|Our treks||Expeditions||Contact us||About us||Old photos & Diaries|
Nomads & Caravans of the Changthang
The Changthang is the name given to the captivating high altitude plateaus of Western Tibet, an extensive area which sits at an average elevation of 4500 to 5000 meters and is inhabited by such rare species as the chiru (Tibetan antelope), kiang (wild Tibetan ass) and blue sheep. This remote and fabled region is peopled by Changpas, the traditional traders of the Changthang, who have wandered these high pastures in true 'caravan' style with their 'gurs' (nomad tents) and flocks of pashm goats and sheep for centuries. This traditionally Tibetan region lies in part in the Indian Himalaya, although the culture remains purely Tibetan.
This trek is a unique experience; a trek back in time during which we witness a way of life that has not changed for centuries. It is a true journey in the classic sense, traversing remote passes to visit remote people. Lamas, gompas, nomads, caravans of yaks and sheep transporting salt and pashmina wool via the ancient trade routes... it's all there! Essentially we are trekking into the ancient Tibetan Kingdom of Guge, home of the Bon religion which predates Buddhism by hundreds of years, and emerging into the present day Indian Himalaya.
The Project Himalaya team has been trekking this remarkable area since it opened in the late 1990s with our Tibetan sirdar Lobsang, himself from a nomadic Changpa family in Hanle. This is our sixth year trekking in this unique region of high mountains, lakes and plateaus, and we have created a 'best-of' trek incorporating all our years of experience of tracking the dying culture of Tibetan 'caravan' migration between Tibet and the Indian Himalaya.
Don't miss it!
Our trekkers say
... thank you [Joel], Kim, Lobsang and co for a trek that far surpassed all hopes and expectations. You can supply the adjectives for yourself to save me descending too far into the realms of cliché - any delighted superlatives will do. Unforgettable, and certainly not the last time I hope to come out.
Evan Jeffries, Caravan 2003 (Helen and Evan came back in 2005...)
Note that although we try to follow the itinerary here, 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 our trekkers' acclimatization rates.
Also note that most flights into Delhi arrive late at night/very early in the morning. Plan your arrival time and date carefully and ask if you are not sure.
Day 1 - Arrive Delhi
Joel or one of our drivers will be at the airport to meet you; look for the sign with your name on. A short drive takes us to our hotel in Karol Bagh, a quiet Delhi suburb. Over dinner we will discuss your gear; and our adventure!
Day 2 - Fly Leh 3500m
Did you get any sleep? We are up early to board the spectacular flight to Leh, crossing the main Himalayan Barrier to the capital of Ladakh, Tashi Namgyal's 15th century Himalayan capital at 3500m. The clear high air will catch at the throat when we arrive, and now we start the serious business of acclimatization; and eating, as after we settle into our hotel we have a long leisurely breakfast. It will take your body a few days to adjust to this high altitude. It is important to drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) liquids, and do not attempt to rush around. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house will make you breathless at first! We will discuss this in detail. Note that we have planned plenty of acclimatization time into our itinerary.
Day 3 - Leh
We have a day for relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of this little bit of old Tibet. Kim and Joel are virtually honorary residents, and they will be your guide to shopping, gompas, and more. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the fort and palace, colorful gompas, the mosque, a museum, back alleys with steaming Muslim bread and tiny antique shops tucked away, colorful bazaars and even polo fields...
Day 4 - Drive Chilling, trek Skiu 2290m
We are away before 8am as we have a multi-transport day in front of us. First, our jeeps climb away from Leh, past the monasteries of Phyang and Spitok; looking back we can see the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges that form the barrier between the Indian Subcontinent and China, or Tartary as the early explorers called it.
We drop again to a hilltop high above the confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus, brown merging with blue, and turn up the link road that will one day run to Zanskar, now only as far as Chilling, or at least, the teahouses on the road below it. Pack your dust scarf, it gets in everywhere!
Next, we travel by cable car, as we help load gear into the pulley car maintained by locals. Then, finally, as our gear transfers to horses, we walk, climbing steadily away from the Zanskar to the (small, believe it or not) 3400m Kuki La. Then our trail leads us for three hours through the village of Kaya, to Kiu, our camp for the first day; and although a few short miles, if the sun shines, you will really feel this first day at elevation. At camp our tents are up and waiting, and we can relax over what Eric Shipton, the famous mountain explorer, called 'Tea, heavenly tea!' Over dinner Joel and Kim will introduce you to the camp routine.
Day 5 - Trek Sara 3550m
Again, we cover very little distance as the crow flies, but at this height, and especially if the sun shines, we feel it. We follow trails through willow groves and smallholdings to the tiny clearing among riverside trees that is Sara, a grazing area for Markha people. As we walk today, take time to look up at the gorge walls high above us, where you will spot the remains of small 'dzongs' (forts). This whole valley is the approach to the lush pastures of the high altitude grazing of Nimaling, coveted by Balti invaders centuries past.
Day 6 - Trek Markha 3700m
By now we are on our camp routine, pack up early and linger over coffee, or a brief breakfast and then pack, whatever, we are away at 8am before the sun gets too high. By noon the horses pass, and by 3 in the afternoon we are in camp. Today we pass the remains of old hermitage caves high on the opposite cliffs. Inside are the remains of tiny caves where lamas once sat in meditation, platforms carved in rock. Look also at the chortens that lines of trekkers sweat past - inside are piles of tiny 'tsatsas', the remains of ashes of the departed formed into tiny pyramids. As soon as the valley widens we spot the old fort on the hill above Markha village, and then, on the other side of the hill is our camp on the banks of the Markha river. After tea we ascend to explore the local gompa, the inside dark and chang smelling; and check out the ornate carved silver barley beer holders in front of the village lamas chair. Look, and look again, the more you look the more you will see.
Day 7 - Trek Hankar 4010m
This is another day of ambling along the trails used by countless shepherds and traders over the centuries. We cross several calf deep rivers then two hours out of Markha we climb to the old hilltop monastery of Umlung, and tea with our friends, the monks. At one point the trail climbs high away from the river; this is the old trail, but worth climbing to look at the spires that line the valley that lead to the Ruberang La, and the wild Jumlam route to Zanskar. The snow mountain ahead is 6400m Kang Yatze, which we are going to see much more of soon. And then we see the spire at valleys end that marks the strategic junction with the routes to Zanskar and Nimaling, and there is Hankar, marked by a centuries old crumbling fort above. The legend is that the Dogra army that conquered Ladakh in the early 19th century was led this way to their prize, the Indus valley and Leh, by a renegade Zanskari.
Day 8 - Trek Mani Chen 4550m
We move from camp well before 8am, as the villagers start to walk to their tasks in the fields. In the chilly shadow as we cross an equally cold river; bring sandals today. The amount of river crossings depends on how much snow there has been this winter. Turning away from the main 'Markha valley trek', we follow the river valley towards our first pass, the Zalung Karpo La. Look out for blue sheep or Ibex on the ridgelines.
It will take about five hours walking today, but do take it slowly, and of course, drink lots of water. We should reach camp with plenty of sun to spare, and there are some delightful bathing spots around.
Day 9 - Trek (over Zalung Karpo La) Sorra 4060m
Gently up, and up, and up again. By noon we should be at the pass, and if the Gods are with us, the sun will be shining and we can have lunch on top as we feast on the views. Both the Zanskar and the Himalayan range are in view, and way down valley is a speck of green, our camp. After lunch a steep sliding drop on scree takes us into what can be a scorching hot valley; we have entered Kharnak, one of the high altitude grazing areas of Ladakh. After seven hours of walking we will be in camp by the river. The hilltop rock formation ahead is actually a 15th century fort and the triangular peak beyond is sacred to the local people.
Day 10 - Trek Dat 4200m
Today is reckoned to be one of our top ten trekking days. Pastures give way to a poplar wooded gorge with rock spires towering all around; then after truly delightful river crossings, we emerge into the heart of Kharnak, the pastureland leading us to Dat. Shrines to the gods that live on the peaks all around line the trail, yaks bask in the sun as they graze and a cloud of dust could be a nomad on horseback. By early afternoon we reach Lahtoo, where the nomads make offerings to their local deities every spring - beautifully carved mani stone upon mani stone. Our home for the next two nights is a series of pastures, and we set up with the curious gaze of the marmots that share our camp.
Day 11 - Dat
A day to relax; wash, eat, sleep, go wildlife spotting, visit the village and gompa and catch up with your book. There is also a (slightly difficult) hike up the plateau and peak next to Dat for amazing views down on the valley, but be ready for some scrambling.
Day 12 - Trek Lungmoche 4550m
Time to ease into the boots and back on the trail again. Fill your bottles as there may not be any water until the other side of our pass, the 4850m Yar La. We cross a wide plateau where we may spot Kiang - wild Asses - that haunt the area; and lunch in a shady spot before the fairly easy one hour climb to the pass. The pass itself has some beautiful carvings and the wall that crosses it is to help locals cross in winter snow. A short way down is another wonderful camp in a trek of many.
Day 13 - Trek Sangtha 4250m
Flat, wide, and high. Lungmoche may seem like a long deserted ghost town, but the inhabitants have simply upped for the summer, leaving the stone rings they pitch their tents around to the pikas, marmots and Kiang. Sangtha marks the end of Ladakhi herding areas and the start of Tibetan. With its cold clear river it is also a great bathing spot and a walk above the camp for the sunset is worth it.
Day 14 - Trek Narbus 4820m
Nothing like a pass to start the day, and the Pogmar La at 4950m is one of the deceptive ones. It is three hours or more to the top, with the 'usual' stunning views to reward us; and we can spot way below the tents of the camp of Narbus, some relatives of Lobsang, who camp here every summer. We will be entertained to salt tea and curd, and if you are wondering where all their livestock is, wait till early evening, when they come from all directions, hundreds of them, sheep, goats, and yaks. If you have brought any pencils or schoolbooks, give them to the children here; we do not, as a rule, hand out candy or presents to the Ladakhi kids that beg along to way, just our friends who we know well.
Day 15 - Trek Kim's Camp (River Camp) 4350m
Yes, we finally found it; a way to cut into the Rupshu from Narbus without diverting to Pang. In 2005 Kim and Max headed off cross country, and lagging behind with the trekkers, Joel followed a nomad caravan the wrong way headed perhaps to Tibet (but just a while!). We all got to the camp together, however, and enjoyed this day dancing with dust devils on this plain. Camp turns out to be a lovely spot, right on the riverside, under the pillars of eroded sand which have formed themselves into Himalayan cathedrals.
Day 16 - Trek Zozogong 4850m
It is hard to describe days like this - days of heaven? We follow the valley to the base of the Thelekang La, the 4850m pass above our camp. We cross shallow streams, trek along crumbling trails and climb through narrow gorges. The pass is one of those slow, 'will it ever end' ones, but the views... way down there is our camp, and way, way down there are the snowy peaks around Lake Tso Moriri.
Day 17 - Trek Nomad Camp 4750m
Kiang day! The herd of Kiang that live in this valley are old 'friends'. Usually we spot the males keeping lookout; and they normally try to warn us off, snorting and pawing as we approach, and then gathering the whole herd together to make a very fast and close pass... just when the cameras are away! Don't try to head them off as they curve around us, last year I ran towards them, and they saw me coming and slowed down, just to make me think I could cut them off. As I got close they accelerated away. Running at over 4500m is not advisable. All day the route is gently down.
Day 18 - Trek Sunshine Camp 4640m
More Kiang spotting, and more of the rolling plateau. Our camp at Lhatoo Gongma we named in 2002 as the sun stays so late in this wide valley; and the bathing spots are delightful.
Day 19 - Trek Kiangdom 4450m
Today it really seems like we are dropping off the edge of the world as we follow the gorge bottom past nomad camps, marked by stone circles and bleached sheep skulls. Lake Tso Moriri is down there somewhere, but the gorge twists and turns forever! Finally after lunch we climb on a slightly exposed trail to views of this legendary lake stretching away for 26 km, and way down by the lake still over an hour away is Kiangdom, or "kingdom of the kiang" in Ladakhi (where the kiang really roam), our top-notch camp spot.
Day 20 - Kiangdom
Why all the effort, if not to linger; watch the geese and ducks, spot the cormorants, photograph the lake, set up your camp chair in the sun and watch the world of the nomads go by. There are usually Lakakhi nomads camped nearby, and an excursion to one of their tents to buy some 'tsampa', 'yos' or 'chang' is truly a step back into time. But don't breath in the sheep-dung smoke! At the end of the afternoon, the sheep, goats and yaks return to the nomad camps, herded by wild-looking nomads on horseback ...
Day 21 - Trek Dungri 4460m
Today is only two hours of trekking, we simply cross the end of the lake, to the nomad camp at Dungri. If you have the energy, a climb above camp yields incredible views. There are also often nomads camped here, and we often watch the women card pashm wool as the young kids peek into our dining tent to see what's happening for the afternoon.
Day 22 - Trek Mid-Camp 4500m
A glorious day where we follow the lake around bays where cormorants nest and geese dive bomb us to warn us off; over small cols with views back to the Parilungbi range, and finally, after nearly eight hours of walking, to our camp in a side valley above a wide curve of sandy beach. Beautiful.
Day 23 - Trek Tabasco Camp 4550m
Again we follow the lakeshore; the only day you may need insect repellant, as the midges can be annoying. We see Korzok come into view on the other side of the lake, and after five hours, we crest a headland and drop into this camp we share with nomad tents. And the dogs and 'bungboos', or burrows! The camp name? Ask Kim.
Day 24 - Trek Korzok Phu
Sadly, a road, but only briefly as we lunch at Korzok, and visit the Korzok Monastery. Our camp is in wide pastures at the base of our next pass, just past a large, semi-permanent Tibetan nomad settlement where our horseman and sous-chef have relatives.
Day 25 - Trek Gyama Barma 5100m
We leave early for the steep climb to the Yalegaon pass at 5400m. The views of the lake that has been our companion over the last week are simply to die for. Then down into gorges past grazing areas before a brief hop over a last pass to our camp (at over 5000m) at Gyama Barma. This area is really out there; wild and amazing views, and the story of the stag antlers we found here in 2003 ...
Day 26 - Trek Thadsang Karu Lake
Or 'Nomad Lake', as we call it, after the colony of yak-haired nomad 'gurs' that we see ever summer along the side of the lake. This is the only exploratory section on this trip; a straight descent back to the road head (well, 'road' is an exaggeration, perhaps) where we have our last camp with the nomads before returning to Leh. Salt-butter tea, anyone?
Day 27 - Extra Day
For the imponderables; or to relax at camp, plan a last day party, shop for yak-hair bags and rugs, whatever ...
Day 28 - Drive Leh 3500m
We move early to be able to enjoy this beautiful drive through Rupshu and the Indus valley; not just a trip back to Leh, but a continuation of our wonderful journey ...
Day 29 - Leh
A last opportunity to shop, wander the streets of Leh and to enjoy this little piece of old Asia, or just to relax at the guest house or at one of Leh's many cafes. And a last dinner out together, of course ...
Day 30 - Fly Delhi, depart
We are up early for our Jet Air flight back to Delhi; goodbye to the stunning 'Kingdom in the Sky'. Your leader may fly to Delhi but sometimes stays in Leh, and in that case you will be met at Delhi airport by our Delhi staff and taken to the hotel to store your bags for the afternoon, to the international airport for your departure, or where ever else you chose to go for the afternoon. You could fly out of Delhi later in this day; most flights are at night and you should be back in Delhi by mid-morning to noon.
If you have successive international flights that are not all part of the same ticket or following domestic flights we suggest planning more cautiously and departing tomorrow. Let us know if you need us to book an extra room for the night.