Ever thought of trekking through a majestic valley with dream-like surroundings and then viewing it from its breath-taking peak? Well, not always do you get a combo like this but when it comes to the Markha Valley and Kang Yatse II, you are surely gonna fall in love with the trek and the peak both. Needless to mention that the ‘ BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE’ tag comes so appropriately attached to this trek. The icing on the cake comes from the fact that you can spice up your trek with a combination of homestays and tent stays, adding on to exploring the nature and culture of the valley. So, let me bring to you all the journey of trekking through the Markha Valley and summiting Kang Yatse II (6250m).
Location and General Info
Located in the Leh, Ladakh region of J&K, Markha Valley offers a trek of approximately 80km over a period of 11 days.
Kang Yatse II (6250m) is the one of the two peaks of Kang Yatse massif in Markha Valley, offering a beautiful view of Zanskar & Karakoram ranges.
Difficulty Level and Preparation
I would personally rate this combo somewhere between moderate and difficult (happens to be a combo at the end!) keeping in mind the distance of the trek, the rarefied atmosphere, high altitude region of Ladakh and the gruelling summit push.
The trekkers do need to gear up and tone their calves, hamstrings & deltoids in order to enjoy the trek and the peak with less physical exertion. A good mix of cardio and weight training, conditioning and toning of muscles, hydration and abstinence from alcohol and smoking a few months prior to the trek would surely yield good results. Prophylactic dose of Diamox from a few days prior to entering the high altitude area (strictly post consultation with your doctor) and a good two to three days of acclimatisation at Leh would do wonders for the aspirants.
Here, I would advise the aspirants to go through blogs on Bikat Portal to gain more information on kitting and packing aspects that also enlists the required items as per the requirements of summer and winter treks (I personally found them to be very educative and practical).
It would be prudent to say and most relatable for many of us trekkers and mountaineers that the journey is generally triggered much prior to actually starting of the trek. For me, it started after completing the Advance Mountaineering Course from HMI, Darjeeling in the earlier half of the year and then summiting to Mt Frey (5830m) that ignited the thought of attempting my first SIX THOUSANDER. Having (now) a considerable experience in mountains, I wanted to home on to something refreshing, yet pushing and TADA !! The combo struck my thoughts. So, Markha and Kang Yatse II it was! The research that followed got me instantly anchored to Bikat Adventures and the deal was DONE!
Day 1 : Welcome On-board
The first day, of course, happens to be the reporting day of the participants to Leh, who till now, thanks to social media would be connected through a Whats App group (don’t forget to carry a postpaid SIM to continue utilising the available network in Leh). This day provides an excellent opportunity to the participants to interact with each other, explore the Leh market and even pick up a few trek essentials. The day also happens to be the briefing day by the Trek Leader, who, apart from acquainting himself with the participants would brief on important trek related aspects and collect the requisite documents.
At a personal level, I would suggest the participants to have adequate water and fluids and avoid heavy meals on the first day, keeping in mind their entry into a rarefied high altitude area at 11,500ft. Please avoid drinking and smoking in Leh, unless you want to ruin the entire line-up of the beautiful events.
Slow walks, exploration of Leh market and abstinence from sleep during the day are a few tips that were brought to fore by our trek leader Somnath (Som Bhai as we call him).
LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL FOR THE TREK
AN AERIAL VIEW OF LADAKH
Day 2 : Acclimatisation Is The Mantra
The second day, often termed as the Acclimatisation Day, offers you an opportunity of sightseeing and exploring the beauty of Leh and the nearby areas. The place offers a lot through places like Shey Palace, Thiksey Monastery, Shanti Stupa, Kali Mata Mandir and Zorawar Fort, to name a few, of course, apart from the cafes and eating joints in the Leh market. I would still harp upon the fact that maintaining a low profile with respect to exploration and getting used to the prevalent high altitude conditions would be prudent at this stage.
An ideal approach would be a deliberate morning acclimatisation walk to the Leh Palace and a visit to Shanti Stupas in the later part of the day, both of which would act as the Vantage Points and offer a magnificent view of the town. Don’t forget the hydration aspect during the strolls and preferably carry you water bottle throughout.
ACCLIMATISATION WALK TO LEH PALACE
A VIEW OF TOWN FROM LEH PALACE
Day 3 : Skiu Calling
The third day marks your move from the hotel in Leh to the entry into Markha Valley with Skiu being the first village as your destination. During this vehicular move one can halt to visit the Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, Magnetic Hill and the Sangam of Indus and Zanskar rivers enroute. The drive offers magnificent views along Indus and Zanskar rivers with shades of mountains varying from brown to black, grey and purple and takes you to the village of Chilling (also the base camp for Chadar trek). The village is the beginning of Markha Valley and located around 60 kms from Leh. Chilling would also mark the beginning of the erstwhile trek to Skiu, however, due similar altitude and development of a track, a drive of another half an hour would take you to your destination.
Located at an altitude of approximately 3350 metres, the village of Skiu has around 15 houses, a monastery, stupas and mani stones. The beauty of the village is accentuated by the Markha river flowing to its right and flora constituted by poplars, junipers and wild grass that seem to have developed over a period of time. Here you get to stay with the locals who have transformed their Homes to Homestays and offer excellent hospitality. Each house has a kitchen garden and you get to relish the locally grown vegetables and herbs during your stay. Don’t forget to enjoy the Mint Tea which forms an inseparable part of their offerings.
On a personal note, I would recommend you to avoid sleeping during the day and explore this beautiful village as this would also aid in better acclimatisation. The valley witnesses an early sunset which gives you ample time to be spent in the dining room of the homestay and enjoying their hospitality, apart from interaction with other housemates. The village is self-sustained for electricity by means of Solar Energy and also provides you option to charge your cameras and smart phones (Oops! Did I forget to mention that you need to forget about network henceforth?)
THE BEAUTIFUL SANGAM OF INDUS AND ZANSKAR RIVERS
HOMESTAY'S KITCHEN GARDEN
SOME LIGHT MOMENTS IN SKIU HOMESTAY
Day 4 : Continuing The Charm To Sara
It’s time to hold your breath (quite literally) as you start the trek from Skiu to another beautiful destination named Sara (3580 metres). This trek of around four hours is a visual treat where you get the feel the maximum of the Markha Valley and still long for more. The journey over this evident trail would give you a glimpse of the birds and animals of Hemis National Park like Mountain Goats, Black Sheep, Magpie and Murmut to name a few.
The trail marks the gradual opening of the Markha Valley with the proportionate widening of the banks of Markha River. Within an hour’s time you would find a Women’s Café which can be utilised to catch a breath and freshen yourself with a cup of tea. You would be interjected by the river at a number of places which can be easily crossed without removing your shoes. Your trek would approximately be half completed once you encounter a wooden bridge, further which, you would start noticing the change in the ground with your move over the fine and powdered sand.
Your entry into the Sara village would be welcomed by a widened valley floor and an entrance with skeletons of a few wild animals. Another day to enjoy and relax as this village too offers beautiful homestays. You would find yourself more at peace as the gradual and insignificant height gain would have made you better acclimatised to enjoy the hospitality and nature. Do spend the afternoon on the banks of Markha river basking sunlight and evenings by interacting fellow trekkers and locals.
What better can you ask for than a cosy night at a solar powered homestay after a delicious dinner and loads of mint tea (Don’t forget to keep yourself adequately hydrated each day!).
THE INTERSPERSING MARKHA RIVER
AS THE TRAIL TURNS SANDY
BROADENING OF MARKHA VALLEY
WELCOME TO SARA
THE BEAUTIFULLY MAINTAINED HOMESTAYS
A SUPPER TO REMEMBER
Day 5 : And Here Comes Markha
Well acclimatised, visually delighted and amazingly hosted you move on the trail towards your next destination, after which the journey has been named, ‘Markha(3765 metres)’. Today’s trek would entail a gradual journey of approximately four hours on a similar trail that you would have witnessed the previous day. However, the spectacular views would leave you satiated, yet wanting for more! You would give your adrenalin a great chance to rise high by crossing the Markha river in its full swing (unless someone builds a temporary bridge over in in times to come!).
Crossing Markha River is a slightly technical and tricky activity (depending upon the time of the year) but an experience of lifetime, especially, if you are doing it for the first time. The cold stream with a considerable current needs to analysed for a suitable crossing place and you need to utilise the human chain technique which your trek leader would explain and make you do in the course of the action. So, just enjoy this amazing experience.
This journey would also witness a number of ruins and Mani stones and the spectacular opening of Markha Valley from a raised ground enroute the hamlet would leave you awestruck and enthralled.
I would personally advise you to move out in the evening and explore the Markha village. The village with approximately 20 houses has a monastery and a ruined fort. There is a vast camping ground available next the school of Markha village and a short climb to the monastery would offer you an amazing view of the green fields, the flora and the surreal landscape. The evening trip would be an icing on the cake which precedes a cosy homestay.
CROSSING THE MARKHA RIVER
SPECTACULAR OPENING OF MARKHA VALLEY
THE FACADE OF SARA MONASTERY
MANISTONES - STRIKINGLY MYSTIQUE
THE GREEN FIELDS OF MARKHA VILLAGE
RUINS OF MARKHA PALACE
Day 6 : Hangkar
Today we all gear up for trekking to probably the last inhabited hamlets of Markha Valley, ‘Hangkar’ (3980 metres).Though, this too happens to be a gradual trek with the experience of crossing the knee deep Markha River being repeated, this stretch will give you the first view of your objective; Mt Kang Yatse II.
The move on the Markha trail today gifts you the experience of witnessing the Tacha Monastery. Tacha is considered to an auspicious monastery and it is located over a steep cliff, which one would witness after a few minutes of ascent through a narrow gully. Co-located to this area is a series of beautiful Mani stones beautifully placed in shape of a temple.
You need to really hold your breath as you reach a place named Umlung which offers you the first view of your objective – Mt Kang Yatse II and it wouldn’t be surprising if you continue moving till Hangkar with your eyes glued (On and Off) to this majestic mountain.
I would personally advise everyone to be careful with your layering of clothes this night. As you move close to this beautiful giant you need to start taking care of your health more and ensure that you keep yourself adequately warm. Enjoy the Homestay Mode for the last time as you will be switching to Camping Mode hereafter.
THE MANI STONED TEMPLE
A VIEW OF TACHA MONASTERY
THE FIRST VIEW OF MT KANG YATSE II
Day 7 : Wait… It’s Nimaling Now!
Today one gears up for an exciting trek which happens to be slightly longer with a stretch of moderate ascent. The best part would be to visualise the gradual variation in the terrain which offers you some really enchanting views to break the monotony (only if you got monotonous!).
The trek stretching approximately six hours would take you Nimaling (4850 metres), a plateau which also is the grazing ground for the herds of Markha Valley. An hour and a half of trek from Hangkar and one reaches the grasslands of Thachungtse which happens to be another camping location for the trekker who feel comfortable in covering additional distance from Hangkar during the preceding day. Enroute, one is left spellbound by the magnificence of a beautiful fort placed skilfully at a height.
The gradual ascent of 4 hours would be a visual treat as you would get to admire the objective from various angles with its sight getting closer and bigger. The best part of this trail would be the view of twin Tigu lakes and with the kindness of weather you can see the reflection of Mt Kang Yatse massif in them. One of the two houses the golden statue of Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche The beautiful tarn honouring Guru Rinpoche in middle with natural flowers all around and Mt Kang Yatse in the backdrop is a sheer mysticism which will make you feel blessed in the lap of nature.
The trails enters the plateau of Nimaling with Konmaru La onto the left Kang Yatse Massif onto the right and here you can see herds of sheep and mountain goats grazing. The liveliness of plateau will be accentuated by the hustle and bustle of the tourists from all over the world and acts as the Final Camping Destination for the ones only aiming for the Markha Valley Trek. For those who aim for Kang Yatse II, be ready for some fore fun!
A personal advice to all the trekkers would be to take adequate rest and consume warm water and fluids. Being closer to the massif, you will feel the dip in temperatures and its really important that you keep yourself adequately warm even by adequate layers at all times. Prefer eating a moderate diet than overstuffing yourself and a drink adequate mint/black tea.
FORTIFIED TO PLAY THE GAME OF THRONES!
THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE
A SPIRITUAL CONFLUENCE
SECOND OF THE TWIN LAKES
AND THE NIMALING SEEMS CLOSER
CAMPING GROUND AT NIMALING
THE GRAZING HERDS AT NIMALING
AS THE LONG DAY ENDS!
Day 8 : Base Camp - We Mean Business Now
If I was to summarise the whole Base Camp move, I would say that it is that crucial turn which bifurcates the duality of this journey in Markha Valley. Nimaling is the junction for taking a turn either towards completing the Markha Valley Trek through Kongmaru La or challenging yourself to attempt the Kang Yatse II peak, a choice that is totally vested with an individual.
Having decided to challenge oneself by attempting the beautiful peak of Kang Yatse II, one moves towards the Kang Yatse Base Camp (5060 metres). One starts the ascents along the loose rocks and reaches atop the ridge in about an hour and a half. The top of the ridge offers a magnificent view of the peak and also on a sunny day offers you a beautiful resting point to bask the view and sunlight both. The balance trek to Base Camp is an hour’s journey and along a gentle downslope.
Since one would have adequate time of the day available on reaching the Base Camp, it is really important to take stock of your gear and technical equipment at this stage. Apart from ensuring availability of the requisite items, one must ensure comfort and suitability of the gear especially the snow boots and the seat harness. Crampons, though would be required after the Advance Base Camp stage but should be suitably adjusted as per the shoe size.
As a personal advice and even at the cost of repetition I would re-iterate the factors of hydration, layering, rest and diet at this stage because losing out on enjoying the beauty atop the objective due to complacency is a really sad proposition. I would encourage you to stroll lightly with snow boots on and bask adequate sunlight and warmth. An important activity would be to sort out your knapsack for the Summit Push with the requisite necessities.
FROM ATOP THE RIDGE TO BASE CAMP
AND WE GET CLOSER TO THE BEAST!
AN EVENING AT BASE CAMP
Day 9: Take Rest and Acclimatise
I call this day as the Golden Day as it provides you an opportunity to completely rest and acclimatise, quite literally in the lap of the objective. However, its important not to confine yourself to your tents atleast till the time you finish your lunch as the succeeding hours will be utilised for the much needed rest for the Summit Push that starts this night. Take a final stock of your gear and knapsack and have a short nap after your lunch.
Night 9 & Day 10 : Summit Push – Kang Yatse II
Haven’t we all heard that song Raat Baaki, Baat Baaki.... and Bas aaj ki raat hai zindagi, kal hum kaha tum kaha..! Well, these two were the beautiful numbers that kept on resonating in my mind as starlit night took over from the beautiful day. The weather Gods were kind and as I always keep reminding myself that We don’t climb mountains just because we can, but we climb mountains because they allow us to climb them.
The supporting staff was kind enough to serve us an early dinner by 7 PM and this gave us adequate time to get ready for the task ahead. This was followed by a very important aspect of wearing our gear and technical equipment as this would be the last stage of access to logistics. By 9 PM one would be ready to move which would be preceded by a light snacks and some hot drink. Standing under the beautiful cluster of stars we offered a small prayer to the mountains and started our climb alongwith the Trek Leader and Technical Guide.
One of the crucial factors that dictate the climb is the massive height gain from 5060 metres of Base Camp to 6250 metres atop the Summit and the descent back to the Base Camp. The route to the Summit is a continuous upslope with gradient varying from 50 to 65 degrees and even increasing upto 80 degrees at a few junctures.
The initial climb upto the erstwhile Advance Base Camp will entirely be through the loose rocks, scree and moraines, guided by the lead climber who also happens to be the technical guide. As one starts the ascent following the footsteps of the lead climber, an important facet of maintaining a steady pace needs to borne in mind. This would not only let you control your breath but also conserve your energy. A short break of 10 minutes after every 30 minutes of steady climb is advisable to ensure required rest and hydration. Keep in mind to consume water in small quantity and swirl each sip to feel satiated as Water Discipline plays a very important role in mountains. Avoid resting for too long as it will not only take away your body heat but also disrupt your pace.
A climb of about two to three hours takes you to the erstwhile Advance Base Camp and another few minutes take you to the start of Snowline. Its time for your to wear your Crampons over your Snowshoes and get Roped Up for further move. Temperatures at this moment would be either freezing or close to that, so ensure that you have the inner layer of your gloves on while wearing the crampons.
The climb from this point would be slightly tedious as the pace slows down due to move with crampons on the snow, the increasing gradient, the dip in temperatures and contact with snow. A clear night though would always be a colder affair but offers better snow climbing conditions. You would be climbing along the ridge for the next few hours in a zig-zag fashion and then along the shoulder of the mountain upto the summit.
Be prepared for the striking moments when you would literally be using your four points to support yourself at the twists and turning in the narrow trail. Even a few hours short of the summit would start enthralling you with the distant lights across the Chang La pass and moonlit ranges all around. It indeed is a heavenly experience and one feels like a small entity in this natural expanse and the virgin beauty of ranges around you. You feel so alone yet so occupied climbing the final phase to the top with your left, right and rear offering you nothing but a bird’s view to the extent your eyes can see.
At a moderate pace one would reach the Summit between 5 AM to 6 AM and you keep your fingers crossed as you get the opportunity to witness the Sun rising above the horizon and radiating the peaks and the ranges with its golden glow. The thought which struck my mind at this juncture as I tried to capture each moment in my mind for a lifetime was, “I wish those people could join me, who always kept on asking as to what did I achieve after climbing mountains!”
Being on the top of the peak gives your adrenaline a real rush as you see in all four directions and feel taller than anything visible to your eyes. You admire the way nature has placed these ranges in varying patterns and so many valleys running along with them. Next to you is the majestic Kang Yatse I of the same massif joined by an undulating Knife Ridge. It would be an understatement that you would be actually feeling warmth of each ray of the Sun which now would be much above the horizon. A matter of 10 minutes at the Summit and you’ve have forgotten all the struggle and effort of climb that lasted approximately 8 to 9 dark hours. Do see the video which I took atop the Summit as photos couldn’t have really told the tale so well in my case.
Like all good things, the quality time atop the peak too would have to come to an end but what follows is another game-changer, THE DESCENT. Apart from taking stock of your gear and equipment and getting roped up properly before descent, do remind yourself to be adequately alert and cautious. The gradient that offered a steep climb would now be offering a steep descent and it surely is taking place after a tiresome journey and the height gain (remember the notion that maximum casualties in expeditions occur during descent and not ascent). Do not forget to wear your sunglasses as a considerable descent is on the snowline with adequate reflection of sunlight. Approximately two and a half hours of descent would bring you back to the erstwhile Advance Base Camp location where you need to remove your crampons. The balance descent will be on the trail of scree and loose rocks and has to be undertaken in a diligent manner. From this location you can see the Snout of Kang Yatse glacier and the location of Base Camp for Kang Yatse II summit. Just follow the trail and cairns to reach Base Camp in another hour and a half. You must utilise the balance of your day to do moderate stretching exercises, rest and recoup.
A Few Take-Aways From My Personal Experience Now. You may feel a maddening headache after reaching the Base Camp. I would insist on getting your vitals checked with your Trek Leader but if headache is the only concern you can surely take a Chill Pill. Remember that in past 12 hours you have gained an altitude of 1200 metres and descended back to the Base Camp, so there has been a real drift in your vitals which your body wasn’t used to. Ensure that you consume minimum 3 to 4 litres of warm water and ORS in the balance of the day. Take a good meal but do not overstuff yourself and finally try and catch up adequate sleep as you would be having a long succeeding day till you reach civilisation.
AND FINALLY KANG YATSE II ALLOWED ME TO REACH THE SUMMIT..
COULDN'T HAVE BEEN BETTER.. WITH TECHNICAL GUIDE AND TREK LEADER
DESCENDING THE SAME SLOPES!
THE MOST CHERISHED WARMTH EVER!
AND THE RIDGE UP THERE.... !
A CAPTURE FROM THE SUMMIT WITH FIRST RAYS OF SUNLIGHT!
Day 11 : Picture Abhi Baki Hai – Kongmaru La and Descent
Good Byes are always hard, but I would say that what better than a Good Bye that’s equally mesmerising and enchanting. A significant aspect of this trek is that the return route to Leh makes you complete an entire circuit and isn’t the same which got you to Markha Valley.
After wrapping the rucksack and of course the beautiful memories, today we move back to Leh. The route passes through Nimaling from where the ascent to Kongmaru La pass starts. Kongmaru La pass connects the Markha Valley with the Shang Valley and is reached after a strenuous climb of about two hours. The climb upto Kongmaru La offers would a beautiful view of the trail which you just left behind but from a very different angle and the breaks during the climb force you to remember and cherish each and every moment of the week that passed.
The Kongmaru La pass blooms with prayer flags and cairns and be ready for your phone to ring and beep with messages as you get the Mobile Network after so many days. One gets to see an array of mountains varying in colour and termed as the Rainbow Mountains from this pass. The descent is steep and one witnesses drastic changes in the terrain in coming 5 to 6 hours till one reaches a village named Chokdo. Short of this village is a beautiful natural water source known as Khatta Pani which some locals claim has medicinal value especially for body and joint aches.
Chokdo is a small village happens to be the last stop on this trek and has the road head from where the vehicle start to ply and also offers a few homestays. The vehicular journey from this village takes you to Leh and culminates your trek in all respects.
THE TRAIL TO KONGMARU LA
IF ONLY THEY COULD NARRATE THE JOURNEY...
ATOP KONGMARU LA..
THE SIAS OF SHANG VALLEY
CHOKDO IN THE RANGE NOW!
DESCRIPTION FROM KONGMARU LA
Well, I’ve tried to summarise maximum possible details linked to the trek and the climb and would love the explorers to pick their choice from this combo. At the same time I assure you that you wouldn’t be disappointed with either of the options, provided you prepare well and put your best foot forward towards enjoying this blissful journey.