Travel notes from my year in India (2004): Markha Valley. 11 of 16

A few days ago I was seated on an open terrace, bathing in the warm sun, sipping my chai, as I got approached by John. An American from Portland, in his mid-late fifties, former hippie converted to nature freak. After the customary ritualistic exchange of information (Where from? How long in India? Where to next? Etc.), he offers me to join their group on a ten days trek to the Markha valley. I have heard before how beautiful this place is supposed to be, so I decide to join them, We will be 4 trekkers, 1 guide + cook, 2 horsemen, 5 horses, and 1 dog. On the first day we leave Leh (3,500 m) by taxi to the bottom of the valley (3,000 m), then slowly walk back up to 3,500 m, crossing a desert and climbing a steep narrow and arid valley.

The second day is when the adventure starts. As we continue to climb the same valley, the morning gray weather slowly slips into light rain, full blown rain, and eventually over 4,000 m in an unreal snowstorm. We camp at 4,300 m, lower than planned, but nobody can take it anymore. This means that on the next day we have a much harder climb to reach the pass (4,960 m) and a really long walk down the other side of the mountain. We stop to camp at Skyu, by a little stream, at 3,350 m. That was 660 m up and 1,610 m down in a single day: everybody is exhausted.

During the night the dog decides he has had enough: he disappears (he will be found sleeping in the sun back at the horseman house some days later). The horsemen are depressed; the guide/cook wakes up sick, John can barely move. So we settle for one day of rest. It suits me, I am also quite tired. This way I get to bath in the river, and then spend a good part of the day socializing with two wild white horses. In the late afternoon I climb up to the local gompa, hang my prayer flags, and sit to meditate and admire the sunset. Just then, the one and only cloud in the sky splits into 3 and spells out with unmistakable clarity the letters “CHI”. I have yet to comprehend this omen. Well, to make a long story short, the next morning John and the guide/cook decide they have had enough. The trek is over after another long day of walking. Actually, running, as we needed to reach the little village of Chilling in time to catch the once a week bus back to Leh.