Trekking In Ladakh - Nubra Valley Trek
Tucked between Pakistan and Tibet, Ladakh is one of the most remote areas of India. Ladakh lies to the northeast of the Himalayan Range and just south of the Karakoram Range. It sits on the edge of the Tibetan plateau and is culturally very similar to Tibet, having gained its independence in the 10th century. This high mountain desert has remained isolated from the outside world for centuries due to its inaccessibility, and the strategic position it occupies on the edge of the the Kashmir region, which is partially in Pakistan and partially in India. This area has only been open to trekkers for 15 years, and is often called "little Tibet" because its culture is dominated by so many Tibetan influences such as, Buddhism, an agricultural lifestyle based on crops of Barley and products made from livestock such as Yaks, and high-altitude, arid terrain.
When John first visited Tibet in 1993 enroute to attempt a climb of Shishapangma he heard stories of Ladakh and its cultural and scenic treasures and a few years back we had the opportunity to go and explore this amazing spot near the great Himalaya Range. The trip features a visit to Delhi, India, and will then fly to remote Leh, a small town of about 30,000 people and the capital of Ladakh. Trekkers will have the opportunity to witness a Tibetan culture that in many ways no longer exists in Tibet. We will see ancient monasteries built on sheer cliffs that are well preserved and still functioning. We will also see a Tantric Buddhist culture that is practiced openly and freely amidst an agricultural lifestyle that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. This is an arid and in many ways desolate place where people have carefully managed to carve out a niche in a very difficult environment.
While in Leh, which is situated at over 11,000 feet, we will spend several days visiting ancient Buddhist monasteries, Gompas, and preparing for our trek to the remote and sublime Nubra Valley. Our time in Leh gives us the opportunity to absorb some of the cultural points of interest while also allowing our team to acclimate to the high-altitude in preparation for our trek. When we leave Leh by jeep we will drive over the world's highest motorable pass (Khardungla 5596m/18,360'), and visit more monasteries, and many of local villages before we finally start walking up the Nubra Valley.
Once on the trek we will hike between small villages and climb either of the peaks of Dawa (6000m). All of the farming and agricultural activities take place at the valley bottoms, where there is adequate water for people to eke out crops of barley and rice during the short summer growing season. The trekking portion of the trip takes 10 days and 9 nights and is fully catered with a cook, porters, dining tent, sleeping tent, and simple toilet facilities. The trek is designed to be leisurely enough to take in the sights while usually reserving some time each afternoon to relax. Participants should expect the travel to be vigorous enough to feel you have earned your home cooked meal each evening, while remaining manageable for for those who have not previously been to high altitude. The trek alternates between green, agricultural valleys, and austere, dry desert ridge tops. We will exit the area by trekking out across Lasermola Pass (5,400 m).
This trek takes us through an impressive gorge, working pastures and flowering meadows. We should see marmots and possibly bharals, the Himalayan blue sheep. The snowbound Lasermola pass provides a nice moderate challenge and offers unsurpassed views of the Karakoram, Zanskar and Ladakh mountain ranges and the valleys on either side. We end the trek at Phyiang village with a visit to its famous monastery. This trip offers visitors a glimpse of the simple lifestyles we encounter as well as good trekking in a pristine portion of Ladakh.
Your trek will be led by Northwest Mountain School owners, and IMFGA guides John Race and Olivia Cussen. Both have reached the summit of 8000-meter peaks, carry Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications, and have extensive experience leading trips in remote portions of the Himalaya. We will be utilizing the services of an outfitting company that has provided excellent logistical support for a previous trip to Sikkim run by the Northwest Mountain School.
Ladakh's Nubra Valley Trek Itinerary
Day 1: Depart US
Day 2: Arrive Delhi late night. Transfer to hotel. While in Delhi we will be staying in five star hotels.
Day 3: Spend the day Delhi, adjust to the time change, and tour the city.
Day 4: Early morning flight to Leh (3520m/11,550'). Transfer to hotel and rest for acclimatisation.
Day 5: Sightseeing day. We will visit some of the nearby monasteries including Shey Gompa & Thiskey Gompa. Thiskey Gompa is over 600 years old, and is home to the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh, as well as 80 Buddhist monks. The Shey Gompa is almost 400 years old and is this most well know for it massive Shakyamuni Buddha, a 40 foot high statue. Shey Gompa also has some exquisite murals. After a busy day spent visiting these two beautiful monasteries we again spend our second night in Leh.
Day 6: For further acclimatisation we travel to the monastery at Alchi. Alchi monastery sits on the banks of the Indus River, dates back over 1000 years and holds some of the oldest paintings in Ladakh. The paintings exhibit both Buddhist and Hindu influences in existence at the time. This monastery is attributed to translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), but the oldest preserved buildings on the site are from the middle of the 12th century. After visiting Alchi we return to Leh for our third night.
Day 7: Today we drive about 4.5 hours across Khardungla Pass (5596m/18,360') to the wide and fertile Nubra valley. Khardungla Pass is the highest motorable pass in the world. Along the journey we will stop for many photos and visit the hot springs at Panamic and walk up to Samstaling monastery. We will spend this night in a hotel.
Day 8: We will start the day by visiting the village of Deskit with its quaint little monastery atop a hill before continuing to Hundar and the start of our trek. In Hundar we meet our trek crew, load the ponies, and begin to trek. We cross Hundar Bridge and take to the trail which follows the river. The landscape is spectacular as we continue along this impressive gorge and the trail eventually becomes narrow and steep at Dzongpa. We continue along a side valley until things open up at the highest point between Hundar and Skarchen. This trip can be difficult for the ponies and we may need to do some unloading at the tightest spots. We then descend and continue along the river to reach camp at Skarchen (approx 3800m/12,465') which sits at the confluence of 2 streams in the gorge. The trekking portion takes approximately 4-5 hours.
Day 9: We continue along the river in the gorge for about 2hrs and then pass below Wacham village. The trail then climbs steeply for about 20 mins to the village of Dok Yogma. Here we walk past barley fields and follow a good path to the village of Hundar Dok, a scenic spot with plantations, lots of flowers and the ubiquitous barley fields. We will camp in the village close to the river & will arrive here by lunch. We keep this day short to allow for acclimitazation. The afternoon can be spent visiting this Hundar Dok (4010m/13,155'). Today's trek takes about 4 hours.
Day 10: Today's journey takes us through the Thanglasgo valley following a small stream through pastures with views of surrounding 6000m peaks to the junction of the Thanglasgo and Sniu Sumdo valleys. We trek into Sniu Sumdo to camp in a lovely grassy spot at 4000m/13,125' after a 4-5 hour hike. These are summer grazing pastures here so you might meet the local shepherds.
Day 11: We spend another day at this same camp to enjoy the surroundings and hike up into the adjacent side valleys.
Day 12: Today we continue up the valley to the base of Dawa peak. We follow a small stream until we reach the terminal moraine of the glacier and then use ice axes and crampons to follow the flat glacier to our high camp. This is moderate, yet beautiful terrain and a good spot to give group members a good workout and an introduction to glacier travel.
Day 13: In the morning we hike up to the top of the glacier to climb Dawa peak (just about 6000m/19,685'), the high point of our trip. After reaching the summit and its amazing views of the surrounding mountains we return to base camp for another night. The climb of Dawa Peak is not technical, but will require ice axes and crampons, which can be rented for the trip.
Day 14: We now descend to the junction of the Thanglasgo and Sniu Sumdo valleys. The trail climbs gradually across pastures with flowers and follows a stream for another 4 - 5 hrs to either camp at Thanglasgo or a little further up to Jhingmoche (4500m/14,765'). During the summer months, shepherds bring their sheep, yaks, and Dzomos here for grazing and live in temporary huts. There is a tradition that just 2 -3 families from the village of Hundar Dok come here every summer with the animals of all the villagers for grazing and while here, they make cheese & butter for the villagers. They stay here until end of August /September when they return to their village for the harvesting season. This is a nice walk.
Day 15: We follow the river upstream on a well-defined path in this high valley of meadows. Yaks and Dzomos can been seen grazing around these large meadows by the glistening streams. It is a gradual climb to our camp at the base of Lasermola (4800m/15,750'), 4 - 5hrs. This is our highest camp and the snow bound Lasermola Pass can be seen from here. By now we will have adjusted to the altitude and can enjoy the situation.
Day 16: Leaving the pastures we climb to the snow line and moraine to the top of Lasermola pass (5400m/17,715') this takes approximately 2 - 3 hrs. At the pass we are rewarded with excellent views of the Karakoram Mountains and the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges. For those with the inclination and energy, you can go on a little higher from the pass for better views. There will be snow at the pass and we need to leave camp early in the morning to make the crossing easier for the animals which are carrying our camp. From the pass, we descend the Phyiang valley to camp at Phyiang Sumdo (4500m/14,765). This is the most strenuous day of the trip and requires 8 to 9 hours of walking.
Day 17: On the final leg of our trek we descend to Morubuk pastures and then to the village of Phyiang. We will enjoy wonderful views of the Stok mountain range today. Our vehicles will meet us at the road head, and we then drive through the village of Phyiang. We will make a short stop at the monastery here before continuing to Leh. We should arrive back in Leh by early afternoon where we can enjoy showers and a nice dinner to celebrate the end of the trek.
Day 18: Fly to Delhi and spend the night in Delhi, again at a very nice hotel, which will feel well earned after our adventures in Ladakh.
Day 19: The Taj Majal is easy to visit from Delhi, India at the end, so we have added in the option of a visit to this amazing structure, one of the seven wonders of the world. Those finishing their trek without going to Agra to visit the "Taj," will be transported to the airport for an evening departure back to the US, while anyone joining us will be transported by train to Agra where we will visit the Taj Majal, considered to be the finest example of Mughal architecture. Upon arrival by train we will visit the Taj Majal and the Agra Fort before retiring to our hotel in Agra.
Day 20: Those skipping the Taj will arrive home in the US today. Those staying will visit Fatehpur Skiri in the morning before returning to Delhi. We will have day-use rooms available for those that would like to rest up before our evening flight back to the US.
Day 21: Arrive home in US.
Qualifications for Ladakh TrekParticipants will need to be up to the physical challenge of hiking for up to 8-9 hours while at altitudes of up to 5600m/18,372.' If you opt to participate in the climb of Dawa Peak you will be climbing up to around 6000m/19,685.' During the day you will be hiking on unimproved trails and will need to carry your own water, snacks, and clothing for the day. Due to the high altitude and remote nature of this trip you will need to arrive in good health and equal to the task of spending 10 days in a back country environment. Each day requires the group to move together from camp to camp in order to make our planned itinerary in the time allotted, so you will need to have the physical ability to maintain the itinerary.
Travel ArrangementsAs each member of the group submits their applications and deposits, you will be directed to contact our travel agent who can help you make your flight arrangements for the trip from the US to Delhi. Additionally our outfitter in India will organize the flights from Delhi to Leh, and we will purchase additional seats as new members apply for the trip. While you are free to make your own travel arrangements, we highly encourage you to work with our travel agent for this particular trip as it makes your logistical plan infinitely more simple once on the ground in India. It also makes it easier for us to make changes in travel plans for the group if needed.
Brief History of LadakhLadakh became an independent kingdom sometime in the middle of the 10th century. For centuries this was the most logical trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia, and was used by caravans transporting things of great value such as raw silk, carpets, spices, textiles, and even narcotics. The journey took about 2 months and Leh was perfectly situated at the midway point, and thus developed into a busy market. The trip was usually made by pony (similar to the ponies we utilize on our trek). Ladkah's high point ins considered to be in the 17th century when governed by its famous king Sengge Namgysal. Eventually the kingdoms of Ladakh and Baltistan became part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. During the partition of India, Baltistan became part of Pakistan and Ladakh remained a part of India. Sitting in between the Himalaya and the Karakoram, home to the world's highest mountains, Ladakh has a dizzying array of Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim influences.
Recommended Reading for Ladakh TrekAmazingly very little has been written about Ladakh. It is just far enough out of the way and complicated enough to reach that it has not seen the traffic of other trekking destinations and as a result less has been written about the area. The following are books we have found useful in preparing for the trip to Ladakh:
- A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism by Andrew Harvey
- Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World by Helena Norberg-Hodge
- Trekking in Ladakh, 3rd: India Trekking Guides by Loram and Manthorpe
- Lonely Planet Kashmir Ladakh and Zanskar by Schettler and Schettler