Markha Valley is one of the most famous trekking routes in Leh Ladakh. Each year Markha valley attracts thousands of trekkers from around the world. Located in the Hemis National Park it involves two pass crossings: Ganda La Pass (15,748 ft. / 4,800 mtr.) and Kongmaru La Pass (17,060 ft. / 5,200 mtr.). The trek will take you through several Tibetan villages, rocky paths and river crossings with high possibilities of wildlife spotting. Additionally Markha Valley trek is possible without a guide!
Guide or no guide
For most of the trek, the path is clearly marked. Several horse men with their horses, locals and other trekkers trek Markha Valley everyday. At some points, especially at river beds, the path might be washed off and not clearly marked, but using a map and common sense one will easily spot the rest of the path after a few meters. Therefore a guide is not necessarily required. On the other hand, there are several trekking companies in Leh which will easily arrange a guide for you. A guide may make your trek more easy-going in the sense that they can arrange everything for you (food, transportation, accommodation) and can also serve as an interpreter in home-stays since most locals do not speak English.
If you opt to do the trek without a guide, we recommend you install maps.me, since the trek is entirely marked.
Home stays vs Camping
Markha Valley trek is also known as ‘tea house trek‘. Several tea houses, parachute tents and home stays are available along the way. This is another reason a guide is not required, since every few kilometers one will find a place to sleep or eat and people to point you in the right direction. Home stays quality is subjective. At the beginning of the trek, home stays quality is rather good, but as you walk along, the food and hosting quality deteriorates. Arguably not all home stays offer the same value for money. Camp sites are equipped for trekkers and in our opinion you will sleep and eat better in campsites. Camps are equipped with thick blankets and although the temperature at certain point drops below zero, you will have enough blankets to stay warm. Both home stays and campsites (not the one in Nimaling) charge 1000 INR per person.
Start / Finish
The trek has various starting and finishing points. The most popular route sold by travel agents starts from Chilling (60KM away from Leh) and ends in Shang Sumdo. This way you will skip Ganda La pass (15,748 ft. / 4,800 mtr.) and can be done in 4 days. Alternatively, one can start from Spituk village, which is only 6KM away from Leh and finish in Shang Sumdo. This can be done in 7 days. For a greater challenge, one can start from Stok La (16,076 ft. / 4,900 mtr.), do the Markha Valley trek, head to Stok Kangri base camp and summit Stok Kangri (20,187 ft. / 6,153 mtr.). This trek will take around 14 days to complete.
What to take
The first rule of trekking is to travel light. The Markha valley trek is ideal for this as food and accommodation can be found along the way. If you are doing the trek without a guide, you can easily find accommodation in several home stays and camp sites. They will give you dinner, breakfast and packed lunch the next day. Keep in mind that the ‘shops’ you find on the way only sell basic items so bring anything else you might need. The most useful items for us were: head torch as most home-stays do not have electricity and lip balm.
Markha Valley Trek
We started the trek from the bridge in Spituk Village that goes over the Indus river. The first day is an easy 16KM walk on a paved road all the way to Zingchen. For the first part of the trek you will have the Indus river on your right hand side and after you reach the Hemis High Altitude National Park welcome sign, you will enter the colorful Indus gorge that will take you all the way to Zingchen. The road is quite straight forward since it is all paved up. It’s a dry road surrounded by dry mountains so try to start early to avoid the scorching heat.
There are no shops or parachute tea stalls during the first day so make sure you have enough water for the day. In Zingchen there are two options where to sleep. One is a nice home-stay and further up from the home-stay is Daisy Chain camp site.
The first few kilometers of today’s trek is on a paved road. Then starts the proper trek where you will need to cross a few wooden bridges throughout the day. After a few turns you will get the first glimpse of the Stok mountain range. Some trekkers take a diversion to Rumbak to see the monastery. This will take up almost a day and most probably you would need to sleep somewhere in Rumbak. We decided to skip Rumbak since the monasteries found in other Tibetan settlements are similar. If you will be skipping Rumbak, stay on the right trail which will lead you to Yurutse. Prayer flags are located in such junctions and there is also a parachute tent ideal for a lunch break.
Once you cross the river and go on the right hand side, you will start climbing the last part towards Yurutse. The landscape changes color and you can appreciate all the different colorful layers in the mountain ridges. A few more kilometers and you will spot Yurutse. There are two home stays in Yurutse but if you arrive early you can make it to the Ganda La Lower Base Camp which is only 30 minutes away from Yurutse. From Ganda La Lower Base Camp you will get a clear view of Stok Kangri peak. The advantage of reaching the base camp on this day is that you will be closer to the pass and thus making tomorrow’s climb less challenging.
Today you will start with Ganda La Pass (15,748 ft. / 4,800 mtr.). It is advisable to start early because overall you need to trek around 17KM. The first two hours of the trek is a steep climb towards Ganda La Pass. Looking back you will the see magnificent view of Stok Kangri mountain range with Stok Kangri peak clearly visible. Keep an eye open here and probably you will spot several cute marmots sunbathing.
After the pass, a gentle descent will take you all the way to Shingo, which is a small Tibetan settlement with a handful of houses. One can stop for lunch under the only parachute tea tent just before Shingo village.
The trek from Shingo to Skyu (11,160 ft. / 3,400 mtr.) is not hard. You will cross the stream a few times and you will be trekking mainly in a valley between two gorges. In Skyu there are home stays (avoid first one) and a campsite option. A few meters after Skyu there is a campsite, which seems a better option.
Today is a long 21KM trek which consists of several gentle ascents and descents and you will finally enter Markha Valley! Start early as the trek is not an easy one. The first stream crossing will be over a wooden bridge a few kilometers away from Skyu and further down the trek you need to cross another wooden bridge.
Sara is between Skyu and Markha and it is a good place to stop for a break in one of the tea houses available.
When you arrive in Markha village, you will notice a steep ascent towards a monastery and a school on the right hand side just before the steep ascent. Markha is divided into Lower Markha (which is just before the steep ascent) and Upper Markha. If you wish to stay in a camp, you would have to camp at Lower Markha or else there are several home stays in Upper Markha.
From Upper Markha one can admire the snow peaks of Kang Yaze I (21,030 ft. / 6,410 mtrs.) and Kang Yaze II (20,341 ft. / 6,200 mtrs.)
Today is an easy to moderate trek apart from the river crossing. Just a few kilometers away from Upper Markha, you need to cross Khuma river and there are no bridges. If possible ask a local which part of the river is better to cross or follow some other trekkers (which hopefully have a guide). We never crossed a river before and so went for the narrower part of the river which we thought will be quicker to cross. Little did we know that the narrow parts usually have stronger current and are deeper. As a result we ended up crossing waist level freezing cold water.
TIP: The river is much deeper in the narrower parts hence cross from the wider parts which are shallow. Keep in mind that the current is very strong.
After the river crossing keep an eye for prayer flags as the path gets tricky to find and follow the prayer flags. The first stop will be at Umlung were there is a parachute tent that sells good coffee. There are also two home stays in Umlung.
Hangkar is just 7KM away from Umlung. It rained for most of the day for us and hence we had to take it easy since the path got rather slippery.
Leaving from Hangkar, you will pass from a narrow gorge which you have to keep on the left hand side. There is a steep climb you need to follow and if you are early you might be lucky to spot blue goats or mountain goats in this area. 5KM away from Hangkar is Tachungste campsite. You can have a small tea break here in preparation for a steep climb towards Nimaling. There are no home stays from now on, only campsites. The camp site in Nimaling has camps for rent but the one in Tachungste does not.
Right after Tachungste camp site, there is a steep climb of around 3KM which will take you to a small lake on top of the mountain. From the lake, stay on the left and again keep an eye for marmots and pikas.
Stay on the trail which is clearly marked and at the end of the valley you will eventually spot Nimaling camp site which is also known as Kangmaru La Base Camp (1200 INR/person). It is ideal to take it easy since you are now at an altitude of 15,518 ft and a lot of people suffer from high altitude sickness.
Today’s trek involves a 2 hour ascent to Kongmaru La Pass followed by a 6 hours descent. The descent is quite steep and your knees will be doing most of the job so be ready for a tough one.
Breakfast is served at 6.30am at this camp site which gives you a good indication at what time you need to start today’s trek. We started the ascent to Kongmaru La Pass around 7.30am and where there in two hours. The climb is not that steep but the descent is.
There is only one parachute tent between Nimaling and Shang Sumdo and it is an ideal place to stop for lunch or tea. The tent is located in the beginning of the valley as soon as you have descended most of the way.