Ladakh 2014 - Markha Valley / Dzo Jongo
The northernmost state of India, Jammu and Kashmir, is composed of the three provinces Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Ladakh is the northernmost and most remote of these provinces; only about 300 000 people are living here in an area of 87000 km².
Ladakh is protected from the Monsoon by the first high ranges of the Himalaya; summers are warm and dry while winters are very cold and relatively dry.
The major part of the province is a desert; vegetation is growing only along the rivers (and in high regions where there is a little precipitation).
Apart from the "agglomeration" Leh with about 30 000 inhabitants, there are mostly only small settlements where irrigation makes a little agriculture possible.
Because Ladakh is bordering on regions controlled by Pakistan and China, there is an enormous military presence, especially around Leh. However, one doesn't notice this too much e.g. in the streets of the city.
One can freely go anywhere around the town (except, of course, directly at the military bases).
During our trip, the daily maximum temperatures at 3500-3800 m were between 25 and 30°C. Further up it was considerably colder: In basecamp (5100 m) there was slight frost in the morning, during the day around 20°C.
At 6000 m temperatures during the day were clearly above freezing point, when being on the sunny side. The weather was generally sunny, with more or less cumulus clouds; on two of the twelve trekking days there was a short shower, and in the night before the last day there was rain for some hours. The rest of the time was dry.
As tourists we felt received very friendly in Ladakh. Many things are easier than in "real" India - there is not a bunch of bargainers surrounding the visitor as soon as he steps on the street. In order to buy something one really has to enter a shop ;-)
Also in the country the people in the villages were friendly, interested (especially because of Nina who was certainly one of the youngest foreigner on the trek), but never intrusive.
Names of locations
There is no generelly accepted transcription of Ladakhi to the Latin alphabet, therefore often several alternatives exist for names of locations.
I try to give the spelling which I use in this text and the possible alternatives, in order of the subsequent trekking days. My spelling is not necessary the best possible, I just use the way which was given to me (e.g. be our guide).
|Regoni Mallai Ri
Reponi Mallai Ri
Chuskyurmo, Chyuskurmo, Chukirmo
Also the heights of each location can differ by more than hundred meters, depending on the source used. In my report, I used my own GPS measurements (using a Garmin etrex 30). The altitude accuracy is supposed to be around 10 m.
Trekking witch child
We wanted to visit "bigger" mountains again, but our little Nina (5 years) should experience as much as possible of the trip without being too strenuous for a child.
Walking considerable distances is difficult at this age; since in Ladakh the loads are transported by horses, a horse for riding for the child is an evident option.
The usual trekking routes have no interesting summits, so we modified the route a little: For six days we follow the normal Markha Valley trek, but on the sixth day we don't go to Nimaling but continue further up the valley until Dzo Jongo basecamp.
There we stay four days for summit attempts between 5500 and 6200 m, somebody staying in basecamp with Nina every day (plan: the one(s) who don't feel fit for the mountain). For such a strategy
we should be more than two adults - fortunately Marion and Henning from Überlingen chose to visit Ladakh again (now with us) after their Stok Kangri climb last year.
At the end we follow the trekking route via Konmaru La down to the road.
We have the following specific characteristics for a trekking with child:
- Length of the day stages: Will Nina be able to ride on the horse for several hours? She had not experienced more than three afternoons of pony riding at the child pony yard yet.
We took our child carrier backpack in case she must be carried; however meanwhile it is rather tough to carry her a long distance.
Unexpectedly, she could sit on the horse as if she had done so since years. At the end of the day she had to stretch her legs a little, but on the way she was happy on the horse.
Where she couldn't ride (steep descents from the pass), our guide thankworthily carried her in the backpack.
- Altitude: We climbed Teide (3715 m) on Teneriffa several time with Nina, but we could not try an overnigh altitude above 3000 m in the Alps. A 3 day trip above 3000 m was no problem last year.
With five years she can at least more or less clearly can utter discomfort or pain such that we could react suitably. So our plan. In the end, there was no altitude problem at all. She never felt unhealthy, and she acclimatized much better than any of the adults.
- Does Nina get along with strangers even if they speak no German? Also here everything went very well. Guide and all helpers took care of Nina very nicely, and in the course of the trip we could teach her a few words in English with which she could just about communicate. Mostly (as agreed upon) she went on her horse with the horseboy far ahead until they found a good (e.g. shady) place - there they were then waiting for us trekkers.
We started this trip with many questions especially concerning "travel with child". We coult not anticipate that everything would work so perfectly and everyone could realize his objectives so well.
Besides a certain amount of coincidences (acclimatization, tolerance to new environments) this is an achievement of the accompanying team which perfectly took care in offering a perfect trekking to us.
Agentcy in Ladakh
We booked our trekking via internat at Gesar Travel. This agency is mainly active in Ladakh, but also is an Austrian enterprise (The owner lives in Austria during the winter, in Ladakh during the summer).
The contact in German language and the Austrian travel conditions were an argument for us to not search for other - maybe cheaper - agencies.
The owner Daniela Luschin-Wangail could advise us about the fine tuning of our travel wishes in an optimal way, such that the result was a trekking which suited everyone very well.
Since she also has young children, she could give us many useful suggestions which turned out valuable.
The team which accompanied us during the trek, led by our guide Tsering Rigzin, has excellently taken care for our comfort. The food was very good, for Nina always a portion of noddoles/rice/whatever without spices was offered. The horseboys took good care not only about the horses but also about Nina. Our guide Rigzin on one side showed great engagement for Nina (carrying her over rivers or in the backpack during descent), on the other side had good alpine skills at our 6000 m peaks.
In summary: The trip was perfect, better than we could hope before.
P.S.: Of course one can do this trek without agency, for much less money. At many locations homestays are found, so a tent is not necessary. Without a child, one can also carry all the stuff for a trekking of hundred kilometers on his back, if necessary.
Since we would have needed a horse for Nina anyway, a completely organized trekking was evident for us. Too much austereness won't be popular to children on the long term. The first big trip in the mountains of the world was long, so we happily afford the luxury of a kitchen service.
Some homestays which we saw on our route:
Ganda La Base Camp, Shingo, Skiu, Sara, Markha, Hankar, Nimaling.
The course of a typical trekking day
A typical trekking day looked like the following:
- At 06:30 every participant gets a cup of morning tea offered at his tent. So this is the latest time to get up. We have half an hour to pack our personal things including sleeping bag.
- 07:00 is breakfast time. While we are eating, the helpers dismantle the tents.
- Between 07:30 and 08:00 we begin the hike together with our guide.
- In the camp, kitchen tent, toilet tent etc. are packed, and the horse caravan will start.
- Before this, the kitchen team prepared a lunch which will be offered somewhere on today's trekking stage.
- After half an hour or an hour, the horse boy has closed the gap to us hikers, and Nina mounts the horse.
- At suitable places along the way there is a short rest, especially to catch up with Nina and her horse.
- A lunch break of about an hour is spent at a tea tent or tea house, or after crossing the river at a ford. The food is brought by a helper.
- In the afternoon (typically around 2 pm) we reach the destination for the day. The caravan with the equipment had passed us already long ago,
and meanwhile the participants' tents as well as kitchen, dining and toilet tents and the crew tent are ready.
- Around 4 pm there is a tea break
- At 7 pm he have dinner; after that it is dark and usually a bit cold, so everybody will enter his tent soon.
We had three 2-person tents: one for Marion and Henning, and the other two tents were shared by the three of us (Claudia, Nina, Hartmut).
Three persons in one tent would have been a little close, even though Nina is not extremely tall.
Markha Valley Trek
The trekking route throught Markha Valley is quite popular, we guess that about 40 trekkers are on the route every day.
The trek takes a total of eight days of about 10 to 15 kilometers each. Of course, not all trekkers begin the day at the same time, and they don't walk at the same pace. Therefore we meet other trekkers only every now and then, and often we see the same persons several times during the day.
Besides a few bridges there are two fords where the river has to be crossed. The locations of the campgrounds are preferably chosen such that these crossings are reached more or less early in the morning; in the afternoon, the melting water causes a higher water level, making the river impassable.
Trekking sandals turned out a good choice for the fords; barefooted it is not easy to balance on the stony surface.
For the rest of the trekking route, light shoes like runners are sufficient.
Below you find a descriptions of our single trekking days as we did the trek (i.e. organized with tents).
The kilometer data in brackets refer to the accumulated kilometers of the trek, without Ganda Ri and other summits.
- Jingchen - Yurutse
8.9 km, 700 HM ascent, about 3 ours
From the end of the road near Jingchen (2 single farm houses, 3400 m) we walk up the valley. The river is crossed several times, but it is rather narrow.
After about an hour we reach the tea tent near (3800 m, km 5.8; homestay possibilities in Rumbak, a little up the valley to the east).
The route follows the valley southwards, at 4000 m we choose the right hand branch (to the west). We used a camp site at 4100 m in the valley bottom, below Yurutse (km 8.9), therefore we followed the valley without trail.
The trail leads up the right hand slope to the farm house Yurutse (4170 m).
- Yurutse - Ganda La - Shingo
12.1 km, 900 HM ascent, about 4 hours to plus 2 hours descent to Shingo
Until here the translation has proceeded. Anything beyond this point is not yet complete.
The obvious trail enters the right hand side valley above Yurutse and leads to Ganda La Basecamp (4360m, km 10.7). There is a tea tent and also tents as a homestay.
Now steeper, the trail climbs up the valley leftwards, then it turns right again up a steeper ridge. From the top we can already see the pass; now the trail is less steep.
Ganda La (km 14.2) has an altitude of 4980 m.
For those who still feel fit, the summit Ganda Ri (5199 m) in the south can be climbed. It takes 1 1/2 hours roundtrip, following an obvious path; the final summit has some rocks without difficulty. The first ledge above the pass is not really a summit, with a gap height of only 10 meters.
From Ganda La the trail descends towards southwest through a rather sandy valley. At Shingo tea tent (4170 m, km 19.6), tea, beverages, cookies and several other things are available.
In Shingo village (which comprises about a handful of houses) there is a homestay. We proceeded to the campsite below Shingo (4050 m, km 21.0). This is a nice little meadow with a small irrigation trench on one side and the creek on the other side. The creek is not very wild here, good for washing. The tea tent at the campsite was open only for a short time and had not a wide choice of things to buy.
- Shingo - Skiu - Hamourta
16.8 km, 300 HM ascent, about 5 hours
Below Shingo, the valley becomes narrow, some impressive gorges and narrows are crossed. A few unproblematic creek crossings. After two hours of descent the valley becomes flat, and soon we arrive in Skiu (3400 m, km 28.4).
There are some restaurants and homestays. In Skiu we have reached the bottom of Markha Valley; from now on we will slowly climb up the main valley eastwards.
Beyond Skiu there are some more homestays; after 15 minutes the last houses are behind us.
The trail follows the northern edge of the valley bottom, there are some small ups and downs.
The hamlet Pentse (3450 m, km 33.6) consists of almost only a tea house which is operated by a local women's cooperative.
About 3 km beyond the tea house a bridge crosses the river to the south bank.
Our destination for this day was the campsite Hamourta (3520 m, km 37.8). Meadow, irrigation trench (=playground for Nina), tea tent.
- Hamourta - Sara - Markha
12.2 km, 350 HM ascent, about 5 hours
Through a lot of sand, the trail slowly leads upwards to Nakdi (stupas and a few houses) and continues to (3590 m, km 40.8, homestays and tea tents). Beyond Sara, the trail is crossing the river again over a bridge. Near Lato (stupas, red sacred sites) there is a small resting place in the shadow of the trees (3660 m, km 44.0).
At km 47.8 there is no bridge for the river crossing towards the south bank; the knee-deep river must be waded. From here to Markha it takes only half an hour, at the bottom of the steep ascent to the village we find two campsites and a tea tent. Altitude 3760 m, km 50.0.
- Markha - Tachungtse
15.9 km, 580 HM, about 7 hours
Shortly beyond Markha, the valley narrows again. An hour after leaving the camp, the river is crossed at a ford (km 52.4) to the south. We pass a very striking rock tooth which marks a big valley branching off southward - but we continue eastwards.
15 minutes later we change to the northern bank again via a bridge (km 53.4). The old trail that had led through the northern slopes is still visible but has become impassable due to landslides.
Shortly after, a branch-off to a small monastery up on the mountain is marked. The main trail follows the valley again, it leads to Umlung (3875 m, km 55.2) - two tea tents.
Soon, we can see smoother slopes in the background of the valley, and above a huge mountain with glaciers (Kang Yatze).
The next settlement in the valley is Hankar (3995 m, km 60.6); tea house and homestay.
A steep ascent through a gully leads to more or less collapsed monastery buildings and passes by the solar power plant of Hankar. We reach a bridge that crosses the river to the right. But there is also a trail straigt on, and we follow the latter on the left side of the river (in the sense of our ascent) through a small gorge.
The trail climbs up the slopes steeply, because there is no space left near the river, and then it slowly leads back towards the river. A bridge croesses to the right side, here we already see the campsite of Tachungtse - only 15 minutes to go.
Tachungtse is situated at 4250 m, km 65.9. The landscape has changed, the slopes are not as inaccessible as they were in Markha Valley. There is a tea tent, but not homestay - who is on the way without a tent should better stay in Hankar and go from there to Nimaling.
- Tachungtse - Nimaling (- Dzo Jongo Basecamp)
12.7 km, 900 HM, about 6 1/2 hours
A steep ascent through a small valley, until a high plain is reached. After 1 1/2 hours we reach two nice lakes (4680 m, km 68.9) with Kang Yatze in the background.
The landscape now is rather a wavy high plain, there is also vegetation aside the creeks. In Nimaling (4850 m, km 73.3) there is a tea tent and a homestay. The trek is crossing the river, ascending to Konmaru La.
We continue without crossing the river, following the broad valley without an obvious path on the meadows. Two small creeks coming from the right side are crossed without bridge. Immediately after the second creek we find a good place for our basecamp (5100 m, km 78.6).
- (Dzo Jongo Basecamp -) Konmaru La - Choskyurmo
13.4 km, 400 HM, about 6 hours (3 1/2 hours from the pass to Choskyurmo)
From Dzo Jongo basecamp we don't need to go back to Nimaling in order to reach the trek again. We cross the river in the vicinity of our basecamp and traverse towards the pass through the meadows. We reach the trek about 50 height meters below the pass.
At Kongmaru La (5287 m, km 83.7) the scenery abruptly changes: A huge tangle of gorges appears. First we descent a steep slope in switchbacks. The trail is rather narrow, riding is not possible. Further down the route is running sometimes one the right side, sometime on the left side of the creek that comes down from Uatse Ri. There are some small ups and downs. The gorge offers spectacular views to wild rock formations. At the end of the gorge, we reach Choskyurmo (4140 m, km 92.0). Tea tent, campsites.
- Choskyurmo - Shang Sumdo
7.8 km, 50 HM, about 2 hours
Below Choskyurmo the valley is broader, although occaionally there are some small narrows where the trail is climbing up and down at the slopes. Half an hour below the campsite we see the first houses (homestays). Until Shang Sumdo we have another two hours; the trail is much better here. We see several houses surrounded by small barley fields. The mountains on both sides show many interesting colors.
In Chang Sumdo (3675 m, km 99.8) the paved road is reached. Tea tents, homestays.
Konga Ri (5754 m)
10.3 km round-trip, 720 HM, difficulty T3 (difficulties of mountains are classified by the Swiss Alpine Club grades for trekking or mountaineering )
From Dzo Jongo Basecamp we walked southwards on our side of the valley for 45 minutes before we found a good crossing over the creek.
(The creek can also be crossed near basecamp, but our guide had concerns about icy rocks. Indeed the rocks further above were not covered by ice.)
We continued through moraine landscape with a little unclear direction of ascent southward, keeping a little to the left, passing two lakes. On the left side of the glacier in the valley towards the saddly south of Konga Ri we could get along through the scree without using crampons. So we reached the saddle 5627 m.
From there we walked up a slowly ascending scree plain to a big plateau. The highest point of the plateau is decorated by a cairn with some finds (antlers). Although this is not a Matterhorn-shaped rock, with a gap height of 127 meters this is very clearly an independent mountain. And the view is phantastic.
For the descent we chose the scree slopes northwards, crossing the river near the basecamp. Our track shows ascent and descent.
Time to the summit about 4 hours, descent 1 1/2 hours.
Regoni Mallai Ri (6116 m)
9.3 km round-trip, 1080 HM, difficulty T3 (or PD, if traversing too high)
(Also the writing Reponi Mallai Ri is found in some maps. We could not find out which is the correct one, the people there could not tell us.)
From base camp we directly climbed the moraine crest in the west; at 5550 m (after 1 1/2 - 2 hours) the area becomes less steep. We crossed a flat and crevasse-free glacier towards the summit, climbed a moraine crest (5750 m) and continued towards the summit until the slope became considerably steeper.
Here the best option is to traverse to the left slightly ascending until the scree ridge (east ridge) is reached. Ascending too steeply would lead into uncomfortable crevasse zones.
The scree ridge is unproblematic.
From the summit there is a great panorama to Kang Yatze (6400 m) just vis-à-vis, the wild summits in the west and southwest (Kang Yatze secondary summits) and the two Dzo Jongo summits in the south.
Time to the summit about 5 1/2 hours, descent about 2 1/2 hours.
Dzo Jongo East (6214 m)
10.5 km round-trip, 1110 HM, difficulty T3
From basecamp we walked southwards through the main valley until a rather ugly-looking scree valley opened to the east (at the upper end we saw a small glacier tongue). There is a lot of rhubarb here, this might help to find the access.
We found a faint path through this valley, it gives a rather direct access to a high plain at 5800 m.
Soon the slopes became more gentle, and we saw Dzo Jongo East with its striking, not too steep east ridge which is the ascent route.
We always kept a little left of the ridge through a lot of scree, here we found a more or less good path upwards.
Except for an easy snow field at 5800 m we could avoid all snow fields on the left side very easily. The overall difficulty therefore is only T3.
Dzo Jongo East is a quite nice-looking mountain and surely one of the easiest 6000 m peak that is accessible during an extended trekking tour. Nice view to the surround mountains which are mostly much wilder than Dzo Jongo.
We did not continue to Dzo Jongo West due to time and weather reasons. DJ West is obviously much less frequently climbed than DJ East.
The crest didn't look too difficult, but time-consuming anyway (probably 3-4 hours round trip from DJ East).
Time for Dzo Jongo East: ascent about 5 hours, decent about 2 hours.
Theny Ri, about 5900-6000 m
estimated about 9.5 km round-trip, 900 HM
On the ridge sketches of the area (literature see below), a 5620 m mountain is indicated on the ridge that runs between Dzo Jongo and Regoni Mallai Ri eingezeichnet, it is named Theny Ri. According to our inspection, this is only an easily accessible dome on the ridge with only a few meters of gap height Closer to Dzo Jongo East, we found a summit of 5900-6000 m, which is in the shade of DJ East but quite clearly is more an independent mountain. We didn't climb it but proably the ridge can be used from P. 5620 to the summit.
Shaldor Ri, ca. 5900 m
6.5 km one way, 800 HM, difficulty probably T3/T4
Between Konga Ri and Gapo Ri. We didn't climb this mountain until the top. From the highest point reached, probably about 80 meters would have to be climbed on steep and slippery loose scree fields.
In order to reach the mountain one would turn southwards on the saddle 5627 m south of Konga Ri, avoiding snowfields on the left side.
As a map, the 1:150 000 "Editions Olizane Ladakh & Zanskar 1:150 000 Centre" is probably indispensable. Unlike older Soviet maps (also available online) we could find a very good reliability even in details, including the contours.
A few summit heights were incorrect which correlated well with the same mistakes of Openmtbmaps or Openandromaps.
- Bodo Damm: Late Quaternary glacier advances in the upper catchment area
of the Indus River (Ladakh and Western Tibet), Quaternary International 154-155 (2006) 87
contains a sketch of mountain ridges of the area. Just search this publication in the internet!
- Another map sketch was posted in trekkingforum.com under the topic "Mountaineering in Ladakhr" in the chapter "Trekking in India" (filename Nimaling3.jpg).
- 2010: Ibsti Kangri, Dzo Jongo, by D. Muni, American Alpine Journal 2010
- I have uploaded our track records at gps-tour.info. You can also look at them on my map page about the trip
© 2014 Hartmut Bielefeldt
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Last updated November 16, 2014 by Hartmut Bielefeldt