DAUNTING CHALLENGING, AMAZING DISCOVERIES
A spectacular thrilling trekking holiday filled with thrills galore as you pass by monasteries, cross gorges, tread through mountain pastures and climb past high altitude passes with utterly unforgettable vies. Scaling new challenges and achieving concrete climbing goals is heady and makes this trek completely worthwhile.
Fly into Leh from Delhi, taking in breathtaking views of Stok Kangri (6,153m) – the ultimate goal of our trek. Spend three days acclimatizing to the high altitude, while exploring Leh and the colourful Buddhist monasteries around it.
The trek begins with a hike through the Markha Valley, and then leads through several remote and picturesque villages to the high Nimaling plain below the imposing peak of Kang Yatse. After trekking up to the Kongmaru La, we take a little-used route to Stok Kangri base camp, a two-day approach to the mountain that boasts of superbly located campsite and far-reaching views encompassing Tibet and the eastern Karakoram Range. The climb to Stok Kangri (over 6,153m) is both challenging and supremely rewarding and on descending to Stok, we return to Leh for some well-earned relaxation
- A challenging & rewarding ascent to Stok Kangri (6,153m), the highest mountain peak in the Stok range
- Chilling – a famous Ladakhi village renowned for its silversmiths
- Markha Valley – a beautiful trekking region
- Nimaling – a picturesque summer grazing ground
- Dramatic Ladakhi wilderness and scenery
Day 2Delhi - Leh By Flight
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.
Day 3Leh – Thiksey – Hemis – Matho – Leh
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.
Day 4Walk around Leh OR optional drive to Khardung La
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.
Day 5Leh – Chilling by Road
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.
Day 6Trek Chilling – Skiu (3,400m)
Chilling - Skiu
Crossing the Zanskar River by a novel box-and-cable bridge, we meet our Trek crew and our pack-ponies who have travelled to this meeting place via the Markha Valley a day in advance of our arrival. After sorting out the loads for the ponies, we begin our First day’s Trek along a narrow trail on the right bank of the Zanskar gorge to a point where the Markha River meets the main valley. We climb to cross a high spur from where the impressive Zanskar Gorge disappears around a corner. A red-painted collection of chortens on the far side of the river points the way to the route into Zanskar. At this point, we turn towards southeast into the Markha Valley and continue until we reach the irrigated fields of the hamlets of Skaya and then Skiu, where we camp for the night. The main trail into the Markha Valley from the north over the Ganda La joins our route at this point. There is a small monastery in Skiu and a derelict fortress/monastery on the cliff above our riverside camp.
Duration of Trek: 5 Hrs
Day 7Trek Skiu – Markha (3,750m)
Skiu - Markha Valley
A fairly long but easy walk today as we trek along the valley to Markha. The terrain along the valley is not so demanding, thereby providing us plenty of opportunity to admire the magnificent scenery around. The colors of the barren mountains of Ladakh are truly spectacular. Pastel pink, brazen blue and turquoise green mountains shine in the brilliant sun and change color dramatically as the sun rises and sets. We not only follow the river all day today but cross the same a few times. We have lunch in Sara where there is usually some welcome shade in a tea tent. Beyond the settlement of Chalak there is an impressive line of chortens and a huge mound of goat horns which are placed on these chortens to ward off any evil spirits trying to enter the valley. After climbing up to a small pass we descend again to the river. A Mediaeval Fort, silhouetted on the hillside, gives us an indication of having almost reached Markha. Markha is a small village and here is the time to explore the small monastery in the afternoon. Our camp is on the grazing flats near the village.
Duration of Trek: 6 Hrs
Distance: 18 Kms
Day 8Trek Markha – Hankar – Thachungtse (4,300m)
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
Day 9Trek Thachungtse – Nimaling (4,850m)
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.
Day 10Nimaling: Rest or Exploration (Trek)
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.
Day 11Trek Nimaling – Kongmaru La (5,150m) – Chuskyurmo (4,000m)
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.
Day 12Trek Chuskyurmo – Gyuncho La (4,600m) – Shang Phu (4,350m)
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
Day 13Trek Shang Phu – Shang La (4,800m) – Gangpoche (4,300m)
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).
Day 14Trek Gangpoche – Matho La (4,850m) – Stok Kangri Base Camp (4,990m)
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
Day 15Stok Kangri Base Camp (4,900m)
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.
Day 16Climb Stok Kangri Summit (6,153m)
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).
Day 17Descend through Mankarmo to Stok and drive to Leh
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.
Day 18Fly to Delhi - Day at leisure.
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.