Leh - Markha Valley - Dzo Jongo East 6218m - Zalung Karpo La - Tsogra - Leh
and optional exploration
Ladakh is a trekkers delight, and here we combine the popular Markha village trek with some sublime wilderness. Naturally we experience the famed gompas and the timeless Ladakhi - Tibetan - culture too, 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 valley of Nyimaling we explore this huge area and scramble Dzo Jongo East, a straightforward, very satisfying 6200m sub-peak. There is more to Ladakh though, and we head away over a less frequented pass for jaw-dropping views of the dramatic landscape, descending in to steep-walled canyons with sparkling streams in teh season of flowers. This is domain of wolves and snow leopard, and a very pretty wilderness area.
Why this trip? It is the best of a number of alternatives. Stok Kangri is logistically quick, easy and cheap, however, is overrun with literally thousands of climbers a season while Kang Yatse II is dangerous, as we found in 2014, yet Dzo Jongo East is surprisingly satisfying as we found in 2015, 2016 and 2017. As far as the trekking goes, using Markha Valley home-stays mean no exploring around Nyimaling as trekkers are not acclimatized (no home-stay at Tachutse), 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, including incredible wilderness camping, and trek through an area inhabited by blue sheep, which we have seen on every trek. It is also wolf country, which we have seen on some trips, and the home of the ghost of the mountains, the snow leopard which we are still waiting to see.
We aim to have a fun, flowing trek and a safe scramble - join
This is a fantastic trek-climb, and suitable for both seasoned trekkers and as an introductory trek-climb too.
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.
4 - trek Markha 3710m
We camp at the main village of the valley.
5 - trek Hankar 4000m
On this short day for acclimatization, we explore the impressively set Tetsa Gompa.
6 - Tachungtse (Tachutse) 4350m
This is another shorter day and 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.
7 - 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 one time!
8 - rest Nyimaling 4840m
After the big jump in altitude, we take a rest-recovery day.
9 - explore Nyimaling 4840m
There are several scenic day walks in this incredible location.
10 - trek Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
As this is just a couple of hours walk away, we ascent a nearby pass for a broad, stunning panorama.
11 - 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.
12 - ascend Dzo Jongo 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 an ice axe.
13 - trek Kang Yatze Base Camp 5050m
14 - trek Tikyu 4660m via Konka Nongpo La 5080m
15 - trek pre-Tsogra 4600m via the Zalung Karpo La ~5200m
16 - trek Dat 4200m
17 - drive Leh
Day 18 - Wednesday 4 September - depart
(Day 19 - optional departure)
Optional Tso Kar extension
Day 17 - drive Tso Kar 4-5 hours
We drive to a peaceful, grassy camp on the shore of Tso Kar, which means Salt Lake. En route we are certain to see kiang and marmots, and more, and it is also a delightfully scenic drive.
Day 18 - Tso Kar
Nearby there is an abundance of bird life including rare black-necked cranes, ducks and wading birds. Walking or driving day trips are also possible.
Day 19 - drive Leh
Day 20 - Fri 6 Sept - depart
Or stay an extra day making this a 21 day trip, weekend to weekend...
Our delightful Markha village camp - Jamie
Crossing the Zalung Karpo La into a remote and wild valley, note the horses at the bottom - Jamie
To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).
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 two 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 plus hotel and show you around. In particular for this trek, we suggest people from North America arrive a day early as the flights are arduous and the time zone change large.
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; 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, Open Hand, G Kitchen, Tibet Kitchen and Summer Harvest.
Day 2 - 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 3 - drive Chilling, trek Skyu 3300m
Time to stretch the legs, we pack for some hot weather trekking today with a hat, sunscreen, snacks and plenty of water.
We set off after breakfast for a two hour drive then a surprise - a small, hand-pulled cable car is the only way across the fast-flowing Zanskar River. There was a brand new steel girder road bridge in 2014 that we ducked across as the first foreigners to ever cross it, using the painting planks, but sadly this was destroyed by the flood of 2015, and lies in a twisted wreak downstream. So the cable car is an adventure and it will take a while to get all our gear and us across, especially if there are other groups there at the same time.
It is only a couple of hours of sometimes hot and sunny walking 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 weeks. In the warmth, we usually eat dinner and breakfast outside for tonight and the next couple of days.
Afternoon tea is ready! Our shady Skyu campsite - Jamie
Day 4 - 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 shcool, 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 5 - trek 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, is the only river crossing of the calf deep Markha river. Everywhere else the river is narrow however here it isn't possible to build a simple 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 as blue sheep dance on the cliffs beyond, and when we cross a bridge to the right side (ie true
left), just beyond is the popular campsite of
Tachutse (pronounced Ta-jung-tse).
Esther crossing the steam above Markha - Jamie
Day 6 - 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 7 - 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. The standard exit for a Markha trek is over the Konmaru La (Gongmaru La) and the view is well worth the effort, you can see towards Leh on a good day, as well as up and down the valley we are trekking in. There are more gentle ascents above our camp although they tend to keep going, and it is even possible to climb to over 5700m on the ridge leading to Reponi Mallai Ri.
Collecting fuel; the traditional lifestyle is still alive at Nyimaling - Jamie
Day 8 - 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 9 - trek Dzo Jongo Base Camp 5100m
The key to successful 6000m peaks is sound acclimatization... For the energetic, the view from the domed 5740m Konga Ri is hard to beat for the altitude. 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 10 - 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 turnes 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, 6210m - Jamie
Day 11 - trek Kang Yatze base camp
With legs perhaps a little tired from yesterday, this is a scenic morning's walk looking over Nyimaling to the regular base camp for Kang Yatze II, with the afternoon for relaxing or exploring. There will likely be some groups there preparing for the climb of Kang Yatze II.
Looking at the Markha Valley from near Kang Yatze Base Camp - Jamie
Day 12 - trek Tikyu via Konka Nongpo La 5080m
We leave behind the more popular trails with a beautiful, satisfying day ahead where we are very likely to see blue sheep and have sometimes seen wolves too.
Leaving camp, we cross a minor ridge where we watched young Himalayan griffons feeding on a marmot once. Skirting around the open grassy valley, we often see Tibetan snowcock and it is an extensive view down towards the Markha Valley.
The pass is a minor ascent, gently angled with barely a trail. The top is a surprise, an initially steep descent on loose dirt but across the small stream the way becomes a real path, and particularly scenic at that. We continue skirting around ridges, passing through the best blue sheep-spotting terrain. We have seen blue sheep in this area every single time we have passed through.
The way is easy to lose along here but once we pick it up again we gently drop to the valley base for lunch. There are trails on both sides of the valley to our camp at the last grassy spot, the best camp for tomorrow. The side stream crossing into camp can sometimes be adventurous, especially if we spent a long time watching the blue sheep.
Blue sheep horns - Jamie
And much better to see blue sheep alive, here is a young one - Jamie
Day 13 - trek hidden spring / Tsogra 4600m via the Zalung Karpo La ~5200m
Leaving behind the grass, we mostly trek up the stream bed. With some steady walking, the top of the high pass comes soon enough, with
its surprising three way panorama. It is also a three way pass with a route dropping into the remote
Rabrang area, an alternative route for the isolated and daring Jumlam trek route.
Descending into the valley, we camp either at a greassy campsite with a small hidden water spring or continue down well down to the grazing area of
Tsogra (Sorra). There is an
ancient dzong (fort) on the hillside that once guarded the gorge against invaders.
Wow, the dramatic panorama from the Zalung Karpo La - Jamie
Day 14 - trek Dat
Although this is the last day of trekking, is by no means the least. The first canyon is utterly spectacular with sheer side. We then turn up a large side stream with more sheer valley walls, delightful walking. It is a tougher, although very safisfying and scenic day.
Finally, we reach the road head at Sheyen-Dad, and camp in front of the winter village of Dadgo. Our jeeps arrive, staying overnight, so that we can make a quick getaway tomorrow.
I love this valley, the steep sides and sparkling streams and the greenness- Jamie
Day 15 - drive Leh via Yar La 4950m and Tanglang La 5328m
To me, it is a pity the road reaches so far in this valley however the drive is scenic, and certainly requires less effort than trekking as we ascend the Yar La, the way out. The landscape changes from craggy to more open, wider panoramas, more in keeping with how the Tibetan Plateau might be imagined to look.
Eventually we meet the Leh-Manali highway not too far away from the junction to Tso Kar, and the start of the More Plains. For Leh, we turn left and climb the Tanglang La. The highway has mostly been resurfaced and so is a relatively quick drive
now. Driving back will take around 6-7 hours (barring
delays) and we will probably have a quick lunch at Upshi. Once in Leh, and showered, we deserve a cold beer or cocktail and a celebratory
meal. Chopsticks or Bon Appetit?
Stakna Gompa, with this view we know we are getting close to Leh - Jamie
(Stakna literally means tiger/leopard's nose on account of the rock)
Day 16 - trip ends
We drop you at the airport for the morning flight to Delhi (or at the bus to Manali for the
long way back); or feel free to enjoy more time in this central Asian town of yore.
Tso Kar option
With only two extra days, and only a little extra driving, you can experience the wildlife and birdlife at Tso Kar, the famed salt lake. This is a jeep safari camping trip as there are no hotels near the lake.
Brahminy ducks (ruddy shelducks) mirrored at Tso Kar - Jamie
Day 15 - drive Tso Kar 4536m via Yar La 4950m
The drive to Tso Kar takes less than 4 hours, and is a particularly scenic drive. First we cross Ya La then descend on softening terrain to the Leh-Manali highway where we take a right. We soon branch off the highway on the small but blacktopped road that is a shortcut to Tso Moriri, the other brakish lake beyond Tso Kar. In sight of the lake, we bump off the main road, spying territorial kiang from the road, and continue to perhaps the best camping spot near the lake shore. This spot is occasionally used by a trekking group, however, all the motorbike groups and Indian tourists normally stay on the opposite side of the lake at Thugje or at the Ponganamu water springs camp on the main road, so this camp is normally quiet.
We set up camp and Lobsang will cook up a feast with fresh veg from Leh. A bush shower is possible, and clothing from Leh can be bought here by the drivers. With the wide expanse and lower hills, the sunset is delightful here.
Pleasant eating outside at our camp at Tso Kar - Jamie
Day 16 - Tso Kar 4536m
Wake early for a sunrise wander to the lake, and catch the reflection before a breeze ruffles the water. If you want to sleep in, fear not, you can still go bird spotting after breakfast as the wader birds and ducks stay for the summer. Tread carefully, there are plenty of soft spots and avoid scaring the bigger birds, especially the rare black necked crane pairs. For identifying, we have a book that you can look them up with.
Lunch will be a delicious cooked meal at camp and plenty of fresh fruit too. After dinner, the stars are spectacular; want to try taking some milky way night shots?
A black necked crane pair at Tso Kar - Jamie
Day 17 - drive Leh via the Tanglang La 5328m
We pack camp up one last time for the 5-6 hour drive to Leh, probably stopping for a quick lunch at Upshi.
Esther admiring the Tso Kar reflection - Jamie
Day 18 - trip ends
We drop you at the airport for the morning flight to Delhi (or at the bus to Manali for the
long way back); or feel free to enjoy more time in this central Asian town of yore.