The mystical Ladakh , nestled high in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, always rules a trekkers wishlist and the Markha valley trek is one of the most spectacular trekking destinations of the Ladakh belt. Apart from the striking contrast of trekking in a cold desert valley, one also gets an excellent view of Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, the Kang Yatse and the Stok Kangri peaks. The trek goes inside a beautiful Hemis National Park and involves two passes- Gandala La and Kongmaru La.
The Ladakh trek has a lot in store to cast a spell on its visitors. It surprises you with every step you take .Walking through the ancient trails specked with monasteries, one comes across some scattered villages and green patches here and there, with contradictory rudeness of jagged peaks and rugged terrain of the Karakoram, offering panoramic view of the stark mountainscape. At times one has to take steep descents following remote passes through deep gorges. The tranquil environment and meditative landscape gives us the chance to lose ourselves into the wilderness.
The Markha valley has got a bag full of surprises to unfold, be it the sculpted gorges, the fantastic rock carvings, medieval villages, Buddhist gompas or the snow-capped peaks. The trek commences from Chilling village, situated on the banks of Zanskar, which is a 2 hour’s drive from Leh. From Chilling, the trail leads to Skyu, which is located at the confluence of Shigri Nala and Markha River. As we descend from Skyu the landscape becomes rockier .With darkness setting in, the shadows of mountain stretches creates a captivating charm all around. You feel a mellowness throbbing in the deserted surrounding of the “Mini Tibet”.
Hiking through the trail of the beautiful valley, one crosses a number of chortens or Buddhist shrines and mani walls (stones on which prayers have been engraved). The pervading Tibetan culture is evident as you come across the monasteries, budhhist gompas, the prayer stones and prayer flags, all of which add hues of faith in the otherwise colorless barren desert.
Markha is a beautiful village with some 20 houses, a Buddhist gompa and a deserted fort which is a reminiscent of the history of Ladakh. The view of the sunset by the Markha River is worth witnessing. Markha trek is often called ‘’Tea House Trek’’ because of the presence of numerous parachute tents that serves refreshments to the trekkers. The trail at times transects the river and just before the campsite, one has to cross the raging, ice-cold, thigh- deep river. Leaving behind the Markha village as we move towards Umlung, we get to come across the Tach Monastery, which is located on a rock spire, amongst the jagged mountain spread. Moving out from Umlung, and reaching Thachungtse one catches the ecstatic initial glimpses of the Mt Kang Yatse(6400 mts).The campsite at Thachungtse is a rare patch of lush green meadow, confined on all sides by the barren rocks standing in monotony. To add more colour and vigour to the lifeless desert, there is a glistening blue pond with crystal clear water, which completes the liveliness of the campsite. The trail towards Nimaling brings us to a green grassy plateau, where the Ladakhis often bring their cattle to graze. However, if there occurs a snowfall, the green valley slips under the white sheets of snowflakes.
[Frozen river trek: Chadar trek]
The climb to Kongmaru la is the difficult part of the trek because of obvious reasons. Steep ascent and scarcity of oxygen makes it challenging. A two hour climb marked by the series of fluttering prayer flags brings you to the highest point of the trek, the Kongmaru La pass, from which one gets the complete view of the Indus valley and Ladakh range. After the initial 500M steep descent the trail follows the course of the stream which meanders its way through a mind blowing gorge. The path along the red mountain slopes and weathered rock formations and long passages through the rocky riverbed characterizes the trek through the canyon .The trail here is descending consistently. The last section involves an hour of level walks to reach Sumdo along the same river. Sumdo is a small village of 7 to 8 houses with tea shops and parachute tents.
[Spiti valley trip in Himachal]
The Markha Valley trek ends at this point as people return to Leh holding back spectacular experiences that Ladakh bestowed on them.