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post #1 of (permalink) Old 09-09-2017, 08:00 PM Thread Starter
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Default Northern India Trekking 2017

Ju-laaaay!

This summer my wife Carley and I spent about 40 days trekking, climbing, and sightseeing in the state of Jammu-Kashmir in northern India, mostly in the Ladahk and Zanskar areas. The hub of tourist activity in the region is the town of Leh, or “Little Tibet.” While I’m not sure what interest there will be from CT, I’m hoping to do maybe 3-4 TR’s over the next few months that will focus primarily on the trekking aspects of our vacation, and maybe one on random highlights. So here goes….

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It was one of our goals to go overland to Leh, crossing some of the highest motorable passes in the world. As Leh is at an elevation of around 3500 meters (11480 ft), we also hoped driving there would help with acclimatization. So after spending a few days in Delhi, where in the humidity we soaked through our quick-dry clothes, we took a stomach turning, nausea inducing bus ride to the hill station of Menali in the southern Himalayas. This is a popular destination, especially for Indian tourists. Many come to see their first snow, marvel at waterfalls and lush hillsides, gawk at the high mountains around Rohtang La (La=pass), or clandestinely search for wild marijuana plants… We hired a vehicle and driver in Manali and took two full days to cross the Great Himalayas on the Leh-Manali road, which has to be one of the most breathtaking and exciting drives in the world.

As we descended into the Indus River Valley our heads stopped spinning, and we finally reached Leh and found our guesthouse. This family-run operation was basically our home base for our time in Ladahk. We would go for multi-day trips and return to it, the owners kindly storing our unused gear for us.

“Ladakh is the highest altitude plateau region in India (much of it being over 3,000 m), incorporating parts of the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley.” – from Wikipediea. Ladahk is usually translated as “land of high passes.” It’s basically a high elevation desert, much of it being an extension of the Tibetan Plateau. Being at such high elevation is not to be taken lightly, as we'd find out later, so we knew that before we ventured up any 6000m peaks or embarked on a long trek, we wanted to do a self-supported lower elevation hike to acclimatize. The Markha Valley trek, a classic in the region, seemed like a perfect fit, and that’s where this TR really starts.

People come from all over the world to hike the Markha Valley route in Hemis National Park, which crosses and skirts the southern edge of the Stok Range in the Zanskar Mountains. It has various start and end points, so people can choose to do longer or shorter versions (4-9 days-ish). Many companies offer guided treks, complete with ponies and tents, while the most popular option seems to be homestays, where a trekker can walk into a village and find food and lodging with a local family. Thus, many trekkers do this route with small packs, relying on the villages to provide their needs.

It was important to Carley and I that we do this route independently. We were planning a guided trip for later (future TR), and knew that at some point during our time in Ladahk we’d do homestays. Also, with a map and common sense the route is easily followed without a guide. So, for this trip we packed our own provisions, planned for a 5-day itinerary, and camped away from the villages and crowds.

We shared a ride with a Swiss couple we’d gone to Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley with, and drove the bumpy road up the Zanskar River, passing along the way the spot where it meets the Indus. Our route started near the village of Chilling (3200m). In fact, the first thing we had to do was cross the Zanskar on a cable car.

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On the other side snoozed some ponies, no doubt waiting for their next assignment. It was very hot, but not muggy like in Delhi.

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We said goodbye to our friends, who were homestaying and on a different schedule, and started along the dusty track. The route basically follows the Markha River, with gradual elevation gain (going west to east) as you pass little villages, cross creeks, and…. look for shade.

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The primary religion and cultural influence in Ladahk is Tibetan Buddhism, even though there is a Muslim minority in the area, and the seats of state government are in Muslim dominated Srinigar and Jammu in the west of the state near the line of control with Pakistan. Culturally and geographically, Ladahk has more in common with Chinese conquered Tibet than with anywhere else in India. Most of the villages have a prayer wheel near their entrances, so that visitors can spin them (always clockwise!) to release the prayers to the winds and bring good karma to themselves and all sentient beings. This is also the land of “stupas,” a simple religious structure used by Buddhists to commemorate holy relics of the Buddha or important bodhisattvas or saints. They are said to be built in a way that symbolizes the universe.

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There are “mani” walls and stones all over Ladahk and Zanskar. A Buddhist structure, they are placed intentionally as offerings to spirits. Carving or painting the stones is a form of devotion and meditation. Many include the Sanskrit mantra “om mani padme hum,” which loosely translates to "Behold! The jewel in the lotus.” This is probably the most oft-used mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, and its recitation has special religious significance.

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Nevertheless, it’s ok to act irreverent sometimes…
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Many of the houses in Ladahk are built with mud brick, and have been for hundreds of years. Even new dwellings around Leh are made of brick. In one such house in the village of Markha is a geocache. The co-ords led me to a pile of stones near an out-building. Amused, the dad accompanied me as we followed the finicky red arrow on my Garmin. But after this little tour the father took pity on me and offered me a chair while he went inside for the cache. I sat with him, his wife and son, and had one of the most pleasant cultural exchanges of my life.

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Lots of the villagers have some form of livestock. In this case, donkeys!

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A deep valley characterized most of the scenery, with jagged peaks rising on the sides. Creek crossings offered a chance to cool down, and natural springs were often marked with prayer flags.

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The trail eventually gains elevation as it approaches the headwaters of the Markha River, which starts somewhere in the glacier capped Kang Yatse massif. As we went higher, our pace slowed and we definitely felt the difference in air pressure. We were told that an Indian trekker died in one of the villages the day after we passed through. Apparently he was a fit looking body builder type who wasn’t properly acclimatized. After getting sick, some locals tried to walk him out. He fell into a coma, his breathing became wheezy and gurgled, and he fell asleep, not waking again in this lifetime.

Eventually we got into view of 6400m Kang Yatse and approached Nimaling, a nomadic seasonal camp in a high valley at 4740m. Farmers come here to graze their goats, sheep, cattle, and yak. They also take advantage of the tourist season by supplying tents and meals for the trekkers.

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Proud to be a Pika!
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I really want a baby goat now! But not an old goat… they’re a pain.
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We arrived in Nimaling with time to spare. Next day we would have to cross Gongmaru La at 5265m, the physical highpoint of the trek. I saw from below there was a small peak along the ridge from the pass, so I decided to go for a walk. At the pass I could see my pyramidal destination.

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Along the ridge I went, slowly. When approaching the summit on the steeper uphill terrain, I could only muster a few steps at a time. It was exhausting…. But I topped out next to a little cairn and took in some rather cloudy views, happy to be on my first Himalayan peak (such that it was…).

Kang Yatse and Nimaling camp behind my gps.
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High pasturelands and Markha Valley in distance.
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A rather uninspiring pano…
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Next day, our last of the trek, we regained Gongmaru Pass (where there is also a geocache) and descended steeply down the other side.

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Of course, at every pass there are prayer flags flapping away, sending out their good vibes.
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Carley and I at Gongmaru Pass
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The hike out to Shang Sumdo was pretty tough. It was really hot, and a lot of the trail is in a deep gorge. There are creeks though, and some impressive geology.
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This rose bush was a welcome sight in the hot desert.
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The day we started we asked our driver to arrange a pick up for us at Shang Sumdo. Sure enough, and a little bit to our embarrassment, there waited at one of the parachute cafes a driver with a typed sign in big font that read, “Clayton, Carley, Canada.” We bought warm soda and drove back to Leh.

Because we were self-supported and basically camped anywhere we wanted (away from villages), we did not find the Markha trek crowded. I’m more of a big view kind of guy, and enjoyed the time in the alpine more than in the hot, walled off valley bottoms. It was beautiful, though, with enough varied terrain and cultural features to warrant its outstanding reputation. And for an acclimatization trek, it was exactly what we were looking for.

Last edited by Candy Sack; 09-10-2017 at 02:27 AM.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 09-09-2017, 09:11 PM
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A great trip! I know I'll never make it to that part of the world, so it's nice to read about your experience.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 09-10-2017, 01:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Candy Sack View Post
While Iím not sure what interest there will be from CT, Iím hoping to do maybe 3-4 TRís over the next few months that will focus primarily on the trekking aspects of our vacation, and maybe one on random highlights.
By all means! Trekking is fantastic. There used to be trekking reports on CT; would be very cool if people would continue posting such reports.

At first when I saw India in title my interest was luke warm (too populated/hot/humid for my taste), but this reads/displays more like trekking in Nepal. Overall this is great report and very cool imagery (love these horses "dying" from the heat).

Very interested to see where you went next (Nepal, 99%, but where?) Maybe Bhutan too. There will be more Buddhist monasteries, that's for sure!
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 09-10-2017, 01:33 AM
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Any issues with altitude??? 5265m is quite high, that's almost like Everest Base Camp
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 09-10-2017, 10:58 AM
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Beautiful pictures in an excellent trip report, Thanks for sharing!
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 09-10-2017, 11:04 PM
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Awesome Trip... Spectacular scenery
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 09-11-2017, 10:18 PM
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Awesome pics and story. Can't wait for the next instalment!

Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2017, 05:48 AM
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Oh no. I should never have read this. The travel bug bites again...

Nice report though, really cool looking rocks. Any bugs to be found? How was the water quality - treatment necessary?
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 09-13-2017, 10:31 PM Thread Starter
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^No, bugs were not a problem at all. I think it's because the climate is so dry in Ladahk. It was a nice change from hiking in BC in that respect. We took precautions and treated almost all of our water while in India, unless it was bottled. It's a general rule not to drink the water there. However, where we found natural springs, we drank freely with little worry.
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 09-14-2017, 10:26 AM
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^No, bugs were not a problem at all. I think it's because the climate is so dry in Ladahk. It was a nice change from hiking in BC in that respect. We took precautions and treated almost all of our water while in India, unless it was bottled. It's a general rule not to drink the water there. However, where we found natural springs, we drank freely with little worry.
Good to know.
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