In Feb 2015, a new steel bridge was installed across the river Zanskar above Chilling village connecting the villages of Skui and Kaya with the mainland. Unfortunately, due to the flash floods of Tsarap Chu later that year, the bridge got washed away. Fast forward to today, a new bridge has been installed which will be inaugurated soon, mostly by end of August 2018. Across the bridge, there is a jeep track that extends to the twin villages of Kaya and Skui. The Jeep track was built many years ago.
Misinformation on the internet
Lately, a lot of misinformation is being floated around on the internet about a road being built through Markha Valley all the way to Hangkar!!! Some overzealous tourists with good intentions but without checking the veracity of the facts or understanding the repercussions of their statements are going on and on about how the roads are going to destroy the Hemis National park. And these have created an adverse ripple effect that is going unnoticed.
There is also a map being circulated with a road marked all through Markha Valley which has definitely scared away a lot of trekkers including backpackers who had plans of trekking through Markha this year. Eager travelers are falling prey to this fake “news” and are deciding to fall back on their travel plans to Ladakh even when assured about the actual state of affairs by hapless trek operators. They are raising concerns about the peace and quiet that would be eroded with vehicles and crazy bikers plying on the roads inside Markha Valley, about the loss of pristine wilderness.
This blog post is to clarify the present state of affairs and why we shouldn’t be bogged down with these concerns today.
So, Here are the facts:
1) Bridge construction across the Zanskar: TRUE!
The brand new bridge constructed across the Zanskar above Chilling is almost ready. It should be inaugurated anytime soon. The dates being floated for the inauguration is between mid-Aug to mid-Sep. Only after the inauguration would vehicles be allowed across the bridge. The vehicles allowed would be restricted to local ones, only from the villages of Skui and Kaya.
2) Road Construction: through Markha Valley – False!
There exists a jeep track only till Kaya/Skui, which is about a couple of hours of walking from Chilling Bridge. After Skui, there exists only a trekking trail all through Markha Valley until across Kongmaru La, up to Chokdo Village. After Chokdo, there is a jeep track again until Shang Sumdo. Between Skui village to Chokdo is at least 4 days of awesome wilderness trekking through Markha Valley.
Once the new bridge is complete and inaugurated is when people can even think of a road through Markha. Since Markha Valley is part of ‘Hemis National Park’, permission for a road to be built will be a tough ask. There will be opposition from many quarters including
- The Wildlife Department – Hemis National Park is home to the elusive and endangered Snow Leopard and other wildlife endemic to the region
- Trekking community
- ALTOA (All Ladakh Tour Operators Association)
So, getting the necessary permissions and for construction to begin will take a lot of time. And even if and when the permission is granted, it will be at least 4-5 years of continuous work to build a road through Markha Valley, all the way to the last village which is Hangkar. From Chilling Bridge to Hangkar Village is at least 5 days of trekking. A road connecting the entire valley is not going to come up overnight, especially in a place like Ladakh with such extreme temperatures and a short summer season.
3) Bikers inside Markha Valley: So not happening!
It will take many years before you will actually see bikers inside the Valley. For now, the jeep track exists only till Skui village. After that, there is nothing at all. Just a rough hiking trail. There is no way Bikers and other vehicles can go beyond Skui/Kaya even if they were allowed to cross the bridge. For this year, there will definitely be checkpoints once the bridge is built to make sure only vehicles of Skui/Kaya are allowed to cross the bridge and drive ahead till Skui.
This entire ruckus is adversely affecting the actual stakeholders;
The Villagers and Homestay owners across the Markha Valley:
Construction of roads to connect the villages is an essential and important part of development welcomed by locals. To curtail vehicular movement, measures like checkpoints at different entry points to the National Park will be taken to restrict tourist’s movements to either hiking or cycling. The villagers beyond Skui, who have opened up their homes as homestays for backpackers and travelers, have taken a big hit this year with the misinformation that is scaring away hikers from trekking through Markha Valley. The summer season between June to Sep is when the people are out and about earning money that they will have to subsist on during harsh winters.
Ladakhi Tour Operators:
Many ground tour operators are locals who have walked the trails themselves since their teen years. With all the wrong facts speaking louder than the truth, they stand to lose their incomes this summer.
Markha Valley might be soon well connected by roads. SOON. But not NOW! Not this summer season at least.
Hikers and travelers should be enjoying the few good years of its remoteness, arid beauty, the vast and expansive Nimaling grasslands and the spectacular pass crossing over Kongmaru La overlooking Mt.Kang Yatse and Mt.Dzo Jongo.
Markha valley trail is the most popular trek in Ladakh ever since it opened up in late 70’s. The authentic Ladakhi village experience and culture have been a treat to all those who have walked the trail and more than 50% of Ladakh’s organized treks go through this region. So, we invite you to come to trek the Markha Valley without heeding the naysayers as long as it can remain wild and pristine.
Lets stop singing requiems even before the end!