Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh
Location Covered :aa
Type of Tour :aa
A 30-minute drive gets you to the roadhead at Stok, where you begin the trek. The trail passes through the higher section of the village, keeping to the true left bank of the Stok Nala, heading steadily towards the apex of the flood plain of the Stok valley. Here the trail enters the gorge of the Stok Nala, climbs past the ruins of Styang La Khar fort with an extensive willow grove at its base and then turns to the right along a subsidiary valley, climbing a little more steeply to enter a cirque which shelters the summer shepherd settlement of Kilchay. Camp is set here for the night.
The initial climb to Stok La (15,998 ft/4,848 m) is steep and from the top the trail does not drop but instead winds through a complicated knot of ridges, keeping near the crest. The descent into the Rumbak valley is steep and dusty but can be exhilarating for anyone who wishes to indulge in downhill scree running. The trail, keeping to the true right bank of the Rumbak Nala, passes through the village of Rumbak and then crossing to the true left bank, climbs up the valley of a subsidiary stream to the tiny settlement of Yurutse. Camp is set a little beyond at the foot of the Kundu La.
The climb to the Kundu La (16,097 ft/4,878 m) is not as steep as that of the previous day's to Stok La, but it is longer. From the pass, a spectacular panorama of white fringed mountains, merging into the distant ranges of the Karakoram, is revealed. The trail descends steadily to the head of the Skiu valley where a number of rivulets join to form a small stream. The broad grassy shoulders of the upper valley narrow sharply to the pinched waist at Sumdo with its few houses and fields at the junction of a small stream with the Skiu Nala. From here the river swoops exuberantly down a tight, narrow gorge choked with willow and wild rose with the trail leaping from bank to bank all the way to the village of Skiu on the banks of the lower Markha and the campsite. Since Skiu is only at about 9,900 ft (3,000 m) and the Markha valley is quite narrow, the temperature is higher here.
At dusk just as the evening shadows begin to envelop the valley it is worth walking back along the trail where the Skiu Nala meets the Markha, to visit a small monastery cared for by an old nun who comes every morning and evening the light the butter lamps at the altar of Chamba - the Future Buddha. Overnight in camp.
AT SKIU Rest day. The energetic may like to follow the trail from Skiu along the true right bank of the Markha to its confluence with the Zanskar. However, it is a long walk each way.
A very pleasant walk up one of the loveliest sections of the Markha Valley. Woody bushes grow thickly along the river which is a spanned by several bridges over which the trail marches to Thinlespa. The camp is beyond this small charming village on the true right bank of the river.
The trail continues eastwards climbing steadily up the valley through the picturesque village of Markha and its interesting monastery, which is well worth visiting. Coming in from the south is the trail from Rubering La, one of the routes to Zangla. From Markha the country changes and the warm, relatively heavily wooded section of the lower Markha is left behind. The camp below the twin villages of Lower and Upper Hankar is distinctly cooler than at Thinlespa. Between the two villages is a ruined fort, the walls of which climb sharply up a crag to an erie of a lookout tower - worth visiting for those with an exceptionally good head for heights.
From Hankar the trail climbs steadily up the now narrow valley, past villages smaller and seemingly poorer than those of the lower areas. The Nimaling plain is a broad undulating meadow which slopes upwards to the base of the ice-clad Kang Yurze 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, dzos, sheep, goats, 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 sight an occasional blue- sheep or wolf. Camp is set by the river.
AT Nimaling Rest day. An opportunity to relax or wander around the plain. An alternative is a walk to the base of Kang Yurze.
Crossing to the north of the Markha, begin the climb up to the highest of the three passes - Kangmaru La (17,409 ft/5,274 m) with its wonderful views from the top. The trail descends steeply to the head of the Martselang valley past the sulphur springs of Chyushkarmo and follows the Martselang stream to the village of Shang-Sumdo, at the confluence of the Shang and the Martselang.
An easy descent along the true left bank of the Martselang to where it broadens into the Indus valley at the village of Martselang. Transport will be waiting here for the one hour drive back to the Ladakh Sarai.