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Trekking in Ladakh and Zanskar

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The ancient footpaths that crisscross Ladakh and Zanskar provide some of the most inspiring trekking in the Himalayas. Threading together remote Buddhist villages and monasteries, cut off in winter behind high passes whose rocky tops bristle with prayer flags, nearly all are long, hard and high – but never dull. Whether you make all the necessary preparations yourself, or pay an agency to do it for you, Leh is the best place to plan a trek; the best time to trek is from June to September.

Trekking independently is straightforward if you have a copy of Trekking in Ladakh (see below), don’t mind haggling and are happy to organize the logistics yourself. To find ponies and guides, head for the Tibetan refugee camp at Choglamsar, 3km south of Leh. Count on paying around Rs300 per horse and Rs200 per donkey each day – two people trekking through the Markha Valley for example would pay around $30 each for the entire week. By contrast, a package trek sold by a trekking agent in Leh will cost around $50 per day, and more if your group is less than four people.

You can rent equipment, including high-quality tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and duck-down jackets, either through your chosen agency or at places like Frontier Adventure Company, across from the taxi stand on Fort Road (T01982/253011), or Spiritual Trek, Changspa Lane (T01982/251701, [email protected]). Both also act as trek operators, supplying guides, porters, transport and food. Expect to pay around Rs100–150 a day for a tent, Rs80–100 for a sleeping bag and Rs40–50 for a gas stove; if you’re intending to climb Stok-Kangri you may need to dish out Rs50 for an ice axe. Independent trekkers might consider buying Indian equipment in the bazaar, which could be resold.

Minimize your impact in culturally and ecologically sensitive areas by being as self-reliant as possible, especially with food and fuel. Buying provisions along the way puts an unnecessary burden on the villages’ subsistence-oriented economies, and encourages strings of unsightly “tea shops” (often run by outsiders) to sprout along the trails. Always burn kerosene, never wood – a scarce and valuable resource. Refuse should be packed up, not disposed of along the route, no matter how far from the nearest town you are, and plastics retained for recycling at the Ecology Centre in Leh. Always bury your faeces and burn your toilet paper afterwards. Finally, do not defecate in the dry-stone huts along the trails; local shepherds use them for shelter during snow storms. For more details about environmental issues in Ladakh, see p.495.

An excellent book covering everything you need to know to undertake an expedition in the region is Trailblazer’s Trekking in Ladakh by Charlie Loram, on sale in bookshops in Leh.

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