Leh - Markha Valley - Dzo Jongo Ri 6218m/20,400ft - Leh
Ladakh is a trekkers delight, and here we combine the popular Markha village trek with a straightforward peak and some sublime trekking. This is both the perfect introductory trek-climb for the inexperienced, and also a satisfying trek for Nepal-experienced trekkers here for the the first time in this delightful corner of India.
Leh is a slice of central Asian history, being part of the Silk Road and still breathes its Buddhist culture, not suffering the Cultural Revolution that was so damaging in Tibet. We explore some active gompas and monasteries, soaking up the vibrant colours and dedication of the monks in the peaceful, calming atmosphere.
Heading out trekking, we warm up with the classic Markha
Valley trek then once in the scenic broad valley of Nyimaling we explore this huge area and scramble Dzo Jongo Ri East, a straightforward, very satisfying 6218m/20,400ft sub-peak.
Why this trip? Face it, for a quick 6000m peak trip, Stok Kangri 6153m is overrun with literally thousands of climbers a season while Kang Yatse II ~6100m is dangerous, as we found in 2014, yet Dzo Jongo Ri East is surprisingly satisfying as we found in 2015, 2016 and 2018. As far as the trekking goes, using Markha Valley homestays mean no exploring around Nyimaling as trekkers are not acclimatized (no homestay at Tachungtse), and so miss perhaps the most beautiful and fun to explore high country. In contrast, we explore and experience all of what the region has to offer in a fun, flowing trek with a safe scramble - join us!
We visit Alchi in the morning then drive to Chiling, and perhaps as far as Skyu on the extended road. Previously, we camped at Skyu; let's see what is best closer to the time.
5 - trek Markha 3710m
We camp at the main village of the valley.
6 - trek Hankar 4000m
On this short day for acclimatization, we explore the impressively set Tetsa Gompa.
7 - Tachungtse (Tachutse) 4350m
This is another shorter day. Watch for blue sheep cavorting on the cliff faces and optionally wander up towards the Rabrang La. The camp is a scenic delight with pikas and marmots also in residence.
8 - trek Nyimaling (Nimaling) 4840m
This is the big 500m jump in sleeping altitude we must be respect. Look out for all sorts of wildlife today, we have even seen a wolf previously!
9 - rest Nyimaling 4840m
After the big jump in altitude, we take a rest-recovery day and have a gentle look around.
10 - explore Nyimaling / Lhalung camp 4840m
There are several scenic day walks in this incredible location, and this is a spare day for possible weather. An alternative is to cross the Lhalung La 5320m and camp there.
11 - trek Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
As this camp is just a couple of hours walk away, we take the long way via the nearby Lhalung La for a broad, stunning panorama (or return back over it).
12 - prepare at Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
We explore the area and prepare our gear. For the energetic, there is the ascent of Konga Ri 5740m. This is a straightforward, non-technical (ie no ropes) walk up, but with an incredible summit panorama.
13 - ascend Dzo Jongo Ri East 6218m
This is also a walk up (ie scramble), with the last part a bit steeper, and it is likely there is some snow so we will briefly use crampons and perhaps an ice axe.
14 - trek Shang Sumdo 3660m, drive Leh 3480m
This is one of the most spectacular canyon trekking days ever!
Day 15 - Saturday 11 July - depart
Our Markha camp and, since it is warm, we are using a sun shade rather than dining tent here - Jamie
Saving data; use your phone in landscape to see the detailed itinerary and more photos.
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 and our first night is a at a similar altitude too, prior to sleeping higher.
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 us are previous trekkers so have seen some places previously.
If you are more ambitious we can also 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 hammer down the Khardung La on a mountain bike (best a few days into your Leh
sojourn). If you have several days, we recommend a Nubra jeep safari or overnighting at Panggong Lake. The cost for all of these adventures are reasonable, and paid directly to the drivers in Leh.
If you have been working flat out you are welcome to just relax, kick
back and de-stress too.
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 (and the time zone change for North Americans) over
tea/coffee or breakfast then introduce Leh and show you the better places
to eat. Most people crash out for a few hours and spend the day relaxing and recovering. Do drink
plenty of fluids, which helps the acclimatization process, and do also pop some multi-vitamins to help in a small way to ward off colds from the plane or being rundown from the travel.
We normally go out to
dinner together so let's meet in the peaceful hotel garden by 6:30pm; arrive earlier to soak in the view. We eat at some of our favourite clean (very important!) restaurants: Wonderland, Chopsticks, Bon Appetit, G Kitchen, Tibet Kitchen and Summer Harvest.
Day 2 & 3 - Leh 3480m
This is a day for experiencing the revered gompas, monasteries and palaces of the Indus Valley, ie a short drive from Leh. We arrange a jeep or two (and a local
culture guide if you like, included). Usually, we arrange as a morning trip with a late lunch out of Leh then
you can relax in the afternoon although we can easily arrange a full day trip as an alternative.
Choosing what to see is the biggest
challenge, there are so many special places to visit. Close by are Spituk Gompa and Stok Palace. To the east is Shey Palace, and the gompas Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna and Matho, 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.
Visiting a gompa is atmospheric and a timeless experience engendering respect for their philosophy.
By chance on a sightseeing trip to Matho we watched this ceremony - Jamie
Day 4 - drive Chilling-Skyu 3300m, trek Sara 3500m
Time to stretch the legs, we pack for some hot weather trekking today with a hat, sunscreen, snacks and plenty of water.
After breakfast, we drive an hour or so to delightful, historic Alchi, the oldest intact gompa in the region. After an early lunch, we drive to Chiling and across the new road bridge to Skyu, where our crew are waiting for us. We trek for a couple of hours to our camp where there is shade and a wonderful afternoon tea awaits. We introduce our crew and the camp, and your tent; your home for the following week or so. In the warmth, we usually eat dinner and breakfast outside for tonight and the next couple of days.
Afternoon tea is ready! - Jamie
Day 5 - trek Markha 3700m
The walking is straightforward, mostly just above the valley floor but it can be quite a hot walk, do drink plenty today. There are several crystal clear water springs along the way where we can top up, not needing to filter the water.
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 - inside are piles of tiny 'tsatsas', the remains of ashes of the departed formed into tiny clay figurines.
As the valley widens we spot the old fort on
the hill above Markha village. Long ago invaders from what is now Pakistan coveted the high grazing and livestock of Nyimaling, thus the need for the fortifications all along the Markha valley.
We sometimes camp by the school, sometimes 10 minutes before the actual village, in a spot that also suitable for the horses.
After afternoon tea do wander up to the local gompa, the view is satisfying while inside is dark and chang-smelling. Look, and look
again, the more you look, the more you will see.
Markha village - Jamie
Day 6 - trek Hankar 4000m
Although a shorter walk, it is scenic and there are plenty of places to explore around the village that is split into two. The fort between them is well worth a wander.
Day 7 - trek Tachungtse (Tachutse) ~4350m
This is another day of ambling along the trails used by countless shepherds
and traders over the centuries, with a hit of snow capped peaks near the end of the day.
After leaving the village behind, there could be the only river crossing of the calf deep Markha river although in recent years there has often been a rickety temporary bridge. An imposing rock spire to the right marks the entrance to the valley leading to the Rabrang La, which we explored on our wildlife trek in 2017, and is also the Jumlam route to Zanskar. Legend says 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.
Around the next bend is the spectacularly set hilltop monastery of Tetsa/Tacha, well worth the climbing detour, providing we are moving well. We might lunch in front of the impressively sited centuries
old crumbling fort above or shade in Hankar village, the last village of the valley.
We have often marvelled at blue sheep dancing on the cliffs beyond. After crossing bridge to the right side (ie true
left), the popular campsite of
Tachutse (pronounced Ta-jung-tse) soon appears.
Esther crossing the steam above Markha (that might have a bridge now) - Jamie
Day 8 - trek Nyimaling 4840m
It is mostly uphill walking, with widening views as recompense. Cresting a ridge, the views really open out to include some impressive hoodoos at a good spot for a quick break. Passing some ponds, we puff a little harder with the altitude.
mountain ahead is Kang Yatse II, which is actually only the shoulder of the real peak, rather than being a separate peak. We will see much more of the real peak tomorrow.
More ascent leads us to the long Nyimaling plain where villagers from the
Markha Valley graze their sheep in summer and make curd and cheese from the milk of their livestock. We camp in a convenient spot and drink in the views.
What a backdrop, heading up to Nyimaling - Jamie
Day 9 & 10 - rest-explore Nyimaling ~4840m
We have ascended relatively quickly and here take a break to acclimatize,
wash clothes and explore this wonderful, panoramic valley.
There is a choice of day trips with the most ambitous to Kang Yatse Base Camp.
If the team is feeling good, alternatively we can camp two nights at Nyimaling and then pop over the 5320m Lhalung La to a scenic and isolated campsite there. Then, the next day we would pop over near the Lhalung La to Dzo Jongo Ri base camp...
Collecting fuel; the traditional lifestyle is still alive at Nyimaling - Jamie
Day 11 - trek Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
Only an hour or so along the valley, this is also partly an acclimatization day, and a day for exploring. The panorama is inspiring from the Lhalung La, a little-used alternative exit for the Markha trek while further up the valley are a series of lakes. Its also possible to climb up towards Reponi Mallai and some of the shoulders nearby.
Pickaboo! A pika playing for the cameras - Jamie
Day 12 - Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
The key to success on 6000m peaks is sound acclimatization... So you can relax and read today, or if feeling energetic, the view from the domed 5740m Konga Ri is hard to beat for the altitude. If you didn't already check the panoramic view of the peak from the Lhalung La, then that is a good, less energetic alternative. We also thoroughly prepare for tomorrow, and Jamie will scout conditions.
Colours ... I love the contrasting reds and greens, fading into the distance
The view from the Lhalung La - Jamie
Day 13 - scramble Dzo Jongo 6218m
We start smartly, although not particularly early as it seems to take twice as long to get set off in the dark as it does to rise at first light. We begin by walking up the valley then the endless uphill begins. Atop a shoulder, we stop for our first refuel break, and the panorama is already extensive. The rounded ridges turn sharper as we climb onto the real ridge to the summit. This should be snow-free, ie all rock with minor scrambling along the small trail, however if it has been a snowy spring there could still be lingering snow patches. Earlier season climbs might still require crampons at some stage.
We return to base camp and sleep there.
Dzo Jongo East summit, 6218m - Jamie
Day 14 - trek Shang Sumdo, drive Leh
This is another longer and particularly satisfying trek day. From our base camp, we traverse across and ascend the red Konmaru La, fluttering prayer flags on top. The descend starts on a good trail with open views then descends into that red rock gorge, sometimes amid the boulders on the rough floor, sometimes a traverse out to skip an impassable section. We meet the jeeps at 3-4pm and it is only a couple of hours drive to Leh where we deserve a cold beer and a celebratory
meal. Chopsticks, Tibet Kitchen or Bon Appetit?
Esther (with a bigger than usual backpack) descending the formidable gorge to Shang Sumdo - Jamie
Day 15 - trip ends
You are free to take the morning flight to Delhi or bus to Manali for the
long way back, or just enjoy more time in this central Asian town of yore.