Flights usually depart London in the evening.
We arrive in Delhi and transfer to our hotel in Delhi. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover from the flight or for individual exploration of Delhi. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel during the day.
A very early start today for the flight to Leh. We usually leave the hotel at around 2am and drive to the airport for the very early, but highly spectacular flight over the Himalaya. to Leh. If the weather is good and the flight goes on time we should be in Leh for breakfast. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatize to the altitude (3,500m). In the morning we rest and catch up on some sleep and in the afternoon there will be a gentle orientation walk of Leh and its bazaars.
Today there is a sightseeing tour to two of the major gompas in the area. We first drive to Shey, a former Royal Palace of the Ladakh kings. Inside is a small temple containing a 350 year old copper and gold statue of the Buddha. From Shey we walk across the fields to Tikse, where we visit the monastery - perched on top of a hill - its red and white buildings can be seen for miles. A recently built temple contains a magnificent image of the Future Buddha. We return to Leh and the rest of the afternoon is free to explore.
Today we will have an acclimatisation walk round the Leh Valley. Set above Leh on the Namgyal Hill, are the ruins of the Old Royal Palace. From here a winding path takes us to the Tsemo Monastery, from where we are rewarded for our efforts by magnificent views of the whole of Leh and its surrounding villages. Descending round the back of the palace we walk via Sankar to the recently built Japanese Peace Pagoda. This huge stupa overlooks Leh and we have stunning views of the town and the Stok range of mountains across the valley. (There is the chance today to make an optional jeep safari to the Khardung Pass; at 5,602m., one of the highest motorable roads in the world. This can be booked and paid for locally. Your leader will have details. If you do the jeep safari this will be in the morning and you can do the walk in the afternoon).
We leave Leh this morning for the start of our trek. Its about 2.5 hours drive to Rumtse, where we start our trek. We follow the Indus River to Upshi. From Upshi we follow the road towards Manali following the Kyamar River to our camp near the village of Rumtse. We will reach camp by lunchtime and in the afternoon there will be an acclimatisation walk into the surrounding hills.
A short easy day today (although it can be very hot) as we follow the Kyamur Lungpa River southeast to the deserted village of Kyamur at the base of the Kyamur La, our first pass. We will reach our grassy campsite in the early afternoon. The energetic can explore the surrounding hillsides.
A long hard day today as we cross the first two of our many high passes. A steady climb brings us to the top of the Kyamur La (5,142m.) with fantastic views back to the mountains of the Markha Valley and ahead into Rupshu. From the pass we drop down to Mandalchan where we have lunch near a small stream. After lunch we follow the trail to the Madalchen La (5,233m.), which climbs steadily. From the top are amazing views right across the Changtang Plateau and Rupshu. The pastel coloured snow capped peaks seem to go on forever. From the top we descend to Tisaling (5,035m), a grassy grazing area where we make camp. Watch out for the cute little pikkas (mouse hares) running in and out of their burrows all around the camp.
Another very long day today (today can also be very hot). From our camp the trail climbs again to the Shibuk La (5,293m.). From the pass we get incredible views of the arid mountainous desert of Rupshu and across to the majestic distant snow peaks of the Karakoram and the Ladakh Range. This remote Indian territory is predominantly high and dry desert land. There are a few isolated settlements but the majority of the inhabitants of this region are nomadic Changpas of Tibetan origin. Very few westerners have trodden these paths but this area has been a trading route from Tibet for centuries. As we descend to Shibuk, watch out for marmots and herds of kiang, the shy wild asses that roam these mountains. We continue descending across the Mori plains, which seem to stretch forever into the horizon and the only signs of life are the black spots of the nomad's tents. Made of yak hide these are the summer homes of the nomads as they wander these high altitude plains searching for pasture for their huge herds of sheep and yak. After lunch we descend to Pongunagu and continue on to Tso Kar Lake. The lake is known as 'white lake', because of the salt and other minerals in the area. The explorer Sven Hedin travelled extensively in this area and the reflection of the snow capped mountains in the lake inspired many of his watercolours. The trail then skirts the lake for a couple of hours to our camp at Riyul at the far end of the lake. A very long day today but well worth it for the vibrant blue colour of the lake in the afternoon light.
Leaving the lake a gradual climb past the settlement at Nuruchen (where we have our first river crossing), brings us to the Horlam Konke La (4,967m), from where we have good views looking back to the lake and ahead to our next pass. An easy descent brings us to a grassy meadow by the river for lunch. A short walk in the afternoon brings us to our camp at Rajung Karu. This valley is inhabited by the hardy Changpa nomads and their tents and animals dot the hillsides around us.
Today we cross two passes. First is the Kyamayuri La Pass at 5,435m. Surrounded by unnamed 6,000 m. peaks we are now in the very heart of Changtang. The trail to the pass winds gradually at first past nomad settlements and then zig-zags slowly up a rocky path to the top of the pass. From the top the views open out and we have incredible views in all directions. From the top an easy descent brings us into a broad valley. Crossing the river we leave the main valley and ascend the Gyame La at 5,404m. Descending from the pass we camp near the nomad settlement at Gyame.
From camp we start our gradual easy ascent to the last and highest pass before Tso Moriri, the Yalung Nyau La (5,455m.). From the top we have fantastic views of the whole of Rupshu. A very long descent through Korzok Drok brings us to the shores of Tso Moriri and the village of Korzok. We camp near the village, close to the lake. Known as 'Mountain Lake', it is 28 km long and 8 km wide and is surrounded by barren hills backed by snow-covered mountains. We should have some time to explore the tiny village of Korzok, which is the nomadic headquarters of this area. There is a small monastery and a few tea shops where we may well find cold drinks (and even a bottle of beer!!).
We now start the second half of our trek across the Changtang and cross the Indian Himalaya into Spiti. This was part of an ancient trade route to Tibet used by the people of Spiti. Today is an easy but long walk along the lake shore heading south. We walk three quarters of the length of Tso Moriri and the vibrant blue of the lake is our constant companion. The trail is mostly level along the sandy beach like shore (and it can be very hot today) but at times the trail undulates above the lake. All day we have fantastic views of Lungsher and Chamser Kangri across the lake and above us tower the Mentok range. Late afternoon we reach our campsite at the end of the lake.
Day 14 - 17
These four quite challenging days bring us to the base of the Parang La, the pass which will take us into the Spiti Valley. From Kyangdom the scenery changes dramatically as we leave the lake behind and enter the spectacular wide river valley of the Parang Chu. We continue following the lake to Kyangdom, from where it is about 5 hours (including several river crossings) to the Parang Chu gorge and Norbu Sumdo. We try to camp just before Norbu Sumdo so that we can cross the river in the early morning when it is usually at its lowest. (Please note that the Parang Chu can be wide and fast flowing. We carry a rope and harnesses for safety for all the river crossings). As we follow the Parang Chu amazing wind eroded, pastel coloured cliffs tower above us and the gorge becomes more and more spectacular the higher we climb. Sometimes the trail follows the river bottom but at other times the river is too fast flowing and the gorge too narrow so thin trails take us high above the river. We probably have to cross the river several times each day so remember to pack your river crossing shoes. Where we camp each night depends on the rivers we have to cross but we usually spend one night just after Phalung Phare and one at Tarang Yokma. Eventually we pass a small campsite at Karsha Gongma and continue on another couple of hours to a small rocky camp at the base of the Parang La.
A very long day as we cross the Indian Himalaya over into central Spiti. From camp the trail climbs steeply onto the side of a glacier as we zig zag slowly up towards the top of the pass. We must cross the glacier to get to the top of the pass, which is marked by brightly coloured prayer flags. It should take us 3-4 hours to reach the top depending on snow conditions. From the top (5,586m) we have fantastic panoramic views looking back to the peaks of Ladakh and Zanskar and ahead into Lahoul and Spiti. The descent is long and at first a rocky trails descends steeply into an amazing gorge. Fold upon fold of mountain and rock surrounds us and we can but gaze up in wonder at how the Himalaya were formed millions of years ago. This valley alone would be a paradise for geologists! We stop for lunch a short way down from the pass and then have a very long afternoon as we descend steeply to the bottom of the gorge. The scenery is so magnificent but we need to take care on some of the narrow trails. Once we reach the river we follow the gorge downhill for a couple of hours (there may be some river crossings and some scrambles above the river on narrow trails). Then comes the sting in the tail - our trail suddenly turns right out of the main valley and for the final couple of hours today we must climb steeply out of a side gorge and into an open scrub bush area where we camp. A very long day but one of the most spectacular. We are now in Spiti, which together with Lahoul is a district of the Indian State of Himachel Pradesh. This rugged, awe-inspiring mountainous region borders Tibet and spiritually is more akin to Tibet than India. Due to its position bordering Tibet, Spiti was closed to foreigners until 1991. That summer Exodus took one of the first trekking groups into Spiti. That time we entered Spiti from the south, this time we enter from the north.
The last day of our trek is no less spectacular as we trek into the heart of Spiti. The day starts with an easy climb to a small col, where we get great views of Spiti. A steep descent brings us to the valley floor and the first cultivated fields we have seen since leaving Rumtse. A spectacular descent into a spectacular rocky willow filled gorge brings us to our final river crossing (this one has a bridge!) and then a final climb up to meet the road just before the village of Kibber. We should meet our transport here. We have a half hour drive to Ki monastery and then about another hour drive to Rangrik.
A very long but magnificent drive today as we leave Spiti over the Kunzum La (4,590m). We then drop down into Lahoul and meet the main Leh to Manali road. The scenery is now greener and more alpine like as we climb our last pass, the Rhotang La. We are now crossing the Pir Pinjal and we can look north towards the Great Himalaya and south into Himachal Pradesh. Descending into the valley, we follow the Beas River into Manali, where we spend tonight in a hotel and have a welcome hot shower. (Please note the road surfaces in Spiti and over the Rhotang Pass are not good and there are road works and often delays along this section of the road).
Manali was once a quiet secluded hill resort set amidst beautiful fir and pine forests. It is now a busy bustling holiday resort for Indians who come here to get away from the heat of the plains. After breakfast we will take a walk to the Hadimba Temple. This ancient wooden temple is the most important place of pilgrimage in Manali. Set in the forest it is an easy walk from our hotel. The rest of the morning is free for individual exploration. After lunch we leave Manali and head off down the wonderful alpine Kullu Valley, following the Beas River for much of the way. We stay tonight just outside the town of Mandi.
An early start today for the long drive to Chandigarh, from where we catch the late afternoon train to Delhi. We will arrive late in the evening in Delhi.
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for the flight back to London. For those on group flights, these depart around lunchtime and will arrive in the UK the same day. For those not flying on the group flight back to London they will leave us after breakfast.