A Handy Guide to Trekking in Ladakh
Trekking on the roof of the world is an achievement worth boasting about, irrespective of whether you are an avid adventurer or a casual traveller. Vast expanses of diverse terrain open to natural elements are indeed hard to ignore as they tempt visitors to simply get off the vehicles and take a walk through the scenic settings. Trekking in Ladakh though enjoyable proves quite demanding as well; making it important for you to opt for a tour/trail that best suits your preferences and fitness levels. Trekking trails are aplenty, with difficulty levels ranging from easy through moderate to the highly challenging, catering to diverse travel preferences and expertise.
Ladakh trekking requires aspirants to be healthy and fit, apart from being responsible as the region’s pristine ecosystem is delicate and needs to be respected and preserved with utmost care. Trekking tours start off with acclimatization visits and camps, and trekkers are usually driven to nearest motorable site from where the trek actually begins and back to starting point as well.
Trekking in Ladakh—Popular Tour Destinations/Routes
The list of popular trekking tours/destinations is indeed a long one. Here’s a compilation of some of the key trails that draw trekking enthusiasts from the world over.
The valleys of Ladakh with some of the most stunningly beautiful, sometimes empty desert landscapes are a feast to the eye. These valleys are either main destinations or form a part of longer trekking tours. Common valley treks include visits to:
The trek to Markha valley nestled amidst imposing peaks is a moderately difficult journey through diverse landscapes such as bleak desert terrain, running waters, quaint villages and gompas. The trail through Hemis National Park is bound to offer glimpses of native wildlife. Excellent views of peaks Stok Kangri, Kang Yatse, Nun Kun are guaranteed. The route winds through Spituk, Zingchen, Gandala Base, Skiu and Gandala Pass before reaching Markha village, and leads on to Nimaling Plateau, Gongmarula Pass and finally Hemis Monastery. There are a quite a few custom/alternate versions of this trek that are also arranged.
The Nubra valley trek is a scenic journey through a couple of high mountain passes – The Khardung La and Lasermo La at over 18,000 ft above sea level, tracing parts of the erstwhile Silk Route. The path is dotted with rustic villages such as Sabu, Digar, Agyam, Khalsar, Diskit, Sumur and Hunder, impressive gompas Samtenling, Dresdang, and Kanor, Thiksey monasteries. Waters of rivers Shey and Nubra run through this terrain which also is the habitat of the native double-humped Bactrian camels (one of a kind in the entire world!). Though alternate trails are present, all of them will have to scale Khardung Lato reach Nubra! Short camel rides across dunes of Hunder are usually a part of the visit to Nubra valley.
Trekking across the Zanskar terrain proves an ultimate test to the physical and mental resilience of adventurers who attempt the journey. There are several different trails that traverse the region, which is full of awe-inspiring settings that seem quite unreal, no matter how many times one returns to this valley. High-altitude passes and valleys though punishing, offer a memorable experiences for life. The Chadar trek, Padum-Pidmo Trail, Trek to Sham Valley, and the most challenging Padum-Darcha trek are but a few popular routes across Zanskar.
Another beautiful yet challenging trek, the trails through remote Rupshu, bordering Tibet are dotted with high-altitude passes, ancient forts, tribal settlements, and desolate villages. The predominantly dry and sprawling grassland feeds herds of Yak. The journey from Rumtse to Tsomoriri Lake via Kyamar, Tisaling, Tsokar Lake, Nuruchan , and Gyama Lhoma is an enjoyable, scenic one. Another trail from Shang Sumdo to Takh via Kongmaru La, Zalung Karpo La, Dat, Lun, and Marang La proves equally picturesque. Both these trails involve up to 7 hours of trekking at times to reach the next stop on the route!
Trekking across Sham valley is indeed a pleasure as the journey offers enjoyable experiences of the local life and culture as one walks past secluded villages, rivulets and streams, dense tree cover, mountain passes, open fields, stopping for rest and meals at appointed home-stays en-route. Highlight of this trail is the stroll through Apricot orchards, especially during winter when Apricot flowers are in full bloom. The trail starting from Likir runs through passes Phobe La and Chagatse La to Yangthang, up the Tsermangchen La pass down to Hemis Shukpachen village adorned with Cedar groves, glittering streams and fields of barley, climbing up Mebtak La and downhill to reach the village at Ang and descending further to the motorable road at Temisgam. Visits to monasteries on the trail are also a part of the trek.
The Ripchar valley trail leads trekkers through relatively off-beat terrain, past traditional, remote self-sustained villages, monasteries, scenic pastures enveloped by rocky peaks, high mountain passes and Willow groves, offering a first-hand experience of local lifestyle. The trail running just under 5000m altitude begins in Lamayaru and ends in Chilling, winding past the villages Hinju, Sumdo Chenmo, Lanak to reach Chilling, popular for its exquisite Ladakhi metal ware. The Sumda valley and village, Alchi and Lamayaru monasteries and the mountain passes Dungduchun La and Prinkiti La are other highlights of this tour.
Ladakh’s Lakes are equally enticing and prove to be ideal places to relax and rest after a difficult climb. Ladakh trekking also include tours to Lakes:
The trek to Tsomoriri is a demanding yet exhilarating journey through punishing, pristine terrain spanning deep valleys, mountain passes, water bodies, rich pastures and impressive monasteries that rewards adventurists with spectacular visuals of the azure-blue waters of the lake, open to the skies above, bound by barren expanses of earth and the distant snow capped mountains. Parts of the trail are home to nomadic Changspa and their Yaks/Pashmina Goats, exotic migratory birds, snow leopards, Kyangs and other native wildlife. The typical trail runs along Kyamar, Rumtse, Tisaling via Kumur La, Shibuk La, Pangunagu, Nuruchan, across the Horlam Kongka La and Kyamayuri La passes roughly 5000m above sea level, Gyamabarma, and over Yalung Nyau La to Karzok on the shores of Tsomoriri. After camping at the Lake, the journey continues via Kyangdam and Narbu Sumdo to Parang Chu Valley, Parang La, Kibber (the highest village on earth), and then to Tabo. Return trip by road takes trekkers to Manali.
Highest salt-water lake in the world is just a 5-hr drive away from Leh, with very few treks as such leading to Pangong. However, trails like the one running from Leh through Phuktse, Shara la, Sumdo, Shachukul, Zamble Rong, Tsokar, Lukung and Pangong to Spangmik are offered by select tour operators. Spending time on the serene and clear lake front is a pleasure, especially when the waters are known to change colour – green, blue, purple, red at different times of the day.
A visit to Ladakh is indeed incomplete without a trip to its Monasteries set in the most picturesque sometimes precarious locations, urging visitors to tide over challenges, and experience the rewards of calm and splendid visuals. Monasteries such as Lamayaru, Hemis, Alchi, Spituk and others figure prominently in several trekking trails.
Other popular treks, typically are, but aren’t limited to:
This moderate yet challenging tour on the trail of the elusive Snow Leopard in its natural habitat exposes trekkers to the punishing winters of Ladakh. While hotel accommodations are arranged on request, camping in tents is possible as well. With nothing but vast expanses of snow clad terrain in view, the trek spanning secluded regions of the Hemis National Park invariably includes visits to monasteries as well. The trail from Leh, through Phey and Rumbak leads to the Hemis National Park, where tons of patience and guided tours may help catch a glimpse of the “Grey Ghost”. Tibetan wolf, Bharal(blue sheep), Red fox, wild cats, eagles, vultures are but few species of wildlife that one can observe on this trek.
While this trek across the frozen Zanskar river is a thrilling experience for adventurists, it is a regular travel route to the valley during the winter months, when all other passes are closed for the major part of the year. Completely isolated from the rest of the world, totally enveloped in ice and snow life continues as usual in the remote villages, offering visitors a better chance to appreciate the lifestyle, culture and hospitality of the people. With craggy vertical cliffs on either side of the frozen river, which winds past several caves and iced-up waterfalls en-route, the trail though exciting, is indeed tricky as ice is not a reliable surface to walk upon. The actual trek commences at Chilling and runs through Tilad Do, Shingra Koma and Tibb Cave to Naerak Camp, before return trip. While this trek is all about following the trail of the frozen Zanskar river, pit-stops and camps may be at different sites along the route.
Negotiating the trail to the highest peak (6400 meters) in Markha valley demands professional technique and high fitness levels. The trek through flowing waters, valleys and small villages is bound to be a rewarding one for trekkers who revel in physically challenging trails. The journey on foot begins from Spituk, across the Indus River to Zingchen, Yurutse, over the Ganda La pass to Markha via Skiu. The trail then leads trekkers from Markha valley to Hankar and then to Kangyatse base camp from where the peak is scaled, before reaching Nimaling plateau, crossing the Kongmaru La pass catching sights of the K2 and Karakoram range, descending to Sumdo, and further down to Hemis. This trail may also include a trek to the Dzo Jongo peak (6200 meters), which does not require any technical trekking skills.
A literally punishing journey involving multiple river crossings and steep climbs across passes and descents into valleys and gorges, the trek from Hemis Monastery runs through Shang Sumdo, Lartsa Kongmarula, Langthang Chu river, sharp uphill trek to Kongmarula pass, down to Nimaling, up the rough slope of Konga Ngonpo, and steep descent to Langthang Chu. The route then winds through Zalung Karpo La, Tilat Sumdo across the Khurna river to Chhar Chhar La, Zangla Sumdo, Zangla and Padum before ending in Kargil.
Most of trekking tours kick off from Leh, and inevitably include visits to monasteries and stop overs at select altitudes to get travellers acclimatized to the elevation and fit enough for long walks ahead.
Trekking in Ladakh—Easy Trails For Novices
Apart from the treks to Sham valley and Indus valley there are quite a few treks that beginners can test their skills and resilience.
The trail from Hemis Monastery to Nimaling Plateau running through Shang, Kongmaru La and quaint villages of the region also proves a great way to experience the terrain and its culture.
Frequent up and downhill walks, mountain streams and scenic settings for company, impressive views of Zanskar terrain, camping at the base of imposing Kang Yatse are but few highlights of this journey from Spituk, though Zingchen and Rumbak valley leads trekkers to Stok la.
The trail from Spituk to Matho, via the Hemis National Park is equally scenic, moderately challenging and boasts of stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges enroute to Matho village via Zingchen, Rumbak Valley, Mankorma and Matho La.
This trail linking two of the earliest monasteries in the region, via beautiful valleys, streams and high mountain passes proves an exciting one. The route from Lamayaru, which runs across Prinkiti La, Wanla, and Man Gyu to reach Alchi promises glimpses of local wildlife as well.
This easy and pleasant trail spanning Likir, Yangthang, Hemis Shukpachan, Tingmosgang and Temisgam is open all year round, and runs through monasteries, villages and scenic traversable terrain.
Trekking in Ladakh—Challenging Tours For Thrill Seekers
In addition to Chadar and other treks mentioned earlier, here are a couple of trails most suited for adventure enthusiasts.
Ideal for thrill seekers, the trail from Darcha to Lamayaru is a strenuous high altitude journey across barren land, remote villages, snow-fed rivers, secluded monasteries and mountain passes allowing them to experience the best of visuals as they battle the harsh terrains of Zanskar, Ladakh and Lahaul. Highlights of this trek include negotiating passes such as Shingo la, Parfi la, Hanamun la, Sengge La, Sirsir La and Prinkti La and wide rivers Tsarap, Zanskar, Indus, Chandra and Bhaga among others. Palemo, Zanskar,Lukung, Purne, Phutkal, Mone, Padum, Rinam, Snertse, Lingshed, Shing la, Sisirla and Shila are but a few stops on the way from Darcha to Lamayaru.
The trail from Lamayaru to Darcha also follows a similar route via Wanla, Lingshed, Padum, Purne and Palemo to reach Darcha.
A high-altitude trek over 6000m, the route is not for the faint hearted, as scaling the Stok Kangri requires a strong will and body to complete a 10-hour climb. Excellent views of the Karakoram Range, plus several noteworthy peaks such as the K2 prove quite rewarding though. The journey on foot begins from Lamayaru to Wanla via Prinkti la, moving on to Hinju, Konzke La, Sumda, Dundunchenla base, Chilling, Shingo, Ganda La and across Stok La to reach Stok base camp before scaling Stok Kangri (6130m). An alternate trail from Markha valley to Stok Kangri is also quite popular.
Trekking in Ladakh is a unique experience and holidays when planned well-ahead enable travellers to explore the terrain in a relaxed manner, taking time to choose the right trekking tour that is both challenging and rewarding.
Trekking trails are aplenty. These are but some popular tours that appeal to aspiring and professional trekkers across the world. Do check with your tour operator for specific details and make sure to travel responsibly when in this pristine region.
It is important to remember that altitude is just one factor that determines the difficulty level of the trek. Not all low altitude or short treks are easy! Trekking trails, including offbeat routes are aplenty, making it difficult to trade one for the other.
Casual travellers who simply wish to enjoy the scenic visuals and clean crisp mountain air will do well to settle for themed treks organized by several tour operators. Group treks to Monasteries, Lakes, and Sanctuaries usually include a great mix of vehicle commute, sightseeing plus trekking to select locations that are off the motorable routes.
Sikkim Trekking – Points to Note
Not all treks to the same destination take the same route.
- Difficulty level of each trail /route is bound to vary and may require specific fitness levels to complete the entire trip.
- Guided treks are ideal so that you don’t lose your way en-route
Weather conditions can change without any prior warnings
Essential medications, as much water as you can carry plus energy bars often prove quite valuable.
Sikkim Trekking is safe even for lone female travellers. However it is advisable to stay with the travel group when on the trail.
Trails running through protected reserves and international borders do require special permissions. Make sure to check in advance.
Tour operators are open to customizing the trekking tour based on specific requests. Explore the option should you wish to visit/avoid select places.
- Services of trekking guides and porters can be availed at popular trekking destinations.
- Accommodation options and facilities available en-route will mostly be just essentials.
- The use of plastic is banned in Sikkim. Littering is taboo. Take care to travel responsibly.