The Indus Valley trek is one of the most popular hiking routes in India.
Located in the Himalaya Ladakh region, close to the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, the Indus Valley incorporates the regions of Leh, Skardu and vast glacial icefields that reach into China.
Home to the Indus River, this valley takes you on a journey through time to when the earliest civilisations in India are believed to have begun.
Compared to other hiking routes in the Ladakh region, such as the Markha Valley trek, the Indus Valley trek is a gentler hike that gives people a taste of the Himalayas without the strenuous challenges.
There are a few possible routes to hike in the Indus Valley, but they all have a backdrop of awe-inspiring mountain scenery, lush green valleys, and desert alpine conditions.
- Ancient monasteries
- Remote mountain villages
- Altitude trekking
- Lush valleys and arid alpine terrain
Trekking in the Indus Valley takes you through some on the least visited parts of the rural Himalayas, where Indo-Tibetan cultures and practices have existed for centuries.
The Indus Valley trek is dotted with many Buddhist monasteries, where the religion has been practiced for many years.
The path follows the flow of the Indus River.
The terrain is undulating and at an elevation of between 3,000 and 3,700 metres, and crosses the mountain passes Phobe La and Charatse La.
Due to the altitude, once you arrive in the region it is a good idea to spend a day acclimatising before you set off on your hike.
Much of the Indus Valley follows the Old Caravan Route, park of the Silk Road route that allowed traded goods to travel between India and Central Asia. Thanks to the Silk Road, Leh grew into a bustling market town.
You will be able to find water supplies from the villages along the way. Purify before drinking.
Leh has a domestic airport that receives flights from Delhi.
You can also get to Leh by road. There are two highways that connect Leh to the rest of the country, the NH 1D Srinagar-Leh Highway and Manali-Leh Highway.
There are buses that run between some of the villages in the region and Leh.
The length of this trek is varied, as there are alternative routes to take. On average, you can expect to hike around 68 kilometres.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Trekking in the Indus Valley is graded as 3/5.
Most hikers of good average fitness will be able to enjoy this trek. Depending on what routes are taken, some may be more challenging while others are easier. Expect steep climbs and loose surfaces.
Some hiking experience is recommended for trekking this region, as this is a remote area with enough altitude to add to the challenge.
If you are hiking with a tour company, you do not need navigational skills as you will have a knowledgeable guide. If you choose to hike independently, navigational skills are essential.
If you do not have much trekking experience, you do at least need to be of a physical fitness and stamina to walk for a few hours per day, carrying your supplies.
You do not need a permit to hike the Indus Valley.
Guided or Self-Guided
The Indus Velley can be hiked either guided or self-guided, but it is more common to have a guide.
There are many tour operators that offer treks of different lengths. If you are not confident hiking independently, walking with a group is beneficial.
Your overnight accommodation and food is taken care of, and you can learn more about the area from your guide.
Unless you are an experienced hiker and know the area, having a guide is advisable. Although the paths may be well-trodden, the trails are not well-marked and it might not always be clear which direction to take.
The best time to hike the Indus Valley Trek is between June to mid-October. The temperatures are stable and are 20-30°C during the daytime.
Off-peak season, there is cold winds and snow that may block some of the higher route. Most tour operators do not offer guided hikes out of peak season.
There are some opportunities to hike the lower levels of the Indus Valley all year round, following a route known as the Sham route, or ‘baby trek’.
A typical itinerary would be:
The most visited spiritual sites in the Indus Valley are the monasteries Shey, Thiksey, Temisgang, Phyang, Hemis, Lamayuru, Alchi, Spituk, Ridzong, and Likir.
Different tour companies tend to have their own trekking itineraries that take you to some or most of these sites.
Spent acclimatising in Leh
Leh to Likir
Likir to Yangthang
Yangthang to Hemis Shukpachan
Hemis Shukpachan to Temisgang
Temisgang to Lamayuru to Leh
For a shorter trek, there is the Sham route. Also known as ‘the baby trek’ the Sham route goes through the lower levels of the Indus Valley.
Leh to Yangthang
Yangthang to Hemis-shukpachan
Hemis-shukpachan to Ang/ Temisgang
Temisgang to Balu-khar/Fort.
The Sham route can also be hiked all year round.
Hotels and guest houses are plentiful in Leh.
Once you head out onto the mountain passes, camping is the usual accommodation. Most tour companies will be able to set up your tent ahead of you, so you can relax once you arrive at the camping site.
Wild camping is permitted. If you wish to camp in the villages it is good manners to ask permission from those living nearby.
In some of the villages, there may the opportunity to stay overnight and have meals at local houses. This helps the community benefit from extra income from tourism.
If you choose to hike out of peak season, there are less options for accommodation as many small guesthouses and local homes may not be open to visitors.
Spend the first day acclimatising and seeing the sights of Leh.
This trek both a hike in stunning landscape, as well as being a place of spiritual importance for Buddhists. Some of the monasteries are remote and beautiful, and add even more to the surroundings.
Look around some of the villages along the route, chat with locals and see how the farming and herding lifestyle works within the alpine environment. You may even be offered a cup of tea.
Take lots of photos of the mountain scenery. There are some great viewpoints along the way.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Length of route||68 Km|
|Average time to complete||6 - 9 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||3800 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|