Duration: 31 days, 20 days trekking
Accomodations: Camping on trek
Best time: September-October
This is truly one of the finest long distance treks in all of the Himalaya. The prospect of undertaking this journey is at the same time daunting, exciting and challenging. For the explorer in you it is the stuff to make the adrenalin flow! It is definitely something you will remember for the rest of your life.
From the heat of Delhi we fly in a small aircraft to the cooler foothills of the Himalaya. We then drive up the Kulu valley to Manali, which is surrounded by pine forests, terraced fields and orchards of apple and orange trees. Hinduism is the predominant religion in the valley, although Tibetan refugees have built a fine Buddhist monastery in Manali.
After a rest and look round Manali and environs, we drive across the Rohtang Pass, made famous by early explorers. Descending on its northern side into Lahoul, the mountains surround us. At the village of Darcha we meet our trek staff, and the horses, before setting off on foot into the Himalaya. The hardest day is the crossing of the Shingo La (16,719ft) which is the snow-covered gateway to Zanskar.
The terrain immediately becomes dramatic and arid as we enter a vast land of Tibetan Buddhism. The white chortens, mani walls, ghost traps and prayer flags form part of the striking part of the cultural landscape. Western travelers never fail to be affected by it, especially when they meet the friendly local people in their traditional dress. The particularly memorable parts of this trek will be our visit to Phuctal Gompa, a lonely and spectacular monastery clinging to a rock face and our proposed meeting with the school teacher Punchok Dawa, the king of Padum.
Beyond Padum the country is more rugged. We cross several high passes, snow bridges, rivers and follow deep gorges. Villages are perched improbably on the edges of precipices, their green terraces of barley appearing as oases in this mountain desert.
After the trek we spend time relaxing in Leh, capital of Ladakh, before flying over the Himalaya back to Delhi.
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN DELHI. We will be met at Delhi airport early on Sunday morning, and transferred to Hotel.
DAY 2: RELAX IN DELHI. The day can be spent making any last minute preparations, shopping, or just relaxing by the pool. Should you want to do any sightseeing this can be arranged. Overnight at the Imperial Hotel.
DAY 3: TO MANAlI. Fly to Bhuntar and transfer to Banons Resort Hotel in Manali.
DAY 4: DAY AT LEISURE IN MANALI. There is plenty to do in Manali. Visit the large and thriving Tibetan Buddhist monastery, or highly recommended is a visit to the hot spring baths higher up the valley at Vashist. You can walk or take a taxi. Overnight at the Banons Resort Hotel.
DAY 5: DRIVE TO JISPA. (10,826ft). Our journey is by private bus over the Rohtang Pass (14,500ft / 4000m) with views of snow peaks of the Himalaya in every direction. The Rohtang was the first major pass to be crossed by early western explorers and its colourful history is well told in John Keay's excellent book 'Where Men and Mountains Meet'. We descend to the Chandra Valley and follow it downstream, to its confluence with the Bhaga valley pausing for a picnic lunch just before Keylong. We camp at Jispar, which is about four miles south of Darcha in the Bhaga valley. Ahead the road continues up north east, up the Bhaga Valley and over the Baralacha La (4891m/16,046ft) and on across the Zanskar Range eventually to Leh. However our trek route starts at Sarchu which is tomorrow’s destination.
DAY 6: DRIVE TO SARCHU. Our journey continues on the Manali-Leh highway and today we will start to see a big changes in the landscape as we move into the rain shadow north of the main Himalayan chain. After about an hour we will reach the settlement of Darcha, which basically consists of an army checkpoint and a small collection of tea huts and shops. This was originally the place where groups used to camp before starting to trek up the Barai Nala to Shingo La and into the Zanskar valley. In 1995, after an unusually heavy monsoon, the Barai river changed its course and flooded the campsite and now groups camp at Jispa. After some minor checkpoint formalities we continue on our way up to Patseo where there is an army camp. We then start the long ascent of the Baralacha La (4883m) which cuts the main Himalayan chain. If the weather is with us, we should see fine views of the surrounding mountains and the plains around Sarchu. After a long descent, we reach Sarchu where we will camp for the night.
DAY 7: BEGIN TREK (6hrs). Today we start trekking and we leave Sarchu following the Lingti Chu valley. This day will be spent walking through mainly pasture land as the trail follows the river slowly upwards. The trail follows the mountain side for a while until the ground widens into a high desert valley. The valley then narrows at Chumikmarpo and the approach to the Phirtse La. Camp overnight.
DAY 8: TREK TO RIVER CAMP. We continue up the valley crossing two canyons and experiencing our first river crossing before climbing to a wide plateau. As the valley narrows further, we pass a collection of Gaddi shepherd huts and tumble-down prayer walls built from mani stones. We then climb steeply to cross a small pass before descending to camp near the river.
DAY 9: TREK TO BASE OF PHIRTSE LA. As we head up the valley further we begin to feel more and more isolated as the gorge narrows further and the thinning of the air makes this day a relatively strenuous one. Camp at the base of the Phirtse La.
DAY 10: CROSS PHIRTSE LA. (17,876ft - 8hrs) This is a tough day, but one that is rewarded with the fine views from the top of the pass. The trail, which is not very well defined, passes through a meadow from where it pushes on to the top of the Phirtse La. The path is steep in some areas and crosses a number of scree slopes before it finally reaches the top, after 4 to 5 hours. It all feels worth it as you stand at the top looking east towards the spectacular mountains of Changtang and northwest towards the Zanskar valley. If everyone is feeling fit we will probably have lunch at the top and then tackle the steep but short descent to the river. From here we will trek a little way down the valley before reaching our campsite for the night.
DAY 11: TREK TO ZINGCHEN. (14,664ft) We quickly leave the river a climb a small pass where we see fine views of the Zanskar valley spreading out ahead of us. It is from this pass that we get our first views of the massive granite mountain of Gumburonjon. We then descend and finally reach our campsite at Zingchen, a small grassy meadow.
DAY 12: TREK TO PURNE. (12,300ft) Today is the day we finally meet the main Zanskar valley and other trekkers who have taken the more popular trail into the Zanskar valley over the Shingo La. We descend steeply for approximately 500m through a gorge before joining the main valley at a bridge crossing the Kargyak River a short way from the village of Kuru. We then follow the main trail down through the villages of Tabla and Testa before a steep descent takes us to a further bridge that we cross to get to our campsite at Purne. Camp overnight.
DAY 13: VISIT PHUKTAL GOMPA. This is half a day's diversion leaving the camp standing at Purne. We walk up a very deep and impressive gorge with a fast flowing river to this remarkable and remote monastery. The 500-year-old Gompa is built literally on the side of a cliff. Here we can visit the inner temples and see a stone tablet left by the Hungarian, Alexander Csoma de Koros, one of the first explorers in Tibet, 1826-27. We then return to Purne where we can relax with a beer and exchange stories with other trekkers. Overnight camp.
DAY 14: TREK TO RERU. (12,073ft) The valley deepens and takes on the proportions of a gorge. We pass some small hamlets: Cha, Kaydang (with a small tea shop) and on to Hamuni. We then continue past the village of Surle and on towards Ichar where we cross the river on a new strong metal bridge. This is in marked contrast to the two small bridges made entirely from woven birch twigs which we will have passed earlier that day. The fortified village of Ichar is about 30 minutes walk away and is well worth a visit, as it is perhaps the most beautiful of the villages on the way to Padum, the capital township. We then walk through more magnificent, gorge scenery and with further small monasteries to visit. We camp by a small lake behind Reru village. In the past, unwary campers have been surprised by the lake being filled during the night to allow for irrigation of the fields the next day. The locals are very amused when campers wake to find their tent under water!!
DAY 15: RERU TO PADUM. (11,483ft) Before reaching Shila, which is marked by a high waterfall, we pass Mune Gompa and come to Bardan Gompa, an impressive monastery sitting on top of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the gorge. The building was erected in the early sixteen hundreds on the orders of Nawang Namgyal, the first ruler of Bhutan, who was given various lands in Ladakh to further his Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, by the ruler of Ladakh at that time. The valley which we have walked down for the past six days now opens out into the much wider Lunak Valley and we reach Padum, the capital of Zanskar. Camp overnight.
DAY 16: AT LEISURE IN PADUM. Today there is a chance to relax and celebrate the completion of the first part of the trek. Padum may be the kingdom’s capital, but it has only about a hundred houses built on a barren rock-covered hill, on which a fort once stood, with newer houses in the surrounding fields. Unlike most other Zanskaris who are nearly all Buddhists, its inhabitants include a large number of Indo-Aryans, who are followers of the Sunnite Muslim sect. We may well be able to arrange an introduction to Phunshok Dawa, Gyalpo ("Precious Ruler") of Padum. Phunshok's ancestors collected taxes and had a quasi-judicial role dealing with any disputes or family problems for the villages around Padum. Nowadays the present holder of the title of 'Gyalpo' is the local school teacher. He speaks good English and his stories of times past and explanations of Zanskari culture are of great interest. Camp overnight.
DAY 17: DRIVE TO ZANGLA. After the tourist ban in the Summer of 1995 the Indian government agreed to pump extra money in Zanskar. One of the results is that there is now a jeep track which runs from Padum to Zangla and beyond. Like it or loath it jeep tracks will continue to be developed in the region and today we make full use of this one. We will set off from Padum early in the morning to try and get most of the driving done before the temperature gets too ferocious. The journey will be quite slow as the track is rough and the jeeps available in Padum are not reliable as those found in other parts of India! We should get to Zangla in the early afternoon and that should give some time to look round the village and to walk up to the old palace which was once the seat of the throne in Zanskar. The descendant of the other one-time ruler of Zanskar, Mr Nimu, still lives here, and we may be able to meet him. Camp overnight.
DAY 18: TREK TO BASE OF CHARCHA LA. Today we trek north-east, following the course of the Zumling River upwards to the Charcha La. You’ll become well-used to the variety of Zanskari bridges as you are likely to cross the river 20 times during the day.
DAY 19: CROSS CHARCHA LA TO TOM TOKH. From below the pass, it takes about four hours to ascend to the crossing at nearly 5,000m, marked by a chorten. Descending from the pass, we follow a narrow gorge, crossing a shallow stream several times, sometimes on ice bridges and avalanche debris. At one point the gorge is less than two meters wide for about 50 meters. This can be difficult if the water level in the stream is high. We camp tonight below the pass at Tom Tokh Sumdo.
DAYS 20& 21: TREK TO TILTA SUMDO. Our route over the next few days follows a very rough, rocky and unstable trail with many river crossings - 20 to 30 in all - before we reach Tilta Sumdo, where the Khurna Cho flows in to form a major confluence and join the Zanskar River further to the north. The walk is much more dificult if the river is high or if there have been many recent rockfalls. Camp overnight.
DAY 22: TREK TO BASE OF RUBERUNG LA. Today we have another hard day’s walk, with further river crossings to be made. Camp overnight.
DAY 23: CROSS RUBERUNG LA, TREK TO MARKHA VILLAGE. The ascent to cross the Ruberung La is up a narrow gorge with numerous other gorges joining it. It would be easy to take the wrong trail without a guide. The top of the pass at 4,900m is reached after about three hours. From the top of the pass the path is quite clear and descends to a stream, which you follow for four or five hours down to the Markha River and our campsite just before Markha Village. Camp overnight.
DAY 24: TREK TO NIMALING. (4-5hrs) We are now back on the beaten track and are following part of the popular Markha Valley trail. This will come as a welcome change to the rigors of the last few days. We follow the trail passed many teahouses that have sprung up until we reach the settlement of Nimaling. The village is set in a large flat bottomed valley and has a semi-permanent population of herders that bring their animals to this meadow for summer grazing.
DAY 25: CROSS LALUNG LA, TREK TO GYA PHU. Almost as soon as we join the main Markha Valley trail, we leave it again to trek up the Lalunga La (17,000ft). We are taking this alternative route as the main trail leads to the campsite at Shang which over the years has become very popular and as a result extremely dirty. From the top of the Lalunga La fine views of the Karakorum mountain range are afforded. After a gradual descent we reach Gay Phu where we camp for the night.
DAY 26: TREK TO LATO, DRIVE TO LEH. The final walk is an easy one and a good time to ponder over the hard days you have left behind. We continue to walk through pasture land and meadows to the village of Lato where vehicles will be waiting for us to take us to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Overnight at hotel.
DAY 27: AT LEISURE IN LEH. There is time to buy postcards and do some souvenir hunting in the narrow back streets or crowded bazaars. You will also have a chance to visit the deserted Royal Palace. Ladakh was at one time a powerful Himalayan kingdom in its own right and Leh, its capital, is a tremendous medieval town. Besides the Royal Palace the town is a hive of trading activity and crowded with people in Ladakhi national dress. Here too are many Tibetan refugees and a taxi ride to visit their enclave is well worth it. Overnight at hotel.
DAY 28: FLY TO DELHI. This is one of the most remarkable flights to be taken in India in that it crosses the Greater Himalayan range. On one side of the aeroplane can be seen in the distance the peaks of K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum and on the other side of the aeroplane, so close that you feel you could reach out and touch it, is the Nun Kun massif. Upon arriving in Delhi we transfer to the Imperial Hotel.
DAY 30: AT LEISURE IN DELHI. You have a full day in Dehli for relaxing, last minute shopping and any sightseeing you would like us to arrange. A day room will be kept at the hotel from midday onwards. Transfer to the airport in the evening for the early morning flight on Monday.
DAY 31: FLY TO HOME.
Land Cost: on request
- All accommodation in Delhi and Leh with breakfast.
- Camping accommodation as per the program with all meals during the treks.
- Mule drivers and mules during the trekking.
- All monastery entrance fees, wild life fees and camping fees.
- English-speaking guide in monasteries and while trekking.
- Service of cook and attendants during the trekking.
- All camping equipment including North Face sleeping tent, foam mattresses, mess tents, dining tent & toilet tent
- All transportation from pick up from the Delhi Airport to Airport.
What’s not included:
- Medical and evacuation insurance
- Miscellaneous expenses and tipping to the staff
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and food in Leh and Delhi.
- International Air ticket to and from Delhi.
- A single supplement.
- Laundry and other services not mentioned in the package. If you need any arrangement Please let us know.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Whilst every effort is made to keep to the above itinerary, clients will hopefully appreciate that this is Adventure Travel in a remote mountain region. There will quite likely be changes to the itinerary in terms of anything from on-the-spot choice of campsite to when a rest day is taken. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns off the beaten track, local availability of, horses or yaks, can contribute to the need for changes. The Trek guide will do everything in his power to see that you are inconvenienced as little as possible in such circumstances. Timings are approximate.
© Yama Adventures, 2022.