Flaunting itself in the Ladakh region of the North Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir, Markha Valley is the oasis in that barren and ocher land. The Markha Valley trek is essentially about variety land forms and structures, Buddhist Prayer Walls, colorful rocks, 2 high altitude passes, peaks views, pristine landscapes, and canyons. Wildlife, occasional river, and cultural bites through Ladakhi villages on the way, are some other fascinations of the journey. Markha River will keep meeting and crossing your way here and there.
Mid May to September are the best months to take up the Moderately Difficult Markha Valley trek. Crossing river streams, sharp ascents and descents, long distances on foot, and thin air, make it eligible for experienced trekkers only. You need to be fully fit and prepared mentally and physically to be able to enjoy this trek.
Leh: The trek begins and ends at Leh (11,483 ft.). You spend first 2 days acclimatizing at Leh, the base for most expeditions in Ladakh region. Use these days exploring the culture through local markets, temples, and monasteries. Of course, do try sumptuous Ladakhi cuisines too.
Zingchen Valley (11,090 ft.): On day 03 and technically first day of Markha Valley trek, drive on a rough terrain to Zingchen. Surprisingly the Valley is lush green, hosting the confluence of Rumbak River with the powerful Indus. From here you trek to Ganda La Base Camp.
Hemis National Park (HNP): Further route goes through the Park, which is home to the likes of snow leopard, lynx, Ladakhi Urial (a type of goat), Arghali (great Tibetan sheep), Bharal (blue sheep), red fox, Tibetan wolf, dhole (wild dog), marmot, and mountain hare. Entry to the Park is paid.
Ganda La Base Camp (14,912 ft.): Once in, traverse through a lovely gorge to reach the valley connecting to the Rumbak Village (16,076 ft.). You can have tea and snacks at a tented teahouse run by the rural women. Post break walk past the house of Yuruche and reach camp at the foot of Ganda La Pass. You will see majestic Stok range, including Stok Kangri. This is your first camp.
Ganda La Pass (16,077 ft.): On day 04 you ascend to the Pass. Buddhism keeps paving way in Ladakh in India through its shrines and Prayer Flags at key milestones like summits. And so is the case at the Ganda La Pass. Standing there you all see the Zanskar and Himalayan Ranges. Here you might just spot some grass grazing wildlife.
Skiu (10,827 ft.): Descending from the Pass you reach this wide flat and almost arid land with dust. Cross Shingo Village along Shingri Nala. Cross the ochre and warm colored rocks of Ladakh to reach Skiu at the meeting joint of Shingri Nala and Markha River. Fix your second camp in this easy going Village. It houses an old monastery and the ruins of a castle, which was used as a rest house of the Royal Family when en route to Srinagar. Make sure you catch the lovely sunset on Markha River.
Sara: On day 05, you tread sometimes along and at times across the Markha River soaking the beauty of Valley. Before hitting the campsite, you come across small Buddhist settlements at Narding, Zara, and Zhalak, with religious shrines called Lhatos, housing local deities. You also see stones inscribed with Buddhist Prayers called Mani Walls and open green Barley fields, after which is Sara. Fix your camp here to cross River Markha in the morning to reach ‘the’ Valley.
Markha Valley (12,467 ft.): This is the valley you set out for and is so worth it. You see this large green field on day 06. It has around 18-20 houses, old and monastery resting on a peak, the ruins of a castle, and old stone mills will be your happy zones here. Pleasure unfolds with the tented teahouses serving tea and refreshment. As you proceed towards Thachungste on day 07 Markha River crosses way at several places. After crossing the village Umlung you see 2 streams to reach the peaceful Tacha Monastery. Hangkar (13,123 ft.) is the last village in the Valley. You may have lunch here before you proceed.
Thachungste (13,451 ft.): Some more distance further you reach the lush green Thachungste. Delight does not desert you, as this is your campsite too!
Nimaling (15,092 ft.): On day 08 you reach for this lovely green plateau. You might find animals from Markha Valley grazing here. See the august Mt. Kang Yatse (21,000 ft.) to the right and a gushing stream to the left. This is your highest camp of the Markha Valley trek.
Kongmaru La Pass (17,060 ft.): This is the highest Pass of the trek. After steep challenging climb and battling with thin air, what you see from the Pass is breathtaking. You get stupendous view of Indus Valley and Ladakh Range. Get the last glimpse of Mt. Kang Yatse here. After this the peak will not be visible.
The ‘Shangs’: After steep descent from the Pass, you reach the narrow Shang Gorge studded with amazing rock formations. It’s like a canyon door! Chuskurmo’s (13,123 ft.) sour spring water is used to make traditional Sowa-Rigpa or Amchi Tibetan medicine. Walk over a river bed to reach Shang Sumdo (11,319 ft.) for camping. Drive to Leh in the morning. Expedition over.