crossing to kick-start the day. 5 hours of walking bring us to a camp we have named after the boulders that hem it in. The fit can try their hand at climbing them!
25 - Lucky Camp 4850m
Why the name? Ask Joel about the boulder that missed his tent one night in 2002. But we now camp well away from any hazard! The walk today follows wide riverbeds with smooth river stones to collect and valleys branching off both sides. It is a perfect trekking day, with a few river crossings and beautiful scenery throughout.
26 - Parang La High Camp 4955m
Another great trekking day, with not another trekking group in sight! Camp, situated among rocks at the foot of the glacier, is a chilly one, so a good meal and an early night are in order; we have a long day tomorrow.
27 - Chicken Run Camp
Away at 6am and up the trail on to the ice that curves up to the pass; this can be an otherworldly hike up, as the ice and snow covering the rivers assume fantastic shapes, the ice creaks and the streams below swish and swirl below us. Soon we are among sasturgi with the pass a seemingly impossible climb, but by 12 noon we are on top, and by 1 o’clock we are lunching at the bottom. We have a long, hot gorge to walk through, and a final steep but scenic climb to the pleasant meadow named after our 2000 chicken dinner! Seriously, this is probably one of the best days trekking in Northern India, probably the planet.
28 - Kibber 4700m
An easy but incredibly beautiful morning’s walk past fields of lichen-covered rocks, tiny mountain flowers and ochre-colored gorges as we look up to yesterday’s pass. After a sandy and steep (and sometimes a bit scary) descent to the riverbed, we make one last ascent to our delightful hotel in the quiet village of Kibber, where we can shower and slowly ease back into civilization. We arrive at lunchtime, and spend our last day in the hills in mellow, warm surroundings.
29 - drive to Manali
An early start for a spectacular jeep ride to Manali via the Kunzum and Rohtang Passes. We arrive in Manali about 6 pm after a long dusty day on the road, and check into the hotel.
30 - Manali, rest day
Washing, shopping, eating, relaxing - this is your day of rest, and we have some wonderful hotels in mind in which to so this! Perhaps a pizza from the brick oven stove of Il Forno in the evening?
31 - drive Delhi
We have most of the day in Manali then around 5pm take the luxurious Himachal Pradesh night bus, arriving in Delhi early the next day.
7 August 2004, day 32 - depart
You arrive in Delhi sometime between 8am and 11am, so you could fly out sometime after midday. Most flights are at night so either you can spend time in town or we can arrange a hotel room for the day.
We hope you had a great trek!