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Trekking in Markha Valley

This will be a quiet week on the blog as the group continues heading deeper into Hemis National Park on their trek. We don't expect any posts from the group will go up before they finish the trek on Sunday, May 13--just in time to send their Happy Mothers Day greetings. Namgial has provided the below details about the Markha Valley trek:

In comparison to Nepal, Ladakh has relatively few trekkers, and although you are still in the Greater Himalaya the scenery is so different you would hardly know that you were in the same range. It is often called 'Little Tibet' and lying north of the main chain it receives little rainfall.

The scenery of Ladakh is stark and dramatic - deep gorges, alluvial fans, contorted strata, large Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, flat-topped mud-bricked houses in oasis-like villages, snow-capped mountains and grand distances.

The Markha valley epitomizes the best of this scenery. It has giant rock pinnacles, beetling cliffs, narrow defiles, prayer-flagged passes and evidence of a much older civilization, the history of which has been lost in antiquity. As you trek up the valley, there are the ruins of many forts and castles, some built in some pretty unlikely places!

This is a fairly long trek, crossing a pass of over 17,000ft, and has the fine objective of visiting the base camp of the highest peak in the Zanskar range, Kang Yatse, 21,000ft.

DAY 1: TREK TO ZINGCHEN. (10,800ft) 4hrs. After breakfast at SECMOL, meet the guide Stanzin and head across the Indus river to meet support team and pack animals. The trek begins here and follows the Indus River for a short distance, before striking out for the mountains. You soon enter the narrow gorge that leads to the first camp at Zingchen.

Day 2: TREK TO RUMBAK. (12,600 ft) 2 hrs. You will follow the trail beside the river till the valley widens at Rumbak, where you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Stok mountains. After setting up the camp visit Rumbak village and visit some families.

DAY 3: TREK TO KANDALA BASE. (13,400 ft) 4-5 hours. Take the right fork of the river and continue to the very small village of Yurutse. The purple and green rock formations are quite impressive. Continue past the village to the base camp of Ganda La.

DAY 4: TREK TO SKIU. (9,900ft). 7hrs. The climb over the Ganda La is not as steep as that up to the Stok La, but it is a bit longer. From the top of the pass there is a fabulous view of snow-capped peaks. The descent into the Skiu valley is steady. The wide pastures at the top of the valley closes into a narrow 'waist' at Shingo, where there is a stream junction and a few houses and fields. From here the river swoops exuberantly down the tight narrow gorge choked with willow and wild rose, with the trail following, swapping from bank to bank as it goes. The village of Skiu is at only 9,900ft, and the Markha Valley here is narrow, so the temperatures can soar. We camp at Skiu, and at dusk it is worth climbing back up the valley to where the Skiu Nala meets the Markha river. Here there is a small monastery cared for by an old nun who comes every evening to light the candles at the altar of 'Chamba', the future Buddha.

DAY 5:: TREK TO MARKHA. (11,776ft). 6 hrs. A very pleasant walk up one of the loveliest sections of the Markha valley. Woody bushes grow thickly along the river which is spanned by several bridges over which the trail marches to Thinlespa. The camp is beyond this small village on the right bank of the river, just before the village of Markha.

DAY 6: TREK TO THACHUGTSE. (13,078ft). 6-7 hrs. The trail continues eastwards climbing steadily up the valley through the picturesque village of Markha, which has a fascinating monastery well worth a visit. Coming in from the south is the trail from Rubering La, one of the routes from Zangla. From Markha the country changes and the warm, relatively heavily wooded section of the lower Markha is left behind. Between the twin villages of Lower and Upper Hankar is a ruined fort, the walls of which climb sharply up a crag to an aerie of a lookout tower - worth visiting for those with a good head for heights. Follow the Nimiling river up the narrow valley to the camp at Thachugtse. It will be considerably cooler here.

DAY 7: REK TO NIMALING. (16,097ft). 3 hrs. The trail continues to climb up the valley to a picturesque lake with a reflection of snow-capped Kang Yatse, the highest peak in the Zanskar range. From here the Nimaling plain is a broad undulating meadow which slopes upwards to the base of the ice-clad Kang Yatse which dominates the area. Nimaling with tiny ponds and rivulets flowing all over its meadows provides pasturage in the summer for an astonishing number of animals; yaks, sheep, goats, dzos and horses, not only from the Markha but also from villages all around. Himalayan marmots and white-tailed hares are seen in plenty and it is not unusual to spot the occasional blue sheep or wolf. You should reach camp in the early afternoon and have the rest of the day to relax and explore.

DAY 8: TREK TO SUMDO. (13,230ft). 7-8 hrs. After crossing the Nimaling river, climb to the top of the highest pass on the trek, the 17,409ft Kangmaru La with its wonderful views from the top. Snow peaks in every direction, and on a clear day the giants of the Karakorams, including K2 can be seen on the north-western horizon. The trail descends steeply to the head of the Martselang valley past the sulfur springs of Chyushkarmo, and follows the Martselang stream to the village of Sumdo or Shang-Sumdo, at the confluence of the Shang Nala and the Martselang.

DAY 9: TREK TO HEMIS. 4-5 hrs trek. An easy descent mainly along the left bank of the Martselang river to where it broadens into the valley of the Indus river at the village of Martselang. The trail ends at the Hemis Monastery, the largest and richest in Ladakh. We visit the monastery and then meet our transportation for the 2 hr drive to Leh.

DAY 10: Visit with Global LAB's Fort Lewis College group and program director Galen Murton. Enjoy evening Ladakhi cultural performance.