Autumn in Ladakh: Photos & Notes

With greater brevity than usual (in the interests of getting my photos onto Flickr before my next trip), here’s what we did on this year’s Autumn in Ladakh trip. You’ll find my photos in my Ladakh, September 2016 album on Flickr.

If you love the mountains and different cultures, go to Ladakh (ལ་དྭགས / लद्दाख़ / لَدّاخ‎). I’d recommend Rimo Expeditions and the Kang La Chen hotel in Leh wholeheartedly.

Monday 5 September 2016 (no photos)

Fly LHR – Delhi (दिल्ली)

Tuesday 6 September 2016 (photos)

Fly Delhi – Leh (གླེ་) (3500m), landing at Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport (कुशोक बकुला रिम्पोचे हवाई अड्डा) very early in the morning.

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 1: A rest day, chilling out at the Kang La Chen, with a walking tour of the old town and bazaar with our excellent Rimo Expeditions guide, Pemba Sherpa, in the late afternoon.

Wednesday 7 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 2: Morning day trip south west along the Indus River valley visiting Thikse Gompa (3600m) and Shey Palace and Gompa and roadside Buddhist rock carvings. Afternoon stroll around the old town and bazaar, and our first visit to the lovely Brazil Cafe.

Thursday 8 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 3: Walking tour to Shanti Stupa – Gamsa village – Namgyal Tsemo GompaLeh Old Palace – Old Town & Bazaar.

Friday 9 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 4: Stok Palace & Gompa – Purification puja ceremony at the giant gold Gautama Buddha statue – Spituk Gompa – sunset at Shanti Stupa

Saturday 10 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 5: Ladakh Marathon Khardung La Challenge
Sankar village & gompa – Leh Old Town & Bazaar and the Brazil Cafe

Sunday 11 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 6: Khardung La (5359m) drive and scramble

Monday 12 September 2016 (photos)

Leh acclimatisation & sightseeing day 7: Lower Ladakh, visiting Magnetic HillIndus River / Zanskar River confluence – Basgo Palace ruins and Gompas (3292m) – Alchi Chhoskhor monastery complex

Tuesday 13 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 1: Drive to Rumbak Lato via Spituk and Zingchen / Jingchan (3370m).

Enter Hemis National Park, trek to Rumbak (3800m) and visit village.

We shared our campsite with a group of Swedish wildlife photographers who were in search of the elusive snow leopard – but they had had one sighting.

Wednesday 14 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 2: Rumbak (3800m) – Yurutse (4150m) – Lartsa Kanda La (4345m) – Ganda La High Camp (4462m)

Climb up to Stok Kangri view (4729m)

Marmots and mountain hares

Thursday 15 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 3: Ganda La High Camp (4462m) – Ganda La (4970m) – Prayer flags above Ganda La (5019m) – Shingo (4170m) – Skyu / Skiu (3250m)

A long, hot descent along the length of the Shingti Togpo valley. Lunch at Shingo in another parachute tent. Camp at Khangchek New Camping Site, Skiu Gompa.

Finally in the Markha Valley.

Friday 16 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 4: Skyu / Skiu (3250m) – Nakdi (3527m) – Sera (3607m) – Chalak – Lhatho (3683m) – Markha (3755m)

An easy day following the Markha River valley, and crossing lots of wooden bridges…

Saturday 17 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 5: Markha (3755m) – Umlung (3890m) – Techa Gompa – Hangkar (3990m) – Thachungtse (4250m)

* Wading across the Markha River not long after leaving Markha
* Scrambling along newly trodden sections of path on the approach to Hangkar
* Great views of Kang Yatze from Hangkar
* A wash!

Steffi and I got very excited at our first sighting of a mouse hare (aka pika) on the rocks and stones around Thachungtse campsite. And then we saw loads, including one who wasn’t at all phased by the dining tent being pitched right next to its burrow.

Sunday 18 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 6: Thachungtse (4250m) – Tsigu (lower lake) (4690m) – Kang Yatze (6400m) views – Nimaling (4700m) – Above Nimaling (5030m)

En route, birds of prey a-plenty, mouse hares and marmots.

A late afternoon scramble up the gully to the plateau below Kang Yatze provided tranquil panoramas with the ponies and a clear view of the Gongmaru / Kongmaru La.

Back down for the return of the sheep/goat flocks, and a super sunset.

A cold night at Nimaling!

Monday 19 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 7: Nimaling (4700m) – Gongmaru La / Kongmaru La (5287m) – Chuskyumo (4089m) – Chokdo / Chogdo (3985m)

Aka the Day of the Disappeared Donkeys – or – Steffi’s Special Day. The two are not connected.

Our overnight homestay at Mano Garang Eco Lodge was not on the plan, but was lovely!

Tuesday 20 September 2016 (photos)

Markha Valley Trek day 8: Chokdo / Chogdo (3985m) – Shang Sumdo (3670m). Drive to Leh (3500m) via Hemis and Stakna.

Beers back at the Kang Lha Chen hotel.

Wednesday 21 September 2016 (photos)

Ladakh Festivals (& shopping) day 1: Hemis Naropa Festival 2016 (disappointing – overly commercial) & Hemis Gompa (3649m)

Back at the KLC, a heartfelt Thank You presentation to our Markha Valley Trek crew.

Thursday 22 September 2016 (photos)

Ladakh Festivals (& shopping) day 2: Ladakh Festival events in Leh (much better!) – Traditional Masked Dancing in Leh Jokhang in the morning and a frantic Polo match in the afternoon, followed by souvenir shopping, strolling and a final visit to the Brazil Cafe.

Friday 23 September 2016 (photos)

Thank yous and farewells to the team at the KLC.

Fly Leh – Delhi over snow capped mountains.

Delhi sightseeing tour and dinner at Saravana Bhavan.

Back to the airport for check-in and …

Saturday 24 September 2016 (No photos)

Overnight flight Delhi – LHR


Ladakh – I’ll be back.


Map & Guidebook

Back from Ladakh!

A great three week mix of mountains and monasteries – and almost every day brought bright blue skies and glorious sunshine to the bright, barren landscape of Ladakh. High and very dry, I’d like to return to do more walking in this part of the world – nicknamed Little Tibet, it also has elements of Central Asia which I so loved about my few days in Pakistan’s portion of Baltistan and on my travels in Xinjiang.

Moon over Rumbak, ridges

Highlights included following the pilgrims from Himachal Pradesh around the various chapels at Alchi gonpa, the ruined palace and the old and (relatively) new gonpas in the lower Ladakhi capital of Basgo, and Spituk gonpa, perched on its rocky buttress with wonderful views out over the Indus river valley in one direction and of the airport and army base in the other!

Spituk Gonpa

Many a happy hour was spent mooching around the old town of Leh and strolling the two newly pedestrianised streets of the main bazaar, whilst sundown at Shanti Stupa provided super views out over the town nestled between the jagged rock ridges, the tree and field lined Indus river and the embracing mountains, snow topped, beyond. The Brazil Cafe did likewise from its roof top lounge high above the bustle of the bazaar below whilst also providing proper coffee and cheesecake.

Leh Old Town

We also coincided with the 5th Ladakh Marathon, the Naropa 2016 festival at Hemis Gonpa and the Ladakh (Tourist) Festival, which culminated in a high octane polo match where we joined the local fans cheering on the Ladakhi Scouts and Animal Husbandry teams and scampering up the step seats when the players and/or the ball came hurtling towards us. Seeing everyone dressed in their best at (or going to/from) Hemis was wonderful too.

Polo match, Leh

The week’s sightseeing at 3500m meant we were well acclimatised for our 8 day Markha valley trek. Wonderful support from our 8 strong Rimo Expeditions team – fabulous food and lots of laughs, even if our ponies did do a runner from Nimaling! Every day took us through different environments and brought us into contact with wildlife galore – blue sheep, marmots, mountain hares and the supercute mouse hares (pika) at ground level, golden eagles and lammergeier soaring above. And not forgetting the magic views from the two passes – the Ganda La (4970m) and the Kangmaru La / Kongmaru La / Gongmaru La (5200m).

Nimaling Camp

Our beautiful base in Leh was the Kang Lha Chan hotel, 5 minutes stroll from the bazaar and 2 mins from the shops and eateries that line Chanspa Road. A really lovely hotel – the tranquil courtyard garden with apricot-laden tree provided shade for afternoon teas, and beers after the trek – and super staff. Highly recommended.

End of trek beers at the Kang Lha Chan Hotel, Leh

With 13 hours between flights in Delhi, we squeezed in a hot half day’s sightseeing (Delhi’s 500R foreigner entry prices to historic sights stunned us after Ladakh’s 30R norm) rounded off by a smashing Dosai Dinner at the Sarvana Bhawan South Indian Restaurant on Connaught Place…. And then the long flight home.

Dinner at Saravana Bhavan, Delhi

Big thanks to Val Pitkethly and Rimo Expeditions for organising, to Pemba Sherpa and our lovely trek team for taking such good care of us in Ladakh, and to Vijay and his staff at the Kang Lha Chan hotel.

Ladakh, I’ll be back!

Autumn in Ladakh: Trip Prep

Our three weeks in Ladakh are looming on the horizon, so today I’ve:

  • completed my Indian e-Tourist Visa application
  • bought my annual multitrip travel insurance (to supplement my Austrian Alpine Club (UK) mountain rescue insurance). I’ve gone with MoneySavingExpert’s “Best Value” recommendation: LV=. Lots of the cheaper options won’t cover trips involving trekking over 2500 / 3500m. LV=’s Premier policy covers “Trekking and hiking and fell walking up to 6000 metres”.

My travel jab top ups are booked for next week (Diphtheria, Tetanus & Polio (DTP) and Typhoid), and I’m hoping to catch up with Val when she’s passing through London later this month to go through the itinerary in detail.

So now it’s onto the fun stuff – packing and keeping an eye on the weather, and the FCO travel advice (I’ve signed up for email alerts as/when the FCO travel advice on India changes).

Where Next-ish: Ladakh, Northern India

Flights to Leh for our Ladakh trip later this year are finally booked! Markha Valley and Gompas galore, here I come.

[An aside:

My attempt to buy got flagged as fraud by my bank (by my January flurry of business trips and Nepal flight buying from the sounds of it) and when I called up to sort it out, the first person I spoke to was another Mary, and then I get put through to the person in the fraud team… who was also a Mary.

I hardly ever meet/speak to another Mary so three in one go, that’s very weird. I’m going to take it as a good sign.]

So… what, where, when, why, who?

Destination: Ladakh, India – the “land of high passes”.

Why: To do the Everest Four‘s long-pondered trek in the Indian Himalaya.

How: On a private trek in Val Pitkethly‘s capable hands, with the equally capable Yangdu and the team at Rimo Expeditions helping out on the local logistics and additional tours in Leh and Delhi. Flights booked with Air India.

When: September – after the peak summer season but before the snow.

The itinerary is still shaping up, but we’re looking at a mix of acclimatisation, the Markha Valley trek and possibly something else at the end (but definitely including a shopping day!):

  • Day 1 – Flight to Delhi
  • Day 2 – Land Delhi, very early morning flight to Leh
  • Day 3 – Leh – Leh Palace, Old Town and Markets
  • Day 4 – Leh – Thikse Monastery
  • Day 5 – Leh – Spituk Monastery & Shey Monastery
  • Day 6 – Leh – Festival (movable)
  • Day 7 – Leh – Khardung La (5,359 m / 17,582 ft) – “the world’s highest motorable pass”
  • Day 8 – Markha Valley Trek day 1
  • Day 9 – Markha Valley Trek day 2
  • Day 10 – Markha Valley Trek day 3
  • Day 11 – Markha Valley Trek day 4
  • Day 12 – Markha Valley Trek day 5
  • Day 13 – Markha Valley Trek day 6
  • Day 14 – Markha Valley Trek day 7
  • Day 15 – Markha Valley Trek day 8
  • Day 16 – Leh – Alchi Gompa
  • Day 17 – Leh – Shopping
  • Day 18 – Leh – Spare
  • Day 19 – Flight Leh – Delhi, with 13h layover providing sightseeing potential in Delhi itself (rather than just the airport…)
  • Day 20 – Flight Delhi – UK

Acclimatisation places