Although we try to follow the itinerary below but it is only a guideline. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Day 1 - Meet in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away amidst the Ladakh mountains, part of the great Trans Himalayan range. If you arrive by air you'll feel the big jump in altitude and it will take your body a few days to adjust. If you arrive by road from Manali or Srinagar you'll have had some extra acclimatization en route, but will still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with plenty of water, stay away from beer for a few days, rest and don't over-exert yourself. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house, let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or two. Diamox is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally; Kim will discuss.
We stay at the family-run Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guest house with a lovely garden in the center courtyard, located just a few minutes south of the Main Bazaar in old Leh town. Your rooms will be booked for you, you'll just need to advise Kim of your arrival time, whether by air or by road. Once everyone has arrived and checked into rooms, Kim will show you around town: the bakeries, cafes, tandoori restaurants, email cafes, banks and wonderful markets. We'll meet for dinner in the evening at the Ibex or Summer Harvest, a few of our favorite restaurants.
Days 2, 3 - Leh
We've scheduled two free days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal's 17th century capital of Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh Palace, the ancient 16th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, other historic Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the Sunni Muslim mosques, narrow back alleys with steaming Muslim bread, tiny antique shops tucked away amidst the many ancient stupas and architectural remnants, the exotic Main Bazaar (c. 1840s) which once accommodated trade caravans, and even a polo field. Caravans of merchants from far-flung destinations such as Yarkand, Tibet, Kashgar and North India passed through Leh during ancient trade missions, trading salt, wool, Pashmina, tea and semi-precious stones, lending to the city its exotic allure. Pilgrims flocked to the monasteries of Leh and the Indus valley, explorers of old stopped in Leh to re-stock and weather out the harsh Himalayan winter and soldiers en route to plunder and conquer desirous destinations passed through Leh, all leaving their mark on this unique capital.
Kim will take you for a walk up the bustling Fort Road, lined with shops owned by Kashmiri, Tibetan and Kashmiri shop-keepers, to 15th century Leh Fort and the red, MaitreiyaTsemo Gompa, perched high on a craggy and crumbling hilltop overlooking the bazaars of old Leh. You can stop at 16th century nine-story Leh Palace, of a similar architectural design to the Tibetan Potala Palace, on the way down if you have the energy. Visit the museum, a worthwhile endeavor, as well as the nearby gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) - Soma Gompa, Chamba Lakhang and Chensrig Lakhang. There is a great cultural show around sunset at Soma Gompa.
We might wander the willow-lines streets of Changspa to reach the many steps leading to the Japanese-built Shanti Stupa for a view over the green fields and white-washed Ladakhi houses of the villages surrounding Leh. The precariously perched Leh Fort guards the eastern edges of the fertile valley. Sankar Gompa (17th - 18th century), reached through shady lanes to the east of Changspa, lies in the midst of Chubi's groves of poplar and willow and is another wonderful morning or afternoon walk. The back route to Leh Fort starts in Chubi and passes through a desert-like Buddhist cremation ground before climbing to the fortress.
OPTIONAL GOMPA-TRIP: Arrange (through Kim, our Tibetan jeep-driver Wang Chuk or the Shaynam Hotel) a 'jeep safari' through the fertile Indus Valley to visit a few of the living Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the crumbling ruins of ancient fortresses and palaces and the traditional villages that dot the banks of the region, the 'cradle of civilization' of much of the ancient world. Kim can help arrange jeeps and/or a guide for a day's excursion.
To the East: Shey, Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho & Stok.
To the West: Spiyok, Phyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Rizdong & Lamayuru.
OPTIONAL RAFTING-TRIP: You can arrange a day rafting trip on the Indus (easier) or the Zanskar River, approximately $25-$30.
Day 4 - Drive Meru 3720m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at our acclimatization destination, Lato. We following the Leh Srinagar highway east, past the ancient, 14th century Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village. We continue past the old palace and gompa at Shey, surrounded by hundreds of whitewashed chortens, and continue past more chortens built by the kings of Ladakh towards colorful Thikse Gompa on the left. The renown Hemis Gompa is built high up on a hillside to our right, down a connecting lane. Soon after passing this landmark we turn right at Upshi, following the Leh Manali highway south as it snakes its way over the high passes of the Zanskar and Himalayan ranges heading to Manali. Following the Gya Chu along a spectacular section of highway, we soon reach our campsite at the hamlet of Meru where the staff has set up camp for the night. We'll set you up in your tents, show you around our 'Kamzang' style dining tent and settle in with a mug of chai. Beers are available at a small tea-house nearby.
*Day 5 - Trek Posa Sumdo 4250m
We start our trek with two exploratory days, leading to the well-know high pasturelands of the inhabitants of the Markha valley. Our day starts with a straightforward ascend of an unnamed 4060 meter pass, afterwards descending to a small stream which we follow until the next river intersection, Posa Sumdo. Sumdo means river junction in Tibetan and we'll hear this name for the next few weeks.
*Day 6 - Trek Chumik Marpo 4100m (over Shapodok La 4670m)
Another small pass to start the day, so after freshly brewed coffee we set off, again heading northwest, towards the Shapodak La (4670m). After admiring the views of the Ladakh and Zanskar range from the crest of the pass, we head down quite steeply, to the north towards the next sumdo where we cross a bridge towards the west. Continuing along this green valley for another hour, we reach another sumdo and another bridge which takes us across the river to the main route to Nyimaling from Shang Sumdo. We'll camp here, in a place our horsemen call Chumik Marpo (which might also be Chuskirmo). Chumik means 'spring' in Ladakhi, another term you'll hear often in these Himalayan regions.
Day 7 - Trek Konmaru La High Camp 4700m
The valley narrows as we ascend 600-meters to our high camp. Blue sheep roam these craggy, ochre-tinted valley freely so keep your eyes on the rugged cliff sides surrounding us. There are several river crossings, usually jumpable, along the way and the valley is colored with wildflowers. High camp is about 500 meters below the Konmaru La, and the pass is visible from our chilly camp.
Day 8 - Trek Nyimaling (over Konmaru La 5260m)
It's a relatively easy climb to the crest of the Konmaru La, at 5260 meters. Keep a look out for blue sheep along the way, and enjoy the panorama of Ladakh & Zanskar peaks from the top, as well as snow-capped Kang Yatze right in front of us. From the prayer-flag festooned top of the pass we look down onto the spectacular nomadic plateau of Nyimaling, and to the right is one of the most dramatic views of the trek, with layers and layers of peaks clothed in subtle hues guarding the skyline.
An easy descent brings us to the high altitude grazing region of Nyimaling, where Hangkar villagers herd their flocks of Pashmina sheep and goats as they've done for centuries. We set up another scenic campsite, have lunch and have the entire afternoon to wander, look for wildlife and explore this unique, high plateau. Yaks roam freely, creating a perfect Tibetan environment. Down the valley in the direction of the craggy peaks is the famous Markha Valley. Take a walk up to the plateau just below Kang Yatze, where pikas and marmots scurry towards their burrows, and high altitude bird life is plentiful. The lichen on the granite rocks adds a lovely hue to the already colorful plateau ...
Just before sunset the villagers return to their stone doksas with their flocks of hundreds of sheep and goats, and we can head over for a visit, perhaps even for a bowl of fresh yogurt. Sunsets are truly awe-inspiring on the plateau, with a flaming, red orb descending behind the hills down valley from us, and setting the snaking Nyimaling Chu ablaze with color.
Day 9 - Trek Mani Chen 4410m or Zalung Karpo La High Camp 4675m (over Kongka Ngongpo La 5180m)
We'll have an early morning start with the sheep as it's a long day, nearly eight hours, and you'll need your sandals for the tail-end of it. Heading up the deceptively steep ridge along the rocky stream bed in back of camp, right towards Kang Yatze, we'll keep right and low as we contour around the snow-peak to the ridge visible ahead. The high plateau is lovely, covered in Edelweiss, lavender, daisy-like asters and brick-red 'glacier flowers' in round clusters. At the second, cairn-marked ridge, we descend to Kang Yatze Base Camp and ford a small stream, usually jump-able, contouring for another hour towards the Kongka Ngongpo La (5180 meters). It usually takes us three hours to reach the pass. After admiring the broad views, we switchback right back down, steeply and a bit precipitously, towards the Langthang Chu Valley and our High Camp for the Zalung Karpo La. Our barely-perceptible trail leads us past summer doksas and into more blue sheep territory. After lunch on a rocky-outcropping, we drop steeply through a meadow to an old doksa, descend again to another plateau with a ridge overlooking the valley and finally contour for another hour to the Langthang Chu valley. Once in the valley it's a quick walk to the small mani wall of Mani Chen, meaning 'place of mani stones', an old stop on the nomadic route. Mani Chen is a lovely campsite, grassy and flat with a small stream winding its way across the plateau. The river has some good spots for washing if the water isn't too silt-filled. A great afternoon excursion is up the valley to the left (on our side of the river) to see the blue sheep.
*** If the rivers are low we might opt to continue on another two hours to Zalung Karpo La High Camp, a rocky campsite with late afternoon sun. We'll have a few small river crossings en route. High camp is on the left of the glacial river on a small, grassy spur with a cold stream for washing and late-afternoon sun.
Day 10 - Tsokra 4330m (over Zalung Karpo La 5200m)
We'll have an early start for our next pass, the Zalung Karpo La, and again you'll probably want your sandals with you if the sun is out and (thus) the rivers are high. We'll have two hours of flat riverside walking, jumping the small stream, to reach the high camp from where it takes less than an hour to reach the access valley to the Zalung Karpo La. Our valley is the second large valley on the right, just ten minutes past the first one. Heading up this valley of shimmering, mica-composed slate and scree, we follow a small stream much of the way up valley as we gradually ascend. The valley opens up to a false summit reached by a steep switchback, and finally about an hour later we crest the 5200-meter, prayer-flag festooned Zalung Karpo La. Ahead in the distance, both the Zanskar and the Himalayan ranges are visible, an impressive view. If it's not too windy we'll have lunch at the prayer flags on top of the pass.
The descent is a steep and sandy switchback and the valley below can be scorching. We are now entering Kharnak, translated as 'black fort', the high altitude grazing region of the Ladakhi nomads. We have 2 1/2 more hours of hiking, with a few hills but mostly river walking, and possibly a few tricky river crossings depending on the water lever. Finally, approximately eight hours of hiking later, we reach our grassy campsite at Tsokra, a local grazing plateau. Again there are opportunities for a wash in the river or small stream that winds its way through our green campsite.
*Day 11 - Trek Khizurkham Valley
Leaving our usual route, we'll spend a day exploring a valley to our left, just in back of Kharnak fort, that we've always wanted to explore. There's said to be a beautiful green campsite over a small pass that we'll head for ...
Starting with an easy river crossing as we trek along the flat riverside trail for an hour to a wooden bridge spanning the narrow canyon above the stream. En route we'll pass through a nomadic settlement with threshing fields and an old mill that look as if its not been used for years, as we're towered over by soaring canyons. The ruined fort, called 'Khar Fortress' (and which Kharnak is named after), is perched impressively above us, an ancient guard of the many valleys. From the fortress, we'll take one of the valleys to the backside and crest a small ridge leading to a nomadic valley between the Tsokra and Dat valleys.
*Day 12 - Trek Dat 4310m
Depending on where we end up, the day goes something like this ...
Today continues with more superlatives. We enter a canyon of dramatic spires, tawny cliffs, willows and a gurgling river. We'll cross the river and take the willowy trail on the right side of the river as blue sheep have kicked stones from above, which have come hurtling down on the left trail. Note the wonderful cliffs, sculpted by centuries of ice and water erosion. We cross the next bend in this river, continue along the widening riverbed at the intersection to the Kharnak Chu and then climb past another old doksa, dropping to one last river crossing.
Turning left at the wide intersection of Tantse Sumdo, we follow the Kharnak (or Chang) Chu, heading further into Kharnak and the pasturelands of Dat. Another 2 1/2 hours later, after trekking through a hot, bug-infested (but lovely) valley of willows and cliffs cut by the Kharnak Chu, the valley opens to damp, green pastures watered by numerous springs. We climb on a cliff-side trail on the right of the winding river, descend again, and soon reach the fantastic Kharnak 'lhatoo' (called Lhatoo on the map), where the nomads and local monks make offerings to their local deities during a ceremony called Gertsa, which takes place for five days from the end of May to early June (corresponds with Saga Dawa). Men place a new ritual arrow on the lhatoo, signifying men's protection under the gods. (Women aren't allowed at this ceremony). Beautifully carved mani stones are piled along extensive platforms, yak skulls carved with Om Mani Padme Hum are stacked in the main altar, bowls smelling of old butter await next year's puja and multi-colored prayer flags flutter in the wind. Red and yellow-billed choughs, revered as messengers of the mountain gods, sit aloft high prayer-flag poles. Climb the hill for a great view. Overall, an impressive entrance to Dat!
Continuing on through a lush valley of meandering streams and springs protected by high, brick-red and wildly contorted cliffs, we pass other doksas and more smaller lhatoos, shrines to the mountain gods that live on the surrounding peaks. Yaks graze and cool themselves in the streams, and a cloud of dust could be a nomad on horseback. An hour or so later, after cresting two arid plateaus with long mani walls and wonderful carvings which indicate an old trade route, we spot the wide valley of Dat below us.
Dat is the perfect, grassy campsite for an afternoon of relaxation and acclimatization. Warm streams meander through the valley, providing luke-warm washing water, and the sun usually shines brightly. If you feel like a wander, head up the side valley in back of Shemen village for an afternoon of wildlife spotting. Spend some time in the deserted villages and Dat Gompa, where the local god Ka La Bu Skyong, the protector and 'giver of sons', reins supreme. (Interestingly, this god is only recognized in Kharnak). The semi-permanent village of Shemen is fascinating, and the gompa worth a visit if we can find the resident key-keeper, a young monk from Hemis, who also collects the camp charges. Wander through the empty passageways between the stone houses; the discarded rubbish gives a picture of what life is like during the inhabited periods.
Another option is a (slightly difficult) hike up the plateau and prayer-flag topped peak above Dat at 4710 meters for totally amazing birds eye views down on the valley, but be ready for some scrambling. Our campsite for the night is lovely, high pastureland next to the now-deserted village of Shemen. Dat, which houses approximately forty families (although many have now moved to Choglamsar) in the Spring and late Autumn, is actually composed of the two villages of Dango (upper) and Shemen (lower). The nomadic villagers move to the Sangtha and Lungmoche valleys with their flocks in the summer months, and to the valley behind Dat few a couple of months in the wintertime. Marmots share the campsite with us and Kiang might check us out from the ridge above Dat. Sunsets and sunrises are glorious from camp so it's worth a visit to the small, monk-run teahouse to pick up a beer for 'sundowner' ...
*Day 13 - Trek Nomadic Winter Doksa 4505m
We're keeping the details of the next few days quiet as no trekking groups know about this route. Trust us to lead you to one of the most beautiful and green valleys in Ladakh where we will set up camp in what we call our 'snow leopard valley' ...
*Day 14 - Trek Kiang Camp
Another secret day with an easy pass at 4815m to reach our campsite in a green valley full of kiang, and perhaps snow leopard.
Day 15 - Trek Lungmoche 4710m (over Yar La 4950m)
We have a small pass to crest, with views of the Zanskar Range, during which we often spot herd of kiang that reside in the nearby valleys (kiang translates as 'wander' in Ladakhi). The male often comes out to the main valley to scout for the herd of females and younger males, all of which will snort, paw the ground and arrange an impressive maneuver for us if their territory is threatened. Himalayan hares also reside in the valley and dart in and out of site. We crest one last ridge from camp before contouring towards the ascent of the 4950 meter Yar La, a relatively easy climb of just over an hour from the end of the valley following the winter snow wall built for winter sheep crossings. The chorten on the pass has some beautiful carvings including the Kharnak mountain deity, a lovely mountain goddess called Tsering Ma (Ched Inga), the eldest of five sisters, also recognized in Tibet. Most of these nomadic mountain deities are Bon deities which have been subdued by Guru Rimpoche as protectors of the Buddhist faith. We can see our old campsite just five minutes down the pass, and it will only take us half an hour (or a bit more if we camp further down the valley) to reach the turnoff to that camp at Lungmoche, another lovely pastureland. We're still Kiang territory still, so keep your cameras ready. We'll continue down the lovely, green Lungmoche valley for another half an hour or so from here, setting up camp somewhere green ...
Day 16 - Trek Zabuk Barma 4350m
Today we head into well-loved nomadic territory, hiking down the green valley on the right side of the valley (there is a road being built on the opposite side, sadly). We'll pass a large doksa soon after leaving camp, and then a mani wall and large chorten. An hour from this last chorten after a short, traversing climb brings us to a small pass where we'll have a short rest in front of the mountain home of the three sister goddesses. Look back across the Zara Chu to see the 'Five Sisters' peaks, the dwelling of the five mountain goddesses that live in the distinctly shaped range. From here we descend gradually to the right, contour up and down several arid hillsides and reach a short but dramatic canyon through which we descend. Turning left we soon reach a broad plateau with chortens marking routes on all three sides and a cluster of eight magnificent, whitewashed chortens across the river. Fifteen minutes later we drop into the seasonal nomadic settlement of Sangtha, built of rounded, white river rocks and littered with goat and sheep droppings. Cross the river to the complex of mani stones and chortens for wonderful photos and great views back to Sangtha, which marks the intersection of the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomadic regions.
We follow the magnificent, clear Zara Chu on the chorten-side to a grassy lunch spot at the first river intersection. We continue for another hour or so on the same side (left) past more sparkling river intersections, nomadic settlements (doksas), and a wolf trap and then drop down to the grassy riverside. Near camp on our side of the river is a marmot colony, with small trails leading to their tunnel shelters. One more river bend and we spot out campsite across the river at Zhabuk Barma, a spectacularly situated seasonal settlement of the Karnak-pa. To the east (below our camp) the Tozay Chu leads to Pang on the Leh-Manali highway and the Ladakhi nomadic region of Kharnak, and is bordered by a fantastic canyon of sculpted rocks leads. The campsite is wonderful and green with perfect swimming holes along the river and a cold, fresh spring in back. There are three tri-colored chortens in a shallow cave above the stone doksas, worth a steep climb up for views over the campsite and down the valley. And just to the left of these, a steep valley leading up to a fantastic plateau with vast vistas, a must-do in the afternoon with the perfect light. Keep your eyes on the hilltops next to camp for kiang, Himalayan hare and blue sheep, all of which are common in this area. We'll have a yak-dung fire in the evening ...
Day 17 - Zabuk Barma
We love this campsite so much that we've schedule an extra day to relax and soak up the surroundings ...
Day 18 - Trek Narbus 4820m (over Narbus La 4850m)
We have a wonderfully dramatic hike today as we re-cross the Zara Chu right out of camp and climb to a high plateau just above us. Heading slightly around the hilltop to our right we cross the plateau on a sort of natural bridge and reach the fantastic canyons above the Tozay Chu to reach the sculpted canyons. The multi-hued spires of rock sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion make for amazing photos. The river valley below our camp leads to the small settlement of Pang, which is off the Leh Manali highway from Narbus. We hike along this plateau, a feast of textures and colors high above the valley below, eventually contouring left towards the Narbus La.
It will take us four or five hours from camp to crest the 4850-meter pass. From the wide crest, marked by a small cairn, we can spot the canvas and yak-hair tents of the Tibetan nomadic settlement of Narbus where we set up camp for the night. Our nomadic Tibetan friends camp here for about four months every summer, and we can take a look at the inside of a nomad tent or two in the afternoon. Be ready, as we will be offered treats such as salt butter tea and fresh curd (yogurt) from their flocks of goats and sheep. Narbus is a good place to donate your supplies or extra clothes; years ago we had a meeting of the women from each tent and distributed evenly much needed school supplies and extras. Another year we bargained for yak and sheep-hair blankets and nomadic knives with binoculars, a Leatherman and some cash. The evenings are a wonderful time of the day as the orange orb of sun begins to set, the nomads returning to camp herding their hundreds of sheep and goats, and the yaks wandering back to the tents followed by the haunting yells of the Tibetans.
Day 19 - Trek Numa River Camp 4610m
We start on our six hour day to the beautiful Numa Valley Camp. We cut across the Narbus valley for two hours to reach the Leh - Manali highway (unless we hitch a ride), and then continue right across the tussocked plateau towards the spectacular canyon that extends from Pang, four hours from Narbus. There are several nomadic settlements peppering the plateau in front of us and to our left, and we often spot Kiang along the way, even a weasel last year. It can be hot and there is no shade along the way so it's a good day for an umbrella. Look up and down valley as the views are spectacular, the Himalayan rising impressively in front of us behind Pang. When we reach the edge of the plateau leading to Pang we are on yet another dramatic plateau overlooking sculpted rock outcroppings and 'hoodoos', with the river snaking through the flood plain valley below us.
We hike along the canyon rim for another hour to the turnoff to camp, the second large valley descending to our right. We'll have lunch somewhere just before we hit this valley. After lunch, we'll drop and contour around two small hillsides and then descend extremely steeply to the river, following in the tracks of our horses (in case you can't believe this is really a trail). We see our campsite being set up far below us as we descend. Dropping steeply down a scree-filled gully, we slip our way down to the riverbed far below. Our campsite is right on the river at the intersection of a lovely stream, under the pillars of eroded sand which have formed themselves into Himalayan cathedrals called hoodoos. We'll have time in the afternoon for a wash in the river, or a wander up the streambed to the left of camp ...
Day 20 - Trek Zozogong 4940m
Yet another wonderful Himalayan trekking day ahead of us and another sandals day. The trek takes on a completely different character as we follow the wide Sumkhar Togpo river valley for two and a half hours along the flood plain, jumping over and splashing through the river many times and passing three large valleys (one without water) to the left side of the river. Crumbling hoodoos line the trail on either side, backed by vivid blue skies and fluffy Himalayan clouds. Eventually, we reach the large turnoff at the far left of the valley, which leads to the base of the Thelekang La, the 5025 meter pass above our camp. From the turnoff, it should take us about an hour and a half of walking along a small stream with wide open views to reach the hill leading to the pass, and another easy hour of climbing to the pass. En route, we'll see large flocks of sheep and Pashmina goats roaming the hillsides with their owners. Below us, we see the horses reaching our campsite and ahead in the distance, the snow-capped Himalayas to the south of Lake Tsomoriri. Zozogong is a fantastic campsite; years ago we woke up surrounded by snow after an evening of Kiang spooking our horses the night before. There is sometimes a group of Korzok-pa nomads camped here, so we may have company (in addition to the pika sticking their heads curiously out of their holes). Views are great, camp is grassy and there is plenty of water for washing, so enjoy the afternoon!
Day 21 - Trek Himalaya View Camp (Gekyor or Yongma) 4750m
We'll have a leisurely morning as the cafe is in such a nice spot, and start off down the wide flood-plain heading towards the impressive snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan range ahead. More Kiang spotting this morning in what we call 'Kiang Valley' about two and a half hours from camp. We often first spot the 'alpha' male keeping watch for the herd of younger males and females, snorting and pawing as we approach, and then gathering the whole herd together and kicking up a trail of dust as they bolt by us, close by. We might also see Himalayan hare, pikas, voles and marmot, and there are many of high-altitude birds en route. The plain becomes soft and marshy as the river runs below it and flowers bloom abundantly. Past more grazing valleys and nomad encampments, we continue along the flood plains, which soon become a clear river, to our campsite just past a few dung-scattered Ladakhi nomadic settlements. Most of the nomads from the settlements we passed stay out with their flocks until the evening, so we will probably have some visitors of both the shoed and hoofed variety at our dining tent. Kim bought a wonderful blanket from these nomads years ago, so its worth a look around as we head to camp. Kiang also roam the nearby valleys, and over the next few days we should see many of these majestic creatures. We continue on another hour to 'Himalaya View Camp' which we discovered several years ago, a less windy spot with wonderful views and a pebbly, gurgling river beside the grassy banks of the river.
Our beautiful camp
Day 22 - Trek Pebble River Camp 4625m
We have a four and a half hour day in front of us as we leave our idyllic campsite and head towards another pass, a barely noticeable once called the Mani Chen La. Staying on the left bank, we follow the pebbly, clear river, the Zozogong (or Zoguang) Chu, which reflects the Himalayas in the calm of the morning. From Himalaya View Camp it's only another half an hour of easy climbing and contouring along well-trodden trails to the Mani Chen La (4795m). Climb to the top of the left hill for even more expansive views of the intersection of two large valleys. Perhaps we'll see roaming kiang below; they seem to love this wide river intersection, and we often bring sandals with us to run after them through the small streams of the flood plain. We approach the Mani Chen doksa after a steep descent from the pass, and have to jump two streams and cross three plateaus as we continue down-valley. The large, rounded granite boulders and chunks of crystallized quartz of the second valley indicate that the landscape is changing. We'll likely see more kiang at the interesting, prayer-flag festooned Lhatoo Gongma (4670m). Continuing, we climb one more plateau just after descending from the lhatoo and descend again to a greener valley where kiang have eaten the dwarf-rhubarb that grows in the valley. The valley narrows and we'll trek around three small bends, heading to the left, walking in the riverbed to cool down if we choose. Past this last bend we spot our idyllic camp shimmering in the distance, just under the cliffs ahead and right on the pebbly flood plain. The camp gets late sun in the evening and early sun in the morning, and dunks in the river are a must ...
Day 23 - Trek Kiangdom 4530m
Today it seems as if we drop off the edge of the world as we follow the rocky bottom of the wide gorge and the sculpted hillsides in shades of tans and browns past nomad camps marked by stone circles and bleached sheep skulls. It is a wonderful, six-hour 'river walk' day with wild kiang mirroring us as we trek down-valley. We first climb up a plateau right out of camp and then drop back down to the river, either staying on the left bank or walking in the center of the valley on smooth river pebbles. It's a good day for sandals! We reach our first junction after an hour and a half of hiking and then a second in the same amount of time. The canyon seems to shut itself behind us at the large river bend to the left after nearly four hours, and just after this we might need our sandals if the river is high. There are some springs along the river if you need to fill your bottles. We have another hour until we climb on a slightly exposed trail for our first, spectacular view the turquoise Lake Tsomoriri, which stretches north from here for 26 kilometers. Below, past the sculptural twists and turns of the delta fed by the Phirse Chu and the Pare Chu, is our spectacular campsite at Kiangdom, home to groups of Ladakhi (Korzok-pa) nomads for a few months of the summer. Kiangdom, which translates as 'realm of the Kiang' (Kiang means roam in Ladakhi), actually does harbor many Kiang in the southern delta. They often stand still and shimmering in the morning sun, seeming an illusion from a far away desert land ...
There is time to explore in the afternoon; watch the migratory bar-necked geese and ruddy shellducks, spot the cormorants and black-headed gulls, photograph the still lake glimmering in the late afternoon sun, set up your camp chair in the sun and watch the world of the nomads go by. The Korzok-pa nomads often camp just across the streams from camp, and an excursion to one of their tents to buy some 'tsampa' (barley flour), 'yos' (half-popped barley) or 'chang' (barley beer) is a step back into time. At the end of the afternoon, the sheep, Pashmina goats and yaks return to the nomad camps, herded by wild-looking nomads on horseback, and later the sunset turns the lake and northern hills shades of pink and orange. The Himalayan peaks in back of camp are breathtaking.
Day 24 - Kiangdom
As the nomads will be camped here in June, it's the perfect time of year for a rest day. Take advantage of being here to wander over to the nomad camps across the ribbons of stream and experience a dying way of life ...
Day 25 - Trek Dungri 4530m
We've not trekked the beautiful eastern route of Lake Tsomoriri for several years so thought we'd go this way once again. Leaving camp and heading southeast, we have to head back into the floodplains below us a bit to avoid the tangle of streams that feed the lake. In back of us, mirages, kiang stand guard and nomads on horseback cross the wide plains. We have about 2 1/2 hours of jumping before we reach the green plateaus of Dungri, just a bit north of Kiangdom. It's a lovely, green plateau dotted with nomad tents this time of year, so we set up camp and head out to explore! There's a small stream running in back of our grassy campsite, also a perfect setting for a wash. Climb the hill in back of camp, further east, which leads towards the restricted region of Hanle for some views.
Day 26 - Trek Mid-Lake Camp
Heading north, we pass several doksas as we hike along the eastern shores of the lake, with incredible reflections in the lake in the mornings when the lake is still. The eastern banks of the lake are much hillier than the western banks, and we have to climb and descend several hills before stopping for lunch at a wide valley. There is a new road now built leading to the Hanle region, so we'll ignore it for today and focus on the scenery instead. We'll camp somewhere mid-lake ...
Ang Chuk and the other drivers will arrive in the afternoon to meet us, and drive us back to Leh tomorrow. We'll have our tips party tonight as we won't see the horsemen again ...
Day 27 - Drive Leh
Sadly, the trek is over but today's drive is a great finish to our trek. Once in the jeeps, we'll be treated to a spectacular five hour drive through the Tsomoriri region and the Indus Valley along the Manali - Leh highway, over the Tanglang La (5332m), and along the lovely Gya Chu, a continuation of our wonderful journey. Near the green villages of Gya and Lhato the contorted cliff sides are colored vibrant hues of eggplant and brick red, making this one of the most beautiful canyons in Ladakh. En route we pass the western Indus valley gompas, amongst them the 1000-year old Alchi, Hemis, Rizdong, Likir, Thikse and Shey. Back at the Shaynam Guest House in Leh, hot showers and a clean change of clothes await, and tandoori food and cold beers are not far away at the Ibex ...
Day 28 - Leh
We've scheduled one last day in Leh, our favorite Central Asian capital, in case of delays during the trek. We'll also have time to do some more shopping and exploring, and to wind down after our journey through the high, nomadic regions of 'old Tibet'.
Day 29 - Wednesday, 17 July - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends today, sadly. You have several options after the trip: a flight back to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all fronts, but Leh flights are not included in our India treks.
Day 19 - Drive Leh
Sadly, the trek is over but today's drive is a great finish to our trek. Once in the jeeps, we'll be treated to a spectacular five hour drive through the Indus Valley along the Manali - Leh highway, over the Tanglang La (5332m), and along the lovely Gya Chu, a continuation of our wonderful journey. Near the green villages of Gya and Lhato the contorted cliff sides are colored vibrant hues of eggplant and brick-red, making this one of the most beautiful canyons in Ladakh. En route we pass the western Indus valley gompas, amongst them the 1000-year old Alchi, Hemis, Rizdong, Likir, Thikse and Shey. Back at the Shaynam Guest House in Leh, hot showers and a clean change of clothes await, and tandoori food and cold beers are not far away at the Ibex.
Day 20 - Monday, 8 July - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends today, sadly. You have several options after the trip: a flight back to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all fronts, but Leh flights are not included in our India treks.