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*a trek for previous trekkers and their friends
This was my very first trek, lets reminisce 20 years later and have a great time with friends.
The Markha valley is justifiably Ladakh's most popular trek, but we go shoulder season and so will meet few others.
Near the Zarlung Karpo La - Jamie
Note that most flights into Delhi arrive late at night/very early in the morning. Plan your arrival time and date carefully and ask if you are not sure. Please email us your flight arrival details as soon as possible, and have our contact details handy.
Day 1 - arrive Delhi
We will fix arrangements later. It may be that you all arrive at a similar time, then you can meet in the airport and go to the hotel by taxi, it may be that we have to arrange an airport transfer. Lets see what seems best.
The following text was partly provided by Joel Schone.
2 - fly Leh 3500m
Did you get any sleep? 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 acclimatizing with a 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.
3 & 4 - Leh 3500m
We have two days for relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of this little bit of old Tibet. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the fort and palace, colorful gompas, the mosque, a museum, back alleys with steaming Muslim bread and tiny antique shops tucked away, colorful bazaars and even a polo field.
5 - drive Chilling, trek Skiu 3300m
We are away before 8am as we have a multi-transport day in front of us. First, our jeeps climb away from Leh, past the monasteries of Phyang and Spitok; looking back we can see the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges that form the barrier between the Indian Subcontinent and China, or Tartary as the early explorers called it.
We drop again to a hilltop high above the confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus, brown merging with blue, and turn up the link road that will one day run to Zanskar, now only as far as Chilling, or at least, the teahouses on the road below it. Pack your dust scarf, it gets in everywhere!
Next, we travel by cable car, as we help load gear into the pulley car maintained by locals. Then, finally, as our gear transfers to horses, we walk, climbing steadily away from the Zanskar to the (small, believe it or not) 3400m Kuki La. Then our trail leads us for three hours through the village of Kaya, to Kiu, our camp for the first day; and although a few short miles, if the sun shines, you will really feel this first day at elevation. At camp our tents are up and waiting, and we can relax over what Eric Shipton, the famous mountain explorer, called 'Tea, heavenly tea!' Over dinner Joel and Kim will introduce you to the camp routine.
6 - trek Sara 3550m
Again, we cover very little distance as the crow flies, but at this height, and especially if the sun shines, we feel it. We follow trails through willow groves and smallholdings to the tiny clearing among riverside trees that is Sara, a grazing area for Markha people. As we walk today, take time to look up at the gorge walls high above us, where you will spot the remains of small 'dzongs' (forts). This whole valley is the approach to the lush pastures of the high altitude grazing of Nimaling, coveted by Balti invaders centuries past.
7 - trek Markha 3700m
Today we pass the remains of old hermitage caves high on the opposite cliffs. Inside are the remains of tiny caves where lamas once sat in meditation, platforms carved in rock. Look also at the chortens, inside are piles of tiny 'tsatsas', the remains of ashes of the departed formed into tiny pyramids. As soon as the valley widens we spot the old fort on the hill above Markha village, and then, on the other side of the hill is our camp on the banks of the Markha river. After tea we might ascend to explore the local gompa.
8 - trek Hankar 4110m
This is another day of ambling along the trails used by countless shepherds and traders over the centuries. We cross several calf deep rivers then two hours out of Markha we climb to the old hilltop monastery of Umlung, and tea with our friends, the monks. The snow mountain ahead is 6400m Kang Yatze, which we are going to see much more of soon. And then we see the spire at valleys end that marks the strategic junction with the routes to Zanskar and Nimaling, and there is Hankar, marked by a centuries old crumbling fort above. The legend is that the Dogra army that conquered Ladakh in the early 19th century was led this way to their prize, the Indus valley and Leh, by a renegade Zanskari.
9 - rest Hankar
10 - trek Mani Chen 4550m
It will take about five hours walking today, but do take it slowly, and of course, drink lots of water. We should reach camp with plenty of sun to spare, and there are some delightful bathing spots around.
11 - rest Mani Chen
12 - trek (over Zalung Karpo La) Sorra 4060m
Gently up, and up, and up again. By noon we should be at the pass, and if the Gods are with us, the sun will be shining and we can have lunch on top as we feast on the views. Both the Zanskar and the Himalayan range are in view, and way down valley is a speck of green, our camp. After lunch a steep sliding drop on scree takes us into what can be a scorching hot valley; we have entered Kharnak, one of the high altitude grazing areas of Ladakh. After seven hours of walking we will be in camp by the river. The hilltop rock formation ahead is actually a 15th century fort and the triangular peak beyond is sacred to the local people.
13 - trek Dat 4200m
Today is reckoned to be one of our top ten trekking days. Pastures give way to a poplar wooded gorge with rock spires towering all around; then after truly delightful river crossings, we emerge into the heart of Kharnak, the pastureland leading us to Dat. Shrines to the gods that live on the peaks all around line the trail, yaks bask in the sun as they graze and a cloud of dust could be a nomad on horseback. By early afternoon we reach Lahtoo, where the nomads make offerings to their local deities every spring - beautifully carved mani stone upon mani stone.
14 - trek Lungmoche 4550m
Fill your bottles as there may not be any water until the other side of our pass, the 4850m Yar La. We cross a wide plateau where we may spot Kiang - wild Asses - that haunt the area; and lunch in a shady spot before the fairly easy one hour climb to the pass. The pass itself has some beautiful carvings and the wall that crosses it is to help locals cross in winter snow. A short way down is another wonderful camp in a trek of many.
15 - Trek Sangtha 4250m
Flat, wide, and high. Lungmoche may seem like a long deserted ghost town, but the inhabitants have simply upped for the summer, leaving the stone rings they pitch their tents around to the pikas, marmots and Kiang. Sangtha marks the end of Ladakhi herding areas and the start of Tibetan. With its cold clear river it is also a great bathing spot and a walk above the camp for the sunset is worth it.
16 - Trek Narbus 4820m
Nothing like a pass to start the day, and the Pogmar La at 4950m is one of the deceptive ones. It is three hours or more to the top, with the 'usual' stunning views to reward us; and we can spot way below the tents of the camp of Narbus, who camp here every summer.
17 - drive Manali
Day 18 - Manali
Back to the green world of trees and tourists. It is possible to take the overnight tourist bus to Delhi and fly out tomorrow.