We proudly present our two new promotional videos showing what our trekking tours in Ladakh looks like.

Videos by Patrick Haderer 

 

This is trekking in Ladakh

 

When you step out of the plane in Leh, you already are at 3500 m of altitude. That’s no small thing. The plane is (hopefully!) pressurized to around sea level values, so regardless if you came down from the sky or drove up from a lower area, your body has to first get used to the thin air of Ladakh. Not for nothing we take great care to start slow, giving you time to adapt before carrying on with the trip program. After arriving, put your feet up and take a deep breath. The flight (or drive) is usually quite exhausting, the altitude makes it worse, and you usually need some time to shed the stress of the trip. On the first day, therefore, we typically do nothing but rest. The day after that we start slowly, get to know Leh, stroll around and take the city in. There is a lot to see in the colorful and chaotic capital of Ladakh. The following day we focus on its cultural highlights, visiting some of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries, listening to the vibrant voices of the monks while they sing Buddhist prayers, marveling at the extraordinary sounds of Tibetan musical instruments, delving into the mystical Tibetan Buddhist mythology and wandering around a bit. The body has now finally caught up and we have regained our strength. Breathing is still a bit harder than what we are used to at home, but we can manage. We get accustomed to the slowness of this place in the Himalayas, and learn to appreciate it.

This is how your first days in Ladakh can look like:

 

 

But the day comes when it is time to leave. Off to the mountains, out into freedom, into happiness, into the silence. Where we can become one with nature, find the essence of our being. Discover a simpler, slower way of living. In walking, the most basic form of locomotion, we return to ourselves. We leave behind the complexity of everyday life. The head is free of polluting thought-clouds. Breathing and walking become one single action, the mind placidly and unobtrusively tags along. It’s not always easy to climb a mountain pass. It’s exhausting, it’s demanding, it makes us think about giving up, we quarrel with each other, with ourselves: why are you doing this when you could be lying on a floating bed on the Adriatic instead… But then you’re up there, among the colorful prayer flags, looking at the majestic, otherworldly expanse of the Tibetan plateau and realize that it was worth the effort. Pushing to the limit, stepping out of our comfort zone lets us discover new worlds, new meanings, new aspects of ourselves. They are worth it. Absolutely. And they stay with us. Forever.

And this is how this journey of self discovery can look like:

 

 

Eager Feet?

 

Would you like to know more about this tour? Patrick Haderer and his friends took part in our popular trekking tour “Classic Tsomoriri Trek”.

This impressive journey leads across the Tibetan Plateau, past the Salt Lake Tsokar, through traditional nomadic summer camps and to the deep blue shimmering waters of Lake Tsomoriri.

High mountain passes, wide plains and breathtaking panoramas determine the character of this tour. We find wild donkeys, rare black-necked cranes, and huge herds of yak and sheep. Walking under the seemingly endless horizon acts as a balm for stress-laden souls.

 

>>To the tour>>




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If you are planning to take a trekking tour for more than a few days in the Himalayan Ladakh, you should carefully consider a couple of things. Choosing the right maps, knowing how to deal with the local people, and even the proper way to do business with horsemen are some of the more specific details you should pay attention to … A logistical challenge that requires proper planning.

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Trekking in Ladakh

When trekking in Ladakh, a good plan is a must. Photo: Martina Scherer / Simon Kraus

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Trekking in Ladakh

If you want to go trekking ON YOUR OWN, consider this:

 

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1 Good maps are hard to find

There are lots of maps of Ladakh (at least in Ladakh itself), but only a few are good enough to use as reference material when trekking. The maps of Editions Olizane are not bad, but they do have their flaws: towns, mountains and rivers are often wrongly named and/or depicted, and so you shouldn’t completely rely on them. In general though, they can be very helpful.

The maps come in three volumes and are quite detailed, which is an advantage for the orientation, but they can be a bit uncomfortable to handle, since you will frequently have to change between the different booklets.

 

 

olizane-nord

Ladakh North


olizane-center

Ladakh Center


olizane-sud

Ladakh South

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2 Backpacks or beasts of burden?

Carrying it all oneself is not a problem for very well trained and equipped people, but for most people it is not easy to do so at such high altitudes. You will rarely hike under 3.500m, and often over 5.000m. This is already a big difference when compared to even weeks-long hikes in the Alps, where the air never becomes so thin. Pack animals can be a great support.

 

horses Ladakh

Getting horses to help with the transport of the luggage is certainly an advantage, but not always a simple task.

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3 Business with horsemen can be complicated

Since demand and supply are mutually dependent, it is often very difficult to get horses (or even donkeys) in the high season (July and August). Many horsemen don’t go under a minimum of 4 horses during this time, because after all they are paid per horse, and don’t get a fixed daily wage for themselves. If the trip really requires just one or two horses, the horseman will increase the price per horse accordingly. The price to be paid is per horse per trekking day, plus an extra for the so-called “return days” of the horseman and his animals. How high the price per horse and per day will be is difficult to say, as this depends highly on (a) both your and the handler’s own negotiating skills, and (b) the total number of horses. Donkeys are cheaper, but also quite stubborn and can cause some problems on the way. In addition to this, every year there are fewer and fewer horse dealers, their work less and less necessary with every new kilometer of motorized route laid, and so they barely make money enough to subsist (especially employment through army falls apart who gave them work throughout the year). By the way, the pony handlers are not greedy or ruthless because they insist on a minimum number of animals during the high season. The season is extremely short and the men try to earn as much as possible while they can, so they can support their families the rest of the year! Please always keep this in mind.

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4 Plan some time for the preparation

If you are thinking to simply fly to Ladakh and arrange everything on the spot, please remember to save the necessary time to properly plan your trip. Just looking for a ponyman can take several days. Even if you’d rather lay the finding of horses into the hands of a local agent, finding them on a short notice may take a long time, especially during the high season.

 

Zelt Ladakh

Tent or homestays? Photo: Markus Brixle

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5 Homestays or tent?

Ladakh is not Nepal: here there are no fully equipped lodges to be found. However, there are plenty of Homestays in the Markha Valley and the Sham Trek, and between Lamayuru and Chilling. It’s possible to find them also in some – but not all – places in Zanskar. It is usually the farmers that provide a few rooms for the travelers. Research and decide yourself well beforehand if you need a tent or not. A camping tent’s weight is something to consider carefully. At the same time, Homestays provide not only a roof, but also food.

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6 Eating on the trail

If you carry your own food, there is a lot more to plan. You will have to get the supplies mainly in Leh, since there is not much of a choice outside the capital. Most places in Ladakh have smaller shops, but in these you can often find only what their owners can’t produce themselves… That means no fresh vegetables or fruits, no flour but salt, sugar, chips, soft drinks, etc.

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7 Don’t count on what the locals tell you

It is naturally a good idea to ask locals about the right way or the distance yet to walk. But please keep in mind that many Ladakhi understand little or no English at all. It is also very common that people here would rather say anything before admitting that they don’t know the answer or did not understand you. And as far as walking time is concerned: a local’s “30 minutes” can turn out to be as much as 2 hours. Play safe and ask 2 or 3 people before you leave, just to be sure.

 

Women Markha Ladakh

The great hospitality of the Ladakhi is part of their culture. Please be fair and don’t take advantage of them!

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8 Be fair and respectful

Time and again we read in trekking blogposts and forums comments how people boast about how little money they spent on their hiking trip from A to B. That they slept and ate for free in some farmer’s house; that they brought their own food and didn’t spend one single rupee; that they did this or that tour and it was all so cheap…  We doubt that this counts as a great achievement. Truth is, on the one hand, that most often these “cheap-hikers” are taking advantage of the hospitality of the locals, a trait that plays an important cultural role due to the remoteness and hardship of the country, and as more and more guests arrive and (maybe unknowingly) exploit this friendliness, the system will soon change. On the other hand, one must also bear in mind that Ladakh does not generate large agricultural yields. That means that if a large number of unannounced travelers make unconcerned use of the locals’ reserves, they will have many difficulties during the long winter… even more when they aren’t even paid and can’t buy new food to replace the one offered to the guests. Tradition dictates that many Ladakhi will always politely reject any payment at first…  regardless, it is considered polite to insist on giving something.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should refuse the hospitality and invitations of the locals, nor that you can’t benefit from their knowledge, help and general good disposition. Just please be thoughtful, considerate and above all fair to them!

 

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Conclusion


Hiking on your own through the Ladakhi territories, in combination with the rustic authenticity of its homestays, can be a quite charming experience. However, if you are traveling with camping equipment and supplies, and especially without the help of horses or donkeys, the trek will also require a lot of strength and a very good physical condition. We know a few people who have done it, and we admire them very much. But not everyone is made for such a challenge, and you should think carefully while making a decision.

For those who prefer a bit more comfort and/or don’t have enough time to plan a trekking tour on their own, we are at your disposal. Of course 😉

 

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Trekking in the Markha Valley is one of the most popular activities in Ladakh. The trail is wonderfully varied in the charms it hides, and can be dealt with in many different ways. We have compiled a few facts you should know before putting your hiking boots on.

 

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8 Facts about Trekking in the Markha Valley

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1 Location

The Markha Trek runs through the Hemis National Park, which is a more or less protected area due to the rare plants and animals that can be found in it. Its most famous inhabitant is the snow leopard, but you will not be able to see it in summer. The chances would be quite good in winter though.

The Markha River gives the trek its name. On the classic route, the 2 most important mountain passes are the Ganda La (4.900m) and the Kongmaru La (4.950m). The Stok mountain range is the defining geological landmark of the park. Around the Nimaling plateau several 6k peaks invite and await to be climbed. In the Markha Valley there are several small villages not yet connected to the road, although there are plans to grant them such access in the near future.

markha-map

The Markha trekking route is located in this region. Section from: Trekking in Ladakh. Map by Sonam Tsetan and Henk Thoma.

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2 Variants

The classic route leads from Spituk to Hemis or Martsellang. But we have not hiked this route for a long time, because it is not really interesting since new roads have been constructed. It now leads from Spituk to Zhingchen, and after a break it continues again in Shang Sumdo. Therefore we recommend a shortened version that goes from Zhingchen to Shang Sumdo. Of course, there are many alternatives. It is possible to start in Chilling, which means you can avoid the abrupt increase in altitude at the Ganda La mountain pass, and acclimatise more comfortably. When starting from Stok, it is also possible to extend the trekking slightly adding another mountain pass (Namlung La or Stok La). The end may also vary: some will continue via Matho Phu and Shang Phu and end their trek in Stok; others can decide to turn to Hangkar and hike across the Zalung Karpo La to the land of the nomads; and others still will walk all the way to Zanskar along the Zhunglam variant. This is just to mention a few of the many possible trails available.

The orange dots correspond to the classic route; the blue ones are some of the variants.

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3 Homestay or tent?

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Homestays are a good opportunity to get to know and share with the locals.

The Markha Trek is one of the few treks in Ladakh which allows to spend the nights in homestays. This is particularly recommended for those with a smaller budget, single travelers and/or all those who want to have as much contact as possible with the local people. In any case, it is a special experience that will be remembered. The homestays are not comparable to the lodges in Nepal, which are usually very comfortable. The homestays in the Markha Valley are simple and authentic: houses of real farmers who reserve a few rooms for guests. Therefore – and this can deeply disturb some people – it can sometimes happen that one is bitten by a flea or even a bedbug. Farmers’ lives are closely interwoven with those of their animals, so it’s not surprising that some pests find their way into the house. Showers or even just proper bathrooms are also a very rare commodity. On the Markha Trek, there is a rotation principle among the homestays, that is, you can’t choose your accommodation yourself: you are assigned one according to a fair system.

Homestays are not recommendable for people who give great importance to cleanliness and hygiene, nor for large groups, since only a few homestays are big enough to accommodate them. Also notice that homestays are only available along the classic route.

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4 Best time

The high season at the Markha Trek spans the summer months of July and August. Many people complain nowadays that the routes are somehow overcrowded, but that depends a bit on the where and when you start. On some occasions, many large groups start at the same time and in the same place as you; some other days, you can be one between just a few travelers. On the trail itself things are different, because every person has a different hiking speed and not everyone walks the same route or spends the night in the same camp. Nevertheless, we can recommend the Markha Trek especially for the months of June and September; during this time there are fewer people on the road. In any case, the trek is wonderfully charming the whole year… we love especially September and the mesmerizing changing colors of the fields and trees. There is always the possibility to go the Markha Trek outside the months June-September. You simply have to pack something warmer.

markha8

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5 Horses, porters or alone?

Which option is the best depends of course of each individual traveler. Most people need help when transporting their luggage while trekking in Ladakh, since walking at such high altitudes is considerably harder than at home, even with a very light backpack. Therefore, these people will need horses or porters. But if you are confident and, for example, choose to spend the nights at a Homestay instead of camping, you may be able to carry your luggage yourself. It is naturally more difficult if you have a tent and provisions. Then you will probably need some help. Horses are recommended for proper trekking tours, in particular if the party includes a cook. Since it is hardly possible to find a horse handler who agrees to go on a trek with less than 4 horses*, this option can be too much for people traveling without crew or people sleeping in homestays. For such travelers, the better option is to hire porters.

*To be clear: horse handlers charge per horse and per trekking day, so going on a trip with just one horse is usually not good business… understandably, since they have to earn enough during the short summer months to maintain their families in winter. It has nothing to do with being greedy.

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6 Markha for climbers

dzojongo

Dzo Jongo West

The region around the Nimaling plateau, blessed with several imposing 6k peaks, can be considered a paradise for mountaineers. Many of these mountains are also well-suited for the less experienced climbers: Dzo Jongo, Tasken Ri, Regoni Mallai Ri and, of course, the prominent Kangyatse, are probably the most famous. You can find more information about ascents in the Nimaling region on the homepage of Harmut Bielefeldt (this website is only available in german), who visited us in 2014 in company of his wife, child and friends, and has already conquered numerous summits.

For those who have the Stok Kangri in their sights, the Markha Trek is recommended as an acclimatization tour. The increase in altitude can also be achieved steadily and without interruptions via Shang Phu and Matho Phu.

 

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7 Physical condition

We have classified this trekking tour as moderate. In any case the high altitude is an important factor to consider, because walking at such heights can be particularly exhausting. At an appropriate pace, however, it shouldn’t represent a problem for anyone in good physical condition. You should be able to walk between 4 and 8 hours a day. However, the stages can also be adapted to the conditions of the individual hikers, and we have even undertaken trekking tours in the Markha Valley with children.

If you are looking for something more challenging, you can for example start with the Markha Valley classic trail and then turn towards Changthang or Zanskar. There are also alternative and harder routes that will require more from you, or you can simply plan longer stages according to your own stamina.

 

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8 The right contact for your trekking tour in the Markha Valley

Well, of course we won’t lose the opportunity to promote ourselves a bit. We have already done so many trekking tours that start, end or run inside the Hemis National Park, that there’s not much we couldn’t tell you. As a summer or a winter trip; as a homestay tour or a fully equipped camping one; for lone travelers or large groups; with or without expeditions; along the classic route or off the beaten path… We know what we’re talking about, trust us. You can contact us anytime, no matter if you have basic questions or have already decided to take the Markha Valley tour: Contact

 

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Our affordable and popular Markha Trek

Markha Valley Trek & Culture Feeling
Ladakh

Classic and diverse Trekkingtour in the famous Hemis National Park.
Group Trip: between 4 and 10 participants.
Individual Trip: starting from 1 person, on date request.

 

Several dates available. Also possible to arrange dates individually.

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