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Trekking in Ladakh
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Ladakh means the land of passes. The region has many names and these include
'Moon Land', 'Shangrila' and 'Little Tibet'. A vast expanse of high altitude
desert with its lowest point at 9,000 feet, Ladakh receives scanty rainfall
and finds its primary source of water in the Indus river which flows for
some 459 km before entering neighbouring Pakistan. The Karakoram and Kailash
ranges form the north and east borders of Ladakh: the main Great Himalayan
Range isolates it from the south. A majority of the countryside is covered.
by the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, each crowned with scores of 20,000 feet
high peaks. Most of Ladakh's inhabitants live in the sandy plains along the
valley floors. Ladakh is a treasure house of art and culture. Inhabited
mainly by Buddhists, the region is dotted with monasteries, many of them
centuries old, which house precious manuscipts, art objects and paintings.
Leh and Kargil are the two major townships of Ladakh. Leh, at an altitude of
3,500 metres, is Ladakh's capital city with an airport and a number of
hotels. Leh, which was an ancient bazar and caravan-serai, lies in the
middle of a green oasis. It was here that the most important caravan routes
of the Himalayas met. The township is dominated by the nine storey high Leh
Palace built of mud and stone in the 17th century to resemble the Patola
Palace in Lhasa and house the rajas of Ladakh. Kargil is almost midway
between Srinagar and Leh and is the overnight stop for those entering Ladakh
from Kashmir by road. Kargil was once at the crossroads of travel to
Baltistan and is a small township dominated by a predominantly Shia Muslim
population. The Buddhist territory begins at Mulbek, 25 miles east of
Kargil, where a huge stone carving of the Maitreya Buddha, said to be over
three centuries old, greets visitors.
From a trekker's point of view,
Ladakh can be divided into three regions:
Zanskar, Nubra and
Rupshu. Nubra and; Rupshu are however, closed for 0 foreigners. Besides the
Karakoram, no area in the Himalayas is so wide and impenetrable as Zanskar,
comprising some 3,000 square miles. A small dusty road connects Kargil to
Padum, Zanskar's district headquarters. Most of Zanskar is rent with high,
sharp edged ridges that catch enough snow to make the steep gorges difficult
to ford in the short summer months. Padum can also be reached from Kargil by
a 12-day trek which runs along the Doda river and passes Abring, the first
village in the Zanskar area, Padum can also be approached on foot from the
Lamayuru monastery built sometime in the 16th century. The trek from
Lamayuru to Padum takes 9 days. Outbound treks from Padum include a 6 day
trek to Kishtwar in the Jammu area. This trek is quite difficult and
involves glacial crossings and walk on hard ice and boulder stream moraines.
The 13-day trek from Padum to the Hemis monastery via Zangla is also
difficult but passes through some of the most picturesque areas in Ladakh.
Lamayuru to AIchi Trek
This trek covers two of the
most famous monasteries of Ladakh. According to legend, the Lamayuru valley
was once filled by a lake which was drained by the sage Naropa to facilitate
the building of a monastery. Built sometime in the 10th century, Lamayuru is
the oldest surviving monastery in Ladakh and is a picturesque site dotted
with cenotaphs of important lamas who lived here. Alchi was built in the
11th century and is the best surviving example of the monasteries of the
era. This is primarily because it is located away from the main route to Leh
and, therefore, escaped the notice of maurauders who plundered most of
The trekking trail originates at Lamayuru
and climbs to the Prinkiti La pass at 3,506 metres before descending to the
Shilakong valley. From here the trail climbs to the village of Wanlah and
then on to the Phangi village. Between Wanlah and Phangi are interesting
boulder strewn fields, the result of a landslide that occurred here a couple
of years ago, and an ancient village irrigation canal functioning from the
time of the original Dardic settlers.
From Phangi, the trekker
should follow the trail up the Ripchar valley to the village of Halsi,
frequently crossing the river. After Halsi the trail winds through small
settlements and grazing areas till just below the base of the Konke La pass.
The climb to Konke La (4,570 metres) takes about two hours and the
Sumdahchenmo village and Stok monastery are visible from the pass. Crossing
the pass, the trekker enters the Hemis catchment area, across tough ridges
and down to Sumdah Chu. At Sumdahchenmo, trekkers can see the remains of a
plundered monastic site and a huge wooden statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
The stage from Sumdahchenmo to Sumdahchoon is tricky and trekkers should
hire the services of a local guide. The trail descends the Sumdah Chu to the
Chillung village, famous for its copper handicrafts. The tail descending the
Sumdahtokpo is quite hazardous and horses may need to be unloaded for the
river crossing. At Sumdahchoon trekkers can stay at the monastery or camp at
some pleasant spots a kilometre or two towards Stapski La. This area also
has a large population of Urial, a species of the mountain goat, and
visitors may be lucky to spot some. The climb from Sumdahchoon to Stapski La
is quite tiring but the trekker is rewarded with panaromic views across the
Ladakh range and right down to the Indus valley. From the pass, the trail
descends steeply to Alchi.
Season: June to September.
Duration: 6 days.
to Phangi (7 km), Phangi to camp below Konke La (6 km), Camp Konke La to
Sumdahchenmo (9 km), Sumdahchenmo to Sumdahchoon (14 km), Sumdahchoon to
Stapski La to Alchi (4 km).
Note: Carryall supplies and
provisions. Ponies can be hired at Lamayuru. Spend a day at Lamayuru to
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