The Markah Valley trek took us a total of 8 days with one day to climb up Reponi Malai Ri. It can be achieved in 5 days if you walk consistently for 5-6 hours a day. We took quite a relaxed pace taking plenty of time to enjoy the Himalayan villages. We didn’t hire a guide as we only carried small backpacks and used a guide book and map which were more than adequate to follow.
Start date - 24.07.16
Day 1 - We took a taxi to Zinchan for ₹1,000 along the jeep road from Leh as we didn’t fancy walking the exact same route again. It was a very easy day taking 2 hours to reach Yurutse, giving us time to rest before heading over the Ganda La pass (4,900m) to Shingo the next day. Yurutse had one rather large homestay where we meet quite a few trekkers and guides.
Day 2 - Walking up to the pass seemed to take forever as we were walking on very gradual incline of nearly 900m. Along the trail we saw many marmots teetering around and huge birds of prey soaring above. It is recommended as one of the best places in the world to see a variety of unique birds that live at such high altitudes. When reaching the top of the pass we had a spectacular view of the Stok and Zanskar mountain range and the valley below. Damian even scrambled up to the peak of Ganda La Ri to have an even higher vantage of the arid mountain range. Shingo was just at the bottom of the valley and was an easy decent from the pass, taking us roughly 7 hours from Yurtse to Shingo.
Day 3 - Our next destination was Sara which was a rather long day as we decided to go further than Skyu which is usually the conventional route. While having lunch in Skyu we saw a monastery built up high in the mountain that appeared to be crumbling away. This is where many people starting from chilling joined the trail, crossing the river from a suspended cable pulled manually by locals. The rest of the day consisted of a route along a jeep road, a forest trail and arid up and down pathways. A highlight was meeting a lovely crazy local guy selling drinks!
Day 4 - This was a very short day to Markah which involved a couple of knee deep river crossings which we perfectly timed as we arrived just as the weather changed for the worse. This solidified our decision to stay in Markah at the oldest trekkers Guesthouse.
In the late afternoon once the weather had cleared we walked up to the old fort and monastery which overlooked the surrounding village. The fort was interesting to explore as you could see the remnants of doorways and cordoned off spaces people would have used before it was abandoned.
Day 5 - Another relatively easy day to reach Hankar and this was the first view we had of Kang Yatze (6,400m) as we traversed up high along the edge of the valley. When arriving at Hankar we found a brilliant and secluded homestay with a traditional solar heated shower.
Day 6 - From Hankar to Nimaling we passed another fort nestled high in the mountains. This day was slightly more strenuous than the previous few days as there was a steep yet gradual climb to reach Nimaling plateau which resides at roughly 4,700m. Along the trail we saw many cute mountain mice and as we reached the plateau there was beautiful lake with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and of course Kang Yatse in the distance.
Day 7 - After reaching Nimaling base camp and being so close to the surrounding mountain peaks we decided to take a day to climb up Reponi Malai Ri. This 6,000m peak is one of few accessible mountains in the Himalayas that you don’t need to pay a penny to climb. Its situated on the opposite side of the glacier to Kang Yatse (6,400m) and overlooks the Nimaling campsite. We began walking directly up the steep incline towards Kang Yatse base camp and soon after reached a deceptive plateau. The path was still on a steady incline until we met a ridge line that overlooked the glacier and the entire valley below. At this moment we began to scramble up the rocky west face of the mountain.
This was an exhausting climb as the rocks were loose and kept falling beneath our feet. It took maybe 2 hours to reach the top ridge line where we became somewhat dizzy from exhaustion and with no surprise at an altitude of 5,800m! We could see the mountain peak not far from us roughly 1km away but as we were running out of time and both not feeling too great we decided to take in the surrounding views, eat our lunch and head back down along the ridge way.
The entire hike took us 7 hours, five to get up and just two hours down. If we had been more prepared and walked therr idge line from the bottom to the top then we could have probably reach the very peak in the same amount of time. Unfortunately, we made up our own route and spent a good part of our journey scrambling rocks and avoiding near death! Having said that we made it back in one piece and thoroughly enjoyed our little adventure.
Day 8 - After two nights in Nimaling we started early to reach the Kongmaru la pass (5274m). For us this was the most effortless of the three passes, mainly because we were better acclimatised and had previously been to 5,800m. Once at the top we had a great view of Kang Yatse and the surrounding peaks but the view from Reponi Malai was more impressive due to there being an unobscured view of the mountains. The decent down from the pass was very steep and dropped rapidly then continued steadily down to Shang Sumdo. Much of the trail follows a stream that runs down through the valley with some very interesting coloured rock formations. When we reached Shang Sumdo we met another trekker who we shared a truck with for ₹150 per person which was about a 30km ride to Leh.
Overall the Markah Valley trail is a fantastic way to experience hiking through some of the driest parts of the Himalayas. Due to it being situated on a high plateau in the rain shadow, it is protected from the monsoon which causes its dessert conditions. The landscape is barren yet it’s so incredible to witness the wildlife and communities of people that thrive in this part of the world.
After returning back to Leh we decided to try some rafting on the Zanskar river which cost only ₹1,500 per person. The experience was excellent value for money as it included 3 hours of rafting over 35km, wetsuits, transport and lunch. The rafts held around seven to ten people and were much larger than expected. We were quickly briefed on safety and simple paddle techniques then off we went. For the majority of the journey the river was steady flowing but when we came up against the intermittent rapids, that’s when the fun really began! Attempting to cut through the swirling pools of water around us, resulted in our team frantically paddling until signaled to stop and dive into the middle of the raft to take cover. It was an exhilarating feeling as water came flooding overboard, which could have easily capsized us at any moment!