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Wild Ladakh Zanskar Kora Trek
Dat Rupshu - Marang La - Shun Shade - Zangla - Yulchung
Another in our series of 'best-of' journeys culled from our many exploratory treks over the past few years in Ladakh and Zanskar. We consider this wild 'kora' route one of our best itineraries ever, an exciting and challenging trek through the sublime canyon lands, far-flung valleys of remote villages, green nomadic plateaus, high Himalayan passes and hidden valleys of mythical Ladakh & Zanskar. This is a river trek, so bring good sandals with you!
Our journey begins in the nomadic region of Kharnak, where nomads live a traditional pastoral life in their yak-hair tents, herding their flocks of pashm goats, sheep and yaks. We'll camp with the nomads, drink some salt-butter tea and experience their dying way of life. We trek through a wild region where kiang (wild ass) roam the wide valleys, marmots and pikas emerge from their burrows, Himalayan hare dart about and high altitude wetland birds nest. It is a truly awesome, wild landscape of wide plateaus and craggy snow-peaks, but also a gentle world of grassy meadows, delicate flowers, blue skies and meandering streams.
Next, via one of our secret and idyllic nomadic valleys, we cross the challenging Morang La to reach remote Shun Shade valley. Trekking through remote canyon-lands, we spend a few days following the turquoise Tsarap Chu river, past deserted villages, staying at beautiful campsites. Once in secluded Shade, the most set-apart in Zanskar, we have an extra day to experience traditional village life before setting off on our next adventure.
Crossing high passes, fording rivers and wandering through green pasturelands in a region of high, craggy peaks, we trek towards mythical Zanskar, a fantastic route that we doubt other Westerners ever explore. Zanskar, the land of white copper, is a timeless Himalayan region tucked away between the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges, once part of an ancient trade network with Tibet. We visit our favorite villages here, high and remote with spectacular views, before heading into Ladakh, 'land of high passes'.
Our journey takes us into beautiful 'bear valley' to finish the trek in Photoksar, the most photographed village in Ladakh. The traditional villages and nomadic settlements we encounter along the way are timeless, a vision of days-past in Ladakh and Tibet, and the campsites are wonderful. There are plenty days built in for exploration, and lots of time to relax, enjoy the Himalayan break and soak in the surroundings ...
(A kora is a Tibetan Buddhist circumambulation, clockwise ... )
What a trip! Thanks for all your hard work and imagination. Truly a spectacular journey and the clientele you attracted was a magnificent bonus.
Chris R, Wild Ladakh Rupshu 2011
Kim runs a tight ship. Everything felt totally thought out and under control. It feels like Kim does such a brilliant job for her own sense of personal satisfaction - that she wouldn't do anything less then to the best of her abilities! She's really human and fun and gets right in there with you - her enthusiasm for spotting flora and fauna or taking photos is with as much genuine energy and vigor (or more!) as her trekkers who are seeing these things for the first time. She is generous in every sense of the word, helpful, warm and lovely. Lhakpa is lovely too and hilarious and laid back and will carry you across rivers. The staff are fantastic and it feels like everyone is in it together and well cared for. I really really didn't want to leave and could have quite easily committed to trekking with Kim forever! I really loved it.
Alice B, Nomads 2011
I joined Kim's Nomad trek without knowing what to expect, as it was my first trek. And I absolutely loved it. So much that I'll try to make trekking my annual activity! Kim runs a very professional trek. Her knowledge of the local landscape and history is amazing. She is genuinely interested in helping the locals (nomads) and cares for their welfare. Her staff are such a close-knit group and they work so well and seamless together. She also provides small little extras that are such a luxury during the trek, biscuits, coffee, tea and very well thought out menu. I am not a strong trekker, in fact, I came last every single day. But never did I feel isolated or concerned about my safety. I can strongly recommend Kim's trek to anyone, from beginners to experienced trekkers.
Effi J, Nomads 2011
Wow! What an unforgettable experience you have given me. I was constantly amazed at your patience with the individual needs and concerns of the group and of the heartfelt care and connection you have with your staff and horses. You are a great leadership team and a joy to wake up to each morning! The landscape, the interactions with the villagers, nuns and monks along the way, the exhilaration of the more risky bits of the trip and your smiling faces will not be forgotten. Thank you & Jullay!
Annie K, Wild Zanskar 2010
I can guarantee that Kim, Lhakpa and the crew will put on a great trip and will take good care of you! The food is exceptional and Kim's attention to detail especially in the dining tent, adds a great personal touch. Having done trips with other trekking companies before, it's the small details such this, combined with Kim's obvious passion/empathy for these places and their people/culture that has drawn me back again and again. What really sets Project Himalaya apart for me, is that they provide a fantastic off-the-beaten track experience and do truly exploratory trips in an amazing part of the world!
Celesta F - Wild Ladakh 2009
I cannot stress how wonderful a time we all had. The company is run like a big family, and the trip is still something that I think about each day. I also will be going back for another go, and I will be trekking with Kim and her great crew.
John Turek, Nomads 2009
The team at Project Himalaya are first class. My trek this year was very well organized, food and sleeping accommodation all great, good variety in the menus. Kim and Lhakpa are very professional trek leaders along with their support crew.
Dennis B, Markha Valley 2009
Arrival in India
NOTE: Flights to/from Leh are NOT included in the price or itinerary.
Everyone will need to arrange their own flight or overland trip to Leh. You can book your international flights all the way to Leh, Ladakh (IXL) which will ensure that your flight provider is responsible for hotels if your flight is delayed or cancelled. You might also want to come overland from Manali, breath-taking jeep safari, or from Srinagar, both some of the planet's most spectacular overland routes.
Email us your flight arrival details and have our contact details with you when you arrive in Delhi in case you need assistance. Kim will have her mobile with her, as will our agents from Dhruv Travels, so don't hesitate to call. We can help with hotels, flights, airport pick-ups and drops, sightseeing in Delhi or travels further to Rajasthan or Agra & the Taj Mahal. (See Dhruv Travels).
Although we try to follow the itinerary below but it is only a guideline. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Day 1 - Meet in Leh 3500m
Welcome to Leh, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, tucked away amidst the Ladakh mountains, part of the great Trans Himalayan range. If you arrive by air you'll feel the big jump in altitude and it will take your body a few days to adjust. If you arrive by road from Manali or Srinagar you'll have had some extra acclimatization en route, but will still need time to adjust to the 3500 meter altitude. Hydrate with plenty of water, stay away from beer for a few days, rest and don't over-exert yourself. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house, let alone the Leh Fort, will make you breathless for the first day or two. Diamox is a good way to help your body acclimatize naturally; Kim will discuss.
We stay at the family-run Shaynam Hotel, more of a family-run guest house with a lovely garden in the center courtyard, located just a few minutes south of the Main Bazaar in old Leh town. Your rooms will be booked for you, you'll just need to advise Kim of your arrival time, whether by air or by road. Once everyone has arrived and checked into rooms, Kim will show you around town: the bakeries, cafes, tandoori restaurants, email cafes, banks and wonderful markets. We'll meet for dinner in the evening at the Ibex or Summer Harvest, a few of our favorite restaurants.
Days 2, 3 - Leh
We've scheduled two free days in Leh to acclimatize and to enjoy the peaceful, willow-lined streets and bustling bazaar life of Singge Namgyal's 17th century capital of Ladakh, once an integral part of Western Tibet and a major trading post along the southern Silk Route. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the newly-restored ruins of the 17th century Leh Palace, the ancient 16th century Leh Fort and the attached Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, other historic Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the Sunni Muslim mosques, narrow back alleys with steaming Muslim bread, tiny antique shops tucked away amidst the many ancient stupas and architectural remnants, the exotic Main Bazaar (c. 1840s) which once accommodated trade caravans, and even a polo field. Caravans of merchants from far-flung destinations such as Yarkand, Tibet, Kashgar and North India passed through Leh during ancient trade missions, trading salt, wool, Pashmina, tea and semi-precious stones, lending to the city its exotic allure. Pilgrims flocked to the monasteries of Leh and the Indus valley, explorers of old stopped in Leh to re-stock and weather out the harsh Himalayan winter and soldiers en route to plunder and conquer desirous destinations passed through Leh, all leaving their mark on this unique capital.
Kim will take you for a walk up the bustling Fort Road, lined with shops owned by Kashmiri, Tibetan and Kashmiri shop-keepers, to 15th century Leh Fort and the red, MaitreiyaTsemo Gompa, perched high on a craggy and crumbling hilltop overlooking the bazaars of old Leh. You can stop at 16th century nine-story Leh Palace, of a similar architectural design to the Tibetan Potala Palace, on the way down if you have the energy. Visit the museum, a worthwhile endeavor, as well as the nearby gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) - Soma Gompa, Chamba Lakhang and Chensrig Lakhang. There is a great cultural show around sunset at Soma Gompa.
We might wander the willow-lines streets of Changspa to reach the many steps leading to the Japanese-built Shanti Stupa for a view over the green fields and white-washed Ladakhi houses of the villages surrounding Leh. The precariously perched Leh Fort guards the eastern edges of the fertile valley. Sankar Gompa (17th - 18th century), reached through shady lanes to the east of Changspa, lies in the midst of Chubi's groves of poplar and willow and is another wonderful morning or afternoon walk. The back route to Leh Fort starts in Chubi and passes through a desert-like Buddhist cremation ground before climbing to the fortress.
OPTIONAL GOMPA-TRIP: Arrange (through Kim, our Tibetan jeep-driver Wang Chuk or the Shaynam Hotel) a 'jeep safari' through the fertile Indus Valley to visit a few of the living Tibetan Buddhist gompas, the crumbling ruins of ancient fortresses and palaces and the traditional villages that dot the banks of the region, the 'cradle of civilization' of much of the ancient world. Kim can help arrange jeeps and/or a guide for a day's excursion.
To the East: Shey, Thikse, Hemis, Chemde, Thagthok, Stakna, Matho & Stok.
To the West: Spiyok, Phyang, Basgo, Likir, Alchi, Rizdong & Lamayuru.
OPTIONAL RAFTING-TRIP: You can arrange a day rafting trip on the Indus (easier) or the Zanskar River, approximately $25-$30.
Day 4 - Drive Lato 4020m
After breakfast, we jump into our jeeps and head for the start of the trek at our acclimatization destination, Lato. We following the Leh Srinagar highway east, past the ancient, 14th century Spitok Gompa, spectacularly perched on a craggy hillock above the cultivated fields of Spitok village. We continue past the old palace and gompa at Shey, surrounded by hundreds of whitewashed chortens, and continue past more chortens built by the kings of Ladakh towards colorful Thikse Gompa on the left. The renown Hemis Gompa is built high up on a hillside to our right, down a connecting lane. Soon after passing this landmark we turn right at Upshi, following the Leh Manali highway south as it snakes its way over the high passes of the Zanskar and Himalayan ranges heading to Manali. Following the Gya Chu along a spectacular section of highway, we soon reach our campsite at the hamlet of Lato where the staff has set up camp for the night. We'll set you up in your tents, show you around our 'Kamzang' style dining tent and settle in with a mug of chai. Beers are available at a small tea-house nearby.
Day 5 - Drive Dat 4310m
Another spectacular and short day of driving as we head south, crossing the 5300 meter Tanglang La and descending through a wide, green nomadic region peppered with nomad tents. At the bottom of the long pass we turn right, heading west through the nomadic region of Zara over the 4960 meter Yar La and descend on a serious of switchbacks to the valley below. At the end of this small valley our jeeps will turn right and drive for half an hour through a wild plateau of nomads, kiang and marmots to our idyllic campsite at Dat.
Our campsite for the night is lovely, high pastureland next to the now-deserted village of Shemen. Dat, which houses approximately forty families (although many have now moved to Choglamsar) in the Spring and late Autumn, is actually composed of the two villages of Dango (upper) and Shemen (lower). The nomadic villagers move to the Sangtha and Lungmoche valleys with their flocks in the summer months, and to the valley behind Dat few a couple of months in the wintertime. Marmots share the campsite with us and Kiang might check us out from the ridge above Dat. Sunsets and sunrises are glorious from camp so it's worth a visit to the small, monk-run teahouse to pick up a beer for 'sundowner' ...
The perfect, grassy campsite for an afternoon of relaxation and acclimatization. Warm streams meander through the valley, providing lukewarm washing water, and the sun usually shines brightly. If you feel like a wander, head up the side valley in back of Shemen village for an afternoon of wildlife spotting. Spend some time in the deserted villages and Dat Gompa, where the local god Ka La Bu Skyong, the protector and 'giver of sons', reins supreme. (Interestingly, this god is only recognized in Kharnak). The semi-permanent village of Shemen is fascinating, and the gompa worth a visit if we can find the resident key-keeper, a young monk from Hemis, who also collects the camp charges. Wander through the empty passageways between the stone houses; the discarded rubbish gives a picture of what life is like during the inhabited periods.
Another option is a (slightly difficult) hike up the plateau and prayer-flag topped peak above Dat at 4710 meters for totally amazing birds-eye views down on the valley, but be ready for some scrambling.
Day 6 - Trek Nomadic Winter Doksa 4505m
Our trekking begins, finally. We're keeping the details of the next few days quiet as no trekking groups know about this route. Trust us to lead you to one of the most beautiful and green valleys in Ladakh where we will set up camp in what we call our 'snow leopard valley' ...
Day 7 - Trek Kiang Camp
Another secret day with an easy pass at 4815m to reach our campsite in a green valley full of kiang, and perhaps snow leopard ...
Day 8 - Trek Lungmoche 4710m (over Yar La 4950m)
We have a small pass to crest, with views of the Zanskar Range, during which we often spot herd of kiang that reside in the nearby valleys (kyang translates as 'wander' in Ladakhi). The male often comes out to the main valley to scout for the herd of females and younger males, all of which will snort, paw the ground and arrange an impressive maneuver for us if their territory is threatened. Himalayan hares also reside in the valley and dart in and out of site. We crest one last ridge from camp before contouring towards the ascent of the 4950 meter Yar La, a relatively easy climb of just over an hour from the end of the valley following the winter snow wall built for winter sheep crossings. The chorten on the pass has some beautiful carvings including the Kharnak mountain deity, a lovely mountain goddess called Tsering Ma (Ched Inga), the eldest of five sisters, also recognized in Tibet. Most of these nomadic mountain deities are Bon deities which have been subdued by Guru Rimpoche as protectors of the Buddhist faith. We can see our old campsite just five minutes down the pass, and it will only take us half an hour (or a bit more if we camp further down the valley) to reach the turnoff to that camp at Lungmoche, another lovely pastureland. We're still Kiang territory still, so keep your cameras ready. We'll continue down the lovely, green Lungmoche valley for another half an hour or so from here, setting up camp somewhere green ...
Day 9 - Trek Zabuk Barma 4350m
Today we head into well-loved nomadic territory, hiking down the green valley on the right side of the valley (there is a road being built on the opposite side, sadly). We'll pass a large doksa soon after leaving camp, and then a mani wall and large chorten. An hour from this last chorten after a short, traversing climb brings us to a small pass where we'll have a short rest in front of the mountain home of the three sister goddesses. From here we descend gradually to the right, contour up and down several arid hillsides and reach a short but dramatic canyon through which we descend. Turning left we soon reach a broad plateau with chortens marking routes on all three sides and a cluster of eight magnificent, whitewashed chortens across the river. Fifteen minutes later we drop into the seasonal nomadic settlement of Sangtha, built of rounded, white river rocks and littered with goat and sheep droppings. Cross the river to the complex of mani stones and chortens for wonderful photos and great views back to Sangtha, which marks the intersection of the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomadic regions.
We follow the magnificent, clear Zara Chu on the chorten-side to a grassy lunch spot at the first river intersection. We continue for another hour or so on the same side (left) past more sparkling river intersections, nomadic settlements (doksas), and a wolf trap and then drop down to the grassy riverside. Near camp on our side of the river is a marmot colony, with small trails leading to their tunnel shelters.
One more river bend and we spot out campsite across the river at Zhabuk Barma, a spectacularly-situated seasonal settlement of the Karnak-pa. To the east (below our camp) the Tozay Chu leads to Pang on the Leh-Manali highway and the Ladakhi nomadic region of Kharnak, and is bordered by a fantastic canyon of sculpted rocks leads. The campsite is wonderful and green with perfect swimming holes along the river and a cold, fresh spring in back. There are three tri-colored chortens in a shallow cave above the stone doksas, worth a steep climb up for views over the campsite and down the valley. And just to the left of these, a steep valley leading up to a fantastic plateau with vast vistas, a must-do in the afternoon with the perfect light. Keep your eyes on the hilltops next to camp for kiang, Himalayan hare and blue sheep, all of which are common in this area.
We'll have a yak-dung fire in the evening ...
Day 10 - Trek Canyon Camp 4535m (over Bong La 4670m)
Today we leave Kharnak, skirting just below Rupshu, another nomadic territory of Tibetan and Ladakhi nomads, and head toward the Shun Shade valley. We trek along the clear Zara Chu on a relatively flat, grassy trail, past sparkling river intersections and nomadic doksas, sometimes having to cross the river. Have your sandals with you! We soon pass Zabuk Yogma, another green, idyllic settlement of the Kharnak nomads, followed by Yakbu. To the east, on our left as we hike down valley, the Tozay Chu leads to Pang on the Leh-Manali highway and Kharnak and is bordered by a fantastic canyon of sculpted rocks and hoodoos. Continuing to follow the flat riverbed, we cross the large doksa of Lungo in a curve in the river, a large nomadic settlement of stone houses and sheep dung, afterwards crossing the Zara Chu again. Putting our shoes back on, we hike up an easy hill, cross a small campsite and start the ascent of the Bong La. It's a fantastically scenic climb as we ascend high above the Zara Chu, which sweeps a hugs arc to the north across the valley from us. The steep peak across the river inside this curve is incredible, as is our trail as we sometimes hike on a stone trail, slightly exposed. In an hour or so we reach the first Bong La (4670m), from where we continue to contour towards a more westerly part of the pass.
After lunch on top we drop down just a bit to the wide valley bottom at the intersection to several valleys, and head straight ahead on flat ground. We've got about an hour of trekking along this wide, sandy valley; on the way look for snow leopard and blue sheep prints which we found in abundance near the watering holes in 2011. The river valley narrows as we head west, and we enter a narrow canyon, following a small stream to a blocked section which we have to climb over, dropping right down to our fantastic Canyon Camp. Our grassy camp is at the bottom of this idyllic valley at the head the narrow canyon, with a natural hole in the rock above us. Enjoy the afternoon ...
Day 11 - Trek Tsokmitsik 4100m (over Marang La 5350m)
A big pass day today, with lots to look forward to as we head for one of the most scenic viewpoints in Ladakh. You might want your sandals today depending on the water level as we cross a stream for the last few hours.
We trek for a beautiful hour or so along a small valley, jumping the small stream, during which the valley widens and becomes less green and more rocky. Look for the oyster bed fossils en route. Beginning to ascend steeply on a gravely trail after the last grassy patch, we again have to jump the river a few times before ascending towards the pass. Up and over the Marang La and into the remote Shun Shade valley! From the top of the 5350 meter pass we will be treated to views of the snow-capped Himalayan range ahead of us, and the craggy Zanskar range in back. Soon we reach the rocky Morang La High Camp (4810m) and continue to descend to the right as the valley narrows and becomes greener, cliff faces soaring above us and grazing pastures on many of the surrounding hillsides. We continue to descend into the narrowing canyon, past ancient fossil beds, dropping down to the stream, the sun shimmering on the willows hanging onto existence between the high canyon walls. Passing a small, green doksa, we'll have to jump back and forth across the small, willow-lined stream for the next half an hour as we enter the narrow section of the canyon, emerging into a soft world of willows lining the large Tsarap Chu.
The campsite is another idyllic one right on the river, and we can set up our tents river-side and jump in for a well-deserved dip! Perhaps tonight even warrants a few glasses of rum ...
Day 12 - Trek Satak 4025m
Leaving our idyllic camp, we hike along the river on the right banks, passing a wolf trap (in which we've actually found wolves) followed by several doksas. We have a small ascent on a hot plateau which we cross, and then a descend back down to the sandy river bed. After a few hours we start our ascent of the first of several scenic ridges that we have to cross to reach Satak, the Tsarap Chu below us bordered by steep cliffs. From the top of the first ridge, actually a pass which we've named the Satak La (4406m), we're treated to wonderful views in all directions. Continuing to contour, we have several more ridges to crest, each with a drop afterwards, but the trail is good, so it's not a difficult hike. The last is Satak Ridge (4375m), a flat rock protruding over the canyon, from where we start our 350 meter descent. We contour on a slightly exposed trail far above the Tsarap Chu which snakes its way between deep canyon walls below us and soon reach a flat plateau which takes 20 minutes to cross. Descending steeply, we immediately a narrow, willow-filled canyon where we side-step the grazing yaks, jump the small stream and climb briefly to our camp at Satak village.
Satak village, with ancient chortens above it, was deserted a few years ago, the inhabitants now occupying houses built for Tibetan refugees on the Leh-Manali highway. It's hard to imagine what prompted them to leave such a wonderful spot for their new haunts. The village is now a museum; the last time we camped there, we explored the small alleyways, peeked into the windows and even borrowed some salt. Many of the villagers belongings are still inside, and grass and wood for the winter is still piled on top of the roofs.
Day 13 - Trek Hormoche 3970m
A six-hour sandals day today. After ascending the small hill in back of Satak and passing the ancient chortens, we have a few hours of beautiful hiking along flat plateaus peppered with large rocks, with just a bit of exposure along the way. Soon we arrive at the deserted village of Munele, with a rocky spring and grassy pastures, after which we pass through several seasonal settlements, now abandoned. It's half an hour to the scenic, small bridge on the left banks of the river leading, we imagine, to high pasturelands. We contour around several hillsides and then descend on loose scree and sandy trails to the river below. A few minutes later we reach the large Zara Chu, which intersects the Tsarap Chu, almost doubling its size. We have to cross this river, usually easy but once in a while a challenge! Across the river is our 'Zara River Camp' where we camped in 2011 because of unusually high waters. The Zara Chu leads to the nomadic region of Rupshu.
After our river crossing we'll have 2 1/2 hour of scenic hiking ahead of us. We follow the eastern bank of the magnificent Tsarap Chu, heading northwest, on a high mesa which drops to the river below in dramatic hoodoos. We have to descend and ascend three times into eroded slide regions making the hike harder than it would seem, but the views make up for it. We'll share our trail with chortling chukkars, a partridge-like bird found around much of the Himalayan ranges. The Tsarap Chu, far below, ranges in color from a striking turquoise blue to brown depending on the volume of water pulsing though it's canyons.
Soon we spot the Hormoche 'chomo-gompa' or nunnery, now sadly unoccupied, its statues gazing blindly out on the empty assembly hall, and just afterwards the few small dwellings of Hormoche, which seems to be (have been) only a seasonal settlement. At the end of the plateau is our incredible campsite right along the turquoise Tsarap Chu, with a willow-patch on one side. Take a look down on the semi-abandoned houses across the valley (Marshun village) and absorb this sublime, expansive landscape.
Day 14 - Trek Nialo Kontse La Camp 4410m (over Nialo Kontse La 4830m & Gotunda La 5150m)
We'll be up early with a good breakfast in us for our two-pass day, by any reckoning a long and hard day of Himalayan trekking, and a fantastically beautiful and diverse one. We enter the narrow canyon on the other side of camp, jumping the small stream and start to ascend steeply on a sandy, switchback trail to a lone doksa, partially overgrown with high grasses. To the right as we ascend are two small opaque, turquoise lakes and below us rocks hollowed out by wind, water or heat. The next section of landscape as we climb is a bizarre moonscape, starkly beautiful, resembling the remains of a volcanic upheaval. Geologists welcome!
We climb and traverse several slightly exposed ridges to a last crest, where we have breath-taking views all around us, afterwards passing a small watering hole from where the last switchback to the pass behinds. Eventually, exhausted, we reach the top of the Gotunda La, at 5150-meters. A little bit of Tibet, and classic Ladakh and Zanskar!
From the crest of the pass we look out on our second pass, the slightly lower 4830-meter Nialo Kontse La, on the neighboring ridge. We drop, traverse to a plateau from where we can look down to the fantastic little lake, the Tso Tok, below. We then switch-back up again and reach the Nialo Kontse La. From this lower pass we have a 400-meter, easy descent through green pastureland decorated with mountain flowers to our camp at Nialo Kontse high camp. We may continue down another half hour to a camp by the intersecting stream depending on time ...
Day 15 - Trek Shade 4270m
If we've camped at the high camp we'll start the easy 350-meter ascent on a switchback trail of scree down to the small stream below, turning left and hiking along the crystal clear Tok Chu for half an hour. We reach a small bridge made of willow branches which we cross (carefully) and ascend briefly to a small plateau at the intersection to several valleys, a local doksa. From this lovely viewpoint we overlook the Tsarap Chu sumdo which leads to the cliff side Phuktal Gompa, two days down the valley.
We descend and continue along a willow-lined trail following the Niri Chu. We soon reach Trantrog Gompa at 4020 meters, a little-visited 750-year-old (or 30-4o-years-old?) gompa above the small hamlet of two houses, a tree and a watering hole. Perhaps there was an ancient meditation cave at the site of this gompa, which the caretaker told us was built by a lama from Phuktal. The interesting woman who holds the key might be around to show us the village treasures. There are apparently only three people living in the village and about as many houses. Still, it's certainly a scenic spot built up on a craggy hill overlooking this idyllic valley.
After following an easy trail high above the snaking, turquoise river we enter a narrower canyon and soon reach an impressive lhatoo, around 4000 meters, at the intersection of the Shade valley. The kata-covered lhatoo is dedicated to the god Cho Gyumjang, a female protectress of Shade and the neighboring villages. The peak on top of which she resides is to the left of Shade stream as we look up towards Shade. We've been lucky to happen upon local puja, performed by visiting monks from Phuktal Gompa, honoring her. From this lhatoo at the intersection of the Niri Chu and the narrow gorge leading towards isolated Shade, we follow a good trail along the stream, crossing over it once we've passed the deep gorge behind us. We'll trek up 250 meters (or an hour) to Shade village; along the way, we'll pass the villagers working in the fields, happily greeting us as we pass by.
Just before the village we'll pass through the patchwork of fields and Shade's entrance chorten, a little Shangri-La. Our campsite is just past Shade village, on the only flat area next to a stream, a spot perfectly situated for Shade is a village of 14 traditional Ladakhi houses with approximately 95 inhabitants. Three of the men are in the Indian Army, bringing a bit of extra wealth to the village. There are also five lamas/monks and one 'chomo', or nun, residing in the village, impressive for a remote village of this size. The villagers and village kids will be by in the afternoon, and Kim & Lhakpa will probably go into town to hunt for supplies. You're welcome to join and watch the sheep and goats bring brought into the closed paddocks for milking.
Day 16 - Shade
Shade, not often visited by Westerners, is one of the high points of our trek, so we've scheduled an extra day to explore the village and the open grazing valleys north of our campsite. The village is a cluster of mud-brick houses, packed closely together, with corrals for the goats and sheep, grass drying on the rooftops, small vegetable gardens and an idyllic feel to it. We'll visit some of the local houses for a glass of 'chang', the Tibetan barley beer, yogurt from the nearby doksa or some 'churpi', dried cheese. Shade is surrounded by extensive fields of barley (ne), potatoes (aloo), sag (shema) and snap peas and they also have greenhouses in which they grow radish (labo), cilantro, cabbage, cauliflower and carrots. There is a small school here which is desperately in need of supplies, so this is a good place to off-load school supplies. Some of the locals stay up in the doksas north of our campsite, sometimes returning every few days and other times staying longer. The villagers rotate grazing their flocks and protecting them from the many wolves and snow leopards in the area! Local words for some of the wildlife we might encounter: snow leopard (shen), ibex (hin), blue sheep (nabo) and wolf (shanku).
Above our campsite, past a line of chortens, a trail leads to the high pastures, a soft, open area of brick-red, mustard and green hills. The trail eventually leads to Zangla village and fort in the Zanskar valley, the spectacular route we take the day after tomorrow!
Day 17 - Trek Lar 4280m (over Rotang La 4890m & Lar La 4690m)
Leaving our Shangri-La, we head away from the village, climbing a small hill to reach an extensive collection of white-washed chortens, signs of Shade's importance as an ancient trade route. The valley on this side of Shade is colorful in shades of yellows, oranges and reds, and we contour easily up to the Rotang La (4890m) except for one steep ridge, an ascent of three hours or less. We've seen snow leopard prints in this valley so keep you eyes on the trail. From the crest of the pass we look out to the craggy peaks, deep valleys and oasis of green doksas that mark our exciting and remote route to Zangla, a route rarely taken by Westerners or locals!
The descent is gradual, past Rotang Doksa (4470m) where we might find some fresh sheep-milk yogurt. From the doksa the trail switchbacks down to Mitsik Doksa (4285m), a lovely river-side camp where we stayed during our exploratory trek in 2012. The deep, willow-lined valley to our left leads to Niri Chu, which snakes through deep canyons below us.
Jumping the river, or wading across, we climb past a large doksa on the plateau just above us and then start up the 400-meters to the Lar La (4690m), a steep grazing ridge which drops right down (again steeply) to the next valley. The valleys are now a dramatic combination of soaring cliff-walls, deep canyons and willow filled river valleys, lovely. We'll set up camp in this second valley, another grazing settlement called Lar with a small stream running down the center.
Day 18 - Trek Trek Yangdam Chen 4430m
It's going to be a fun and beautiful, river day today. We start the morning with a short climb to a ridge named the Liyu La at 4375 meters, afterwards contouring on an easy trail, gradually losing altitude until we reach Niri Chun (4285 m), a grassy grazing plateau and our campsite on the exploratory trek. Taking a minute to absorb the views and looking out for blue sheep, we descend to the banks of the Niri Chu, where we immediately cross the small, intersecting stream. The river adventures begin as we skirt across a rock-ledge just above the river on the right bank, and as the narrow canyon widens, our river crossings begin. The rivers get high in the afternoon so we've scheduled a short day to avoid crossing dangerously high waters. We almost continuously cross and re-cross the Niri Chu this morning, staying mostly at river level, so keep your sandals on all day and have your poles with you.
After about three hours we'll pass a large river valley at the large sumdo on our right that leads to the nomadic region of Kharnak that we came from earlier in the trek. We cross the river about half an hour afterwards, our last crossing of today, and continue along a flat trail to camp at Yangdam Chen, a flat, riverside doksa just ahead of us.
Day 19 - Trek Bazza Camp 4250m (cross Pandang La 5175m)
Another big pass crossing ahead of us this morning, leading into the central Zanskar valley. Zanskar translates as 'land of white copper', a once remote collection of Himalayan kingdoms cut off from the rest of the world by the Himalayan Range to the south, and the Zanskar Range to the north. We start the ascent with a climb to a grassy doksa about an hour away, followed by another switchbacking ascent up the hillside and finally an easy half hour contour to the crest of the 5175 meter Pandang La. The mountain panorama is breathtaking as usual, so we'll sit and enjoy it for a while. The trail to our left at the pass as we look ahead towards Shade leads, eventually, to Ichar. A route to explore another year ...
We've got a few hours of steep descents through green pastures, walking to the right side of the steep ravine which drops down below us. The views are still spectacular as we look over the craggy peaks ahead of us into Zanskar. Blue sheep roam the hillsides, so keep your eyes open as you walk through the green plateaus ahead, all possible campsites for small groups. After the last doksa we drop into a narrow, willow-filled valley, walk for a few minutes, cross a small stream and find our secret Bazza Camp, a stunning, green pasture by a cold and clear stream, a little piece of paradise in this remote valley. We've named this hidden spot Bazza Camp after Bazza, who celebrated his birthday here in 2012.
Day 20 - Trek Tzazar Doksa Sumdo 3825m
Heading out of the grove of willows which hides our campsite, we descend gradually for half an hour, flowers and oasis of trees softening the stark landscape. We descend steeply on a trail of loose scree and rocks which ends down at the Zumlung Chu (river) below. We have to cross the river, and make our way through the underbrush to join the trail to Zangla, not a well-used one. The route is known by villagers from Tsazar just south of Zangla, who use the valley as their summer pastures. Villagers from Shade also sometimes know this remote region ...
Our trail undulates as we negotiate the tricky valley floor, often climbing and descending to avoid sheer rocks dropping to the river or thick groves of underbrush. At the next sumdo, or river junction, at 3950 meters the trail widens and we trek through a batch of seabuckthorne bushes, probably without the tart, orange berries just yet. Note the amazing canyon on our right and the dramatic, soaring canyons in general as we hike today. The valley is full of 'dinosaur plants', willows and oyster beds, a rocky, narrow valley of large scree trails. The next two hours of hiking are easy, crossing the river many times in a magical valley which narrows as we head south, still following the shimmering Zumlung Chu. Just past Tzazar doksa we reach our camp right on the small river, warm and beautiful, surrounded by willows and seabuckthorne, but which loses the sun early.
Day 21 - Trek Zangla River Camp 3430m
Our wild route through the colorful gorges and canyons leading from remote Shun Shade valley to Zangla and Zanskar continues, again a sandals day. It should take us about five hours of relatively easy walking and many river crossings to reach Zangla River Camp. Just past the large sumdo (to the left) is a trail and valley leading to the main Jumlam route and the Charchar La. We are trekking part of the Jumlam, or 'middle road' route, an old trade route leading into Zanskar when the rivers were low enough to trek along the riverbeds. We continue to trek west along the Zumlung Chu, crossing many times in the willow-shaded valley and passing ancient fossil-beds of oysters along the way.
Finally we reach the green doksa of the Zangla people, and we walk along the irrigation ditch for a bit while ascending to the fantastic Zangla Fort. On both sides of the valley we pass ancient lookout towers, now crumbling and in ruins, attesting to the importance of the Jumlam route in trade centuries ago. Near the fort, on the left of the trail, we pass the protector deity's small lhakhang (god's house) and finally, the magnificent Zangla Fort, home to the kings of Zangla of yore. Descending on a sandy trail, looking down on central Zanskar and Zangla village, we easily reach the road and wander past the dilapidated king's house, followed ascend for 2o minutes later by the Zangla Ani Gompa (nunnery).
Below us lies the wide plain that was the once kingdom of Zangla. You really get a sense of why this remained a hidden kingdom for so many centuries, surrounded by high peaks on all sides. Past Zangla is the Himalayan barrier and the Umasi La which leads to Kashmir. The wooden beams that are the center of most Zanskari houses came from there, laboriously carried by porters. Far below, the Zanskar River curves away into the Muslim Suru valley and the Pensi La, closed for all but three months of every year and in front, behind the villages of Pidmo and Pishu, the Zanskar range cuts off approach for all but those like us, a well-equipped caravan. Welcome to mythical Zanskar!
We drop down to the riverside, trekking along the grassy embankment to our lovely riverside camp, Zangla Doksa River Camp. The grass is green, the stream warm, so go for a wash and settle in for the evening. The locals from Honya Doksa, will pass by in the evenings with their large herds of sheep, goats and donkeys, making for some classic photos of traditional life in Zanskar, and sunsets and sunrises are amazing from the tents ...
Day 22 - Zangla Doksa River Camp
Finally a rest and exploration day; options are to hang at camp and relax in this sublime setting or to hike up and explore the wonderful and historic Zanskari village of Zangla.
ZANGLA OPTION: Climbing gradually out of our campsite, we hike along the plateau past a weathered rock carved with thousand-year old Mon chortens, soon reaching Zangla Chomo Gompa (nunnery) to the northern side of the village, and then follow the village road past the King of Zangla's house, where we had tea last summer with the royal residents, including the Queen Mother. The young King of Zangla is now in his 40s, and the new house right next to the somewhat dilapidated royal residence is the house of the village carpenter! The piece de resistance of Zangla, however, is its fortress, presently being restored by an organization called 'Cosmos Room'. The ruins of the 500 year-old Zangla Fort, the old dzong (palace fortress) of the ancient Kings of Zangla, are a breathtaking site, built precariously on top of a ledge of rock at the intersection of the Zanskar River and the small river leading out to the Jumlam, or middle route. This route was an autumn trading route to avoid the high passes of Ladakh, and must have been open to invasions, thus the fort and series of lookout towers down the Jumlam valley. The dzong houses a wonderful prayer room, which we happened upon a few years ago. In 2005, over two straight weeks of continuous rain and wind literally 'melted' the dzong, and it is now quite as safe as it was previously. The famous Hungarian scholar Alexander Csoma de Koros spent a winter in the 19th century studying Tibetan in order to make a dictionary in a room in the fort, now commemorated as his room. The fort is guarded over by a giant, new stupa built in 2009, while more ancient chortens with tsatsas in the niches line the trail as we descend back to the village and eventually to camp.
ZANSKAR VALLEY GOMPA OPTION: Get a group together to hire a jeep to visit the fascinating, old gompas of Zanskar from Padum. You will have time to visit the 1000 year old Sani Gompa on the Stod River, the route out to Rangdum and the Suru Valley. From Sani, you can take the back roads to Karsha Gompa, one of the largest and most scenic in Zanskar or Ladakh, built high up into the cliffs above the village of Karsha. To return, you will pass back through Padum where you can do some email or pick up supplies at the many shops. Padum is a very Central Asian feeling village, a transit point for goods coming and going from Leh to Kargil, with a large Muslim population. There are some thousand year old pre-Tibetan Buddhist Buddha carvings just below Padum, worth a look if you're stopping in town. And pick up a plate of momos on the main drag! En route back to Stongde, make a quick stop at Pipiting Gompa on a small hill in the direction of Stongde. And that should be a full day!
Kim & Lhakpa will perhaps head to Padum to resupply ...
Day 23 - Trek Karmafu 3780m (over Namtse La 4495m)
Leaving camp, we have a one-hour walk along the Zanskar plateau and through Honya Doksa to the dramatic cut in the canyons to our right that leads to 'bear valley'. At the doksa, we ascend steeply past a wolf trap into a magical gorge of Zanskar roses and chortens high above us. After some three hours of ascending into through the narrow valley, following a small stream, with birds chirping around us and steep, green grazing pastures high above us we reach the Namtse La, a desert-like pass at 4495 meters. If the weather cooperates this is our lunch spot, a scenic one!
Descending for another few hours through a dramatic, broadening valley, with the views opening up in front of us, we trek under hoodoos backed by brilliant blue sky. Chukkars chortle and rush up the arid hillsides and grazing yaks glance up as we invade their pristine territory. Our small trail follows a willow-lined for an hour or so, and we'll often be jumping from side to side. After hiking through the tight willows we climb a small saddle topped with a barrier of sticks and see our campsite just below us. We have now entered what we call Bear Valley, and a steep trail down brings us to the clearing on a plateau that the locals call Karmafu, and into our 'lost valley' of Zanskar.
Our cliff-side campsite is fantastic in the early afternoon. Enjoy the views, go for a dip in the stream, and possibly spot some blue sheep and ibex that roam the hillsides here. The hoodoos that line the riverbank opposite camp are amazing sculptures of eroded rock and mud that hosted a show of acrobatic blue sheep several years ago. We might build a campfire in the evening, a practice first started to keep the bears away years ago!
Note: Our only actual bear spotting was in 2003, when our group did this trek for the first time. We spotted a brown bear cub right next to us, and then across the valley what we presumed to be its parents, not looking happy that a large group of trekkers were hanging out with their offspring. The next season we only spotted frozen bear scat and no prints, but in 2005 and later on we again spotted fresh bear scat so presume that the bears are back. We hope to see them again!
Day 24 - Trek Bear Valley Camp 3980m
Our short walk today is an exciting and beautiful one, starting with crossing the small stream just outside of camp and hiking on a plateau just above the willow and seabuckthorne-filled river valley below, a few times having to ascend and descend on scree trails. At the junction of a small stream about half an hour away, a bear story. In 2005, Kim set off alone to help get camp set up, heard a loud splashing very close to her that she assumed to be a bear, and came running back to the lunch spot. Joel and the boys, ever brave, came running out with the bear spray to do battle. Be on the lookout for the prints and scat of snow leopard, fox and wolf as well as bear.
Next on the list of adventures, at the next bend in the river at a small rise over a narrow canyon, is a canyon trek on crumbling trails to the left side of the river, often high. Just past this tricky section, we again climb on stone steps and then drop down to the river, fording it to reach a high, exposed trail on the right which continues to the next bend in the river. Relieved at making it this far, we have one last exposed drop back down to the willow-lined stream, where we'll be jumping back and forth often. One more climb and we reach an ice bridge (usually) through a narrow canyon with ankle deep water for which you'll need sandals. From here it's an hour's walk through more willows, still jumping the stream, to our green camp in the midst of bear valley. Camp is surrounded by hoodoos on the left, and the stream on the right is great for a private afternoon's walk. The horses are taken up to the high pastures above the hoodoos, an interesting afternoon's excursion. The crew will light a fire tonight to keep the bears at bay (although the rumors are that the villagers of Zangla shot them after the bears raided their sheep paddocks). We've since seen tracks, happily ...
Day 25 - Trek Nyeraks 3710m (over Takti La 4960m)
We'll be up early for our steep, 1100 meter climb to the Takti La, which separates Zanskar from Ladakh. Making our way on the small, overgrown trail through the green valley of willows and flowers, crossing the stream a few times, we turn right into a narrow valley with a slate bottom and a small stream after an hour and begin our real ascent. We walk about half an hour up this valley and reach a steep, switchbacking trail through a green meadow, peppered with boulders. Soon we reach the top of the first, smaller pass (named Oh Shit La, at 4580m, after the view upon reaching this pass for the first time), from where we get our first view of the Takti La looming ominously ahead of us. Take a break and climb to the top of the rock outcropping on the right for amazing views of the Himalayan range.
We drop down to a small, glacial stream and then start a very steep, switchbacking ascent to the Takti La (4960m). By lunchtime we should be looking back across the massive valley to the Singge La and the serrated ridges that we will cross over the next few days, the Himalayan range to our south and the Zanskar range to our north. After lunch on the prayer-festooned pass, we begin our 1300 meter descent to Nyeraks. As we descend on good trail, cresting several cairn-topped ridges en route, notice the colorful glacier flower blooming on all around us. Walking along an old irrigation wall, descend steeply on switchbacking trails for a few hours. Take time to breath and look ahead of you towards lovely Nyeraks, a patchwork of greens, browns and tans far below us. We reach a grassy irrigation ditch and pass through a wire fence, passing to the left of a set of white-washed chortens and past the village threshing circles. Below us, mid-village, is our campsite, another spectacular one with great sunset views over the village, its ancient gompa and surrounding peaks. The quality of light in this part of the Himalaya is breathtaking, so be sure to have an evening stroll through the village, visit the gompa and take some shots of village life.
Kim's grandmother's daughter, Thinle Angmo, lives in Nyeraks and will be by for a visit with her adorable kids. One of the large houses near the gompa, perhaps formerly a royal dwelling, has an exquisite house-gompa inside which we can try to visit also.
Day 26 - Trek Yulchung 3900m
A fantastically scenic Himalayan day, one of my favorites as we trek between two remote villages, crossing the great Zanskar River. We descend along a winding trail, to the left of old mani walls and past a unique version of a 'lhatoo' (a shrine to the mountain deities the locals believe live on local peaks), a sculpture made from ibex horns, to the village of Nyeraks, perched on a plateau high above the Zanskar. From here it's a quick descent to the wooden, cantilevered bridge that spans the Zanskar gorge (and has definitely seen better days), from where we climb to a flat plateau and a jumble of large, river rocks and mani walls.
We start up a steep, dusty switchback, past Zanskar roses and a small spring, to the sharp top of the Chocho Khuri La at 3865 meters. We have a short descent to a plateau, and then contour around several hillsides with an increasingly deep drop into the canyon below to our right. Keep an eye out for the red fox that lives in the vicinity, and for blue sheep grazing along the hillsides. The last contour leads to a small ridge from where we finally see Yulchung across the valley, across the extensive fields of barley and vegetables. The isolated village of Yulchung, meaning 'small kingdom', is a remote, traditional village with a five-hundred year old gompa on the upper reaches of the village and another smaller 'lhakhang' perched on a precarious rock-ledge to our right, in front of the crescent-shaped village. We stay to the left and contour around the village, reaching our idyllic camp at the far end of the village half an hour later.
The staff has set up our camp behind the ancient chortens, in the threshing fields on the top edge of the village, right next to some wonderful old Ladakhi dwellings. The views from this village win Kim's vote for 'the-best-of-the-trek', and the villagers, not used to many trekkers, are welcoming and open. Tomorrow's pass is visible in the distance, as is the pass leading to 'bear valley', high up in the peaks in front of us, past the powerful Zanskar River. You begin to understand the harshness of life in such a setting, between pass and river gorge, a seemingly impossible place, with its own beautiful monastery, and even an old, sacred tree. The small village gompa is wonderful, a real relic of times past ...
We'll have many local visitors during the course of the afternoon and evening, including Kim's wonderful Zanskari grandmother Sonam Yanskit, and will hope to have a chance to visit a traditional Ladakhi house and the gompa in the afternoon. Sonam Yanskit's husband Nyawang Jigmet has a parachute teahouse on the other side of the Singge La and is often in Yulchung. One of the large houses near the gompa, perhaps formerly a royal dwelling, has an exquisite house-gompa inside which we can try to visit also.
Day 27 - Trek Meadow Camp (over Singge La 4970m)
This morning we head for the well-known Singge La, or 'lion's pass', 1000-meter climb above Yulchung. The valley heats up as we follow the small trail that leads north out of the village, ascending through pastures of wildflowers, lichen-covered rocks and grasses. The massive, ochre-colored canyon walls to our right as we ascend have been smoothed and textured by millenniums of wind and water erosion which have left strange caves throughout. We climb steeply into the dramatic canyon on slightly exposed trails, contouring along old trails lined with Zanskar rose bushes. There are often blue sheep and ibex in this region, so have cameras ready and eyes open for falling rocks.
We'll have to cross the newly-built road a few times as we switchback steeply up to the Singge La, an hour's climb from the stark high camp. After a break to hang five-colored Tibetan prayer flags on the chortens at the crest of the pass and admire the views across Ladakh and Zanskar, we descend into a green valley filled with wildflowers, first steeply, to a small parachute tent run by Nyawang Jigmet from Yulchung. Another 1 1/2 hours of gentle descent through low brush, crossing the stream on small rocks and staying on the right bank brings us to our campsite.
Singge Meadow Camp is set in a wide valley with plenty of space, lots of bird-life, many marmots, but no other trekkers in site, right on the banks of the clean but chilly stream. Grab a camp-chair, pick up a book, take a wash and enjoy the late afternoon sun (the morning sun is also late, unfortunately). We share the campsite with grazing yaks so don't be startled by grunts first think in the morning ...
Day 28 - Trek Photoksar (cross Bumiktse La 4430m)
We're trekking through the valley that is the high pasture of the Photoksar villagers, so we pass their herds of sheep, goats and yaks all day en route to Photoksar. Bring sandals, as there are two rivers to cross during the day. We descend gradually past summer doksas, and climb a small hill, descending to reach our first river crossing at a parachute tent and chorten, contouring again for an hour to reach the second crossing at a line of ancient, whitewashed Tibetan Buddhist chortens. We soon reach the Bumiktse La (4430m) with its long mani wall about three hours from camp. The deep gorge leading directly to Panjilla rises dramatically to our right as we climb. We are rewarded with great views of Photoksar and the fertile valley from the pass, as well as the Singge La valley, the Utah-like bulk of the Singge (lion) Peak and the Singge La (4970m) behind us.
As we descend, contouring, we have wonderful views of the incredibly scenic village of Photoksar, perched precariously on a hillside. If the wild flowers are in bloom it is one of the most beautiful spots in Ladakh, and certainly one of the most photographed. We cross a small stream and pass another green grazing plateau, soon afterwards dropping towards the village. Hiking on the left banks of the river above the billowing fields of ripening barley, we pass a kane (entrance) chorten and Ladakhi women with flowers tucked into their brown balaclava hats, dropping to the small bridge over the river.
Our campsite perfectly situated, with amazing views downriver to Photoksar, and the villagers, herding their flocks of sheep and goats, will stop by our campsite en route back to Photoksar with their herd of sheep and goats coming down from the high grazing hills. Take a walk along the river to the interesting village in the afternoon, well worth a bit of time, and spend the early evening watching the sun-rays filter through the village haze and the villagers heading back from the barley fields.
Day 29 - Drive Leh
Unfortunately there is now a new road from Photoksar (and further) to Leh, so we drive the rest of the way out of the Panjilla valley to Leh with Ang Chuk and friends. Leaving Photoksar, well make a quick stop at the amazing complex of a white-washed kane (entrance) chorten, a mani wall and a lama's seat. Don't miss the view of Photoksar between the chorten door. We drive up the 4820 meter Sirsir La, passing yellow poppy-like flowers, 'bee balm' (bees love this flower) or 'monarda' from which Earl Grey tea is made and marmots popping their heads out of their burrows. From the pass we are treated to views of the Nigutse La valley, its impressive rock-spires in hues of ochre and tans glowing gently in the morning rays. Dropping down the pass, we cross the Spong Togpa river on a new Bailey's bridge. The valley narrows as we descend into the massive Panjilla gorge on a dramatic road cut into the cliff-side. We pass Panjilla and Wanla, with its ancient fort, and drive up the pretty valley to meet the Srinagar-Leh highway.
We'll relax in our jeeps and enjoy the spectacular four-five hour drive, a continuation of our wonderful journey. En route we pass the western Indus valley gompas, amongst them the 1000-year old Alchi, Hemis, Rizdong, Likir, Thikse and Shey. Back at the Shaynam Guest House in Leh, hot showers and a clean change of clothes await, and tandoori food and cold beers are not far away at the Ibex ...
Day 30 - Leh
We've scheduled one last day in Leh, our favorite Central Asian capital, in case of delays during the trek. We'll also have time to do some more shopping and exploring, and to wind down after our journey through the high, nomadic regions of 'old Tibet'.
Day 31 - Thursday, 26 September - Trip Ends
Our wonderful Himalayan journey ends today, sadly. But we're sure you'll be back someday!
You have several options after the trip: a flight back to Delhi, an epic 'jeep safari' back to Manali or elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya, or spending more time in Leh. We're happy to assist on all fronts, but no flights are included in our India treks.