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Sham trek: A trail description
Sham trek: A trail description
Duration : 4 - 6 days
Grade: Easy to Moderate
Altitude: Between 3,474 to 4,110 mts
Sham trek: A trail description

Day 1
A bus ride takes you to the village of Basgo to the north-west of Leh in one and a half hours. On the way you pass the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers and the green fields of Nimo village. Basgo was once the ancient capital of western Ladakh. Its impressive fort has been declared a World Heritage site. 

A 30 minute walk above the village takes you to the Tunglung area of Basgo, where five households offer traditional Homestays.

Day 2
A 3 to 4 hour walk westward takes you over a plateau to the village of Likir. At Likhir, visit the Likhir gonpa (monastery). This monastery is believed to date back to the 11th century. The Gyalukpa order was later established in the 15th century by Lama Lawang Lhotos. Likhir is one of the most active monasteries with 100 monks in residence. The Gonpa has a museum which houses a fine collection of old thankas.

The Homestay village of Tarutse (3,527 mts) is just across the Likhir river. Tarutse and Likhir lie in the lap of a mountain, gorgeously patterned with horizontal striations. Your trek to Tarutse starts immediately past the first mane wall on the main road. Descend down the mountain side and cross the river over the bridge. There are about 25 houses in Tarutse, of which four houses offer Homestays.

Day 3
The trek from Tarutse to Yanthang-tokpo is a four hour walk, so you could start leisurely after a good Ladakhi breakfast.

In the village, the trail passes by a latho, and many chortens. Get up to the Government Primary School to start your climb to Chagatse-la (la refers to a mountain pass), which is at a distance of about 1 ½ kms. The pass is at a height of 3,610 mts. The climb is a gentle one, and the mountains on either side are excellent habitat for urial. Soon you pass a mane wall: remember to walk on the left side in reverence as the Ladakhis do!

At the pass, you can see the motorable road to Yanthang-topko. The trekking trail descends down the mountainside (don’t take the road), but joins the road in a short while.

The trekking trail and motorable road are now one. Keep walking along the road. Soon the road bifurcates, with one arm going downwards in a series of hairpin bends. Avoid going down, but keep going straight ahead for at least two kilometers.

In a while, you will see Sumdo village (3,474 mts) in a valley, a two-household village. But before you start your descent down to the valley, climb up the hillock on your left to get a view of Alchi village in the distance. From the hillock you get a fabulous 360° view of the Himalayas.

The approach to Sumdo village takes you past three mane walls, across the Saspochey stream over a bridge, and by a stupa. After the first mane wall, climb over the stones edging the road to continue on the trail, past the next two mane walls.

Just past Sumdo village you begin to climb to the next pass: Phobe-la at a height of 3747 mts. (Note: you don’t enter Sumdo village, but skirt by it). As you start climbing up, fascinating mushroom rock formations greet your eye. Look out for a sign that directs you to a trail that turns left. The walk to the pass is not a strenuous one, but if the sun is strong it can be sapping. Do remember to carry water and a cap/hat to avoid feeling exhausted.

At Phobe-la, the trekking trail meets the motorable road all the way to Yanthang village, the second of the Homestay villages. The three homestays are at Yanthang-tokpo (3,560 mts) or lower Yanthang: at the fork, take the higher road on the right. Past a chorten on your left, and just opposite the Government Primary School, the trail descends down into the valley below. (If you miss this, then there is another possible descent further ahead.) The views of the valley from above are spectacular, the Homestay houses are nestled in a verdant valley with towering mountains as a backdrop.

An optional two hour hike down stream from Yangtnag tokpo takes you to the famous Ri-dzong monastery. The Ri-dzong monastery was founded over 135 years ago and is of the order of the Ge-lugs-pa or the ‘yellow hats’. Ri-dzong follows the rules of monastic life very strictly. The monks do not own anything other than their religious robes and books.

 After visiting the monastery you may continue to hike to Ulley village past Yangthang tokpo. This will however, take you about 5 hours.

Day 4
Day 4 takes you to Ulley village, the highest village on the Homestay route, at a height of 4,050 mts. Ulley village offers spectacular vistas of the mountains: they cascade one behind the other for as far as the eye can see.

Leave Yanthang-tokpo for the Ulley trail. A tarchen greets you where the trail meets the motor able road. Turn right on the road and walk up to the bridge. Just past the bridge, the trail turns left opposite a camping site. Keep walking up (avoid crossing the stream by the first bridge) with the stream on your left. You may want to spend a while at the stream to watch redstarts and Brown dippers. If you are lucky, a pika may reveal itself from its burrows further up stream.

Keep climbing, and cross the stream at the second bridge. Now the trail starts an ascent and you are kept company by more mushroom rock formations in the mountains above all along the way. A trained eye may spot heart shaped scrapes below overhanging rocks, a sign left behind by snow leopards of their presence in the area.

A tarchen and three stupas will be the first signs of Ulley village. The village comes into view after you cross the second prayer flag. Ulley has four homestays.

Day 5
The trail to the next Homestay village, Hemis-shukpachan, starts to ascend a little below the village of Ulley, before the three stupas. Then, the trail turns right to the Spango valley, with mushroom formations on your left. The area is excellent habitat for ibex: look out for them on the high ridges of the mountains on your right.

As you reach the end of the ridge, a valley joins from the right called the Spango. You descend a little to this valley floor and then gradually ascend up the main valley bottom.  Afer walking up for a while the trail starts to climb up towards the Spango-La pass. This pass is the highest point on the Sham trekking route at 4,110 mts. At a certain distance you see the meditation house of the Head Lama of the Ri-dzong monastery on your right. You may take 1 ½ hours from Ulley village to the pass.

The trek from the Spango-la to Hemis-shukpachan is a gradual downhill. You should be able to complete this stretch in a total of two hours, of which the last 1 ½ hours is on the motor able road. Hemis-shukpachan has four homestays.

Day 6
As you leave Hemis-shukpachan, you pass by a grove of juniper trees on your left. There are not too many juniper trees in Ladakh and hence, Hemis-shukpachan is famous for having a grove of them! The trees, held sacred by the local people, are protected by the Forest Department.

It may take you about an hour to reach the Rongtil-la. A beautiful vista of green and maroon mountains welcomes you at the pass. The trekking trail descends down hugging the mountain side on your left. About midway down, the trail turns to the right and takes you down to the narrow valley from where you do a traverse up along the mountain on the right side or the South facing slope. MAKE SURE YOU AVOID GOING RIGHT DOWN THE TRAIL THAT CONTINUES FURTHER SOUTH AS THIS WILL LEAD YOU AWAY FROM THE CORRECT TRAIL. Soon you see the flags of Meptak-la to the far right. Take time off to refresh yourself with water from the nearby spring. A rather steep climb up a narrow scree-filled mountain path takes you up the pass. The walk from Rongtil-la (3,816 mts) to Meptak-la (3,845 mts) takes approximately an hour.

The trail from Meptak-la to Ang (3,556 mts), the last of the Homestay villages, goes over gentle undulating mountain sides, and often criss-crosses the dry stream bed. Suddenly, you see Ang in the distance. Keep walking and soon the mane wall welcomes you to one of the eight homestays at Ang.
In Brief:                                                                                   

Duration: 4 - 6 days

Trek Grading: Easy to Moderate

Altitude: Between 3,474 to 4,110 mts

Highlights: Rugged landscape that keeps changing colour and form. Excellent habitat for viewing wildlife, especially ibex and urial. Important cultural landmarks are Likhir and Ri-dzong (from Yanthang-tokpo) monasteries.

Support services: Homestays provide you with a comfortable room with clean blankets, and good Ladakhi food. You may wish to carry a sleeping liner.
During the trek you may carry a bottle to refill water, seabuckthorn juice, and snacks like dried apricots, nuts, etc.

Clothing: A gore-tex jacket or a wind sheater, good hiking boots, a wide brimmed hat, sun glasses with plenty of sun cream.

Emergency: Only basic medical facilities are available on this route. Telephone facilities are available at Tarutse, Hemis-shukpachan, and Ang.

Thankas are scroll paintings on cloth, of a religious subject, used in worship.

Mane walls are Buddhist prayer walls with sacred mantras and inscriptions carved on stones.

Lathos are stone structures surrounded with horns of yak and mountain goats, and adorned with prayer flags and juniper branches.

Chortens are Buddhist stupas, and are built at entrances of villages. These are found in 8 different shapes, each depicting an event in the life of the Buddha.

The urial (called shapo in Ladakhi) is an endangered wild sheep and is endemic to Ladakh.

When Ladakhis climb up to a pass, their custom is to shout Kiki Soso Lhargyalo, which means “truth will always prevail or victory of good over evil.”  You may want to do the same at the passes along this trail!

The tarchen is a highly auspicious prayer flag with the wind horse on it which symbolises grandeur and stands for high spirits.

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