Are you ready for the adventure of your life? Pack your bags and hold on to your floppy hats, follow us through the surreal terrains of the Western Himalayas.
The map of our journey, starting from Chilling on the East, ending at Shang Samdo in the west, near the town of Hemis.
Journey (by day)
1. Chilling – Skiu
2. Skiu– Sara
3. Sara – Markha
4. Markha – Hankar
5. Hankar – Nimaling
6. Nimaling– Shang Samdo
How we started our adventure… On a tight rope.
Day 1: Chilling (3199m) to Skiu (3430m)
We started in the morning at Chilling, which was about 2-hours ride from Leh. The weather was great as it was slightly cloudy, thus, our extra scarves kept us warm and cosy as we trekked. It didn’t take long before we reached Skiu (which was right after a sandstorm!) Our first host was Dolkar, who spoke little English but had a cat named Pussy. That night, we climbed onto her roof to enjoy the complete darkness of the mountains. I couldn’t catch even one shooting star, but my friends saw multiple!
Prayer flags marking the correct path.
Our first lunch!
We went exploring near the river after lunch, and my friends decided to attempt balancing rocks.
Day 2: Skiu to Sara (3588m)
We left Skiu around 8am to a happy start. The sun was out, the weather was lovely, blue skies and cool breeze. I decided to take my own sweet time and had very little expectation on the trek, thinking it would be short and easy like the first day. Boy was I wrong! The skies were almost barren of clouds and the journey travelled through some rough terrain. I became very irritable and took almost 5 hours to reach Sara! I ordered a Maggi with egg for lunch to treat myself.
Second day, bring it on!
Beautiful mountains at Pentse.
Panoramic view as we took our first break at Pentse.
Look at this little momo!
Dinner every night was pretty much vegetable tingmo and garlic soup.
Day 3: Sara to Markha (3757m)
Packed with a beautiful boiled potato each for lunch, we set off to Markha Valley, the namesake of trek! Last night was a pretty defining night for me, as we met a father-son duo from France over dinner, who told us that they were actually on the way back to Chilling as they couldn’t complete their journey. Upon reaching Hankar, they felt dizzy and couldn’t acclimatise, and decided to make a u-turn. I couldn’t bear another journey under the hot sun only to go back, so I decided to press forward. Besides, I’ve already taken 5 days to acclimatise at Leh!
Over dinner, I requested to taste some freshly boiled milk (we witnessed the host milking the cow just 2 hours earlier!). I wish I could say it tasted like free-range-happy-milk, but it tasted nasty. Like fish market nasty.
Funky offerings we bumped into.
Surreal view from our window.
Pretty much in awe with animals, even with seeing this calf resting.
Day 4: Markha to Hankar (4000m)
Today was another long and arduous walk in my standards, but the worst has yet to come. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely scenic and we only took so long because we were admiring the views. The mountains were so superior, one can’t help but feel like an ant. They were also so colourful! We had to do a scary mountain pass (I am easily scared though) where the path was hardly 2 feet in width, and full of rubble (ie more room for error for clumsy ol’ me). I was scared to half-death but we reached Hankar with no dizziness or headaches!
Our first pitstop at Homalong (3876m).
Good thing we brought two pairs! the mattress looked really dusty, and I didn’t want to risk getting sinus at this stage of the trek, so our Realm towel was used as a mattress cover!
We generously lent the other Real.m towel to our friends as a blanket (haha).
Fresh organic carrots for our requested Maggi, super yum!
Meet our new friend, Jigmet! This sneaky boy speaks good English and he really likes Angry Bird.
Day 5: Hankar to Nimaling (4858m)
If only words could describe the steep climb to get to Nimaling! As we reached the top, or so we thought it was the top, we walked on to reach even higher paths. It was a never ending walk and each time I thought I saw a village, it was a false alarm. At least we saw a lot of cute pikas (you know, the real pikachu). While walking, the weather turned bad, and before I could put on my gloves, the temperature had dropped considerably and from that point onward, there was no warming up my hand!
One of the only signs we saw throughout the journey.
Vast open space around 2-3 hours from Hankar.
Everyone cheering me on.
At 5200, we were higher than Mt. Kinabalu!
Looking at Kang Yatse straight in the eye as a storm brews right above us.
Beautiful landscape at Nimaling.
Day 6: Nimaling to Shang Samdo (3583m)
Indeed, when I said the worst has yet to come, it is only because the worst happened on this day. To be fair, I had absolutely no expectation for the trek. It was our last day (FINALLY!) and as usual, we started the trek at 8am. Everything felt do-able and the tip of Gongmaru La didn’t look too far, but we had to walk at least 2-3 hours to even reach the foot of the hill! After Gongmaru La (where it snowed when we reached), we descended close to 1700m down the valleys to reach Shang Samdo. I didn’t take many pictures as the descent was extremely scary for me, and my knees were so wobbly. I thought the journey this day would take 5-6 hours, as usual, but it took me 12 hours to finish (it was around 20km)! The ginormous rocks at the bottom of the valley were the bane of my existence, as I had to take serious care of my clumsy ankles, at least till the next village. We reached the exit around 8pm, draining the last few bits of my iPhone for the torch light.
View from the top of Gongmaru La! (5280m)
Savouring our boiled potatoes for lunch.
NEVER ENDING VALLEYS
Are you ready for your own adventure? Not sure what to bring, how to behave, and how much clothes do you really need? Fret not! I’ve divided all of them into three lists:
- Refillable bottle(at least 1ℓ per person)
- Plasters(for foot blisters)
- A big hatfor sun protection
- Lightweight cloth; in our case, we brought two Realm towels! They doubled (quadrupled?) up as scarves, as an extra layer of protection from the sun (when it’s too hot to wear a jacket yet the sun is blazing on your arms), a quick-dry towel, and as a mattress cover! Talk about multipurpose!
- Menstrual cup (if you’re a lady. you’ll see why)
- Avene Thermal Spring Water (any brand would do). This was essential for me as I am extremely prone to heat strokes (despite living in Malaysia, go figure), I would spray it on my face, neck and arms multiple times during the hike. Taking this item along also ensures that we don’t use our precious drinkable water supply.
- Biodegradable wet wipes(we brought these). This is strictly for toilet time. DO NOT BRING non-recyclable wet wipes to clean your hands, just clean them when you cross a river (the water is super clear and cold!).
- Alternatively, you can also bring a toilet roll and a small bottle of water. Our friends had diarrhoea throughout the journey (happens when you eat roadside food in Delhi) and this was their knight in shining armour.
- My iPhone survived the whole journey on airplane mode, but on the very last day, I had around 20-30% battery life, which was super precious as we had to use it for directions and torch light.
- Paracetamol, acclimatising tablets, anti-diarrhoea and charcoal tablets. Better safe than sorry.
All I Needed:
- 3 pairs of underwear were adequate (I had brought more). There was just no space to change! Besides, the menstrual cup kept my undies dry from any discharges. Trust me on this.
- A pair of t-shirt to sleep in, and a pair of lightweight long-sleeved t-shirt
- A pair of sweatpants to sleep in, and a pair of trousers
- A pair of quick-dry socks and a pair of wool socks (my feet do not stink, nor do they sweat a lot, but if yours do, you should bring more) (I used the thicker one for sleeping)
- Lightweight towel (If you happen to find a place you can shower, GOOD FOR YOU! ENJOY! Otherwise, a piece of comfortable cloth can come in handy in many ways)
- Waterproof jacket
- Insulation jacket for warmth
- Gloves that actually keep your hands warm
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
I wish these were all be brought! Prior to packing for the trip, we thought we needed more clothes and more underwear, only to find out that space is limited, more often than not, we were just too tired to change. All I wanted to do when we reached was to take my socks off and finish my book while my feet rest until the next day. We hardly sweat too due to the dry weather, hence why I wished I had only brought one pair of t-shirt to sleep in.
- Practice ZERO WASTE. I cannot stress this enough, throughout the journey, in all the homestays, there were absolutely no dustbins. The only plastic/recyclable material I saw were Maggi wrappers and drink cartons. Our food scraps were collected into a dedicated bin and probably fed to their dogs and livestock (since nothing was deep fried, I suppose it was safe for the animals). Furthermore, read this.
- When they serve food, take only what you can eat. It is tempting to totally pig out after a long day of hiking, plus they do smell nice, but if you’re not used to vegetarian food with hardly any salt in it, you should only take a little bit first. If you happen to like it, feel free to ask for more! Personally, I feel like it is utter disrespect for the food that they dedicate their time and effort to grow (fully organic) in their land, only to have their visitors touch but not eat it.
- Say ‘Juleé‘ (pronounced joo-lay) to everyone! This word just radiates positivity, like Realm towels, this word is also multipurpose. Use it to say Hello, Good Day, even All Is Good!
The 86km journey was made sweeter as we returned to Leh to see this cutie pie!
This journey is submitted by Schmicles.