Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Markha Valley Trek Part II

Ashesh Ambasta trekked with South Col Expeditions through the Markha Valley in Ladakh in September 2013. In the second part of this three part essay, Ashesh recounts his journey through the Markha Valley. 

 For the first part of this essay please do visit http://www.sujoyrdas.blogspot.in/2014/02/the-markha-valley-trek-part-i.html

Day 4 (7th September 2013) – Skiu  - Markha

After a breakfast of omelettes and muesli, hit the trail by 8 am. First sighting of the lone ranger from Barcelona on this stretch, who was with us until Hankar. Steady climb, on a narrow trail for a while before flattening, until we reached a tea house at Pendse .  Used to be a proper eco resort until it was washed away by the floods in 2010.  Only the main building left, which offers refreshments and sells handicrafts made by the Ladakh Women’s Alliance Group.  Back on the trail for several hours, down to the river, crossed a two-logged bridge (the ponies waded through the water), moderate climb to a shady glade where we take a short halt. Soon after, cross Humarge village and after an hour so reach Sera village by 1 pm where we stop for lunch at the tea house.
The sun had been beating down on us relentless throughout the trek from a brilliant clear blue sky. The first thing we did was to remove our shoes and hang the socks to dry. Washed our feet and faces with the deliciously cold water from the hand pump before tucking into our lunch. The tea house was stocked with assorted cold drinks and toilet paper rolls (for sale). It also had waste segregation bins. A signage by Exodus Travels informed us that every year 15,000 plastic bottles of water sold. Their objective is to reduce plastic waste by setting up water purifying units.
After an hour’s break, set off again. What had, until now, been a narrow gorge, now opened out into a wide river valley. Long trudge, which went on endlessly, or so it seemed, due to the heat and the extreme discomfort caused by the rock/stone strewn, rough trail.  A short climb to a pass with prayer flags and a fascinating assemblage of yak horns and prayer stones. A rapid descent to the river and then the first river crossing through ice cold water! Back on the trail, thinking we were finally on the home-stretch. But obviously a wide gulf separates Tenzing’s notion of distance and time from ours because it went on interminably like the proverbial last mile. 

Tenzing helps Kanika cross a stream

Close to Markha village came across 3 coloured chortens, signifying the entrance to the village. We also had the first sighting of Kangyatse peak, which was to remain our constant companion henceforth.
Finally reached the campsite at Mentok at the end of the Markha valley. Several other groups had already set up camp here.  It also seemed to be home to dozens of magpies. Tea, followed by a quick wash up at the hand pump (freezing water). Our medicinal tot of rum, followed by outstanding French fries with mushroom soup and then dinner of pasta and vegetable dishes of aubergines, cauliflower and carrots.
Star studded night with the milky way clearly visible. Sujoy’s first shoot at night. Most of us turned in early – it had been a long and tiring day.

Night sky at Markha  campsite
Distance walked: 22 kms
Time taken: 6 hours 18 minutes
Height of camp: 3680 m

Day 5 (8th September 2013) – Markha - Hankar

Started by 8.30 am today; the decision to start late had been taken last night at dinner. The other groups had already broken camp and left by the time we started. Crossed the river immediately and climbed up to the Markha gompa. On the way crossed a primary school with a notice asking for volunteers to take up short term teaching assignments – interesting and tempting? The gompa was closed unfortunately. But the place offered considerable scope for interesting photographs; including Tarlika, who was unfazed by all the attention she was getting from our team members. In addition was a panoramic view of the village down below with golden yellow fields ready for harvest. Donkeys laden with grass added to the general delight of our enthusiastic shutterbugs.

The model and the photographers!

Crossed the river yet again over a single plank bridge and joined the trail on the left bank of the river.  Several river crossings, a see-saw on the way, then a steady climb to Umling tea tent. Talked into making donations for a children’s welfare fund by the tea lady. Began the walk again and soon saw the Tacha monastery, very high up on the ridge – too high to contemplate a visit!  Soon after Umling reached a series of mani walls leading to a ridge. Right across from us were striking rocky spires, next to the Jumlam trail to Zanskar, which has fallen into disuse now. Demanding walk thereafter, mainly on the broken and undulating surface of the valley. Crossed a ridge and descended into the Hankar valley – last that we will see of Markha river. Reached the camp site at the end of the Hankar valley by about 2 pm and had our lunch from our boxes. Post lunch, most marched off to the river for a scrub and a wash.  People then dispersed in different directions to photograph birds and other fauna. Pakodas and tea followed.

Our campsite at Hankar
Approached by Israelis in trouble, looking for porters since one of their group members had developed a bad back problem. Our friend from Barcelona had brought them to us.
Outstanding view of the camp from the Ladakhi toilet.  Risky enterprise though: a rickety 3-step ladder, a big stone at the entrance over which you could stumble headlong into the toilet and the only thing preventing another person from entering was a torn curtain.
Hanif and Kanika contribute to cooking momos for dinner which comprised momos, soup, dish of mushrooms and custard with bananas.
Another star studded night prompted some more night shooting by Sujoy.
Distance walked: 12.5 kms
Time taken: 3 hours 30 minutes
Height of camp: 3,900 m
Net height gained/lost: 220 m

Day 6 (9th September 2013) –Hankar – Secret Lake of Kangyatse
Cold and dull morning enlivened by an appetising breakfast of Spanish omelettes with fillings of potatoes and mushrooms. Little was left by the time Kanika and Hanif arrived. Muesli and fruit salad also on offer. Visited by the troubled Israelis yet again who this time were in search of a pony to ride on. With Tenzing’s help, they seemed to have managed one tiny donkey which, thankfully, carried their personal gear.

Within a few minutes into the walk, we were challenged by a steep ascent through a narrow gully until the trail opened out again to bring us to ruined gompas on the hills overlooking Hankar village. Then followed an equally steep descent to the river; crossed Hankar village, traversed the slope on the side of the river until we reached a wooden bridge.  Encountered an old man at the bridge with his donkeys – was in traditional Ladakhi dress, a rare sight these days.
The old man crossing a stream

Continued walking upstream of Nimaling chu until we reached a point where we could either climb up the slope or cross the river and climb thereafter. Since the climb looked steep, took the unwise decision to cross the river, to which Tenzing also consented (indulgent, man)! Despite Tenzing’s heroic efforts, people slipped and wet their shoes, not once but twice since we had to cross the river at two places.  Loss of time. Sujoy  was very annoyed with the decision – can’t blame him.

Soon after crossing the river we were confronted with the very thing we were trying to avoid – a steep climb up, followed by a steadily rising slope which brought us to the Thanghungtse tea tent operated by the lama of Hankar. Had tea, dried socks and feet and then set off again by 11.30 am. Steady ascent once again through pastures to our left, a push to the ridge which flattened out into a narrow mesa with a thicket of wishing trees. Perfect spot for lunch (and snooze for some!). Fantastic and a really close view of Kangyatse from this spot.
Another short climb, part of which was accompanied by a low intensity and short duration hailstorm. An Israeli girl we’d met earlier and who’d been expressing wonderment at the beauty of the landscape (have never seen anything like this before, she kept babbling) was now completely ecstatic – hopping around excitedly and sticking her tongue out to catch the hail! A quick descent brought us to a lovely lake – an unexpected site. But we were beckoned uphill by Tenzing to another heavenly lake – this was to be our campsite, between the lake and Kangyatse towering over us. Greeted by strong winds followed by a short but intense burst of rain before it cleared up to bathe the entire campsite in the soft, gentle and luminous light of the setting sun.
Lake Camp below Kangyatse

Tenzing and his team (bless them) treated us to magi noodles soup with chilli sauce (thanks to Kankana’s culinary skills) – hit the right spot. Sated, most embarked on a flurry of shooting since the light was superb.  First siting of mice hare (Ladakh pika) – how scared the little critter must have felt with 4 determined photographers converging on him/her? A climb up the nearest slope revealed a spectacular site of misty mountains, layered ranges one after another in the far distance – magical and out of this world.

Didn’t forget our medicinal tot of rum. Dinner comprised noodles, tomato and chilli pasta and vegetable dishes of aubergines, palak paneer and beans.
Distance walked: 9.5 kms
 Time taken: 6 hours
Height of camp: 4,450 m
Net height gained/lost: 550 m

For the final part of this essay please visit 


  1. @Sujoy Das, I have always wanted to visit Ladakh. It always seems to me a land of new adventures and expeditions. You have shared photos which tell me the same. I am waiting to read the rest of your experience.

    1. You can read the last part here:




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...