Trekking in Ladakh

 

To put it quite simply, Ladakh is the best location in the world for a trekking holiday. I have been trekking in Ladakh numerous times, most recently in to climb Stok Kangri. If I could return every year I would.

Wild horses on the Rangdum Plains, Ladakh.
Wild horses on the Rangdum Plains, Ladakh.

First impressions of Ladakh

I first visited Ladakh in 2004 aged 21 to complete a 300km kayak expedition on the Tsarap and Zanskar Rivers. Travelling with five of my closest friends for 30 days, that trip will always go down as one of my favourites as we negotiated stout whitewater in this remote, high altitude region. My most memorable day on that expedition was when we visited the remote Phuktal Buddhist monastery which is cocooned high on the canyon walls above the Tsarap River.

Kayaking in Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India but the people that do live there are very special. The area is dominated by a unique Buddhist culture, which unlike in Tibet was untouched by the Chinese cultural revolution. Some of the monasteries and palaces in the region have remained unchanged for over a thousand years. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a summer residence outside Leh and his presence there draws huge crowds and celebrations to the region.

Buddhism in Ladakh

Spending the night in a monastery

Having spent a taxing day on continuous whitewater we pulled into the beach below the monastery. Moments later we were greeted by the monks young and old who were fascinated by our kayaking equipment and willingness to navigate the river. They invited us to follow them up the hill to stay with them in the monastery, which we gladly accepted. We were treated with a delicious meal of Ladakhi thukpa and given beds for the night, a truly unforgettable experience.

PPhuktal Buddhist monastery

What next?

Having finished our eight day river expedition we reached Leh with some days to spare before we had to return to Delhi and fly home. We were enjoying breakfast in a rooftop restaurant on Changspa Road and debating on what we should do next. Some of us wanted to relax and some had itchy feet. The trekking in Ladakh is amazing, there are good cycle routes and there are tonnes of rivers in the region so there were options a plenty. Our waiter overheard our conversation and stopped to offer some advice.

He asked us how many days we had and then pointed out over the Indus Valley to a giant snowcapped peak which towered over its neighbours. It was Stok Kangri (6,153m), the trailhead was only three hours away and for a fit and acclimatised team it could be completed in four days, game on. We left for the mountain early the following morning.

Ladakh really does have it all. Part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kasmir, it is located on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau but it is still very much part of the Himalayan range. From the higher ground, you are treated to epic panoramas of snow-capped peaks in all directions. To the north-east, the jagged peaks of the Karakoram look both inviting and scary in equal measure.

In the north-west, the Ladakh range stretches all the way to the Tibetan border and towards Pakistan in the West. The giant but achievable peaks of Nun (7,135m) and Kun (7,077m) dominate the skyline. To the south, the Greater Himalayan range continues for hundreds of kilometres through Spiti, Himachal and further south to Garwhal and is home to hundreds of unclimbed peaks.

Views on Stok Kangri

Climbing Stok Kangri

We arrived at the trailhead early and climbed steadily for six hours following the Stok River to reach Mankarmo. As our kayak expedition was fully sponsored all six of us were decked out in identical Berghaus clothing. Other trekkers presumed we were professional climbers but we were literally ducks out of water!

The following day we walked for two hours to reach base camp and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun. We discussed the summit route with the locals and made our plans. That night four of us left for the summit with two of the lads deciding to stay in base camp, we were kayakers after all!

At 5,300m and feeling the effects of the altitude I turned around but the other three reached the summit. The experience of taking on this mountain was a great bonus for us on what was primarily a kayaking expedition.

Biking in Ladakh

Other Ladakh adventures

I have been back to Ladakh numerous times since, both trekking and river running. Another great trip was in 2011 when we operated the Ladakh Tri-Adventure Expedition for a fantastic group of people from Concern Worldwide. Four days biking, four days trekking and two days of rafting on the Grand Canyon of Asia. This made for a pretty special trip which we now run every year. Check out Cormac Farrell’s short film on that trip here.

Camping in Ladakh

I can’t recommend trekking in Ladakh enough. For anyone wanting to travel somewhere off the beaten track or those who want to bag a 6000m peak, I highly recommend our Stok Kangri climb which runs in August each year.

If you have any questions about trekking in Ladakh email me on jam@earths-edge.com

James


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