Kashmir A himalayan adventure

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Part I: Manali-Leh

Flying in to Manali from New Delhi

In July 2015 we flew to Manali from New Delhi, to begin our two-day accelerated roadtrip on the Manali-Leh highway. The destination was the Himalayas, more specifically Leh, a city in Kashmir in northern India, where we would go on a 6-day trek through the Markha Valley.

The Manali-Leh highway is an adventure in itself, with an average elevation of more than 4000 meters, and is open for traffic only about 4,5 months per year. You can read more about it in the link below.

The intrepid travellers

The roadtrip started out easy enough, but flying to Manali had already brought us up to around 2000 meters.

Soon we were climbing steadily, and feeling it.

It grew colder and foggier.

Until we couldn't see much.

And then we were on the other side.

Snack pit stop. And a goat with scary eyes.

As we continued through the mountains, it became quite apparent how keeping the highway open is a constant battle against nature. Melting ice and rainfall is constantly eating away at the road.

Some parts felt more like a river than a road.

Suraj Tal lake

As evening came, we went through the Zingzingbar to Baralacha La pass, the days' highest at 5,030 meters. Although the view was great, none of us were really enjoying the sights. We had come up 5000 meters in one day from New Delhi, and were feeling varying degrees of altitude sickness.

Maybe that's why they recommend doing the trip in 3 or more days, instead of 2...

We were all relieved when we finally made it to our campsite at Sarchu, where we spent the night at 4600 meters, with a pounding headache.

The next morning was chilly and beautiful, as we started across the Himalayan highlands

What a way to start the day

Whisky bridge. One vehicle at a time please.

Possibly in an effort to keep sleepy truck drivers awake, the road authorities displayed surprising creativity and wit on the signs along the road. Take a moment to appreciate the artistry below :-)

Roadsign gems
Group photo!

We were feeling better today, having put most of the ascent behind us, so we could enjoy the trip through the mountains.

Are we on Mars?

Best quality roads

We were parked about half an hour waiting for this truck convoy to pass, which had been stalled by a landslide for several days. The road just wasn't wide enough for both us and them.

Tea shop pit stop on the plains

The landslide that had blocked the highway for two days. Fortunately, it was cleared the day before we had to pass.

It's easy to see how a landslide could bury the road.

Most of the road workers were women.

Passing the highest point on the highway. Thanglang La pass at 5358 meters

And then, we were finally at the end of the highway, and in the desert on the other side.

Welcome to Leh

Part II: Acclimatizing in Leh

We spent a couple of days acclimatizing in Leh, before our trek, in the very comfortable Tsermang Eco Camp.

We rented a Royal Enfield (for Chris), and a little scooter (for me), and went sightseeing in Leh and the surrounding area. The region is mostly buddhist, so there were plenty of stupas.

Leh was a very charming place to visit, with very little of the hassle we had grown accustomed to in New Delhi, and beautifully situated between the mountains.

Snapshots from Leh
At a market in Leh, Kashmir. Wearing a traditional hat from the region.
A monk, an apricot seller, and an old man selling crystals

After some easy days, we got went to bed early, to get ready for our trek in Markha Valley.

Part III: Markha valley trek

Due to limited time, we had planned a short 6 day trek, but most people spend more time, which leaves time for detours and temple visits. Our route was about 80 km, with the highest pass in the beginning, followed by an easier trek down through the valley.

Off we go!

Our camp site the first evening, after an easy first stretch.

LifeStraw, our favorite donkey, and the surprisingly good camp food
The toilet was a bit drafty
Up we go

The second day was the hardest. As we passed 4000, and then 4500 meters, we were really starting to feel the altitude, and walking became much harder.

But there was nothing wrong with the view.

Bizarrely, at around 4600 meters, we were walking through a field of rhubarbs

It was very slow going, but we finally made it through the Gongmarula pass, at approximately 5150 meters.

Tired trekkers

...and we could start our descent on the other side, into the valley where we would spend the night.

Beautiful evening in the mountains
Starting off again the next morning

As we started our walk the next day, we saw a surprising amount of animals.

These little guys were all over the high plains, and you could get pretty close to them before they scurried down into their holes.
A yak ox, a marmot, and some other weird animals
Ridge walking
Teashop owner
In Markha Valley, Ladakh, Kashmir

As we trekked on, the view changed frequently as we went around the bends.

Reaching the campsite, an dark sky made us tie down the tent a bit more, while the girls went for a much-needed (chilly) bath in the nearby stream.

The gang
A small monastery perched high on a cliff
Monks take turn at living there for a month at a time.
Even here there are cheerful roadsigns

As the days went on and we descended further, it grew hotter, and the streams swelled. Some had bridges, some we could jump, and others we had to wade through.

Probably too wide to jump
Picturesque farmland

On one of the last days, we had our first run in with bad weather. We were about 30 minutes from camp when the thunder started, and soon after the hail came down. We ran through the storm until we reached camp, but the rain had started before they had time to set it up, so we opted for homestay instead, while we tried to dry our clothes.

Wet shoes, socks, horses and people

It wasn't all bad though. They had beer!

We had surprisingly good and varied food on the trip, and it was quite amazing what they managed to fabricate with what they had available. Some of the food was local, and some was obviously adapted for tourists, like the pizza they made one evening...(!)

Our cook making pizza in the kitchen tent(!)
Our last campsite
Last day on Mars

On the final day of the trek, we had to cross the river again. Only this time, the nice big, concrete bridge they used to have, was washed away a year earlier, so we had to be pulled across the river in a small cable cart. You can see the cable across the river below.

Plenty of room for 5-6 passengers

What could possibly go wrong?!

No fear!

And then we were across, and nearly home. Just a couple of hours drive along another road fighting the river for a place on the mountainside.

Road builder. Will never run out of work.

Keep to the right, please

The road back to Leh

And that was the end of our adventure in Kashmir. What an amazing experience!

The variety in landscape and climate, and the difference in culture between the other parts of India we've visited has been very, very interesting. It's a beautiful place, with wonderful people, so if you want something a bit different, Kashmir should be on your list :-)

Goofy trekkers

I hope you've enjoyed this little story, as much as I've enjoyed putting it together. Not to mention the trip itself. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Finally: A big THANK YOU Chris and Elin for letting us tag along :-)

Created By
Erik Underbjerg

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