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Markha valley trek

Markha valley trek

The Markha valley trek is one of the most famous treks of the Ladakh region. The Markha valley runs parallel to the Indus valley and is separated from it by the Stok mountain range.

Photo gallery


The Markha valley trek offers a striking contrast of landscapes. It includes two 5K passes over the Stok range, Gandala La (4970 m) and Kongmaru La (5260 m), both with spectacular views from the top. Like everywhere in Ladakh, the mountain slopes are colorful and mostly barren, with few signs of vegetation. The trail along the Markha river goes through green oasis-like valley. The river bed is fringed with willow and poplar trees, bushes of tamarisk, wild rose and seabuckthorn. Small villages on the way are surrounded with irrigated fields of barley and mustard (bright yellow when in bloom). At the head of the Markha valley lie the high-altitude pastures of Nimaling dominated by the snow-covered Kang Yatze peak in the backdrop.

Trek's highlights

Rumbak. The Rumbak valley is well-known for winter snow leopard tours, while in summer it is an ideal place for birdwatching. The Rumbak village is situated at an altitude of 3980 m, i.e. 480 m higher than Leh (3500 m). Therefore, 1-2 day stay here is a good idea for gradual altitude gain and acclimatization after coming from Leh. The Rumbak village has a good choice of homestays.

Ganda La. Two-hour gradual ascent of Ganda La starting from the base camp is a picturesque zigzagging trail between the patches of nettle and stubby shrubs with colonies of marmots and hares. Stunning views from the Ganda La top encompass the Zanskar range on the west and Ladakh range on the east. The snow-covered mountains of the Stok range including Stok Kangri are best viewed from the ridge before the pass or from the Ganda Ri peak (5080 m) which can be reached after a short ascent from the pass.

Shingo gorge. The trail from Shingo down to Skiu goes through a green narrow picturesque gorge along the stream. At the end of the way the stream disappears and the valley becomes dry and barren. An old juniper tree with prayer flags marks the entrance to the Skiu village, where the gorge opens out to the Markha valley.

Kaya, Skiu and Markha are the biggest villages in the Markha valley. Actually, these are small settlements still demonstrating the traditional life style. Each village has a Buddhist monastery (gompa) and interesting ruins of ancient castles and forts.

Lhatho Marpo. Lhatho Marpo (or simply Lhatho) is an atmospheric place containing a row of chortens and mendongs (mani walls) located on the high terrace above the Markha river. The place is named after a lhatho ("god's shrine") structure painted with red ochre.

Teacha gompa. The gompa is fabulously perched on a ledge over an almost vertical cliff. Those who climb up a steep path leading to it will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the upstream valley. The gompa, which is presumably dated to the 12th-13th century, was previously a part of the ancient defensive complex.

Hankar. Entrance to the site of Hankar requires climbing up a zigzag path in a narrow gorge rewarded with sudden, impressive view of Hankar plateau at the end. Numerous ancient chortens and mani walls are located under the ruins of the ancient fortified town situated on a high crag.

Nimaling lakes. Two small lakes located at the entrance to the Nimaling plains provide a stunning view with the snow-covered Kang Yatze mountain in the background.

Camping in Nimaling. Camping on the green high-altitude pasture lands in Nimaling, at the base of Kang Yatze peak, is a highlight of the trek. Due to glaciers of the Kang Yatze massif the weather is unpredictable here. There is a chance of rain showers, snow and freezing nights during the whole trekking season. Hankar and Markha villagers bring their herds of sheep, goats and yaks to Nimaling for grazing during summer. The shepherds' huts with sheep and goat pens are located near the campsite giving possibility to observe their everyday life.

The gorge below the Kongmaru La. The gorge between the Kongmaru La basecamp (Lartsa) and the Chukirmo camp looks like a landscape park with beautiful rock formations. At one point, there is a picturesque "rock gate", which is a narrow passage through the red rocky cliffs with a stream in between.

Homestay trekking

It is possible to do this trek entirely on your own without any equipment and horses by staying in traditional village houses with a host family. There are a number of homestays in each place, except for Yurutse where a single house may be overcrowded. The cost of homestay accommodation is Rs 1500 per night per person (as of 2019). It includes one night stay, dinner, breakfast next morning and a packed lunch for next day. In Nimaling, where there is no permanent habitation, a night stay can be done in a tented camp run by local villagers (for the same price). Also, there are numerous tea houses and parachute tents (small shops set up by locals) on the way. Some of them also provide small tents for a night stay. A good idea is to hire a local guide who can teach you more about the local culture and help in navigation if you are a beginner in trekking. You need not pay for guide's accommodation in homestays as it free for guides.

Difficulty grade

Markha valley trek is considered to be of moderate difficulty. Although being not technically demanding, the high altitude provides an additional challenge to the hike. Crossing two high passes, Ganda La (4970 m) and Kongmaru La (5260 m), as well as a night stay in the Nimaling camp (4840 m) requires good high-altitude acclimatization. Tourists without prior experience in high altitude trekking often underestimate trekking in the Markha valley. As a result, many trekkers are urged to turn back at Hankar or Tachungtse due to altitude sickness after several days of hiking up the Markha valley. Walking at an appropriate pace, however, shouldn’t represent a problem for anyone in good physical condition.

While the trail is good and clearly visible most of the way, near the Markha riverbed the original path can be destroyed by the floods and you should ascend and follow a precipitous traverse on a sheer slope. Consequently, in some places the current path can be a bit tricky to find. There are several stream crossings, including at least one crossing of the Markha river (about 2 km upstream the Markha village), which may be difficult or even impossible in the evening time.

For homestay trekkers, there are several long segments requiring 7-8 hrs walking, which can be really tiring and demanding. For example, the walking between Yurutse and Shingo includes a long 800-m ascent to Ganda La and then a long 840-m descent. Having a tent can give you an advantage of more flexible itinerary, because there are a lot of camping places along the whole route.

When to go

The best time for the Markha valley trekking is from June to the end of September. During the summer months of July and August, the Markha valley warms up. Due to the high season the route is somewhat overcrowded in this time. However, it is not a rule, since it depends on how many groups start at the same time and in the same place. Even in the high season you may be accompanied on the path by only a few travelers hiking at the same pace. If you want to avoid the overcrowding of tourists, plan your trek for the months of June and September, when the weather is still pleasant.

Although Ladakh lies in the rain shadow of Himalaya and receives very little annual rainfall, July, August and September months can be quite rainy depending on the monsoon intensity. Despite the title of "High-altitude Cold Desert", the weather in Ladakh has changed significantly over the last decades, with a high possibility of periods of extreme heat or heavy rains.

During winter (from late November to March), trekking in Markha valley is still possible, although more challenging because of the cold and the snow conditions. The minimum temperature can go as low as –30°C. Feasibility of trekking in winter greatly depends on the snow fall. Until the heavy snowfalls which can occur in January or February, it might be possible to cross Ganda La with hardly any snow on the trail. However, it is more safely to get to the valley starting from Chilling. Occasional hardy trekkers hike from Chilling up to Hankar staying in homestays. After heavy winter snowfalls trekking over passes can be difficult until May. Heavy winter snowfalls and extensive snow melting in spring can make trekking difficult until the end of May.

Access routes to Markha valley

The valley of the Markha river has 6 traditional access routes.

1. The first and easiest one is by crossing the Zanskar river about 4 kms upstream the Chilling village. Previously, there was a trolley bridge across Zanskar near its confluence with the Markha river. As of 2019, there is a new, motorable bridge across Zanskar with a road which goes up to the Skiu village over the low Kuki La pass. This route is used by tourists who prefer to skip the abrupt increase in altitude at the Ganda La pass and acclimatize more comfortably.

2. The second route starts from Spituk in the Indus valley, crosses Stok mountain range via the Ganda La pass and enters the Markha valley near the Skyu village. This route is probably the main entry point used by trekkers.

3. The third route connects the Nimaling plateau with the Indus valley (near Martselang) via Kongmaru La pass. Since the trekkers usually go along Markha in the upstream direction to gradually ascend to the high Nimaling plateau, the Kongmaru La is used as the main exit point. It is possible to use this route as entry point and to start the trek from the Chogdo village, which is now connected by road to the Indus valley. However, it is not recommended due to a very long climb to Kongmaru La with an abrupt altitude increase on the first day.

4. The fourth route is locally known under the name of Jumlam and used to be a major trade road. It starts at the side valley of Chacham Togpo (not far from the Techa gompa), crosses Rabrang La pass and then Kharhak valley, leading to Zangla in Zanskar.

5. The fifth route goes up the Langthang Chen valley over the Zalung Karpo La pass from which it leads southward to Dat in the Kharnak valley.

6. The sixth route starts from the Nimaling plateau, goes via Lhalung La and Chaktsang La passes to the Lato village in the Gya-Meru valley.


The duration of the Markha valley trek depends on where you start and end your trek and how fast you hike. There are two popular starting points for the trek, Zingchen and Chilling villages. Starting the trek from Chilling saves one day and allows to avoid the sharp elevation gain (Ganda La pass) in first days. Most travelers finish trekking in Chogdo village, which was connected to the Indus valley by the motorable road in 2018.

The duration indicated below includes only trekking days.

Duration of classic trekking itineraries:
Zingchen–Chogdo route: 6 days
Chilling–Chogdo route: 5 days

Duration of non-strenuous trekking itineraries (hiking for no more than 5-6 hrs per day):
Zingchen–Chogdo route: 7+ days
Chilling–Chogdo route: 6+ days

Duration of superfast (demanding) trekking itineraries (up to 8-10 hrs of hiking per day):
Zingchen–Chogdo route: 5 days
Chilling–Chogdo route: 4 days


Classic trekking itineraries

Option 1 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Yurutse (4-5 hrs)
Day 2: Yurutse to Skiu via Ganda La (7-8 hrs)
Day 3: Skiu to Markha (6-7 hrs)
Day 4: Markha to Thachungtse (5-6 hrs)
Day 5: Thachungtse to Nimaling (3-4 hrs)
Day 6: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 2 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Ganda La base (5-6 hrs)
Day 2: Ganda La base to Skiu via Ganda La (6-7 hrs)
Day 3: Skiu to Markha (6-7 hrs)
Day 4: Markha to Hankar (4-5 hrs)
Day 5: Hankar to Nimaling (4-5 hrs)
Day 6: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 3 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Yurutse (4-5 hrs)
Day 2: Yurutse to Shingo via Ganda La (5-6 hrs)
Day 3: Shingo to Chaluk (6-7 hrs)
Day 4: Chaluk to Hankar (6-7 hrs)
Day 5: Hankar to Nimaling (4-5 hrs)
Day 6: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 4 (Chilling–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Chilling to Sara (6-7 hrs)
Day 2: Sara to Markha (3-4 hrs)
Day 3: Markha to Thachungtse (5-6 hrs)
Day 4: Thachungste to Nimaling (3-4 hrs)
Day 5: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 5 (Chilling–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Chilling to Skiu (3-4 hrs)
Day 2: Skiu to Markha (6-7 hrs)
Day 3: Markha to Hankar (4-5 hrs)
Day 4: Hankar to Nimaling (4-5 hrs)
Day 5: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Non-strenuous trekking itineraries

Option 1 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Ganda La base (5-6 hrs)
Day 2: Ganda La base to Shingo via Ganda La (4-5 hrs)
Day 3: Shingo to Sara (5-6 hrs)
Day 4: Sara to Markha (3-4 hrs)
Day 5: Markha to Thachungtse (5-6 hrs)
Day 6: Thachungtse to Nimaling (3-4 hrs)
Day 7: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 2 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Ganda La base (5-6 hrs)
Day 2: Ganda La base to Shingo via Ganda La (4-5 hrs)
Day 3: Shingo to Chaluk (5.5-6.5 hrs)
Day 4: Chaluk to Markha (2.5-3 hrs)
Day 5: Markha to Thachungtse (5-6 hrs)
Day 6: Thachungtse to Nimaling (3-4 hrs)
Day 7: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 3 (Zingchen–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Zingchen to Rumbak (3-4 hrs)
Day 2: Rumbak to Ganda La base (2-2.5 hrs)
Day 3: Ganda La base to Shingo via Ganda La (4-5 hrs)
Day 4: Shingo to Sara (5-6 hrs)
Day 5: Sara to Markha (3-4 hrs)
Day 6: Markha to Thachungtse (5-6 hrs)
Day 7: Thachungtse to Nimaling (3-4 hrs)
Day 8: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Option 4 (Chilling–Chogdo route)
Day 1: Chilling to Skiu (3-4 hrs)
Day 2: Skiu to Sara (3-4 hrs)
Day 3: Sara to Markha (3-4 hrs)
Day 4: Markha to Hankar (4-5 hrs)
Day 5: Hankar to Nimaling (4-5 hrs)
Day 6: Nimaling to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (5-6 hrs)

Additional options
+ acclimatization day in Rumbak
+ additional day in Skiu (side trip to Zanskar gorge)
+ additional day in Nimaling (exploration of Kang Yatse base)

Superfast trekking itineraries

Superfast (demanding) itineraries are similar to classic itineraries but include a long day of hiking from Thachungste to Chogdo via Kongmaru La (8-10 hrs)


The Markha valley trekking route falls entirely within the borders of the Hemis national park. The park was founded for protection of the Markha, Rumbak and Sumda Chu catchments. The park is home to a number of mammal species having an endangered or threatened status, including the snow leopard (shan in Ladakhi), Ladakhi urial (shapoo) and a small population (about 20 animals) of Tibetan argali (nyan). It is believed there are about 200 snow leopards in the park, especially in the Rumbak valley. Snow leopard sighting is best in winter (especially in February and March), when they come down to the valley in search of food. Special snow leopard sighting treks to the Rumbak village are organized during the winter. While snow leopards are extremely shy and hard to spot, their footprints and other marks are common to see. However, any villager along the route will surely tell you a story of catching a snow leopard from the window of his/her house during the winter.

The bharals or "blue sheep" (napo) are fairly common in the park, and there is a good chance to spot them in many places along the trek. A small population of the Siberian ibex (skin) is also present in the park. The Eurasian lynx (eeh) was spotted in the Rumbak valley, but it is much rarer than the snow leopard. The Tibetan wolves (shanku), red foxes (watse) and mountain weasels (lakimo) can be occasionally encountered along the route. The Himalayan marmots (phia) can be frequently spotted near the Ganda La and on the Nimaling plains. The white-tailed hares (ribong) are abundant around the upper Ganda La basecamp, where they can be easily viewed in the early morning. Tachungtse is a good place to observe pikas or "mouse hares" (zabra) whistling and playing in a short distance from the tents.

The green willow-covered valleys and canyons along the route offer opportunities for birdwatching. Some birds including several Tibetan species are not common in other parts of India. The small sized birds include the sparrow-like Brown Accentor and Black-winged Snowfinch, the orange-throat Robin Accentor (Bangma-tsildir), the yellowish Tickell's Leaf Warbler and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, the bright pink-colored (only males) Streaked Rosefinch, the black swallow-like Blyth's Swift, Red-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting, Horned Lark and White-throated Dipper. Like everywhere in Ladakh, Eurasian Hoopoe is also very common along the Markha valley trek. The black jackdaw-like Red-billed Chough and yellow-billed Alpine Chough nest on cliff tops and readily visit campsites to find food. A Common Raven can also be spotted. The chicken-sized Chukar Partridge (srakpa), a light-brown bird with black and white streaks on flanks, is common along the trail. They can be observed pecking at the dry horse and mule dung producing a chicken-like clucking call. When disturbed they run uphill very fast with their chicks. The Himalayan Snowcock, which is much rarer and of larger size, can also be spotted. Among the birds of prey, Golden Eagle (laknak), Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) and Himalayan Griffon Vulture can also be seen.

Mountain climbing

The Markha valley trek is easily combined with and recommended as an acclimatization trek for Stok Kangri (6154 m) climbing. However, from 2020 for at least three years Stok Kangri is closed for climbing due to overtourism.

The Markha valley trek offers a variety of alternatives for mountaineers. There are several 6k peaks to climb around the Nimaling plateau. The most famous 6k peaks include Kang Yatze I (6400 m), Kang Yatze II (6175 m), Dzo Jongo (6235 m), Dzo Jongo East (6150 m), Regoni Mallai Ri (6075 m) and Tasken Ri (6000 m). The nearby smaller peaks include Shaldor Ri (5915 m), Konga Ri (5740 m) and Vatseri (5650 m).

Crossroads of historical trade routes

The great importance of Markha valley in ancient times is confirmed by the high concentration of ruined fortifications found in the valley. While the valley has one of the lowest agricultural capacities of the region, the ruins of no less than 17 fortifications are found there. Furthermore, the ruins of 3 settlements (including Chaluk) are located in places with almost no surrounding fields. This suggests that the former wealth of this area was relied on the trading routes crossing the Markha valley [1].

The Jumlam route played a significant role in the past, especially for the exchange of butter and barley from Zanskar and salt from the northern Changthang lakes. Another trading route which connected Khaltse and Wanla with Gya and Rupshu valleys (passing through Hinju, Sumda, Chilling and Markha) presumably existed previously. This is supported by the finding of the ruins of the ancient bridge across Zanskar in Yaru (between Chilling and Sumda Do) in 2007. The inscriptions written in Brahmi script found in that site shed light on the past importance of this bridge connecting the Markha valley with western destinations in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir [1].

Thus, two main axes crossed the Markha valley. One axis, from south to north, is the Zanskar-Ladakh Jumlam route, which was preferred as being shorter then other itineraries. Other axis, from Gya to Khaltse, connected Upper Tibet (on the east) to Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir (on the west). The latter route offered a considerable advantage over the route along the Indus valley (between modern Upshi and Mahe), because all streams on the way were easy fordable with the only major bridge to be crossed above Zanskar in Yaru. These facts explain why the Markha valley, being such a small valley with little food resources, has such a rich archeological heritage.

Archeological heritage

The comprehensive description of the archaeological heritage of the Markha valley is done in a recent work of Devers and Vernier [2]. The archaeological heritage of the Markha valley includes prehistoric rock art, ruins of fortifications, abandoned settlements, Buddhist monasteries and monuments. They are listed below in upstream order, starting from the mouth of the Markha river.

Prehistoric rock art

Prehistoric rock engravings (petroglyphs) are found in several places.

1. Two carved boulders are located on the Dzasa Thang plateau, a large open space along the Zanskar river at the confluence with the Markha river. The boulder at the northern end of the plateau is carved with a few uncertain animal images. The boulder at the southern end of the plateau contains several anthropomorphic figures depicted in various positions along with ibexes, wild sheep and other unidentified animals.

2. The second site is located just near the place known as Lhatho Marpo. It is a boulder engraved with several petroglyphs, including a hunting scene and two possible mascoids (mask-like human faces).

3. The third rock art site is near the ruins of the ancient Thinlespa village (also known as Tinle Katpa or Tunespa) located on the long morainal terrace between the Markha river and a side valley. North of the castle ruins there is a boulder engraved with a dozen petroglyphs attributed to the Bronze Age. They depict animals (an ibex and wild sheep), some unreadable designs and a surprisingly realistic mascoid figure [2].

Ancient fortifications and abandoned settlements

In the late medieval period, the people of Markha valley established an extensive defensive network of fortifications now found in ruins. The most noticeable fortification sites include the following.

1. In the Kaya village, there are ruins of what is locally known as "Royal Storehouse Castle" or Gyalpo Dzö Khar containing several ancient buildings and a rectangular tower (3 x 3 m at the base, height of 4 m) overlooking them. It is located on the western crag of the side valley which divides the village in two parts. The purpose of this building is not clear due to lack of historical sources, while the word Dzö (mdzod) may mean both a storehouse and a treasury.

2. In the Skyu village, the "Royal Castle" or Gyalpo Khar is located on the eastern side of the side valley of Shingti Togpo, on the slope facing the Markha valley. It is in a very decayed condition. There is a ruined three-leveled building with a palace-like appearance, which is made of mixed-stones masonry with timber lacing. Above the castle, the top of the crag is marked with two lhatho structures and the prayer flags. The castle is linked to a local tale which says that a long time ago, a local Buddhist king married to a Balti princess lived in the castle. One day the queen had a dream that foreshadowed a flood devastating the valley. At that time, the Tachungtse glacier obstructed the Nimaling valley where a lake was expanding. But nobody listened to the queen, not even her husband. She wrote a letter to her parents and sent it in a sealed ibex horn thrown in the Markha river, which is miraculously reached her parents in Chigtan. They came to take their daughter back home. Later on, the glacier dam broke and the Markha valley was flooded. The king died, while the castle fell to ruins. Thereafter there was no longer a king in Markha valley.

3. One more castle is located halfway between the Gyalpo Khar and the next village of Pentse. It is locally known as "Fortress of the Minister" or Lonpo Khar. The castle ruins overlook the trail on the right bank of the Markha river and contain the remains of several buildings. Another fortification can be observed some 500 m higher up on the mountain, with no evidence of a path leading there. The site of Lonpo Khar is marked by a dozen of ancient chortens of different types located in the vicinity, on a small platform above the trail. The chortens are very likely temporarily linked to the castle and emphasize its importance.

4. The remains of a fortified village can be seen in Pentse. The ruins of buildings are spread along the slope facing to the junction with a side valley of Pentse Chu, with three towers located on the top of the crest.

5. An abandoned settlement is located on a small terrace 700 m upstream of Pentse. It is locally known as Gesar Kyi Yul, although its relationship to King Gesar, the Tibetan epic hero, is not clear. There is a spring that emerges from the foot of the terrace, near the willow tree marked with prayer flags. The village vanished, and only ruins of about 30 buildings and 4 chortens are still visible. At present, there are no habitations near this site.

6. The next ruins are located 400 m upstream, on the right bank of the Markha river. They are barely visible on the top of a massive boulder (measuring 14 x 15 x 10 m) with a small grotto on the southern side, just adjacent to the path. The ruins are noteworthy due to a local legend, according to which this was a place where the old grandmother won a Gyalpo ("king") who threatened the Markha valley. It is unclear whether Gyalpo was a demon (gyalpo spirit) or a local king demanding a toll from the villagers. All people fled from the valley before his advance, and the old lady remained alone in the village as she was too old. When Gyalpo arrived, he decided to rest in the old lady's house and fell asleep near the fireplace with his chin lying on the top of his bow. Seeing this, the old lady put more wood into the fire, and the flame burnt the bowstring. The tip of the bow thrust in Gyalpo’s throat and he died on the spot. Consequently, this place is locally known as Gyalpo Shissa Gyak ("where Gyalpo died shortly") or Gadmon Shi Dud ("the old lady killed the devil").

7. The next site containing the ruins of three square buildings of the presumed defensive complex is located about 900 m further upstream, on the left bank of the Markha river (which is opposite the trail). The ruins are located a few meters from a narrow breach in the cliff that allows access to a hidden side valley. This place is therefore known as Domolung, "the valley of the female rock" (rdo mo lung), where the feminine particle "mo" symbolically indicates a yoni-like interstice in the cliff.

8. The abandoned village of Peldot is located between Nakdi and Sara, on the right bank of the Markha river (which is opposite the modern trail and villages). A dozen of buildings made of schist are scattered along the slope, with a tower perched above. This site is probably related to the religious Buddhist cave complex in Nakdi (Nagling), which is about 500 m downstream on the same bank (see below).

9. One more abandoned settlement is located slightly upstream the modern village of Sara, on the opposite bank of the Markha river. Access to the ruins is perilous due to the erosion of the slope's edges.

10. The remains of an ancient village are located at the place of Chaluk (Chalak), where only one house is still inhabited nowadays with cultivated fields spread around the village. The ruins of the two square towers are visible on the crag bordered by the Markha valley on one side and by a side valley on the other one, just next to the bridge over Marka river. Nearby there are remains of a building with only one wall still standing. This wall is made of bricks and mud-plastered inside. The presence of traces of ochre and a relief in the plaster (contiguous rows of 14 cm wide circles) suggests that the building might have had a special, possibly religious, function.

11. The ruins of the ancient Thinlespa village (also known as Tinle Katpa or Tunespa) are located on the long morainal terrace between a side valley and the Markha river that makes a sharp turn here. The remains of the habitations are found at the southern end of the terrace. They feature one or two parallel arrays of stones embedded vertically into the ground to form a rectangular perimeter. At first glance, they are very similar to the quadrate funeral enclosures of the Upper Tibet made in the pre-Buddhist era. However, the rectangular structures of Thinlespa probably represent simply the solid and firm bases for the walls set above, one of which is still standing in one of the ruined buildings. North of these habitations, there are two 9 m-long buildings that form the main part of the ruined castle at the foot of a crag. Up the crag there are the remains of two square towers. The small modern settlement of Thinlespa with a camp site is located 600 m upstream, surrounded by a thick bush.

12. The Markha village has a special historical significance which is emphasized by the fact that the valley is named after it. The village is situated on the highly eroded long morainal terrace oriented south to north on the right bank of the side valley. The ruins of the palace, which is locally known as Markha Gyalpo Khar ("Royal Castle"), are located on the southern part of the terrace. It is an impressive three-story building of multi-colored cobble masonry in the Tibetan architectural style. Its ground floor consists of several stores organized around a central hall sustained by round wooden pillars. The second floor contains a large reception hall with two carved square wooden pillars and a large blackened kitchen. The top floor contains a room which might have been the private chamber or chapel. A lhatho structure is located at the north-eastern corner of the roof. The palace is surrounded by a stone enclosure. At the foot of the terrace (on its eastern side) there are well-preserved abandoned buildings of the Hemis Labrang which was used to accommodate the monks of Hemis monastery during their stay in the valley. North from the palace there is a cliff topped with a ruined fortress which is the most heavily built defensive structure of the Markha valley. It is a massive quadrangular tower, three- or four-story high, made of large stones with timber lacing. A nearby ruined building featuring blind walls probably represents a grainhouse.

13. At the mouth of the next right side valley, about 1.5 km upstream the Markha village, there is a small ruined castle on a crag. This place is locally known as Thangring. The ruins contain a 3 m large irregular pentagon tower made of large cobbles and angular stones. The current access to the castle requires climbing. Unlike the later and larger defensive fortresses of Skyu, Markha and Hankar, this small outpost was probably built for resisting the local brigands.

14. 600 m upstream, the Markha river confluence with the stream of Shakhyam Tokpo (also known as Chacham Togpo or Chacham Nala) is marked with a noticeable finger-like rock on the left bank. Under the rock, the remains of dry schist walls are visible on a steep slope. This site might played a role of customs or a fort on the Jumlam route to Zanskar, which started up the Chacham valley. Caravans using sheep and goats as pack animals transported salt and barley along this route until the late 1980’s.

15. The site of Techa (also known as Tacha, Teacha or Tetsa) is located 800 m upstream, at the sharp bend of the Markha valley. Probably, it is functionally linked to Shakhyam in guarding and locking the valley at the Jumlam route. The defensive structures occupy two crags separated by the side gorge on the right bank of the Markha river. The eastern crag is crowned with a small monastery, known as Techa gompa, at an 80 m height above the river. The modern zigzag path to the gompa is constructed on the slope facing the Markha valley, while the original path (now partly destroyed) connects the top with the side gorge. The remains of various buildings (presumably of a defensive purpose) are spread over the relatively flat top of the eastern crag and the slope along the modern path. Another path from the side gorge (which is also partly washed out) leads to the western crag. The ruins of a 3 x 3 m square tower are situated at its top. The tower's walls were originally made of bricks, but later (probably after a period of abandonment and destruction) hastily rebuilt with dry stones up to a height of 1 m. A 25 m long trench runs from the tower up the crest. One side of the trench is cut in the bedrock while the other is bordered by a 60 cm high wall with triangular loopholes. Ruins of several other small defensive structures are situated nearby. Two of them are oriented toward the Markha valley in the downstream direction, with a view of the sites of Thangring and Shakhyam. In this respect, the western crag is a strategic vantage point to control the Jumlam route. The structures of both western and eastern crags were used as a single defensive complex accessible from the side gorge, which was separated from the Markha valley by a defensive wall at its entrance.

16. The ancient fortified town of Hankar (or Hangkar) is located on the top of a long precipitous crag which lies between the Markha river and a plateau, where the trail passes through numerous chortens and mendongs (mani walls). The defensive walls of the town are formed by the outer walls of buildings and short stretches of breastwork and enclose an area of roughly 80 x 26 m [3]. The path to the ruined town goes up the north slope of the crag and enters it through a narrow space between buildings. While the buildings are located mainly around the perimeter, the interior space of the town is occupied by a number of rough stone enclosures used probably as corrals for animals. There is also a small stone-roofed pit cut in the ground, presumably for storage purposes. The ruins are dominated by a tower located on the northeastern corner of the town and clearly identifiable from the trail. It is roughly 10 m high and is approximately 2 x 8 m in ground plan. The tower is built of very carefully laid mud-mortared stone in random texture. It contains a small (80 x 80 cm) doorframe which is finely carved but very weathered. The tower is too narrow and too inconvenient to be a palace or permanent residence and possibly had a function of a store for the town's wealth or a refuge in time of war. According to a local tradition, the town was once a residence of a lonpo (minister) of Domkhar (present day village on the bank of Indus in the Sham area, about 18 km downstream of Khaltse).

Buddhist monasteries and monuments

1. Ruins of Lotsawa Lhakhang (Rinchen Zangpo temple) in Kaya

2. Skyu gompa with ancient chapel containing Maitreya statue, old chorten with murals, and six carved stone stelae

3. Ruins of Nagling cave monastery complex

4. Lhatho Marpo

5. Markha gompa, ancient chorten with murals

6. Techa gompa

7. Hankar chortens and mani walls

[1] Devers Q. (2017) Charting ancient routes in Ladakh: an archeological documentation. In: Interaction in the Himalayas and Central Asia, Proceedings of the Third International SEECHAC Colloquium, 25-27 Nov 2013, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, pp. 321-338.
[2] Devers Q. and Vernier M. An archaeological account of the Markha valley, Ladakh. Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines (RET), 2011, pp. 61-113.
[3] Howard N.F. The Development of the Fortresses of Ladakh c. 959 to c. 1650 A.D. East and West, 1989, vol. 39, pp. 217-288.