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.
This longform itinerary is a work in progress!
(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
Starting a trek from the 4540m altitude of Tsomoriri is problematic if only one night of acclimatization is planned en route, as we found in 2014 (and is utterly horrible and dangerous if driving directly from Leh). With that one night at 4100m three people were uncomfortable with niggling problems for many days. In contrast having one night at 4000m and then starting trekking at 4350m for our Lungser Kangri trips created no such problems. So this year we plan two nights acclimatization en route to Tso Moriri.
It is only a few of hours drive to our camp so we visit some gompas that are further afield from Leh along the way such as Matho, Stakna, busy Hemis or Chemre. What haven't you already seen?
Camping en route to the trek start - Jamie
5 - drive Puga with sightseeing
We drive over the Tanglang La and pass stunning Tso Kar, where we have time to spot some wildlife. Our camp at Puga grassy and at a perfect altitude. We are camping in tents tonight, with the full crew cooking for us.
Ang Chuk, one of our regular drivers, with his comfortable Scorpio jeep - Jamie
6 - trek Kiangdam 4560m
With more altitude under our pillow now we can ascend to Tsomoriri without altitude worries. The closer to Tsomoriri, the more scenic it gets. At Korzok, on the lake shore, we meet Ram Lal and our horse caravan team and put in a full days trekking.
The mountainscapes and cloudscapes here are often stunning with a foreboding storm or two building in the distance, yet rarely do they hit us. We have made a 1050m/3500ft altitude jump over three days but now have several nights at a similar altitude and so will truly acclimatize.
We trek in sight of the lake shore, luckily no breathless hills as we are new to this altitude and will be feeling it. The views seemingly stay similar but in truth are ever changing with the play of light on the water and those cloudscapes. Finally, after a reasonably long day's walking we reach our peaceful flat camp at the end of the lake, the kiang's area. The Tibetan ass is territorial and have sometimes charged our horses here; I hope we don't get too much excitement.
The panorama is glorious.
Tsomoriri generates spectacular storms, here we didn't get a single rain drop despite the fearsome clouds - Jamie
7 - trek Lato Gongma / Lameke 4650m
Leaving the lake behind we climb up around a rocky spur to the valley coming down, so new views but still only a gentle altitude gain. We are now in classic trekking country, gently ascending a river valley with ever changing textured hills above us. We camp at one of a series of grassy camps.
Coming across kiang, the dominant male is protecting the rest of the herd - Jamie
8 - trek Small Water camp 4760m
We continue 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
9 - trek Wolf Camp 5200m
Are you feeling remote yet? We are way off main trekking routes, even away from minor trekking routes with only one to two groups coming up here a year. Following the river bed, we skip across the dry river bed and 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
10 - 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
11 - 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
12 - 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
13 - 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
14 - 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
15 - 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
16-17 - 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
18 - trek Sumdo-Pare Chu 4750m
Following the main stream we head down along the broad valley to the intersection with the normal Parang La route and camp once we have met it.
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.