NOTE: Flights to/from Leh
are NOT included in the price or itinerary. Everyone will need to arrange
their own flight or overland trip to Leh. You can book your international
flights all the way to Leh, Ladakh (IXL) which will ensure that your
flight provider is responsible for hotels if your flight is delayed
or cancelled. You might also want to come overland from Manali, breath-taking
jeep safari, or from Srinagar, both some of the planet's most spectacular
Email us your flight arrival
details and have our contact details with you when you arrive in Delhi
in case you need assistance. Kim will have her mobile with her, as will
our agents from Dhruv Travels, so don't hesitate to call. We can help
with hotels, flights, airport pick-ups and drops, sightseeing in Delhi
or travels further to Rajasthan or Agra & the Taj Mahal. (See Dhruv
Although we try to follow
the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience
trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions
may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks
passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites
may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate
The Himalaya are our passion,
and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation,
please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense
of adventure ...
Day 1 - Meet
in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital
of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away
amidst the Ladakh mountains, part of the great Trans Himalayan range.
If you arrive by air you'll feel the big jump in altitude and it will
take your body a few days to adjust. If you arrive by road from Manali
or Srinagar you'll have had some extra acclimatization en route, but
will still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with
plenty of water, stay away from beer for a few days, rest and don't
over-exert yourself. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house,
let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or
two. Diamox is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally; Kim
We stay at the family-run
Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guest house with a lovely garden
in the center courtyard, located just a few minutes south of the Main
Bazaar in old Leh town. Your rooms will be booked for you, you'll just
need to advise Kim of your arrival time, whether by air or by road.
Once everyone has arrived and checked into rooms, Kim will show you
around town: the bakeries, cafes, tandoori restaurants, email cafes,
banks and wonderful markets. We'll meet for dinner in the evening at
the Ibex or Summer Harvest, a few of our favorite restaurants.
Days 2, 3
We've scheduled two free
days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets
and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal's 17th century capital of
Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post
along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful
Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh
Palace, the ancient 16th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal Tsemo
Gompa, other historic Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the Sunni Muslim mosques,
narrow back alleys with steaming Muslim bread, tiny antique shops tucked
away amidst the many ancient stupas and architectural remnants, the
exotic Main Bazaar (c. 1840s) which once accommodated trade caravans,
and even a polo field. Caravans of merchants from far-flung destinations
such as Yarkand, Tibet, Kashgar and North India passed through Leh during
ancient trade missions, trading salt, wool, Pashmina, tea and semi-precious
stones, lending to the city its exotic allure. Pilgrims flocked to the
monasteries of Leh and the Indus valley, explorers of old stopped in
Leh to re-stock and weather out the harsh Himalayan winter and soldiers
en route to plunder and conquer desirous destinations passed through
Leh, all leaving their mark on this unique capital.
Kim will take you for a
walk up the bustling Fort Road, lined with shops owned by Kashmiri,
Tibetan and Kashmiri shop-keepers, to 15th century Leh Fort and the
red, MaitreiyaTsemo Gompa, perched high on a craggy and crumbling hilltop
overlooking the bazaars of old Leh. You can stop at 16th century nine-story
Leh Palace, of a similar architectural design to the Tibetan Potala
Palace, on the way down if you have the energy. Visit the museum, a
worthwhile endeavor, as well as the nearby gompas (Tibetan Buddhist
monasteries) - Soma Gompa, Chamba Lakhang and Chensrig Lakhang. There
is a great cultural show around sunset at Soma Gompa.
We might wander the willow-lines
streets of Changspa to reach the many steps leading to the Japanese-built
Shanti Stupa for a view over the green fields and white-washed Ladakhi
houses of the villages surrounding Leh. The precariously perched Leh
Fort guards the eastern edges of the fertile valley. Sankar Gompa (17th
- 18th century), reached through shady lanes to the east of Changspa,
lies in the midst of Chubi's groves of poplar and willow and is another
wonderful morning or afternoon walk. The back route to Leh Fort starts
in Chubi and passes through a desert-like Buddhist cremation ground
before climbing to the fortress.
OPTIONAL GOMPA-TRIP: Arrange
(through Kim, our Tibetan jeep-driver Wang Chuk or the Shaynam Hotel)
a 'jeep safari' through the fertile Indus Valley to visit a few of the
living Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the crumbling ruins of ancient fortresses
and palaces and the traditional villages that dot the banks of the region,
the 'cradle of civilization' of much of the ancient world. Kim can help
arrange jeeps and/or a guide for a day's excursion.
To the East:Shey, Thikse,
Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho & Stok.
To the West: Spiyok, Phyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Rizdong & Lamayuru.
OPTIONAL RAFTING-TRIP: You
can arrange a day rafting trip on the Indus (easier) or the Zanskar
River, approximately $35-$40.
Day 4 - Drive Kanji 3850m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps
and head for the start of the trek at Henasku, a five hour drive through
the historical, green Indus Valley. Leaving Leh we drive past the ancient
Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated
fields of Spitok village and Phyang Gompa and village to the right.
We continue along a cliff-side road past the intersection of the Indus
River with the Zanskar River, the Zanskar villagers' lifeline during
the harsh winters. Look out the back windows for a spectacular panorama
of the Ladakh range, which extends westward to meet the Karakorum range
in the distance. About an hour later, we'll spot Basgo Gompa and
Fort, a 500 year old World Heritage site, situated spectacularly on
a spur above the Indus. Further down the Indus on the right is the link
road to Likir Gompa, and to the left the turnoff to the 1000 year old
Alchi Gompa, built in the Northern Indian style with wonderful frescos
and murals inside the many prayer rooms. Just past Alchi is the link
road to Rizdong on the right; soon afterwards we cross the Indus at
Khaltse, and an hour later are rewarded with the awesome sight of Lamayuru
Gompa perched magnificently on a hillside far above the Indus. Another
hour will bring us to the intersection of the village of Henasku, from
where we continue along a dirt road through a dramatic, narrow gorge
to our first campsite at Kanji.
Kanji is a village of approximately
40 families (300 people) in the Kargil region of Ladakh, a wonderfully scenic whitewashed
village with an old lha-khang (a small gompa either built by Rinzin Zangpo or 200 years later with wonderful murals inside) as well as a newer gompa. The lively village
provides wonderful photographic opportunities in the evening light when the villagers are back from the fields and the kids out of school. We set up camp just below the village by the river on a grassy site with a teahouse just above, looking out at a willow grove, pea fields and the spectacular valley that we will head up tomorrow.
We meet our horsemen, set you up in your Mountain Hardwear & Big Agnes tent and will show you around our 'Kamzang' style
dining tent ...
Day 5 - Kanji
We've scheduled and acclimitization day in Kanji so get out and do some exploring and photograhping of this idyllic village and valley. There are plenty of opportunities to wander up adjoining valleys to spots like Dumbar and it's a lively village ...
To Dumbar: After spending a leisurely morning at camp, we can opt to trek the 2 1/2 hours to Dumbur, a seasonal settlement of the Kanji people. Turning left just out of camp and crossing a bridge crossing the main Kanji River, we head left up the Chomothang Togpo (river) along a slightly explosed trail for a bit, soon reaching green pasturelands. Behind us we'll have wonderful views of Kanji and we look ahead to tomorrow's pass. The doksa is only home to a few villagers; there is a new mani wheel in the village and side valleys leading to climbing peaks to the right of the village.
Day 6 - Trek Kanji Base
Our Himalayan trek begins, and we've got a six+ hour day river-crossing ahead of us; have your sandals with you as you'll be walking in them much of th day. Venturing
further and deeper into this hauntingly beautiful gorge, we trek along
a small trail, past several small river junctions, heading towards the
base of tomorrow's pass, the Kanji La. Trekkers have seen snow leopard
tracks in this valley, so we'll keep our eyes open.
Leaving camp by heading past the village and into the eastern valley, we pass an organically-shaped mushroom rock with prayer flags strung on top, just past the many tsatsas piled in the old chortens in town. Heading up valley past the barley and pea fields, we trek along the right side of the winding river, stopping to put our feet in the water when it gets too hot. The small settlement of Kelcha is about an hour away. Two hours after this, we reach an interesting doksa called Kwongdo Doksa where the Kanji-pa stay for a month with their animals in the summer. They often have fresh yogurt, delicious. Kwongdo is at the river junction (sumdo) of three rivers, and we take the far right valley towards camp, where the valley narrows. You'll need your sandals almost all the way until camp after this point, so keep them on. We'll stop for lunch soon after Kwongdo, and continue to cross the river, sometimes jumping from rock to rock and other times wading through. It can get large in the afternoon if it's a sunny day; we'll have nearly three hours to go until reaching our camp at Kanji Base Camp, the last 45 minutes gaining much of altitude. Camp with it's mineral spring is a welcome site!
Day 7 - Trek Kanji
Our first Himalayan pass and a long, 9-10 hour day so we'll be up early with a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee before starting
our ascent of the formidable Kanji La, 5270 meters. It's a tough climb of 935 meters, at least a four hour effort, so have snacks and plenty of water in your pack. Leaving camp we cross the small stream and head right up the steep slope at the cairns, switch backing to the first cairn-topped ridge. Looking down valley we can see the intersection to a more westerly valley below us. Contouring down for just a bit we soon climb again on rough scree, walking sometimes on the lateral morraine and other times on the glacier. It's not quite as steep for the first section but becomes very steep as we near the crest (which will probably have some snow). From the top, we'll
have incredible panoramic views of the Ladakh range to the north, and the Zanskar range which
stretch out as far as the eye can see. K2 is said to be visible in the far distance if you climb for another 20 minutes past the pass. After a good
rest at the pass, we'll start the long descent of the shale valley towards the river which
marks the intersection between Rangdum and the Suru Valley, and Zanskar.
We'll have lunch along the way, about 350 meters down, in a sheltered spot. From here the trail is good, on large stone slabs. We soon reach several snow bridges which span the river bed and have to hike on somewhat exposed trails, crossing the river many times. Almost at the river junction at the base of the valley we'll have to pass through a narrow canyon which channels a small stream; shoes off or sandals on. We reach Kanji Sumdo leaving the canyon; it's a small campsite on a bluff overlooking the muted colors of the
willow-lined river valley, a lovely spot to set up our tents. If Kanji Sumdo is too small for our group we will continue on another half hour or so to another campsite further up the valley.
Day 8- Trek Puzdong
Base Camp 4550m
After breakfast we cross the large river right from camp, head to the right at river level and switchback up quite high to intersect the main trail coming from Rangdum. We continue to contour, staying high through grassy, rocky hillsides with marmots sticking their heads out of their holes, sunning themselves on rocks and whistling at our approach. It's 1 1/2 hours to the intersection of the route to Dibling (at our old campsite across the river), the 'sumdo' of two major river valleys. We continue along a similar trail and reach a smaller valley where we descend, cross a small stream and then hike back up. The valley is rockier, more undulating; we soon see camp across a wide valley in front of us. But before reaching it, we have to descend again to a surging river and try to cross on an old bridge, often washed away. Adventure is never far! One more climb and we've reached our lovely campsite atop a flat-ish plateau, a snow-capped valley to our right.
Day 9 - Trek Dibling 3850m
Ahead of us
is a sublime, diverse part of the Himalaya; our trek is a mix of gentle
river crossings, broad plateaus, passing seasonal herding settlements
(now deserted) and ascending narrow canyons. We cross the 5020 meter
Puzdong La, again with spectacular vistas. Last year we
saw a herd of ibex standing statuesquely on the high cliffs above our
campsite, looking down on us! A scene from the walls of a pre-historic
cave dwelling ...
Another one of our favorite trekking
days; we start the morning by switch backing right out of camp and hiking past fantastic, narrow canyons with
sculpted walls. Trekking along a glacial riverbed, we jump the river for an hour and turn right at the cairn on the high cliff. We continue to climb on the right of the valley towards the pass. One last small descent to the stream, an easy switchback and we've reached Puzdong La (5035-meters), decorated with multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags. After a rest at this scenic pass we have a steep descent on scree, switchbacking down into the wonderfully green valley below. We jump the river at the bottom of the valley and continue to (and through) the willow grove which is Dibling base camp. We'll have lunch here by the clear stream before continuing on to Dibling another 2 1/2 hours down valley.
Soon after lunch we have a small climb to a ridge on the left side of the river. We drop back down to the valley bottom and pass a large seasonal herding settlement (doksa)
of the Dibling inhabitants, now with several older Dibling-pa tending
the sheep, goats and yaks in their basic houses. We can take a peek
inside one of these, perhaps picking up some fresh yogurt from a villager.
Inside these dark houses, with beams of sunlight shining through the
chinks their only light, locals live as they have for centuries, making
cheese and butter, weaving their sheep and goat wool and chanting their
Buddhist prayers with their mani beads in their free time. We continue
along the small, willow-lined stream, crossing it several times and stopping for spring-water at the source of the spring (which we'll share with the yaks) as
we head towards the intersection of the Oma Chu and the magical village
of Dibling. We pass through Dibling's extensive fields of barley and
peas, the villagers out in the fields, and look up-valley to see the
Dibling Gompa and chortens silhouetted against the canyon wall. Dibling,
with its white-washed houses, mani walls and prayer wheel, exists timelessly,
with dried grass, fodder for the animals and insulation for the houses,
lining the roof-tops in preparation for their harsh winters. Our campsite
ten minutes from the village is idyllic, one of our 'best of' anywhere
in Ladakh, and the villagers see few Westerners so are very welcoming
We have the afternoon to wander through
the village at harvest time, visit the ancient gompa which guards the
village from above, and wash in the gurgling river that runs by our
Day 10 - Dibling
We've scheduled a rest day to take advantage of this
wonderful and remote village of twelve houses and approximately fifty inhabitants; one day is not nearly enough
to appreciate this remote outpost of Tibetan Buddhist life. Enjoy a leisurely morning at our grassy campsite washing in the river, or with a camp-chair and
book. Spend the rest of the day exploring Dibling, having salt-butter
tea with the villagers or wandering up the beautiful canyon beyond Dibling.
The villagers will be busy harvesting their barley, peas and hay, and you'll see them hoisting large bundles of hay to the rooftops to be stored for the sparse wintertime. This village is cut off from the rest of Ladakh & Zanskar for six months of the year, so it's essential that they be self-sufficient. At the top of the village is a 100-year-old village gompa featuring murals painted with natural pigments. Wildlife and birds abound in this region, so bring your binoculars and
sit quietly for a bit. The locals tell us that there are bears in the late summer raiding the fields. The horsemen often use our free days to re-shoe
the horses, a wild event ...
Day 11 - Trek Lingshed
We head up the river valley towards Zanskar today,
following the willow-lined, sparkling Oma Chu for the entire day. We'll
share the path with yaks, up in the valley grazing, and cooling
down in the river, and possibly see bear scat on the trails as we've done in years past. It's a lovely day, classic river-side trekking with
time to stop and enjoy the visas on rounded beach rocks.
Leaving camp, we'll stay on the newly-built trail (for the village kids to get to school safely at Lingshed) for the first half hour of the morning, staying on the left of the river. We'll then have to cross the river 5-7 times in the next half hour or so, often trekking upstream against the current, a nice way to spend a hot Ladakh day! . Approximately two hours after leaving camp we'll climb to a small cairn on a ridge at the sumdo (river junction) leading to the Marpo La. As we continue, staying above the river, there is a bit of exposed trail. Just after this, back along the river, we'll reach a green doksa and see many yaks grazing on the nearby hillsides. One last
river crossing and we reach our scenic campsite at Lingshed Sumdo, at
the junction of the Barmi La route to Lingshed and the river and canyon
route directly to Zanskar. Another great bathing spot.
*** We may head up the valley a bit further and camp at another lovely campsite towards the next day's pass.
Day 12 – Lingshed Gongma 4010m
It’s a beautiful hike climbing the narrow, colorful valley towards the pass. We crest the Barmi La, at 4680 meters, the hillsides hues of reds and greens, and be treated to views over to Lingshed village and the Lingshed Gompa, backed by craggy rocks. We traverse and descend steeply down to our campsite in a sheltered, sparkling valley below the Hanama La. There are opportunities to hike up this narrowing valley in the afternoon, and possible blue sheep sightings ...
Day 13 - Trek Zingchan 3410m
A pass day as we swith-back steeply right out of camp for about 2 to 2/1/2 hours to the top of the Hanuma La (4710-meters), a spectacular narrow pass with even more expansive views over to Lingshed and further into northern Ladakh. The trail down isn’t steep, a lovely walk through a mica-lined valley past a few small doksas and further on past the southern high camp. We’ll jump the river a few times as the valley narrows and at the high camp veer to the right along a somewhat precipitous trail which leads up to a narrow crest. Fanstatic views as we descend steeply from here, swith-backing through a greener and wider valley back down to the Oma Chu at the point where it intersects our smaller stream.
We'll set up camp in an amphitheater surrounded by peaks, passes and valleys, in the spot where we often lunch if heading the opposite way. There is a small tea house next to the campsite, run from an old man from Hanamur; he told us of the trail, newly re-built, through the canyon to Lingshed Sumdo. The locals all use this trail now to avoid the long, high route over the 4700 meter Hanamul La but horses have a difficult time on the cliff-side trails. Have a swim in the river right next to camp, heaven.
Day 14 - Trek Hanumil
We enter Zanskar today, from camp looking up the steep switchbacks to our pass far above, the 3900-meter Parfi La. The swithbacks are well graded so it's just a 1 1/2 hour slog to the crest of the Parfi La. The views from the top are fantastic,
with the Zanskar River gorge below us and the craggy, dun-colored Zanskar
range spreading out in all directions. The descent is equally scenic
as we drop steeply to high, contouring ridges, sometimes on slightly exposed trails. It should take us about two hours to reach the plateau above the river where we'll stop for a break on some flat rocks. Half an hour more of easy hiking down to and along the river, and we'll have lunch after crossing a (usually) small, intersecting stream, cooling down with our feet in the water. From here it's less than an hour of hiking along the Zanskar River, with one last climb, to our camp at the two-house hamlet of Hanamur, where cold beers are
waiting at the local shop and parachute tents set up to cool down on a hot day ...
We watched the threshing of the summer's
harvest in Hanamur one year, an interesting window into a dying way
of life, and a good photographic opportunity. Welcome to Zanskar, the
land of white copper ...
Day 15 -Trek Zangla Doksa
River Camp 3430m
Leaving Hanamur and crossing a small
bridge just past the two houses, we continue along the banks of the
Zanskar River along a trail lined with seabuckthorne bushes and Zanskar
roses to the next village, Pidmo, a larger village which sees the winter
trekkers who follow the Chaddar Route along the frozen Zanskar River.
Pidmo is an interesting, traditional village surrounded by extensive
barley fields, with a prayer wheel in the center of town. We take a
right turn in town and cross the Zanskar River on a large, wooden bridge
to the plateau on the eastern side of the river, staying high until
we reach the large, walled Honya Doksa, the seasonal grazing settlement
of the Zangla-pa (pa means people in Tibetan/Ladakhi), which oddly has
several trees on its grounds. From here, we drop down to the river-side,
trekking along grassy embankments towards our lovely riverside camp,
which we call Zangla Doksa River Camp. The grass is green, the stream
warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. Sunsets and sunrises
are amazing from camp! The locals from Honya Doksa, will pass by in
the evenings with their large herds of sheep, goats and donkeys, making
for some classic photos of traditional life in Zanskar.
Day 16 - Trek Stongde
Climbing gradually out of our campsite,
we soon reach Zangla Chomo Gompa (nunnery) to the northern side of the
village, and then follow the village road past the King of Zangla's
house, where we had tea last summer with his relatives. The piece de
resistance of Zangla, however, is its fortress. The ruins of the 500
year-old Zangla Fort, the old dzong (palace fortress) of the ancient
Kings of Zangla, are a breathtaking site, built precariously on top
of a ledge of rock at the intersection of the Zanskar River and the
small river leading out to the Jumlam, or middle route. This route was
an autumn trading route to avoid the high passes of Ladakh, and must
have been open to invasions, thus the fort and series of look-out towers
down the Jumlam valley. The dzong houses a wonderful prayer room, which
we happened upon a few years ago. In 2005, over two straight weeks of
continuous rain and wind literally 'melted' the dzong, and it is now
quite unsafe to enter, although someone always wants to go inside. The
famous Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros spent a winter in
the 19th century studying Tibetan in order to make a dictionary in a
room in the fort, now commemorated as his room. Ancient chortens with
tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend back to the trail
and continue trekking to Stongde.
We have a few options for the rest of
the day, one of which is to hitch a ride to Stongde (see options below).
Today is the only day where we intersect the new road built through
much of Ladakh and Zanskar. But we have ways to avoid this, and can
spend much of the day 'off-road', passing through the still-remote villages
of Tsazar and Shillingskyid en route to Stongde.
Our campsite at Stongde sits right below
the Stongde Gompa (see below), and we'll be visited by some rather energetic
village kids in the afternoon.
*** Kim and the staff will need to re-supply
in Padum for the exploratory section of the trek which we start tomorrow
from the upper Stongde Gompa trail. You have a few options for the day:
STONGDE GOMPA OPTION - Hike steeply up the traverse,
a half hour's climb, to the Stongde Gomp (3815-meters) a for some wonderful views of
the patchwork of Stongde village and the Zanskar valley. Stongde Gompa,
approximately 750 years old, is one of the oldest in Ladakh or Zanskar,
and one of the most colorful, perched precariously up on a craggy rock
ledge, and surrounded by lovely birch woods. Kim has many friends there,
Geshe Stenzin is one, who will probably invite us for tea and give us
a tour of the gompa, including it's room of treasures in back of the
oldest 'lhakhang', or prayer hall. We might be able to catch the evening
puja in the butter-lamp lit prayer room, a surreal experience with resonating,
deep chanting, cymbals, Tibetan drums, a step back hundreds of years
ZANSKAR VALLEY GOMPAS OPTION - Get a group together to hire
a jeep to visit the fascinating, old gompas of Zanskar from Padum (3585-meters). You
will have time to visit the 1000 year old Sani Gompa on the Stod River,
the route out to Rangdum and the Suru Valley. From Sani, you can take
the back roads to Karsha Gompa, one of the largest and most scenic in
Zanskar or Ladakh, built high up into the cliffs above the village of
Karsha. To return, you will pass back through Padum where you can do
some email or pick up supplies at the many shops. Padum is a very Central
Asian feeling village, a transit point for goods coming and going from
Leh to Kargil, with a large Muslim population. There are some thousand
year old pre-Tibetan Buddhist Buddha carvings just below Padum, worth
a look if you're stopping in town. And pick up a plate of momos on the
main drag! En route back to Stongde, make a quick stop at Pipiting Gompa
on a small hill in the direction of Stongde. And that should be a full
Day 17 - Stongde Doksa High
Hiking the steep forty five minutes up
to Stongde Gompa, we'll meet Geshe Stenzin and his brother Yongton and listen to the resonating chanting of the monks at their morning puja,
the drums, the ringing of bells and the clanging of cymbals, a sublime event. Afterwards, continuing past the rows of gigantic white chortens which
line the trail leading to the Stongde La, we have only two hours of somewhat
steep climbing, contouring around several hillsides and crossing a few green, swampy spring valleys to reach our high camp below the Stongde La. Stongde Doksa High Camp is a grassy
plateau which affords wonderful views of Stongde Gompa and up and down the Zanskar valley. There is a cold spring above camp, and a doksa just above us where three lovely, elderly Stondge ladies (widows?) often reside and take care of the sheep and goats. Yogurt might be available, not for the squeamish . We can see tomorrow's pass far above us ...
Look for blue sheep above Stongde Gompa and near our camp, and Kim will tell you stories of the 'hidden' village nestled in the high, fluted cliffs above camp.
Day 18 -Trek Suslantaktak
Another pass day, a long and hard day starting with an 800-meter climb to the Stongde La (5165-meters),
so don't skimp on breakfast or coffee! We'll have a good 3-4 hours of ascending, again contouring around green valleys where yaks and dzobkyos graze, to the windy and often cold Stongde La. There is one steep switchback just before the crest although the top is quite broad. From the pass we are rewarded with great views of the Namtse La, Zangla village, Stongde
Gompa and village and the wrinkle of craggy mountains which make up
the Zanskar Range. The descent is also long and gradual, again 3-4 hours to camp. It's a spectacular
walk on this side of the pass; I remember being blown away by the beauty and colors of the hillsides
and canyons a few years ago when we did this exploratory section for
the first time.
We'll spend the first 1 1/2 hours descending carefully on a trail of large scree and rocks, difficult for the horses to navigate, hiking high above the turquoise Shingri Chu
which winds its way through the canyons below us. We'll have to cross the river, usually small but if it's a very hot day possibly large, from where the path is better and the going easier. Look for blue sheep grazing on the nearby hillsides, and note the fossilized oysterbeds in large chunks of rocks once back at the river. After half an hour of hiking along a trail high above the right bank of the river we drop down to the riverbed and follow the trail through small groves of willows, a wonderful riverside walk during which we'll probably have to cross and re-cross the river. Finally, we arrive at our plateau-top campsite, green willows
lining the riverbanks surrounding us. We are at the intersection of
the trails leading to Ichar and Phuktal, a route we didn't manage to
complete last year. We might share the campsite with local Stongde-pa,
bringing back their yaks from the doksas along this river. Don't miss the cliffs lit up with the late afternoon sun ...
Day 19 - Trek Sum Shade
A classic, beautiful trekking day, continuing
to following the willow-lined Shingri Chu, with many chilly river crossings
to keep things exciting. Don't forget your sandals for the next few
days! This valley is called the Sum Shade valley, after the river junctions
(sumdo) and Shade village, the most prominent village in the valley
and one of the only ones inhabited these days. Many of the other villagers
left their villages, their houses and roofs still filled with furniture,
wood, dried grass and blankets, and re-situated themselves in houses
built by the Ladakhi government to house Tibetan refugees. The Tibetans
apparently didn't like the location, so the new dwellings were taken
over by many of the Sum Shade inhabitants.
We'll have one small climb after the river crossings, at the intersection of Niri Chu, up to the Shringi La (4260-meters), a high grazing pasture where we'll perhaps stop for lunch. From here it's an easy hour or less of high contouring to reach Zingchan, our wonderful campsite. Zingchan sites high up above the river on a plateau, with spring water and wood for
a campfire in the evening. Go carefully to the edge of the large rock that forms the cliff above the river for amazing views up and down valley ...
Day 20 - Trek Shade 4270m
Yet another idyllic river day, started with half an hour of trekking along the plateau, high above the river on a slightly exposed trail, to the river intersection where dramatic hoodoos rise from the valley bottom. There
are many blue sheep in this area, in fact all the way out to Narbus,
so keep an eye on the jagged cliff-sides above us, or down next to the
streams if they have come down for water. We switchback steeply to the intersecting small stream which we jump before ascending steeply again to the crest of the plateau. We continue to contour for another 1 1/2 hours to a doksa on the edge of the plateau. From here we drop to the river and hike for 5-10 minutes before crossing to the other side of the wide river, now called the Niri Chu. Another climb to a high trail along the left side of the river followed by a hike along another slightly exposed, high trail cut into the cliffs for half an hour or so. Look down to the old, wooden bridge where the river makes a sweeping S turn far below. Pass through the gate to keep livestock in (or out), descend slightly to a small bridge spanning the small Shade stream and we'll reach an interesting lhatoo at the opposite side of the intersection (4010-meters). The kata-covered lhatoo is dedicated to the god Cho Gyumjang, a female protectress of Shade and the neighboring villages. The peak on top of which she resides is to the left of Shade stream as we look up towards Shade. We've been lucky to happen upon local puja, performed by visiting monks from Phuktal Gompa, honoring her. From this lhatoo at the intersection of the Niri Chu and the narrow gorge leading towards isolated Shade, we follow a good trail along the stream, crossing over it once we've passed the deep gorge behind us. We'll trek up 250 meters (or an hour) to Shade village; along the way, we'll pass the villagers working in the fields, happily
greeting us as we pass by.
Just before the village we'll pass through the patchwork of fields and Shade's entrance chorten. Our campsite is just past Shade village,
on the only flat area next to a stream, a spot perfectly situated for
Shade is a village of 14 traditional Ladakhi houses with approximately 95 inhabitants. Three of the men are in the Indian Army, bringing a bit of extra wealth to the village. There are also five lamas/monks and one 'chomo', or nun, residing in the village, impressive for a remote village of this size. The villagers and village kids will be by in the afternoon, and Kim & Lhakpa will probably go into town to hunt for supplies. You're welcome to join and watch the sheep and goats bring brought into the closed paddocks for milking.
Day 21 - Shade
Shade, not often visited by Westerners,
is one of the high points of our trek, so we've scheduled an extra day
to explore the village and the open grazing valleys north of our campsite.
The village is a cluster of mud-brick houses, packed closely together,
with corrals for the goats and sheep, grass drying on the rooftops,
small vegetable gardens and an idyllic feel to it. We'll visit some
of the local houses for a glass of 'chang', the Tibetan barley beer,
yogurt from the nearby doksa or some 'churpi', dried cheese. Shade is surrounded by extensive fields of barley (ne), potatoes (aloo), sag (shema) and snap peas and they also have greenhouses in which they grow radish (labo), cilantro, cabbage, caultiflower and carrots. There is a small school here which is desperately
in need of supplies, so this is a good place to off-load school supplies. Some of
the locals stay up in the doksas north of our campsite, sometimes returning
every few days and other times staying longer. The villagers rotate
grazing their flocks and protecting them from the many wolves and snow
leopards in the area! Local words for some of the wildlife we might encounter: snow leopard (shen), ibex (hin), blue sheep (nabo) and wolf (shanku).
Above our campsite, past a line of chortens,
a trail leads to the high pastures, a soft, open area of brick-red, mustard
and green hills, a great afternoon walk. The trail eventually leads
to Zangla village and fort in the Zanskar valley. We'll update after our 2012 exploratory trek along this route ...
Day 22 - Trek Nyalo Kuntse High
Leaving our Shangri-La via the same trail,
we'll have a five hour day as we trek further into the Shun Shade valley. The other three villages in this region are Marshun, Yarshun and Satok, all now deserted. Once back at the lhatoo, we turn left at the river junction and follow the meandering, turquoise river far below us to Trantrog Gompa (4020-meters),
a little-visited 750-year-old (or 30-4o-years-old?) gompa above the small hamlet of two houses,
a tree and a watering hole. Perhaps there was an ancient meditation cave at the site of this gompa, which the caretaker told us was built by a lama from Phuktal. The interesting woman who holds the key might be around to show us the village treasures. There are apparently only three people living in the village and about as many houses. Still, it's certainly a scenic spot built up on a craggy hill overlooking this idyllic valley.
We continue along the willow-lined
trail down to the Nyalo Kuntse Chu, where we've spotted red fox last year, and soon afterwards climb a short switchback to a plateau and viewpoint overlooking the Tsarap Chu intersection leading to the cliffside Phuktal Gompa. Turning left, we descend briefly to a small bridge made of willow branches to the opposite side, from where we hike along the small, clear Tok Chu for half an hour. We'll probably have lunch before our ascent to camp, a tough 1 1/2 hour (350-meter) ascent on a swithbacking trail of scree to our slightly spartan high camp.
We ascend along a rocky,
open trail towards the pass, and set up camp at a small high camp, next
to a spring. It will be a cold campsite, so get your down jacket on! (5 hours).
Day 23 - Trek Hormoche
We'll be up early with a good breakfast
in us for our two-pass day, by any reckoning a long and hard day of Himalayan trekking, but a fantastically beautiful
and diverse one. It will take us a few hours of climbing, a 400-meter ascent, to reach
the 4830-meter Nyalu Kuntse La, where we will take a break and marvel
at the incredible mountain vistas.
A little bit f Tibet, and classic Ladakh and Zanskar! From the crest of the pass, we look out
on our second pass, the Gotundal La, straight up the neighboring ridge.
It would be easier if we didn't need to drop, traverse and switch-back
up again, but alas.
Another 2 1/2 hours later, we reach the top
of this pass, at 5150-meters. As if we hadn't suffered enough already
today, we drop down the valley a bit to a small watering hole, and then
are forced to traverse several ridges to a last crest, where we have
yet another breath-taking view. It's all worth it, especially the next
section, a bizarre moonscape, starkly beautiful, resembling the remains of a volanic upheaval. To the left as we descend are two small opaque, turqouise lakes and below us rocks hollowed out by wind, water or heat. Geologists welcome! We soon reach a lone doksa, partially overgrown with high grasses, from where we descend
very steeply on a sandy switchback, cross a small stream and emerge
from this narrow canyon to our incredible campsite right along the turquoise Tsarap Chu.
Before collapsing in the dining tent,
grab a hot chai and take a wander through the newly planted willow-patch,
look down on the semi-abandoned houses across the valley (Marshun village) and absorb this sublime, expansive landscape.
Day 24 - Trek Sat0k 4025m
A six-hour sandals day. These next few days are
just mind-bogglingly beautiful, with no other trekkers in sight, and
we will take some time to enjoy them as we trek. We leave our idyllic
campsite and walk past the few small dwellings of Hormoche, which seems
to be (have been) only a seasonal settlement. There is an 'chomo-gompa'
or nunnery half an hour down the trail, now sadly unoccupied, its statues
gazing blindly out on the empty assembly hall. We follow the eastern
bank of the magnificent Tsarap Chu, heading southeast, on a high mesa which drops to the river below in dramatic hoodoos. We have to descend and ascend three times into eroded slide regions making the hike harder than it would seem, but the views make up for it. We'll share our trail with chortling chukkars, a partridge-like bird found around much of the Himalayan ranges. The Tsarap Chu, far below, ranges in color from a striking turquoise blue to brown depending on the volume of water pulsing though it's canyons. 2 1/2 hours from camp we drop to the river to cross the large, intersecting Zara Chu. This is our 'Zara River Camp' where we camped in 2011 because of unusually high waters. The Zara Chu
leads to Rupshu, and we will see it again later in our trek.
After crossing the river our
trail ascends and we climb on a loose scree and sand trail, afterwards contouring around several hillsides. It's half an hour to the scenic, small bridge on the right leading, we imagine, to high pasturelands. We pass through several seasonal settlements,
now abandoned, before arriving at the deserted Munele village where
we stop for lunch by a rocky spring, in the grass. Another few hours
of beautiful hiking along flat plateaus peppered with large rocks with a bit of exposure en route leads us to the ancient chorten above Satak. Satak village was deserted a few years ago, the inhabitants now occupying houses built
for Tibetan refugees on the Leh-Manali highway. It's hard to imagine
what prompted them to leave such a wonderful spot for their new haunts. The village is now a museum; the last
time we camped there, we explored the small alleyways, peeked into the
windows and even borrowed some salt. Many of the villagers belongings
are still inside, and grass and wood for the winter is still piled on
Day 25 - Trek Tsokmitsik
Leaving camp, we descend into and climb out of the narrow, willow-filled canyon ahead of us, side-stepping
the grazing yaks and jumping the small stream, and then have a 2o-minute hike across the flat plateau. From here we start to climb on a slightly exposed, contouring trail on the left of the river, and far above the Tsarap Chu which snakes its way between deep canyon walls below us. We reach a flat pleateau which we cross and then continue to climb to a flat rock protruding over the canyon, continuing our
approximately 350-meter ascent. There are several ridges to crest, each with a drop afterwards, but the trail is good, so
it's not a difficult hike. We've named the ridges Satok Ridge (4375m) and Satok La (4406m). From the last ridge, actually a pass, we're treated to wonderful views behind us, but especially in front of us in the direction of the Morang La which we'll cross in a few days. If the weather is good we might have lunch here before starting the straight-forward descent down to the river. Once a bit lower, we'll pass several doksa followed by a wolf
trap (in which we've actually found wolves). Another small climb and descent, and then one more hot climb to our last plateau which we cross before descending to our campsite just around the corner.
is another idyllic one right on the river, at the intersection to the
Morang La trekking route, and we can set up our tents river-side and
jump in for a well-deserved dip! Perhaps tonight even warrants a few
glasses of rum ...
Day 26 - Trek Morang La
High Camp 4810m
Another wonderful day as we pass through
the narrow canyon, with ancient fossil beds, and hike up a narrow river
valley towards the Morang La. You might want your sandals today depending on the water level as we cross a stream for the first few hours. Heading through the narrow canyon which soon widens, we jump back and forth across the small, willow-lined stream for the first 20 minutes and then start to climb, continuing until we reach a small doksa. From here we drop back down to the river, the sun shimmering on the willows hanging onto existence between the high canyon walls. Heading to the left we'll start to ascend again, this time more steeply as the valley narrows and becomes more rocky and stark. From camp it should take us 1 1/2-2 hours to reach the base camp from where we head up the right fork of the valley and switchback quite steeply for 1 1/2 hours. The valley eventually widens again and cliff faces soar above our rocky camp at Morang La High Camp. There are green, grazing pastures above us so we might have visitors in the afternoon ...
Day 27 - Trek Bong La Camp 4525m
Up and over the Morang La and into the nomadic
region of Rupshu! It should take us 1 1/2 hours to crest the Morang La (5130m), starting the day switchbacking on a scree trail and heading right towards the hill with the rocky outcropping on top. Once on this flat section we have another switchback to the Morang La, where we're treated to views of the snow-capped Himalayan range behind and the Zanskar range in front.
We descend steeply on a gravely trail, jumping the river after 30-45 minutes, and will stop for lunch soon afterwards at a grassy knoll. From here we trek for another beautiful hour or so to camp, again jumping the small stream, during which the valley narrows and becomes greener. Our grassy camp is at the bottom of this idyllic valley at the head of an extremely narrow canyon. The trail out of camp the next day is above camp to the right, bypassing this canyon. Enjoy the afternoon ...
Day 28 - Trek Zabuk Barma 4350m
to Takstago and Tozak before climbing again to the smaller Bong La,
4400 meters. Once over this crest, we are home free, cruising along
to a campsite called Lung (or Sangtha Valley Camp), where we set up
our tents for a rest. Lung is at the intersection of the Zara River,
which we crossed after Hormoche camp, and another large river, a wonderfully
Today we head into Rupshu, familiar and well-loved nomadic territory where Tibetan and Ladakhi nomads live as they have for a millenium and one of the most interesting sections of the trek. We climb right out of camp and then drop back down to the small stream that we followed yesterday, the river valley widening as we head east. We've got about an hour of trekking along this wide, sandy valley to reach the base of the Bong La (4565m); on the way look for snow leopard and blue sheep prints which we found in abundance near the watering holes in 2011. It's a quick climb to the Bong La from where we'll continue to contour to a more easterly section of the pass, continuing to contour around hillsides and cliffs on a slightly exposed trail for another hour. Below us the magnificent Zara Chu winds its way through the canyons below, and a wonderfully contorted mass of rock rises across the river. Dropping steeply to a grassy river valley, we stay low for the rest of the day, following the clear Zara Chu past many sparkling river intersections and nomadic settlements (doksas), the first one called Zhabuk Yogma, to reach Zhabuk Barma a spectacularly-situated seasonal settlement of the Karnak nomads where our camp has been set up for the night.
To the east the Tozay Chu leads to Pang on the Leh-Manali highway and the Ladakhi nomadic region of Kharnak, and is bordered by a fantastic canyon of sculpted rocks and hoodoos. Sangtha, further up the Zara Chu valley, marks the intersection of the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomadic regions, a semi-permanent settlement built of rounded river rocks, littered with goat droppings and discarded clothes, which local Karnak-pa inhabit in the autumn.
The campsite is wonderful and green with perfect swimming holes along the river and a cold, fresh spring in back. Look back across the Zara Chu to see the 'Five Sisters' peaks, the dwelling of the five mountain goddesses that live in the distinctly shaped range. There are three tri-colored chortens in a shallow cave above the stone doksas, worth a steep climb up for views over the campsite and down the valley. And just to the left of these, a steep valley leading up to a fantastic plateau with vast vistas, a must-do in the afternoon with the perfect light. Keep your eyes on the hilltops next to camp for kyang (wild ass), Himalayan hare and blue sheep, all common in this area.
We'll have a yak-dung fire in the evening ...
Day 29 - Trek Narbus 4820m
We have a wonderfully dramatic
hike today as we re-cross the Zara Chu right out of camp and climb to a high plateau just above us. Heading slightly around the hilltop to our right we cross the pleateau on a sort of natural bridge and reach the fantastic canyons above the Tozay Chu to reach the sculpted canyons. The multi-hued spires
of rock sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion make for amazing photos. The river valley below our camp leads
to the small settlement of Pang, which is off the Leh Manali highway
from Narbus. We hike along this plateau, a feast of textures and colors high above the valley below, eventually contouring left towards the Narbus La.
will take us four or five hours from camp to crest the 4850-meter pass. From
the wide crest, marked by a small cairn, we can spot the canvas and yak-hair tents of the Tibetan nomadic settlement
of Narbus where we set up camp for the night. Our nomadic Tibetan friends
camp here for about four months every summer, and we can take a look at the inside of a nomad
tent or two in the afternoon. Be ready, as we will be offered treats
such as salt butter tea and fresh curd (yogurt) from their flocks of
goats and sheep. Narbus is a good place to donate your supplies or extra
clothes; years ago we had a meeting of a the women from each tent
and distributed evenly much needed school supplies and extras. Another year we bargained for yak and sheep-hair blankets and nomadic knives
with binoculars, a Leatherman and some cash.
The evenings are a wonderful
time of the day as the orange orb of sun begins to set, the nomads returning
to camp herding their hundreds of sheep and goats, and the yaks wandering
back to the tents followed by the haunting yells of the Tibetans.
Day 30 - Drive Leh
The trek is finished, and we'll relax
in our jeeps and enjoy the spectacular five hour drive through Rupshu
and the Indus Valley along the Manali - Leh highway, a continuation
of our wonderful journey. Back at the Shaynam Guest House in Leh, hot
showers and a clean change of clothes await, and tandoori food and cold
beers are not far away at the Ibex ...
Day 31 - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends
today, sadly. You have several options after the trip: a flight back
to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian
Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all
fronts, but no flights are included in our India treks anymore.