Bargain-value, thrillingly scenic treks are the best way to take you into Ladakh's magical roadless villages, through craggy gorges and across stark, breathless mountain passes flapping with prayer flags. When the rest of the Himalaya is drenched in monsoon rains, Ladakh's weather is at its very best.

Seasons

The main trekking season is from late June to early September, though in the Markha and Sham areas routes can be feasible from May to early October. Late August is usually preferable for trails with significant river crossings due to lower water levels. Although you'll need to fly in, February and March are also growing in popularity as a time for ornithologists and especially for those wanting to spot ibex and the rare snow leopard.

Preparation

Most trekking routes start around 3500m, often climbing above 5000m, so proper acclimatisation is essential to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Other tips:

  • Consider prebooking a jeep transfer back from your finishing point.
  • Carry a walking stick and backed sandals for wading rivers.
  • Bring water-purification supplies.

Horse Treks

At these altitudes, carrying heavy packs is much more exhausting than many walkers anticipate. For wilder routes, engaging packhorses reduces the load and the accompanying horseperson can often double as a guide. Agencies will very happily arrange all-inclusive packages with horses, guides, food and (often old) camping gear. If you’re self-sufficient and patient it’s often possible to find your own horseperson from around ₹700 per horse or donkey per day. Note that you will almost always need to engage more than one horse and you'll have to pay for any extra days needed for them to return to the starting point. During harvest season (August) availability drops and prices rise.

Homestay Treks

Almost all rural villages along well-trodden trekking routes offer very simple but wonderfully authentic homestays. The cost is typically fixed at ₹1000 per person (less in Zanskar), including simple meals that are often taken in the traditional family kitchen. Mud-brick rooms generally have rugs, blankets and solar-battery electric lamps. Having your own sleeping bag is an advantage but not strictly necessary.

Smaller villages occasionally run out of homestay beds but homeowners will always find somewhere for you to stay. Bigger villages such as Rumbak, Hinju and Skiu/Kaya work on a rota system, so you don't get to choose where you stay.

You might also find seasonal parachute cafes, so named as they are tents made from old army parachutes. These provide tea and simple snacks, and sometimes offer very basic lodging.

Having an experienced local guide is not only useful for route finding but also for making social interactions more meaningful at homestays. With a couple of days’ notice you can engage a guide through trekking agencies and even some homestays. Costs average around ₹2000 per day including food.

Which Trek?

Popular options:

2

Route

Zingchen–Rumbak–Stok

Homestays

plenty

High Passes

4900m

3

Route

Hinju–Sumdha Chenmo–Sumdha Chun–Alchi

Homestays

yes

High Passes

2

2

Route

Cha–Phuktal–Purney

Homestays

yes

High Passes

no

3

Route

Zingchen–Yurutse–Skiu–Chilling

Homestays

yes

High Passes

4920m

4+

Route

Markha Valley from Chilling to Shang Sumdo

Homestays

yes (or tent-camp)

High Passes

5260m

5 (8)

Route

(Rumtse)–Tso Kar–Tso Moriri

Homestays

no

High Passes

4 (7)

Route

Homestays

High Passes

4

Homestays

limited

High Passes

2

For a relatively easy trek, Zingchen–Rumbak–Yurutse–Zingchen makes a great one- or two-day sampler from Leh.

For a link to Spiti, try the six-night Korzok–Kibber trek, which has just one major pass and a river crossing.

Resources

  • Ladakh Zanskar (http://ladak.free.fr) by Jean Louis Taillefer. Excellent if you read French.
  • Cicerone's Trekking in Ladakh by Radek Kucharski.
  • Olizane (www.olizane.ch) has three trekking maps (1:150,000) which are the best you can get, generally available in Leh for ₹2500 each.