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High Trails of Ladakh: Leh to Shyok Trek 16

High Trails of Ladakh: Leh to Shyok Trek

Overview

Ladakh is an unmissable corner of the Indian Himalaya. Its stark, dramatic landscapes and ancient Tibetan culture are guaranteed to leave an indelible impression on all who have the fortune to visit. With its combination of breathtaking panoramas, ancient settlements and deep spirituality, the former kingdom offers superb trekking and cultural experiences.

Ladakh is a region administered by India as a union territory since 2019, constituting a part of the larger region of Kashmir. It extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range to the north to the main Great Himalayas to the south.  Snowcapped peaks, high mountain passes and striking landscapes dotted with prayer flags and Buddhist monasteries await you in this remote and majestic Himalayan region.

Explore the fascinating high altitude city of Leh, a cultural crossroads of Buddhist stupas, hilltop forts and bustling market bazaars. In the old days, seven caravan routes converged at Leh. The most popular one connected Kullu Valley (present-day Himachal Pradesh) with Yarkand in Turkmenistan (now in China). Along this trail, the highly valued Kullu-opium was taken to China. Follow these ancient routes on an unforgettable trek starting from Leh, taking in 5000m passes and secret valleys, and finally reaching the Shyok Valley. Visit Pangong Tso Lake, located right on the border with Tibet (China), the largest high-altitude salt lake on earth (4400 m).

This is a privately guided trek – you will be accompanied by a qualified bilingual guide and your luggage transferred by porters. Spend the overnights in charming, clean guesthouses and in tent camps in the high mountain.

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Leh

Fly from Delhi into Leh (you can book a return ticket through us and you can optionally book extra nights in Delhi before or after the holiday).

Although it takes only one hour, on a clear day the flight to Leh is by no doubt one of the most spectacular flights in Asia. After leaving the North-Indian plains you’ll cross a number of ranges, including the glacier-clad Pir Panjal Range, before flying over the actual Himalayan Range. Leh is situated at 3500 m above sea level. After stepping down from the aircraft you may feel the altitude, but even if you don’t, it is wise to take the rest of the day off. Stay at the hotel or at best walk around the Leh bazaar. Only if you wake up next morning without a headache you may consider yourself fit to go on not too strenuous excursions in the area.

Days 2 & 3: Leh

The next two days are for acclimatisation and Leh has a lot to offer.

Leh is a bustling little town. It’s small size and laid-back atmosphere belie a very prominent and historically important position. Before the closing of the border between India and China-held Tibet, Leh saw daily caravans going to and coming from Yarkand and Kashgar, Kashmir, Kullu, Baltistan and Lhasa. It was a hub where seven different important caravan routes converged. Yaks, donkeys and camels were parked outside the city waiting for new cargo and in the main bazaar, a multitude of languages could be heard, such as Turkmeni, Balti, Tibetan, Kashmiri and Chinese.

While in Leh, there are numerous things to do. Apart from short walks in and around town, you can browse the little streets and allow yourself to be lured into some of the many little shops, most of them run by Kashmiris and Tibetans, that sell beautiful Tibetan artefacts, carpets and jewellery. Leh abounds in restaurants that cater to all tastes, quite a number of them located on a rooftop or in a pleasant garden.

If you are interested in the work of the many NGO’s that try to make things better, the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh are highly recommended. Both have won international acclaim for the promotion of sustainable development.

On Day 3, we advise taking a short tour in and around Leh. This could include a visit to Shanti Stupa, a large Chorten overseeing Leh and the Indus Valley built by a Japanese monk; visiting small but quaint Sankar Gompa set amidst a maze of small allies with traditional houses; and a walk up to Tsemo Gompa and the old palace, where you get even better views of Leh. Also, it is highly recommended to take a taxi and visit some of the delightful Buddhist monasteries in the Indus Valley to the southeast of Leh. Apart from the traditional trio of Shey, Thikse & Hemis, you may also consider visiting Matho and Stakna, maybe in combination with Stok Palace.

Day 4: Trekking Sabu Phu – Sabu Pullu

Today the hike to Shyok begins. First, you will be taken a short distance by car to Sabu Phu (20 min drive from Leh, 3900m). The pack horses and the porters will be waiting for you. From Sabu Phu, you follow a stream up through a valley with lots of moraine material. The environment gradually becomes drier and barer while the views of the Zanskarketen and its glaciated peaks behind you are getting better and better. It is a steady climb, with only short interruptions and small pieces of ‘false flat’, which may not be easy on the first day of the trek. After a 4 hour walk, you reach a campsite at an altitude of 4400m. In consultation with the guide, you can decide whether you stay the night here or continue to a 300m higher situated campsite.

  • Walking for the day: 4-5 hours, ↑800m
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 5: Sabu Pullu Acclimatisation

It might seem a bit strange to rest on the second day of a hike. However, this is sensible in connection with altitude acclimatisation. The next stage goes up (steeply) again and walking today might lead to altitude sickness. That’s why we take it easy today. That does not necessarily mean lying in the tent with a book (all the time). There is nothing against taking one or more short hikes around the camp without climbing too much.

  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 6: Trekking Sabu Pullu via Digar La Pass (5380 m) to Chumik Gongma

The first two hours (a bit less if you slept in the higher camp) you climb over the dams of former glaciers. Then you reach the base of the Diggar La, located at 5100 m altitude. From here the trail goes up in zigzags to the Digger La (5300m), which is marked with prayer flags. On the top, you get the views you deserve. In the north/northeast you look out on the eastern parts of the Karakoram, with the Saser Kangri, India’s highest mountain (7672m) being its highest peak. To the southwest, you still have a view of the Zanskar Range, even more, spectacular than yesterday. Two to three hours of descent along the stream will take you to a pleasant camping pitch called Chumik Gongma (4630m). These are the summer meadows of the lower village Diggar. Typical of this summer pasture are the small shepherds’ houses, surrounded by piled up yak manure that is used as fuel. The shepherds are very hospitable and it may happen that you are invited to a cup of salty butter tea.

  • Walking for the day: 6-7 hours, ↑950m ↓750m
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Days 7 & 8: Trekking Chumik Gongma to Digger

In the next two days, you can choose between two routes. Which route is chosen should be decided in consultation with the guide.

Option 1: The easiest way is via the beautiful, original village of Digger (near which you stay overnight on Day 7) and then via a dirt road to Kyema. Digger is at 3950 m, about 3 hours walk, and then you have time to explore this beautiful village. On Day 8 you descend over the road to Kyema (3-4 hours walk).

Option 2: If you are looking for a more off-the-beaten-track experience, you can take a more adventurous route. From Chumik Gongma you walk more or less directly over hardly used mountain paths to Kyema. You cross two low mountain ridges and camp is made halfway through.

Whichever route you choose, finally you reach the small village of Kyema (4000m), situated in a bowl-shaped valley overlooking the Karakoram chain. Not many foreigners come here and that is probably noticeable by the interest of the villagers. You camp just outside the village.

  • Walking per day: 5-6/6-7 hours, ↑1500/1000m ↓1200/1600m
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 9: Trekking Kyema – Tanggyer

You leave Kyema through the meadows to the east. Soon the path starts to climb to a clearly marked pass, the Kyema La (4500 m). Once at the top, you get fantastic views of the valley on the other side. You descend to the valley, where there is also a small asphalt road and follow it to the confluence of two rivers. Here, the camp is made.

  • Walking for the day: 4-5 hours, ↑500m ↓700m
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 10: Trekking Tanggyer – Jukti

In the morning we walk up through the village. We now see that the yaks and goats are collected to graze on the higher meadows together with a shepherd. We walk further up the slope on the north side of the valley. At about 4500m we make camp. The rest of the day you can spend relaxing or searching the area for traces of wolves and snow leopards.

  • Walking for the day: 3-4 hours, negligible elevation gain/loss
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 11: Trekking Jukti via Nebuk La to Rele

Steadily we climb through the valley to the base of the Nebuch La, located at about 5000m. Take about 3 hours to get here. After an extended rest (if you like) it is time for the ‘final assault’. About two hours later (for some less, for others more) you are on the Nebuch La (5400 meters). The last part is steep and gravelly and probably has a thick layer of snow, which is especially difficult for the pack horses.

From the pass, you look out over the wide valley of Rele and behind it the valley of Tangtse. It is about 3 more hours to the village of Rele (about 4400 meters), which consists of scattered houses on either side of the marshy valley. The camp can be made in the valley or on one of the sparse flat pieces on the slope.

  • Walking for the day: 8 hours, ↑900m ↓600m
  • Accommodation: tents (spacious trekker tents; kitchen and dining tent, toilet tent). Dinner, breakfast & lunch included.

Day 12: Trekking Rele – Tangtse Chu Bridge / Drive to Shyok

You descend over an unpaved jeep track. In front of you stretches the wide valley of Tangtse. You are now walking the legendary winter route from Leh to Yarkand. Believe it or not, but once heavily packed camels walked this path at temperatures of minus twenty degrees or colder to climb further along the stiff frozen Shyok River to an altitude of 5540m, where they crossed the equally legendary Karakoram Pass to Yarkand in Turkmenistan (now in ). Until about 10 years ago this path was also the only connection between the village of Shyok and the outside world. From Tangtse Chu Bridge, it is only a short drive to Shyok.

Shyok River Lodge where you will spend the next three nights is a community-based accommodation. The lodge is part of a traditional Ladakhi house and can not be distinguished from the neighbours on the outside. The family lives downstairs under the same conditions as most Ladakhis. Your own residence however is on the first floor, clean, with luxury mattresses and a private bathroom.

  • Walking for the day: 3-4 hours, ↑60m ↓600m
  • Car transfer: 20 minutes
  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 13: Shyok

After an extensive breakfast (and sleep as much as you like!) one of our local guides will take you through the fields and to the small village gompa. On the way, the guide will tell you about the Ladakhi way of living. They grow barley and vegetables, which is a particular challenge in this desert-like environment. This is only possible thanks to sophisticated irrigation systems and social organisation.

The gompa houses the Buddha Maitreya (Buddha of the future), Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) and many bodhisattvas. When you arrive at the gompa, the monks, if present, will be happy to provide you with tea and tell you about their way of life. The monks are not always there, but the monastery can always be visited.

  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 14: Excursion to Pangong Tso Lake

If you thought Tsokar was a huge lake, you’ll be surprised today. Pangong Tso, located right on the border with Tibet (China) is the largest high-altitude salt lake on earth (4400 m). It is not only a spectacular lake, but the route to it is beautiful, in itself more than enough reason for the trip. It is only a 2-hour drive from the lodge and there is plenty of time to stop along the way for photos and the like. You can enjoy a picnic at this beautiful lake. If you are tired of all the travelling you are most welcome to take it easy today, with a book in the garden, and skip the excursion.

  • Car transfer: 2+2 hours
  • Accommodation: Shyok River Lodge (room with a private bathroom). Lunch, dinner and breakfast included.

Day 15: Drive Shyok to Leh

Today you return to Leh via the Chang La at 5360 meters altitude. Free time in Leh.

Day 16: Departure

Note that most flights from Ladakh depart in the early morning because of the high altitude. The thin air makes it especially difficult, and later in the day, it becomes even more difficult due to turbulence. You can optionally book flights and extra nights in Delhi through us. The flight takes about 1 hour but is spectacular. First, you’ll fly over the barren but colourful mountains of Ladakh and Zanskar, then the heavily glaciated Himalayan Range, the deeply forested mountains of Himachal Pradesh (Pir Panjal) and lastly the shimmering North Indian plains.

Hotels

Accommodation is in a boutique guesthouse in Leh, the charming Shyok River Lodge (both with private en-suite rooms) and two-person tents in the high mountains. All places have been carefully hand-picked by us, and their quality is regularly monitored. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Meals

All meals in the mountains, as well as all breakfasts in Leh are included. In Leh, there is a great choice of restaurants and inns.

Travel

Delhi is the most convenient international airport. Return flights can be booked independently or we can do this for you.

Baggage Transfers

Luggage transfers are included as per itinerary, and we will arrange them from your current hotel to your next hotel (or tent camp). Porters (sometimes horse porters) will transport your luggage in the mountains, so please limit your main luggage to 15 kg per person and put it in a soft duffel bag.

Country Info

India is an extraordinary country, and after visiting Ladakh you will surely come back with unique
travel experiences. Up-to-date travel advice on India is available here. Detailed travel information and hints will be provided in your holiday information pack.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance WorldNomads

We strongly recommend protecting the cost of your trip and other non-refundable travel expenses with travel insurance. Our Signature Travel Insurance allows you to insure all of your expenses. While a Signature Travel Insurance policy can be purchased at any time, purchasing a policy within 20 days of making your initial trip deposit gives you the widest range of policy options, including a Cancel for Any Reason coverage. For complete peace of mind, we also recommend enrolling with Global Rescue, the worldwide leader in field rescue, evacuation and security extraction services.

Read more and get a quote online

Trip Info

Difficulty Grade: Strenuous

There are no long steep ascents, no scrambling involved and no exposed paths, but this holiday is graded strenuous due to some fairly long days at high altitude. You should be in an excellent physical condition and have experience of multi-day trekking at high altitudes before undertaking this trek. The effect of altitude should not be underestimated (read more about difficulty grades).

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a significant concern when trekking above 3500m and although our itinerary is designed to minimise the chances of you suffering from AMS by providing enough acclimatisation days before the actual trek and ensuring a gradual increase in altitude, each individual is affected differently by height. If you have any pre-existing health conditions that you think may make you more susceptible to AMS, we recommend that you consult your doctor before booking this trip.

Private Guides

Qualified guides make the difference between a regular trip and an unforgettable experience. Our English-speaking guides are qualified and trained. All have many years of experience of guiding trekkers in the area. They will bring a wealth of knowledge to your journey, opening your eyes to the legends, culture, food, flora and fauna of the region.

Route Navigation

We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. Your private guide is highly experienced, and you should always follow their advice.

When to Go

This trip is available between July and October. The flexibility of the privately guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your holiday on any date in the season. During the summer and early autumn, the days are generally dry and bright. Summer is the monsoon period for most of India, and therefore unsuitable for trekking. Ladakh is an exception – so it makes the perfect trekking destination for those limited to holidays during the summer. The winter in Ladakh is exceptionally cold, and so we don’t organise any of our tours for this time of year as mountain passes are closed and rivers freeze over.

What to Bring

While trekking you will only have to carry a day bag with water, snacks, spare clothes and your camera. Your main bag will be moved by a porter. We will provide a detailed equipment list as part of your pre-departure information pack. You will need normal walking and travelling gear as well as a sleeping bag and warm clothes.

Included

  • Qualified English-speaking guide and porters in the mountains and experienced local guide/driver during the transfers/in the lowlands
  • 15 overnight stays in private rooms and tents as listed in the itinerary (3-star hotels where available, best hotels/guesthouses in towns, optional homestay on 2 days)
  • 15 breakfasts
  • 11 lunches and dinners
  • All car transfers as listed in the itinerary
  • Inner Line Permits for visiting the areas bordering China/Tibet
  • Luggage transfers (by car and porters)
  • Pre-departure travel and tour documents
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative in Ladakh

Options and Extras

  • Single room supplement for group members (single tent use in the high mountains)
  • This holiday is NOT available for solo travellers
  • Optional extra nights in Leh or Delhi are bookable on request
  • Return flights Delhi-Leh

Excluded

  • International flights
  • Visa fees
  • Travel insurance
  • Sleeping bag for camping during the trek
  • Personal expenses such as drinks, snacks, phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Tips for the guides and porters
  • Any items not specifically mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme

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