Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Markha Valley Trek: Part III

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

 For the first part of this essay please do visit

For the second part of his essay please do visit

Day 7 (10th September 2013) – Secret Lake of Kang yatse - Nimaling

It was a very cold night. Not surprisingly, woke up to find the water channels frozen and part of the lake covered with a thin icy surface layer. Leisurely breakfast of pancakes and porridge. Watched the horses being tethered and loaded in front of our mess tent. Incredible how a single man manages 8 ponies, not only in terms of loading, etc but herding them through the trail.

Began walking at 9 am. Ambled through open pastures, loads of chortens and maney walls throughout the trek.  Lots of marmots and micehare (Ladakhi pika) all along the trail. Reached Nimaling by 11 am, which is a summer pasture for the animals of Markha and Hanker. And sure enough were treated to a large flock of sheep leaving for the upper pastures, including very woolly pashmina goats with rounded horns. 

Marmot on the slopes near Nimaling
Large campsite with one permanent camp for the summer season.  Several other groups (small and large) had already set up their camp by the time we arrived while two other groups arrived after us. Many of our party took advantage of the sun and caught a quick nap. But a partially clouded sky and cold winds forced us into the mess tent. Lunch of rice, chhole dal and two vegetable dishes.

Three of the party then decided to climb and explore the slope leading to, what we thought was, the Kangyatse base. Stiff climb of about a 100 m before it evened out to open pastures, the scrubs turning orange and brown; shades of autumn already . Saw herds of yaks in the far distance. The south face of Kang yatse was closer, rising loftily into the clouds. We realised that our secret desire of making it to the base camp was unrealistic, given that sunset was imminent. Stamped our feet in frustration – should have started earlier instead of hanging around camp. Perhaps the bigger mistake was not to have taken the upper slopes from our lakeside camp, via the Kang yatse basecamp to Nimaling.

The pastureland below the peak of Kangyatse above the meadows of Nimaling
While taking photographs were approached by an Israeli couple staggering down the slope like zombies – barely able to walk, very dehydrated and sick and asking for the way to Nimaling. They were evidently climbing down from the first camp of Kang yatse; without porters or local guides – foolhardy or daredevils?
Hot tea at camp and then crossed the bridge to the other side of the river which housed the temporary accommodation of the shepherds. Hoping to catch the returning flock of sheep. But had to return without a single shot since the light became too poor for photographs.

Customary tot of rum (that bottle is like the “water of India” – never seems to get empty! Or has Kankana trained under PC Sorcar?). A superb dinner of vegetarian pizzas.
Distance walked: 5.72 kms
Time taken: 2 hours
Height of camp: 4,700 m
Net height gained/lost: 250 m

Day 8 (11th September 2013) – Nimaling – Kongmaru la - Chukirmo
Hit the trail at 7 am, as did most of the other campers. Crossed the river and almost immediately began a steep uphill ascent to the first visible ridge. Hardly a trail at all; mainly walked up a dried water course, stony and rocky. The sudden altitude gain and the sharp thin air had us heaving for breath. Crested the first ridge to reach a gently sloping pasture – more grazing yaks in the distance.  The meadow was dotted with puddles of frozen water.  More marmots and mice hare sunning themselves; scurrying into hiding when they saw us, of course. The gentle gradient of the pasture afforded us a much needed breather for about half an hour before starting on the second leg of the climb. This stretch was even steeper, necessitating a criss-cross ascent along the trail up. If breathing had been tough in the earlier climb, this was truly agonising.

Top of Kongmaru la
Reached the top and realised that there was no further way up to climb – we had reached Kongmaru la! The pass (5,100 m) was festooned with lots of prayer flags, stretching across the entire pass. It was numbingly cold, thanks to a piercing glacial wind.  But the views were spectacular – in front of us was Kang yatse, looking even more majestic. Down below us was the path that plunged straight down to the river, and far away on the north-west horizon, the Karakoram range.  Could the highest of the 3 peaks visible be K2?

Definitely needed to wear protective clothing.  Strung up our own prayer flags. Took group photos with the South Col banner. Made phone calls to loved ones – the only place in the entire trek with a (albeit weak) signal! Climbers from various nationalities had made the climb along with us – could identify a few Britons, Dutch (impressive, because many of them were old and seemed to have made it up without much ado) and, of course, the ubiquitous Israelis!

Started the frighteningly steep descent down a gravelly track, which troubled both people and the ponies. The initial stretch down levelled out to more meadows before plunging once again until we reached the bottom of a narrow gorge. Thereafter, the walk was mainly along the base of the ravine, along the river involving innumerable crossings. Every once in a while the trail would peter out abruptly, victim of a land/rock slide. We then had to scramble up steep, makeshift, narrow trails; slippery and horribly exposed.  But what the hell – if a very obese Briton in a green t-shirt could manage so well, so could we! Along the way, only Dipan and Kanika were lucky enough to spot and photograph bharrals. Stopped on the way under a rocky niche for lunch. Were joined by an Israeli couple who readily accepted a boiled egg from Tenzing!

Chukirmo Camp site

Reached Chukirmo, our terraced camp site by mid-day.  The most uncomfortable camp site so far. Most walked down to the river for a sponge in the icy cold water. Many caught up on sleep. Lots of tea in the mess tent with lots of conversation. All of us already imbued with a feeling of nostalgia; feeling that we were almost nearing the end of our trek.

The last drop of the rum was finished today! Dinner of rice, dal makhani, matter panner, roasted gobi and mushrooms. What a feast. But the surprise of the evening was the cake for desert. Tenzing, the wonder man, never ceases to surprise us!
Distance walked: 14.58 kms
Time taken: 7.30 hours
Height of camp: 4,070 m
Net height gained/lost: -630 m

Day 9 (12th September 2013) – Chukirmo – Shang sundo - Leh
Broke camp by 8.15 am and began walking while the ponies were being loaded.  Descended to Martselang gorge and walked along the river, crossing it several times.  After an hour of walking, climbed up to Chokdo village, walked through narrow winding paths and strayed into a homestay. Met the most charming, generous and evolved person in Leh – Jigmet who is studying Bio Resources at the Kashmir University in Srinagar.  Offered us the most delicious cinnamon tea, dried apricots and assorted cookies. Even offered dahi. Refused to accept money from us stating that she had everything she needed and that we should give this money to someone truly deserving (which, thanks to Kanika, happened in Delhi).
Jigmet's kitchen at the tea house at Chogdo
A long and an uneventful plod to Shang sundo, which looked like a frontier town straight out of a western.  The tea tent manned by an old woman and her crippled son.  Waited for our ponies to arrive – the first time we beat them to a destination! Our vehicles had reached and were waiting for us. Climbed in and started our drive to Leh – our trek was definitely over.

Distance walked: 13.55 kms
Time taken: 3 hours 12 minutes
Height of Shang sundo: 3,700 m
Net height gained/lost: -370

For photographs of the Markha Valley trek please do visit


  1. Great. I wish I had accompanied you.

  2. Your article is very helpful thank you very much for sharing .

  3. Awesome post .i hope everybody will like your post

  4. Wow Trekking in ladakh. Now that one cool trip i would love to plan. Thanks for the idea Sujoy. i think I will plan one soon and I got some really useful information through your blog. Thanks again Sujoy. Keep blogging and keep sharing.



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