Desert in the sky has something different for everyone. Markha has a remote feel that belies its proximity to the heart of Ladakh, ideal for Buddhist monks in search of seclusion. Dramatic ruined gompas mark the sheer craggy skyline above intimate villages of green fields – a magical place of carved mani stones and white chortens against richly colored rock, startling reds and vivid greens. We start in the beautiful metalworking village of Chiling on the Zanskar river, one of many lovely orchard campsites. With time to explore the active monasteries on the way at Skiu and Markha village, we gradually follow the river to its source at the magnificent wide alpine pasture of Nimaling under the snowy peak of Kang Yatze.
We spend an extra day here exploring the inviting views over the distant Changtang plateau, then make a slow, steady ascent to the fantastic prayer-flag-festooned Kongmaru La. The views here are simply spectacular: high peaks immediately behind us, immense distances across Zanskar even to K2 in the west, to the east the Indus valley stretching away far into Tibet. Then descending through fantastic polychromatic gorges, the habitat of the agile ibex and blue sheep, we visit the great active monastery at Hemis before the short drive to Leh.
Day 1: Delhi. (Distance: 45 km, duration: 1 hour). Arrival Delhi. Overnight at hotel. Edwin Lutyens the world famous architect would have never set his mind on designing New Delhi and the famed Connaught Place shopping center. Modern Delhi has something for every one that is reflected in the cosmopolitan culture that nurtures festivals of all faiths, religions and places of worship. Delhi sightseeing: Red fort, Jama Masjid, Raj Ghat and Gate of India. Overnight hotel in Delhi.
Day 2: Leh. Flight to Leh starts early morning. Set our breakfast order earlier and after breakfast, transfer to the domestic airport. There is no doubt the spectacular early morning flight over the mountains. It is still early when we arrive in Leh (3505 m) and are met and transferred to the hotel. As we are taking flight directly to such high altitude so in order to get acclimatize we at least 3 nights in Leh visiting around before any trek to acclimatize to the change in altitude. Those who have breathing difficulties are not recommending doing this trip.
Day 3: Leh, the capital of Ladakh has a fascinating history on the southern route of the Silk Road. Goods from over the mountains were sold in the main bazaar to other traders who would continue the long journey west. The bazaar is still there as the center of town, still lined with shops and stalls and the goods still come in from over the mountains. It has also become a center for all manner of precious things from Tibet and India, an exotic shopping paradise. There are many good restaurants and bars, serving almost all styles of food. We can take the option to go up and explore the great Royal Palace that dominates the town popularly known as the little Tibet. Now mostly unoccupied this very ancient building was the inspiration for the Potala palace in Lhasa.
Day 4: Leh. We need to prepare for our main holidays parts trekking so, we only make a short jeep safari to the important Ladakhi monastery of Spituk and the wonderful ancient royal palace at Stok, which houses many priceless artifacts - turquoise peraks and the finest collection of thanka paintings. On route down the valley we start to get a wider picture of this amazing location, passing many hundreds of white chortens that line the road between the lush fields around the rivers and the rich rocky hillsides that enclose them.
Day 5: Chilling is lower than Leh but its good for body to get well resistant with the altitude. It takes a few hours by jeep to Chilling (3250 m/10660 feet), up the Zanskar river from its dramatic confluence with the Indus, the meeting of two great rivers. The jeep road ends here at this lovely little village, famous for it’s metal craft, and we have the afternoon to relax and explore.
Day 6: Markha. Its a nice easy day to get started. The good trail continues as we start our journey up the Markha - over the next few days we will follow it all the way to its origins as the Nimaling Chhu. The first village we come to is Kaya, shortly followed by Skiu (3400 m/11150 feet) where the gorge of the Shingri Nala joins the Markha valley from the north. It is worth a short detour up here, where there is an incredible array of hundreds of chortens, mostly in disrepair.
These and the walls of ruined gompas now almost indiscernible from the yellow rocky crags above on which they are built, are the first signs of the Markha’s mysterious ancient history. There is also a small active monastery in Skiu. We carry on through the village fields, and into the trees that line the valley floor, to reach our campsite (3480 m/11420 feet), a meadow clearing near the river, in just over an hour.
Day 7: Markha village. Need to start early today, as the morning advances, melting snow swells the force of the river which makes rather difficult to cross the icy cold water. We aim to get there easily just after lunch. We climb up through the fields of this village and reach a ridge with many chortens and mani stones. It gives us a good view back down the river and a little further on, our first glimpse of Kang Yatse peak that we will be approaching right to its foot.
More pastures and dry flats lead us to another chorten ridge where there are some cave houses and a pit used to trap wolves that venture down here from their remote lairs during the snow falls. On the flats below we must doff our shoes and socks to ford the river, here at its most shallow. This is generally not much of a problem, but we can always send back a pony to carry over any late-comers. We are just arriving Markha village (3705 m/12140 feet), in a gorgeous meadow with mature willow trees belonging to a grand household on the south bank. There is a little gompa just up the side valley above the village.
Day 8: Tchutchse. The route climbs a cliff-cut trail high on the north bank opposite the spire. The condition of this path varies from year to year, depending on how much winter damage has been repaired, but care should be taken on any such high path in any case. In the event that it is unacceptably bad, there is a simple alternative to ford and re-ford the river by the base of the great spire (rarely a problem at this early hour). Either way it is a wonderful sight, followed just around the corner by Umlung gompa high on the cliff above. We pass through the small settlement of Umlung and then the valley widens out, giving us our best view so far of Kang Yatze.
This shapely peak now stands at the head of the valley, and the level walk through alongside the barley fields and mani-walls between here and the village of Hankar (3950 m/12960 feet), is particularly lovely. Here we leave the main valley, which swings southward, and turn up through a rocky gateway to the lively Nimaling Chhu, rushing down through a gorge to the west. On the crags above are the dramatic ruins of Hankar gompa, almost indiscernible from the rock itself. Crossing lovely wild flower meadows, we reach a bridge across to the south bank and continue up to Tchutchse (a name to get your teeth into, 4150 m/13620 feet), our campsite. This is another beautiful location, lush pastures with many colored flowers amongst the grass and the clear water of the river running through the rocks.
Day 9: Nimaling. This is a magnificent walk, as we ascend to the high moorland landscape at the base of Kang Yatze. We follow up a side stream away from the main river which disappears into a gorge, reaching a beautiful series of high tarns, the mountain reflected in the waters. The slopes run almost continuously from here to the peak, and we contour across from here to where the wide pasture plain of Nimaling opens out before us. The river can be seen again snaking through the middle before entering its gorge. We descend to cross the plain, passing the first of the summer settlements, houses and sheep pens used by villagers during the high grazing months of May to October.
We cross the river, now much diminished, on a basic log bridge, and make for our campsite (4720 m/15490 feet) a little up-stream. We are now in a stunning wide arena, enclosed on three sides, but opening to distant views to the west. To the south is the even hillside sloping up to the Konmaru La (pass), we could see the path winding up to it on our approach. To the east the river continues up toward the Lalung La which passes over to the Manali-Leh "highway" and the Changtang plain of Tibet. The south is dominated by Kang Yatze.
Day 10: Nimaling rest day. We have been walking for days now. We take a day rest here to again more energy to continue. People can wash their shocks or clean shoes. Good to lay on sun and have the fun with the staffs.
Day 11: Chogdo. This is excellent grazing, and herds of sheep and goats can be seen dotted over the landscape. Amongst the grass and shrubs underfoot there are huge flowering lichens, and many wild flowers. The path is easy going, but just toward the top where the slope steepness again and the grass dies away, it zigzags the last stony section. The trail of prayer flags that mark the top, visible all the way up, now arc out in the breeze above us. It is an incredible approach as we edge our way up, looking back over the unfolding view behind. At the top (5100 m/16730 feet) the amazing reds and greens of the immediate rocky landscape open out, leading down to the greenery of the Indus valley, and beyond to the high passes of Tibet, line after line of peaks far into the distance. Behind us Kang Yatze is magnificent, and out to the west the whole of Zanskar is spread out before us, all the wonderful rocky crags and spires.
Behind are the mountains of the Himalayan tail, the fluted peak of Sickle Moon, and Kun and Nun the last two 7000 meter peaks. The descent is steep at first and care is needed on the stony trail. But soon we reach the start of the gorges we will follow down to our night stop, some times on the valley bottom crossing the stream many times, sometimes on paths cut out of the rocks above. The gorges are really fantastic, twisted layers of multi-colored rock strata create amazing formations, which the stream has etched its way through. They are the haunts of the mountain ibex and the blue sheep, and these remarkably sure-footed beasts can often be seen leaping from crag to crag, on footholds that are invisible to the human eye. There is much rock-hopping for ourselves down on the valley floor but it is not far to our stream side campsite at Chogdo (4070 m/13350 feet).
Day 12: Shang Sumdo crossing. The river bed for the last time to the first actual bridge, we skirt below Chogdo to a good path which now stays, for the most part, up on the north bank where the slopes are now less rocky. But the dramatic crags still dominate the upper landscape. It’s a very short day today and we arrive soon at the lovely twin villages of Shang Sumdo (3660 m/12010 ft). This is an excellent place to relax after the rugged landscape of the past few days, with our campsite amongst the groves of willow trees. The Shang river joins from the west here and a side path leads up here to the village gompa, and beyond in the direction of the remote monastery of Gotshang, a good afternoon excursion for those with more energy.
Day 13: Leh. This is an easy morning gradually down through more wonderful rock gorges to the valleys junction with the wide Indus valley Apart from one river crossing (or hopping). We skirt round to the great Hemis gompa and village, where our jeeps are waiting. Founded in the 17th century, this Kagyu-pa monastery is the largest in Ladakh. We will have short visiting before lunch to this hemis town. After lunch we drive to Leh.
Day 14: Delhi. We take back the flight to Delhi over the plateau waving good bye and take back the memories. After arriving Delhi you can visit the Connaught square, where you find all kinds of shopping malls and all style of restaurant serving all taste of food.
Days 15-16: Departure.
Also see tour packages in:
Asia India Tibet Outdoor: Land Rambler Hiking & Trekking Cultural Journey