The word “Ladakh” means “the land of passes.” A pass is a road or path passing through the mountains. Several passes offer beautiful views of the surroundings. If you like these vantage points, the Sham trail in the Indus valley is one of the easiest choices in Ladakh region. The trail takes you to a number of passes. The trail is named after the Indus, which is known as Sham. The Sham region or lower Ladakh, comprising Khaltse and Saspol blocks, has dry temperate climate. Since the Sham Valley is called Apricot Belt of Ladakh, white and pinkish flowers and / or soft orange apricots on lush trees would greet your eyes depending on the season you choose to hike.
You, especially if you are a seasoned trekker, can measure this easy trail in alpine-style, which means without camping gear and hiring a guide. The simplicity of the hike earned it the epithet of “Baby Trek.”
Less than forty-kilometer-long trail, running north of the Indus River, follows the ancient trade route. A large part of the route is along dirt and / or pucca roads that receive thin traffic. However, you can follow the narrow paths running on the mountain slopes and frequented by locals.
The trail runs through barren mountains of dun color staring at clear deep blue skies. Maroon and yellow color slopes and vegetation patches occasionally further enhance the landscape.
You may spot ibex, urial, and wild deer while following the trail. Be alert! Do not miss the animals.
Likir – Tarutse – Chagatse-La – Sumdo village – Phobe La – Yangthang (About 10 kilometers)
Likir village lies about sixty kilometers to the north-west of Leh town. The eight-kilometer long village stretches between Phu and Tarutse (Taruche). The Likir Tokpo, originating from Kangri Khayapo, Kangri Chungtse, and Kangri Chenmo glaciers, quenches the thirst of the village. A bridge over the stream connects Likir and twenty-five-house Tarutse, nestled in the mountains featuring striations.
A short easy trail (1.5 kilometers) links Tarutse (3,527 meter / 11, 572 feet) to the Chagatse-La (3,610 meters / 11,844 feet). The surrounding area of the trail is home to indigenous urial, endangered wild sheep, which is locally known as shapo. From the pass, the trail takes you to two-house Sumdo village (3,474 meters / 11,398 feet). This trail section lends itself to the views of Alchi village and 360 degree views of the Himalayas.
Skirt the village to proceed to the Phobe La (3,747 meters / 12,293 feet). This rocky and sandy trail section commands views of beautiful mushroom rock formations. Keep walking until Lower Yangthang (3,560 meters / 11,680 feet). Barren mountains make a tall backdrop for Yangtang village amid barley fields.
Spend a full day in Yangthang to hike to Ri-dzong Monastery (for monks) located in a gorge. The two-hour hike takes you to more than thirteen decades old monastery dedicated to the Gyalukpa (Yellow Hat) sect of the Tibetan Buddhism. Highlight of the monastery is the real monastic life. There is a Julichen nunnery for ladies. Rizong is not a village. You can trek to the national highway from the monastery (about six kilometers) and take a bus for Leh if you do not want to continue.
The monastery is 3.5 kilometers away from Leh-Srinagar highway. The monastery faces dramatically rising mountains whose tops are not very far. From Likir, you can see Stakspi La.
The monastery built on a rocky hill in the center of the village comprises several temples, including a gonkhang. The monastery is known for its thangkas, paintings, manuscripts, cham festival, a big juniper tree, and twenty-meter tall Maitreya Buddha statue. The three-century old monastery was set up by Khempo Lama Nari-Tsang. Likir Monastery, probably built in the eleventh century, is dedicated to Gyalukpa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism.
A gonkhang, a common structure in the monasteries, is a temple dedicated to the protector deities. The gonkhang is generally a dark scary place, because it is built to scare evil. The gonkhang features stucco images of deities, including six-handed Mahakala, Vajrabhairava, Yama Dharmaraja, and Shri Kalidevi. The principal protector deity, dharma protector, wears armors of rhinoceros-hide. Unfortunately, you can see faces of the deities only during the festival. The gonkhang also has a collection of swords and guns.
The assembly hall features wall paintings and several red color pillars decorated with thangkas. The museum houses a rich treasure trove of old thangkas.
Yangthang – Hemis Shukpachan (Himis Shukpa)
You have two options to hike to Himis from Yangthang:
1. Yangthang – Ulley Village – Hemis Shukpachan
About five-hour hike to Ulley, located at an altitude 4,050 meters / 12, 287 feet, unfolds lovely mountain vistas. From Ulley, the two-hour trail meandering through the Spango Valley, home to ibex, takes you to the Spango La (4,110 meters / 13,484 feet). From this section of the trail, you can spot meditation house of the Ri-dizong monastery’s head lama and Spangpochigo (5,705 meters / 18, 825 feet), and Shaili Kangri (5,489 meters / 18,082 feet) peaks. From the pass, the downhill trail is easy.
2. Yangthang – Tsermangchen La- Hemis Shukpachan
About eight-kilometer-long trail meandering through Tsermangchen La (3,750 meters / 12,375 feet) is an easy walk.
Himis, about ninety-kilometer from Leh, is named after a grove of cedar / juniper bushes that are locally called shukpa. Juniper is unique to the village nestled amid barley fields surrounded by barren landscape. In Himis, you will find rock engravings featuring Buddha on a lotus flower. Himis has a glacier too: Salkar.
Himis Shukpa – Rongti-La – Meptak-La – Ang (About 10 km)
About an hour’s hike from Himis takes you to the Rongti-La (3,810 meters / 12, 250 feet) that unfolds lovely mountainscape. From the Rongit, you will walk a slim trail hugging a steep slope for an hour to reach another pass the Meptak-La (3,845 meters / 12, 615 feet). This section of the trail is covered with scree. Be careful!
From the Meptak La, you can spot Nun (7,135 meters / 23,546 feet) and Kun (7,087 meters / 23,387 feet) peaks. Then, descend to Ang village (3,556 meters / 11, 666 feet) located amid apricot orchards.
Ang – (Teah) – Temisgam – Nurla – Ulley Tokpo
On the last day, you would walk eight-kilometers along the road until Nurla, where you can catch a bus for Leh. Or you can walk up to Ulley Tokpo, a camping site amid apricot orchards along Srinagar-Leh highway near Alchi. Then take a bus for Leh or Alchi. You can have a glimpse of Spangting (5,620 meters /18,547 feet) peak.
Teah village is an optional destination along the route. You can directly walk to Temisgam from Ang or via Teah.
Temisgam (3,200 meters / 10, 560 feet)
The word Temisgam is derived from “Ting-Sgang” that means “on a raised platform.” Temisgam village, dotted with barley fields and apricot trees, has monuments of historical importance: Temisgam Castle, Chenrazik and Tseskermo monasteries, and Thechen Chosling Nunnery. Chenrazik is known for its Avalokitesvara statue.
Where to Stop for Night
You can stay in guesthouses or home stays offering all basic facilities for a modest price. Most of the villages feature some guest rooms.
Alternatively, you can camp. You will find camping sites near tokpos (streams) and / or monasteries. For example, Likir has a camping site near Likir Monastery. In Yangthang and Himis Shukpa, camping sites are located near the streams.
When to Trek
- Trek in early morning to avoid sapping heat.
- Best time: April-October
- You can also trek during other months of the year but apricot trees would be bare.
What to Carry
- Sunhat or scarf
- If you are planning to stay in tents, carry camping gear and supplies.