One of the best hikes in the world
- the most popular hike in Ladakh, northern India, bordering Tibet
- easy access out of Leh
- 6-8 days
- 111km (69mi)
- early June to mid-October
- risk of altitude sickness
- 2-3 high passes (4900m-5200m)
- several nights at very high altitude
- sleep in tent or in “homestays”
- frequent flights from Delhi. Infrequent flights from Srinagar and Jammu.
- hike independently or with a Guide
- check the confusing tourist visa requirements for India. Some nations can get a visa-on-arrival at airports.
- other nations are eligible for the new 30 day e-visa
Why We Like This Hike
- homestays are very popular on this route. You can stay under a family roof (or rent-a-tent) every night, reducing the weight of your pack. They provide 3 meals a day.
- Buddhist culture
- meeting local Tibetan peoples with their horses, mules and yak hybrids
- Himalayan blue sheep, ibex, hares, picas and marmots and other mountain mammals
- lammergeier and golden eagle
- sheer canyon walls, alpine meadows, beautiful colours
- ancient Gompas
- very dry, very little Monsoon effect
- the challenge of those high passes
- you can buy (some) food en route
- optional climb of trekking peak Stok Kangri 6153m (20,182ft), the easiest non-technical 6000m+ peak in India
- altitude sickness is the greatest danger
- many tourists in India get sick, as well. Plan on loosing some days due to illness
- bring a good sleeping bag and mattress, regardless of whether you are sleeping in a tent or under a roof. It can be cold any night of the year.
- it can get crowded in high season (July and August)
- cold river crossings. Bring a second pair of footwear.
- treat the water
- mostly devoid of vegetation
- Five days of continuous downpour (very unusual) in August 2015 resulted in the Indian Air Force helicopter unit at Leh evacuating 22 foreign trekkers.
- safest is to carry your own tent and consider a night or two in homestays, as you go
- Locals cook with kerosene. But camping stove fuel canisters are available in Leh. You’ll be asked to pay $7-14 each. You may have to shop around.
- camping equipment is available for purchase or hire. But it’s best to bring as much with you from home as possible.
- grocery stores are very basic. Some products have the prices stamped. Otherwise, you’ll need ask the price. In 2015 one shop did use a computer scanner.
- In Leh ask about “The Good-for-All” Shop. Environmentally friendly products and services. You can drop leftover batteries there.
A word of advice from GHT:
During the main trekking season, July to September, the best campsites are frequently pre-booked by groups who send someone ahead early in the morning. Unfortunately this is now common practice and trying to explain campsite sharing etiquette is a complete waste of time. So, to avoid disappointment later in the day try and team up with one or two other groups who are prepared to share sites and send your own person ahead as early as possible.
It’s very inexpensive for independent hikers, once you get to Leh. It might cost you $8/day to tent or $15/day to homestay rather than $50/day or much more if you sign on with a Guide. All are good value considering what you get.
It’s long, long road to travel overland from Shrinigar or Manali. Expect delays.
But if you fly to Leh 3500m (12,480ft) from Delhi, plan to relax a few days before hiking. Those flying in will almost certainly suffer symptoms of altitude sickness.
Most spend 3-4 days in dusty, noisy Leh acclimatizing and getting organized.
We recommend the itinerary as described in Lonely Planet Trekking in the Indian Himalaya (2009)
- start Spitok 1hr by bus from Leh (or Zinchen 1.5hrs by bus if you are acclimatized)
- the dusty walk out of Spitok is dull, but you might need it if not yet used to the altitude
- safer than Spitok / Zinchen is starting in Chilling. You avoid the first high pass gaining more days of acclimatization
- the best starting point of all is Stok village, harder but more scenic. But you need to be very acclimatized for that. There’s an additional high pass immediately out of Stok.
- finish Shang Sumdo (rather than Hemis which demands a long walk on gravel and paved roads). Bus back to Leh. Or try to find a jeep returning with other hikers. We did – paying about $8 for the return journey.
- could extend the adventure by continuing on to the “Remote Zanscar” trek as described in LP. Or the trek to Pang as described in Cicerone Trekking in Ladakh 2012.
Almost everyone does the trek in the same direction. To reverse would mean a very harsh approach to Gongmaru La.
We signed on with Red Chilli for our Kuari Pass trek 2013.
Rather than booking online, It would be cheaper to fly to Leh and organize your support team (guide/cook/mule/horsemen) in town during the days you’re acclimatizing to altitude. There are hundreds claiming to be Guiding companies. Any day during the high season many companies have groups starting.
If you wait for Leh, shop around.
Budget an additional 10-20% of your tour costs for tips, assuming you are happy with your trek.
If you don’t mind carrying your own packs, consider hiring only a guide. Often you’ll get a young student. It doesn’t take much experience or expertise to guide this trek.
If you sign on with a Guide, they handle all arrangements.
If you want to do it on your own, get a Guidebook in advance of the trip. Plan on a few days in Leh to get organized, buy fuel and food. This is one of easiest great Himalayan hikes logistically.
Here are two inexpensive hotels with good reviews on Tripadvisor:
Book your first night or two online. Some hotels will meet you at the airport.
Everyone in Leh is an expert. Best source of advice will be hikers just returned. Check around on arrival.
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Cicerone Trekking in Ladakh 2012 by Radek Kucharski
Markah Valley – Trekking and Homestay Guide by Nicholas Eakins is widely available in Leh. Another good option.
Trekking Guide to the Western Himalayas 2009 by Depi Chaudhry includes a short description of the Stok to Shang Sumdo route variation. That guidebook is available in Leh, as well.
- Ladakh: the Essential Guide: Including Kashmir & Manali 2014 by Partha S. Banerjee
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Indian Himalaya 2009 by Garry Weare
- Trailblazer Trekking in Ladakh 2004 by Charlie Loram and Jim Manthorpe
- Trekking and Climbing in the Indian Himalaya 2001 by Kapadia does not include Markha
Best Travel Guidebooks
Check that you are getting the most recent editions.
Other Recommended Books
- Ancient Futures: Lessons From Ladakh for a Globalizing World 2015 by Helena Norberg-Hodge
- A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism 2000
- The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen … best Nepal book ever
On arrival in Leh, check the shops. There are many options of different price.
Best Web Pages
Best Trip Reports
- besthike editor Rick McCharles – Stok to Chang Sumdo 2015 (independent tenting)
- The Hiking Life 2008 (independent)
- David Money Harris – Markha Valley Trek 2007 (guided)
- Sathya’s Travels = Markha Valley – Part 4 of my solo trek 2011
- Ed Douglas – Ladakh: changing times in the Markha Valley 2011 (guided by Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company)
Click PLAY or watch 3minuteAdventures – Markha Valley Trek, Ladakh
Click PLAY or watch a Ladakh promo on YouTube.