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Leh to Leh
In the winter world of trekking, Markha Valley is an unconventional trek to explore. Not only is it ideal for people who want to experience the Chadar Trek without going on the Chadar Trek, but Markha Valley is also a winter wonderland with distinct topography and captivating sceneries that give you a total offbeat experience.
The millennial term for this marvel is Chadar 2.0. Almost half of the valley's landscape is covered with the frozen Markha river and the other half is composed of the dry and picturesque ranges of Ladakh.
Markha river is a tributary of the main Zanskar river. During winters, the river freezes, and the glistening white streams extend like frozen branches towards several quaint villages like Chilling, Skiu, Sara, Markha, and Hunkar. The humbling part of this 10-day trek is staying in cozy homestays immersed in the fascinating world of Ladakhi culture.
The winter ecosystem of this place comprises exotic vistas, extensive valleys, enriching culture, rare flora and fauna making it an ideal place for trekkers, travelers, and nature lovers alike.
This magnificent winter wonderland falls within the boundaries of the Hemis National Park. During the trek, if we are lucky, we will witness some exotic birds like the Eurasian magpie, whitecap redstart, and chukar partridge. Herds of Himalayan blue sheep cross our path every now and then. Keep your cameras ready to freeze the nimble sheep in your frame. The fascinating element of the frozen river is that you can slide, skate and even dance on it. It does not require any special gears to navigate it. Some of the other interesting elements here are the ancient monasteries, old wooden bridges, sharp brown peaks, and serene stupas. The main attraction here is the view of the mighty peaks Kang Yatse 1 (6,400M) and Kang Yatse 2 (6,250M). To get a comprehensive idea of the attractions of this place, check Highlights of the Markha Valley Winter Trek
The ideal time to do this trek is from January to March. Though the terrain and trails of Markha Valley are fairly easy with a moderate gradient, one has to walk for a distance of 10 km every day. For a beginner, this could be extremely strenuous. The main challenge here is facing sub-zero temperatures. During the daytime, it falls to -15 degrees and at night, it tends to drop further down to -25. In campsites like Hunkar, the winds amplify the chillness to -35 degrees. To understand the challenges of the trek and the nature of the trail, check Who is this trek meant for?
If you are a winter lover, then Markha Valley Winter Trek is the perfect match for you. Scroll down to get more information about the trek like itinerary, blogs, policies, etc.
Arrive at Leh (3,500M)
Leh is the center for many popular treks like Stok Kangri, Kang Yatse, Spituk, Chadar, and Markha Valley. Once you reach Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport, there are shared cabs outside to reach Leh market. You can find affordable homestays, hostels, and hotels there. The distance from the Airport to Leh market is 4 km and the fare for the cab is around INR 100. If you have opted for accommodation from Bikat Adventures, then the location for your accommodation will be shared with you before your arrival.
The first day is meant for rest. Being at an altitude of 3,500M, the oxygen level at Leh is much lower and the temperature by day is around -15 degrees which drops further to -20 by night. In the beginning, you might feel dizzy and find it hard to breathe. So instead of exerting your body, try to relax and rest.
Acclimatization at Leh (3,500M)
Day 2 plays a major role in making your body adapt to the high altitude and temperature. This day is specifically set to explore the local market and nearby hot spots within and around the city. A simple walk or hike can regulate your oxygen level and make it ready for the journey ahead.
Leh market area consists of several novel cafes, iconic restaurants, woolen shops, army general stores, and gift shops. The flea markets are the ideal spot to get some souvenirs and authentic Ladakhi merchandise. If you opt for sightseeing then you can visit the Leh palace and the monastery right next to the market.
Leh (3,500M) to Chilling (3,400M) to Skiu (3,400M)
Distance: 60 km to Chilling + 5 km to Skiu
Duration: 2 hour drive + 3 hour trek
Drive to Chilling
The trail to Markha Valley trek begins from Chilling village. Around 9 AM, a camper or a cab is ready near Pologround to pick us up from our accommodation. The drive from Leh to Chilling is a pleasant one with astounding scenery. It is about 60 km and takes close to 2 hours to reach by road.
A few minutes into the drive, we come out of the market area and enter the highway. The highway holds panoramic views of the crystal white Stok Range on the left-hand side of the road and stunning views of cityscape on the right. As soon as the views fade, we gain elevation and arrive at our first pit stop, the Magnetic Hill. The road from the magnetic hill joins the beautiful Sangam – the confluence points of Zanskar and Indus rivers. Sangam is our second pit stop. We wait at Sangam for a few minutes and then resume our journey. The road from the Sangam point turns right and joins Chilling through a big iron bridge. As soon as we enter Chilling valley, we enter the territory of Hemis National Park.
After a drive of 10 more minutes through sharp bends inside the Chilling village, we stop at the starting point of the trail.
Chilling to Skiu
The trail from Chilling to Skiu is flat without any ascents or descents. For the first two kilometers, we walk alongside the lush farmlands of Chilling. Look to your right and you will notice the tall poplar trees arranged in a fence-like fashion to guard the crops against yaks and horses. Once we cover a distance of 5 km (roughly 3 hours), the track narrows down to open into an expanse with sweeping views of the Ladakh range. That is Skiu, our campsite for the day.
Skiu (3,500M) to Sara (3,500M)
Distance: 10 km
Duration: 6 hours
The gradient for today is easy with minor ascents and descents. There are plenty of water sources throughout the day. For the first 2 km, we walk on well-paved pathways made by the villagers. There are puddles of frozen water all along the trail. Keep your eyes peeled for some exotic Himalayan birds like the Eurasian magpie and white cap red star along the trail. When you come across areas with dense shrubs and vegetation, look out for the nimble blue sheep. They are experts in climbing steep and inclined surfaces. When the tracks get wider, and a vast horizon emerges, we would have crossed a distance of 5 km in 2 hours. This is when we spot an age-old wooden bridge that takes us to the other side of the stream.
The trails from the bridge expand into a boundless area as we walk on dried-up grey sand and colorful pebbles of the Markha river. This stretch continues for another 4 km and leads us towards Sara village. The skeleton structures onhandmade wooden houses are a fascinating feature to look out for as soon as we enter Sara. As we walk past the houses and cover a distance of 1 km, we find an open area with a view of the Markha range. This is our campsite.
Sara (3,500M) to Markha (3,700M)
Distance: 10 km
Duration: 6-7 hours
Today we leave the campsite at around 9 AM. About 2 km into the boulder-covered trails, we come across the calming Mani walls which are small, spiritual structures built by stacking up holy stones with prayers written on each one. Locals believe that people have to cross the tomb on the right-hand side for good luck. We continue to walk and ascend for another 2 km and enter into the quaint little village of Chalak, a barely populated settlement with small houses and half-built structures.
As we gradually descend from Chalak, the nature of the trail becomes fun. We walk on a huge section of the frozen river. The ice stretch spans over a distance of 4 km and directly leads us to the Markha bridge. The bridge is connected to a flattrail that leads us to Markha village. Markha village is one of the iconic spots of the valley. It has a lot of cultural significance and is rich in spiritual tales from the past. If you get some extra time, do interact with the villagers to learn more about their culture and the way they live. About 500 meters into the village, is our campsite for the day.
In Markha village, the temperature drops to -25 to -30 degrees at night because of strong downhill winds. A 4 type layering is required to keep warm.
Markha (3,700M) to Lower Hunkar (4,000M)
Distance: 10 km
Duration: 7 Hours
We start trekking at 9 AM. The path towards Hunkar is a bit rougher and wider as compared to the other days. Though the gradient is flat, seventy percent of the trail is covered with rocks and boulders which add to the complexity of the trek today.
In the initial 2 km of the journey, we walk through a desolate landscape which bears a strong resemblance to the Wild West films of Hollywood. If you look carefully, you see the shades of brown smeared across the body of huge mountains. When the wide trails narrow down and gain elevation, we begin to see the sacred flags of the Tacha monastery.
The trail from Tacha is completely engulfed by the small golden-brown peaks of the Markha range on both sides. Most of the peaks have a sharp pointed top connected to other mountains. Together they create a colossal spike range. As we progress through the valley, we get our first glimpse of both Kang Yatse 1 and Kang Yatse 2 peaks. They stay with us for a few hours until the valley gets wider and the trails land on a frozen section after 7 km. The joy of walking on the frozen section has a way of absorbing all the pain and stress from the strenuous trek up until now. This ice stretch continues for 2 km. All we have to do is slide our way to the entry point of lower Hunkar village.
According to the winter route map, Hunkar is the last village where we stay for the night. The lower portion of the village with a few stone houses is called lower Hunkar and the higher ground with a monastery is named upper Hunkar. We set our camps or settle in a homestay at lower Hunkar.
Lower Hunkar (4,000M) to Upper Hunkar (4,050M) to Markha (3,700M)
Distance: 2 km (to Upper Hunkar) + 12 km (to Markha village)
Duration: 1 Hour (to Upper Hunkar) + 6 hours (to Markha)
Today is the main day of the trek. The gradient of the trail is moderate with steep ascents for 2 km and easy with a flat trail of 10 km afterwards. We start trekking at 7 AM towards upper Hunkar. The path from lower Hunkar to upper Hunkar is a short fascinating 40-degree ascent. After a strenuous hike of 30-40 minutes, we finally arrive at the vantage point and get a panoramic view of the magnificent peaks Kang Yatse 1 and a subtle hint of Kang Yatse 2 behind it.
Post a successful summit, we head back directly to Markha village and settle in for the day.
Markha (3,700M) to Sara (3,500M)
Distance: 10 km
Duration: 6 hours
Today we retrace our way back to the campsite at Sara.
Sara to Leh (3,500M) via Skiu (3,400M) & Chilling (3,400M)
Distance: 14-15 Km
Duration: 7-8 Hours
Today is the last day of the trek; we head back to Chilling through Skiu. A vehicle waits at Chilling to pick us up and drop us back to our hotel in Leh.
Departure from Leh
You can check out of the hotel at 10 AM and start your return journey. If you plan to stay for a few more days and explore the wonders of Ladakh, then this article will help you start off on what places to consider – Places that you must visit in Leh Ladakh.
Before going for Markha Valley trek you should have at least 7-10 trek days in the Himalayas in their kitty. For the trek’s achieving more than 5000 meters, a person must have prior experience of trekking at altitudes of 3700 meters.
If you are not meeting these benchmarks, please use the preparation schedule to improve your fitness till you achieve the above benchmarks.
The start point of the Markha Valley Winter Trek is Leh. During winters Leh is accessible only by air.
By Air: Leh has a military airport and there are regular flights from Delhi to Leh. It is also connected to a few other major cities in India. Early flight booking can be economical.
The options for the return journey remain the same.
Markha Valley is in Ladakh region. Leh-Ladakh holds within themselves some soul-stirring attractions which are accessible through shared or privates taxis. The blue saphire famous Pangong Lake is a jaw dropping beauty which one can visit. Nubra Valley which is an alluring landscape carpeted with vibrant flowers. Magnetic Hills which have magnetic property offers breathtaking view. Hemis Monastery, Leh Royal Palace, Khardung La Pass, Tso Moriri Lake are few places that you cannot miss.
Only postpaid connections work in Ladakh region. BSNL and Airtel get the best network. You get full network at the base and end point of the trek.
December, January and February are the best months to do the Markha Valley Winter Trek.
Click here for packing list.
The minimum age limit is 13 years. However, minors aged between 13 to 17 should be accompanied with their parents or guardians. If you are above the age of 60, kindly carry a medical certificate from your doctor that deem you fit for adventure activities like trekking.
When you arrive in Leh, your stay will be made at local hotel/guest house stay. The rooms will be provided on twin or triple sharing basis. You will receive the details of your accommodation through email few days prior the trek. On trekking days, all the trekkers will be accommodated in twin or triple sharing tents. Along with this, there will be also be a toilet tent and a dining tent installed at every campsite as we roll.
We provide 4 seasons tents by Gipfel for higher altitudes which can easily withstand heavy snowfall and storms. They are spacious enough to accomodate 3 people at once with a vestibule to place the backpacks. Our sleeping bags are made up of Heatseeker Pro synthetic insulation that can provide you comfort in -10 degrees celsius. We also use additional fleece liners to have thermal efficiency even in the extreme temperatures of -17 degrees Celsius. If you carry your own sleeping bag, you will get a cashback reward provided that you inform us as soon as you have booked your trek.
Toilet tents will be provided to you on the trek.These are portable toilets tents where a deep pit will be dug. A shovel will be provided inside the tent to cover the waste after you have made your business. You can take a toilet roll inside. Make sure you dig used toilet paper along with the waste. Though water is recommended in place of toilet paper. Please refrain from using wet wipes as they are non-biodegradable. There will be no facility for bathing on the trek. Go through our blog section for tips on how to maintain personal hygiene on treks.
Winters in Ladakh is very harsh as the temperature may plummet down to as low as -20 deg. celsius at night.
Since the Markha Valley Winter Trek happens in the months of January and February, there will be a lot of snow on the trail.
You will be provided with good quality of gaiters and microspikes from us depending upon the situation of the snow. Our trek leaders will also be carrying ropes and ice axe.
If you want to offload your rucksack, you will have to make a request for offloading a few days prior the trek through an email so that arrangement can be made in advance. You will be charged per day for offloading your rucksack. In case you decide to offload on the spot, you may have to pay a higher price than usual. However offloading your rucksack is not recommended since it is not a safe practice.
A team of participant will be led by a course certified trek leader and a local guide. All participants are requested to abide by what their leader says. There will also be a team of kitchen staff and porters on the trek. We maintain 1:8 ratio of trek leader and participants. All our trek leaders and staff have a certified training in first-aid and rescue operation.
Vegetarian food will be served throughout the trek. The only non-vegetarian item served on our treks are eggs. Our kitchen staff follows a proper menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner which has been designed in order to fulfil the nutritional requirements of the participants. There will be milk, poha, eggs, muesli/corn flakes, bread and butter served for breakfast. Rice or simple roti sabzi will be packed for lunch. In dinner, you will have dal, egg curry or any other vegetarian dish along with rice, roti, and a dessert item. Packed lunch will be provided to you on the days you are trekking. You are requested to carry your own tiffin box and a mug to consume food. The meals consumed on journey and arrival day are not included in our cost.
Yes, trekking pole is necessary. If you don’t want to buy one, you can rent it from us on minimal daily basis charges. You can request the renting link from us.
Yes, there are stores and shops in Leh from where you can buy necessary stuff. Though it is recommended that you come prepared with all the stuff. Please do not leave anything for last minute buying.
Yes, it is absolutely safe for solo woman to travel in fix departures. Women on the trek will be sharing tent with each other. In case you are the only woman on the trek, you will be given a separate tent.
Yes, e-certificates will be given at the end of each trek provided that you completed it. It will bear your name, the trek, and the maximum altitude you achieved on the trek.
You can rent following items from us- Trekking Pole, Trekking Shoes, Fleece Jacket
The hotel at Leh is the pick up point from which we drive to Chilling in a jeep. The drop point remain the same.
Expect to reach Leh late in the evening, post 1700 - 1800 Hrs. Make sure your bookings from this point to your respective destinations are late in the night or for the next day.
ID Proof (Soft Copy to be sent to us in Advance & original to be carried), Medical Certificate (Soft Copy to be sent to us & original to be carried) and Photocopy of ID Proof are the mandatory documents required for the trek.
Our community is an integral part of us and we take pride in our trekkers and climbers. When you complete at least three days on any trek or expedition with us, you become eligible for our membership and referral programs.
For us, a successful summit is not about reaching the highest point of a mountain but about making it safely back to base.
Cancellations up to 30 days prior to departure date
Between 30 days to 15 days prior to departure
Less than 15 days of departure
No Cash Refund
Cancellations up to 5 days prior to departure date
Cancellations less than 5 days prior to departure
Ritvij Kumar 25 March 2017
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