We plan to follow the itinerary however roads wash out, or are extended, occasionally people get sick, logistical challenges arise, or we hear of a better campsite, and so we will adapt it as needed.
(Day 0 - arrive Delhi / early Leh arrival)
We spend three nights in Leh, so reasonable acclimatization to the 3480m/11,415ft altitude but if you are new to altitude or to Leh, perhaps plan to arrive one day early and we will arrange transfers and hotel and show you around.
Included in all our Ladakh trips are a couple of sightseeing trips, with or without a cultural guide (your choice) and it is your choice of where to go; many people joining are previous trekkers so have seen some places previously.
If you are more ambitious we can also help you arrange a day or overnight trip to Alchi (~3100m) and Basgo Gompas or further afield Lamayuru (~3500m), a day rafting trip on the Zanskar River or or hammer down the Khardung La on a mountain bike (best a few days into your Leh sojourn). If you have been working flat out you are welcome to just relax, kick back and de-stress too, and adjust a little more slowly to the time zone change.
Sophie admires the mural at Basgo - Jamie
Day 1 - meet in Leh 3480m
Phew, after a long series of flights, you are here! Look for a Project Himalaya sign or a simple sign with your name on it at the airport, and our wonderful drivers Ang Chuk or Pasang will pick you up.
Jamie meets you at the hotel on your arrival and we discuss altitude health over tea/coffee or breakfast and introduce Leh (if you are a first timer) and show you the better places to eat. Most people crash out for a few hours and spend the day relaxing; do drink plenty of fluids which helps the acclimatization process, perhaps pop some vitamins and let your body adjust to the new time zone.
We normally go out to dinner together, let's meet in the peaceful hotel garden at 6:30pm. We eat at some of our favourite clean (very important!) restaurants: Chopsticks, G Kitchen, Tibet Kitchen, Open Hand and Summer Harvest.
2 - Leh 3480m
This is a day for sightseeing and relaxing. For today perhaps the best plan is to visit some of the world's most revered gompas and monasteries a short distance from Leh. We will help plan and arrange a jeep, and a local cultural guide if you like (included). Usually we arrange as a morning trip with lunch at Leh (or Thikse) then you can relax in the afternoon although we can easily arrange a full day trip.
Choosing where to go is the biggest challenge, there are so many special places to visit. To the east is Shey, Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho and Stok, although don't plan on visiting all of them in one day. Thikse also has a good restaurant for lunch.
Heading west out of Leh are Spituk, Phyang, Nyemo where the Indus meets the Zanskar River, and further afield are Basgo, Likir and Alchi.
3 - Leh 3480m
After gentle sightseeing yesterday we exercise a little more today. In the morning we wander up to the palace and gompa above Leh, and before dinner, perhaps up to the Peace/Shanti Stupa for a Leh sunset panorama.
Because tomorrow we stay 4000m, at minimum we need three nights here in Leh prior to moving higher.
Leh from Shanti Stupa - Jamie
4 - drive Lhatoo 4000m with sightseeing
Starting a trek in Ladakh always involves the altitude issue and we take acclimating seriously, and have vast experience helping people acclimate. For this trek we break the jump of 870m/2850ft between Leh and our trek start into two parts, spending the night at 4000m between, a proven formula. We have watched other groups ruin their treks with over-large altitude gains out of Leh.
It is only a couple of hours drive to our camp on the Leh-Manali road so we visit some gompas that are further afield from Leh along the way such as Matho, Stakna, busy Hemis or Chemre and Thag Thog. What haven't you already seen?
Ang Chuk, one of our regular drivers, with his turbo Scorpio jeep - Jamie
We camp at Lhatoo with our trek crew, which is more comfortable than the simple hotels there, and get our first taste of Phuntsok's wonderful cooking.
The 2014 team camping en route to the trek start - Jamie
5 - drive Sangtha 4420m via Tanglang La ~5328m, trek Yabuk ~4340m
With more altitude under our pillow, we drive over the Tanglang La, claimed by India to be the second highest road pass in the world, and regardless of the reality, it is scenic with views of the Kang Yatze mountain range and over the other side, the More/Mare Plains. It is often windy and cold too...
A Tanglang La view - Jamie
We then slip off the main Leh-Manali highway to Sangtha, a deserted-in-summer nomad camp, which we reach around lunchtime. There is one tricky stream crossing for the jeeps and we need good river conditions to be able to drive all the way, however if the river is slightly higher, we will start trekking a few kilometers earlier, which isn't a problem.
We trek a few hours in the afternoon to either Yabuk Gongma, our delightful 2014 camp, or its sister camp Yabuk Yogma a little further down, and introduce you to our camping setup and relax in the peaceful area.
Few trekkers ever use this route and in 2014 our camp was visited by some younger Tibetan Argali sheep, very rare to see. Above the camp was a lammergeier nest with a chick in it and pikas popped up all around our camp, so we really have jumped in to the wilderness.
Our delightful Yabuk Barma camp - Jamie
6 - trek Tozay Chu camp 4450m
We follow the champagne Zara Chu (chu is water and river in Tibetan) downriver until the stony junction with the Tozay Chu where we turn upstream into the broad valley and wander along to one of the many possible grassy camps on the river bank.
Nights 5, 6 and 7 are all at ~4500m so we really can get used to the altitude, a real key before progressing higher.
Trekking along the river is delightful as it is the warmest time of the year - Jamie
7 - trek Numa camp 4550m
We continue stram hopping along the pinnacle-sided river valley to the Leh-Manali highway, which we cross close to Pang, a startling contrast of "development" and the cleanliness of the wilderness. So we do cross the road; sadly there are fewer and fewer treks that are not interrupted by a road, however this is also a chance to resupply. Soon after we also pass one of our favourite camps, our "yogurt" camp, full of memories from explorations of yesteryear and yesterdecade.
However rather than staying there we continue on to the next good camping area as this allows us to cross the pass tomorrow...
Our delightful Pang camp is one of the more distant green patches close to the river - Jamie
8 - trek Lanyar 4850m via the Thelakung La 5020m
At last we trek above 5000m, briefly, crossing this pass that so many people get lost on. Don't follow the main valley to the end!
We are spoilt for camping choices in the huge valley, filled with yaks being herded by Tibetan cowboys in 2014, and often has nomad camps where we can get fresh yoghurt and perhaps even some dried meat. It is also kiang and wolf country and has gorgeous, oh so spacious panoramas.
Note Lanyar is located wrongly on the second edition of the Olizane (Swiss) map...
Local cowboys herding their yak - Jamie
Coming across kiang, the dominant male is protecting the rest of the herd - Jamie
9 - trek Manichan
We continue down the valley, probably to the delightful camping area of Manichan, as once we turn up our side valley there is little or no water for long stretches. If we have been moving well, there is an alternative spot, the haunt of wildlife - let's see...
last along the main valley for a couple of hours then we feel very small when we turn left up a huge, wide side valley. This area is wilderness, not used by shepherds, instead is where kiang freely roam. At another large side valley we swing left again, to swing under Karpa Ri, the dominant peak that we have seen for the last couple of days.
There is only one reliable water source here, and we will camp nearby. In 2014 we scared some Tibetan argali sheep near here and we expect to see some wildlife this time too.
Way off the beaten track - Jamie
10 - trek Wolf Camp 5200m
Although few trekkers follow the route we have so far, we now head out of the main valley to the remotest of areas where we are unlikely to meet anyone. We turn into the huge side valley with a very different character, following the river which quickly fades and so following the dry riverbed we head gently up to where the valley breaks into branches, take the one that leads to our familiar camp where in 2014 a curious wolf circled our camp at night, and later Ram Lal and the horsemen got a view of more than just its glowing eyes. There is no danger of being attacked.
We also saw kiang and argali sheep around here.
A woolly hare poses for Demet - Jamie
11 - trek to Base Camp 5300m
We wander over a ridge or two to our base camp, only a couple of hours away, so there is time to explore the area and prepare our gear for tomorrow. This is an area that, as far as I can guess, only we have camped here. It is otherwise unknown.
Waking in the morning to a dusting of snow at wolf camp - Jamie
12 - climb 6230m peak
We are aiming high and it will be a long, tough day but lets see how we do. Climbing, at breathless stops, there is a huge panorama to inspire us, and that extends around 360 degrees from the summit.
Climbing our peak, what a panorama behind! - Jamie
13 - trek near Kum Tso 4980m
Threading minor valleys and cresting another series of broad ridges, in this broad, dramatic landscape, we gently descend to our next remote campsite beside a tinkling stream. We share the area only with wild animals.
Trekking cross country, exploring as we go - Jamie
14 - Kum Tso rest-exploration
After many days on the move it is time for a rest, perhaps time to clean a few clothes, and also explore the unbelievably vast area. We know at least some of the secrets and will explore more today. Jamie and some of the crew will scout our pass for tomorrow.
Exploring the region (yes, it was grey and cloudy; there was flooding and a particularly heavy monsoon south of us) - Jamie
15 - Takling area camp via our 2004 pass
Ram Lal and Lobsang assure me they remember the route better than me, not that it will matter. In 2004 we crossed this pass cold, with no prior information, and had no problems. Now, with views from 2014, we have an even better idea of the lay of the land, and it is spectacular. We will probably camp by the main river.
It will be easier than the gorge below.
2014 Pangpo La exploring; Ram Lal and the superb horse team find a way though that thwarted the only other team that season - Jamie
17 - trek to Takling La base ~5000m
Part of trekking through here is to explore this area again, check if there are some worthy peaks, and to understand this area better. So we might trek closer to the Takling La.
Shapely pinnacles - Jamie
18 - rest-explore Takling La
With a huge valley system, there are temptations everywhere, although probably checking out the pass will come top of the list. Let's see if there is any sign of anyone crossing in the last few years. When we crossed in 2004, at the first village people mentioned that we were the first people across in perhaps 15 years. Is the area still disused? If so, is it a wildlife paradise?
Our 2004 Takling area camp - Jamie
Exploring with the horse team - Jamie
19 - trek Parang La high camp (glacier camp)
This is familiar territory for Lobsang and Ram Lal, who crossed this pass many times; Jamie has only crossed once previously; crossed with fond memories of trekking with Joel, our sadly now dead business partner. We head up the valley to a high camp so that we can make an early start for the pass crossing tomorrow.
Ram Lal, our wonderful horseman - Jamie
20 - trek Jugtha via the Parang La ~5700m
We begin early so that we have good snow conditions for the horses. Amazingly, we are trekking over a real glacier, surrounded by the grey monumental peaks of the Himalaya.
We are aiming to descend as much as possible, to the best campsite, our "Chicken Run" camp, where years ago, bizzarely as the kitchen tent was put up, a lonely chicken suddenly ran inside. It wasn't lonly for much longer.
21 - trek Kibber 4200m
Our last day of trekking is spectacular as ever, with a gorge to cross to our first village since Tsomoriri. Kibber now has pleasant guesthouses and there might be a few takers for a hot shower. It is also an area that has a successful snow leopard conservation program, which I hope to ask about.
I will further fill out the notes below sometime.
22 - drive Ki Gompa, Kaza
Spiti is a wonderful Himalayan kingdom, far from any main cities and we explore the famous Ki Gompa. We need a special permit for this area, that we get today.
23 - driving
This is one spectacular drive! Let's see how far we get.
24 - drive Shimla
At last the roads become better although less scenic as we enter busy Shimla.
25 - explore Shimla
We have a break after the long drive. This town is a haven from the heat of the plains and was once the summer capital of India, haunted by Kipling.
26 - take the toy train and drive Delhi
We take the Himalayan Queen to Kalka and then drive to Delhi.
Manali alternative with our crew
Our crew return to Manali with the trek gear and you could go with them, The road climbs out of Spiti to cross the Kunzum La and just before it Jamie has one last investigation, asking locals about a pass possibly for next year.
Down the Kunzum La, the terrain turns utterly brutal, this is the real Himalaya, building-sized boulders, and an intimidating area compared with the wide open spaces we have recently crossed. Our second pass is the infamous Rohtang Pass, often rough and muddy, and it will be a blessing when (if?) the tunnel is completed. The Rohtang also crosses the main Himalayan chain and descending to Manali on the pine-flanked road, we are now in the steep foothills.
On the Gramphu road early in the season - Jamie
Manali is part a hippy tourist hangout, Israelis on Enfields, and increasingly the face of Indian tourism, an escape from the heat of the plains. We'll stay at the delightful Johnson's. Kullu's Bhuntar airport is around 60km from Manali and we provide the transport. Alternatively you can take the night bus to Delhi, and we recommend the HPTC bus especially, because of the safe drivers. For a slower journey, head to Dharmasala... Lots of options and we are happy to help you plan what might be best for you.