Discovering Ladakh is all about going where your two legs can take you, although motoring enthusiasts will have plenty of chances to muddy their wheels here, as well as in Jammu and Kashmir regions. For more thrills (and chills) you can raft through remote gorges on the Indus and Zanskar rivers, or ski down snowy slopes in Gulmarg and Sonamarg.
A short trek by Ladakh’s standards is one that takes less than a week. Most of the popular treks are longer and span prodigious distances stretching all the way to Zanskar, and even Manali. If you don’t have much time, consider taking a shorter trudge crossing villages and stopping at monasteries along the way. Trekking is unfortunately not a safe option in Kashmir anymore, although excursions are possible from Sonamarg, which is the base for Alpine Lakes Trek and trek to Kolahoi Glacier from Aru Valley. You can also cover these routes on horseback; porters are easily available as well.
Here are three treks in the vicinity of Leh which you can accomplish within a few days to a week.
- Spituk to Stok (2–3 days): Those who’re strapped for time can opt for this jaunt from Spituk which crosses the 4800m pass of Stok La. Homestays are available at Stok.
- Sham Valley (2–3 days): This trek winds up from Likir to Tingmosgam in the Sham Valley, and features no high passes. There are plenty of homestay options along the way.
- Lamayuru to Alchi (6 days): This is a great mid-level trek with plenty of climbing and sightseeing. There are two passes to be traversed: Prinkiti La (3500m) and the almost perennially snowy Tar La (4900m).
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In Kashmir it’s possible to go for a short rafting trip on the Lidder River at Pahalgam but longer expeditions are not considered safe. The Indus River offers the best combination of safe yet exciting stretches for rafting enthusiasts in Leh. The most popular stretch is between Spituk and Saspol (near Alchi). If you’re new to the sport you can sign up for some basic training which is usually conducted on the stretch between Karu and Spituk. The Zanskar River is a favourite with experienced rafters, and navigating the spectacular stretch between Padum and Nimo is considered a badge of honour. However, the freezing waters and high-grade rapids make it unsuitable for novices.
On the Road
When there’s peace in the Kashmir Valley, there’s no better way to experience the landscape than by driving your own car. Besides allowing for a flexible itinerary, this saves money vis-a-vis cabs. Ladakh also offers some spectacular drives. The drive from Manali to Leh over high-altitude passes is India’s ultimate road trip.
Gulmarg’s powdery slopes are considered amongst the best in the world for extreme skiing. It’s the only town in the Kashmir valley which truly comes alive during the winter months. Skis and other equipment can be hired in town. J&K Tourism (www.jktourism.org) also organises skiing at Patnitop during the winter.
Top Tip: Staying safe on a trek
You’ll need a jacket, a good pair of gloves, a torch, sunglasses and adequate food and water. Even on short treks, do not venture off on your own. Leh is choc-a-bloc with agencies offering rafting and trekking expeditions. Many times you can just walk in and ask to be included in a group.