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 Jingchan. Trek Rumbak Sumdo 3875m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek, turning off the Leh Srinagar highway just past the ancient, 14th century Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village. After crossing the Indus River and following it on a precipitous road for an hour, we intersect the Jingchan Chu (river) and meet our horsemen and team at the hamlet of Jingchan. Time to start trekking ...
With the Jingchan Chu as our guide, we trek up a narrow, green valley, crossing many times on small, wooden bridges or jumping when there is no bridge, stopping for lunch under shady trees. The trail pass through a small canyon, past cairns with prayer flags and Buddhist mani walls, and have our first view of the snow-peaks of the Stok Range to the south and the Ladakh Range to the north. Entering a broad valley, we reach the grassy campsite at Rumbak Sumdo where we set up our first camp of the trek. 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, and since we haven't ascended too high, you can chill one in the stream!
The nine houses of Rumbak, surrounded by billowing fields of barley and marked by circular mani stones along the trail, are flanked by the snow-capped Rumbak Kangri range. Rumbak is a lively village; large herd of pashmina goats and sheep are brought back to the village at twilight, and villagers will be threshing their barley at harvest time. There are many green-houses in the village, initiatives that we will see through out the Markha Valley.
There is a large mani wheel in the middle of the lovely village and chukkors (Himalayan partridges) chortle at visitors from the nearby hillsides. Keep walking for another ten minutes past town, heading towards the Stok La pass, to the ancient, white-washed chorten atop the ridge to your right for wonderful, late-afternoon golden views of the peaks ahead and down to Rumbak, the gompa and the campsite.
Day 5 - Trek Ganda La Base Camp 4375m (or Lartsa High Camp 4530m)
Leaving camp, we head left up-valley, following the meandering Jingchan River upstream. At the grove of willows, we cross a small, wooden bridge, and soon afterwards turn right up the dramatically multi-hued valley and head towards Yurutse, a hamlet of one large household situated at 4200 meters, with magnificent views of Stok Kangri. As we ascend through this magical avocado-green and eggplant colored valley, look for chukkors, pikas and marmots amongst the grassy valley floor and rocky slopes surrounding us. We've even seen the rare argali bashing horns in a show of male dominance in this valley and blue sheep are common inhabitants. We'll be treated to more views of the Stok Range as we reach Ganda La Base Camp, an hour's walk from Yurutse. We'll set up camp near the tea-house in a spectacular setting, throw on some warm clothes, enjoy the sunset and get ready for the Ganda La pass tomorrow. There is a ridge to climb next to the campsites for great views of Stok Kangri, and you might spot the Himalayan hares darting from rock to rock as you climb ...
If everyone is doing well with acclimatization, we'll head up another hour, and another 175 meters to the Lartsa High Camp for the night.
Day 6 - Trek Shingo 4050m (over Ganda La 4985m)
Our first pass day! We'll be up early with a hot mug of coffee and a good breakfast to keep us going strong. It's not a difficult or long pass, and shouldn't take more than two hours to the top from high camp (three from base camp). We start off with a steep climb of the hill to the right of camp, along a gully, and then switch backing up to the top of the hill. Behind us, Stok Kangri looms impressively, and we will take some time to catch our breath and take in the views. It will take us about an hour to reach the pass from here; at the Ganda La (4985 meters), 360 degree views await us, and we can see as far as the Zanskar Range to the south. After hanging our first multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags, we head steeply down into the Shingo Valley, which we can see below us. The trail becomes more gradual, and about two and a half hours later, having passed a local 'doksa', a long mani wall flanked by impressive chortens and a small 'parachute' tea-house, we wander through Shingo Village and arrive at our green campsite nearby. Shingo is a small hamlet of two house, marked by chortens and a mani wall, situated along a small, sparkling stream. We'll have the afternoon for laundry, washing up and reading in this beautiful campsite, so enjoy the rest!
Day 7 - Trek Chumik Hamjura 3525m
Heading down-valley through a narrow, colorful canyon of craggy rocks and unusual rock formations, we cross the Shingo stream several times en route (jumping). Willows shade us a bit as we continue on, and the seabuckthorne bushes will be sagging under the weight of their tart, orange berries. Passing a tea-house along the trail followed by a line of ancient chortens, we reach the lovely village of Skyu, and have time to explore the thousand year old Skyu Gompa and have a cup of tea at one of the many parachute tents. Here at Skyu, we intersect the route into the Markha Valley from Chilling, and intersect the Markha River.
Continuing along the Markha River along the left bank, we pass the many white-washed chortens, mani walls and ancient, carved Buddha rocks that mark the trail out of Skyu, and trek through willow and poplar groves, past traditional Ladakh houses, up onto a cliff-side trail. We'll reach a cluster of old, crumbling chortens perched high on a ridge, which afford us a wonderful view up and down the valley, in a couple of hours and soon afterwards will arrive at the parachute tent at Sumdo for lunch.
Half an hour after lunch there is a naturally-chilled spring, and then another 45 minutes of hilly walking later we cross the Markha river on a wonderful, old bridge. Our campsite at Chumik Hamjura is close by, a green, wet grazing area of the Markha people. The staff will have set up camp for the night, and cold beers and cokes are available from the small tea-house. Local villagers often pass through the campsite with their flocks of sheep and pashmina goats just before dinner, a great photo op! Enjoy the stream running in front of the campsite.
Day 8 - Trek Markha 3760m
A beautiful, diverse, five-hour day as we continue again along the left bank of the Markha River. Leaving camp, we ascend gradually to a wide plateau with a long mani wall and chortens, and then descend to the two houses of Nakdi, which look out towards an ancient meditation cave on the plateau across the river. We arrive Sara, the parachute-tent and camping site at the rocky riverbed which intersects the Markha River, and then pass briar patches of seabuckthorne and the ruins of ancient 'dzongs' and monasteries built high up into the cliff sides. Crossing another small bridge, we reach the small tea-house of a local wood-carver and walk along the left bank of the river, past the fields of Chalak, with spectacular canyons and spires above us, along the trail marked by old, crumbling Tibetan chortens. After passing a long mani wall and impressive, giant chortens (look back for wonderful views of the Markha Valley behind us), we'll stop for a break at an ancient 'lhatoo', or offering monument for the local mountain deities, where offerings of chang are served up in sheep horns. A powerful site. As we approach the intersection of the Markha valley with another small tributary about an hour later, we'll pass a group of tri-colored chorten marking the valley, gaze up-valley at the cliff-dwelling built into the valley wall, and descend by the wolf trap to the river, where we often have a wide river crossing (sandals recommended). We'll see the ruins of the Markha fort ahead of us on a hillside before we arrive at the village about half an hour later. We camp at one of two wonderful, grassy campsites, and are visited by all the village kids before dinner ...
Before dinner, head to the 400 year old Markha Gompa, built by Kushok Tsering Palden, the prince who became a monk, now recently renovated and affiliated with Hemis Gompa, and take a walk through the lively, colorful village and its barley fields. You can head up to the ruins of Markha Fort, but be careful! The snow-capped peak looming ahead of us isn't Kang Yatze 1, but a sister peak.
Day 9 - Trek Thuchungtse 4260m
Another classic Himalayan trekking day, a bit longer than yesterday, starting with a climb up on the cliff-side trail just past camp for amazing views back to the Ladakh Range. We have two river crossings today, so bring your sandals in your day pack. The first crossing comes just after our first descent, not deep but wide. Just afterwards we'll spot the monolith and stone 'lama's seat' where a local Druk-pa Lama gives a yearly puja. Look up the valley off to the right leading to the Ruberang La and the wild Jumlam trek.
One more river crossing and we've reached the breath-taking Tertha Gompa, also affiliated with Hemis Gompa, built at the top of a razor-sharp rock, and with views up and down the valley. We'll hike up for a look; they've recently built a new assembly hall above the old one. Soon, we approach the small hamlet of Umlung, at 3900 meters, where we'll stop for a seabuckthorne juice, produced locally by the Markha women's groups. From Umlung, take the high, cliff-side trail when the water is high; it affords wonderful views in any case.
Ahead of us, the dramatic 6400 meter Kang Yatze finally comes into sight, its peak a pure, triangular snow-cap. We have another hour or so of river-side walking in blue-sheep territory before reaching Hangkar (3950 meter) guarded by a fantastic fortress way up on the top of a rock spire. We'll have lunch here and take some time to climb to the top of the fort, approximately five centuries old, with unbeatable views from the top. There are also ancient mani stones, old fort-walls and relics such as mortars and pestles, clues to the past. Hangkar village, a hamlet of about fifteen houses, lies on the other side of a saddle in the trail, past a long line of mani walls and the village's old, tiny gompa. We'll pass just to the left of the village and through its many fields of barley before taking the left fork at a small, wooden bridge, heading along the Nyimaling Chu.
From Hangkar, it's a wonderful two-hour afternoon walk up to the summer grazing area of Thuchungtse, where the dramatic afternoon high-altitude light make for spectacular photos. Our campsite is another beautiful one, so enjoy a late afternoon wash in the gurgling, rocky stream, or take a short hike and look out for blue sheep, which descend to the stream for a drink. Plenty of bird life as well ...
Day 10 - Trek Nyimaling 4850m
Another wonderful day of trekking, not long but absolutely spectacular, with broad views of the Zanskar range, and Kang Yatze as a back-drop. The trail snakes up the valley in back of our campsite, and crests several ridges before reaching a small doksa and pond where the reflection of Kang Yatze and the peak itself right in front of us reward us for our climb. In back of us is one of the most dramatic views of the trek, with layers and layers of peaks clothed in subtle hues guarding the skyline. Another hour brings us to the high altitude grazing region of Nyimaling, where Hangkar villagers herd their flocks of Pashmina sheep 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. To the right is the Gongmaru La, the 5200 meter pass that leads out of the Markha Valley.
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 in down-valley from us, and setting the snaking Nyimaling Chu ablaze with color.
Day 11 - Trek Zalung Karpo La High Camp 4675m
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 in back of camp, right towards Kang Yatze, keep right and low as we contour around the snow-peak to the ridge visible ahead. 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 switch-back 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 descend to the river and Mani Chen at 4410 meters, meaning 'place of mani stones', an old stop on the nomadic route. If the rivers are low we'll continue on another hour or so to Zalung Karpo La High Camp, a rocky campsite with late afternoon sun. We'll have a few small river crossings en route, and if its hot you might even want to jump into one of the inviting
*** Some years the rivers are very high because of the sunny days, and the rivers impassable in the afternoon. If this is the case, we'll camp at Mani Chen.
Day 12 - Tsokra 4330m (over Zalung Karpo La 5200m)
We'll have an early start for our first pass, the Zalung Karpo La, and again you'll probably want your sandals with you if the rivers are high. It will take us less than an hour of rocky, riverside walking to reach the access valley to the pass from camp; our valley is the second large valley on the right, just ten minutes past the first one. Heading up this rocky valley, we follow a small stream much of the way up as we gradually ascend until the way opens up to a false summit, and finally about an hour later, the 5200 meter Zalung Karpo La itself. Ahead in the distance, both the Zanskar and the Himalayan ranges are visible, an impressive site.
If it's not too windy, we'll have lunch at the prayer flags on top of the pass. The descent is steep and sandy, 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 about 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, seven to eight hours from this morning's campsite, we'll reach our lovely, grassy campsite at the grazing region called Tsokra.
Day 13 - Trek Dat 4310m
A canyon day, another long one, starting with easy river crossings as we trek along an easy river-side trail, continuing through a nomadic settlement with threshing fields and an old mill which look as if they've not been used for years, and then through other nomadic settlements with livestock paddocks and stone looms, more recently used (as seen by the amount of livestock droppings). The ruined fort, called 'Khar Fortress' (and which Kharnak is named after), is perched impressively above us, an ancient guard of the many valleys. The day continues with more superlatives springing to mind. We approach a fantastic, narrow and sculpted canyon of ankle deep water (why use the bridge?) and then a broad canyon of dramatic spires, tawny cliffs, willows and a gurgling river. We'll 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.
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. Lunch is somewhere nearby. We climb on a cliff-side trail, 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 bordered by high, brick-red, wildly contorted cliffs, we pass other doksas and more 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. A couple of hot hours later, after cresting two arid plateaus with long mani walls and wonderful carvings which indicate an old trade route, we have reached Dat.
Our campsite for the next two nights 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 14 - Dat
The perfect, grassy campsite for a full day of total relaxation. 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 for totally amazing birds-eye views down on the valley, but be ready for some scrambling.
Day 15 - Trek Lungmoche 4710m (over Yar La 4950m)
Another pass day, starting with a flat, three hour hike down-valley, parallel to the Zanskar Range, during which we often see the herd of kiang that reside in the nearby valleys and wander these 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 live in the valley, and dart in and out of site. Fill your bottles at the turnoff to the pass valley as there may not be any water until the other side of our pass, the 4950 meter Yar La. We have lunch at the start of the pass (or at top if we're fit and moving fast), and then head up towards the pass, a relatively easy climb of just over an hour from lunch, following the winter snow wall. 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 the campsite just five minutes down the pass, and it will only take us half an hour to reach camp at Lungmoche, another lovely pastureland, again with a nearby stream for washing. We're in kiang territory still, so keep your cameras ready ...
Day 16 - Trek Zabuk Barma 4350m
Today we head into familiar and well-loved nomadic territory. We follow the magnificent, clear Zara Chu past many sparkling river intersections and nomadic settlements (doksas), the lower one called Zhabuk Yokma, to reach Zhabuk Barma a spectacularly-situated seasonal settlement. To the east 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. Sangtha is further up the Zara Chu valley and marks the intersection of the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomadic regions, a sparse semi-permanent settlement littered with goat droppings and discarded clothes which locals inhabit in the autumn.
The campsite is wonderful and green with perfect swimming holes along the river and a cold, fresh spring in back. 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. 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 (wild ass), Himalayan hare and blue sheep, which are common in this area.
Day 17 - Trek Narbus 4820m
It's an unbelievably dramatic hike today as we climb right our of camp, the massive cliffs of river valley canyon spreading out in front of us, their multi-hued spires of rock sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion. The river leads to the small settlement of Pang, which is off the Leh Manali highway from Narbus. We hike along this incredible feast of texture and colors, high above the valley below, heading left towards the Spagmur La. It will take us about four hours to crest the pass at 4900 meters; from here, we are treated to wide open mountain views and we can spot way below the canvas and yak-hair tents of the Tibetan nomadic settlement of Narbus where we set up camp for the night. Tibetan nomadic friends camp here 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; two years ago we had a meeting of a the women from each tent, and distributed evenly much needed school supplies and extras, and last 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 here; as the sun just begins to set, the nomads return to camp herding their hundreds of sheep and goats, and the yaks wander back to the tents, followed by the haunting yells of the Tibetans.
*** This is the last day of the Markha Valley trek, so we will have their 'tips' and farewell party tonight, and send them off in their jeeps in the morning. We'll also be re-supplying from the pick-up jeeps, so Lhakpa & Kim will unloading and sorting for some of the afternoon ...
Day 18 - Trek Numa River Camp 4610m
*** The Markha Valley group departs in the morning by jeep to Leh.
After goodbyes to our Markha Valley trekkers, 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 tussock 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 in 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 hill-sides 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 stream bed to the left of camp ...
Day 19 - Trek Zozogong 4940m
A six hour day today and yet another great hike. The trek takes on a completely different character now, as we follow the wide 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 20 - 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, pika's, 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.
Day 21 - Trek Lhatoo Gongma (Sunshine Camp) 4670m
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 (4765m). Climb to the top of the left hill for even more expansive views of the intersection of two large valleys. We approach a doksa after the 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 lhatoo before camp. After a short day, we'll have lunch on the grassy plateau at a large, bubbling stream just across from camp to let the boys unload the horses which should arrive at around the same time that we do. There is a gurgling stream next to the dining tent, and if the sun is out it's a wonderful spot for bathing, so jump in and rinse off after lunch ...
Day 22 - 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 chain is visible to the south, in back of camp ...
Day 23 - Trek Kiangdom
A free day in this idyllic campsite on the lake, enjoy!
Day 24 - Trek Korzok Phu 4640m
We'll leave camp early as we have a very long, hot trek along the eastern edge of Lake Tsomoriri to our camp at Korzok Phu in front of us, a hike which will take us a good eight (+) hours. Water is scarce, so bring plenty with you. It's a wonderful day of walking through a unique Himalayan landscape, the high lakes of the Changthang, so enjoy it.
We pass the nomadic settlements a bit to the west of us as we leave camp, jumping the rivulets as we head to the western bank of the lake (you'll probably need your sandals). As we walk, contouring around the many circular bays that line the lake, notice the smooth, flat rocks reflecting in the river, watch the geese as they float on the lake with their young and gaze up and over the hills to the east. After a few hours of hiking we pass a mani wall and climb quite steeply through a granite bounder-strewn hillside for dramatic views up and down the lake. The clouds and snow-peaks to the west are mirrored in the lake, and sandy beaches line much of the lake on both sides. After lunch next to some rounded, granite rocks on the bank of the lake, we jump two glacial run-off streams, continue past many mani walls and make one last climb up 'Korzok Hill' to reach the small pass which affords us magnificent views of Korzok Gompa, recently renovated, the lake, the mountains and the surrounding village and green barley fields. A further hour brings us to Korzok, a popular camping spot as the road along the Indus River from Leh reaches here. We'll explore the gompa a bit (or we can do this tomorrow), have a cup of tea, stock-up on beer and supplies for later and then continue on to our campsite forty five minutes inland. This last bit of the day is lovely, following a well-used trail and a meandering stream, jumping from one dry green tussock to another, to reach our camp in the midst of all of the nomadic action. Welcome to Korzok Phu.
*** There is a newly built dirt road from Korzok to Korzok Phu, so instead of taking the older trail we can possibly hitch a ride to camp if we decide to (especially if we pick up some beers) ...
Day 25 - Korzok Phu
Why not stay a day after all of this arduous trekking and enjoy this bustling, colorful settlement? Nomad boys cruise by on their donkeys if there isn't school that day, and many children stop by to see if there are any pens or pencils being handed out. Kim will lead the shopping expedition to several nomad tents in search of yak-hair blankets and a cup of salt butter tea ...
Other options: Take a walk up the eastern hilltop for another great view of the lake, do some washing in the clear river or relax at the grassy campsite with a book and your camp chair. We can also go back down into Korzok and visit the gompa today, or do some more shopping.
Day 26 - Trek Sherma 5160m
We leave early for the steep climb up to the 5450 meter Yalung Nyau La. It will take us about an hour of walking along the plateau to reach the approach to the pass to the left, and then three more hours of strenuous climbing to crest the prayer-flag festooned Yalung Nyau La. The weather can be changeable, so be ready for anything. The views back down to Tsomoriri are wonderful, and to the south of the pass are the Mentok (flower in Ladakhi) Peaks and a valley leading to Zozogong. The descent is beautiful, past grazing areas and through grassy, narrow valleys and a slate-slab river which we'll need to jump a few times. We stop for lunch on a grassy knoll next to the river, kick off our shoes, and enjoy a deserved rest! We continue past hillsides where the nomads graze their giant flocks of sheep and goats through the small nomadic settlement of Gyama and then another nomadic camp called Sherma, crossing a river in between (you can wade without shoes if you don't feel like carrying your sandals over the pass). We'll set up camp near Sherma and enjoy the rest of the afternoon either visiting the nomads if they are camped here as well or relaxing in this peaceful setting.
Day 27 - Trek Rajung Karu 4880m
A truly beautiful 'Changthang' day, starting with one more river crossing, this time possibly jump-able, past the nomad tents at Sherma. We head up and over the (relatively, as we're already so high) small pass ahead of us, the Kartse La (5410 meters) and then contour down the hillside to the clear river and green valley below and to another nomadic settlement called Changma, the highest yet at 5210 meters. This valley is pure Tibet; open, grassy plateaus, wild, amazing views, big sky and nomads on horseback herding their sheep.
We have another two hours of trekking up the wide open 'Tibetan' plateau, with marmots and pikas popping their heads out of their holes to see who is passing, walking through herd of wild-looking yaks and dri (female yaks) with their young frolicking by their sides. The high route back to the valley we took to Tsomoriri via the Gyama La is visible at the upper left side of the valley. We follow a winding, crystal clear stream for most of the way up to the pass, and eventually veer to the right to ascend the Kyamayuri La (5430 meters), an easy ascent. At the prayer flags at the top of the pass we finally get a view of Tso Kar Lake below us, and the trail leading down to it. The descent to camp will take us about 2 hours, and en route we'll pass by many nomadic encampments with their Tibetan mastiffs chained to a stick in the ground, hopefully tightly. More kiang in this green valley. Again, we follow the river to our camp at Rajung Karu, set up, have lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
Day 28 - Trek Tso Kar Lake 4560m. Drive to Leh
Our last trekking day, sadly, but with a wonderful destination. It will take us two hours to reach the Horlam Kongka La (4950 meters), and we'll have a river crossing first. More nomad camps, more grassy tussocks, and an easy ascent of the rounded saddle for closer views of Tso Kar. The descent isn't the most interesting, passing through the settlement of Nuruchen with its supply posts, but the grassy lake-side is spectacular, so we'll probably wait to have lunch there. We finish the trek at a 'village' called Riyul, although there probably won't be anyone around.
Tso Kar Lake is the 'salt lake' of Rupshu, previously the site of large salt excavations by the Rupshu-pa nomads, a section of the lake given to each group each year when the salt trade between Tibet and the lower hills was thriving (after the border with China was closed in 1959). Today, Tso Kar Lake is not as salty as it previously was, and the salt trade has diminished in importance because if the introduction of iodized and subsidized Indian salt. There is a small Tibetan village to the north of the lake called Tukje with an old gompa; most of the people of Tso Kar lake are Tibet semi-nomadic people who spend the winters in their villages at the lake. Take a walk down to the lake to try the salt, but watch the bogs ...
*** Wang Chuk and friends will pick us up near or before Riyul and drive us the rest of the way to the lake. At the lakeside we'll set up our last packed lunch of the trek and enjoy our last 'Changthang' views. After lunch, we are treated to the spectacular five hour drive through Rupshu and the Indus Valley along the Manali - Leh highway, a continuation of our wonderful journey. 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 or Summer Harvest.
Day 29 - 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'. More cold beers will surely be in order at the Ibex ...
Day 30 - 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 no flights are included in our India treks anymore.