Ladakh - Markha valley and ascent of Stok Kangri

August 2006


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A trek through the Markha valley to Nimaling Plain then across the Kongmaru La then veering off towards the West to make an ascent of Stok Kangri was what we went to Ladakh for.
Ladakh is located in India but geographically it is part of the Tibetan plateau and as such it is a high desert. The summer monsoon rains cannot cross the barrier of the high Himalayas which lies to the South...except this year when Ladakh experienced the heaviest rains in memory.

Accordingly, we were forced to make a lot of changes to our original itinerary.



Day 1 - Arrival in Leh

Flying into Leh from Delhi is a bit of a shock for the body as you get from almost sea level to 3500m in just over an hour. Rest is recommended the first few days and the only thing we did on our first day was walk around (slowly and already out of breath) in the immediate vicinity of our hotel. Fortunately Leh is not a big town so it covered a good part of the centre.

First impressions: smelly place (lots of car fumes from badly adjusted car and truck engines, especially the diesel ones), laid back people. Also the stunning clear light (altitude!) as well as the constant presence of the palace and monastery sitting atop the hill.
Also constant presence of our final destination on this trek, Stok Kangri, with 6120m the highest summit in the vicinity and easily visible 'just across' the Indus valley.

Second impression: It was hot. Really hot. Almost as hot as in summer in Crete, Greece, where I'd just arrived from even though we were at 3500m. The local people told us that this was very unusual. "Never seen Leh so hot" was a commment I heard several times on that first day.



At the airport


On the outskirts of Leh with Stok Kangri looming in the background



The mosque



Ladakhi ladies hanging out



The centre of Leh with the palace and the 'gompa' which are visible from most places


Centre of Leh with Stok Kangri 'peaking out'



Lamppost, palace and monastery


Shey Palace




Day 2 - Acclimatizing! and visiting Shey Palace and Thikse Monastery

Waking up with a strong headache reminds me that we are still far from acclimatized to the altitude. Today is another easy day visiting two places in the vicinity of Leh. Some driving and a little bit of gentle walking up and down small hills is probably as much as we should do on our second day.

First we are off to Shey Palace located a few km from Leh on the road to Manali. Shey was the royal residence until the 15th century. When Leh became the new capital, Shey was used as the second residence.

We get very nice views of the Indus valley. I love the sharp delineation of the emerald green irrigated fields and the surrounding desert landscape. Many of these irrigation channels are hundreds of years old and probably the only way to cultivate anything in this desert.

We then drive on a few more km to Thikse monastery, a large complex that looks like a mini-Potala, contains a number of interesting shrines and a huge statue of the Maitreya, or Future Buddha.

The mountains are hidden by clouds and in the late afternoon a short rain shower refreshes the air a little bit.




Shey Palace



Monk chanting and beating a drum



Lighting oil lamps


Thikse monastery



Views from Thikse monastery


Indus valley from Thikse monastery



Very young monk in Thikse monastery


Thikse monastery - a large statue of Maitreya



Thikse monastery


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