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Markha Valley Trek

  • Markha Valley trek is also known for being a ‘tea house trek’ where one can expect accommodation in parachute tents at most of the villages enroute.
  • Apart from the striking contrast of trekking in an arid cold desert valley, you get an outstanding view of Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, the 21,000 ft Kang Yissay and the 20,086 ft Stok Kangri peaks.
  • The trek goes inside a beautiful Hemis National Park and involves two pass crossings- Gandala La (15748 ft) and Kongmaru La, (17,060 ft).
  • Some exciting waist-deep river crossing sections on Markha River to trails going across interesting Buddhist villages and rocky canyons are some of the features that give this trek a unique fervor.
  • With close proximity to Leh, which is one flight away from most Indian metropolitan cities, the Markha Valley trek can be something any traveler to Leh could definitely consider doing.
DIFFICULTY:

Difficult

TRAIL TYPE:

Different terrains

DURATION:

7 days

BASE CAMP:

Spituk

BEST SEASON:

Mid May to Early September

Markha Valley trek is also known for being a ‘tea house trek’ where one can expect accommodation in parachute tents at most of the villages enroute. Apart from the striking contrast of trekking in an arid cold desert valley, you get an outstanding view of Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, the 21,000 ft Kang Yissay and the 20,086 ft Stok Kangri peaks. The trek goes inside a beautiful Hemis National Park and involves two pass crossings-  Gandala La (15748 ft) and Kongmaru La, (17,060 ft).  Some exciting waist-deep river crossing sections on Markha River to trails going across interesting Buddhist villages and rocky canyons are some of the features that  give this trek a unique fervor. With close proximity to Leh, which is one flight away from most Indian metropolitan cities, the Markha Valley trek can be something any traveler to Leh could definitely consider  doing.

Considering the popularity Markha Valley trek has with trekkers in Ladakh it is not difficult to understand why it is the most sought after trek in the region.With every third shop in Leh market being a trekking agency catering to a sizable number of trekkers and travelers alike, one may get fooled into thinking this is an easy trek with so much logistical and technical support available.

Author: Sandhya UC

How to travel from Leh to Spituk (Base Camp) 

Leh to Spituk is 7 km and can be reached bus or cab. Buses from Leh to Spituk leave every 30 minutes. Alternatively you may hire a shared jeep or cab all the way till Zingchen and thus make your day shorter. One or two buses a week ply from Leh to Zingchen via Spituk Bridge.

Day 1. Leh to Spituk (by road), Spituk (10,500 feet) to Zinchen (11,090 feet), 15 km, 4 – 5 hours trek

Day 1 Summary: The trek starts from Spituk. Follow the dirt road from Spituk, along the Indus River, all the way up to Zingchen. It takes about an hour or two to reach Zingchen on foot from Spituk. There are a number of campsites. People who want to take a break can camp here.

Markha Valley Trek
Colours of Ladakh

Day 1: Reach Spituk early in the morning as it gets very hot in the day time enroute to Zinchen. Carry extra water as it may take several hours to find a source of drinking water.  At Spituk look for the site of the first Gelukpa Gompa in Ladakh. Go past the village and cross the bridge over the Indus River. Look for some green pasture land where you can camp for the night if required.  After crossing the bridge look out for the guards of Henis National Park. After that lookout for a dusty jeep trail south of the bridge located at 300 meters. Walk by this trail till you see a small village on your right. All this while the Indus is on your right. 

Markha Valley Trek
Lunch Spot, Day 1

 

The green landscape now gives way to dry grounds. There are a series of dry gullies to cross for about 1.5 km . The trail then splits into two. One is the jeep trail which remains in the higher grounds while the latter is the mule trail which is shorter . After a 4 km trek on the mule trail you reach the vantage point from where you get an impressive view of the Indus Gorge below. Look out for some prayer flags. Leaving the River Indus behind, walk towards Zinchen gorge ahead which is another 7 km away from the confluence of Indus and Zinchen Rivers. As you cross over, the trail heads towards the south as you cross another road bridge next to a gorge.  A further 3 to 4 km walk and you reach Zinchen. Look for a suitable camping spot close to the settlement. Parachute tents are also available on rent and pitched by locals. One campsite is just before you reach Zinchen Village, the other one is past the village down next to the stream (Daisy Campsite). 

You can attempt to trek a further 5 km to Yurutse depending upon how well acclimatization has set in. It is advisable not to rush to Yurutse on day 1 and let the body acclimatize properly especially if you have trekked 15 km on day  one.

Day 2. Zinchen (11,090 feet) to Yurutse (13,520 feet), 5 km, 3 hours trek

Day 2 Summary: Easy trek today. The trail criss-crosses a stream flowing through a gorge. Take the wooden bridge to cross the stream and go to the left of the gorge. Further up move to the right and cross the stream. This trail heads to Rumbak from Zinchen. It takes about 3hrs to reach Rumbak. About 20-30 min before Rumbak there is a parachute tent. From there head to your right to reach Yurutse. Take the small wooden bridge across the stream which leads to the valley on the right. A 300 m climb from there, brings you to Yurutse village. Camp besides the lush green barley fields here or stay in one of the 2 home stays. 

The decision to camp at Yurutse and not head for the pass crossing of Kanda-la is to ensure that the team gets a rest day before a hard day 3 trek to Skiu where many trekkers complain of AMS symptoms and fatigue.

Day 2 Trek details: Walk ahead for an hour and cross the bridge past a forest check post of Hemis National Park. The trail is well laid by Forest Officials and goes till Sumdzom. Register and obtain permits to enter the park by paying a fee of Rs. 20 per day per person. From Sumdzom there is a upstream walk and you cross the wooden bridge twice as you pass through a beautiful gorge (Zingchen Nala). The trail enters a valley which narrows down as you move ahead passing via two rocky canyons of sorts. In front of you is Kandala Nallah trail through meadows. On your left the trail moves eastwards up to Rumbak Village. 

Markha Valley Trek
River Bed Walk

From here there are multiple trail options to choose from. Option A is to take the trail from here straight ahead to Kandala Nallah going via a small village called Nyurutse as you camp at Kandala (Gandala) Base camp for the night. Option B is to take the trail east to Rumbak village from where you take a diversion to Yurutse from a camping spot some 30 minutes before Rumbak.  Taking OPTION B, move eastwards on a riverbed trail to Rumbak. The rocks are rounded so tread carefully. There is an easy stream crossing which will appear to your west after which you get a grand view of the snow clad peaks of the Stok Mountains as you cross over a fenced plantation area. It is a good idea to go to Rumbak for a  view of the Stok Mountains and for refreshments.

Rumbak is at an altitude of 12,470 feet. Observe a route moving further down ahead to Stock La where you can go to climb the Stok Mountains, namely Stok Kangri. From Rumak take the diversion towards Yurutse which is a gradual climb and can be hard as the effects of high altitude sink in. The landscape is barren and the mountain brightens with yellow glow and green pastures. There are two or three home stay options in Yurutse as it is a small settlement. Drinking water is available here.  

Day 3. Yurutse (13,520 feet), to Skiu (11,160 feet), via Ganda La (15,748 feet), 25 km (approx.), 8 -9 hours trek

Difficult day with long distances to cover via Gandala (Kandala) Pass. Start early. It’s a 1 hour gradual ascent towards Ganda La Base camp. The next stretch from Ganda La base camp to Ganda La pass is a steep climb of two and half hours.

Markha Valley Trek
Stok Kangri from Ganda La Base camp

The descent from the Ganda La Pass is steep for the first 20 min. The rest of the descent is a gradual downhill walk. Once into the valley you see wide open fields and the terrain starts getting dusty and yellow. 3 hours of walking brings you to the village of Shingo. Stop for a break here at the tea stall and refresh yourself. There is no source of clean drinking water after Ganda La so make sure you have enough water from Ganda La to Shingo. From Shingo, follow the stream Shingri Nala. It’s a long downhill trek on a rocky terrain. Along the trail you see terrain with red, yellow, green and brown rocks. Skiu is situated at the confluence of Shgri Nala and Markha river. Its takes about 3 and half hour to reach Skiu. You see a monastery in Skiu, nicely placed. Do not miss the beautiful sunset by the Markha river.

Markha Valley Trek
From Ganda La pass

Day 3 Trek details: Start early in the day towards the Base camp of Ganda La which is a steep gradient involving an hour long hike. As you move up the valley to the base camp, look for the peak of Stok Kangri looming behind you. Look for the usual prayer flags as you reach the lower base camp of Ganda La at an altitude of 14,272 feet.  A further 30 minutes or 1 km will bring you to the high base camp of Ganda La. Enroute you may sight Blue Sheep, Marmot and Arghali roaming the land freely. The Ganda La Pass is a further 1 km up in the valley where the elusive Snow Leopard resides, though sighting one will be rare. At the top of Ganda la Col you get a grand view down to Zinchen Gorge and Stok Mountains and towards the Skiu side of the valley. The contrast in landscape on both sides is incredible. The trail is well defined, zig zags all the way up to the pass. Keep your ears well covered as it is extremely windy. As you descent down to Skiu, observe the terrain increasingly becomes rocky in nature. This pass crossing section can be hard for trekkers as one may experience headache, nausea etc. Ensure you do not hike too fast as the variance in height gained and lost is significant for the day. Carry plenty of water as the quality of water is not that good on way till Shingo. A water filter can help you here.

Markha Valley Trek
Shingo homestay

After two to three hours of hard descent you reach a settlement named Shingo (13,615 feet).  Keep a look out for Marmots on the route which is a good indication that you are not lost. At Shingo you will find tea shops and Parachute tents pitched for night stays. Another 400 meters ahead of the tea shop you find a nice home stay option. The last section of the trek for the day till Skiu takes around 3 to 4 hours. The dusty trail goes through a yellow colored valley. From Shingo look out for a trail heading south towards the village field from where you take a logical trail moving towards your left. This trail enters into a narrow gorge with an abundance of wild roses that bloom in the months of July-August.

The trail is well defined all the way till Skiu. Expect to cross Shingo Nallah three to four times on the way to Skiu. All this while, the trail is descending down crossing the stream on stepping stones. The bottom of the gorge is full of willow and Sea buck thorn providing much needed shade from the sun. A km and half before the end of the gorge, the stream disappears and you reach Skiu. You have just entered Markha Valley. Observe Markha River coming down from Chilling. This is the point from where Stok Valley merges with Markha Valley. As you enter Skiu village observe the old monasteries. There are a couple of camping spots, one on the village side and the other next to the Markha River.

Day 4. Skiu (11,160 feet) to Markha (12,369 feet), 20 km, 6 -7 hours trek

Day 4 Summary: Another long day of trekking. The trail is well laid out along the Markha River. In some places you find the direction marked by Bharal Horns. Keep going as you cross the settlements of Narding, Zara and Chalak each having parachute tents. Beyond Chalak, you see green barley fields, colorful birds and huge mounds of baral horns.

Markha Valley Trek
Skyu

Just before the Markha Valley campsite, is a river crossing. The water level starts to go up later in the afternoon when the sun hits the glacier. See that you hit the river crossing by early afternoon by 3pm. From the crossing it takes 30 minutes to reach the beautiful campsite of Markha. The lush green campsite in the valley is in stark contrast to the magnetic mountains. 

Day 4 Trek details:  Today is a moderate day for trekking with very less altitude gain/loss though there is a lot of distance to cover. From Skiu, head eastwards towards the Markha Valley. Walk alongside the Markha River with mountai ns on both sides. The trail for the day is a relatively level walk over the river bed, side trails along the river with few sections where you have to climb up and down due to broken down trails in few sections. Walk beside the river for 2 km till reach you to a bridge section. Do not cross over but stay on course along the river. The trail from here has few washout sections requiring you to climb few meters up and down to pass the broken section of the trail. The trail to Chalak village from here goes through a bridge crossing towards your left and a further 2 km trek to reach a clearing known as Narding followed with a 3km walk up the valley to a spot called Sara where there is ample space for camping. 

Markha Valley Trek
Paradise

Another one km and you reach a bridge crossing section. Cross the bridge and return back to the right side of the river. Observe cultivated Barley fields ahead. You have reached Chalak. This is a suitable place to have lunch. It takes 5 to 6 hours to reach Chalak from Skiu. From Chalak the trail ascends gradually as you pass by a trail marked with Bharal horn for directions. Observe chortens and mani walls set high above the river throughout the way. After 2 to 3 km the valley opens up and a river crossing takes you to Markha Village. Let the guide decide the best spot for the river crossing. You may find the level of water to be thigh high. The water is icy cold so better to take off your shoes and socks and pull up your pants. Once you cross over, trek for a couple of kilometres till you see a final bridge crossing. As you cross over the bridge you approach Markha -the biggest village of the area. This village has 25 houses. An old fort dated back to 1830’s can be seen here. Towards your north, look for a renovated Gompa. Look for a camping spot at a higher spot above the village.

Day 5. Markha (12,369 feet) to Thochuntse (13,165 feet), 13 km, 5 – 6 hours trek

Day 5 Summary: Moderate day for trekking. From the Markha village take the trail that climbs immediately to take you to upper Markha valley. The monastery and settlement on top is a nice spot to capture good photographs. From there, it’s a gradual climb along the side of the Markha river. 2 hours of climbing brings you to Umlung. The trail goes on a ledge over the bank of the river. In two hours, spot the summit of Kang Yissay on your right. The next two dwellings enroute are Tacha and Hankar. A couple of stream crossings bring you to Tacha monastery. There is a tea shop where you may stop by and take a break. Its takes about 2 hrs from tea shop to Hankar. After Hankar a rocky and steep ascent brings you to Thochuntse camp site. Enroute you pass through green wheat fields and finally cross  a stream.

Markha Valley Trek
Markha Valley Entrance

Day 5 Trek details:  Today is another moderate day for trekking. Follow the trail from Markha village alongside Markha River, remaining at the right side. Ignore a wooden plank bridge. After 2 km you reach the intersection where a path from Zanskar meets up. Look for suitable spots to cross over Markha River. You will be required to cross over at least twice. Consult a local in Markha or leave it to the experience of your guide to make this decision. After the second river crossing it is a 2 hour hike up to Umlung.  Look out for the Umlung Gompa and cross over from its base to reach Umlung. You can get a breathtaking view of Mt. Kang Yissay as you climb up from Umlung towards Tacha and Hankar. After 2 hours, skirting up a gorge, you reach an old village named Hankar. A km beyond Hankar the trail splits into two. One going to Thochuntse and the other to Zalung karpo La. Follow the trail going along the tributary takes you to Thochuntse which is another 1 km ahead. Pass a bridge made of stones and you enter a field area which is Thochuntse. Locate a suitable campsite.

Markha Valley Trek
On the way

Day 6. Thochuntse (13,165 feet) to Nimaling (15518 feet), 6 – 7 km, 3 hours trek

Day 6 Summary and details: Easy trek today.  It’s a shorter 6 kms trek to Nimaling.15 minutes from the Thotchuntse campsite, the trail forks. Take the trail to the left. After an hour’s climb, the terrain is smoother, curvier. The climb becomes gradual. One and a half hours into the climb, brings you to a pond where you can fill water. A long walk on a grassy meadow brings you to Nimaling. You see gushing streams on your left with a glacier behind the Kang Yatse and to the right is the Kang Yatse peak. The campsite of Nimaling is in a broad valley and is completely exposed to strong winds. When it snows, the green of the valley turns to a complete white carpet. Yak herders from Hankar Village have temporary stone settlements here in the summer months. Since it can snow at Nimaling any time, it is advisable to confirm in advance if provisions for Parachute tents are available if you  plan not to carry your own tents.

Markha Valley Trek
Nimaling

Day 7. Nimaling (15518 feet), to Shang Sumdo (12,237 feet), via Kongmaru la pass (17,060 feet), 16 to 18 km, 6 – 7 hours trek

Day 7 Summary: The climb to Kongmaru la is steep and difficult. Two things make it difficult. One is the steepness and other is thin air. It is a 2hr climb to Kongmaru la pass which is marked by numerous Buddhist prayer flags. After the initial 500m steep descent the trail follows the course of the stream which meanders  through a narrow gorge. You will have to cross the stream at multiple places. There are ways to avoid the stream crossing if you are prepared to climb the trails high above the stream. There is steep downhill hike till Sukarmo. From Sukarmo to Sumdo it is a river bed walk. From Sumdo you get a motorable road to the highway which is about 8 km away. It takes about 2 hours to reach Leh from Sumdo.

Markha Valley Trek
Long walk to Sumdo

Day 7 Trek details:  Today is a difficult day due to the highest altitude pass crossing of the trek. From Nimaling look ahead towards Kongmaru la Pass. Cross a stream section and proceed towards the north climbing a long face of a ridge leading to Kongmaru la Pass. The hike from Nimaling to Kongmaru la pass takes around 2 hours and is a steep incline hike. At the top of the pass you will get a great view of Indus valley and Ladakh ranges. You can also see a wide array of wildflowers on the slope leading to the pass. You also get a mobile signal of BSNL network here. The downhill descent from the pass to Sumdo is brutal. The terrain is rocky and drops down steeply as you enter into a narrow canyon after trekking down 2 to 3 km.

Markha Valley Trek
Canyons

The canyon has a typical landscape one is accustomed to seeing in ladakh. The brown and reddish rocks on both side allow not more than 2 to 3 people to pass at a time. After 2 hours of hiking the canyon widens up till you reach Sukarmo where you can find Parachute tents pitched. The hike from Sukarmo to Shang Sumdo is a long one with a major part on a dry river bed. After an hour of walking on the river bed you come to a section running along a small hill. The trail here is descending consistently. The last section involves an hour of level walks to reach Sumdo along the same river. Sumdo is a small village of 7 to 8 houses with tea shops and parachute tents. Take a cab from here to Leh which is 8 km on the highway road. You can also trek to Hemis to visit the Hemis Monasteries. This is a 2 hour trek from Sumdo.

How to get fit for the Markha Valley trek

The Mt. Kanamo Summit is classified as a difficult trek. You trek up to an altitude of over 17,060 ft. You start from an altitude of 10,500 feet at Spituk and reach the highest point of 17,060 feet at Kongmaru La. You have to make sure your lungs are strong for this.

Cardiovascular endurance
On the Markha Valley trek, apart from huge altitude gains, the trail is long and tiring. This requires a good amount of endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday.  Start jogging at a slow pace and then keep increasing your pace day by day. Make sure you are able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too.

Strength
This is another area you should work on. There is a lot of trekking distance that you will cover in high altitude carrying your backpacks.  You have to walk on uneven terrain during the trek. It could be taxing for your legs. For this, strengthening your legs will help. You can do some squats to strengthen them. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set.

Flexibility
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. On your trek, it is important that you arrive on the slopes with your muscles relaxed. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek.

Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.

What to take on the Markha Valley Trek

Bare Necessities:

  1. Trekking shoes: Carry trekking shoes and not sports shoes. The trail will be slippery at several places and will require shoes with good grip and ankle support. You can watch this video to learn to choose the right trekking shoes.
  2. Backpack (40-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Rain cover for backpack is essential.
  3. Daypack (20 litres): As this is a crossover trek, you would only need a daypack if you are offloading your backpack.

Clothes

  1. Three layers of warm clothes: Carry two sweaters, and a padded jacket. If you are more susceptible to feeling cold, add another layer.
  2. Three trek pants: Carry light cotton trek pants. One of your pants can be tights that you can wear as an inner layer while trekking, especially on the Pass day.
  3. Three collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. If you’re too cold, you can wear two tshirts together for more insulation.
  4. Thermals: Carry thermals (top and bottom) to keep yourself warm at night. Keep your thermals fresh and don’t wear them while trekking.

Accessories

  1. Sunglasses: Sunglasses are mandotory. In June, there will be abundant snow on Hampta Pass, and you would need it to protect yourself from snow blindness.
  2. SuncapAt high altitude, the sun is extra harsh, as the UV rays don’t get filtered. So carry a suncap to protect yourself.
  3. Synthetic hand gloves: Avoid woollen gloves as they will get wet if you touch snow. You can add a fleece glove as an inner layer, and wear two gloves on each hand if you’re more susceptible to cold.
  4. BalaclavaYou’ll need this to cover your head, as most of the heat escapes from your head.
  5. Socks (2 pairs) and a pair of woollen socks: Apart from two sports socks, you can take a pair of woollen socks for the night.
  6. Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
  7. Trekking pole: Watch this video to understand why you need a trekking pole.

Others

  1. Toiletries (Sunscreen, moisturiser, light towel, lip balm, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste)
  2. Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons.
  3. Two water bottles: 1 litre each
  4. Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalise things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.

Mandatory Personal Medical Kit 

  1. Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
  2. Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
  3. Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
  4. Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
  5. Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
  6. Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
  7. Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
  8. Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
  9. Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
  10. Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
  11. Gauze – 1 small roll
  12. Band aid – 10 strips
  13. Cotton – 1 small roll
  14. ORS – 10 packets
  15. Betadine or any antiseptic cream
  16. Moov spray (aches, & sprains)

Mandatory Documents

Please carry the below documents. Document two and three need to be downloaded (PDF), filled in, signed and handed over to the trek leader at the base camp.
  • Original and photocopy of government photo identity card- (driving license, voters ID, etc.)
  • Medical Certificate and Disclaimer (to be filled by the trekker) – Download PDF
  • Medical certificate (to be filled by a doctor) – Download PDF

Click on the images to view full screen

Vaibhav Chauhan from Indiahikes presents a detailed trek account on Markha Valley Trek. The report is based on a series of interactions with Jagdeesh DM and Mukesh Padtare who were featured with their interview and photo submissions.

MV 19

 

How to Reach Leh

Leh is accessible to the rest of the country through air/road between May and September.

MV 8

By Air:  There are flights from Delhi to Leh leaving Delhi between 4.00 am and 9.00 am. If you are coming from another city, you will need to reach Delhi the previous night (You could stay at the airport, instead of spending on a hotel). If tickets are booked early, flights could be as cheap as travelling by road.

By Land:  The road route to Leh is via Manali. Reach Manali from Delhi or Chandigarh and take a bus onward to Leh. The journey to Leh takes 2 days from Manali with an overnight stop at Keylong.

It is advisable to arrive in Leh 2 days prior to starting the trek for a proper acclimatization to happen especially if you fly to Leh.

How to travel from Leh to Spituk (Base Camp) 

Leh to Spituk is 7 km and can be reached bus or cab. Buses from Leh to Spituk leave every 30 minutes. Alternatively you may hire a shared jeep or cab all the way till Zingchen and thus make your day shorter. One or two buses a week ply from Leh to Zingchen via Spituk Bridge.

 

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Sandhya UC

Sandhya UC

Sandhya is a partner at Indiahikes. Over the past ten years, she has explored and put on the map few of the greatest Himalayan treks in India, including Kashmir Great Lakes and Kedarkantha. She believes in sustainable living just as she believes in sustainable trekking.