In the dictionary of offbeat experiences, Markha Valley in winters is a distinct trek of Ladakh hosting unconventional trails and astonishing scenic beauty. The trail runs along the Markha River which is a tributary of the Zanskar. Markha flows through many old villages in the region like Chilling, Skiu, Sara, Markha, and Hunkar. During the winter season, the river gets partially frozen. So, throughout the trek, one gets the delightful opportunity to walk on frozen sections of the river.
While the terrain falls under the easy to moderate category, the main challenge is enduring the extreme temperatures (drops till -25 degrees) and the high altitude.
Falling inside the grounds of the Hemis National Park, this valley is home to some rare birds and exotic wildlife. The paths drastically change every day with views of barren lands, old bridges, monasteries, dried up river plains, frozen river patches, and pinnacle peaks. The main attraction here is the view of the mighty peaks of Kang Yatse I and Kang Yatse II.
The difficulty level of the trek:
Markha valley is a level 4 trek on the Bikat Rating Scale.
About the BRS: The Bikat Rating Scale rates the difficulty level of all treks and expeditions in our portfolio after taking into account their geographical and climatic conditions.
According to this scale, if you are a beginner who is unsure of your fitness level and don’t know what to expect on a trek, a trek rated one will be a good place to start.
If you liked your very first trekking experience and are looking to test your limits next, the treks rated 2 or 3 will do the job for you.
A beginner who is sure of their fitness level on the other hand is welcome to skip the first two levels and directly start with one of the treks rated 3.
From 4 onwards, the rules change a little. It is mandatory to have trekking experience of the previous level to participate in the next level.
The trails of Markha valley
Markha Valley is a fascinating trek of Ladakh offering a plethora of experiences. It is a confluence of spiritual, cultural and scenic wonders waiting to be discovered.
The trails of the Markha Valley are not just stunning but are easy to navigate. There aren’t many steep ascents and descents involved. Most days will take you on long walks along well-paved pathways close to the Markha River.
You will be covering around 10 kms between villages each day. It will take you 5-6 hours to reach the designated destination.
The journey commences from the famous market area of Leh. Located at an altitude of 3500 M, Leh serves as an adventure hub to many famous treks like the Chadar, Stok Kangri, Kang Yatse, and Markha Valley.
The first two days are specifically set for acclimatization so that your body can rest and adapt to the extreme temperatures (-15 by day and -20 by night) and thin air.
On the third day, we will be driving to an old village called Chilling. This is where the concrete road ends and the trekking trail begins. The drive from Leh to Chilling takes 2-3 hours and covers a distance of 60 km. On the way, you can see the magnificent Stok Kangri range on the left-hand side and many military camps on the right-hand side.
Our first pit-stop for the day will be the Magnetic hills and the second pit-stop will be Sangam, confluence point of the Zanskar River and Indus River.
From Sangam, the road goes downhill and takes us across a long metal bridge that leads to the inside of the Chilling Valley. Once we reach Chilling, we will start trekking towards our campsite in Skiu.
The altitude at Skiu is 3400 Mts and we will cover a distance of 5-6 kms in 2-3 hours. The trail from Chilling to Skiu is a simple straight forward stretch flagged by tall trees and dry bush like vegetation on the right. At night, the temperatures at Skiu drop to -20 degree Celsius. But, you can witness clean and clear skylines filled with twinkling stars.
On Day 4, you will be trekking from Skiu to another village called Sara. The total distance between these two villages is 10 km. The Markha River will be a constant companion today. As you advance through the trails, you will notice the river run parallel to you, snaking its way with ease through the valley with a layer of bluish-white ice covering it.
After crossing 5 km, an old wooden bridge will take you to the other side of the stream. The nature of the terrain changes from here. The trail expands and you will find yourself walking on the dried-up grey sands and colorful pebbles of the Markha River. This stretch continues for the next 4 km eventually bringing you to the rustic village of Sara. The entry way to Sara is marked by a few handmade wooden houses. As you walk past them, you will stumble upon an open area with a panoramic view of the massive Markha range. This will be our campsite for the day.
The journey on the fifth day is similar to the previous day. You will be walking 10-11 kilometers in 5-6 hours. The campsite is located at an altitude of 3700M. A few minutes into the journey will bring you to calming Mane walls, a small spiritual tomb accompanied by stacked up holy stones. Next, you will pass by a village called Chalak spotted by a few houses and structures. It is from here that the fun starts. You get to walk on a giant stretch of the frozen river of Markha to reach the Markha Bridge. The bridge connects to a simple trail that leads to our campsite for the day.
If you reach the campsite early and have some extra time to spare, you can visit Markha monastery. It is the oldest monastery in the entire range. From here, the regions are more exposed to strong downhill winds. This means, temperatures can drop till -25 to -30 degrees at night. So, please ensure you layer accordingly to protect yourself from the biting cold.
On day 6, we will again be covering a distance of 10 -11 km. It takes a total of 6 hours with an altitude gain of 300 M. The path to Hunkar, our campsite for the day, is rougher, wider, and covered with boulders and stones.
After crossing two kilometers, you will be able to spot the sacred flags of the Tacha monastery. The trail from Tacha is lovely, often engulfed by the small golden-brown peaks of the Markha range on both sides.
As you progress through the valley, you will be able to catch glimpses of both Kang yatse I and Kang yatse II peaks.
After 7 km, the valley gets wider. From here on, the trail gets exciting and involves many crossings across expansive plains of the frozen river. Our campsite is located in the lower Hunkar region.
Day 7 will be the D-Day of the journey. The trail from lower Hunkar to upper Hunkar is a short fascinating route of just 2 km. Here you will come across the first steep ascent which will take you to the vantage point.
From here, you can see the mighty peaks of Kang yatse 1 and a subtle hint of Kangyatse 2 behind it.
Post a successful summit, we will head back to Markha Village directly and settle for the day.
On day 8, we will be retracing the route back to Skiu and return to Leh. If it is too long, we will break for another day at Sara and return to Skiu on the 9th day.
Fitness level required for Markha Valley Winter Trek
Although Markha Valley is an easy-moderate trek, you will need good lung capacity and leg strength to reach the summit safely and back. If you are struggling most of the time, you won’t be able to enjoy the trek. With the end goal being enjoying the trek thoroughly and not just completing it, the following is the fitness level we recommend.
Practice jogging/running four to five days a week and see if you can cover 5 kms in 30-40 minutes. In addition to this, you can also add some resistance workouts for legs (like squats and lunges), and core workouts into your training schedule.
If you are completely new to the world of trekking and are unsure of your fitness levels, we recommend starting with a level 2 or level 3 trek from our portfolio. Treks like the Beas Kund or Brahmatal which are of lower altitude and lesser duration are excellent choices.
The terrain you encounter on these treks is very different from what you will be witnessing in the Markha Valley Trek. But the experience would still equip you with knowledge of layering on Himalayan Treks, the kind of gear needed, the fitness levels required etc.
Gear required for Markha Valley Winter Trek
While we will be providing most of the equipment needed for trekking (tents, sleeping bags, etc.), there are some basic gear you will need from your end to get through your hike comfortably.
These are sturdy, a lightweight backpack and comfortable trekking shoes. In case, you plan on purchasing them, please refer to the articles below for some helpful tips on how to go about choosing the right gear for your trek.
- How to choose your backpack – Choosing the right backpack is one of the important steps for a comfortable trek. Even a slight discomfort or imbalance can be a pain. Refer to the article linked above to get some helpful tips on how to choose your backpack.
- How to choose a good pair of hiking shoes – Normal sports shoes are not well suited for trekking trails. We recommend wearing high ankle shoes which are likely to provide better support and minimize the possibility of injury. Please refer to the article linked above for some helpful tips to keep in mind when choosing trekking shoes.
- How to use a Trekking pole – Trekking poles are not mandatory. Some trekkers feel more comfortable with them while there are others who find it harder to coordinate walking with them. Based on which side you lean, please refer to the article linked above for some helpful tips on how to use a trekking pole.
Skills required for Markha Valley Winter Trek
Bikat Adventures is primarily an adventure learning organization. This means our key objective is not just to help our trekkers complete treks but also to help them pick up some valuable skills in trekking and camping along the way.
To achieve this, we have built learning modules that are paired to each level on the Bikat Rating Scale. These modules are then taught in real-time on the trails by our trek leaders.
The following are some skills that are likely to come in handy on a trail like the Markha Valley. While you will have all the assistance you need on the trek from our capable trek leaders, we suggest browsing through the articles below to get an idea of what is involved.
- How to pack your rucksack – At Markha valley, every day you will cover more than 10 Km. So, a compact approach towards packing is likely to make carrying your backpack easier.
- How to pitch a tent – When you reach your campsite, the first thing you do is pitch a tent. Although we will be guiding you on how to pitch a tent on the trail, do give the article above a read to get a head start.
- Hiking attire and layering – In winters, the temperature at Markha valley drops to -15 degrees by day, and by night it drops to -25 degrees. Layering appropriately for protection from the cold is mandatory. Take a look at the article linked above to get an idea of the winter layers needed and how to layer them at campsites and while hiking. Also, check this article to know how to keep yourself warm in Himalayan winters.
- First aid basics – Getting small bruises and cuts is common in the terrains of Markha Valley. Although our leaders will be constantly looking out for your well-being, having some knowledge of basic first aid techniques before you head on a trek can be helpful. Please refer to the article linked above to get a thorough idea of how to manage a basic medical need.
We hope this article answers all the questions you may have had on the Markha Valley Winter Trek. In case you have any other queries or need assistance with something, please feel free to reach out to us. We are only a phone call away.