We arrive in Delhi in the morning and transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover from the flight or for individual exploration of Delhi. Rooms in the hotel are usually available after mid day. 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 morning 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 drive (or we can 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).
By now we should be well acclimatised, and we take a short drive from Leh to Spituk. Spituk is only 7kms from Leh and is the site of the first Gelugpa monastery in Ladakh. There should be time to visit the monastery with its commanding views over the Indus Valley. From here a new road takes us across the Indus towards Jinchen. We will drive as far as the road conditions allow and to where our ponies will be waiting. After they are loaded up we start our trek into the Jinchen Gorge at the foot of the Stok Mountains. The trail is straightforward as we follow the Jinchen Nala upstream. The valley closes in around us and spectacular rock formations tower above us. An ever-changing panorama of fantastic coloured mountains surrounds us as we ascend the valley. We may have to cross the river as the stream forces the path closer to the side of the valley. Suddenly the valley widens and reveals the snow-topped peaks of the Stok mountains. Prayer flags on a wide pasture mark the junction with the trail leading to Rumbak village. Tonight's camp is below Rumbak village with stunning views all around - looking left towards Rumbak a fantastic multi-coloured toothy skyline ridge appears in the distance. We can visit the village this afternoon and maybe sample the local delicacy, salty yak buttered tea, in one of the many home stays. Rumbak Sumdo is the site of one of the UV lamps donated in 2012 by Exodus and installed by Niyamdro Dro (the French NGO we are working with on the safe drinking water project in the Markha Valley) and there will be the chance to see the UV lamp used for purifying water. For more details on this project see the Responsible Tourism section below.
A short day today for acclimatisation. We head up the main valley to a watermill and a bridge, which we cross. The trail ascends the valley gradually and when the valley splits we take the right hand fork up past the one house village of Yurutse. Leaving the fields behind we ascend towards the Ganda La and camp tonight by a small stream below the pass.
A long day today as we cross our first pass. The trail is clear as it zig zags towards the pass. As we climb the views become more and more spectacular. Behind us Stok Kangri dominates the skyline. Finally we reach the top of the Ganda La (4,970m) decked with colourful prayer flags and the views are worth all the effort. Ahead is the Zanskar Range and behind are the Stok Mountains. Far below in the valley are the fields of Shingo. As we descend keep an eye open for marmots and blue sheep, both of which seem to thrive in these desolate, high altitude spots. The trail to Shingo is easy and in the main season there is usually a tea tent here, which may sell cold drinks. From Shingo the trail takes us through a spectacular gorge with beautifully coloured and eroded rocks. We continue down the gorge all the way to the small hamlet of Skiu. We usually camp about 20 minutes beyond the village by the river.
A fairly long, but easy walk today, as we trek along the valley to Markha. The terrain along the valley is not demanding so there is plenty of opportunity to admire the magnificent scenery. The colours of the barren mountains of Ladakh are truly spectacular, pastel pinks, blues and greens shine in the brilliant sunshine and change colour dramatically as the sun rises and sets. We follow the river all day today and will have to cross the river a few times and although bridges have been built in some places there will be some river crossings today. We will have lunch in Sara, where there is usually some welcome shade in a tea tent. Beyond the settlement of Chalak there is an impressive line of chortens and a huge mound of goat horns, which are placed on the chortens to ward off any evil spirits trying to enter the valley. Climbing up to a small col we descend again to the river and a mediaeval fort silhouetted on the hillside tells us that we have almost reached Markha. Just before Markha we will need to don our river crossing sandals for at least 2 river crossings. Markha is only a small village and there will be time to explore the small monastery in the afternoon. Our camp will be on the grazing flats near the village. Markha is the site of one of the UV lamps installed by Niyamdro Dro (the French NGO we are working with on the safe drinking water project in the Markha Valley) and there will be chance to see the UV lamp used for purifying water. For more details on this project see the Responsible Tourism section below.
Just beyond Markha the trail meets the Chacham Valley. We will have 2 river crossings this morning. Just after the river crossings is Tache gompa, set way above us on the cliff face. There is time to visit the monastery, which is the most important in the valley and is affiliated to Hemis. Continuing up the valley we walk through Umlung village to Hankar where there are more impressive fort ruins and a small gompa. From Hankar the trail turns off from the main valley and now follows the Nimaling stream to Thachungtse where we camp. We may be lucky and see Blue Sheep (a type of wild goat) high up on the grazing areas above the campsite.
A short but quite tough walk today to Nimaling. The trail climbs steeply to the plateau where the valley opens out. Ahead are spectacular views of Kang Yangtse, at 6400m, the highest peak in the valley. In this area there is no permanent habitation but during the summer months the shepherds bring their flocks of sheep, goats and dzos to graze on the high altitude pasture. The shepherds stay in stone shelters close to the grazing area for the whole summer and we can often buy yoghurt or local cheese from them. In the evenings the animals are brought down from the hills and it is quite usual to have hundreds of them wandering through the campsite. Look after your edibles! We should get to Nimaling by lunchtime and in the afternoon there is an optional walk up behind camp towards Kang Yangtse. This is well worth doing and highly recommended for the impressive close up views of Kang Yangste, which at 6,400m is the highest peak in the Markha Valley.
A long day as we cross our second, and highest, pass of the trek. Our trail begins today by climbing to the Gongmaru La. It is a fairly long, steep ascent zig zagging to the top of the pass at 5,286m., but the views from the top are worth the effort. Looking back we see Kang Yangtse, Dzo Jongo East and West and Regoni Malari. Ahead there are views across the Stok Range and down to the Indus valley. The descent is steep at first and we then enter a spectacular gorge and descend more gradually now with a few small river crossings. High up on the barren cliffs we may spot the elusive Blue Sheep which inhabit this area. Passing through Chuskurmo and Chokdo we continue our long descent to the village of Shang Sumdo. Today is a hard day due to the crossing of the high pass and the long descent.
Our transport should arrive this morning and we drive to Hemis monastery. (Occasionally the road gets blocked in which case we walk down the jeep track to Hemis). Hemis was once the largest and richest of all the Ladakhi monasteries. A wander round the dimly lit temples containing grotesque yet beautiful masks and statues, will take us back hundreds of years in time. We then drive back to Leh and the comforts of a hot shower at our hotel. We should get to Leh for lunch and the rest of the day is free for last minute sightseeing or shopping in the bazaars.
We fly from Leh to Delhi. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing in Delhi.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.