The home-stay Markha Valley trek in the Hemis National Park is one of the most popular in Ladakh. It was also our final trek in the region having enjoyed stunning walking in Ladakh’s Suru and Sham valleys and Kashmir’s Great Lakes region.
We decided to start our trek from the bridge 4km past the tiny village of Chilling and the first two days were long but fairly gentle as we followed the river through the desert valley. The valley walls were far bigger and steeper than our previous trek in the Sham Valley and it was full of awesome rock formations. It was predominantly arid and barren with occasional pockets of green brightening up a cloudy first day.
Given the popularity of the trek we were surprised by how small the villages were with many having only one or two homestays. Previously the trek was road-less but today a road runs as far as Sara, some three hours walk from the start.
The trek involved a number of river crossings, the majority of the time over wooden bridges. On one occasion, however, the bridge had collapsed at an angle into the water making for a tricky walk across the top requiring a good amount of balance! On another occasion the bridge had collapsed altogether so we waded across the freezing, thigh-deep river which thankfully wasn’t flowing too quickly.
We also found some energy after a long second day to explore the fortress ruins perched precariously atop the razor-sharp peak near Upper Hankar. The views are absolutely stunning and one’s imagination runs wild thinking about what life must have been like here.
After a gentle first two days, we started climbing on the third morning and we enjoyed stunning views of the staggered rows of peaks and a few pretty lakes as we made our way up to the tented accommodation at Nimaling.
On our way to Nimaling we noticed hundreds of little Pica (a close cousin of the rabbit but smaller with short limbs, very round body, rounded ears, and no external tail) scurrying about while it was a field of donkeys at camp itself, which made for a happy Catherine! We also spotted a number of Bharal, otherwise known as Himalayan blue sheep, on the trek as well as Marmots on our descent from the pass.
Sitting in the expansive valley floor with a view of the 6400m snow-capped Kang Yatse, Nimaling was undoubtedly the most beautiful accommodation setting although the tents were clearly old and worn (all had some sort of zipper issue and were thus unable to close properly so wrap up warmly!).
The following morning took us up and over the 5260m Kongmaru La. We had stunning views of the valley with its many peaks all the way up and an expansive view through the prayer flags from the top.
It was a long descent but perhaps the prettiest day of the trek as we criss – crossed the river through a very narrow valley with amazing multi-coloured rock formations on all sides.
Despite being the region’s most popular trek and there being a lot of people on the trail, the valley seemed to absorb us and we didn’t meet many people en route (we only really saw people at the homestays). Everyone converges on the final camp and there must have been around 50 people in the big dining hall enjoying a delicious dal dinner and a little live music from a kind soul who’d carried his guitar through the valley.
We made our way back to Leh for the final time where we enjoyed only our second beer in almost 7 weeks and a few delicious plates of momos. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy some spectacular walking in this beautiful region of the world and this was a wonderful way to finish this part of our adventure.
Detailed Trek: (these times include breaks for lunch, tea etc)
- Day 1: Bridge past Chilling to Sara (3581m); 19 km, 6 hours
- Day 2: Sara to Upper Hankar (4010m); 19.5 km, 8 hours
- Day 3: Upper Hankar to Nimaling (4794); 12 km, 5.5 hours
- Day 4: Nimaling over Kongmaru La (5260m) down to Chokdo; 18 km, 6.5 hours
Can you trek independently?
Absolutely! With the homestays there’s no need to carry a tent and / or food and the trail is clear. The route is on maps.me and it’s well trodden so there’s no need for a guide really.
Homestays charge a fixed INR 1200/person for accommodation, dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch. The villages are tiny so there’s not much choice. Sara has two homestays and we stayed on the left. Upper Hankar has two, but only one was open.
The Nimaling tented accommodation is INR 1400/person (also including dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch).
Some of the bedding is a little grim so you could always bring a sleeping bag/liner or even your own tent.
Permits and fees ($1=INR 70)
There’s no need to obtain a permit in Leh for this trek. The daily fee for the Hemis National Park is INR 20.
Getting there and away
A taxi from Leh to the bridge 4km past Chilling cost INR 3150 and we found 3 other people to split the cost with.
With the road being built you could now potentially get dropped further along as the second half of the walk was the most scenic.
A shared jeep from Chokdo was INR 2600 for 4 people.