Kashmir and Ladakh
Kashmir and Ladakh Treks
The GHT Kashmir and Ladakh route from Manali to Shrinagar can include a multitude of side trips through Zanskar and across all of Ladakh. Without a doubt, this region includes some of the very best alpine treks in the world. If you can, take your time and explore as much as possible, you won’t regret it! We promise!!
In August, Leh becomes very crowded for foreign and domestic visitors, so please book well in advance of any trip.
- Trekking Grade: Grades 3 to 5 (see notes below) – Overall Grade 5
- Duration & distance: About 20 days total
- Gradient: Very steep with some arduous climbs
- Quality of path: Formed and rough track with some obstacles
- Quality of markings: Limited signage with occasional markers
- Experience required: Experienced walkers require navigation skills
- Walking times: More than 7 hours per day some days
- Steps: Steps on some days
- Highest point: 5465m
- Best season: Apr to Oct
- Accommodation: Camping
- Recommended map: The GHT India trekking map – please Get in Touch for a FREE high resolution topographic trekking map of North West India
Please note that the trails listed can be joined together to create a GHT through-hiking route across Kashmir and Ladakh – it’s not perfect but it does avoid Inner Line Permit problems!
Overall GRADE 5
When to Trek Kashmir and Ladakh?
The trekking season in North West India, which includes Kashmir and Ladakh, is traditionally from April to November. So it includes the monsoon months of July, August and September. Having said that, the impact of the monsoon varies considerably across the Great Himalaya Range. In Kashmir, the best dry months for trekking are May-June and October-November. However, due to the rain-shadow effect in Ladakh and Zanskar, the best months are July, August and September.
Temperatures can get very warm to hot by late morning (after 11am), so your route is best completed by early afternoon. This will give you enough time to wash off dust and sweat and avoid the hot afternoon wind that blows through most valleys.
WARNING: the cloud-burst storm over Leh and surrounding areas in September 2010 has left many remote area trails in a damaged and dangerous condition. It is important you check the safety of your proposed route before starting. The cloud-burst was a reminder of how dangerous canyon and gully-course trails can be – always be aware of the weather and the potential hazards should water levels rise rapidly.
Kashmir and Ladakh Accommodation and Permits
All of the communities throughout Kashmir and Ladakh, as well as the adjacent Zanskar region, are famous for their outstanding generous hospitality. Unfortunately, most trekking routes in Kashmir are closed down due to internal issues. When they do open again you will only find lodge accommodation at road heads and the rest of the time is camping.
Homestays are available in virtually every village in central Ladakh and especially along the Lamayuru – Markha Valley – Hemis route. Villages outside the Hemis National Park are unlikely to have received any hygiene, cooking or general training so expect standards to vary enormously.
In 2011, a fixed price of Rs350 per person is rarely negotiable and homestay rota system is popular and adhered to almost everywhere. Some homestays are large enough to offer “Paying Guest” rooms with en suite facilities. These are often much more expensive, but more private and sometimes more comfortable.
None of the treks listed require special permission or permits.
Kashmir and Ladakh Route Options
The notes on this page were all made before the separation of the Kashmir and Ladakh State into Union Territories. The impact on tourism development throughout Kashmir and Ladakh will undoubtedly be profound and possibly, not for the better. Added to this is the closure of Stok Kangri peak to tourism on environmental sustainability grounds and the future of tourism looks like it will focus on domestic Indian vacation trips.
The outcome for adventure tourism is accordingly negative, so get there now and make the most of some fabulous trekking. The future of adventure trekking throughout Kashmir and Ladakh may not be bright, but right now it’s still pretty good!
Due to the current issues in Kashmir, it is now almost impossible to consider trekking throughout the region. We have included information about the GHT through Kashmir so that those planning in advance have something to go on. General information is available on the Jammu and Kashmir state government website.
Ladakh and Zanskar
Ladakh, the Land of High Passes, lies to the north of the Great Himalaya Range. Like Mustang and Dolpo in Nepal, it is a region where traditional Tibetan culture remains largely untouched. Two millennia of trade and intermingling with the peoples of the main range and Tibet has created an amazingly culturally diverse region that is celebrated as an example of multicultural tolerance and understanding.
Get to Know Leh
Spend two or three days based in Ladakh’s capital, Leh, to give your body time to acclimatise. It’s best if you do some exploring around town and further afield, and make sure you walk as much as possible. Fortunately, there are heaps of things to see including climbing to Tsemo Gompa & Leh Palace (best views early morning), which dominate the skyline above Leh. Also make time to visit the Shanti Stupa (best views in late afternoon) and near to the airport is Spituk Gompa. Easily included in a two day program are Gompas at Thikse, Phyang, Stok, Hemis, and Alchi. If you have a few more days then consider overnight trips to the stunningly beautiful high altitude lakes of Tso Moriri and/or Pangong Tso. For those wanting to experience the deeper spiritual side of Ladakh visit the Sabu-Lamu oracle in Sabu village for her weekly seance at 9am each Sunday.
Getting Around Kashmir and Ladakh
An already extensive road network is expanding at a rapid pace across all of Jammu and Kashmir and the effects will profoundly affect some of Ladakh’s best trekking routes. For now, the Hemis National Park is unaffected but a road is slated within the next three years. The linking trek from Lamayuru is partially affected by road but only on 1 day of the route.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Government (http://www.jktourism.jk.gov.in/) has an attractive website but little useful information about Ladakh, Zanskar and kashmir – this was a good example of the complaints many Ladakhis had that they are treated as second class citizens by the majority-Muslim J&K Government. Virtually all other online information sources about Ladakh are run by commercial interests.
Buses to Lamayuru (5 hours) leave early and mid-morning from Leh. A twice weekly (Sunday and Thursday) bus service between Leh and Chilling takes about 3 hours. From Shang Sumdo, Hemis is a 30 minute drive, or 12km walk. Alternatively, Leh is a 1 hour 15 minute drive away but there is no regular bus service so you should pre-book any transport, or walk from Shang Sumdo to Martselang (10km) and then catch a bus to Leh.
See the Codes of Conduct for more information.
NOTE: trek times are taken from my diary and you may walk faster or slower. Optional campsites are described in the text if you want to slow the trek.
Lamayuru to Chilling: Leh-Leh, 4 days
Full of classic Ladakh views of colourful rock formations, staggering hospitality and some challenging passes. This trek is ideal for those on a short timeframe. Beginning at the picturesque gompa at Lamayuru the trail winds from village to village over 4 passes to Chilling where there is a regular bus service to Leh. It is really worth trying to coincide your trek with the Lamayuru Gompa Yuru Kabghat festival in June. This two-day lama dancing purification and invocation is led by the protector mask Mahakala (aka Gonbo) and the demon-destroyer Padmasambhava.
The drive from Leh to Lamayuru follows the Indus river (known locally as Sengge Kha Babs, from the lion’s open mouth – ie the river that flows from holy Mt Kailash) first to Alchi (2 hours) and then turning away from the highway at Khalsi (2 hours) to arrive at the impressive gompa complex in another 30 minutes.
See the Tour Plan for detailed notes.
Lamayuru is a Grade 3 trek
Markha Valley and Hemis: Leh-Leh, 4 days
Understandably popular, the trek from Chilling through the Hemis National Park to Shang Sumdo and Hemis Gompa, is a fabulous way to experience the best of Ladakh. Dramatic scenery, traditional Ladakhi villages, plenty of grassy pastures and inviting homestays make this route ideal for independent and group trekkers. However, the Markha valley trail is on the verge of disappearing thanks to a road building project, so get there soon before it disappears.
This trek is normally commercially advertised as an 8 to 10 day program. But it’s possible in 5 days Leh to Leh, and for most people over 6 days is ideal if you have already spent a couple of days in Leh. Although Nymaling isn’t very comfy, we recommend using homestays.
See the Tour Plan for detailed notes.
A word of advice
During the main trekking season, July to September, the best campsites are frequently pre-booked by groups who send someone ahead early in the morning. Unfortunately, this is now common practice and trying to explain campsite sharing etiquette is a complete waste of time. So, to avoid disappointment later in the day try and team up with one or two other groups who are prepared to share sites and send your own person ahead as early as possible.
Hemis Valley is a Grade 3 trek
Urgin La & Kang La: Manali to Padam, 12 days
The combination of these two passes provides an excellent two week trek to Kashmir and Ladakh (Delhi-Delhi) if you include ample acclimatisation time.
Beginning near Dartse in the Bhaga valley, you first slowly approach a picturesque glacial system. Then cross the Urgin La to reach the Miyar valley, which boasts one of the longest glaciers in the Indian Himalaya and is spectacular on a grand scale. A 26km glacial approach to the Kang La is the longest of any in the central Himalaya and a fitting way to reach Padam, the capital of Zanskar.
Now that a motorable road has been built over the Shingo La this trek is expected to become increasingly popular. However, it does involve a technical and committing climb to the summit if the Urgin La that should not be attempted without adequate skills and equipment.
The first pass, Urgin La, is in Himachal Pradesh as well as the approach (Miyar valley) to the Kang La. The Kang La sits on the border with Kashmir, and the trail heads through Zanskar, Kashmir and Ladakh.
See the Tour Plan for detailed notes.
The Urgin La is a Grade 5 trek.
Ghans Galli (Kashmir): Padam to Srinagar, 8 days
We were always reluctant to believe that the paranoid-sounding travel warnings about Kashmir were totally accurate. So for some time we researched potential route options with Kashmir trekking veterans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many were reluctant to say anything other than the ‘official line’ but a few suggested talking to the locals and army posts to see how the security situation was at a local level.
While driving from Padam to Kargil we stopped at Pannikher (aka Panikhar) and had a chat with the locals about trails. The result was a plan to trek to Phalgam but we only managed to reach Bat Kal valley as snow slowed our progress and the crew refused to continue over Gull Galli. So this trek is only a week, but what a cracker it is!!
From Pannikher, head up towards Bobang Galli, which you could consider crossing in good conditions. The alternative is to bear left around Bobang peak and cross Ghans Galli, a longer and arguably more impressive route to the Bagau / Humpet valley. The walk down to the roadhead at Bashmina is close to Himalayan nirvana.
Do this trek and see how wonderful Kashmir still is!
See the Tour Plan for detailed notes.
Ghans Galli to Shrinagar is a Grade 4 trek.
Trekking in Kashmir and Ladakh is an absolute must for nature-lovers!
- DepartureNew Delhi
- Dress CodeMid-altitude alpine clothing and camping equipment required
- IncludedKashmir and Ladakh
- GradeGrades 3-5
- Idea Date Range01/06/2021
- Style of TrekCamping with some teahouses