MARKHA VALLEY, LEH

Wandering one Gathers Honey, is an old saying which has created an indelible impression in my mind and has always motivated me to explorenature. Being an Army Officer’s daughter, taught me to embrace life as it comes and adapt myself to it without complaining. It all began when my father, Col. J.R Padki was posted in Mamun, Pathankot and I was barely 10 years old. Staring at the snow-capped mountains from our balcony made me wonder how it would be to walk along the Himalayas. The thought just stayed in my mind—tucked away into a corner for a long time as school and college took over my life. I probably did not know how to grasp an opportunity when it knocked. But being a firm believer in “If it has to happen it will happen”, brought me to the day in May 2018 when I finally made up my mind to go on a trek to Markha Valley, Leh (Leh- Kargil axis).

Having done just one Himalayan trek previously (Valley  of Flowers),  I thought this too would be similar. The truth about the terrain and the altitude dawned on me when people began to refuse coming on this trek. The reason being dry dusty terrain coupled with altitude. People associate Leh with sight-seeing, snow clad mountains, winding roads and a lot of altitude sickness. But I was undeterred. I had to go back to the mountains and spend a week away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The trek in Valley of Flowers had left such a strong impression in my mind that I was ready to brave all odds this time and just get away. I began my fitness regime two months in advance, altered all the personal and professional commitments to match my dates and had several discussions with my father as he has previously served in Leh and Siachen and is aware of the climate, terrain and problems in acclimatisation and Mountain Sickness. “The only thing,” he constantly told me was “trekking is not a race; enjoy the beauty of nature as you walk and have a calm, positive mind”.

Finally, the D-Day arrived when I packed my bags and was ready to depart to Delhi and then take a flight to Leh. It being a landlocked region in the northernmost tip of India, offering a variety of adventurous things to do. Leh is also one of the most difficult terrains to live in, given its extreme weather conditions. Excitement was running very high, but I was also worried if I would acclimatise well. All my fears were put to rest when I saw the majestic Himalayas from the flight. I was unable to wrap my head around the beauty. There were dry patches of mountains as well as snow capped peaks co-existing in absolute harmony with each other. Snaky paths were visible from above and little did I know that was our trail for the next one week. Markha Valley is one of the most amazing barren, remote regions that snakes through varied landscapes in Ladakh and requires a lot of stamina and strength. Sudden steep climbs, river crossings, deep gorges and scorching sun, the walk gets tougher with each day, also because the original foot trail has been destroyed by floods in the past. On a lighter note, it cuts through several remote villages which offer a good flavour of the Indo-Tibetan culture with excellent warmth and hospitality.

The trek commences at Chilling which is one and an hour away from Leh by road (see map) A 5 km walk from Chilling brought us to Skyu, a picturesque village that has a river flowing across. Being the first day of walking under the blazing hot sun with our backpacks, this was a good respite as we just sat on the rocks, soaking in the natural beauty. Words and pictures fail to convey the actual beauty and tranquility of the mountains. Aware that the next few days would be tough, we decided to rest. Our next destination was Markha village, which was a gruelling walk across barren and dry terrain for almost 10 hours. The commando motto: “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” kept me motivated throughout the walk. The terrain at Leh is conspicuously different when compared to other Himalayan terrain and probably that adds to its lustre, beauty and intensity. Walking by myself, I kept thinking of our soldiers who are posted in Leh and Siachen. What seems like a week’s rush of adrenaline and excitement is their first line of duty. Reminding myself of their grit and resilience, I couldn’t help but thank them with every step I took.

We set off from Markha and reached Hangkar village which is situated at an altitude of approximately 13123 feet. Anyone suffering from mountain sickness is usually sent back to Leh from here because after this point, the walk gets more strenuous as we headed to Nimaling Pass (15882 feet). Gaining altitude coupled with steep climbs for about 3-4 hours took a toll physically but the panoramic view of the beautiful valley and the majestic Kangyatse peak, dotted with wildlife such as Pica, Blue Sheep and Marmots kept me going. Since we had gained altitude, the weather was becoming colder with some showers, and distances seemed farther than what we were told. With all the grit remaining, we finally reached the campsite and then realised we were the only Indians doing this trek. I must say it was quite a euphoric moment!

The next day was the last day where we were going to gain height up to Kongmarula (17350 feet) and then descend all the way down to 11000 feet. The view from Kongmarula is splendid if the skies are clear. On that day it was quite cloudy, and we literally had the feeling of being above the clouds. We finally began the treacherous descent towards Chogdo village, our last halt of the trek before heading back to Leh.

Overwhelming as it seemed, this trek seemed like a revelation to me because sitting comfortably in our homes, we are accustomed to having all the luxuries even before we realise we need it. Here, even a glass of warm water is a luxury for which the locals work very hard. A feeling of insignificance hit me hard on witnessing the hardships that Ladakhis endure daily. As also our defence troops who tirelessly and relentlessly work under testing conditions to ensure we are comfortable back home. Jodi Picoult’s quote “Some lessons can’t be taught. They simply have to be learned.” is what I have taken back from this self- discovering beautiful journey: The Markha Valley!

Pooja Haridarshan is a special educator by profession, a PhD student at the University of Northampton, and above all, a nature lover. Hailing from a services background, she continuously strives to push her mental and physical boundaries to the utmost. She can be reached at: pujapadki@gmail.com

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