Day 1: Arrive in Leh (11,496 feet). A spectacular flight carries you across the main spine of the Himalaya into the clear, cool air of the southern Tibetan Plateau. You'll arrive to hear the welcoming Ladaki greeting: "Julay! Julay!" Our staff awaits to bring you to our comfortable guesthouse, located in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Leh, known as Changspa. Our guesthouse has a well, providing good, clean drinking water (also boiled and filtered) in the dining area.
Leh (population 30,000) was once a main trading point along the Silk Route and one of the most exotic bazaars in all of Asia. Farms are often surrounded by stone–lined walks which meander along small stream beds and are fun to wander. You will see Mani Walls — composed of hundreds of stones, each inscribed with the mantra "Om mani padme hum." At sunset, spectacular views appear from every spot, but especially, right from our rooms! (Dinner)
Day 2: Gentle sightseeing by car. With your local guide, you'll first visit Shey (the old capital of Ladakh) as well as architecturally impressive Thiksey Monastery and the nearby Stok Palace Museum. Ladakh or 'La-Dags' means 'land of the high passes' and is one of the last strongholds of Mahayana Buddhism — the principal religion of Ladakh for the last millennium. Buddhism has been brutally repressed by the Chinese in Tibet for the last forty years. Ladakh became a part of India with its independence in 1948, following the first of three wars waged between India and Pakistan. China later annexed a large portion of Ladakh in a war fought with India in 1962. This border zone was so sensitive, it was only opened to foreign visitors in 1974 and it is the best place to see and experience traditional Tibetan Buddhism.
The first independent kingdom was established in the ninth century. Encouraged by royal patronage, the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Buddhism established many of the regions monasteries around the fourteenth century. In 1639 a new capital was founded and palace at Leh was built along with a string of monasteries. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 3: Free day for acclimatisation, sightseeing and shopping in Leh. Visit the deserted Leh Palace overlooking the town. Eight stories tall, it was built in the 16th century — around the same time as the Potala in Lhasa. The old town of Leh clusters at the base of the hill below the palace. Try to take a good rest. Don't underestimate the combined effects of jet lag and altitude. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Day 4: Start your first trekking day with an early breakfast and begin the 45 minute drive to reach the Zingchen trailhead. Begin trekking to lower Gandala Base Camp (about 13,500 feet). Follow the stream to reach the gateway of Hemis National Park where you hike a sunny trail paralleling the river. Continue upstream and climb uphill to Gandala Nallah and some high, verdant pastures. We head westward, following the trail to Yurutse (13,500 feet).
If everyone is feeling well, we'll continue to Gandala Base Camp, found at about 14,000 feet. The level campsite commands a fine view of the valley below. Your crew will erect our tent village, including a dining tent, personal tents for sleeping and a latrine tent. Hiking time 5-6 hours, about 12 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 5: Rest day for acclimatisation. It's very important to rest and become accustomed to the altitude. Surrounding us are many unique and gentle day hikes. With open eyes, you'll find much to see and to explore with the palette of nature's light and color in the Himalaya. Use today restfully to adjust your body and spirit! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 6: Trek to Skiu (11,160 feet). An early rise is essential today in order to climb over the crest of Gandala Pass (15,910 feet) as well as to complete the subsequent long descent. The hike up to the pass is short but steep, lasting about two or three hours (depending on where we stopped on the prior hiking day).
After some rest, surrounded by the wonderful views atop Gandala Pass, we'll begin a long, steady descent to Shingo followed by a splash though several easy stream crossings to reach the village of Skiu. It's important to carry adequate water — there are not many spots to locate water until we finally reach the valley. Temperatures can vary too, so carry layers of clothes to accommodate changes and a pair of old sneakers or flip-flops to use for stream crossings. Hiking time about 10 hours, about 14 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 7: Trek to Markha (12,140 feet). Although today's hike is not too strenuous, an early start is recommended since it becomes very warm here on sunny days. Dress anticipating warm weather and also for river crossings — carry your sneakers as there are no bridges! The trail from Skiu leads to Sara where we'll stop for lunch. Past Sara, the trail climbs to reach the village of Chalak. We then cross a river and then continue about two hours to reach the swift Markha River. Fording the river in its shallowest spot, we're almost at Markha Village and with it, many camping options. Hiking time about 6-7 hours, about 14 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 8: Markha to Thujungtse (13,057 feet). It's a strenuous trekking day as we hike through Umlung and Hankar villages (Hankar, the site of impressive fort ruins). Pause to visit old Markha Gompa before we continue past rugged Kang Yatze Peak, dominating the landscape. The trail steers northward to the confluence of two rivers: Luntang Chu and Nyimaling Chu. The goal of our hike today is Thujungste Village, where the campsite is excellent. Hiking time about 6-7 hours, about 10 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 9: Trek to Nimaling (15,255 feet). Today we enjoy an easier trek! Begin today's hike walking uphill about two hours before the trail becomes more gradual. We pass several Mani Walls and shepherd camps adding interest along our route. Nimaling is a beautiful spot to enjoy the afternoon exploring the surrounding valley where you might see Blue Sheep and other wildlife. Hiking time about 3 hours, about 6 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 10: Kangmaru La (16,728 feet) to Chukurmo (12,460 feet). Start the morning early! Today we cross the second major pass of our trek. It is an uphill climb (about three hours) through snow fields to reach the pass. Once there, you'll be surrounded with the panorama of Kang Ya Tse Peak, the Zanskar mountain range, across the Stok mountain ranges, down to the Indus Valley and even small part of the Karakoram range to the Northeast. A steep descent into the gorge brings us to our camping site. Trekking time about 8 hours, about 12-13 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 11: Chukurmo to Shang Phu (14,268 feet). Today, revel in the sweeping vista as we hike. The valley broadens into an alpine meadow where Shang Phu, a summer grazing settlement, is found. Camp is at the junction of two small, picturesque valleys. Trekking time about 7 hours, about 11 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 12: Shang Phu to Shang La Base and over Shang La (15,700 feet). This morning, a gradual ascent leads to a small stream passing through dense scrub vegetation. This is one of the loveliest portions of our trail! The spring-fed stream has clear deep pools along its course and later flows into the main Shang stream. The continued ascent brings us to Shang La, a spot linking the Matho Valley with the Shang Valley. The following descent is steep, but short. Camp is nestled along the banks of a small stream, which flows to the Matho Nala. Distance approximately 11 miles, about 8 hours. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 13: Shang La Base to Gangpoche (14,546 feet). This morning, we ascend along the left fork of the stream. Passing stone corrals, we enter into the upper Matho Valley on a path with a series of sharp ascents and descents — the trail clings precipitously to the hillside, crossing four large lateral streams feeding the Matho Tokpo. We'll camp in an alpine meadow a bit farther along at Gangpoche. Hiking time about 5-6 hours, about 11 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 14: Gangpoche to Stok Kangri Base Camp (16,300 feet). Today you will find that the climb to Matho La is extremely strenuous. Arriving at the top, you'll often be greeted by the high, wild cry of the elusive Snowcock, a giant partridge, common here but difficult to see. Enjoy a staggering view of Stok Kangri (20,182 feet) and surrounding peaks you'll see from the pass. You'll find deposits of limestone, shale and sandstone with stream beds and passes composed of red shale. On leaving the pass, an abrupt descent passes a spring which leads to the upper part of the Stok Nala. The valley now broadens and a tributary stream is forded before we reach our goal at the base camp of Stok Kangri. Hiking time about 8 hours, about 10-11 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 15: Summit attempt, Stok Kangri (20,182 feet). Set your alarm for midnight! By 2 AM (after breakfast) start your trek to the summit. It will take at least ten hours to reach the summit and return, so an early start is essential. Our goal is to reach the summit just before sunrise to enjoy nature's show! Be prepared to turn back if the mountain weather is not clear or is threatening. A bright sunny day in these mountains can turn into a blizzard in moments. It is essential that our team remains together and turns back if anyone does not feel well. The hiking is steep but moderate, until we reach a loose, rocky portion which becomes icy near the end. Your peak reward is rest and the incredible view almost four miles above sea level! After a half an hour of peak enjoyment, return to base camp in about two to three hours. Refreshments are standing-by at camp.
If you decide to forego the peak climb, you can enjoy a restful day near camp or hiking in the vicinity. Relax, savor an early dinner and a final starry night at a trekking camp. Hiking time about 12-14 hours, about 5 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 16: Back to Leh. Today's moderate hike will returns to Stok Village with time to explore. After some goodbyes to your faithful trekking staff, it is just an hour's drive returning to Leh, a hotel and a good shower. Hiking time approximately 3 hours, about 7 miles. (Breakfast, Lunch)
Day 17: Free day in Leh. This day is meant as either a free day or optionally a trek buffer day if it's needed along the route. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Day 18: Leh to Agra. After breakfast, transfer to Leh's airport for your flight return to civilisation. On arrival at New Delhi's airport, you'll be met by our staff and begin your ride to Agra, taking about four hours time. Get some good sleep tonight for an exciting and final day tomorrow! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 19: Agra to Departure. Today you'll be off to visit the most profound and expressive icon of India, the Taj Mahal. Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum remains unique. Described by the Indian classical poet Tagore as a 'tear on the face of eternity,' the Taj Mahal represents the peak of Moghul architecture.
You'll explore the Taj Mahal as well as Agra Fort with a local guide. Nearby Agra Fort is constructed of massive red sandstone. Built along the banks of Yamuna River, Agra Fort was erected by Emperor Akbar in 1565. The fort was principally a military structure, but later during Shah Jahan's reign, it had partially become a palace. In the afternoon, you'll return directly to the New Delhi Airport for your departure home. Contact us if you are interested in touring additional regions and sites. There are many interesting options to extend your visit. (Breakfast)
Scheduled Dates: Markha Valley & Stok Kangri, Ladakh Trek — July 6 – 24, 2015, from Leh, India.
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