Ladakh is one of the most unique Himalayan experiences, combining Tibetan influences with those from the rest of Kashmir, and highland Pakistan. The landscape here is like a Tibet in intense miniature, with bluer skies and lakes, starker cliffs, sharper-edged mountains, and lusher oases. The prayer flags keep fluttering, and the mani walls, chhorten, monasteries and prayer wheels add a sense of calm and composure to even the most jaded traveller. Indus river dominates trails, and there are also pretty little mountain flowers and silvery threads of streams that glint in the thin, light air. The trails are rugged and the air is some of the best in the Himalaya. The Ladakhi people look like the descendents of marriages between Tibetans and other Central Asians, and Afghans and Iranians, and they speak a centuries-old version of Tibetan. The architecture of the old gomba displays Tibetan influence as well as a distinctcive style of woodwork. There are ducks here, as well as wild asses. and the usual lumbering yak. Ladakh and the valleys around it are connected by road, but the trails you trek feel as remote as the middle of nowhere.
Day 1: Arrive at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport and transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Fly to Leh (3,500 m), enjoying the spectacular view of towering 5-7,000 m peaks, the high-altitude desert, the river snaking through it, and the green, yellow, and pink patches of cultivated land. Spend the day acclimatising in this Lhasa-like town.
Day 3: Drive through splendid country under lovely, towering snow and rock peaks to reach Shey, where lie the remains of the palace of the kings of Ladakh, and impressive old gardens, chhorten, and statuary. It isn't far to the venerable, well-preserved monastery at Thikse, which clutches a crag, resplendent in the classic colours of monasteries in the area, ochre, black, and white. Drive further on to the almost hidden lush green pasture that is home to the enormous Hemis monastery, one of the wonders of the Buddhist world. Camp at Hemis.
Day 4: Today we start trekking, walking about three hours to Shang Sumdo (3850m) up a valley and fording the glimmering river many times.
Day 5: Today is a longer walk over a rocky pass, past chhorten and through gorges under the hypnotising sky, occasionally passing patches of pretty highland flowers, and scrub to reach Latza Kongmaru (4,800 m).
Day 6: The terrain gets rougher today, and the going is challenging up steep ascents that look over breathtaking vistas of ridgess, valleys, and little stony grottos. Walk over passes (Kongmaru La, 5,150 m), down valleys and up again, past rivers to reach the campsite at Konga Wangpo (5,100 m) by the Langtang river.
Day 7: The walk to Hankar (4,250 m) is some work, what with the long downhill, but the feeling of being in remote, wide-open country where life feels sublime, and you can see your surroundings with an almost dream-like clarity, is worth it.
Day 8: Today involves walking by the lapping Langtang chu (river) and with occasional sight of barley and buckwheat fields, and traversing across from one valley into another to reach another riverside camp, by the Langtang chu (river).
Day 9: Traverse a spectacular moraine, ford the river, and climb up the valley to reach Yakrupal (4,700 m); along the way are chhorten and mani walls.
Day 10: Passes (including the 5,200 m Karpo La), imposing snowclad mountains, streams in the shimmering distance, patches of green amid all shades of ochre, slate, grey, and brown bring you to Sorra (4,450 m), in the heart of the next valley.
Day 11: Today the starkness of the high-altitude country gives way to a veritable emerald oasis. The gorges are wooded and as you wend your way between the Sorra and Dat rivers, there are fields and farms as far as the eye can see on the way to Dat (4,200 m).
Day 12: A splendid fort set behind willow groves is a highlight of today's walk, as is a massive, ornamented chhorten at Kharnak (4,550 m).
Day 13: Trails high above the valleys reinforce the feeling of total freedom that the landscape of this trek creates. Looking down on the massive Rupshu plateau where the nomadic Changpa live is an exhilerating experience. As you walk over Yar La (4,950 m) to Lungmo Che (4,600 m), a higher summer village, try to imagine what this place looks like in the dead of winter; it'll give you some sense of just how hard life is for the hardy inhabitants of this gorgeous, but extreme terrain.
Day 14: Riverside walks give way to truly arid country, where you can see the bed of a river that runs dry for most of the year. Here there seems to be one element less than usual in nature - water. The mani walls provide some relief on the way to Dabrang (4,200 m).
Day 15: A long descent brings you to the Tso Kar basin, where you can see traces of the salt that can be panned out from the area. The landscape is much flatter from here on, and the interest is in the interplay of scrub and desert, streams and wildflowers, rock formations in the distance and old villages. The Thokje monastery is worth a visit as much for its surroundings as for its atmosphere.
Day 16: Up a small pass and then down to the Puga valley known for its hot sulphur springs to spend the night at Gyamasumdo.
Day 17: The area around Tso Moriri lake, which is where bar-headed geese nest in the Himalaya, is classic high-altitude country, complete with a pass, and the lake itself is lovely, aquamarine and serene.
Day 18: The Karzok monastery is vibrant and well-preserved, and between that and the lake, today might be one of the most perfect days on this trek.
Day 19: Today you drive to Leh, an historic old trading town that is replete with excellently preserved old-style buildings and monasteries, an old mosque, as well as the first real polo ground in the world.
Day 20: Fly to Delhi in the morning and relax after all your hard travelling.
Day 21-23:Take advantage of your free days to go sightseeing in the old parts of the city and the Walled City, visiting the famous Jama Masjid mosque, the Chandni Chowk, or Silver(smiths') Square, the classic Mughal art in the National Museum, and the imposing neo-classical British Raj architecture in the modern centre of the city.
Day 24: Transfer to airport for your flight home.
Cost on your request
1. Accommodation in Leh in B category hotel on full board basis (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
2. Arrival and Departure transfer by non-a/c jeep/ car in Leh
3. Full board during the trek section of the tour
4. English-speaking Ladakhi mountain guide for trekking
5. Cook, ponies (where needed), and porters
6. Complete kitchen gear and all supplies including gasoline
7. All tents for camping
8. Accommodation in Delhi in budget hotel with AC rooms.
Cost does not include:
1. Lunch and dinner in Delhi ($ 5-10 per day per person)
2. Rescue in case of emergency
3. Medical and personal insurance
4. Tips, laundry, all drinks, telephone calls if any
5. Sleeping bags/ ropes/ crampon/ ice-axe/ other gear
6. Inner-line permit fee (US$12 per person)
7. Delhi-Leh-Delhi airfare (Current fare is US$164 one way)