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 guesthouse, let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or two. 250 mg of Diamox twice a day is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally. We recommend starting the day before you fly up to Leh.
We stay at the family-run Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guesthouse 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, Chopsticks, Penguin 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 Chumantang 4000m
Mid-morning we'll jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at our acclimatization destination, the green fields below Mahe Gompa. 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, with a large monastic community, on the left. The renown Hemis Gompa is built high up on a hillside to our right, across the Indus.
Soon after the turnoff to Manali, we continue along the Indus highway and camp near Chumantang and it's small hotsprings for the night. We'll have chai waiting, introduce you to our Kamzang dining tent and your personal Marmot Thor tents, visit the monastery and go for a wander through the village. (6 hrs drive)
Day 5 - Drive Korzok (4550m). Trek Korzok Phu 4640m
Another few hours of scenic driving as we head south at Mahe bridge, cross an 4800 meter pass with views down to our first salt-lake, Thadsang Karu Kyagar Tso, and continue along the small road towards lake Tso Moriri. Once at the protected wetlands section at the top of the lake we take the western route to Korzok and on to the nomadic settlement of Korzok Phu to reach our camp in the midst of the nomadic tents.
We will stop at Korzok, one of the highest villages in the world, to visit the recently renovated 300-year-old Korzok Gompa. There are often 'mani' pujas happening when we're in Korzok, so if we're lucky we'll have a chance to sit in on all the villagers and nomads counting their prayer beads in this ancient monastery. In the afternoon, there is an option to walk up the eastern hilltop for another great view of the lake. We can walk the rest of the 45 minutes along a gurgling stream and through the green nomadic plateau to our campsite at Korzok Phu if we want ...
We'll enjoy the majority of the day in this bustling, colorful nomadic settlement where our Tibetan horseman Sherap has relatives. Nomadic boys cruise by on their donkeys if they're not in school, children and local Ladakhi nomads stop by camp to watch the happenings, donkeys roam the green campsite, and the hundreds of sheep and goats are herded back to their paddocks in the evening. Kim will lead the shopping expedition, jumping from one dry green tussock to another, to several nomad tents in search of yak-hair blankets, yogurt and a cup of barley beer or salt butter tea. (3 hrs drive, 45 min trek)
Day 6 - Trek Mid-Lake Camp (Tso Moriri Lake) 4530m
We have two options to get to our campsite right on Lake Tsomoriri. The first is to walk back to Korzok, following a lovely, well-used trail and a meandering stream on the left of the valley and continue up to the Korzok viewpoint (4490m) half an hour away. From here we'll be treated to magnificent views of Korzok Gompa, the lake, the mountains and the surrounding village and green barley fields. The second is to climb a small pass at the eastern-most point of the nomadic settlements, stop for a great view of the lake, and then trek down just below this Korzok viewpoint.
Descending on a sandy trail, we pass a section of small cliffs with offerings of white rocks on our right, followed by an incredibly reflective section of the lakeside, bordered with flat multi-hued slate and mica. Don't miss a photo of the snow-peaks to the east reflected in the calm lake with the rocks in front. Continuing past a section of many long mani walls, we soon reach our sandy campsite right on the beach of the lake, a little piece of paradise! (2 1/2 hrs)
Day 7 - Trek Kyangdom Lake Camp 4530m
Another idyllic day of lake-side trekking, a wonderful day of walking through a unique Himalayan landscape, the high salt lakes of the Changthang.
Leaving our beach camp we soon jump two glacial run-off streams which emerge from green valleys on our right and continue with more scenic walking past rounded, granite rocks on the bank of the lake. After two hours of hiking we 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. Descending, we pass a small mani wall and continue along the lakeside on a rocky, sandy trail which gets hot mid-day. As we trek, 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 snow-called peaks to the east.
We pass the remnants of the early summer nomadic settlements as we near camp, jumping the rivulets as we head to the opposite bank of the lake (you'll need your sandals or to go barefoot leaving camp). Finally we arrive at Kyangdom, one of Ladakh's most perfect settings at the end of Tsomoriri Lake, with the Himalayas in the background and the lake just in front of us. Our campsite is home to groups of Ladakhi (Korzok-pa) nomads for a few months of the summer. Kyangdom, 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 if we happen to arrive when they are still clamped there. 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. For the very energetic, climb up the hill to the west of camp to look down from the lake from a different viewpoint, worthwhile! (5 hrs)
Day 8 - Trek Sunshine Camp 4670m
Leaving idyllic Kyangdom, we have to jump over or wade through the ribbons of streams that separate our campsite from the shore, afterwards climbing gradually for half an hour to an amazing viewpoint over the turquoise Lake Tso Moriri, which stretches north from here for 26 kilometers. Below us, past the sculptural twists and turns of the delta fed by the Phirse Chu and the Pare Chu, is our spectacular campsite at Kyangdom and lone kiang, often standing still and shimmering in the morning sun, seeming an illusion from a far away desert land ...
Descending to the intersecting river valley, the rest of the day is a wonderful river walk on smooth river pebbles as we follow the river valley of the wide gorge, the sculpted hillsides in shades of tans and browns. As we trek we pass nomad camps marked by stone circles and bleached sheep skulls. The canyon narrows and then opens as we hike, passing several river junctions to our left, and 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'll pass our Pebble Beach Camp and continue on another hour to Sunshine Camp, the valley narrowing as we hike right along the riverbed. Just after this are several bluffs which are easily climbed and descended, and Sunshine Camp is tucked away next to an eroded cliff and often visited by somewhat wild kiang! The spring water at camp is clear and cold, a perfect bathing spot after a hot day of trekking. (5 1/2 hrs)
Day 9 - Trek Himalaya Camp 4750m
Climbing the ridge just above camp, we reach at the interesting, prayer-flag festooned Lhatoo Gongma (4670m) where local Korzok-pa have their yearly pujas. After descending from the lhatoo, we climb several more plateaus and descend again to a greener valley where kyang have eaten the dwarf-rhubarb that grows in the valley. The large, rounded granite boulders and chunks of crystallized quartz of the second valley indicate that the landscape is changing. After jumping two streams and passing by several inviting valleys to our right, we ascend just a bit as we approach the dung-covered Mani Chen doksa, recently vacated.
From here we climb the very short, steep and dusty trail to the barely noticeable 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 kyang 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.
From the pass it's only half an hour of easy descending on well-trodden trails to the grassy riverbed, following the pebbly, clear Zozogong (or Zoguang) Chu (river), which reflects the Himalayas in the calm of the afternoon, and soon we reach our scenic stopping point, Himalaya Camp which we named after the incredible sunset views of the Himalayan range to the south. The river is wam, so have a wash and enjoy the afternoon. We may have nomadic visitors from the doksas just north of us (see tomorrow's itinerary) as they bring their flocks back to their doksa for the evening.
In 2013 we sat in the dining tent as the earth shook, the epicenter of an earthquake right at our camp! (6 hrs)
Day 10 - Trek Zozogong 4940m
It's another wonderful day of trekking as we head north along the Zozogong Chu, passing grazing valleys and nomad encampments. We often meet nomads still camped here, or are lucky enough to watch their trans-migration with their caravans of yaks, sheep, goats and small children enjoying the festive atmosphere. Kim bought a wonderful blanket from these nomads years ago so its worth a look around as we pass the nomadic tented camps.
We continue along the river, which soon become flood plains, past more small doskas. More kiang appear as our own horse caravan catches up with us; 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. The plain becomes soft and marshy as the river runs below it and flowers bloom abundantly, and we might also see Himalayan hare, pikas, voles and marmot, and there are many of high-altitude birds en route.
Dropping off the last grassy knoll to the pebbly flood plain (jumping the river as we do so), we soon pass 'Kiang Alley' on our left and continue hiking straight ahead with the snow-capped Himalayan range behind us. The heat intensifies as we hike up valley, so be sure to have a sun hat and plenty of water with you.
Finally, about 2 1/12 hours after jumping the river, we reach yet another perfect, green campsite at Zozogong, a beautiful spot with the snow-capped Himalayas to the south of Lake Tso Moriri behind. Years ago at Zozogong we woke up surrounded by snow after an evening of Kyang 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 (cold) water for washing. (6 hrs)
Day 11 - Trek Gyama La High Camp 5110m (cross Zozo Doksa La 5130m & Shemra La 5000m)
Up valley straight ahead of us is the Thelekang La, the 5025 meter pass just above our camp. Instead of taking this pass we have a more exciting route which we discovered recently on an exploratory trek. We head directly east up the valley just to the right of camp, hike up the middle of the green valley where yaks graze, sending them running, and after half an hour start our relatively easy ascent to the Zozo Doksa La at 5130 meters. After a few photos at the rather uneventful top of the pass we start a series of several contours down, around and up valleys, eventually reaching the lower Shemra La at 5000 meters. From this rounded pass we gaze down towards one of our other remote routes from Rupshu, a Tibetan nomadic region. One last gradual descent and we round the corner to Shemra Doksa, a local grazing settlement of the Korzok-pa at 4960 meters. We have often passed large herds of their horses and yaks grazing in this beautiful and remote valley. We now follow the clear Shemra Chu up a remote, stunningly beautiful grazing valley for a bit less than an hour to our camp at Gyama La High Camp, another high doksa at the base of the Gyama La (5830m), which we cross tomorrow. Camp is high and chilly, a green spot of tussocks, rounded granite and a bracingly cold river. (5 1/2 hrs)
Day 12 - Trek Kyagar 5325m (cross Gyama La 5840m)
We have a big pass day ahead of us as we leave our high camp heading east and ascend on a switch backing trail of scree to the top of the formidable Gyama La, our highest pass at 5840 meters. It should take us three or so hours to reach the top of the pass, where we're treated to a great Himalayan panorama. The green valley widens as we descend, soon reaching the Gyarmasharma Chu which we follow to the bottom of the valley. We may have a bit of snow at the upper reaches of the valley, which narrows as we near the next sumdo. We've reached familiar nomadic territory at the bottom of the valley, a wide, green and stunningly beautiful Tibetan vignette where kiang graze freely, yaks roam the plateau and pikas and marmots stick their heads out of their burrows. This valley is pure Tibet; open, grassy plateaus, wild, amazing views, big sky and nomads on horseback herding their sheep. We'll set up camp at the nomadic settlement of Kyagar, at the base of tomorrow's small pass and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in our idyllic nomadic campsite.
Day 13 - Trek Nuru Chang 4690m (cross Kyamayuru La 5430m & Horlam Kongka La 4950m)
Trekking across the wide open 'Tibetan' plateau for half an hour, with marmots and pikas popping their heads out of their holes, we hike through herd of wild-looking yaks and dri (female yaks) with their young frolicking by their sides, we reach the approach to our morning pass. It's a relatively easy and straight forward ascent to the prayer-flag festooned Kyamayuri La (5430 meters) from where we are treated to a breathtaking view of the turquoise Tso Kar Lake below, a spectacular site backed by Himalayan peaks.
The descent to end end of the Rajung Karu valley (4870m at the end) will take us about two hours of mostly green, riverside walking along the Spanglung Chu. En route we'll pass by many nomadic encampments with their Tibetan mastiffs chained to a stick in the ground, hopefully tightly, and possibly more kiang. We follow the river to our sometimes camp at Rajung Karu although the easiest way is to stay a bit higher on the left side. The grassy riversides are home to marmot, pikas, Himalayan mice and numerous varieties of birds which build their nests in the uneven tussocks.
Just past two ancient mani walls we begin our short and steady ascent to the Kyamayuru La (5430 meters), a rounded pass decorated with mani stones and a cairn festooned with Tibetan prayer flags and bleached blue sheep skulls. More views of salty Tso Kar Lake below us, with its smaller sister lake Startsabuk Tso and several semi-permanent nomadic dwellings, shimmering in the harsh Ladakhi sunlight.
We descend on a long, wide trail for a good hour and then veer off the trail to the right, soon afterwards looking out at the ruins of seasonal Nuru Chang to the left of the river. The river makes an S turn and we finally see our campsite ahead, a mirage of yellow and orange in the afternoon sun. Climb the craggy rock to the right of camp for great afternoon views, and enjoy a bit of washing by the river. (6 hrs)
Day 14 - Trek Thukje (Tso Kar Lake) 4560m
Today is one of the Indian Himalaya's most unique and sublimely beautiful trekking days through the salty marshes and salt flats of Tso Kar Lake. Leaving camp we trek along the right side of the small river to just past the first set of prayer flags, where we cross the river and follow it on the opposite side as it loops to the right. (Another option is to climb the ridge to our right as we near the prayer flags). To our right looms a large, ancient chorten and the small doksa of Chushok, perched on a small hillside across the river as it makes a large S turn to the south and in the distace south of us are Phuk and Lanakmo doksas.
We have another hour and a half of hiking on a jeep road along the flat plateau, past the bird watching tower, trekking right in the middle of this wonderful, grassy (and often boggy) plateau, with the curious kiang taking a circular route around us, often spooking the horses, and the lake glimmering like an oasis in the distance. Finally we reach a swampy section and a small, metal bridge which spans the isthmus between the two lakes.
We continue to trek along the right side of the Tso Kar Lake along a salty, crusted and baked plateau next to more boggy grasslands. Bird life abounds in this wetlands, especially long-legged wading birds and rare migratory cranes. We can walk right along the shores of the lake, where bubbles and slabs of salt have been pushed up onto the white shores. En route we will probably encounter more herds of wild kiang marking their territory by racing in front of us, kicking up dust and performing incredible maneuvers. National Geographic material.
After stopping for lunch on the grass we'll continue to round the western side of the lake, either on the dirt track or right next to the lake, a bit longer. After a long day, we finally reach our beautiful camp at the semi-permanent village of Thugje along the green, wet northern reaches of the lake. There is a new gompa being built next to the old one above our camp, a wonderful vantage point to look down on this magical world of lakes and salt. And there are several tented tea-shops where you can pick up a beer or coke.
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. Most of the people of Tso Kar lake are Tibet semi-nomadic people who spend the winters in their villages at the lake. (6-7 hrs)
Day 15 - Trek Thratsang Kyang Camp 4730m
The next 10 days are wild days of trekking through of some of the most stunningly beautiful nomadic and valley regions in Ladakh, with one of Ladakh's most beautiful and least visited villages en route. Have sandals with you every day in general ...
Our first day is a short one, heding north as we leave camp at Thukje and hiking along a dirt roas past the old chortens. We continue to walk along this flat dirt road for an hour or so, crossing the road leading to the Manali-Leh highway as we trek north along a wide-open plateau. Kiang populate this region, scaring our horses with their loads in all directions in 2013. It's a straight (and straight forward) walk to the opening of the valley to the west of the plateau, past several now-deserted doksas, where we set up camp in a pretty green spot with a small stream and wild, purple and white geraniums. After lunch, wander up the valley in search of kiang and their young, and continue up the western valley if you want a longer walk (we go the eastern route tomorrow). (3 hrs)
Day 16 - Trek Gyungaro Sumdo Camp 4735m or Teri Valley Camp 4490 (over Thratsang La 5170m)
A beautiful day today as we head out of camp to the north, soon passing a seasonal doksa from where we take the eastern valley, staying on the left of the small stream as we ascend quite easily to the flat-topped Thratsang La. There are often blue sheep and argali in this valley, as well as herds of grazing yaks which belong to the nomads of the south and villagers of the north. From the pass, almost not noticeable and dotted with clumps of 'seat-moss' we have a broad view or the high peaks surrounding us. We descend a bit more steeply, and the valley narrows as we trek closer to the small river and head into the Tisaling-Teri valley. We'll have lunch right by the stream, and then have only a short walk to reach our idyllic camp right at the intersection (sumdo) of this stream and the Teri Chu. Tisaling is a doksa just up the intersecting valley to the east, and we might see villagers from Teri, who also stay at Tisaling, passing by with their donkeys or grazing sheep. (4 1/2 hrs)
We may head another hour down the valley and camp at an equally perfect and green campsite at Teri Valley Camp. (+ 1 1/2 hrs)
Day 17 - Trek Teri Phu 4235m
One of Ladakh's most beautiful and interesting trekking days today as we head towards Teri village, one of the most idyllic that we've discovered in Ladakh, and equally unvisited by westerners. We take a sharp right out of camp, following the Teri Phu for the entire day, mostly right on the banks of this beautiful river. We start the day, however, by hiking up to a small pass with a stone cairn just 50 meters above camp, and then descend steeply back to the river. Continuing downriver, we pass several green plateaus with lichen-covered river rocks, perfect for camping (which in fact we may have done). There are 1 or 2 river jumps en route, probably do-able without sandals (but have them in case), after which we pass stunning fluted canyons and a large cave (inhabited once?) on our left. Teri doksa is often bustling with villagers tending to their crops or animals, and soon afterwards we're treated to the majestic site of Teri Gompa (4340m), an important pilgrimage site for Ladakhis. The Drukpa gompa is said to be 700-years old, and the ancient interior is worth a visit, as is noticing the 'rangjung', or self-emanating, chorten.
Twenty minutes later we reach one of Ladakh's most scenic villages, Teri, surrounded by vivid green barley and pea fields, with several irrigation ditches, large, white-washed and tri-colored chortens, willows and an active school in the upper reaches of the village. Camp is at Teri Phu (grazing area), just 20 minutes past the far end of the village, heading past the large chortens and mani wall. Take the afternoon to relax with a book, watch the grazing cows and meet the villagers who will drop by the campsite. (5 hrs)
Day 18 - Trek Kyungyam Phu (Roang) 4310m
Welcome to the Changthang, although it doesn't seem like it yet. It's an interesting and diverse day of trekking starting with 1 1/2 hours down through the remainder of Teri Phu on a good trail, through beautiful, weathered red canyons, valleys of Zanskari wild rose bushes, languid willows and other trees. We pass through the small nomadic settlement of Kiamchumikchan (chumik means 'spring' in Ladakhi) and continue on through a 'river world', stunningly beautiful. The valley is green as we follow good grazing land through the narrow valley, reaching the Indus (and the road across it) at Tirido. We'll have to cross the river to reach Tirido village (3730m) and the road, but we imagine there is a bridge this year. It may still be a scramble down to the road where we cross the Indus at Tirido on a footbridge.
One on the Indus highway, connecting Tso Moriri and Chumur with Leh and further on, Manali, we have to hike 3 1/2 kilometers along the nearly traffic free road until we reach Kyungyamdo (3730m). We'll stop at the small shop and pick up cold drinks as it's probably a hot walk, and then start on the uphill trail just behind the shop. The landscape changes, a valley peppered with rounded granite boulders; soon we cross the river to a partially built road and have a hot but beautiful walk heading uphill. There are some willow-shaded and grassy spots where we'll stop for a swim and/or lunch en route, and a few small settlements which the villagers say are all called Kyungyam (although the map calls them Thanka (on the right) followed by Kiamlun and Kardang on the left).
About 2 hours into the hot walk we reach the real settlement of Kyungyam, marked by a Kyungyam Gompa (4140m) and a large village which extends for another 150 meters uphill. We have to go cross-country from here as the road ends, and walk on a grassy path past a new chorten to our green campsite at the farthest reaches of town which is also called Roang, part of the India Changthang. (7 hrs)
Day 19 - Trek Gun La Doksa High Camp 4975m
Leaving camp, we trek past a few scattered houses, accessed by rickety wooden bridges, and continue up the rocky valley, becoming more glacial as we ascend. The uphill is gradual and pretty, and we can either follow a road which was started before (and abandoned because of a landslide) or the winding trail. Rock-hopping across the river to the west mid-morning, we continue to follow the Kyungyam Chu northeast. The valley widens as we ascend gradually for another hour or more, again crossing the Kyungyam Chu at about 5000 meters, just after it intersects a stream from the right of the valley. We pass a small doksa marked with a prayer flag and cairn which we've called Roang Doksa Sumdo (4570m) and then another which we named Roang Doksa Lhatoo (4770m) with a large lhatoo (shrine to mountain deities) festooned with prayer flags, worth a stop. Soon after this stop we have several contours, a few hills, a small stream crossing on a bridge and one last small climb to reach our idyllic, green high camp at a large doksa. Wild(ish) horses abound, a truly remote site. Go for a short walk following the stream and explore, it's wonderful. (5 hrs)
Day 20 - Trek Gun La River Camp 5190m (over Gun La 5675m)
A beautiful pass day, starting the morning with a climb up the lateral moraine to the west and across the slightly boggy, green plateau, valleys intersecting the Kyungyam River valley from all directions. We reach the prayer flags 120 meters above camp and stop for a look and a few photos, continuing to ascend for the rest of the morning, passing curious marmots sticking their heads out of their holes. The pitch steepens just as we veer slightly left just past a large sumdo on the left. We'll jump the river on stones, and continue through a landscape of boggy, lichen-covered granite rocks, passing a small, opaque blue lake. After another few small ridges, we spot a small tarn just below a snowpeak, and the pass is to the left of this (there are actually a few routes, we think). We think the peak to the right of the pass is Largab (6190m).
It's a relatively easy ascent on flat shale to the pass, marked again with a large cairn; and what a view from the top of the Gun La, at 5680 meters. As well it should be as we've crossed the Ladakh Range!
The descent is VERY steep, a switchback on weatherworn shale for 200 meters which leads to a wide, flat and green plateau where we'll stop for a much-needed lunch by a meandering stream. Another 1 1/2 hours of easy downhill on tussocky grass following the lovely river leads us to yet another breathtakingly beautiful campside just around one last bend. (7-7 1/2 hrs)
Day 21 - Buddhist Festival Day!
We've discovered a local festival honoring local dieties and involving a 'kora', or circumambulation, around their sacred peak. It's going to be an incredibly colorful and interesting festival, and if all goes well we'll be the only Westerners to be present!
Day 22 - Trek Kherampulu 4435m
Another beautiful day of remote trekking, starting with the descent of the Tamar valley, passing Tamar Doksa Lhatoo and Tamar Sumdo Cairn, which affords us wonderful views up the Harong valley. We've finally reached the Pangong Range (or close to it) which blocks our view of Pangong Lake behind it. We camp just beyond Kherampulu in a small campsite near the river (and road) in the Harong valley.
As our horsemen are heading in a different direction tomorrow, we'll have the tips ceremony tonight and share a few bottles of rum with the crew. Ang Chuk and our drivers will meet us here today and drive us to Pangong Lake tomorrow. (6 hrs)
Day 23 - Drive Pangong Lake. Camp Man 4260m
Trekking finished, we jump into our jeeps for our 'jeep safari' to Pangong Lake, following the Harong Chu, passing lovely Chidbra driving along a blacktopped road which was once an ancient trade route that went from Leh to Rudok and the on to Lhasa in Tibet. The sky is wide and blue above us as we pass Chilam (4070m), where we camped in 2012, and 7 more kilometers to the larger town of Tangse, from where we head east along the Pangong Highway and have to drive another 30+ kilometers, over the small Yakmil La (4300m), to Man. The first village at the western end of the village is the touristy Lukung. From here, we drive along the southern shores of the lake (the northern shores are restricted) followed by Spangmik, full of tented camps and parachute tents. Man is blissfully separated from the tourism at Pangong, and we set up at a perfect campsite at much more remote Man village, right on the lake. Enjoy an afternoon by the lake, walking, swimming, skipping stones, exploring the village and just relaxing and gazing out at Tibet across the lake.
Pangong is 6-7 kilometers wide at its broadest point. In 1634 at the Treaty of Tingmosgum the boundary between Ladakh under Singge Namgyal and Guge under Nyima-gon was fixed where it stands today. North of the lake across the Changchmno Range is Tibet: the Lingzithang and Askai Chin. Locals told us that in the winter they cross the frozen lake to reach their winter settlement on the opposite side! (4 hrs drive)
Day 24 - Man (Pangong Lake). Daytrip Merak
Lake to visit the remote, beautifully-situated village of Merak. There is a gompa to visit in town, and time to walk back (about 2 hours) for anyone who wants. Take time to also explore Man village, and walk along the idyllic shores of the lake right from our campsite, and even go for a swim! Enjoy the beach day!
Day 25 - Drive Leh
Back in the jeeps, we drive back along the southern shores of Pangong Lake and after a few hours, following a branch of the large Shyog River, turn south and drive over the Chang La (5300m) to Karu, where the road intersects the Indus and the Leh-Manali highway.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. (8 hrs drive)
Day 26 - 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 27 - Wednesday, 6 August - 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.