Ask any motorbike fanatic for a destination for a road trip, and without a second thought, it will be Ladakh. The next time when wanderlust itches, take a motorbike trip to Ladakh and surrender yourself to the beauty of the Land of High Passes. Tough terrains, barren lands, pristine blue lakes, gigantic mountains and patches of greenery urge you to take the untraveled path. The exorbitant charisma of this scenic land is branched into several places that make road trip a splendid one. If you also have been bitten by the travel bug and you need to feed your wanderlust, travel to Ladakh!

For the sweeping scenic beauty of Ladakh Treks and Passes

ladakh bike trip

The stark blue sky paired with snow-laden mountains, lush vegetation and unspoiled blue lakes together form a surreal scene that every rider wishes to have a view of. The beautiful and robust roads meandering through the bleak mountains will let you ride some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world. An expedition through Khardung La to Nubra Valley and the road through Leh to Srinagar are some of the best routes in Ladakh region where you can zip through the mountainscapes.

Known as the roof of the world, Ladakh also houses some of the best treks, many of which are on the bucket-list of an enthusiastic trekker. Enclosed between the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, Ladakh’s stark beauty will make you want to stay here forever. The landscapes wear the colors of nature which make the entire landscape a picture-perfect shot for anyone who loves to do nature photography. Some of the most prominent treks of Ladakh are Chadar trek, Markha valley trek and Tso-moriri Lake trek.

For the excellence of starry nights and Pristine Blue Lakes

A starry night in Ladakh
A starry night in Ladakh

The extensive lakes of Ladakh are marvelous in terms of beauty and elegance. The perfect amalgamation of blue sky and water makes the lake a picturesque spot for shutterbugs and nature adorers. Pangong Lake is lately popular among the tourists (thanks to the movie 3 idiots) due to its unparalleled beauty and the dramatic blue color of the water. In winter, every year a gala festival over the frozen lake is organized for ice- skating enthusiasts.

 

The many colors of Pangong Tso
The many colors of Pangong Tso

The feeling of camping alongside the Pangong Lake and coming out of the tent to such a breath-taking view every time, cannot be expressed in mere words. The starry nights near the campsite are so mesmerizing, it will totally bewitched you into its sheer glory. So if you are planning a trip to Ladakh, make sure to visit Pangong Lake. It will surely leave you awestruck with its charming landscapes that will be imprinted in your heart forever.

For the colorful Festivals of Ladakh and its monasteries

celebration at hemis festival
Hemis Festival in Ladakh

The warm culture and vibrant festivals Losar, Hemis and Naro Nasjal will definitely be a pleasure to anyone visiting Ladakh. The festivals are celebrated as a win over the evil, and the rituals follow a procession of troupes dressed in colorful costumes. And singing, dancing and listening to traditional music brings out peace and prosperity within them. The traveler spirit in you will find a deep connection if you let your soul delve in the trance state. And if you could not connect, enjoy the drama performance and click pictures of the colorful surrounding around you.

 The majestic Key Monastery with the magical views of the stars in the background
The majestic Key Monastery with the magical views of the stars in the background

Do not miss a visit to the historic monasteries to have an insight about customs and traditions of the Ladakhi people. The carving and wall paintings of the monasteries depict tenets of Buddhism and Buddha. Some of the monasteries you can explore are Shey, Thiksey, Matho, Phyang and Key Monasteries.

To savor the lip-smacking cuisine of Indo-Tibetans

Devour tasty Ladakhi cuisine. In picture: Thukpa
Devour tasty Ladakhi cuisine. In picture: Thukpa

You must have tried momos and thukkpa of various places, but the authentic flavor of Ladakh is just spectacular to the taste senses. The exotic chilly flavor in the thukkpa and the crunchiness of the fresh vegetables makes it a delightful slurp. And each bite of the freshly prepared momos will make you crave for more and more. The difference in the taste of Indo-Tibetan cuisine is the mystical spice hidden in the valley. It gives their thukkpa and momos a distinct flavor. Also, at many places you will be served with Timok, which is a bread much like an alternative to roti. To combat the freezing temperature, Ladakhi people eat chilies to keep their body warm and ready for harsh winters.

The pull of Magnetic Hill

Magnetic Hill Ladakh
Magnetic Hill Ladakh

Located 30 kilometers from Leh, Magnetic Hill is one of the most desired spots to visit in Leh. The strong magnetic properties of the hill pull cars uphill. The signboard at the Magnetic Hill invites you to stop your car, switch it off and leave it in neutral. As soon as you do this, your car starts moving uphill at a speed of 10-20 km per hour. People coming to this place make sure to experience this strange phenomenon once in a lifetime.

For bikers, their only love is to get on their bikes and snake up through the barren mountains of the region while enjoying the spellbinding scenic view. Well, I don’t think any biker will want to miss such a heavenly place. So gear up guys, pack up your bags and plan the next trip to Ladakh!

A lot has been written about the frozen river Chadar trek. Every year, in the months of January and February, headstrong trekkers dare to attempt the trek i.e., walk over the frozen Zanskar river that is the only route for locals to reach Leh. However, it is best explained in a series of photos. After all, a photo is worth a thousand words.

So without further ado, here’s what’s so special about Chadar Trek and why it should be on your travel wish-list for 2019:

chadarThe temperature here drops to around -30 degree Celsius and is the most suitable for being tread on in the winter months, hence.

webp-net-compress-image-23Trekkers start this exploration from Chilling and hike further up to Naerak(they can return from this point itself) and then Lingshed. The entire ice trail is about 105 kms long and trekkers walk about 15 kms each day

webp-net-compress-image-22A road between Zanskar and Leh is under construction which will make it easier for the locals to commute. However, it poses a great threat for the wildlife including snow leopards in the area.

chadarFrozen Naerak falls.

chadarThe fluctuating temperature in the valley makes and breaks the ice in the river. So, trekkers are to use extreme caution in a terrain such as this.

shutterstock_1113151_cf8ceThe gigantic brown mountains that outline the frozen river present a great visual.

chadar trekLocals cook food here in caves and it is served in caves. How dreamlike!

webp-net-compress-image-21Impeccable trekking gear should be made use of while carrying out this trek. The ice sheets thin down over different times of the day.

shutterstock_7977997_tjn49Camping is an absolute delight on this trek! Enjoy incredible starry nights. Star-gazing is definitely something you should check off your list when you’re here.


What are you waiting for?
Pack your bags and set out for this dreamland! Chadar trek can be undertaken by experienced trekkers each January-February. This is a perfect trek for your travel goal list. 

An Experience Like Never Before 

The Chadar trek is a must for all those people who are living in cities and have been seeking an opportunity to have freedom from their hard-working lives for a short while. After completing it, one will realise the immense beauty of pristine nature and why it needs to be protected. The Chadar trek is a completely different trek as it involves walking on a frozen Zanskar river at an altitude of 13,000 ft for days in sub-zero temperatures at around -25 degree Celsius. The experience of trekking on an aqua blue ice trail between calm brown mountains along with cold breeze is an experience within itself. This trek has been categorised under the major difficulty level trek, as it requires a heavy amount of exertion. One is also required to have a proper guidance before beginning this trek. The trail of this trek is approximately 105 km and on an average, a trekker will be walking a distance of 15 to 17 km per day

During winter, this frozen lake route of Chadar is one and only route that connects Zanskar Valley and Ladakh.

Special Treats: MAJOR VILLAGES EN ROUTE
Villages falling in the trail of Chadar trek are Nerak and Lingshed. Trekkers will be coming across these two villages on different days during the trek.

NERAKIt is one of the two villages where the trekkers will be taking their stoppages. The views of the sunset from this point are worth witnessing. Travellers should definitely click some pictures from this point. Trekkers will be reaching towards this village after witnessing the captivating frozen waterfall and the massive Tibb Cave. This village serves as a major base camp of the Chadar trek. In order to reach Nerak Village, trekkers will be climbing a steep mountain trail. This village houses facilities such as a rudimentary health dispensary and a solar plant. There is also a residential school at this village where students study till the elementary level. All the basic essential goods including ration are bought for an entire year and are brought in this village from a small settlement of Wonla, which is located at a great distance and is situated across the Zing La pass. Only the Chadar trek trail connects the Nerak Village with the outside world. This village is home to around 30 families.

LINGSHEDTrekkers will be arriving at the village of Lingshed. Trekker arriving in Lingshed will be delighted to know that this village is known as one of the oldest villages in Ladakh. This village is filled with an ample amount of nature’s beauty. It is also home to the Lingshed Monastery, which is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. This monastery is a famous tourist attraction. By now, the trekkers would have visited popular tourist spots such as Gyalpo and Dibyokma. Gyalpo is an enchanting campsite which is located in a meadow in the Zanskar River. At this region, travelers will discover imposing peaks and large natural rocks which are naturally sculpted in abstract shapes. Dibyokma is another stoppage point during the Chadar trek. From this point, travelers can enjoy a breath-taking view of the Himalayas, it is also known as the most peaceful point of the trek.


Dreamlike Chadar Trek: Enjoy Camping Under Starlit Skies 

chadar
During the night, the travelers will also get the opportunity to see a vibrant sky full of stars. The Chadar trek is known for its rough camping conditions and fluctuating temperature, there will be several instances where trekkers would be required to manoeuvre through difficult terrain of the trek and climb cold boulders of ice and rock.    

chadarThe wide frozen aqua blue ice trail formed by Zanskar River in winters between massive, calm, golden brown mountains is the prime factor which makes Chadar Trek a special trek.

Lifesaver Tips: Exercising Precaution While Treading On The Frozen River 

  • It is suggested that one should share his or her schedule to go on Chadar Trek with at least one friend or family member. This will ensure that he or she has someone for help in case of an emergency.
  • It is advised to carry warm clothes as there is a high probability of temperature to drop extremely low.
  • Travelers are suggested to carry ample quantity of edible food and water with them, as there might be a shortage of food and water during the trek.
  • One should not forget to carry a first-aid kit and medicines, as the travellers will be involved in activities which will require a lot of exertion and will be often getting minor bruises and cuts during the trek.
  • One should ensure that the trail of the trek stays clean and they should not pollute the trail or dump anything during the trek. Travellers are also advised not to use shampoos and soaps at any of the waterfalls.
  • One should respect all religious faiths and the calmness of all the shrines that fall en route.
  • One should not disobey or disregard any of the instructions and tips given by the guide.
  • Avid skipping any of the meals during the trek as the intense terrain of Chadar trek will require trekkers to have a high amount of energy.

The best time to go on Chadar Trek is considered to be the winter season between the months of January and February. At this time, the Zanskar River is considered safe and is suitable for walking.

One of the most adrenaline-pinching, risque, thrilling explorations organised in the winter months(January-February) of every year is a trek on the frozen Zanskar river-Chadar Trek. The ice trail is a bold exploit even for the most advanced trekkers. Fluctuating and harsh weather over a frozen trail between ginormous golden mountains, this one is for the truly headstrong.

But it isn’t impossible! Far from it. The wild undertaking is carried out successfully by hundreds of trekkers every season. Through Naerak and Lingshed, the venturous make their way to the frozen river.  Couple months of preparation and reliable information about the trek beforehand are their only friends. Of course, having a presence of mind and trekking gear in perfect shape are absolutely non-negotiable.

chadar trek

Before we go on to discuss what truly makes this trek so challenging, here’s what you should at least pack for the trip:

  • Trekkers are also suggested to carry a pair of open-toe slippers, which one can wear around the campsite without wetting their socks
  • Proper trekking shoes with high-rise ankle, waterproofing and insulation
  • One size large pair of gumboots – a kind of boots for the purpose of wading through icy water
  • Open toe slippers for casual wearing around the camp
  • Two synthetic trek pants
  • One windcheater
  • Two pairs of upper and lower body thermal wears
  • Two warm pants
  • Two full sleeved collar t-shirts
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 3 pairs of merino trekking socks
  • Four pairs of undergarments
  • 1 complete body raincoat
  • Woollen gloves and synthetic waterproof gloves
  • Woollen cap that covers the ears
  • Woollen socks for sleeping in the night
  • Woollen stole or balaclava to wrap around the neck.
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Cold cream
  • Toothpaste
  • UV protection sunglasses to prevent snow blindness
  • Trekking pole
  • Head torch
  • Daypack
  • Rucksack with a capacity of 50 to 60 litres
  • Medicine kit
  • Insulated water bottle and thermos flask
  • Utensils
  • Packaged refreshments
  • Plastic sealable polythene bags, which can keep items dry and safe

chadar

Know It All: The Multi-fold Challenges of Chadar Trek 
One will always face the mind-blowing challenge of walking on a thin ice sheet which may break at any time and thrust you in the icy cold water at around -25 degree Celsius temperature. Apart from this challenge, there are some other challenges as well that one may have to face:

  • Acute Mountain Sickness: According to a report, around 15 trekkers are reported to have been hospitalized in 2018, due to symptoms of AMS such as nausea, vomiting and breathlessness. During Chadar trek, trekkers can trek up to 11,123 feet. This sudden change in altitude may affect one’s body, thus failing him from accomplishing the trek. In order to prevent such as thing, trekkers are advised to first stay in Ladakh for a few days before starting the trek. This will enable one’s lungs to adjust according to the change in altitude. This time can be fruitfully used by taking acclimatization walks by trekkers.
  • Constant change in trekking trail: As a major portion of Chadar trek is covered over the frozen icy path formed by Zanskar River, the slightest of change in temperature has an extreme impact on the frozen trail of Chadar trek. It is highly suggested that travelers should pay attention to all the commands and instructions of the team leader and trek on only sledge routes. During an average day, the frozen river undergoes a constant process, which involves the formation of new ice sheets, melting of old ice and irregular breaking of ice blocks. During Chadar trek, travelers will always find the frozen river in a different condition. At times, the whole river will be completely frozen and its surface will be suitable to walk. At other times, the frozen stream of ice will completely melt from the center portion, thus leaving only narrow side trails of ice to walk on. There will also be times when the river would completely melt and the trekkers would have to leave the melted stretch of the river and climb the mountains. When there won’t be an option to climb the rocks, trekkers would also have to wade through the cold slushy stream of the river. It is suggested that trekkers should walk in small packs comprising of 6 to 7 people along with a person, who has all the necessary equipment including rope, carbines, harnesses, slings, a throw bag, sleeping bag and is ready to handle any kind of worst-case scenario. In case a trekker falls into the deeper portion of a running stream, he or she should prevent flowing along the stream. In such a case, a leader would throw a throw bag end, so that the drowning person may grab hold of it and get saved. In order to prevent such a situation, trekkers can opt to get anchored with the leader, who will be attaching all the trekkers by rope to his or her anchor.
  • Extreme cold conditions: The excessive cold conditions during Chadar trek often result in causing hypothermia to trekkers. Hypothermia occurs due to lack of warmth within one’s body. Usually, during a trek, hypothermia sets into one’s body after he or she has worn wet clothes for a long duration or even during the sleeping hours. People having weak bones should refrain from opting to go on this trek as the slippery icy terrain leads one to fall numerous times. Also, people with any kind of serious heart condition are also prone to hypothermia. The cold weather during the trek shrinks the blood vessels in one’s body, thus causing an immense pressure within the heart and leading to hypothermia in people with serious heart conditions. In order to tackle the issue of hypothermia, a trekker is required to be constantly active and warm during the Chadar trek. During the day, trekkers should constantly keep their body in motion, which will help in keeping themselves warm. It is suggested that trekkers at camping site should perform activities such as exploring campsite, interacting with locals or even playing some sports on the icy field. Trekkers are required to bring warm clothes which may protect them from snow blizzards and avalanches.
The ice sheets are dangerously thin at some points. Extreme caution is advised to the trekkers.
The ice sheets are dangerously thin at some points. Extreme caution is advised to the trekkers.

IN THE UNLIKELY SCENARIO OF A DROWNING: 

  1. Shout at your loudest to attract attention.
  2. Seek hold of the bank and staying glued to it.
  3. In the case of getting dragged away, travelers can hold on to their bags and place it above their chests as it will help them stay afloat.
  4. If a drowning traveler in a running current of the river is unable to reach the surface, he or she should look for a whirlpool in the river.
  5. Once the traveler gets rescued from the river, it is necessary to remove all wet clothes at once.
  6. In case a traveller gets hypothermia, he or she can try to get warmth from sleeping bags and hot water bottles.
  7. In case a traveler is in a serious case, the support staff should set up a tent and arrange warm stoves for warmth.

Are you still reading?
You have already won half the battle if you are well equipped with information because now you know what to expect. And come on, all this risk is what makes Chadar trek an absolute thrill! If you play by the rules, you will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

Nestled in the peaceful abode of Jammu and Kashmir at a high altitude of 2,987 m, Ladakh is the most-scenic landscape in the north-west region of India. Said to be the coldest inhabited desert in the world, it is enclosed by the world’s highest mountain ranges, the great Himalayas and Karakoram. It is the raw beauty of nature that adds a mysterious, incredible and stunning charm to the beautiful landscape.

Completely isolated from the hustle-bustle of the city, the ‘Land of high passes’, Ladakh is well-known for its crystal-clear water lake, azure sky, magical clouds, freezing winds, extreme deserts, sand dunes and glaciers. In its serene demeanor, the land encompasses various ethnic groups, primarily Tibetans, Dards, Monpas and Muslims. It is a place where prayer flags flutter in the cool breeze and striking stupas covered with snow stand tall. Ladakh attracts several tourists from around the world as it gives a chance to reinvent thrill, excitement and adventure. 

Chang la pass, Ladakh
Chang la pass, Ladakh

Best Time to Visit Ladakh
Undoubtedly, anyone who visits Ladakh gets fascinated by its beauty and quaint charm. Witnessing the stunning views in the mountains along with trekking is one of its kind excitements.

You can visit Ladakh in the following three seasons:

Summers – April to July :  At this time, the passes are accessible, and pleasant weather and surroundings offer an impressive panorama. It is the best time to go on the trek, ride a bike and board a jeep. The temperature ranges between 15 degrees Celsius and 30 degrees Celsius.

Monsoon – July to September : Despite the irregular rainfalls, monsoon is also considered as an ideal time to visit Ladakh. A traveller can enjoy river rafting, challenging treks and masked dance performances during monsoons. Temperature ranges between 3 degrees Celsius and 17 degrees Celsius.

Winter – October to March : Ladakh is the winter destination for those adventure-seekers who are eager to experience the majesty of Himalayas. At this time, ardent bike riders undertake motorcycle expeditions to acclimatize with harsh weather conditions. One thing that gives an adrenaline rush is a panorama of jaw-dropping Himalayan landscapes, Buddhist monasteries, frozen lakes and rivers. The temperature ranges between 0 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees Celsius.

Indus zanskar Confluence Ladakh
Indus zanskar Confluence Ladakh

The Best Trekking Expeditions in Ladakh
To escape from mundane life and crowd, the Himalayas are the best place to please your heart and soul. If you’re heading to the Himalayas, then do not resist yourself from undertaking new adventure and thrill activities at higher altitudes. Hiking in the mountainous region requires a lot of courage, will and attention.

Here are the two most popular treks that one should add to the list of trekking while planning a trip to Ladakh.

Stok Kangri Trek

Duration: 10 days
Grade: Difficult
Max Altitude: 6120 m
Approx Trekking: 40 km
Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh
Route: Leh>Changma>Mankorma>Spituk>Stok Kangri>Leh
Best Time to visit: June to September (-2 °C to 15 °C)

Stok Palace
Stok Palace

Situated in the Hemis National Park and the Stok Range of Himalayas, Stok Kangri is one of the highest mountain peaks in the world. On the way to the summit, the trail passes through the rustic hamlets built in traditional style, glacial pools, frozen streams and snowy landscape. Visiting vibrant small markets, meeting locals and peeking into their lifestyle is a unique experience in itself. The trail offers a 360-degrees view of grand Stok and Yissay peaks, and Zanskar and the Karakoram ranges, against the white dancing clouds. The trek is quite challenging, as it involves brook crossings, slippery slopes, long hour walks and sharp ascents and descents.

It is a place where one can experience an ideal amalgam of natural exquisiteness with cultural splendor. The sight of large moraines, crystal crests and the lofty peak of Mt. K2 is just breathtaking. Before starting the trek, there is a need to get acclimatized with the harsh weather conditions and surroundings of the place. In the initial days of trekking, explore Stok Palace, museums, forts, monasteries and local markets. The mission to reach Stok will be accomplished after crossing Chang Ma and Mankorma.

This trek is a must-try for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.  

Markha Valley Trek

Duration: 9 days
Grade: Moderate to difficult
Max Altitude: 5130 m
Approx Trekking: 75 km
Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh
Route: Leh>Spituk >Zingchen>Yuruste>Ganda La>Skiu>Markha>Thachungtse>Nimalingmaling >Kongmaru La>Shang Sumdo>Leh
Best Time to visit: June to September (2 °C to 12 °C)

markha

Surrounded by the towering and snow-covered mountains, the Markha Valley trek is one of the most alluring regions and preferred treks in Ladakh. The tributary of the River Zanskar flows in the beautiful village called Markha. The 9-day trek passes through the unexplored beauty of Hemis National Park and Gandala La and Kongmaru La passes. This trek will take you to the last village of the region, and also gives you a chance to enjoy rare sights of wildlife, such as the bear and snow leopard. The trekking expedition starts with acclimatization that helps you in getting familiarized with the surroundings. Later, you will head for sightseeing in Leh to get a glimpse of Ladakhi culture and Buddhists tradition. 

Under the glittery sky and amidst the gushing river, camping in Yurutse is a delight for trekkers’ eyes and soul. One will come to a dazzling sight of Zanskar Range after reaching Ganda La. The sight of convergence of three rivers at Skiu and Kangyatze Peak is a feast to trekker’s eyes. On your way to Markha, which is 6 km from the Skiu, you will come across several stunning streams.

How to reach Ladakh?

Ladakh on a motorbike expedition is a fantastic idea!
Ladakh on a motorbike expedition is a fantastic idea!

Those who are planning to visit the Moonland called Ladakh can reach there by flight, bike, jeep, bus or train.

Travelling by Bike : It is well said that for a bike rider nothing could be better than chasing the roads of Ladakh! To enjoy the surroundings of the scenic environment of this cold desert, one should undertake this trip on a bike. Bike ride to Ladakh is something which you will cherish for a lifetime. Srinagar and Manali are the two spots from where the routes lead to Ladakh. To witness the true majesty of Mother Nature’s creation, the road trip is a must-try.

Train Journey : The closest railway station to Ladakh is Jammu Tawi, which is around 700 km from Ladakh. One can hire a taxi or bus from there to reach Ladakh.

By air : The nearest airport to reach Ladakh is Leh Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. The airport is connected to and from Delhi, Jammu, Srinagar, Chandigarh, etc.

By road : Ladakh is well-connected with Srinagar and Jammu by roads. There are two routes that lead to Ladakh – one is from Srinagar via Zoji La Pass, and the other is Manali via Rohtang Pass.

ladakh shutterstock_1873033_txzmh

Ladakh is a must for you if you want to write your own travel journey on the roads that take you to the doors of heaven.

When it comes to trekking, nothing could be more enthralling than the Markha Valley trek in Ladakh. It is also known as ‘Tea House Trek’. An awesome 8-day trek amid cold desert develops both thrill and excitement in the land encompassing exotic flora and fauna, high passes, deep and shaved gorges, and fluttering colourful Buddhist flags. While embarking on the trek, passing the little hamlets constructed in conventional style is a unique experience in itself as it provides a closer view of Ladakh’s lifestyle and culture. A sight of the vibrant rock figures against white dancing clouds and majestic mountains like Kang Yissay, Stok and Zanskar are always of interest for the trekkers.

Trail on the Markha Valley Trek
Trail on the Markha Valley Trek

Despite being a tricky trek that includes long hours walk, brook crossings, sharp ascents and descents, it is a must-try for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers!

Altitude: 5130 m
Trekking Distance: 75 km
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Nearest Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh
Base Camp: Spituk
Best Time to Trek: Mid June to September

Long story short: Markha Valley Trek Explained
The trek offers astounding views of Markha Valley and several other peaks. Initial two days will be spent becoming accustomed to the cold place where temperature even falls below 0 degrees. Also, travellers can explore Leh Palace, forts, museums, Buddhist monasteries and local markets. Next day, following the way to Ganda La (4800 m), reach stunning Markha Village where the night will be spent in a camp.

Next day, drive to the village of Spituk and then hike towards Zingchen to reach a green dale named Yurutse. On day 4, after ascending for 4 hours, reach Siku passing Ganda La. From Siku, come back to Markha village, following the route along with River Markha. On day 6, move towards Thachungtse for an overnight stay. Go after a gradual descent and reach Nimaling. Shang Sumdo will be the last trekking destination, from here, a trekker will move towards Leh.

Trekking Gear Essentials for Markha Valley Trek

  • Trekking shoes and trekking pole
  • Warm clothes/Mosquito repellent
  • LED Flashlight/Headlamp with extra batteries
  • Extra pair of woolen socks/ Raincoat/Gloves
  • Sunscreen Lotion/ Sunglasses/Lip balm
  • Water Bottles/Energy drink and bars
  • Emergency Medical Kit

Itinerary Breakdown: My Meeting with Mountains and Dancing Clouds
Being an adventure enthusiast and a firm believer of Buddhism for years, I feel Ladakh is more than just a tourist destination. A blend of colorful monasteries, dome-shaped stupas and a serene barren landscape offer an ideal glimpse of Buddhist culture. So this time, when I visited Ladakh with my friends, we planned to hit the Markha Valley referred as ‘The Land Of The Passes’. The trek gave us a chance to explore the Hemis National Park and meet our nomadic brethren.

Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa

Day 1: We boarded our flights to Leh at 7 am. A flight to Leh is always a feast for the eyes as it offers the mesmerizing views of snow-capped mountains. Moreover, landing is an adventure in itself as the airport strip is flanked by the mountains on both sides. Our tour representative was waiting for us outside the airport, when we met him, he greeted us with flowery headband saying “O-Jullay!”(You’re welcome). He took us to our pre-booked hotel and later briefed us about the trek itinerary.

As Leh is encompassed by three Himalayan ranges – Ladakh, Karakoram and Zanskar, there was nothing to wait for! We kept the luggage in a storeroom and went out to explore the valley that boasts several wonderful attractions including Pangong Lake, Nubra Valley, Shanti Stupa and Stok Monastery. After visiting some places, we came back to the hotel around 5 pm. In the late evening, we took a stroll to Moti Market near Leh Bus Stand, from where I bought two jackets and we all had the yummiest momos ever! The night was spent in the hotel.

Thiksey Monastery
Thiksey Monastery

Day 2: As told by our tour representative, we had to stay at Leh today as well, in order to acclimatize to the cold weather, height and declining oxygen levels. After having Ladhaki butter tea and sandwiches, we thought to explore more of Leh before Markha Valley trek begins. On our way, we witnessed the beauty of the Ladakh plateau. Our driver took us to the Thiksey Monastery, located around 22 km from Leh. It was the most striking monastery complexes that I have ever seen, though, it reminded me of Potala Palace in Lhasa. We consumed lip-smacking authentic Tibetan food in its restaurant.

Shey Palace
Later, we visited Shey Place too, which was located on a hillock in Shey. We returned to the hotel by evening for another overnight stay.

Spituk

Day 3: Next morning, we woke up to a stunning view of sunrise amidst the hill and lush green fields. After having breakfast, we put our rucksack on and met our tour guide who was waiting for us in a car, just outside the hotel. The trek began with a drive and gradually we crossed Zinchen Gorge, which is an extended desolate desert.

Within next two hours, we reached Spituk Village where we had a cup of coffee. Afterwards, we hiked to an easy slope and arrived at Zingchen in next 1 hour. It was a lush-green valley, amid rocky and sandy hilly landscape, and Zingchen is the place where the River Rumbak surges into the River Indus. From here, we trekked through green barley fields and beautiful streams. On reaching Yurutse, we saw that beautiful campsite was arranged by our guide. We stayed there overnight.

Stok Kangri in the Himalayas
Western Flank, Stok Kangri

Day 4: On this day, we explored the beauty of Hemis National Park and we were fortunate enough that we got to see a rare sight of Ladhaki Ural (mountain goat) and argali (a Tibetan Sheep). Also, the park is home to snow leopard, blue sheep, wolf and red fox. We continued walking alongside the bed of wild roses and through a valley embellished with colorful Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the cool breeze.

It took us around 2 hours to reach Ganda La,  situated at the height of 4900 m. We stayed here for a while and I also captured some beautiful views in my DSLR. Later, we descended to Skiu, we realised that the sight of terrain is turning rough and rocky. In around 4 hours, we reached to Skiu, which is situated at the confluence of rivers Markha and Shgri Nala. We paid a visit to Skiu Monastery after which we enjoyed a beautiful sight of a sunset from the top of the valley. Magnificent views of Stok Kangri and Stok range dazzled us.

Day 5: It was quite an easy day trek, along with the banks of the Markha River. Enroute, there were several green willow thickets and barren cliffs. We visited religious shrines at Lhatos and saw a wide range of stone inscriptions at Mani Walls. We crossed River Markha and reached to a beautiful village, Markha. There were 15-20 houses, a monastery and fort. 

Later, we were told that about 3 km above, there is a Dhaba run by the Women’s Association of Ladakh, where one can get buck-thorn juice and traditionally made wheat biscuits. We tried to talk to the locals with the help of our guide as no one knows how to speak Hindi or English there. We stayed in village quarters.

Day 6: Next day, we followed the trail that took us to Markha Valley. We captured several pictures of ancient monasteries including Techa and ruined castles. We reached Umlung in two hours. Gradually, we crossed Kang Yaste and Hangskar which is the last village in the valley. Here, we had a cup of tea and snacks. From here, we walked through a steep and rocky ascent that brought us to Thachungtse campsite.

Day 7: Today, we had to walk around 6 km. We woke up early today and after breakfast, we headed toward a stunning plateau of Nimaling. After 2 hours of climbing, we reached to a pond where we filled our empty water bottles. Following a grassy pastureland, we reached Nimaling. There were eye-catching streams on my left and to the right, it was the grand Kang Yatse peak. I also clicked pictures with herders who brought their cattle for grazing. Here, we enjoyed a bonfire night at the campsite and Ladakhi delicacies such as Thupka, Tigmo, Skyu and Khambir.

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Day 8: We were quite sad today as it was going to be the last day of trekking. But as rightly said, one journey has to end to begin another, we moved downward towards Shang Valley. We stayed there for 15 minutes. Later, we crossed Kongmaru La, which was the highest pass on the Markha Valley trek. This peak offers impressive views of Ladakh Range and Indus Valley. In next 2 hours, we reached Shang Valley and a course from here took us to the last trekking spot, Shang Sumdo. In a taxi, we came back to Leh and spent the night in the hotel.

Day 9: With a heavy heart and lots of memories, we drove to the Leh airport.

While you are at it, don’t forget to visit these cafes! 

  • Tibetan Kitchen
  • German Bakery
  • Dzomsa
  • Open Hand Cafe
  • Lala’s Cafe

It was truly a beautiful and culturally rich experience! Everyone should explore the hidden beauty of Ladakh. So, go ahead and give a chance to the serenity of the Markha Village to take away your stress and fears.

The initial point of Stok Kangri trek is at Leh. Here, you get acclimatized for the trek. Leh is accessible by road and air. The road travelers can reach here via Delhi, Chandigarh and Manali. Though, the road journey is quite hectic and considerably longer than a flight, the picturesque sights along the way will make it all worthwhile. The roads going to Leh are accessible only in summers because cold weather and snowfall during winters makes the roads unusable.

All Assemble at the Base Camp
Perched at an elevation of 20,180 ft., the Stok Kangri trek is known for real adventure. The height offers spectacular views of Tibet in the East and Himalayas in the South. The expedition starts at Leh and goes to the astounding Khardung La at 18,372 ft

Base camp
Base camp

Undoubtedly, the base camp which is situated about 15 km away from Leh, is an amazing place to be. It offers a course that requires physical strength and fitness for high altitude climbing. Moreover, the base camp is set beside a frozen river, which makes it an ideal camping spot for the trekkers. Not only this, the valley embraces striking pasture lands, which are usually covered with snow and alongside flows a water stream channeled from Gulap Glacier’s moraine.

Embark On An Unforgettable Journey Today (But first plan for it!)
Due to the heights, the temperature at Stok Kangri drops below freezing point. Considering the climate, the best time to embark on this trek is from July to September. The weather between October and November is harsh yet suitable for the trekkers who are willing to challenge themselves and take the risk. For the rest of the months, the route going towards Leh and Ladakh are padlocked and trekking is forbidden.
July to September: The temperature ranges from 20°C to 15°C during the day time and 7°C to 2°C at night.
October to November: The temperature ranges from 15°C to 10°C during the day time and 5°C to -5°C at night.

Go On This Trek For
Leh: One of the most friendly-places for the travelers in India. The place is surrounded by well-designed stupas and beautiful mud-brick hamlets. Travelling to an ancient town built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century is a journey in itself, as it was once ruled by royal families whose relics still remain conserved.

Khardung La: Khardung La is a lifted mountain range that lies at an altitude of 18,372 ft. It is the gateway to the magical valleys of Ladakh’s Siachen Glacier and Nubra. The place that offers splendid views of the Karakoram Range is often known as the ‘Pass of Lower Castle’.

Stok Village: The structural designs of Stok Village blend ideally with traditional and the contemporary architectural styles. The two major attractions are Stok Palace and Stock Museum. Both these sites offer panoramic views of the valley from the rooftop.

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Delve in the rich cultural experience with the locals
Peace loving locals in the region of Ladakh are absolutely distinct from the rest of the country. Their food, lifestyle and dressing are something that one should experience at least once in a lifetime. The reflection of Buddhism is widely visible in their culture with the Buddhist monasteries and its engravings. Generally occupied with their traditions and beliefs, the Ladakhi community finds joy in their religious and socio-cultural activities.

Stok Kangri: A story of fears and thrill
Stok Kangri Trek is not for all! It is a 9-day expedition that will test you emotionally, physically and psychologically. Moreover, when you will come back home, the summit will give you jitters for over a month. Low oxygen levels, dark surroundings, challenging winds and the uneven slippery path will make you curse yourself, asking why you decided to scale this peak.

The harsh rays of the sun, dry winds, freezing cold nights, surprising flower trails, thorns and rocks, beautiful rivers, snow-capped high passes -all of the elements joined hands to instill in me a lasting inspiration.

My trek to Stok began when I headed from Leh to Chilling, a village situated along the banks of River Zanskar. Accompanied by our guide and her staff, five of us started trekking from Chilling and crossed the River Zanskar through a pulley bridge. Later that day, we stayed at Chilling and paid a visit to Buddhist stupas, monasteries and local markets from where I bought a woollen sweater for myself. I had a great time with the local kids who were playing football; they got way too excited when we requested them to add us to their respective teams.

Next day before my scale to Chang Ma, for which I had been maintaining my fitness for these past four months, there was some uncertainty caused by the harsh weather and an unexpected decline in our team as two of our team members decided to go back. Chang Ma is situated in the South of Leh, and from the motor vehicle, I enjoyed dazzling views of magnificent mountains and the blossoming green gardens nuzzled amidst them.

Stok Palace
Before crossing the Stok Village, we visited Stok Palace which was home to the former Ladakhi royal family, and Stok Museum here showcases their belongings.

Diskit Monastery

When we reached Diskit Monastery, the locals told us that it was constructed sometime in the 14th century.

Around 5 pm, we arrived at a beautiful campsite at Chang Ma. After taking rest for an hour, our trek guide summoned us and gave us the following instructions, “Step your feet firmly and use your heels to move down”, as we headed out from our base camp to practice a little. The giant white shoes are also used by our soldiers on borders. The soft surface and heavy leather coating inside allow you to dig your feet firmly into the snow. While walking with heavy weight on my ankle, I fell down several times and couldn’t decide whether the practice session was fun or irritating. Our tents were set up on a rocky and uneven slopes, the experience was completely strange all together as it was hard to lie on the rough base.

At 2.30 am, we were rounded up for a marvelous early morning climb. I immediately wore my gears, which included snow boots, four layers of clothing, trek pants, harness, crampons and a rucksack with a warm water bottle, energy bars and food. And so, we all were ready to scale 3,000 feet in the next few hours, the trial started with a steep climb. At 5:45 am, the course welcomed us with colorful Buddhist prayer flags that marked the beginning of the ice masses. Yes, the white milky glaciers! The mount to the edge began here, and I felt both woozy and giddy with gratitude for where we have reached. We passed through stunning streams, alpine lakes and scenic high-altitude Ladakhi mountain valleys.

Stok Kangri Expedition
Stok Kangri Expedition

Soon, an hour-long hide-and-seek game of the Sun ended as it shined out brightly against a blue charming sky. While rest of the environment was subtle, the only thing that was moving ahead with us was the crystal-clear white clouds. Around 9 am, we arrived at Mankorma, we spent our day there for acclimatisation and training at a few smaller peaks here. Mankorma was a treat to the eyes since it offered us a picturesque sight of grey and purple mountains that seemed like something out of a fairy tale.

Next day, while on our way to base camp we enjoyed the views of some beautiful peaks like Parcha Kangri and Gulap Kangri. Along the way, I captured spectacular pictures of mountainous meadows and sheep grazing on soft green grass. After 3-4 hours of trekking, we arrived at the base camp. It was day 6, we rested in our camps to get acclimatized to the geographical conditions and weather. Our guide provided us key information that was a must to scale the summit. She talked about various challenges and hazards that we might face during the trek. She also handed me a trekking map with all the important guidelines mentioned on the back of a map. Later, we took out our cameras and captured some stunning views of valley and sunset.

Stok Kangri in the Himalayas
Western Flank, Stok Kangri

Next day, after 9 hours of steady climbing, we reached over 19,850 feet, it was the highest point that I had ever climbed in my life. To be very true, our guide’s instructions and training helped us a lot in dealing with breathing issues, and also motivated us to aim high. The slope was at about a 75 degree incline and the trail was loaded with small rocks and massive boulders. The Stok Kangri trail was packed with moraine, glaciers and steep snow-white slopes.  In total, it took us around 9 hours to reach the destination. It was right here when we were surrounded by the colossal Himalayan ranges of Karakoram and Zanskar, including K2, the world’s second highest peak with an assortment of gentle clouds around it. With the feeling of scaling Stok – so high above the unaware beings that exist on Earth, I was enveloped by a sense of gratitude for my team.

I settled myself in the right place and delightfully absorbed the panorama around. But the picturesque views eluded us too soon as we had to descend to return to the base camp before sunset.

We moved downwards, the dusty snow made it effortless for us to slide down rapidly. I felt like I’m a part of some Telugu action film as we held our trekking poles like a handle and swiped down like a rocket. Just kidding! After 8 hours, we reached the Buddhist flags from where the story of our glacier walk had started. Next day we were back in the abode of Leh valley. I boarded a flight for Delhi next morning, thinking that despite all the odds, it was the best trek of my life till date.

And, whenever, I look back at the journey encompassed with gigantic mountains overpowering the beautiful landscape, my heart says only one thing, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”.

Important Information: Permits
A person is required to carry driving license, voter ID or passport (along with visa for non-Indian travellers). A passport size photo and a medical fitness certificate are a must for the trek. Notably, a person has to take a climbing permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Leh which is mandatory for the trekkers. It takes almost a day to be issued.

Region: Leh Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir
Duration: 8 Days
Grade: Difficult
Max Altitude: 20,180 ft.
Approx Trekking:  40 Km
Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh

Trekking Gear You’ll Need

  • Trekking shoes and 4 to 5 woollen socks
  • Thermal innerwear, heavy fleece clothes
  • Torch, whistle, camera
  • Winter jacket and water proof coat
  • Trekking pants, woollen cap, gloves, etc.
  • Sunglasses, Trekking Pole, Water Bottle
  • Sun screen lotion and other toiletries
  • First aid kit, Swiss knife