Markha Valley is perhaps the only trek in Ladakh that brings out the true colours of the desert landscape. It is no surprise then that the Markha Valley trek is also the most popular trek in Ladakh. In an interview with Indiahikes, Mukesh and Jagdeesh takes us through the magic of the Markha Valley trek. Their observations of the details of the trek make this interview delightful.
Q: Tell us something about yourself and what do you do ?
Mukesh: I am an IT professional. Last fifteen years I have been in IT. Sometimes it is tough to be an IT professional, because you are stuck with your chairs and computers. Last 5 to 6 years I have been trekking, western ghat, Himalayas. Himalayas are very close to my heart and I plan that every year I go there. Markha is one of those.
Jagdish: Am also an IT professional, working from 8 -9 years in the industry. It is only in the last 3 or 4 years that I have fallen in love with trekking. Especially the Himalayas. Once in a year I must go there. At least one adventure a year. If we get a chance it would be two.
Q: For Mukesh: Tell us something about the Markha Valley trek.
We thought the Markha Valley trek would touch the core part of Ladakh rather than the other touristy treks of Ladakh.
It is a beautiful trek , it is long and tiring too. But the memories that we got out of this trek, they are for forever. This makes the Markha trek more special than what we initially read in blogs and article. What we saw actually saw made a lot of difference. It’s BEAUTIFUL!
Q: What are the beautiful things that you see on the trek?
Ever changing landscape. Every point where you go the landscape changes. This refreshes you. In some other treks, you keep walking and walking. At one point things do not change. Sometimes it gets boring . In Markha every time you walk a certain distance the landscape changes . Sometimes we see open scree, green patches, dusty patches.
Dust is like colourful powdered paint. Many times we saw our shoes painted with yellow dust, pink dust, purple dust. Its amazing. That’s may be why Markha is such a beautiful trek.
Q: What is so special about the Markha Valley trek?
To add to what Mukesh has said, the Markha Valley has all kind of challenges. It has green patches… towering peaks … its amazing and the landscape keeps changing!
Q: Another question for both of you. Markha valley is considered to be one of the most popular treks in Ladakh and you trekked there in peak season. Is it true that the trek is very crowded ? Do you bump into trekkers every now and then?
Mukesh: I wouldn’t say its crowded. I expected many groups to be trekking. I strikingly noticed that we didn’t find it crowded. There were many groups starting with us but they got diverted to other treks in between. The start point is same for many treks.
It is not completely deserted that we don’t see other groups. Its not very crowded that’s what we found.
Another thing that is very sad but unfortunately true is that we only spotted foreigners …we need to say, not many Indians do this trek.
Q: Can you do this trek alone if you have guide along with you ( guide not in physical sense but a guide book )
We can do it on our own — If you get complete information and understanding of the waypoints. Couple of places like a few downhills you might need some help. The trails are very much visible and they are self guiding. Only support that you need is if someone can organize the tents , gears and basic necessary things for you.
Q: If some one wants to do this trek and lands up in Leh. Can you suggest where they can pick up these things, who do they talk to?
We talk to people locally or go through Indiahikes. We went through you. Picking up things I think I would rather get it done locally, say with Indiahikes than land up there — that would be less difficult.
This would be the preferable way for me. Everybody has different opinion on this. The level of comfort is the issue: once you land up there and you know things are already organized it gives you less headache.
Q: Where do you start this trek from and how long does it take?
Typically the Itinerary goes like this:
You go to Leh to Spituk by vehicle and then you start the trek from Spituk.
What we did the trek we went all the way to Zinchen. It is another 15Km drive to Zinchen from Spituk. This helped us. We could spend more time at Zinchen camp.
Q: Did you take sometime to rest at Zinchen or did you start your trek immediately?
We reached Zinchen around 2:00 PM. The entire day we took rest. What we found that it was good to take rest because next day when we started the trek we were fresh to start. We got time to acclimatized as well. Zinchen is 3000 + , 3200 m aprrox.
Q: Now that you are talking about the next day trek. Tell us about the first day’s trek from Zinchen to Ganda La via Yurutse.
We started at 7.30 am in the morning. Everybody was excited about the trek!
To start with we had to trek on the river bed. There was not much of water. You need to be a bit careful while walking on the rounded rocks on the river bed; its about couple of kms walking on these rocks.
Most of the time we don’t know the name of the rivers, not exactly rivers but stream which are coming down from uphill (the locals call them Tokpo).
Once on the trail when you look behind you start noticing that you are climbing the heights. We took it easy, being the first day. Everybody had to get acclimatized to the altitude well. We did not want to rush and take our lungs out. We went slowly and reached Rumbak in about 2 – 2 ½ hrs.
Q: Is it all way along the stream?
Not all the way. Sometimes we need to cross, sometimes its along the stream. Little bit of ridge walk. It was not a difficult trek, we climbed up on a side of the ridge about an hour into the trek.
Q: What do you see in Rumbak?
Once you reach Rumbak — it’s kind of a shallow basin. At Rumbak you start seeing the peaks. And some of the ice-capped peaks. Rumbak is the place where you get different trails. One goes to the Stok Kangri route. So it is kind of a junction. There is a fork. There’s a board that shows the map of the entire valley.
At Rumbak there is a tea house where you get snacks and tea. We had tea and spent about 10 mins sitting here — this helped to cool down.
Q: How high would be Rumbak?
It would be about 3800 m.
Q: In this 2 – 2 ½ hours of walking that you did Zinchen to Rumbak, is there any spot where the trekker can fill water?
Yes, you get the shoot off small streams which are coming down the hill. We get to cross these streams many times , so you can fill water anytime. There is no problem with water at least until Rumbak.
Q: Is there only one tea stall at Rumbak?
At Rumbak we had black tea. The ever helpful, cheerful Ladakhi people served us black tea!
Yes there is only one tea stall at Rumbak. Of course, there are other things like chips that you can buy.
Next is Yurutse. We started walking towards Yuruste. Again it’s a climb , reasonable climb on the river bed. We crossed the river bed couple of times but there not much water.
Q: Can you see the Stok Kangri summit from Rumbak?
No, you don’t see Stok Kangri yet. Until you reach Yurutse you don’t see Stok Kangri.
Q: Is it the same river that you are following?
Till Rumbak we had been walking along the stream and the stream gets bigger in size when you reach Rumbak. When we walked there wan’t much water. So it was lots of rocks and boulders. For about 500 meters you need to walk on the river bed. Sometimes it becomes a little tricky walking on the rocky bed. It is really hard on the knees.
Q: How is the climb to Yurutse?
After Rumbak it is a gradual climb to Yurutse. But by this time you’ll feel the high altitude factor. Some of us started feeling slight headache, some of them felt slight dizziness — what we typically see — the AMS effect.
This being the first day people generally were feeling harshly done.
After about a hours walk from Rumbak there is a kind of green patch. It is lush green. We thought it was a good place to have our lunch.
We took out our packed lunches. Some of our team mates were feeling really tired — so they took a little nap here.
I’ll give you an idea of what the scene is like. You have the yellowish mountains around, yellowish sand on the river bed and then there is the green patch with some yellow wild flowers. It is a beautiful scene!
We were little lucky that there was a big cloud on our heads — that gave us a shade. But mind you, till Yurutse you will not find any trees or any kind of shade.
Q: Not even at this green patch?
Mukesh : Not even at the green patch. There is no tree. Till Rumbak you find trees to take a shade.
Q: Is the green patch cultivated or natural? Is this grassy?
Mukesh : This is absolutely natural. Yes, it is grassy. It is not a big green patch but it is very good to sit and have your lunch.
The break helped. We started climbing again. We get into the high altitude parts now. Some of my team members were really feeling the AMS coming in.
The next stop now was technically Yurutse. Most of the itinerary says it is Yurutse. Yurutse has a homestay. There is flowing water that is channelised through taps. So at Yurutse you can fill water.
Q: What do you get exactly at Yurutse?
Yurutse is a small place actually. It is not even a village. There are only two homestays. And there is some cultivated wheat field. The people who cultivate the field run the homestay.
Typically an itinerary is Zinchen to Yurutse — this is the first day. But what we decided to do was push for another hour to Gandala tea house.
Q: Why did you take this decision?
Because when had our lunch it was about 2 o’clock. We had an almost entire afternoon left. After lunch we felt refreshed — we had that little bit extra energy to push another one hour. Another good advantage is, if in case the Yurutse homestay is full, you have the tea house. It can get you more variety in food. Some people who don’t carry a tent can stay at the tea house.
As for us, we thought we might get better food. Plus we had time in hand.
Q: What time did you reach Yurutse?
Yurutse we reached about 3 o’clock. Around 3.45 we reach the Gandala tea house.
Oh! So that’s not very far?
Mukesh: It’s not very far. It would be about a kilometer (Max, a kilometer and a half). It is the same gradual climb from Rumbak that continues to the Gandala tea house.
Coming back to Yurutse. We took a small pit stop of 15-20 mins, filled in our water. You can start seeing the Stok Kangri now. It is a beautiful view.
Then you really start admiring the scenery. You have already climbed to a pretty good height actually. And then looking at the Stok Kangri you get the next level of inspiration!
Yurutse is a good photographic place. You can take good photos here.
The only problem we faced was that the sun was getting hotter and that was definitely tiring. The good part was we had fresh water at Yurutse. That saved us.After that it is a gradual climb for 45 mins. You reach Gandala tea house. That is it for Day 1. We decided to stop here.
Some strong trekkers can think of pushing to Gandala base camp (about another hour). But it is a steep climb and I would not recommend it, though it will save you a day.A funny thing happened to us. We were waiting for our horses to come with our supplies. For some reason they never came. So it was a blessing in disguise — we could stay in the shelter of the tea house. It was cold at night. Not necessarily the sub-zero temperatures but it was cold. We had to borrow extra blankets and sleeping gears from the tea house owner.
Actually, he does a business there. He has tents to rent. So people who don’t carry tents — solo trekkers — generally stay at these tea houses.
It was a nice experience. We found many trekkers from all over the world. There was a French team, couple of English guys, few Americans and we were the team of Indians. We talked and chatted with them.
The Gandala tea house too is a junction. People who cross the Gandala pass from the other side stop at the tea house for the day. This is a transit point.
Q: Is there only one tea house?
Yes, this the only tea house. But it is a pretty good open space where you can camp and tent.
Q: Now, take us through the second day of the trek.
Got up early. Our horses hadn’t come yet. While we were waiting for our horses to come we had a cricket match with other people around the camp.Spend time till 10 – 10:30 am, watching the peaks around Stok Kangri. Our horses too came by then. Because of the late start we decided not to go all the way to Skiu. The horses would have already walked up from Zinchen to this place and from here Skiu was about 15 km. That’s a fairly long walk. First we needed to climb up to Ganda La Pass which is about 4900+ m and another 14 – 15 kms of normal walk and then make a fairly long descent.
That would be a very very long walk for anyone. So we decided to take a pause for that day. We decided to camp only until Ganda La base camp. It’s about an hour and a half walk or may be less. We did it in 40 min. It was a very slow walk. We took time to walk up the base of Ganda La camp.
Q: You did not actually trek — it was kind of a rest day for you. You went up to Ganda La Base camp and camped?
Yes, we had little sleep the earlier day. At Ganda La base camp we took good rest. We had a good photo session too! (And almost reached 4200M).People who were suffering from headaches, they got acclimatized better. Now there weren’t any headaches. People were all geared up. They were ready for the photo shoot!
You see the Stok Kangri from the camp but still cannot see the Ganda La Pass. You need to walk around the mountain to see that. But you can look back and see the way you came. You start appreciating the climb which you have done. Next day we were going to trek to a pretty good height (close to 5000m) so the rest helped.
Q: Would you advice trekkers to have this rest day or tell them to push over?
Yes, you can push over the Ganda La Pass, if you had a good rest and sleep in earlier camp. This will save you a day.
Q: Let us take one step at a time, now that you have camped at Ganda La base camp and are making your way to the Pass. Take us through.
Jagdish : Its about 2 – 2 ½ hours. People who were slower started early. They started half an hour early so that others who were good could catch up with them. It was a gradual but steep climb and it took us 2 ½ hours to the pass. We could spot many other groups too on the way to the pass. Once we reached the pass our team got together again. At the pass is where you see the most number of groups and after that the number depletes.
Mukesh :This particular day, 3rd day of the trek, is supposedly one of the long days. Here, you climb up and then go downhill. It is pretty long — the final destination was Skiu. That’s why we started early at about 7 in the morning. It was a good steep climb. You are starting from 4200m and reaching to 4900m. Height gain is pretty good.
Q: Is it a switch back or a straight climb?
Mukesh : It is a straight climb. It makes things bit tougher. You walk slowly. You need to stop every 30th step to take a full breath. Slow and steady works better than going in a bull rush. It helped us.
Ganda La Pass is windy and cold. Make sure your ears are covered. You also feel the height. You can start feeling the breathlessness experience of Himalayas!
Your rate of climbing gets slower and slower as you reach the 5000 m mark. At the top we meet people from all nationalities. Being a pass people come up from both sides — Skiu and Zinchen. We exchanged some pleasant notes with other trekkers here. Everyone’s talking the same language hiking, hiking, hiking…!
Some people advised us to climb a little further up from the Ganda La Pass. There is a small peak, may be ½ hour of hike, you get a better view of the valley on both sides. Though, from the Ganda La Pass too you see both sides.
On one side you see green patches. On the other side you see yellow patches — the pure rocky side of Ladakh — good view. I would recommend everyone to take a moment and not rush. Spend few minutes at Ganda La pass. Fill your mind. Then start going downhill. It’s a nice downhill.
Q: Which is steeper? Going downhill from Ganda La to Skiu or from Ganda La to Yurutse.
Skiu to Ganda La Pass is tougher to climb than Yurustse to Ganda La. The terrain is rockier so it is a bit difficult to climb from the other side.
Q: Take us through the descent.
By 10:15 we were ready to start from the pass. Two of us started going downhill immediately. A few of them lingered a bit longer. The downhill is interesting. Many people think that it is easier but personally I felt that it is tougher going downhill.
For the first 20 min it is a steep downhill then it is a gradual downhill. You see wide open fields. It’s like a valley, both sides you have rocky mountains, fairly tall mountains but you are walking in the valley. You can spot Marmots playing around. You spot lot of wild horses too. And the terrain starts getting dusty and yellow.
You are going towards Shingo.
That’s the next point where you can stop, though our destination is Skiu.About 3 hours from Ganda La Pass we hit Shingo. There is a Tea shop. Another 400 m – 500 m further there is a homestay. People generally prefer to camp at the homestay — especially those coming in from the other direction — Skiu to Ganda La Pass.
Q: Another understanding of mine is that at Shingo there are other trails that come and merge. Is this true?
This might be but I did not notice. We stopped at Shingo for Tea. (Nice kid who was serving us!)
We took it easy to Shingo – it took us 3 hours. After the pass the descent to Shingo can be done in 2 ½ hours. We took 3 – 3 ½ hrs. We stopped at Shingo for a 15 min tea break.
After that we started climbing down again. The landscape starts changing rapidly. Every Km or 2 the landscape is different. Our guide was telling us that after last year’s flash flood there is a lot of loose dust on the trails. We can actually see loose dust.
After an hour walk from Shingo we stopped for lunch. That particular stretch was dusty and hot. Make sure you are covered and protected well; otherwise you will get sun burnt by the time you reach Skiu.
Lunch spot There is a stream which runs again on the other side. You will find wild trees here. There is a green wheat field. There are lots of trees with berry like fruit. We picked one of the trees, nice shade, water around and clean.
Q: On the trek from Ganda La to Shingo, are there places to fill water?
From the pass to Shingo, it is little scarce. There is no stream nearby or not so clean water. Yes, once you cross Shingo you have. From Ganda La to Shingo make sure you have enough water.
Q: So you need to carry water and fill it up before the Pass.
Yes. But you get water in case of emergency. Water is available but not pure clean water.
After our lunch, it’s a long downhill on a rocky terrain. After sometime it became walk, walk, walk. Make sure to look around and see the terrain with red rocks, yellow rocks, green rocks and brown.
You see the real Ladakh colours.
On either side you see jagged ridges; you are walking in between. It is like yellow, reddish brownish, very sharp, edgy. It’s awesome.
In many place you see open scree rock. Sometime you need to be careful on them, otherwise you can tip over.
Q: Is it a scree walk , boulder walk just a rough walk?
You see everything. This particular place you see most of everything. One thing I would say is you have considerable distance to go. It’s still another 6 ½ kms to go. But don’t rush, there is beauty to see.
Now, water is not an issue. You just go to the stream running alongside and fill in fresh water.
This valley from Gandala to Skiu — you actually walk in the valley. The valley ends and you hit a dead end. This is Skiu. And here Markha Valley starts. All this while you were on the Stok range mountains. Skiu divides the Markha valley and the Zanskar and Stok.
Skiu is the point where the valley from Stok range meets the Markha Valley. You meet the Markha River. The stream we were walking all along merges with the Markha river.
Q: Are you able to still see the Stok Kangri on your left?
No. Once we leave Gandala Pass, we don’t see Stok Kangri, because we are going down and the Ganda La pass hides the view. From the pass is the last time you see Stok Kangri.
Just before Skiu it was very hot and we see lots of rocky mountains. Thereafter you hit the flat ground. Once you reach Skiu, on your right you see a small monastery.
We reached around 4 pm. We camped at Skiu. It is not a very big village.
Q: How many houses are you talking about? And where do you camp at Skiu?
10 – 15. Just inside the village, near the Markha river. There are lots of offshoots of the Markha river where you get clean water supply. What I am saying is you can camp at any good place near the river side. Even if you walk down 100 – 200 m there are nice ample camping places.
Q: Are the tea shop at Skiu expensive?
Relatively yes. For example, the mineral water that normally costs only Rs 15 is Rs 40 here. I look at it in a different way. Sometimes if you are really thirsty you are ready to pay for it.
Q: What about the food? How much does it cost?
Food we did not try much. Our Indiahikes team was carrying them. For snacks most of the time we bought Maggi or noodles from the tea houses — which became our staple diet. Considering the wilderness around, a bowl of noodles that was Rs 40 was worth it on a hungry stomach.
Skiu : It is nice village. There was a party going on. There was some work in the river happening. Some foreign teams were helping the locals build a small dam on the river and the locals were treating them. We joined the party. Some Ladakhi dancers were performing. It was good to see the dancers.
We went to the monastery towards evening. I found it to be one of the quietest places in my life. You can see the Markha river coming down from Chilling. Many people trek from Chilling, Skiu to Ganda La Pass along the Zanskar river. You can see the trail going to Chilling.
You see the Markha river. Both sides are the mountains. You are in a valley. The monastery is nicely placed. You see a wonderful sunset by the Markha river.
Peaceful place. We sat for ½ hr to 45 min at one spot seeing all this. You can just cool down. You forget whatever tiring efforts you did since morning.
You would say it is one of the highlights of the day.
Yes. The place is beautiful.A From Skiu you change direction and start following the Markha river.
Next morning we started around 7 – 7.30 am towards Markha. The walk is along the Markha river with mountains on both sides. It’s not a narrow valley but a wide valley along the river. You see lot of places like the victory Stupas and small settlements. You partly walk on the river bed, and partly climb up and walk on the trails that are like ridges over the banks of the river.
Q: Do you have to cross the river any time?
We don’t. I think we crossed once but that’s over a bridge. This was another long day. Another long walk of 20 kms along the river. 20 kms is long. Towards afternoon it becomes hot too. But it is beautiful, you see the river flowing, then you see the mud, you see the contours in the mud because of the water. Nice photographic scene. Rocks turn yellow then in some places turn edgy, red. But you walk and walk.
Is it a difficult walk?
No, it’s a very gradual climb. It is not a flat walk. You may not notice the climb but you are climbing up. Sometimes there are brisk climb ups and downs to avoid the water.
Difficulty comes in distance and the heat. We walked about 4 hours and then we stopped for lunch.
Q: Is there a place called Chalak in between?
After crossing Chalak we stopped for lunch. There is a tea house.
Q: What time would this be?
It would be about 1.30 – 2 pm when we had lunch.
Lunch :We took a nice break. We had a good walk. You hit the bushes while walking till Chalak. Lot of trees are there, sit down, take water break, get a nice shadow.
After Chalak, it is a kind of dry walk.
Now, there is a challenge here. There is one river crossing near Markha. Our guide was like….. we have to rush fast. The reason being, towards evening when the sun hits the glacier on top, the water level goes up. You have to cross when the water is still at knee level. Otherwise the water may rise to your chest level. That’s the challenge. It is a race against time.
Q: You have to cross the stream when it is less swollen. Can you beat it if you are already in the afternoon?
Yes we did it. We beat it by just 10 minutes. That’s a good experience.
There is only one time when you actually cross while going to Markha.
Q: You have to jump over boulders to cross the river?
No, you are actually walking on the river bed with the water hitting you. Water comes gushing, the force of water is fairly good, can topple you.
Q: How high does the water get?
When we did it was knee high. You do the technique of walking up diagonally and the water pushes you towards your destination. We walked, geared up, dried out by the time the water level climbed. In the ten min difference the water level rose to waist level. The guide was saying we made it in time. Otherwise it would have been another difficult challenge to face.
Other people from the other side were struggling because of the water level. So that’s the highlight I want to make. It’s a race against time.
Q: What time do you suggest people reach to avoid getting caught in the rising waters?
Reach around 3 – 3.30 pm. We reached around 3.30 – 4 pm. 4 is still ok. You hit water
at knee level.
Q: You advice trekkers to cross the river before 4 or is it unsafe?
It is safe until the sun’s rays hit the glacier on top.
Carry on with your adventure then…
After an hour’s walk from that crossing, we anticipated only one river crossing… but I’ll come to this later.
There are multiple camping places at Markha. There are various names given to the camping places.
We initially thought that we would go and camp at one place but we did not either find the place or our guide who went ahead with the horses camped little uphill, surrounded by streams which got flooded. So we had to again cross twice before getting to our camping place. And these streams have gushing water! It’s a challenge crossing the streams.
Q: Where did you actually camp — Markha Valley or higher than Markha valley?
Higher than Markha valley. Markha villages is in two places, little uphill. Both sides of the uphill the Markha village is spread out. We camped in between.
Beautiful place, wide open green patch where you can camp. A nice place, green patches, streams around. You can see yellow, rocky mountains around. Whole night you can hear Markha river gushing below you. It is a very musical thing to get good sleep to have the river gushing next to you.
You are giving us a picture of a very pretty campsite with green and streams all around with the stark desert landscape of Ladakh around you!
After a long walk you feel like this is heaven. By this time, we were a little bit fed up of eating noodles. Ladies in our team took over kitchen and prepared lemon rice. With tummy full of lemon rice, we planned what’s going to be next day’s menu.
We decided to prepare Upma for the next day. And that upma was another motivation to walk to Thachungtse (next 18 kms).
Take us through Thachungtse
There is a little climb immediately after you start which takes you to the upper Markha valley. We climbed up, to find the Markha monastery and a settlement on top. You can see big green fields. That’s the beautiful sight to see. You get the morning sun. It is a nice spot to capture some photographs.
Then we started walking towards Thachungtse. Again a gradual climb. Long walk. Two hours later you hit the flat grounds of Umalung. Then you start seeing the river. After Umalung, you need to walk on a narrow ledge. The trail goes on a ledge over the bank of the river. Little tricky, a little balancing is needed.
Then you suddenly see the Kang Yatse. After Umalung, you walk couple of Kms when you see Kang Yatse. That becomes another point of motivation — Kang Yatse. It is a beautiful summit that can be trekked.
Before reaching Umalung , you cross again Markha river. You need to actually walk in the river (twice). We did it twice perhaps because the water was less, may be if the water was more, we may have had to do more. After crossing the river, we hit a very tall beautiful monastery. We didn’t go there.
Q: Was it in Hankar?
No, before Hankar. There is a tea shop before the monastery. If we can climb up to the monastery it is a good spot. We skipped this because we still had a long distance to walk.
It is about 2 hrs from the tea shop before we reached Hankar. We stopped at Hankar for Lunch – it was around 12.30. Stopped there for half an hour. Then started for Thachungtse.
I understand that it is bit of a climb from Hankar
Yes, it is a rocky climb from Hankar to Thachungtse. You first pass the green wheat field then it starts as a steep hike. You get into patches like a little bit of steep hike then flat ground, again a steep climb then a flat ground. Then you reach the stream.
Q: Is the Markha river still with you?
No, we are not walking along the Markha river, we are high above the river. These are small streams to cross. These merges with the Markha. Though it is not difficult like the crossing of Markha river still the time constraint is there. The water level might go up. There are boulders so you can hop on them and cross the stream.
Another hour of climb, you hit Thachungtse. The time is around 3 – 3:15 pm when we reached the Thachungtse camp. Beautiful camp along the river. Flat wide area enclosed between the mountains.
There are multiple camping places. There is a lot of green stretch. We picked one of the green stretches and camped. You look back you see the rocky mountains. So far it has been a beautiful walk. There is a tea shop which was closed. A stream runs next to the camp which was clean.
Q: How long was the trek from Markha to Thachungtse?
It was about 8 hours (7.30 am to 3:30 pm).
Q: Some people advice that you move from Thachungtse to Nimaling on the same day?
I would say no because Nimaling is tough. You really start climbing. It is still 6 to 7 kms from Thachungtse to Nimaling. You might be able to push another 3 – 3 ½ hours of hike. But it is tough. Though the distance is less, you’ll really start feeling the altitude.
So it is best to stop your day at Thachungtse. Take a break and start for Nimaling early morning next day.
This brings us to the next day’s trek from Thachungtse to Nimaling. Take us through.
It was an interesting day. We thought it was only 6 kms and we would be able to do it easily, but we faced a different kind of challenge. It was a good climb. Clearly you can see the difference in the landscapes. Till Thachungtse it was rocky, yellowish red kind of a landscape.
We climbed about an hour and then we started seeing a difference. The terrain is smoother, curvier. But if you look back you see rocky landscape. Awesome experience.
After an hour you reach an open spot.
Q: Is that sumiting the ridge?
It’s not sumiting but you can see the openness. You are walking on top of the mountains. There is no obstruction to the sight. You can see the next ranges, and you can see Kang Yatse very clearly.
We have still not reached Nimaling. There is a small pond on the trail about an hour and half into it. This is the only spot where you get water. We took a slight deviation before the pond to get a good view of all the peaks around. We then rejoined the trail at the pond. We took a break of 45 min and then proceeded towards Nimaling.
We filled our water bottles at this point — nice clean water and then we started walking. Though Thachungtse to Nimaling is not a long distance — it is just 6 kms — but because it is an altitude it makes you very tired. You start experiencing typical breathlessness of high altitude.
We decided to take it slow. There is no point in running fast and taking your lungs out.
From the pond there is another 4 kms of walk remaining. It is not a very steep climb, it is a gradual hike again. You start walking but have to catch your breath every few steps.
After a while you see a big green patch. There is lot of grass. You can see the Wild Yaks grazing there and in the long distance, almost infinity, you can see some yellow, blue dots. Theya re actually pitched tents.
We could see the tents of others who had already camped there. We said, “Wow! We are almost there!”
But typically like the Himalayan phenomenon everything is visible but not reachable! And this patch turns out to be a 2 km long patch. It just goes on endless! It is not a short patch. Especially when you are tired and breathless. It is a very beautiful walk though.
At this stage there is a gushing stream on your left with a glacier behind the Kang Yatse. And to your right is the Kang Yatse peak — with the green patch in between.
You reach at 2 o’clock at Nimaling. Finally we’ve reached Nimaling. Let me describe Nimaling. It is another paradise.
Every camp so far was beautiful. But if somebody were to give me the liberty to say which camp was the most beautiful — this was the most beautiful camp.
Q: What makes Nimaling most beautiful?
Mukesh : One is the height. You can see the depth on the other side — you can see all the peaks. You have this stream going just next to you. A green patch on a flat ground and the fresh smelling thin air! Nimaling is colourful basically — you see all the colours.
You see green, you see yellow, you see white. Until Markha you don’t see white at all. And at Nimaling you start seeing white. This makes it a very beautiful camp.
Towards evening you get the golden light of the setting sun — that makes the camp even more beautiful.
Believe me, don’t get into your tents, come out of your tents in the evening — it is really beautiful.
Q: Is there any tea houses or home stays at Nimaling?
Mukesh : In Nimaling there is a tea house but it was closed. May be later it opens. But when we were there it was not operational.
Take us through to the last day of your trek — Nimaling to Sumdo.
Mukesh :It is a long day of trek — 16 kms. In this 16 kms you have about 2 hrs of climb till the Gongmarula pass and after that there is a steep downhill to Sukarmo. From Sukarmo to Sumdo it is a river bed walk. So you need to walk on three different kinds of terrain.
Make sure you start early from Nimaling. We started around 7.30.
Nimaling is at about 4800 mts and Gongmarula is at 5200 mts. It is almost 500 mts of climb. Take it slow. It is thin air and it is going to trouble you.
Here you are walking on the green patches — no rocks, smooth terrain. It is another pleasant experience. Every time you climb up a few steps, turn around and see how the landscape is changing — with the sun reflecting off the Kang Yatse peak and Nimaling deep in a valley.
For the wide anlge photography fanatics, this the place. You get the entire view of all the ranges. From the Kang Yatse peak to the Stok range.
Gongmarula Pass is again a part of the Stok range.
Q: How difficult is the climb from Nimalaing to Gongmarula?Mukesh :
I would say it is considerably steep and it is a difficult climb. Two things make it difficult. One is the steepness and the other is the thin air. It took us almost 2 hours to get to the pass. We started at 7.30 and at 10 o’clock we were at the pass.
Another beautiful thing we noticed climbing to the pass is that there are lots of beautiful wild blue flowers. You see the yellow greenish grass and the dark blue flowers in them. In the background you see the white Kang Yatse peak. It is beautiful.
At Gongamrula pass we are at 5240 mts. The best feeling there is that you have crossed the magic number of 17,000 feet. This is the highest point of your trek. You feel proud!
Take some time to look at the contrast of both sides.
For people who have been missing their loved ones this is the spot where you get network signals. You get mobile signals of BSNL and I think one of my team mates got Airtel as well. It is nice to make a call from 17,000 feet to your loved ones.
The guides use this opportunity to make the final vehicle arrangements for our pick up.
The next part is the steep descent downhill. This is a really steep downhill. It becomes rockier.
Q: My understanding is that this steep downhill takes you into the canyons. Is this true?
Mukesh : That’s right. The initial couple of kilometers is really steep but after that, as you said, it goes into the canyons.
This is another beautiful walk, though it is long and strenuous. Now you can see the typical Ladakh landscape with brown edgy rocks. The dust changes. Your shoes get painted with brown and red dust.
Q: In this canyon you are walking on the river bed and you have the steep walls of rock rising on either side!
Mukesh : Just to describe — it was a wonderful feeling. It is like somebody is opening a gate. It is a square rock from where only 2-3 people can pass the width of the rock — if you see from far it looks like a door. It is a stone door.
You are walking on the river bed with a small stream running along. Sometimes you are actually walking on water.
You cross these doors and a patch comes where you get these wild roses. Take a moment to smell the roses. It is a beautiful smell. It refreshes you.
The canyon part is quite long. It goes for a few kilometers. And the dust ever changes. Now it turns purple from brown.
There are lots of spots where you can stop and take a break for lunch. You can stop anytime. There is always a stream nearby.
Now the anxiety starts to build about when we are going to reach Sumdo. Everyone wants to get to Sumdo and all other thoughts go out of the mind.
There is still 3 – 3½ hrs of trek left and that’s a really long walk.
An hour after your lunch break you reach a point called Sukarmo. There’s another tea house. Sukarmo is a place where the Stok Kangri diversion comes. Lot of people do the Stok Kangri the other way around and this the trail they take.
I really appreciate the tea houses. They are a lifeline. We get a place with shade and also a chance to refresh ourselves with something to eat.
We stopped there for couple of minutes. Everybody adjusted their gear. Then we resumed walking.
Now Sukarmo to Sumdo is a long walk and majority of this walk is on the river bed. The river does not have water and you need to walk on the rocks and boulders. It becomes little tricky. My advice to trekkers is to be careful — a fall could be nasty.
If there is water in the river, there are alternate trails along the banks — but they are longer.
You walk along the river bed for another hour until you come out to a section which runs along a small hill. It is a slowly descending trail — more or less on the flatter side.
By this time the sun was really blazing and it made us very tired. It is a long walk too. And the anxiety was building — when do we reach Sumdo.
When we exit out of the river bed and get into the flatter walk, an hour of walk is still left. That’s really long.
The same river carries on until Sumdo. An hour later you reach Sumdo. Sumdo is where we get our pick-up vehicles.
Q: Can you describe Sumdo?
Mukesh : Sumdo is like a small village. Not more than 7-8 houses. And there are couple of tea houses. We get a flat ground where we can camp. Plenty of water.
From Sumdo you get a driveable road to the highway. It’s about 8 kms away.
Now you’ve come to civilisation..
Mukesh : Not exactly civilisation. But you can get some help in an emergency. An in case of shelter you get some place to stay.
Once you reach Sumdo, we sit at the tea houses. By this time our pick ups have already arrived.
Q: If someone wants to go to Leh from Sumdo how long would that take?
From Sumdo to Leh…it is another 7-8 kms to reach the highway. From there it is another 20-25 kms drive to Leh. Within 2 hours you should be at Leh. Max 2½ hrs. From Sumdo you can also go to the Hemis monastary. A typical itinerary would have the last day as Sumdo to Hemis.
Q: How far is Sumdo to Hemis?
Mukesh : Sumdo to Hemis is a two hours trek. It is an uphill trek. Sumdo is in a kind of valley.
Q: What you are suggesting trekkers to do is, go ahead to Hemis, see the monastary and then drive to Leh the same day.
Mukesh : Absolutely. You can camp at Sumdo. The next morning go to Hemis. Arrange for your pick up at Hemis and return to Leh the same day. On the way back to Leh you can also visit the Thiksey and Shey monastary.
Thanks for the wonderful interview Mukesh.