Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh had been my most favourite trek until I climbed the Auden’s Col, for the sheer colourful mountains of Ladakh on this route. On my trek to Roopkund, I got inspired by a French lady who was trekking alone with a guide. Solo Trekking then became high on my priority list. I trekked frequently since 2013 and after gaining experience with few treks - Roopkund Trek, Chadar Trek, Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, I gathered enough courage to plan a solo trek for me in 2014. I had discussed my plan with few buddies I had met on these treks and they got excited to join me. For once, I was sad about someone joining me on a trek, as I wanted do it all by myself. The heavens heard me and they had to cancel their plan leaving me on my own! I chalked out my route, booked my flights and informed a few friends about my solo venture. As the date came closer, my confidence started building up higher. I got motivated to climb Stok Kangri in Ladakh, the highest trekable summit of India, after completing Markha Valley. I asked my manager for extension of leaves stating some personal emergency, but he didn’t approve! And I left a week earlier without his approval, with all the risk of not having my job when I return. I had got addicted to the adrenaline rush the high altitude mountains gave me and the challenge of trekking solo to Markha Valley and Stok Kangri was building on my mind at an uncontrollable rate.
Difficulty level: Difficult
Route: Zinchen - Yurutse - Ganda La Base Camp - Ganda La - Skiu - Markha - Thachuntse - Nimaling - Kongmaru La - Shang Sumdo
Total distance covered: 90 km
Passes crossed: Ganda La (4800m/15750 ft), Kongmaru La (5200m/17060 ft)
No. of trekking days: Planned - 7 days (including one rest day at Markha Valley), Actual - 6 days.
No. of acclimatisation days in Leh before the trek: 2 days
Dates I trekked on: 25 Aug 2014 - 30 Aug 2014
Best time for Markha Valley Trek: July - Aug
Acclimatisation in Leh before Markha Valley Trek
Acclimatisation is the most important part of any trek in Ladakh. When you fly to Leh you directly land at 3500m / 11500 ft. As I was attempting the trek solo, I didn't want to take any chances with altitude sickness, so I planned to acclimatise in Leh for a couple of days before I start the trek. The day I landed, I spent some time at the hotel eating fresh apricots and sipping ginger lemon honey teas. I ventured out in the evening to local market and Shanti Stupa (not recommended, but I couldn't resist). While climbing the fleet of stairs to Shanti Stupa, I felt dizzy. I stopped, sipped some water and carried on slowly. I spent my night gazing at the sky and being lucky with 3 shooting stars! The next day I head out to explore the monasteries at Likir, Alchi, and Lamayuru.
Day1: Zinchen (3380m/11090 ft) - Ganda La Base (4540m/14900 ft) : 8 km / 4 hrs
After a 45 min drive from Leh to Zinchen, the taxi driver escorted me towards the start of the trail and wished me luck. I walked steadily and gradually on the dry trail through barren mountains of Ladakh, curious to find out what lied beyond them.
I was happy to find a teahouse at Rumbak and few people who were walking on the same trail. I chatted with them while gulping down the noodles and bid adieu to the monk who served me. After a gradual climb, I arrived at Yurutse which had a homestay. I checked with the locals if I could go ahead to Ganda La Base Camp.
I found a fixed campsite and a teahouse at the base. I had a little headache when I reached GandaLa Base Camp as I had gained more than 3800ft of height on the first day. I took a tablet with a few glasses of water and slept. The campsite owner woke me up for dinner post which I slept again.
Day2: Ganda La Base(4540m/14900 ft) - Ganda La(4800m/15750 ft)
- Skiu (3400m/11160 ft) : 22 km / 8 hrs
The next day I woke up fresh with anxiety of crossing the Ganda La pass at an altitude of 4540m. The caretaker at the campsite directed me towards the route and it looked quite steep. The kaleidoscopic landscape with the dramatic Trans-Himalayan Range of Ladakh kept me engaged on the entire route. I was mesmerised with every new colour the mountains showed me.
The very well marked trail led me to Ganda La pass. I celebrated my first feat with a packet of teacakes. GandaLa pass was supposed to give beautiful views of Stok Kangri, but the cloud cover didn't work in my favour.
The descent from Ganda La pass looked straight forward. After a couple of hours I took a break at a tea house at Shingo village. I met few trekkers there who called it a day at this village and didn't go further. I had planned to walk up to Skiu. The trail was a never-ending stretch and I made it to Skiu just before the sunset. My RavenousLegs didn't want to move even an inch after this and I settled at the homestay. The lady served me my favourite ginger lemon tea that soothed me down after a long tiring day. I woke up early the next day to observe the sun rise behind the stunning Skiu monastery.
Day3: Skiu (3400m/11160 ft) - Markha (3400m/12370 ft) : 20 km / 8 hrs
After a hearty breakfast, I was prepared to walk for long hours again. I was quite thrilled on this day as I was to reach Markha Valley. Markha river started adding glamour to the barren trail. I crossed the river twice on the bridge and the third time I had to actually wade through the icy-cold river with bare feet. Thanks to the fellow trekkers on the route who helped me cross it.
Today's lunch break was at the teahouse at Narding village. It was again a long long day before I made it to my destination of the day. The lush green Markha valley looked atleast as beautiful as I had heard about it, if not more. My initial plan was to spend a day exploring the valley and give some rest to my legs. But honestly, I had started enjoying my journey more than the destination. My body and mind was getting used to the long strenuous walks each day. My thighs had pained a lot for 2 days, but after the third day, my body stopped sensing the pain. My legs were used to walking with the pain.
Day4: Markha (3400m/12370 ft) - Thochuntse (4010m/13165 ft) : 13 km / 6 hrs
I spent sometime with the locals of Markha Valley in the morning and started walking again. The route never failed to surprise me with its diversity. From ruined Tacha Monastery (Kunkhan Gompa) to interesting german art of balancing stones to the beautifully carved Mani stones with Tibetan Buddhist symbols, this route had a lot to offer.
I gradually started soaking in the exquisiteness of this side of Ladakh. I started appreciating the little things about Ladakhi people and culture. The ruins started impressing me as well.
I took 2 breaks - one at teahouse at Umling village for lunch and one at teahouse at Hankar village. I was in no hurry to reach the destination as it was relatively a shorter walk and my speed had started picking up as I was well acclimatised. I reached the campsite at Thochuntse in the afternoon.
Day5: Thochuntse (4010m/13165 ft) - Nimaling (4730m/15520 ft) : 7 km / 3 hrs
Another day of a short walk on the trail gave me enough time to flip over the alluring landscape. I could sit by the pond and observe the yaks graze around me. I could leisurely enjoy the the views of majestic Kang Yatse peak in the backdrop. I was feeling very adventurous to climb the peak solo, if only it wasn't technical.
I walked ahead on the orange coloured terrain towards Nimaling falling for the vividness of the mountains again.
It is extremely important to sleep a night in Nimaling before crossing the high altitude pass of Kongmaru La. The temperature at Nimaling generally drops to 0-5 degrees. I was lucky to have settled in my tent before the hailstorm struck Nimaling. I was enjoying the brown landscape turning into white.
Day6: Nimaling (4730m/15520 ft) - Kongmaru La (5200m/17060 ft)
- Shang Sumdo (3730m/12240 ft) : 18 km / 7 hrs
Kongmaru La pass looked easy from Nimaling, but it was a little difficult to climb. It was the first time that I was crossing the height of 17000 feet. The weather had turned bad just when I was 15-20 minutes away from the pass.
I was overjoyed when I made it to the KongmaruLa pass. I had actually made my dream of trekking solo come true! I celebrated my second feat with another pack of teacakes I had kept in reserve for this day.
The descent to Shang Sumdo from KongmaruLa was a little long. But the mountains didn't stop enticing me with the striking colours. I felt exceptionally content on the achievement of successfully completing my first solo trek.
Homestays and teahouses on Markha Valley Trek
The locals in every village or settle on the route have opened their homes to trekkers. The rooms are dormitory style with clean beds and blankets. The homestays have local dry-toilets, common to all. They also serve delicious home cooked meals. The accommodation rates are standard across the valley. There are enough signboards on the route guiding to the homestays in Markha Valley. It is very convenient to break your journey at any of the homestays on the route and walk ahead the next day at your comfort. The homestays also let you pitch your own tent in their camping area for a nominal rate. GandaLa base camp, Thochuntse and Nimaling have only fixed campsites and no homestays.
Many locals welcome the trekkers to their tented teahouses near their homes on the Markha Valley route. They serve basic food - maggi (noodle), tea, dal (lentil soup) and rice. The trekkers can let their hair down and dry their shoes while relishing hot served lunch.
Wildlife spotting on Markha Valley Trek
I was ignorant to wildlife before I started observing the fascinating creatures on the high mountains. Getting a chance to be up, close and personal with the Bharals (Blue Sheep) was an experience of its kind.
Even the Chukars looked enticing.
My exposure to Ladakhi culture & lifestyle on Markha Valley Trek
Markha Valley trek had completely changed the way I looked at mountains. Before this trek, mountains for me was all about "Myself", Achieving the heights, proving my strength to myself. It was on Markha Valley trek that I got a chance to live in the authentic Ladakhi homestays with the locals. I started learning about their life which was so different from ours. I started cherishing my simple conversations with them. The kindness that each one of them showed had blown me away. For the first time, I exposed myself to the cultural side of travel, though it was never planned for. This was my first step towards getting involved with the authentic mountain lifestyle, which later became a deeper part of my life. I started living a basic lifestyle in the Himalayas.
Colorful mountains in Ladakh on Markha Valley Trek
I just cannot get over the psychedelic mountains of Markha Valley! I couldn't stop talking about the colourful mountains to everyone after the trek.
Friends I made on Markha Valley Trek!
I met interesting people on the trek who were walking on the same route with the same pace as mine. We started our day together, motivated eachother, took breaks together, laughed together and even shared tents.
Everything was just so perfect on this trek. I realised how much I loved my freedom to walk at my own pace, without anyone asking me to slow down when I felt very energetic or hurry up when I wanted to soak in the nature. My confidence grew multiple folds after the successful completion of my solo trek to Markha Valley trek, I was ready to take my next adventure to Stok Kangri head on! I still didn't care if I had my job once I went back :)