The Markha Valley trek is one of the most popular treks in Ladakh. The arid terrain of Ladakh consists of remote gorges, craggy peaks, high altitude deserts, and dry plains. In the midst of this, the gushing Markha River creates an emerald-green oasis, with fruit orchards, small farms, and Tibetan settlements along its banks. The trek takes you through this contrasting backdrop, offering you a chance to experience the magic of the mountains and the lifestyle of those who live here.
The Markha Valley route goes through the beautiful Hemis National Park, where one can enjoy walking alongside patches of wild roses and through canyons decorated with multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags rising and falling in the breeze.
Markha village has only about 25-30 houses, where the hardy locals live year-round, grazing their herds and growing their own food. You’ll see deserted palaces, traditional stone mills, ancient monasteries perched on hilltops, and even an old castle.
As you trek, you’ll be able to see some of the highest peaks in the country, including the impressive Kang Yatze peak which stands 21,000 feet tall. You’ll also be able to admire the Zanskar and Markha River as you go deeper into the terrain.
If you’re planning a visit to Ladakh, you should check out Rafting in the Zanskar River. It’s a must-do for adventure-seekers!
This trek can be completed in 5 days or could be extended as long as 11-12 days. The longer version lets you trek shorter distances each day, so you have time to explore small villages like Spituk, Rumbak, Hankar, and more.
The trek begins in Leh, where you’ll spend a day or two to acclimatize. After that, you’ll head towards Zingchen village, where you’ll start your trek. The first day of trekking is usually not too long – only about 4-5 hours – and you’ll end the evening at Yurutse, which lies just under the Ganda La Pass. The next day, you’ll go over the pass and descend to Skiu, and then onwards to Markha Valley. You’ll stop at Nimaling, one of the highest inhabited plateaux in the world. You’ll cross over Kongmaru La, and descend to Sumdo, from where you’ll be driven to Leh.
The Markha Valley trek takes you to an elevation of 17,000 feet. You’ll climb two very high passes, Ganda La (15,748 ft) and Kongmaru La, (17,060 ft) and negotiate some steep ascents. In addition, most days have long hours of trekking, almost 7-8 hours each day. It is not a technical trek, but it is best suited for those with prior trekking experience. Fit beginners may attempt this, but should be prepared for high altitude and extreme temperatures.
If you’re planning your Markha Valley trek, our blog post on How to Prepare for High Altitude Trekking will give you some valuable tips.
The best season for the Markha Valley trek is from May to September. This is the best time for most adventures in Ladakh. During these months, the skies are blue and sunny, and you’ll have clear views of the mountains extending all around you and into the horizon. The days are pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 20-25 degrees Celsius, and dropping to 8 degrees Celsius at night.
The biggest risk in Ladakh is altitude-related illness, but there are ways to combat this. Leh stands at an altitude of just over 12,000 feet, so it is imperative that you acclimatize completely here, before proceeding onwards to higher altitudes. Take it easy during your stay in Leh, and make sure you stay hydrated and eat well. Take short naps, and don’t exert yourself. This should help your body to adjust to the thin air and altitude. When you’re on the trek, make sure you follow the instructions of your guide.
Yes, you will need permits for camping and trekking here. Your operator will arrange all the required permits, but you will need to carry your documents – ID cards, photographs, photocopies of all documents, as well as medical certificates guaranteeing your fitness for the trek. The operator will send you a list of everything you need to carry.
The best season for the Markha Valley trek is June, July and August. During these months, the weather is at its best, with pleasant days and chilly nights.
You will be trekking in extreme weather – warm days and cold nights – so dress in layers. Carry thermal clothing, as well as a woollen hat, gloves, and scarf. Make sure your trekking boots are in good condition, and if they’re new, break them in before you leave for the trek. Your operator will send you a detailed packing list - do make sure you carry everything.
The Markha Valley trek requires long hours of trekking each day, sometimes as high as 7 or 8 hours. You’ll have some very steep climbs to get to the two passes of Ganda La and Kongmaru La. And all this will be done at high altitude of Ladakh. While it does not require any technical skills, it is best that experienced trekkers or very fit beginners attempt this trek.