Trekking in Ladakh: Sham valley and Markha valley

Most of tourists come to Ladakh with specific destinations in mind. Most of the time it is the Golden Triangle comprising Leh, Pangong Lake and Nubra valley. The Golden Triangle is often seen as the major highlight that needs to be visited and seen in the region. 

It is indeed true that Leh town, Pangong Lake and Nubra valley offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the visitors with its grandeur, breathtaking landscapes and monasteries, but the region has much more to offer.

The true beauty of Ladakh could only be explored on foot and there is no better option than a trek in Ladakh to discover this wonderful region. Ladakh, with majestic peaks and mountains, is the perfect place to go trekking, and to also experience Ladakh’s nature, mountains and wildlife closely.

Many of these places are difficult to access and it takes a few days of trekking to reach the place. However, the effort is worth it as the rustic charm and hospitality of the villagers will make the trekking a memorable experience.

The high-altitude, thin oxygen level and tough terrain demand that the trekker must be in good shape. It is also important to well acclimatised to the altitude to avoid getting sick.

Sham Valley Trek

For those who are in Ladakh with their family and want to do easy trekking, then Sham Valley trek is for you. The highest elevation during the trek is 3,874 meters (elevation of Leh town is 3,500 meters) and the total distance is 32 kilometers. It takes three days to complete the trek. 

Sham Valley trek is also called the ‘Baby Trek’ because the trek is easy. However, it may still challenge the physical limits of many as it is a three-day trek. One can spend nights in homestays with local families and see the way the people of Ladakh go about their everyday lives.

Day 1: Likir to Yangthang 

It takes more than one hour by car to get to Likir- the starting point of the trek – from Leh. One can visit the Likir monastery- famous for its 23-meter high statue of Maitreya or the Future Buddha- before commencing the trek. The four-hour hike from Likir to Yangthang will take you through paddy fields and also two passes- Phobe La and Chagatse La (La means a pass in Ladakhi language). 

Day 2: Yangthang to Hemis Shukpachan

This is the day when one has to cross the Tsermangchan La- the highest point along the trek with an elevation of 3,880 meters. However, the trail offers beautiful landscapes from the pass. 

Day 3: Hemis Shukpachan to Temisgam

On the final day of the trek, one needs to cross Mebtak La, a small pass on the way, and then climb down to reach Temisgam. Here, one can find a taxi to return to Leh. 

Markha valley trek  

Markha valley trek is the most famous trek in Ladakh and it is easy to see why it is a favourite among the trekkers. Markha valley is situated in the Hemis National Park and not only offers amazing landscapes but also the opportunity to see wildlife. 

Markha valley trek is difficult than Sham valley trek since it requires the trekkers to cross the Kongamaru La at an altitude of 5,260 meters on the last day of the trek. It takes between 5 and 6 days to complete the 78-kilometer-long trek. The Markha valley trek can be started from two points- Zingchen and Chilling. However, one needs to cross Ganda La (4,900 meters) on the second day of the trek if Zingchen is the starting point of the trek.

Day 1: Chilling to Skyu

Chilling is 60 kilometers from Leh. One has to cross the Zanskar river to start the trek. It takes just a few hours to reach the village of Skyu. 

Day 2: Skyu to Markha

The distance between Skyu and Markha is 21 km and will certainly test your physical limits. The trail is has scenic landscapes. One can visit the old monastery which dominates the village of Markha. 

Day 3: Markha to Hankar

One usually needs 6 hours to reach the pretty village of Hankar situated at an elevation of 4,100 meters. From the village, one can see the impressive Kang Yatse peak.

Day 4: Hankar to Nimaling

Perhaps the most difficult day of the trek as one has to hike uphill for 10 kilometers to reach the camp at Nimaling. One will need to spend the night in a fixed tent at Nimaling and get sound sleep to prepare for the upcoming day. 

Day 5: Nimaling to Shang Sumdo and back Leh

One needs to start early to avoid the harsh sun that will make the journey arduous. On the last day, one has to cross the Kongmaru La from where one can get a great view of the Kang Yatse peak. It is a long way to reach Shang Sumdo which is the end-point of the trek. One can catch a taxi to return to Leh. One can visit the Hemis monastery on the way to Leh. 

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