Markha Valley: The Most Popular Trekking Route in Ladakh
Not all of us have the luxury, fortune, or the profession that enables us to hop city to city – travelling and exploring the innermost corners of the world. But every once in a while each one of us desires for a life to take us on an adventure that reinvigorates and rejuvenates us enough to handle the chaos of life once again. These little escapades act as the fodder for our toothy smiles when our hair is greying. The Markha Valley Trek of the pictorial and ever-popular Leh-Ladakh promises to be one such an indelible experience.
The Markha Valley trek by the crystalline waters of Markha River is inarguably the most popular trekking route in Ladakh and we understand why some trekkers may be put-off by that. We, trekkers, do have a penchant for exploring the unfamiliar and uncharted territories, mountains, routes, and wilderness. But the Markha Valley Trek is popular for a reason and any trekker worth his salt who is missing out on a trek to this stunning location is missing out on beauty and memories galore.
About Markha Valley Trek
Scattered yaks grazing on vast green plains, verdant valleys encircled by the gigantic, rocky, snow-tipped mountains of 6000m, the delicious aroma of fresh mountain air, hushed little villages and a placid river of turquoise blue water to keep you loyal company; sounds like paradise but this little slice of heaven is none other than the Markha Valley.
With its inception in the dry and arid Leh, Markha Valley is the largest valley of the area. A memorable journey of 8 days and with a cool 65kms covered, Markha Valley is never about a grand destination but rather about wandering through barren landscapes, lush green plains, gushing streams, and tiny settlements of Skiu, Sara, Markha, Hankar & Nimaling. Giving you ample chance to dive deep into Tibetan culture, you engage with the friendly Buddhist locals, wine and dine in their snug little cafes and explore fallen forts, old monasteries, and their ruins. Markha Valley takes you on a trip that is all culture, rugged beauty, and adventure.
- Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
- Duration: 8 days
- Maximum Altitude: 5200 m
- Location: Leh-Ladakh
- Base Camp: Leh
- The ideal time to visit: June to September
Quick Facts about Markha Valley Trek
- The classic trek route of Markha Valley trek is named after the location’s famed Markha River. The most prominent mountain passes of the region are Ganda La (4900m) and Kongmaru La (4950m).
- The trek passes through the Hemis National Park which remains well-protected and acts as a fitting sanctuary to obscure plants and rare breeds of animals. The snow leopard is the most famous inhabitant of the area and maybe spotted in winter.
- Although the Markha Trek promises to provide you with the solitude you so deeply desire, it is one of the few treks where you can enjoy the luxury of living in home stays. If you aspire to share a few days with the people of the mountain, this is an opportunity you cannot miss out on.
- The trek to Markha Valley is in its most gorgeous self during the month of September. You witness the valley engaged in making arrangements to usher in a new season as you spot changes in the colours of fields and trees. If you are planning to set out on this adventure during the winter months, just remember to pack warmer.
- Depending on how and who you are traveling with, you may choose to hire porters or horses to accompany you. Since the trek is a long one, it might get exhausting to carry your luggage all the way through especially with camping gear.
How to reach Leh
Many flights connect New Delhi to Leh, wherefrom your trip commences. A trip via air is surely recommended as it’s obviously much quicker, hassle-free, and depending on how much in advance you book your tickets, they might even be cheap. The flight journey vows to be an exciting one as it gives you a gorgeous aerial view of the fascinating mountain ranges you are soon to explore. Leh airport has frequent flights from major cities of the country thus, is easily accessible.
There are two routes to reach Leh, the one is Leh-Manali road and the other is Leh-Srinagar road. The journey to Leh via road is a complicated one but an exciting one nonetheless especially if you are traveling in a large group. You may reserve a jeep or avail bus services from Manali which would typically take 2 days to reach Leh. However, if weather conditions do not support your journey it may extend to 3 or 4 days. Alternatively, you may also choose to travel via the beautiful Srinagar, which too is a journey of 2 days and takes you through the famed villages of Kargil and Khalsi.
The Jammu Tawai Railway station is the nearest railway station and is well connected with cities like Pune, Bangalore, Delhi. It is 712 kms away from Ladakh,this distance can be covered by hiring a taxi or a cab. The journey to reach Leh is partially covered via rail and then by road. The other nearest railway stations to Leh are Chandigarh, Pathankot Junction and Kalka railway station. These too are well connected to major Indian cities.
Best Time to Visit Markha Valley
The Markha Valley invites trekkers to experience its grand terrains through the majority of the year. However, the best time and season to visit the valley would be from the month of June to September. The weather in the area remains cozy with the sun shining through and is followed by calm, cool nights that lull you into sleep after strenuous hikes of the day. It is advised not to traverse the land after September after which the area experiences heavy snowfall which would potentially make the journey on foot dangerous and difficult.
Packed to the brim with adventure, bewitching landscapes, rugged mountains and unique beauty, the trek to Markha Valley is sure to be the trek of a lifetime.
A Detailed Itinerary and Guide to the Markha Valley Trek
The Markha Valley trek is 8 days long trek with the difficulty grade of moderate to difficult. It is a challenging trek that is recommended for the seasoned trekkers. As it is a high altitude trek with few steep climbs which challenges you and tests your stamina. The trek length of Markha Valley trek is 65 kms with proper rest and acclimatization day in your itinerary you cover this distance and reach the Markha Valley elevation of 17,100 ft. Here is the Markha Valley Trek Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive at Leh (3500m)
One can choose to reach Leh via Rail, Road or Air as per your convenience. You stay at the home stay or the guest house for the night. Proper rest is mandatory as one should be cautious to protect themselves from facing the Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) in the coming days to follow.
Day 2: Acclimatization at Leh:
The second day of your itinerary you acclimate yourself to the surroundings. This is done by roaming out, talking walks and definitely exploring the beautiful Leh. Locals are very friendly here, interact with them but souvenirs from the local shops and encourage the local handicraft. The cuisine is worth experiencing so eat nearby at the cafe and enjoy the culture and cuisine. Don’t try to exhaust yourself by walking a lot. Return to your guest house early and take proper sleep.
Day 3 Leh to Chilling (3200m) drive and Trek to Skiu (3400m)
- Distance: 65 km drive and 9 kms trek
- Duration: 2-3 hrs drive; 4-5 hrs trek
Your trekking expedition starts with a drive through the paved roadways of the pictorial town of Leh. The ride offers you a first-class view of marvelous landscapes, military camps, the intriguing Magnetic Hill, and the GurudwaraPathar Sahib. As you reach the much-talked-about location of Chilling, take a deep breath, and take in the stunning beauty of your surroundings. The grandeur is only to exemplify from this point forward.
Your trek commences with you crossing the mighty Zanskar River via the trolley bridge. After which you begin your ascent to the lonely albeit lovely village of Skiu, gently tucked in between ginormous rocky mountains. The initial half-hour of the trek is a tough climb as you get used to the altitude and climate. However, the taxing part of the journey is soon over as the trail soon converges with the road above Markha River and continues to be a relatively flat route till Skiu.
Once at Skiu you have the option to stay the night at a homestay or settle in for camping. Located at the confluence of the rivers Shgri Nala and Markha, the tiny hamlet of Skiu has an old monastery, small white stupas, and the ruins of a once gorgeous palace. Get a good night's rest here while dreaming of your upcoming trek tomorrow.
Day 4: Skiu –Sara (3500m)
- Distance: 10 km
- Duration: 3-4 hours
On Day 4 on your Markha Valley Trek you will be welcomed by vibrant species of birds like Magpie and animals like blue sheep and mountain goats. The trek trail is well defined and well paved with the Markha River accompanying you throughout. The attraction of this day is the wooden bridge that marks halfway of your day 4 journey. Another attraction is the Nagding village where the houses have meditation caves with paintings dating back to the 20th century. The trek from Nagding to Sara is marked by an entrance decorated with animal skeletons. This marks the end of the day and you stay at a traditional home stay, where you reach by lunch time. Explore the surroundings and rest.
Day 5: Sara to Markha (3700m)
- Distance: 11 km
- Duration: 4-5 hours
Day 5 is a long day of flat trekking, river crossing, and green valleys. The Markha River Trek is renowned for its rugged barren beauty but this day offers picturesque views of flourishing greenery as it takes you along barley fields and thickets. One of the most exciting and challenging segments of the day is that you get to cross the icy cobalt waters of the Markha River not once but twice. The pictorial village of Chalak which is covered in fields of barley with houses atop small hills. The trail remains scattered with sacred and holy Mani stones engraved in Buddhist slogans and prayers.
The trail gains steepness for the next 2-3 km up until a valley opens up and a river crossing presents itself inviting you into its icy cold running waters before you enter the village of Markha. Trek for a couple more kilometres to reach the largest village of the valley – the Markha Village. Make the most of your stay at the village and explore ruined forts, forgotten monasteries, and converse with the amiable locals before calling it a day.
Day 6: Markha – Hankar(4000m)
- Distance: 11 km
- Duration: 5-6 hours
Today promises to be a day of unfiltered beauty with your first real treat visible from the upper Markha Valley wherefrom you get to witness the Kang Yatse – a perfect pyramid snow-cloaked mountain. You continue your journey along the river for most of the day and wade through it twice before reaching the small settlement of Umlung. Umlung offers you a grand view of Mt. Kang Yatse (6400m) in all its glory – a view that is certain to astound you and bewitch you. A little way from here is the Hankar village – the last village of the route. Henceforth it will simply be you and your group exploring mountains and terrains miles away from civilization – things are about to get much more interesting subsequently.
Day 7: Hankar – Nimaling (4700m)
- Distance: 10 km
- Duration: 5-6 hours
Despite being a more or less lengthy trek – Day 4 is all about enjoying where you are and making the most of the spectacular setting you find yourself in. 1 km from Hankar you find the trail diverting into two sections where you opt for the left path. From here on, you will be met with many such diversions, needless to say, it can be quite confusing. It’s imperative to stick close to your guide during this part of the trek. After 2 hours of trekking, you find yourself in the Thochuntse campsite with vast expanses of green fields and a number of teahouse tents. Another hour of trekking takes you to a picturesque pond of emerald green waters with the Kang Yangtse standing magnificently tall and beautiful in the background. This would be the ideal location to have your lunch.
From the pond, you continue along the trail to reach the windy plateaus of Nimaling. Despite being perched atop a staggering altitude, Nimaling is lush green; sheep and mountain goats can be seen grazing idly and the area is even used extensively for summer pasture. Depending on the season, you may also witness snowfall in the area. Spend your night camping on the plateau, let the faint wind carry you to a peaceful slumber; an exciting day awaits you tomorrow.
Day 8: Nimaling – Kongmaru La – Chokdo and drive to Leh
- Distance: 16 km
- Duration: 7-8 hours
Today’s trek promises to be challenging yet filled with pleasant surprises. You begin your day with a short but steep climb to the Kongmaru La. Here you will be greeted by the spellbinding beauty of the Karakoram Mountain Ranges and the majestic Mt. K2 – one of the highest peaks of the world – second only to the Mt. Everest. With prayer flags dancing in the chilly wind, the mountains playing hide and seek with the morning sun and ranges that seem to stretch till eternity – this is a sight you will keep close to your heart forever.
After enjoying the scene of a lifetime, you now begin your descent to Chokdo, a small village. The descent is tricky and often brutal but the feeling of thrill and the adrenaline rush keeps you invigorated all through the arduous journey. As you make your way through the route you spot the Indus Valley and Ladakh Range. This will be the last descent of your 8 days long Markha Valley journey. Get in the cab for your journey back to Leh with a bag full of memories and with a hope to come back again to soak in the beauty of Leh-Ladakh.