Nature has its own way of balancing things. On one hand, it allows us to explore and experience obvious and evident splendor like the mountains and oceans. On the other hand, it also allows us to engage with its intricate creations. But, the latter is relatively harder to notice and takes time and effort.
This article is all about these smaller delights one gets to encounter on the Markha Valley Winter Trek. Falling in the grounds of the Hemis National Park, Markha valley is home to a variety of Flora and Fauna.
Read on to find out more about what to look for while on the trails of this beautiful winter wonderland.
The blue goat
The blue goats are nimble and agile creatures of the Markha region. They can beat any mountaineer with their expert climbing skills. Climbing steep surfaces is like a walk in the park for them. They travel in groups and climb tough terrains in search of food. The main sources of their food are the shrubs and dry grass that grow through the cracks of huge boulders and stones.
Do keep your eyes peeled for them because the locals believe that if a herd of blue goats passes your way, you will have a successful summit.
Can you believe this bird belongs to the family of crows?
Eurasian Magpie is one of the famous occupants of Ladakh. Many bird photographers and researchers have spent long hours trying to learn more and document this intelligent creature. They say it's one of the few birds that can recognize themselves in front of a mirror.
These birds are very curious by nature and sometimes they visit campsites, probably to study us humans just the way we observe them. They are a beauty to be enjoyed. Ensure you don’t make any sudden moves near them for they fly away at the slightest hint of disturbance.
White Cap Redstart
The light red belly, a white cap like patch on its head and an interesting name make this bird sound like a character from a comic book. The white cap redstart bird is commonly found near the Markha river streams. If you notice them carefully, this bird will always be restless and moves around from one place to another. They frequently flick their tail up and down to signal other birds. IT is easy to lose track of time while observing them and they guaranteed to elicit a laugh or two out of you thanks to their funny nature.
It is neither a cow nor a yak. It is a hybrid of the wild Yak and domestic cattle.
Zos are one of the lifelines of the Ladakhi people. They are smaller but stronger than the wild yaks. You can spot them on your trails or near the campsite carrying firewood and dried grass. In terms of milk and meat, they offer more produce than the yaks or cows.
Poplar tree or the Populus Nigra is one of the most commonly found trees in the Markha region. During winters they shed all their leaves and add a magical vibe to the landscape, quite similar to the ones you find in Harry Potter movies. As they grow, they gain a diameter of 2 meters and a height of 20-30 feet. The locals mostly use them for firewood and for making small furniture.
In the local regions of Markha, owning a Pashmina shawl makes you a rich person leading a luxurious life. Of the many quaint villages of Markha Valley, a select few shepherds look after the rare Pashmina goats. The fleece from these goats is weaved into shawls, blankets, and other accessories. They have a high market value and are quite expensive. This is because it takes 2-3 goats to make just one shawl and fiber content of their wool is of high quality. It helps the villagers to keep themselves warm during winter and earn a living by selling the wool in the local markets of Leh.
Old man's beard or Bushoi
This small cotton ball is known as the old man's beard or the locals call it Bushoi in Ladakhi language. It may look regular but it has amazing healing properties. For any kind of external wounds like cuts or bruises, the villagers use it as a painkiller. Not only does it relieve the pain but it also slightly accelerates the body's recovering process. Bushoi is also an excellent material for tinder. During extreme winters, people use it to start a quickfire.
Rosehip / Wild rose berry
Deep inside the trails of Markha valley, you can find a unique wine-red flower-like berry known as the rosehip or wild rose berry. The locals use it as an ingredient in cooking and for making tea. It's rich in vitamin C and helps reduce fatigue.
A considerable portion of these berries is even exported to foreign countries every year. If you walk through the rustic lanes of Leh market, you can find some local stores that sell jam, jelly, and even syrup made from rosehip.
Sea buckthorn is another commonly found shrub in the wilderness of Markha Valley. The golden-brown berry that grows on this shrub tastes quite sour. So, the natives call them sour berries. They usually grow at high altitudes and cold temperatures.
The leaves of this shrub are used as fodder for cattle, the berries are used as an ingredient in cooking, and the plant is used in the cosmetic industries. Do try them out while trekking on the trails of Markha.
Overall, I found the Markha Valley Winter Trek to be a delight to all the senses. From panoramic views of gigantic peaks, quaint villages that offer glimpses into the local lifestyle to the diversity of the unique flora and fauna found in the region, the returns from this trek are unlike any other offered by its counter parts.
If you spotted other flora and fauna on your Markha Valley trek that aren’t there in this article, do drop in a comment below and I will add them to the list.