In early 2015, I was considering a trip to Ecuador when my wife pointed out the prospectus for a small group volunteer lead tour in the back of a national hiking club magazine. It included a week long trek in Ladakh and visits to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. We were only interested in the trek portion but the leader said it was all or nothing, so we signed up
We flew to Delhi at the end of September, took a half hour cab ride to a hotel 5 minutes from the airport, relaxed for a day and then headed back to the airport for the Air India flight to Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
Ladakh – The Land of High Passes
The flight over the Himalayas was breathtaking and the sudden 180 degree turn to the airport runway heart attack inducing. The airport was the filthiest ever and military personnel with automatic weapons were everywhere. Pictures were forbidden of the airport and terminal.
A view of the Himalayas from the plane.
Flying from sea level to an altitude 2 miles higher necessitated that we spend the first few days acclimating to the lower air pressure. We explored Leh and drove west toward Alchi, to check out Alchi and Likir Gompas.
The next two days involved an overnight trip to the Nubra Valley. North of Leh, the Nubra Valley is home to several towns and a link to the Silk Road, a 4000 mile caravan route that connected China with the west. We set off in a bus on the Khardung La Road (La means pass in the Ladakhi language) which is known as the highest motorable road in the world. The pass, at elevation 18,380 feet, is 700 feet higher than Mount Everest South Base Camp in Nepal
On the way downto Nubra we stopped at Diskit Monastery (Gompa), went for a walk through the village and rode the double humped bactrian camels.
Markha Valley Trek
- Trek Length – 37 miles
- Trek Duration – 6 days
The Markha Valley is one of the remotest areas in the region between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges. Our trek was from Chilling to Shang Sumdo at elevations between 13,000 and 17,409 feet. The climate is known as “high altitude cold desert.” With lows of 32 degrees at nite and highs of 85 degrees during the day, it is possible to get sunstroke and frostbite on the same day.
Markha Valley Map
After the trek we flew back to visit the Golden Triangle, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Our hotel was modern and had all kinds of lights and switches, but nothing worked, including the elevators. D was sick on Sunday, so J toured Old Delhi with the group.
On Monday we took a 4 hour bus ride to Agra. The itinerary called for visiting the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and a sunset visit to Taj Mahal. Instead we visited a fort and a tourist trap. The next morning we got up at 5:00 AM for a sunrise visit to Taj Mahal. The lines to get in were massive. They searched everyone and confiscated J’s yellow highlighter (dangerous weapon or implement of grafitti?). In the afternoon we toured some palace ruins and Agra Fort, then a 4.5 hour bus ride to Jaipur.
Jaipur – The Pink City
Toured a Hindu temple, then the Jantar Mantar, an astronomic observatory. Toured a textile museum and weapons museum, then back to the hotel. On Thursday we went to Amer Fort and rode elephants up to the top level. Some guy pretending to be a guide offered the two of us a tour to the “good spots” and then when were deep inside the fort he deserted us. It took forever to find our way out and the whole group was waiting for us, looking very unhappy.
On Friday we went to the airport for the flight back to Delhi. It ended it a clusterf*** as the leader had booked us into different hotel than the one we had arrived at, no one (guides or bus driver) could find the new hotel and when we finally got there it took another two hours to get our luggage from the original hotel. Only in India.
This is a summary of the trip. I have written a longer article which has been submitted for publication and may be up here soon. Also stay tuned for an article on the Indian toilet situation.