Markha Valley Trek

Leh | India
  From  INR 17,200  | From 6 Days

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All You Need to Know About the Markha Valley Trek

Markha Valley Trek will take you to the cold, arid Ladakh region of India, lying between the Karakoram range to the north and the Great Himalayas to the south. The trail explores the more rugged side of the Himalayas, which features steep terrain with sparse vegetation. This Valley is home to several rivers, streams, lakes, and fantastic landscapes with changing rock colors. Markha Valley Trek, situated roughly at an elevation of 5250m, involves steep climbs and descents while you navigate through the raw mountains and isolated villages.

Markha Valley trek also offers an excellent opportunity to explore and enjoy the local wildlife and culture. The villages that you will pass and stay over will give you an experience of the old Tibetian life unaffected by the change of time. These remote settlements will further diversify your experience and add charm to the trek.

Ladakh itself is pretty famous for being a significant tourist attraction. However, what you get in the Markha Valley Trek will be a unique experience traveling through the breathtaking landscape and hidden treasures that lie amongst the snow-capped mountains.

Overview of the Markha Valley Trek

Markha Valley Trek is named after the river Markha that is a part of the river Zanskar. This trek follows a scenic route through different Tibetan villages of Chilling, Sara, Skiu, Markha, Thachungtse, etc., that line the entire trail. The route is situated at an elevation of over 5000m which may sound formidable but can be traveled easily if you properly prepare yourself before embarking on this journey.

The Markha Valley Trek itinerary is a relatively short one with only 4-6 days of climb and descent. It can be extended if you ditch some transport options to the official starting point at Chilling, which takes only 2 hours via local taxi from Leh. On the other hand, the trip duration might come to a cumulative 9 days if you stay 2 days in Leh for acclimatization. Weather conditions may also affect the schedule, and it's always advisable to add an extra day or two to the plan. The route covers a distance of over 60 km and passes through uneven terrain. You will find ample resting spots along the way, and the villages primarily serve as the night accommodation for the trek duration. You will either get the option of a tea house or pre-set tents rented out by the local villagers. Food is also provided at these homestays and tents and includes dinner, lunch, and breakfast according to your requirements.

Now coming to the major attractions of this trek and what might interest you, here is a list of treasures that await you on this trail:

Raw and Rugged Mountains

If you are habituated to go on treks through lush green forests, this will be a significant change of scenery for you. The mountains at this elevation level lack dense vegetation, and treelines end further down the trail itself. You are left with rocky cliffs, slopes of changing colors, and snow-covered peaks amongst the arid landscape. The Markha Valley Trek offers significant views of Mt. Kang Yatse (6492 m), and this towering mountain stays with you till the end of the trail.

Rivers and Lakes

The entire Markha Valley Trek Ladakh is lined with narrow rivers and streams that chat through the aridness of the place. The Markha River flows through this picturesque valley that intersects with the Hemis National Park. You will find some greenery around these areas that will relieve you from the monotony of the otherwise dry mountains. You will also encounter several lakes along the way where you can spend some relaxing time while taking breaks during the long walks.

Wildlife

You will find on this trail some beautiful local wildlife that cannot be seen in lower elevations. Trekkers and tourists have mentioned the sights of blue sheep, red fix, snow leopards, Alpine Chough, Himalayan Marmots, Pikas, and much more.

Cultural Experience

The villages on this trail are home to some of the oldest Tibetan tribes that lay almost cut off from the modern world. Their culture is vastly different from what you see in other regions. You will get a chance to stay amongst the local population, learn about their traditions, taste their delectable regional cuisines, and experience their warm hospitality.

Trek cost

The Markha Valley Trek cost is quite considerable if you are traveling with a trekking agency or tour operator in Ladakh. For a single person, the entire itinerary of four days would cost around USD 240. It generally includes a guide, round trip transportation, accommodation in tents or homestays, and 3 meals each day.

But if you are traveling on your own without a guide, you can take a taxi or motorbike from Leh to reach Chilling, which would cost approximately USD 43 and USD 23, respectively. Accommodation, including 3 meals per day, costs approximately USD 16.5 for both homestays and tents rented out by locals. Finally, the transportation from Shang Sumdo to Leh costs USD 40 for a taxi ride. The same can be traveled via local transport at the rate of USD 8 per head.

How Difficult is the Markha Valley Trek?

The Markha Valley Trek itinerary may be pretty short, but that doesn't mean that the trek is easy and smooth. The track can be rather tricky for beginners who haven't trekked through high altitudes. The elevation of over 5000m means low oxygen levels and steep climbs that might tire out even seasoned trekkers if not done with precautions.

Past visitors of Markha Valley Trek Ladakh have advised trekkers to spend a few days in Leh before starting their journey. Immediately embarking on the trek after landing in Leh would make the trek hazardous for people as their bodies will have difficulty adjusting to the extreme climate. It will lead to them getting sick quite quickly, which might be dangerous since they will be traveling through remote regions of the country with little medical aid. Staying a few days at Leh will help their body get accustomed to the climate and make the trek slightly easier.

The trail also involves traversing some rugged terrain, and trekkers have to climb steep slopes during the ascent, which may take time and a lot of effort. The first part of the trek also includes walking under the open skies in the scorching heat for over 8 hours on certain days. If people do not stay properly hydrated during the trek, their bodies might start to revolt. The temperatures at night may fall significantly, and trekkers will have to sleep through the extreme cold. These weather conditions make the trek a little complicated.

Best Time to Visit the Markha Valley Trek

Markha Valley Trek Ladakh is located in a region that experiences frigid climates at high elevations. The Winter season after October should be strictly avoided while planning this trip. During winters, the temperatures get very cold and down to almost freezing levels, making the trek even more difficult. Many roads and passes stay sealed during this season due to snowfall and ice formation. Till about early spring, the weather remains freezing and unsuitable for trekkers.

People should try to explore this trail during the beginning of the summer season in May, when the weather is likely to cooperate. The summer season also comes with its disadvantages, like traveling through arid regions with zero shade under the scorching sun. But proper hydration and rest between long walks will help immensely.

The spring and the autumn seasons are also good times to travel to Markha Valley as the weather doesn't get that cold during these seasons. However, there is always a chance of catching some unwanted rainfall and strong winds that may be troublesome for trekkers and may lead to the extension of schedules. The Markha Valley itself lies in a rain shadow region, so it doesn't get heavy rainfall in June-August like the rest of India. May to September would be the perfect season to travel and is considered by several seasoned campaigners as the Markha valley trek best time.

Gear Guide and Checklist for the trek to Markha Valley Trek

While trekking through Markha Valley, you will be traveling through tricky terrain and extreme weather conditions, requiring special gear and equipment for easy climb and descent. It's also important to remember that, unlike tourist spots, the long routes are not filled with settlements, and medical emergencies may land you in a heap of trouble. It is, therefore, necessary to start with proper equipment and provisions for emergencies. Here is a checklist of different items that you should carry with you when you embark on this trek:-

Suitable Clothing Items:

The weather in Ladakh tends to be quite cold, which means you should pack adequate warm clothes. Do not carry too many as it might make your bag heavier and cause fatigue during the trek. Pack at least two sets of lined jackets, thermals, innerwear, wool socks, lined waterproof pants. Try to buy waterproof clothing like jackets, ponchos, and raincoats as you won't find shelter to protect yourself from sudden rains. Carry wool and fleece jackets will provide better protection against the cold than cotton or synthetic materials.

Proper Footwear:

We know that higher elevations mean rough and rocky terrain. Markha Valley trek Ladakh also traverses through rocky terrain, and you will have to climb through steep slopes where regular sneakers or running shoes will not give you proper grip or support. You need to buy proper trekking shoes with ankle support. Waterproof shoes are preferred as they won't cause problems during rains. Wet shoes are a big no when it comes to trekking.

Sleeping Gear:

You might wonder why you would require special sleeping gear when you will be staying in homestays. Homestays may not always be able to provide you with adequate blankets to keep yourself warm. Many homestays don't have beds, just mattresses to lie on. Some even offer outside tents, which again may not be very warm. You always need to carry a well-insulated sleeping bag or a light fleece blanket for protection from the cold as night temperature drops.

Other Trekking Gear:

Essential trekking gears like hiking poles or sticks will provide you with extra support while traveling through steep terrain. Make sure you buy an excellent rucksack with padded handles and broad straps for easy carriage. The ideal capacity of the rucksack should be around 50-60 liters. You don't need to carry camping equipment, so no need to buy a rucksack that is too large.

Opt for a waterproof bag so that your clothes and other items do not get soaked during rain. Carry a 20-30 liters bag for offloading.

Medications and Ointments:

Breaking through the Himalayas is quite different from traveling through standard tourist destinations. The Markha Valley Trek trail is located in a remote valley with no proper roads or connection to the main city. If you are to get sick or hurt, it will take a long time to reach a town for appropriate medical attention. It means you need to carry some essential medications to avoid these problems. Your medicine list should include ibuprofen, paracetamol, allergy medications, antacids, light painkillers, and other standard travel medications. You also need to carry a small first aid kit with bandages, ointments, and antiseptics to treat wounds and bruises.

Toiletries and Hygiene Products:

It is essential to carry personal hygiene products when you embark on this trek. You will need to pack toiletry items like biodegradable soap, shampoo sachets, toothpaste and toothbrush, quick-dry towel, hand sanitizers, moisturizers and lip balms, face wash, comb, and wet wipes. Biodegradable napkins and toilet paper rolls can also be carried. Women should remember to take sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, or tampons according to their preference.

Identity Proof and Documentations:

Always carry with you some identity proof so that you can get help when required. You should also carry maps for navigation in case you are lost. This trek does not require permits for travel, so that won't be necessary.

Searchlights and others:

You should carry searchlights and flashlights if you plan to venture out at night or in case you get lost on the way. It will also allow you to give distress signals in case of emergencies.

Food and Drinks:

Although food prepared from fresh, local produce will be provided at homestays, it is necessary to carry some light snacks and instant food. The long walks under the hot sun also require you to maintain your glucose levels, and you need to drink plenty of sugar-rich fluids frequently to stay hydrated. Never walk on empty stomachs. Carry granola bars and protein bars for snacks as they are healthier than fried snacks and give you energy.

Markha Valley Trek Itinerary

As we have mentioned before, the Markha Valley itinerary is relatively short, with only about 4-6 days of trekking on the route. Here is a rough breakup of the route along with a standard itinerary that most people follow:-

  • Day 1: Markha Valley Trek's starting point is at Chilling (3195 m), which you can reach by roadways from Leh. From Chilling, you need to make the long walk of 2-3 hours until you reach Skiu (3366 m), a large settlement. Stay the night here at homestays instead of traveling too far on the first day itself. You will be crossing the Zanskar river on this route.
  • Day 2The second day will require you to take the longest walk of 6-7 hours from Skiu (3366 m) to reach the village Markha (3760 m). The trail passes along rivers, and the terrain may get steep while the scenery moves from arid to beautiful green fields amongst lakes. At Markha, you can explore local heritage sites like the ruins of the Fort and the Monastery. Spend the night here at homestays while you recover from the strain of the walk. 
  • Day 3: This leg is the second time you will be climbing steep terrain, but it won't be as tiring as the last day. You need to trek 4-5 hours from Markha (3760 m) to reach Hankar (4030 m) and climb about 305m. The river trail continues, and the local Gompa can be visited in Umlung along the way. Stay the night at homestays in Hankar to prepare for the big ascent the next day.
  • Day 4The trek from Hankar (4030 m) to Nimaling(4831 m) will get very difficult as you climb over 800m of elevation. It will take around 5-6 hours to travel and reach Nimaling. Go easy so that you don't get too exhausted. At this high elevation, you will get majestic views of the snow-capped mountains. Rest at Nimaling in homestays.
  • Day 5The next day we set out from Nimaling (4831 m) to Komru La (5260 m) and lastly to Shang Sumodu (3680 m). It is the last part of the trek where you climb for a short time to reach Komru La and then make your descent to Shang Sumodu. You will cross many rivers and streams before reaching Shang Sumodu. While the scenery will be beautiful, the descent is rather steep, and you need to be careful. The steep descent makes it necessary to go slow, so you will need 6-8 hours to reach Shang Sumodu. 
  • Day 6The trek to Hemis (3678 m) concludes your journey to Markha Valley Trek Ladakh. You will find this portion relatively easy to travel and will only take 3-4 hours to reach Hemis. You will be able to do some local sightseeing here before ending the trek and spending the night at homestays. You will easily find transport back to Leh, which lies 40km from here.

Getting Fit For Markha Valley Trek

The Markha Valley trek Ladakh will be pretty tricky if you are not adequately prepared beforehand since it involves climbing or descending steep slopes. A few ways to prepare yourself before the trip are:

Physical Training:

You need to focus on general endurance and building strength through cardiovascular exercises, which can be done without a formal trainer. You can involve swimming, jogging, and stretching in your day-to-day routine. You must walk long distances as the trekking routes require a maximum of 7-8 hours of continuous walking. Set up a morning or evening routine of walking a specific distance. Keep increasing this distance slightly every day for better results. Try to go jogging on uneven terrains. Make sure you also include some breathing exercises in your routine. Try carrying a moderately heavy backpack while walking. It will help you carry your heavy rucksack during the trek and increase your walking speed. Putting too much pressure on yourself might have adverse effects on your body, so don't do that. Start at least a month before the trip for the best results.

Mental Training:

Even after going through an excellent physical training routine, it is necessary to boost your motivation to help you during the trek. Make sure you understand that you might encounter problems along the way, but panic will not be the way to solve them. Always tell yourself about why you want to go on this trek and complete it, and you will be able to find the motivation to keep going. If you are mentally determined, your body will also cope better with stress.