The Great Markha Valley Trek
Markha Valley Trek is a popular trail for trekkers for a few reasons.
Its absolutely beautiful obviously.
Trails are well marked
Lot of water sources at multiple spots
If you do not want to take the 'camping' option, you can find accommodation and food at home stays all throughout the trek (except Nimaling, the highest stop of the trek, where tents to hire are available)
There were 3 of us travelling accompanied by:
Horseman with 6 horses for porterage
The route planned was for a duration 7 nights and 8 days
Original Route: Spituk - Zingchen - Gandala Base Camp (Yurutse) - Skiu - Markha - Tchatchutse - Nimaling - Shang Sumdo - Martselang - Hemis Monastery
Route Taken: Spituk - Zingchen - Gandala Base Camp (Yurutse) - Skiu - Markha - Hankar - Nimaling - Chokdo - Hemis Monastery
Day 1 Leh - Spituk - Zingchen
Day 1 was just a 15km walk on the road through the mountains with the Indus river giving you company throughout.
I would like to consider this as a warm up day to your trek. If you feel fit enough already, you can probably skip this day and start straight from Zingchen where the road goes off.
We carried our packed lunch for which we stopped next to a stream and ate under a shadow (thats where i captured the reptile). Well the sun was pretty bad, which would be a theme throughout the trek. Further we continued our walk to Zingchen. My legs were tired even though it was just a walk with hardly any gain in altitude. I will blame the fact that living in Delhi, I am hardly used to going on long walks and I would blame the air you get to breathe.
As soon as we arrived, we were served hot lemon (I did not know something like that existed but it was delicious and apparently helps you gain some energy back and helps in rehydration).
Further, tea and snacks and finally dinner. Dinner would typically start with a soup and then at least 3 main course dishes and finally dessert which would generally be fruits. Honestly, considering we were camping, I thought Wow! We are being spoilt here.
These meals would be a routine through the trek.
Sleep followed to prepare for a lot of climbing for Yurutse.
Day 2 Zingchen - Yurutse
We woke up around 6.30 and were on our way by 7.30 post breakfast.
Long tiring walk with a lot of climb but really really nice views. Camp location was amazing, just under Gandala Pass. Sunset and sunrise were another story. Oh! And a lot of stars! Breathtaking.
All the meals and sleep followed. Tomorrow we begin with a steep climb to Gandala Pass. Total distance covered today would be around 14KMs
Day 3 Gandala - Skiu
We made an early start today because it was going to be a long day. We departed at 7 for Gandala Pass. It was a steep climb, hence, tiring but the views would keep you going. The view from Gandala Pass is mesmirizing.
Post that is a long long walk to Skiu all downhill. But what made it annoying was the sun that showed no mercy. It was so dry, you feel you need a sip of water every 10 mins.
Was so exhausted once we reached the camping site. A lot of people put their tents there and we also got the opportunity to sit beside the river flowing next to the camp. Its amazing to see how the flow changes from calm to rough between morning to evening. (Have a video from Hankar)
Walked a total of 18Kms today and discovered I had a few blisters which meant even more pain. Note: People also do the Chilling - Skiu route as Day 1 which is much shorter. However, that would mean you skip all of Gandala pass.
Day 4 Skiu - Markha
Well today would be the longest of all trails of the trek in a single day. We would be covering around 22 Kms.
Hence, again we made an early start around 7am.
We make our way to the biggest village of the trek i.e. Markha Village.
The long walk made the blisters worse and yet again, the sun showed no mercy. Post 11, its gets unbearably hot and dry.
Its interesting to note how villages have extensively adopted solar power and how at Chai points they don't keep plastic water bottles but filter water dispensers. Apparently, because of the growing popularity of the route, the village was accumulating up to 25000 plastic water bottles through the season. Hence, they have stopped the sale of water in bottles. You can fill up a litre of yours for Rs.15 (About 20 cents)
Day 5 Markha - Hankar
In consultation with the guide, we shortened this day due to two continuous draining days. The distance was around 10 Kms, almost half compared to the previous 2 days. Short trip. Pretty hot at hankar. Fine for now as we prepare for Nimaling tomorrow. A good rest for the moment.
The other good news, the sun was milder compared to the previous days during the journey.
We set up the camp at the horseman's house which had a quite and a peaceful farm. Met his family as well as the cute donkey calf.
I got to wash my hair and my companions got to wash some clothes.
Day 6 Hankar - Nimaling
Tiring walk but beautiful views on the way. Best thing ever was the view of the camp. Incredible scenery. Green flat plateau with Kang Yatze on one side and Kongmaru-La Pass on the other. Emotional to look at all this when you start approaching the camp as you realize the effort it took you to come to this spot. For me, Nimaling was the premier highlight of the trek. We decided to shorten the walk for the subsequent days and call the vehicle to Chokdo instead of Martselang cutting down Day 8 by almost 2 hours. And yes you read it right. CALL! Kongmaru La Pass, the apex point of the trek, is the only point of the trek where you get mobile network. Crazy!
What made the day even better was there was almost no sun throughout the way.
When we reached, there was a 30min hailstorm. This campsite is the highest camping place and this is the place where you get beer.
The look on people's faces, specially Europeans, when they found that out, priceless.
Another highlight, the cook served us Pizza for dinner. And it was damn good. We just could not figure out how he managed to do that. Its pretty cool to be eating Pizza at 5000 metres
Day 7 Nimaling - Chuskur
Walk from Nimaling Base camp to the pass is a torture to the legs. Really difficult as you keep climbing for more than 3Kms. View from the top was again breathtaking. People can be seen celebrating as they conquer the highest altitude of the trek. Post that is a long climb down. Your legs would be numb by the end. Weather was fine in bits. No sun but drizzles throughout. There are multiple river detours on the way which means you have to climb up and go down again and again. Camp was set up a couple of hours earlier than the original location since we could see the clouds getting heavier and we didn't want to make the journey more difficult. As we entered are tents to take rest around 3, it started pouring. The pouring came into full force and massive speed winds. Being inside a tent, it's scary. This went from 3-7pm. Post, that, We were called for dinner. Then comes the most beautiful part. As we finished dinner, we realized we are actually eating inside the clouds. That why the rain stopped but the winds persisted. Absolutely mesmirizing sight. Snowed on the mountains parralel to us. Tomorrow we get ready for our final walk which will be for one hour where there will be a vehicle waiting for us to take us for our sight seeing to Hemis Monastery and then finally our hotel. Cannot wait for my first shower after 8 DAYS!!
Day 8 Chuskur - Chokdo - Hemis - Leh
Final day! Originally we were supposed to walk till Martselang but owing to my blisters, we shortened it.
We left conveniently by 8.30 and reached the vehicle by 10. Entered Hemis Monastery by around 11. Finished our tour of the monastery by 12.30 and we were at the hotel by 1. We wished our goodbyes to each other other and to the memorable week.
Must mention, the trek became really painful after the blisters. It was probably the shoes. Choose them very very carefully for such a long expedition. Carry enough warm clothes. Clothes to protect.you from rain, heat, cold,etc. It could all happen in a span of a week. Ladakh's weather swings are as unpredictable as mood swings of a woman who is starving and on her period. Also, at night, you feel the milkyway Galaxy is much much closer to you. So many stars. Sad my camera couldn't capture it. Ladakh est Magnifique! 👌
Food The cook we had was excellent. For breakfast, there were porridge/cereals, eggs and Puri/bread/ladakhi bread. Packed lunch was given to us everyday which was pretty simple with one boiled egg, boiled potato, sandwich, cheese slice, juice and chocolate. Dinner was started with a kind of soup. Followed by at least 3 different main course dishes served with rice. Sometimes there was spaghetti too. The best part was we were served pizza at Nimaling base camp. I really don't know how the cook managed that at that height. Incredible. It was ended with dessert which generally consisted of fruits. A chocolate cake was served on the last night. Imagine! Dessert was always followed by tea. Tea and snacks like biscuit or hot pakodas were served in the evening. Hot lemon or cold Tang served once we reached our camps. Food was a highlight I must say! The guide was good as well. Informative and took good care. At the end, I would like to mention what made this trek even more special were the people I met during the course of the trek. I spoke to people from India, England, Wales, France, Catalunya (they don't like the Spanish tag) , Spain, Italy, Germany and even people from countries like Czech republic and Slovenia. I spoke to people who were backpacking alone, couples, people coming with their whole family with kids as young as 10, people taking breaks from their mundane work, people over for their PHDs. It was overwhelming to know their views and how much India's beauty is appreciated all over the world.
Disclaimer: The author is a Director at Razdan Holidays. All the organization of the trek was undertaken by professionals hired by Razdan Holidays and all the equipment provided for the trek is owned by the company for exclusive use.