Flowers in the Markha Valley

Our Self-Supported Markha Valley Trek

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The Markha Valley trek is the most popular trek in Ladakh.  It follows a well-established path up a valley, so it is hard to get lost, and villages along the way means that trekkers can do home stays the whole way and avoid carrying camping gear.

Donkey at Nimaling camp
My donkey friend at Nimaling

ar or food. In addition to easy access, most locals will say it’s the most beautiful.  It is definitely much greener than the other treks we did, and the trail is dotted with stupas, Mani stone walls, and prayer flags.  The Markha Valley trek reaches 5200 m, which makes it an awesome acclimatization trek for people planning to summit a peak, and poses a tough challenge for even the most avid hikers.

Stupas in the Markha Valley
Some of the many stupas along the trail

OUR MARKHA VALLEY STORY

I’ll be brief here.  Frankly, the video above paints a better picture than my writing.

We started our route in Chilling, which is a bit of a shortcut route, but it seems it is now the most popular route.  It allows for a 4-6 days trek, which was perfect for our agenda.  We brought our camping gear with us to Ladakh so we needed to do at least one self-supported trek, so we decided to do the trek self-supported.  Though I would have enjoyed the cultural exchange involved in homestays, I’m glad decided to go self-supported.  It allowed us to stop when we got tired and, since we stopped between the towns, avoid the crowds.  While we came prepared to pay local landowners for camping, we only had to pay on the last night, so we saved ourselves a bit of money too.

Day 1

We shared a cab to the river crossing at Chilling, where we crossed the river in a slightly dilapidated cable car. After that, it was a hot, upward slog. We ended up camping between Skiu and the tiny settlement of Sara. This was the night we were most thankful for our tents as we were exhausted. Between the altitude and the heat, our bodies were not happy.

Day 2

Markha Village
The older parts of Markha Village blended in with the stone landscape.

With our bodies perking up a bit, we made it past Markha village and found a nice place to camp along the river. Markha was a neat little town. We somehow ended up walking around it, rather than through it and found ourselves amongst the ruins of what looked like an old fort. Many of the old stone buildings were still inhabited, and we had to awkwardly slink past the villagers back doors.

Day 3

Our camp along the Markha River
Our camp along the river outside of Markha Village

We had planned to stay at Thachungste camp, but it was crowded with guided outfits setting up villages of tents for guided groups, so we trudged on – at least for a little bit. At over 4300 m, we found our bodies saying it was time to rest and acclimatize. We found a spot along a trickle of a stream on an exposed slope and hunkered down for the afternoon.

Day 4

Day 4 was a short jaunt uphill to Nimaling, the last stop before crossing the Kongmaru Pass.  Just about everyone stops here, so we finally saw just how many people were doing the trek.  Camps of guided groups were dotted around the large valley.  A tentstay had been set up for trekkers doing homestays.  When we popped in to pay for parking our tent at the camp, we couldn’t resist buying dinner too.  The call of fresh dahl was just too strong.  I also made friends with the world’s most adorable donkey.

Day 5

We crossed the pass in the morning before descending some 1400 m to the village of Shang Sumdo.  It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  With the return of oxygen came the heat. While the first part wove its wave through an (often shaded) canyon and along narrow pathways on the bank, we spent the last few hours on a hot road, sweating out the last of our energy. It was our most exhausting day, but with reaching over 5200 m at the pass, and the walk through the beautiful canyon, it was also the most rewarding.

WHAT THE VIDEO MISSED

Knowledge of acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a must.  Staying hydrated is absolutely key.  In fact, the day before we started the trek, a man died of high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) the day before we started the trek.  It was on a pass that we skipped out on, and we would have been trekking our portion of the route at the same time as us.  AMS is unpleasant, but it can turn into high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE), both of which can be fatal in a matter of hours.  AMS symptoms are similar to a hangover: fatigue, headache, and nausea.  Dizziness and trouble sleeping are some fun bonuses.

Also, bring a hat.  This may be obvious to some, but I hate hats.  I like the idea of hats, but when I wear them, I inevitably take them off and lose them.  There aren’t a lot of trees in Ladakh, and it’s pretty much always sunny.  I think my nose just about melted off thanks to my hatlessness on the Markha Valley.  Sunscreen was useless since I was sweating buckets the whole time.

Sun damage to the nose
The sun did a number on my nose. Bring a hat!!

Our Resources

Trekking in Ladakh is a great book to peruse before we left, and the most up-to-date book on trekking in Ladakh available.  We took photos of the route information and maps so we wouldn’t have to carry it on the trek

We bought two maps for our Ladakh trip, and found Ladakh and Zanskar – Trekking Map to be the most useful.  With a larger scale and elevation at major camps and villages, it was our main map.

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India: Ladakh-Zanskar by Nelles Maps came in handy too, and is worth the purchase if you are headed to Ladakh.

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