The majority of the tourists who visit Ladakh like to travel in cars or bikes, hoping to see the best in the region. It is possible to see the main highlights in this way within a week’s time, but nothing compares to trekking in Ladakh.
You can visit Leh town, the Indus Valley, the Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake, and Tso Moriri Lake. While the Indus Valley is famous for centuries-old monasteries, both the lakes are also on the go-to list of all the tourists planning a trip to Ladakh.
However, the real beauty of Ladakh could be explored only through trekking. Not only is it a different experience, one can encounter the beauty of Ladakh’s nature and mountains closely.
It is a great option to connect with nature and also go to places that are not easily accessible and hence have limited visitors.
One should be in good physical condition to do trekking in Ladakh. It is also important to be well acclimatized to the altitude before starting the trek to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness. Treks in Ladakh vary from tough to moderate.
The Sham Valley trek and the Markha Valley trek are among the best treks in Ladakh that are recommended for someone looking to gain a first-hand trekking experience in the region.
Trekking in Ladakh: The Sham and Markha Valleys
The Sham Valley Trek
The difficulty level for hiking the Sham Valley trail is easy. Its highest elevation is only 3,874 meters (about two and a half miles) and the total distance is just 32 kilometers (about 20 miles). From beginning to end, this trek takes three days.
Popularly known as the baby trek because of its easy nature, the Sham Valley trek is recommended for those who want to do a trek with the family. However, it is a multi-day trek and could challenge the physical limits of many.
Day 1: Likir – Yangthang
If you are traveling by plane, you will arrive in Leh, the capital of Ladakh. After an hour and a half drive from Leh, you will reach Likir which is the starting point of the trek.
You can visit the Likir monastery before proceeding on the four-hour hike with your group towards Yangthang village. On your journey, you will cross two easy passes, Phobe La and Chagatse La.
Day 2: Yangthang – Hemis Shukpachen
To get to Hemis Shukpachan, you need to cross Tsermangchan La, which is the highest pass on this trek with an altitude of 3,874 meters. The trail is laden with beautiful landscapes and offers a great view from the pass.
Day 3: Hemis Shukpachen – Temisgam
On the third day, you need to cross a small pass called the Mebtak La and then descend to reach Temisgam. From Temisgam, you can catch a vehicle to return to Leh.
The Markha Valley Trek
The Markha Valley has a difficulty level of moderate to difficult. The elevation reaches 5,260 meters (a little over three miles) at its highest point, and the total distance is 78 kilometers (not quite 50 miles). From beginning to end, this trek takes six days.
The Markha Valley trek is probably the most popular trek in Ladakh. Since Markha is situated in the Hemis National Park, which offers amazing landscapes and the chance to see wild animals, it is a trekkers’ delight.
The Markha Valley trek is more difficult than Sham Valley since it requires crossing the Kongmaru La pass at an altitude of 5,260 meters on the fifth day. It usually takes six days to complete the trek but there are options to extend the trek for those who have more time.
Day 1: Chilling – Skyu
The starting point for this trek is Chilling, which is 60 kilometers (nearly 40 miles) from Leh. After crossing the Zanskar River, you will enter the Markha Valley.
From Chilling, it only takes 3 hours to reach Skyu village. It’s the easiest day of the trek.
Day 2: Skyu – Markha
On the second day, you will walk almost 21 kilometers (about 13 miles) to reach Markha village. The trail is full of scenic landscapes and barren mountains.
Once you arrive at Markha village, you can visit the old fort and monastery there.
Day 3: Markha – Hankar
You will need to hike for around five hours to reach Hankar, which is a small village at an altitude of 4,050 meters. The village is surrounded by tall mountains.
While you’re in Hankar, you can get a glimpse, from a distance, of the mighty Kang Yatse peak. This peak has an elevation of 6,400 meters or about 4 miles.
Day 4: Hankar – Nimaling
It is perhaps the hardest day of the trek. You have to hike 10 kilometers or six miles uphill to reach Nimaling camp. It takes around five to six hours to cover the distance.
You will spend the night in a tent at Nimaling, which is located at an altitude of 4,850 meters. It’s a good idea to get as much rest as possible to prepare for the next day.
Day 5: Nimaling – Shang Sumdo via Kongmaru La pass
On the fifth day, you will cross the Kongmaru La pass, which is the highest point on this trek at an altitude of 5,260 meters.
There is a spectacular view of Kang Yatse peak from the top. Thereafter, it is a long walk downhill to reach Shang Sumdo.
Day 6: Shang Sumdo – Hemis
It takes around four hours to reach Hemis from Shang Sumdo. However, the walk is easy. And once you get there, you can spend some time exploring the place before driving back to Leh. In fact, Hemis has the largest monastery in Ladakh.
As you know, there are many good reasons why tourists enjoy traveling in Ladakh. If you like to challenge yourself and you enjoy being in the wild, trekking is one more reason to add Ladakh to your bucket list!
Travel Tips for Trekking in Ladakh
- The best time for trekking in Ladakh is from May to early October. However, since the Sham Valley trek is at a lower altitude, it can be done all year round.
- During both the Sham Valley trek and the Markha Valley trek, you can stay in homestays in villages. This a great opportunity to experience local life.
- You will need to hire a taxi to get to the starting point of the treks and you will have to arrange a taxi to pick you up at the end of them. The easiest option is to book a taxi in advance on Leh-Ladakh Taxi Booking’s website. Taxi rates are fixed in Ladakh.
- For the Sham Valley trek, a taxi from Leh to Likir costs Rs 2,100 (about $28 USD), and a taxi from Temisgam to Leh costs Rs 4,700 (about $62 USD).
- For the Markha Valley trek, a taxi from Leh to Chilling costs Rs 4,000 (about $53 USD), and a taxi from Hemis to Leh costs Rs 2,400 (about $32 USD).
- When trekking in Ladakh, it’s highly recommended that you are accompanied by a professional Ladakhi guide. Your guide will make sure that you are safe in the mountains and will share plenty of interesting facts about Ladakh and its culture.
- You will also need a horseman with horses/mules to carry your bags. Indeed, even if you think that your backpack is not so heavy, carrying it on a multi-trek at high altitude can quickly become a nightmare for your legs and your shoulders.
- The cost of a trek in Ladakh depends on many parameters. One of the main parameters is the number of people in your group. To give you a rough idea, the 6-day Markha Valley trek would cost around Rs 25,000 (about $328 USD) per person for a group of 5 people.
The Sham and Markha Valley treks are only two of the many routes you can travel while trekking in Ladakh. Plan ahead so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises, and remember that exchange rates change constantly.