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Trekking in Ladakh

Ladakh Trekking

The Ladakhi Himalayan range of mountains provide excellent opportunities for trekking in the wide variety of landscapes of Himalayas. While crossing the Great Himalayan Range for instance, one passes through all kind of landscapes getting through the arid, alpine meadow or the forest valleys. During the trekking route one comes across the local inhabitants of the state living happily under the adverse conditions prevailing in this region, meeting the local people during the trekking makes the trekking experience in Ladakh complete. The most popular of these treks were the 8 days Markha Valley trek and the 11 days Lamayuru – Padum trek and the Stok-Khangri round trek. The Valleys of Suru and Zanskar have been the recent addition in the Tourism of Ladakh.

Trekking in Ladakh

Undiscovered Areas
Some of the areas of Ladakh that were once closed to foreign visitors on account of their sensitive strategic position or proximity to international borders have been opened now. Movement here is restricted to designated circuits and the time allowed is limited. The foreign visitors are allowed to go only in groups, accompanied by a recognized or registered tour operator. There are different categories of entry permits which are taken care by the Leh office. The maximum time allowed on any circuit is seven days. Permits must be taken from the Deputy Commissioner (head of the district administration) in Leh, but citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar and Foreign diplomats and members of the United Nations and other international organizations are issued permits only with the prior approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi. Some of the new areas are:

1. Drok-pa Circuit
2. Nubra Valley Circuit
3. Pangong Lake Circuit
4. Tso-Moriri Lake Circuit


Drok-pa Circuit
CKhalatse- Domkhar - skurbuchan Achinathang - Hanudo- Diama - Dah and return.

An expedition to this area takes the trekker to the picturesque villages of the Drok Pa people. Down the Indus, between Khalatse and the Shayok-Indus confluence, live Drok-pa people, Buddhists in name, but racially and culturally distinct from the rest of the Ladakhis. Possibly early Aryan settlers who came in from the Gilghit area, the Drok Pas have preserved ancient traditions that resemble Bon – chos, a pre-Buddhist religion. Two of the five villages inhabited by them may now be visited, Dah and Biama. The route follows the Indus down from Khalatse, past the villages of Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang, along a fairly good road. In the gorge of the Indus, the sun's heat, reflected off bare rocks and cliffs, is frequently intense. The same heat makes it possible to take two crops every year from the fields. Fruits like apricots, apples, walnuts and even grapes are grown. Skurbuchan, Domkhar and Achinathang are attractive villages, with an air of modest prosperity about them. But the special interest of this region is less the landscape then its Drok-pa inhabitants. A minuscule community of perhaps no more than a couple of thousand, their features are pure Indo-Aryan, and they appear to have preserved their racial purity down the centuries. Their culture and religious practices are more akin to the ancient pre-Buddhist animist religion known as Bon-chos than to Buddhism as practised in the rest of Ladakh. One curious feature is their abhorrence of the cow, or any of its products. They have preserved their ancient traditions and way of life partly through the celebration of the triennial Bono-na festival, a celebration of the harvest, and partly through their songs and hymns. One of these is a description of an ibex-hunt for the ibex is specially sacred to them. Another recalls their migration from Gilgit, an event which must have occurred well before Gilgit came under the influence of Islam. Their language is said to be akin to that spoken in Gilgit, and by immigrants from Gilgit settled in Dras. Such a small and racially and culturally homogeneous community is bound to have much to offer scholars in the fields of ethnology and social anthropology.


Nubra Valley Circuit
Leh - Khardung-la - Khalsar - Tirit - Tegar - Sumur - Panamik and return

Leh - Khardung-la - Khalsar- Deskit - Hundar and return.

Along the eastern ridge of the Karakoram range in northern Ladakh is the Nubra Valley which comprises of the upper Shayok and Nubra river valleys. The upper Shayok and Nubra rivers drain the east and west sides of the Saser Spur, the eastern most outcrop

Nubra Valley, Ladakh

of the Karakoram. The name Nubra is applied to the district comprising the valley of the Nubra river, and that of the Shayok both above and below their confluence, where they meander in many shifting  channels over a broad sandy plain before flowing off to the northwest to join the Indus in Baltistan. Trekking routes in this area are rather difficult and traverses the Khardungla pass (18,380 feet) the highest motorable road in the world along the ancient trade route from Leh to Central Asia. The line of the road is different from that of the old pony-trail-longer and actually higher (18,300 feet or 5,578 m). The view from the top of the pass is amazing. The panorama view from the pass covers the entire Indus Valley in the south, the magnificent snow clad peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and to the giants of the Saser massif. For several kilometers, on each side of the pass, the road covered by deep snow in winter, is rough and for the rest of the way the surface is good. At the confluence of the two rivers there is no depth of water, but the sandy soil is not suitable for agriculture, which is confined to the alluvial land where side streams debouch into the main valley. The valley floor itself is covered with dense thickets of sea buckthorn, a thorny shrub which the villagers use for fuel and for fencing their fields. There is now less need for this than there was in the days of the caravan trade with Central Asia when up to 10,000 horses a year are said to have traversed the district. The villages are large and seem prosperous, and have thick plantations of willow and poplar. The altitude is little less than that of Leh, varying between 10,000 feet (3,048 m) at Hundar, and 10,600 feet (3,231 m) at Panamik. Summer temperatures vary between 15 degree Celsius and 28 Degree Celsius. The route passes through the attractive villages to Deskit, the largest village in the valley. Deskit has a regular bazaar consisting of a single line of shops, and a Gompa. This is situated on a rocky spur above the village with commanding views up and down the valley. From Deskit, the tour circuit proceeds down the Shayok to Hundar, past an area of rolling sand dunes, their contours apparently solid, yet liable to shift with every gale. Here there is a small population of Bactrian camels, shaggy double-humped animals, which in the old days, were used as pack animals on the Central Asian trade routes. During the past 50 years, they have been bred for transport purposes in Nubra. Today visitors can take a camel safari out into the dunes from Hundar.

The other circuit proceeds up the Nubra river, taking in the pretty villages of Tirit, Lukung, Tegar and Sumur. Nubra's other monastery, Samstaling is situated on the mountainside just above Sumur. This was the route taken by the trade caravans, and Panamik, the last village on this circuit, was at that time a busy centre, the last major settlement before the caravans plunged into the mountains of the Karakoram and the Kun-Lu. Here they invariable halted for a few days to make final preparations for getting over the mountains, or to recuperate afterwards. There would be no supplies, not even grazing for the animals, for about 12 days after Panamik, so they had to carry all their provisions for that time. The Government maintained a granary to sell food grains for the men, and even for the horses. But this arrangement was insufficient for the amount of the traffic, and the local villagers made a killing, selling grain and fodder, and letting out their fodder-fields for the horses to graze in. Today, Panamik is a sleepy village, its people quietly going about their work in the fields. Though the granary is still there, converted into a store for miscellaneous supplies, it is difficult to imagine the village's narrow lanes congested with the bustle of the caravan traffic. On the mountainside above, the village hot water bubbles out of the earth in thermal springs, locally reputed to have therapeutic qualities. And across the river, clinging precariously to the mountain there is a sliver of green - a few trees rooted in meager accumulations of soil among the bare rocks surrounding the tiny Ensa Gompa.


Pangong Lake Circuit
Leh - Karu - Chang-la- Durbuk - Tangse- Luckung- Spangmik and return.

The beautiful high altitude of Pangong Lake in Ladakh is also another popular destination with trekkers. This route takes the visitor past picturesque villages of Shey and Thikse, and turns off the Indus valley by the side-valley of Chemrey and 

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

Sakti. The Ladakh range is crossed by the Chang-la (18,000 feet or 5,475 m) which despite its great elevation is one of the easier passes, remaining open for much of the year even in winter, apart from periods of actual snowfall. Tangse, just beyond the foot of the pass, has an ancient temple. The trek ends at Spangmik which is the farthest point to which foreigners are permitted – about 7 km along the southern bank of the lake. But the main attraction of this circuit is the Pangong Lake, situated at 14,000 feet (4,267 m). Its blue green waters reflect all the mountains of the Changchenmo range. The Pangong Lake is the largest brackish water lake in Asia or better to say that Pangong Lake is more like an inland sea which is 150 kilometers long and have the width of 2 to 10 km. The travel of around 160 kilometers to the Pangong Lake is really an experience. On this picturesque journey you really realize that this is a really isolated area. You may only come across the Army man who are stationed there or only a few Ladakhi families who are also glad to see and welcome you with a smile. A long narrow basin of inland drainage, hardly six to seven kilometer at its widest point and over 130 km long, it is bisected by the international border between India and China. The soldiers of Indian Armey are helpful especially when it comes to an emergency. They also keep oxygen cylinders with them. One should not hesitate to ask them for any help needed. For the bird lovers this is an ideal site to take the pictures of the Siberian crane which is black necked. The marshland of Mahe provide them an ideal breeding ground for these migratory birds. The boating is officially not allowed or just half a kilometer that too with the permission of the soldiers present there. The water of the lake are clear and cold. This lake is also interested to the geologists and some of the researches are going on to know more about the history of Pangong Lake. As this lake is in very fragile ecological zone, visitors are requested not to leave any garbage or plastic at the lake. Spangmik, the farthest point to which foreigners are permitted, is only some seven km along the southern shore from the head of the lake, but it affords spectacular views of the mountains of the Changchenmo range to the north, their reflections shimmering in the ever-changing blues and greens of the lake's brackish waters. Above Spangmik are the glaciers and snowcapped peaks of the Pangong range. Spangmik and a scattering of other tiny villages along the lake's southern shore are the summer homes of a scanty population of Chang-pa, the nomadic herds people of Tibet and south-east Ladakh. The Pangong Chnag-pa cultivate sparse crops of barley and peas in summer. It is in winter that they unfold their tents (rebo) and take their flocks of sheep and Pashmina goats out to the distant pastures.


Tso-Moriri Lake Circuit
Leh - Upshi - Debring - Puga - Tso-Moriri - Korzok and return

Leh - Upshi - Chumathang - Mahe - Puga - Tso-Moriri - Korzok and return.

The area traversed by the Manali Leh road, and containing the drainage basins of Tso-Moriri and other lakes is known as Rupshu. This place is inhabited only by the nomadic

Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh

Chang-pa herdsmen and their flocks of Pashmina goats, its naked hills and dusty valleys are the setting for the spectacular Tso Moriri Lake and other lakes in the area. One of the trek takes its way to Korzok (4572 m) and is located just 5 km along the lake’s 23 km length. Here, the Zanskar range is transformed into bare rolling many-hued hills divided by open high altitude valley scoured by dust-devils. It is a landscape unlike any other in Ladakh or elsewhere in India. This trek goes along the Leh-Manali road over the Taglang Pass as far as Debring, a Chang-pa camping place. From here it strikes off east on a rough track across the basin of the twin lakes Startsapuk-Tso (Fresh water) and the Polokangka-la (about 16,500 feet or 5,030 m) to Sumdo in the Puga valley, near the site of old Sulphur mines, then over a roller-coaster track to the head of the Tso-Moriri, and on to Korzok. The alternative route, instead of leaving the Indus at Upshi, carries on up the river, as it snakes its way through a gorge between the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, to the village of Chumathang, where there is a hot spring. At Mahe, some 17 km further, the road crosses from the north to the south bank of the river by bridge. It then follows the Puga stream up to join the first circuit at Sumdo. Korzok, situated at 15,000 feet (4,572 m) with its dozen or so houses and its Gompa appearing like a mirage among the barren hills, is the only permanent settlement in Rupshu, otherwise the region is inhabited only by nomadic Chang-pa herds people. The Rupshu Chang-pa live in tents all the year round, moving in accordance with an old-established annual routine between the pastures and exist wherever an occasional stream carrying snowmelt from the heights makes possible the growth of grass, scanty indeed, but reportedly highly nutritious. The few barley-fields at Korzok must be among the highest cultivation in the world, but there is no guarantee that the crop will ripen every year. Even Rupshu's bare hills support a sparse population of wildlife, and the animal most likely to be spotted is the Kyang, the wild ass of the Ladakh and Tibet plateau. More plentiful are marmots (ubiquitous on mountain slopes all over Ladakh), hares, and an unusual tail-less rat. The lakes are breeding-grounds for numerous species of birds. Chief among them are the bareheaded goose, the great crested grebe, the Brahmini duck (Ruddy Sheldrake) and the brown-headed gull found on the Tso-Moriri lake.

Trekking Tips

The easiest way to go on a trek or a safari is through a Tour Operator or Travel Agency. They will take care of all arrangements for camping gear, portage, provisions, etc. The Tourist offices provide camping equipment at the Srinagar, Leh and Kargil. Imported items like insulated ground sheets, two man tents, sleeping bags, insulated jackets, trekking shoes and rucksacks are available. If booked with travel agency all your provisions and fuel from Leh or Kargil for the entire duration of the trip will be taken care of, as nothing is available in the outposts of this difficult area and tourists really may not expect from the villagers for their basic winter provisions.


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