When you fall in love with a place, several descriptions come to your mind. Dreamland, heaven, wonderland, and even a second home. Markha valley winter trek is one of the frozen paradises located in Ladakh that made me fall for it and took me through a distinct dimension filled with delightful experiences.
During the winter season the Markha river partially freezes and gives an offbeat experience for trekkers. Being a tributary of the Zanskar River, the Markha river bodes many charming villages like Chilling, Skyu, Sara, Markha and Hunkar along its shore. Markha valley comes into the premises of Hemis national park which gives us an opportunity to witness exotic wildlife like the Eurasian magpie, Yalks, and even brown fox.
The Trails of Markha valley are less challenging and leads us to surprising turns where we have to cross the frozen river and walk on plains filled with rolling stones. At day times the temperature goes till -15 and in the nights, they drop till -25. Overall, my journey was filled with vibrant colours, rich cultures, antique villages, picturesque landscapes, pinnacle peaks, and many more interesting elements.
Now, get ready to go on journey back in time and revisit this winter wonder land with me.
Day 1 –
Leh is the base village for famous treks like Chadar, Markha and Stock Kangri. So, to start for Markha, I had to reach Leh first. As soon as I landed at Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, I got a share cab and reached Leh Market. After crossing through the lively lanes of Leh market I reached a cozy hotel called Palace view. The warm wooden room was a big consolation at -15 degree during the day. Being at an altitude of 3500 mts, the oxygen level at Leh will be less and the weather will be completely dry. The rest of my day was set for rest and hydration.
Leh Market area is famous for cafes, gift stores and army stores
Hotel palace view
Day 2 –
The second day played a major role in acclimatization. Om my trek leader’s advice, I started roaming around the local market to make my body get used to the weather and altitude. Like opening the first page of a beautiful novel, the day started with a new style of breakfast. Later, several interesting elements of the local life style started unfolding in front of my eyes. Totally I witnessed a cultural mélange of stories and iconic places.
Butter breakfast –Butter tea and butter naan with aboiled egg, &
Authentic wheat momos from the local lanes of leh
Day 3 –
On the 3rd day the rest of our group assembled and our journey towards Markha finally began. We started at around 9 am to chilling which was 60 Km away from Leh. On the way we had many interesting pitstops like the Magnetic hill and Sangam, the Confluence point of Zanskar and Indus river. Within a jiffy, our group mingled and jingled with the beautiful backdrops with their speakers and smartphones. As soon as we crossed the pitstops, the concrete roads ended at chilling and a short trail began for Skiu. The distance from chilling to Skiu was 6 km and we all reached our campsite at Skiu in 2-3 hours. After pitching our tents, we all went the nearby frozen Markha river and had our own share of fun.
Magnetic hill, Ladakh, also popularly known as Cyclops hill
Sangam - Convergence point of Zanskar and Indus river
ZO – Cross breed from a Cow and a Yalk. They may be smaller but they are stronger and have more stamina than a yalk
A frozen stream of Markha valley near Skiu
Arrival at chilling
Leader demonstrates on how to pitch a tent at SKIU
Day 4 –
The 4th day began with a golden rule that remained constant for the rest of the days. Our leader gave us a time code of 7-8-9. To abbreviate it, we got tea at 7 am, hot piping breakfast at 8 am and our call time to get ready for the trail was 9 am. Once everyone got ready, we started our journey towards a quaint village called Sara which was 10-11 Km away from Skiu. On our way we witnessed golden brown shade of the mountains on one side and milky white frozen river streams on the other side. The trails also introduced us to some rustic wooden bridges which connected us to the other side of the stream. After walking for almost 6 hours, we all reached Sara by afternoon and got settled in out tents.
Less demanding trails from Skiu to Sara.
Whenever we crossed a bridge, the nature of the trail changed from left to right.
Milky white Markha river
Sour berry - A local ingredient used in Ladakhi cooking.
Yalk Skull at the entrance of Sara. This is a welcome sign and symbol of pride for the villagers.
Setting up tent at Sara.
Day 5 – Skiu – Markha
The previous night the temperature went below -20. To make it worse the down hill winds amplified the chillness and froze our brains. Everyone started moving around and few started jumping to warm up their bodies. All our problems got resolved when the sun finally came up. The journey from Sara to Markha got even wilder like the wild west movies. Because the trails from Sara expanded and we were literally walking on huge plains covered with boulders and pebbles of dried up river. On our way to Markha we witnessed mane walls, wild berries and even a group of blue goats. It took us 5 hours to cross 10 kms and reach our campsite at Markha.
A sight of the rare and wild blue goat. They are known for their expert climbing skills
A landscape view of the small mountains of Markha Range
Mane wall – Small spiritual tombs with engravings of Buddhist mantras
Wild rose berry – Local ingredient used to make tea
White cap red star bird
Sign board at the entrance of Markha valley
Day 6 –
The morning at Markha village was different than the others. After withstanding a night of -25 degree, the direct flow of sun rays without any obstruction gave us comfort and confidence to move ahead. According to that days plan we had to cross 11 km in 6 hours and reached lower Hunkar to settle for the day. On the way we ran into an old monastery, pinnacle peaks, ice floors and got a small glimpse of the Kangyatse peak
Villager managing his herd of horses.
Pashmina goat – The wool of these goats is used to make the infamous and expensive pashmina shall.
Frozen river on the trails towards Hunkar
Pinnacle points of Markha Range
View of Kang yatse peak
Day 7 –
This was the day we all went to the final point – Upper Hunkar from where we saw the mighty Kang yatse peak and went speechless for several minutes. It was just a 2–3-kilometer trek and we covered it within an hour. The vast landscape widened our spectrum and indulged us in peace with its breeze. After sharing a brief moment of joy, we started returning to Markha.
Team at summit and the massive view of the Kang yatse peak.
Day 8 – Markha – Skiu – Leh
We all could literally fell the impact. Every discomfort was a pleasure, every challenge was a learning and our body naturally evolved to the surroundings. After many sweet revelations we got some momentum from the mountains. Instead of extending a day, we all finished around 20kms in 6 hours and reached Skiu directly. And from Skiu we drove till Leh with an aftertaste of bliss.
A sense of accomplishment after reaching Skiu.
Well, now, since you have seen the magnificence of Markha from my view, it’s time for you to get a real-life experience.