Markha Valley Trek
I have done many treks in Uttarakhand, Himachal and Ladakh region including the Chadar expedition and quite a few with Wanderers. I know them from the days they used to run a beach camp ahead of Rishikesh by the name of Beach Hideout. It was because of my amazing experience at Beach Hideout, I started to know Lokesh (Co-Founder, Wanderers) personally as well. We met a few times in Delhi as well.
My experience of Markha Valley Trek was one of its kinds. Let me tell you winter expeditions are not easy ones and they require a certain amount of fitness and endurance level. I used to run and do core exercises for more than an hour every day. My running on an average was for about 4-5 KMs every day.
If you can’t run, I suggest start walking, it really helps. We were 7 people (3 guys and 4 girls) in the group out of which 1 came from Bombay and 1 from Pune. We also had two people from Wanderers who joined us right at the airport. I reached Leh from New Delhi on 20 th January 2017. My flight got cancelled once because of bad weather but took off the next day and there I was in -11 degrees in Leh at 10:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning. We checked into the hotel and went down for breakfast right away. We were briefed by the Wanderers team to take it easy and just relax the whole day just to get acclimatize. Based on my previous experience, it is an absolutely wise (and important) thing to do when you land in Leh. If this part is not managed well, the entire trip will fall apart. We had 2 days to acclimatize (one extra day wan’t included in the package but we all agreed to an extra day of acclimatization). The next day we were taken to Mr Sonam Wangchuk’s school (SECMOL) in Phyang area and were also made to trek to Phyang Monastery and the Ice Stupa made by Mr Wangchuk (Please do read about SECMOL and Mr Sonam Wangchuk as he is an extremely talented person).
The same evening Wanderers’ guides came to meet us. There was a briefing session of what to carry and the dos and don’ts for the expedition. The guides could communicate in English and it was a great comfort. We all had evening coffee together. We were to set out for the Markha Valley expedition at 10 am in the morning after buying Gumboots for ourselves from the local market. Wanderers Team took us to the market and every one picked up 1 size larger (than regular) gumboots for 400 INR (thanks to Wanderers for arranging that for this cheap). We got in our cabs from Leh market and took the Leh highway towards chilling in ladakh. We crossed Nimoo (confluence of Indus and Zanskar and followed the highway further ahead. Unfortunately, there was a massive landslide on the way to chilling. We were about 7-8 KMs before chilling. So we decided as a group to continue walking from this point itself. We jumped over the rocks and started walking. We started a little late and so by the time we reached chilling, it was dark and cold. We checked into a homestay with one room for trekkers and one room for support staff. There is electricity in Chilling so charging phones etc is manageable. There is also a telephone connection there as well. Here is view of the room in chilling:
It was a bright sunny morning the next day. I went out to make a phone call which was available in the neighborhood. After making a few calls, I returned back for breakfast. It was Wheat bread with Honey, Jam and Butter. IT is important to have your carbs intake for the kind of walking that one has to do every day on this expedition. We trekked up to the “river crossing point” which is done using a cable trolley. Surely a tricky thing to do if you don’t have an experienced team with you. Luckily we had Wanderers team and the guides who were experienced in handling it. Then it was more of fun than a threat.
Here is how it goes:
There used to be a bridge here but the floods took it away few years back. Once across the river, you will now be disconnected from the rest of the world. We started trekking and it is above moderate trek as you gain height. We were headed to Kaya (Skew) for tonight. It took more than 4 -5 hours for all of us to get there. The support staff was fast enough to reach in 2.5 hours and then came for our help. We were now in Kaya which is a small town with a few houses and a monastery. Skew is 30 minutes ahead of Kaya and slightly bigger than Kaya. Both villages are absolutely beautiful. We had Dal (Lentils) and ricer along with potato for dinner and slept happy.
A shot with a young lama the next morning in Kaya as they returned after the morning prayers: We started for our next halt for the day. This was the most important day as we were to cover a little more than 12 kms today. In snow, it is a task.
Our next stop was Sara, a village between Markha and Skew. And this was also the best trek in terms of serenity and incredible view it offers. The valley was absolutely snow covered throughout and we continue to walk along the river for initial part. It is shallow and snow covered. Through the most scenic (absolutely stunning) mountains we reached Sara in about 6 hours (as we all made sure that everyone is doing fine and kept the pace accordingly. Otherise, this can easily be done in about 4 hours. We had lunch on the way by the river. It was wheat buns, cheese, boiled potato and boiled egg. Some pictures from that day.
This one is my favorite. We were told we are almost there before this (see picture below) and then we saw where we have to be and trek further ahead to reach Sara. At this point a lot of our group mates took a break to let the thought sink in See the guys on the top, they are the porters and support staff walking ahead to reach in time.
We had a great time that night in Sara. The landlady was the only person operating out of Sara. The rest of which was locked/shut. We had a great time at this home stay. The lady wore a badge which read “Live to Love”. She sang for us some local folk songs as well making our night a memorable one. We had some drinks that we were carrying (be careful with that as you can’t consume too much and dehydrate yourself- remember even lukewarm drinking water is a luxury). It was almost -15 degrees or more from evening till morning making it difficult to step out for washroom etc. The home stays generally provide you with warm water but then again its only when they wake up.
Our next stop was Markha. It is about 9-20 Kms from Sara and is flat trek for most part. Having done Sara from Kaya, we were confident; we will make it to Markha in time. And that is what exactly happened. We were all in Markha by afternoon. It was the last house that we took shelter in. We got a huge room which could accommodate 10-12 people with a bukhari (heater) in center. It sure felt like luxury on the last day of our trek. There were a few more people there in adjacent room as well. Markha also has a beautiful Monastery if one wants to visit. The Lamas were kind enough for open the monastery for us early in the morning. That night in Markha, we had a lot of time, so we all chatted, had drinks along with music. We all had an incredibly memorable time. Markha also has a phone connection.
You can use it and call back home.
We also spotted some blue sheep and Ibex while on our way back from Markha Valley Trek and silently took pictures. We were in Sara in just about 3 hours. We checked in to the same house and had a relaxed evening chatting in the summer common area (which was now covered with layers of snow).
By now we were all set to get to Kaya (the same stretch which took a lot of time when we came up) and were prepared to walk and maintain a pace as a group. And we did well that day. We reached Kaya in 4 hours or so. It felt like we are now very close to Hotel (just a day away). Everyone wanted a fresh hot water shower more than anything else.
I told the group as soon as we get that we will start missing the beauty of Markha valley. And that is exactly how it happened. We were back in Leh the following day. Checked into the hotel and started talking about how nice the Markh Valley experience was. Wanderers team from Delhi was with us as well so we all exchanged picture from the trek.
As I said, I have been to many treks in Himalaya but there is something special about Ladakh in winters. And experiencing Markha valley in winters is beyond imagination. You have to be there to experience it.
There is no place like it.