The Coolest Treks in Ladakh 

by Kshaunish Jaini, on Jan 6, 2017

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Ladakh, a mystical and isolated land, nestled high in the Himalaya and Karakorum mountains in India, is as good a trekking destination as they come. Many factors contribute to making it a hikers paradise, though one in particular eclipses all - that to fully appreciate the beauty of the Indian Himalayas, there is no substitute for trekking. This unforgettable experience brings you in direct contact with the land and its people, and helps to foster an appreciation for the mountain environment. There are 3 general categories of treks in Ladakh. The first kind takes you on ancient trails that are specked with monasteries, little villages and at times nomadic herds that still continue to roam the highlands in search for pastures. The second kind follows paths among jagged peaks and rugged terrain of the Zanskar and Karakorum ranges, offering panoramic views of the stark yet beautiful formations of these mountains. Last, but the most arduous kind, offers passages via high and remote passes and through the deep gorges and a chance to lose yourself in Ladakhi wilderness. Here is your opportunity for a holiday so surreal, you might as well call it an Alien Adventure.

Spitok to Stok via Rumbak

Start point: Spitok End point: Stok Best time to go: Early June - Mid October Duration: 5 days Difficulty: Moderate This trek is most suitable for those who want to experience the elements of Ladakh in a short span of time. The first day takes you on a dirt road along Indus river through the Zinchen Gorge until you reach the settlement of Zinchen. The second day hike towards Rumbak provides glimpses of snow laden peaks of the Stok range, setting the stage for the more remarkable views of the Rumbak valley. The next day's trail takes you to base of Stok La, a gradual climb that gradually unfurls the beautiful ridges in the distance and leaves the high pastures of Rumbak valley behind. Day four presents accent to Stok La, situated nearly 4900 meters above the sea. The journey, although arduous, has picturesque views of Zanskar and Karakorum mountains and a bird's eye view of the valley nearly a kilometer below. This also marks the highest point in the trek. The campsite for day four is located at Changma, which is also used by trekkers on-route to Stok Kangri base camp. The fifth day contains a steep descend to Stok, marking the end of the trek.

Spituk Gompa. Picture credits to Koshy Koshy

The play of light on Ladakhi mountains. Picture credits to Sebastian Preußer

Trekking to Stok La in Ladakh. Picture credits to Sebastian Preußer

Markha Valley trek

Start point: Spitok End point: Hemis Best time to go: Early June - Mid October Duration: 7 days Difficulty: Moderate - difficult The Markha Valley is the most popular trek among tourists visiting Ladakh, but by no means the easiest. The journey begins at Spitok and follows the same track as in the previous trek up to Zinchen and further on to Rumbak. There on it meanders through the National Hemis park, past willow groves, patches of wild roses and via canyons specked with multi-hued prayer flags. It involves crossing of the three high passes - Stok La (4848 meters), Kongmaru La (5274 meters), Gandla (4878 meters) and walking on the banks of the Markha River. You will also have the opportunity to meet nomadic families as they herd their yaks and visit small monasteries. This trip combines the sheer beauty of rugged Ladakhi landscape, panoramic vistas, a chance to spot wildlife and experience local people and culture close up - no wonder it is so sought after!

Herds of cattle on the high plains of Ladakh. Picture credits to Sebastian Preußer

Locals at Markha Valley in Ladakh. Picture credits to Sebastian Preußer

Horses grazing along the Markha Valley trek. Picture credits to Raphael Affentranger

Lamayuru to Chiling trek

Start point: Lamayuru End point: Chiling Best time to go: Early June - Mid October Duration: 6 days Difficulty: Moderate - difficult This trek starts at Lamayuru, the site of the oldest, largest and most beautiful monastery in Ladakh. It crosses two passes at 4900 meters and 4700 meters, offering fantastic views of the surrounding Zanskar Mountains en route to Chiling, a small village nestled along the Zanskar river gorge. From Chiling trekkers can either head back to Leh by road or more excitingly raft back on the turbulent Zanskar river. This trek is a good alternative to the Markha Valley trek.

Lamayuru Monastary in Ladakh. Picture credit to Fulvio Spada

Expansive mountain views on the Lamayuru trek in Ladakh. Picture credit to Vyacheslav Argenberg

You feel so small on the way from Zangla to Hinju. Picture credit toRaphael Affentranger

High altitude campsite while trekking in Ladakh. Picture credit to Rafael Affentranger

Ice trek on frozen Zanskar river

Start point: Chiling End point: Chiling Best time to go: Mid January - Mid February Duration: 8 days Difficulty: Moderate - difficult Located in the land of high passes, Ladakh, this trek takes you on the trade route that has been used by the indigenous people for centuries. It is the only way in and out for Zanskaris, the inhabitants of Zanskar valley, in winter when all other ways are closed due to heavy snow fall at high passes. Some villages become completely inaccessible between November and March. One way to access such villages during the winter is to trek on top of the ice sheet of frozen rivers. The Chadar trek is one such route, connecting villages in the Zanskar valley (deep in the mountains) with Chilling (on the road to Leh) along the frozen Zanskar River. Meandering through a landscape of extreme wilderness, this route takes you through deep canyons surrounded by snow-covered peaks, monasteries hidden within hillsides and caves for campsites at night. It offers you a chance to walk over frozen river and very real possibility to see wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard if you are lucky. Although the terrain is mostly flat, long hours of walking in extreme cold with layers upon layers of clothing can be challenging for even the most seasoned adventurers. No amount of writing can substitute the actual experience, which some say can change you. Be prepared for the journey of a lifetime!

Walking the frozen surface of Zanskar river. Picture credit toPartha Chowdhury

Beautiful & crystal clear blue waters of the Zanskar river. Picture credit to Pradeep Kumbhashi

Blue Zanskar river flowing through Zanskar gorge. Water was indeed as blue as it looks here. Picture credit to Pradeep Kumbhashi

Cover image credit to Michelle & Jon Rousell .

Some other notable treks in Ladakh

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