Delhi - Leh
In the early morning flight from Delhi, the plane flies over the Himalayan Range providing amazing overhead view of the whole mountain range with gigantic glaciers and glaring peaks before it brings us to Leh, a fertile valley just to the north of the mighty Indus River (this flight is subject to appropriate weather and perfect flying conditions). Upon arrival, we transfer to the hotel.
Upon arrival, we transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatize to the altitude (3,500m). Late in the afternoon, there is a Gentle orientation walk of Leh and its bazaars. In the olden days Leh was an important trading center along the old Silk Road from China.
Today, in the sightseeing tour to three of the major gompas (monasteries) around Leh we first drive to Thikse Monastery that belongs to Gelukpa order (Yellow hat). Perched on top of a hill its red and white buildings can be seen from miles. A recently built temple within this complex contains a magnificent image of the Future Buddha. Next we drive to Hemis Gompa that belongs to Drukpa order (Red hat). It holds the distinction not only of being the biggest and the wealthiest monastery of Ladakh but also of very rich collections of ancient relics and the rare 17th century murals and the painted stone reliefs adorning the courtyard gallery making it a true UNESCO World Heritage Site. We continue our excursion and visit Matho monastery situated right across Thikse on the other side of Indus River. This monastery was founded in 16th century and it's an only monastery that belongs to Sakya order of Tibetan Monastery.
Today is a free day to walk around the Leh Valley to get acclimatized. Set above Leh on Namgyal Hill are the ruins of the Old Royal Palace. From here a winding path leads to Tsemo Monastery, with panoramic views of Leh and its surrounding villages. Descending from the back of the palace, it’s possible to walk via Sankar Gompa to the recently built Japanese Peace Pagoda. This huge stupa overlooks Leh and commands stunning views of the town and the Stok mountains across the valley.
There is also the chance today to do an Optional Jeep trip to Khardung La at 5,602m, one of the highest motorable roads in the world.
Leh - Chilling
We are now sufficiently acclimatized and ready to begin our trek. Our brief introduction to the Tibetan Buddhist world of Ladakh (which has been many times threatened by invading forces over the years) makes us better able to appreciate the significance of the hilltop location of many of the monasteries which we see on our trek through the Markha Valley. A 40 kms drive along the road towards Srinagar and Kashmir takes us to Nimu, where chilled water of the Zanskar River meets the silted water of Indus. We turn onto a dirt road, cross the Indus on a sturdy bridge and then follow the left bank of Zanskar River through a gorge to Chilling - a village well known in Ladakh and Zanskar for the skill of its silversmiths. Chilling is also the gateway to the Markha Valley. We camp at Chilling and spend an easy afternoon.
Markha Valley - Thachungtse (4300m)
Just beyond Markha the trail meets the Chacham Valley where we see the Umlung Gompa set way above us on the cliff face. We visit the Monastery which is the most important in the valley and is affiliated to Hemis. Continuing up the valley, we walk through Umlung Village to Hankar where there are more impressive fort ruins and a small gompa. From Hankar the trail turns off from the main valley and follows the Nimaling stream to Thachungtse, our overnight camping spot. We may be lucky and see wild sheep high up on the grazing areas.
Duration of Trek: 7 Hrs
Distance: 17 Kms
Thachungtse (4300m) - Nimaling
Today is a short walk to Nimaling. The trail climbs steeply to the plateau where the valley opens out. Ahead are the spectacular views of Kang Yangtse at 6,400 metres, the highest peak in the valley. In this area, there is no permanent habitation. But during the summer months the shepherds bring their flocks of sheep, goats and dzos (cows cross-bred with yaks) to graze on the high altitude pasture. The shepherds stay in stone shelters close to the grazing area for the whole summer and we can often buy yoghurt or cheese from them. In the evening, the animals are brought down from the hills and it is quite usual to have hundreds of them wandering through the campsite. We should get to Nimaling by lunchtime. In the afternoon, there is an Optional walk behind the camp towards Kang Yangtse. This is well worth doing and highly recommended for the impressive close-up views of Kang Yangste, which at 6,400m, is the highest peak in the Markha Valley.
This is a day for rest and acclimatisation. This is a fantastic camping location and spending a second night (4,850m) provides excellent acclimatisation for scaling Stok Kangri. Those amongst the group who are feeling energetic can trek over towards Kang Yatze to a high point (5,500m) on the ridge that runs from the peak towards Northwest. The impressive birds of prey of this region include lammergeyers (bearded vultures - the biggest of the Himalayan raptors) and golden eagles. The sight of a lammergeyer drifting towards you on motionless wings, passing just overhead, unconcerned by your presence, is simply unforgettable.
Nimaling - Chuskyurmo (4000m)
Our walk begins today by climbing to the Kongmaru La. It is a fairly long, steep ascent zigzagging to the top of the pass at 5,286m. As we expect the views are fantastic: looking back we see Kang Yangtse, Dzo Jongo and Regoni Malari, while in front the Stok Range and the Indus valley attract our attention. The descent is steep until we enter a spectacular gorge and then descend more gradually, with a few small river crossings. High up on the barren cliffs we may spot the elusive blue sheep which inhabit this area. Our campsite for tonight is at Chuskyurmo.
Chuskyurmo (4000m) - Shang Phu (4350m)
From Chuskyurmo, we turn towards west into a Tributary valley that leads, after a long and gradual ascent, to Gyuncho La. Descending from the pass, we camp at Shang Pu.
Duration of Trek: 7 Hrs
Shang Phu (4350m) - Gangpoche (4300m)
This part of our route traverses a rarely visited area and involves the crossing of many spurs and minor passes with occasional views northwards towards the Indus Valley and the peaks beyond. Today, we climb to cross the Shang La (4,800m) and then descend to the Tokpo River for lunch. After lunch, we Trek mostly downhill to our camping place at Gangpoche (4,300m).
Gangpoche (4300m) - Stok Kangri Base Camp (4900m)
Today, we ascend steeply in the morning to the final pass, the Matho La. From the pass there are some beautiful views of Stok Kangri and the entire route ascension. Then, we descend into the valley to the north of Stok village. This lovely valley is a high and wild area which is visited only by climbing groups and by the local people who spend some of the summer months in picturesque villages of stone huts. People come from distant villages to graze their herds of sheep/cows. This valley connects the village of Stok to the base camp of the same name. The very pleasant campsite is on a grassy area beside a number of melt water streams.
Duration of Trek: 7 Hrs
The morning is free to relax. In the afternoon, we can walk above our camp for views of the surrounding peaks; Stok Kangri, Parchu Kangri and many others. The afternoon is spent resting and preparing for the climb. Gear is checked and there is a full briefing about next day’s ascent and a run through of walking in a rope team and with crampons. After an early dinner, we retire to bed to rest for a few hours.
The summit day is long and hard (at least 12 hours). After a very early start in the dark (2am), we cross a glacier at the foot of the climb. Although not technical, the route to the summit is very steep and usually involves the use of ice axe and crampons. For safety, we also carry a rope and we usually rope up along the ridge and sometimes even before. The summit route is steep and it is necessary to proceed along an exposed ridge for some time, with some scrambling on loose (sometimes icy) rock. The extreme altitude is the greatest difficulty, however. The climb from camp to the summit takes five to seven hours. The final hundred meters need special care while crossing the slopes just below the summit. From the summit, the views are simply amazing. Minuscule Leh can be seen in the distance, and all around us the snow-capped peaks of the Himalaya, the Ladakh Range and the distant Karakorum reach far to the horizon. We spend a short while at the top to savour the beauty of it all and regain our breath before descending slowly and carefully back to base camp, where the crew will be waiting with welcome hot food. Please note: that the climb is entirely Optional. For anyone not intending to climb there are wonderful walks from the base camp itself, with one taking you to the glacier at the foot of Stok Kangri for magnificent views).
Stok Kangri Summit (6153m) - Leh
It is an easy but spectacular walk down to the valley to Stok as we descend layer upon layer of multi-coloured rocks surround us. The trail finally emerges from this amazing gorge and the valley widens as we approach Stok village.
Here, our vehicle would be waiting for us and on arrival, we board the vehicle and head towards Leh by lunchtime for a welcome hot shower and a well-deserved celebration.
Leh - Delhi
Today, we have an early morning transfer to the Airport for the flight back to Delhi. Upon arrival in Delhi, we transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing or last-minute shopping.