An essential guidebook to trekking in Ladakh. With detailed descriptions of eight treks in the Ladakh, Zanskar, and the Markha Valley of north India, including details on combinations and alternative routes. Ladakh is a remote environment where trekking is extremely challenging, for adventurous trekkers only.
Ladakh forms that part of the Indian topographical scene that is complete with jaw-dropping sceneries, colors changing at different parts of the landscape and creating beautiful sights, high-altitude lakes and glaciers with frozen rivers and waterfalls, high-mountain passes, barren, desert-like formation with snow-dusted peaks, and everything which you won’t find anywhere else in India.
Known as the cold desert of India that shares its geographical borders with Kashmir, China, and even certain parts of Pakistan, Ladakh holds unparalleled beauty for all the adventure-seeking souls that visit here to get an experience of a lifetime. Along with the exquisite landscapes, the ancient monasteries steeped in age-old Buddhist traditions make the place all the more attractive.
What is the best time for trekking in Ladakh?
Since most of Ladakh lies in the rain-shadow zone or the leeward side of the mountains, it does not get rainfall when the rest of North India has its monsoon. But you cannot venture on specific treks before early July because of the heavy snowfall in the region that stays since the onset of winter. Most of the high-mountain passes are covered in snow, making the terrain one of the most treacherous to cover.
The Chadar Trek on Zanskar is one of those two treks organized during the onset of winter from January to March. During this period, the Zanskar river remains frozen and offers a rare chance to cover it on foot. The other trek that is exceptionally famous and quite scenic to behold is the Snow Leopard Trek. The time of this trek also coincides with that of the frozen Zanskar trek during early winter.
Solo and group treks in Ladakh
Now that we have known that trekking in Ladakh is a lifetime’s worth of experience let’s plan the treks based on individual hiking expeditions and group treks. Because let’s face it, the pristine beauty of Ladakh is laced with hazards of many kinds. A single soul with a porter and guide should often not venture into this scenic heaven in the laps of peaks and mountains.
On the other hand, Ladakh offers several beautiful trails ideal for small families and solo adventure lovers. Even first-timers with a rush of excitement can choose to embark on such treks. However, sometimes, the difficulty level of the expeditions increases considerably. It is advisable for small groups or larger groups to trek together for high-altitude mountain passes over 5000 meters or summiting peaks that are well over 6000 meters and offer stunning views of various ranges bordering the area.
Without much ado, let’s jump into the various treks that are either curated for the solo adventure-loving souls or for travelers that are always fond of hiking in groups.
Chadar Trek on Zanskar
While you move across the frozen Zanskar (Tsarap) river with sheets of snow resembling blankets or ‘Chadar’-as they are locally known, the climatic conditions along with the terrains continue to become problematic. Temperatures might drop to -35 degrees celsius at night when you are camping on the banks of the Zanskar. Walking across icy rocks and boulders is no easy feat, and you need to be careful and follow your trek leader for every instruction, or it might result in an unexpected hazard.
There are times when the temperatures are a little higher than usual, causing the ‘Chadar’ to melt at unexpected places- thus making the terrain even more dangerous! But if you are traveling in a group, the scenic splendor that meets your eyes, the semi-arid Zanskar Valley over 4000 meters, and the panoramic vistas with milky-white peaks cover the treacherous terrain and the group travel of the Chadar Trek on Zanskar.
Stok Kangri Climb
The Stok Kangri Climb (6153 m) is a fixed departure trek that is ideal for an individual who is a seasoned campaigner and has adequate fitness levels or can mix quite well with small groups from across the world. This Trans-Himalayan peak is the highest amongst the Stok Range of the Zanskar mountains that stretch to the Hemis National Park while lying at a distance of 12 kilometers from the Stok village and 15 kilometers from Leh.
Although currently closed to protect the glacier that feeds the Stok Kangri peak, it is one of the highest yet non-technical climbs that you can do with a round trailhead that starts and ends at Leh. It is true when you are trekking from July to August- a time when the peak is primarily snow-free and offers immersive views. However, the same Stok Kangri Climb becomes highly technical and challenging when attempting it during the winters.
The key to a successful Stok Kangri Climb lies in the adequate acclimatization across your route from Zingchen to the Stok La Pass (4855 m) while constantly testing your physical fitness and endurance level. The highest base camp lies at 4969 meters, whereas the summit day lasts for 8 to 14 hours. Hence, you should be immensely careful while attempting this unique adventure.
Markha Valley Trek
With a very easy to moderate trekking level, the Markha Valley Trek covers a maximum altitude of 5260 meters and can be completed within a week. It is ideal for small groups and even families with kids, who can interact with the locals and spot animals along the trail. The Markha Valley Trek runs parallel to the Indus Valley and is wedged between the snow-capped Stok Kangri Massif in the north and the Zanskar mountain range in the south.
You can reach the Markha Valley from Spituk- the longest route that takes you across a beautiful scenery of brownish hues and crosses the Ganda La (4961 m) and the Kongmaru La (5260 m). Alternatively, you can take the shorter route from Chilling. From quaint villages interspersed with green barley fields where you can spend your time in homestays and interact with the villagers amidst the breathtaking mountainous spectacle, this trek is one of the best for your near and dear ones to go together.
Snow Leopard Trek
The name of the Snow Leopard Trek itself evokes a thrill and chill unlike any other trek in Ladakh! Ladakh being the home of the rarest wild cats- the Snow Leopard, this trek is organized annually in the Hemis National Park during February-March. Along with the elusive Snow Leopard that is incredibly difficult to spot, you can find other rare Himalaya mammals like the Ladakh urials, the Asiatic Ibex, blue sheep, Tibetan wolves, etc. Though the maximum altitude of the trek is only 3956 meters, it is the excitement and patience of waiting for days to spot the big cat that doubles or even triples the thrill and the fun of the trek!
Sham Valley Trek
Nicknamed the ‘baby trek’- the Sham Valley Trek that extends for only three days has a minor difficulty level and extends at the lower parts of Ladakh. You can increase the trek duration by visiting the age-old Rizong monastery from Yangthang, the Alchi, Likir, Basgo monasteries, or embarking from Khaltse to reach Temisgam. With a maximum altitude of 3874 meters, you need to have a little bit of physical fitness along with proper acclimatization to ace this trek. Staying within isolated homestays and enjoying the culture and traditions of the Ladakhis is an exciting prospect while slurping on the delicious local cuisine! The Sham Valley Trek is ideal for both individual travelers and those moving with families and children.
Dzo Jongo Peak
Known as the twin peak of the Kang Yatze, the Dzo Jongo Peak, standing tall at 6240 meters, offers a very challenging and steep ascent yet a non-technical climb. Though the use of crampons and ropes is almost a necessity, you do not need to possess premium mountaineering or rock-climbing skills to summit the Dzo Jongo Peak. One of the strange yet authentic flavors of the Dzo Jongo Peak is that it includes a double summit! You can climb the eastern one and witness the panoramic vistas of the Knag Yatze, Changthang Valley mountains, the Stok Kangri peak, and even the distant Karakoram range- the birthplace of the fabled K2 or Godwin Austen.
With sufficient acclimatization and an appreciable fitness level, climbing the Dzo Jongo Peak is entirely doable. However, the level of difficulty it poses, it is highly advisable not to travel with small groups or families and kids. Experienced campaigners with prior climbing experience can do the summit. It will also help amateur climbers prepare for their next high-altitude climbing expedition.
Now that you know the various treks to embark within the scenic landscapes of Ladakh, pack your bags, secure your permits and get going!
So if you have an adventurous soul, a penchant for thrill, and a wish of getting lost within the colors of contrasting landscapes, trekking in ladakh embark on these treks that always give out the vibes of solitude amidst natural glory.
Without much ado, let’s dive straight into planning a short trekking trip to Ladakh and every detail that would come in handy during those treks.
With some of the most intriguing treks and adventure activities, Ladakh is a place you would love to go back to each year. Here, we have discussed some of the most incredible journeys in Ladakh that you can be a part of and enrich your traveling experience.
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