You may never have gotten around to riding a Royal Enfield to Ladakh, no worries, a mixed bag of experiences is in store for you once you get there through other means. Get your trekking chums and put your gear on to start on one of the most popular treks in Ladakh. Cross the Markha Valley Trail, at the altitude of 4900 meters, where you trek alongside the Markha River that runs through “Little Tibet”, and is one of the world’s highest inhabited plateaus. Displaying a diverse topography across the landscapes and waterscapes, the Markha Valley is equal parts awe-inspiring and challenging. The best time for this trek is between June-September, as the temperature is not unbearably cold, and the sun isn’t conspiring to burn you down.
It typically takes around 8 to 9 days to cover the whole trail, where you basically cross the Zanskar range twice, consisting of two pass-crossings- the Ganda La and the Kongmaru La. It can be overcome within 5 days if you are running short of time and miss a few points. Now, as mentioned, there isn’t one fixed way to go about the trail. Here, we go along chronicling the path we followed in our trail.
We arrived in Zinchen village first, you can alternatively begin your journey at Spituk as well, but this route bought us time, where we gathered the whole paraphernalia for our trek including three locals for helping and guiding us, one horse and two mules to pack our food and fuel on. Trust us when we say this, loading up a mule is an art.
As we get acclimatized to the region, from Zinchen we set out for Ganda La Base Camp, a good 6-7 hours away (Rumbak, the largest village in Zinchen Valley would cross our path). On our way, we walked over a rather unreliable looking wooden bridge over the stream, these bridges seen all over the valley, are built by the locals who get paid by the travel agencies for their work. Slowly but steadily, our mule train caught along. The path here on, gradually started getting steeper. There was nothing but rocks, wild roses and nettles to greet us for miles.
As we reached Rumbak we encountered several tea-points, they were abandoned as we went pretty early on in the season. We also spotted a few Jungle Fowls and Bharals (Blue Sheep); their red-brown summer coat makes them extremely difficult to spot. In winter they have a slate blue coloured coat to match the topography. Just before the final ascent to Ganda La Base Camp, we passed a little Homestay in a tiny hamlet called Nyurutse. The glorious picture of Manikeo in the background filled our vision as we reached our Base Camp.
Make-shift tents were raised out of old parachutes, as we prepared to settle in for the night. The kitchen tent offered much needed warmth, as we sat there brewing tea in subzero temperatures, thanking the culinary gods for the invention of Maggi Noodles. As the hours went by and it started getting colder, even the mules left their grazing in the higher pastures and made their way down. We couldn’t find much sleep due to the biting cold and the incessant tinkling of the bells on the mules. By morning it had started to snow briskly and Ganda La was under a fresh coat. It was time to promptly pack up before the snow could get to us. But it did, anyway! All that winter garb purchased from the Leh Market came in handy.
The trail started getting more laborious as the snow got heavier. So we took the liberty to stop and rest as and when we could. Slowly we trudged along looking upward. There were crevices we needed to be watchful of stepping into, lest we end up waist deep in the snow. We finally managed to pull ourselves to 4900 m on top. The views of the Stok and the Zanskar range are another reason apart from the climb that would leave you breathless. The top is marked with those signature prayer flags of the Himalayas. The world was literally at our feet as we beamed over what we had achieved.
(END OF PART-1)