Ladakh is sometimes also known as little Tibet due to its location at the heart of the magnificent Himalayan mountain range. On this trip we start in Leh and the Indus Valley for a few days, visiting the famous monastic festivals of Lamayuru, Hemis, Dak Thok or Phyang depending on the date. These are not only unique cultural events but this also gives us some time to acclimatise to the high altitude. We then ride from the lush Markha Valley into the magnificent Himalayan scenery emerging on the Rupshu Plateau. This is a camping expedition and we are accompanied by pack horses to carry our gear. Riders need to be adventurous and fit, although technical ability is not a prerequisite as the pace is at a walk, mainly due to the terrain and altitude. This is an opportunity to visit some remote monasteries and enjoy the rugged contrasts of the Himalayas.
An optional 2 night extension is offered at the end of this ride, giving riders the opportunity to visit the many splendid buildings such as the iconic Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpūr Sikrī; all three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from RL of St Austell on 24/08/2014
Lamayuru monastery is the largest and oldest religious building in Ladakh - there are more than 50 monasteries under the leadership of Lamayuru with around 300 monks registered there. The monastery holds an impressive position on a hilltop with panorami views of the valley below. The masked festivals bring monks from the surrounding area to come to pray with the fanfare, colourful costumes and traditional music that these festivals bring to the celebration.
This is the biggest and most popular of the festivals and participants celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava. According to legend he fought with demons to protect the people of Ladakh. The main attraction of the festival sees Cham dancers and masked performers depict tales of war between good and evil through dazzling dance moves and traditional musical instruments. Visitors can buy unique artifacts, antique objects, Buddhist dolls, Tibetan gems and hand-woven dresses during the festival from the numurous stalls.
Phyang is one of the ancient monastery's in Ladakh. Dringumpa Monastic Dynasty's founder, Skyabje Jigten Gombo, was devoutly religious and a Thangka was erected in his memory on the site of the Phyang Festival. A Thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton or silk applique and usually depicts a Buddhist deity or scene. Special prayers are performed with the masked monks giving scared dances in beautiful silk costumes. There is also a pilgrimage to the Thangka of Skyabje Gombo and an exhibition of paintings is held inside the monastery.
Dak Thok Tse-Chu:
The word Dak Thok means 'black rock' in Laddakhi and it is a cave chapel which forms part of the Dak Thok monastery. The members of this Buddist sect are followers of Padma Sambhava or Guru Rimpoche who are thought to be considered the founders of Tibetan Buddhism and this festival celebrates the works of Guru Rimpoche's life. The Tsechu festivals are celebrated by cham dancers where both the monks and local people dance and it is also a well known social gathering where local people adorn themselves with fine clothes and jewellery.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are native Tibetan horses; small and calm, very strong, hardy and sure-footed, ideally adapted to the terrain and altitude. The escort team take great pride in their horses and prefer to look after the horses themselves, although riders may be allowed to help if desired. The pace of the ride is not fast, due to the altitude and the walking pace gives ample opportunity to take in the stunning scenery as well as a chance to stretch your legs.
Riders should have a good sense of balance and no fear of heights to participate in this trek as this ride involves long ascents and steep descents. Riders must be fit and healthy as the ride is at an altitude between 3400 and 5200m (11000 - 16000ft), although acclimatisation is progressive. There are stretches where you will need to lead your horse e.g. across bridges and steep descents.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The hotel at Leh is comfortable in double rooms and 4 days are spent here to aid acclimatisation. Excursions are arranged each day. Camping is very comfortable, in two person tents equipped with foam mattrasses. There is a kitchen tent, a dining tent and a toilet tent. A warm sleeping bag is required as nights can get very cold. All the equipment is carried on pack horses. The camp is full serviced with staff setting up each night and preparing full meals.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
General information, correct as of 3rd February 2014:
You must obtain a visa before travelling to India. If you arrive without a visa, you will be refused entry. Visas can be obtained online via the Indian government agency, VFS Global - http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/ On this website you will find a step by step guide outlining the forms you need to fill in. You will also be required to send your passport and 2 approved photographs so factor in enough time for this to be done and for your passport and visas to be returned to you. There are a number of companies who will charge a fee to check your information for you before it is submitted, so you could take advantage of these if you are not confident that you have filled out the forms correctly. There are also Visa collection centres in London and Leicester, however these do not guarantee a same-day visa and can entail hours of queuing.
Always keep a copy of your passport and your Indian visa separate from your passport, in case of loss. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months. For further information on entry requirements, visitors are advised to check with the Indian representation in the UK at India House, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4NA. Telephone: (020) 7836 8484.
The British High Commission in India can be found at Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi - 110021. Telephone: +(91-11) 26872161. Email: postmaster.nedel@ fco.gov.uk.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office also provides travel advice on their website at www.fco.gov.uk
Temperatures in Ladakh, range from -3 to 30 degrees Celsius in the summer. Mainly sunny in the daytime the temperatures can plummet at night. The sun's effect is multiplied many times at altitudes of this magnitude. You could therefore suffer from conditions as diverse as frostbite and sunburn at the same time, if you're not well protected.
Anti-malaria precautions are advised as necessary to some areas at certain times of year. If you have recently visited a place known for yellow fever you will need a vaccination certificate. Your G.P. will advise on necessary vaccinations and precautions.
For up to date information on health matters please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org or visit the departmwetn of health's web site on www.dh.gov.uk
The pace of the ride is deliberately slow to minimise the chances of altitude sickness. Riders should be generally fit and healthy.
Voltage is the same as in the UK and most appliances such as battery chargers for videos, hair dryers etc. can be plugged in with appropriate adapters. These are available for purchase at most airports and travel shops
It will be possible for electrical equipment to be charged while on the hotel portion of the holiday, but not while camping so extra batteries are a must or a solar charger. Mobile phone coverage is limited to the big cities.
Clothing should be comfortable and well-tested. Boots should be low-heeled and suitable for both riding and walking, worn with half-chaps for riding. Clothing that can be layered is useful, as the temperature can fluctuate quickly. Luggage should be kept to a minimum and in soft holdalls or duffelbag as it is transported by packhorse. Sleeping bags are required and you may wish to bring a sleeping bag liner.
Essentials that you should carry with you to cope with the climate in Ladakh are:
sunscreen of at least 50+
lip balm & moisturizer
UV protected sungasses/goggles
plenty of batteries for camera equipment or a solar charger
water purifying tablets
T-shirts & long sleeved shirts
change of shoes for evenings
windcheater or light waterproof
warm woollen or fleece clothing
gloves and scarf
a hat or woollen cap
personal toiletries / medications
This is a set departure trail ride comprising 15 days / 14 nights / 8 riding days. Departures can be tailormade for groups of 8 or more in the summer months of July and August.
2021: July 4 (Phyang Festival); July 17 (Toktok Festival)
For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
Very fit non-riders may wish to accompany the ride hiking, while their packs are carried on the horses. The pace allows this to be done with ease.
Ladakh and the surrounding area is a haven for wildlife. There are herds of Bhoral (Blue sheep), ibex, Tibetan gazelle and yak. The elusive snow leopard and lynx have also been sighted. It is a bird-watchers paradise, with golden eagles, lammergeiers, bar-headed geese, brahminy ducks and the rare black-knecked crane all found in the area
Due to the nature of the terrain, and the altitude, the trip may be modified for reasons of security, the weather or unforeseen events, and events outside the organisers control. The organisers, the guides and the local guides will make every effort to find the best option even if means changing the itinerary or route.
India forms a natural sub-continent with the Himalayas to the north. The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which are sections of the Indian Ocean, lie to the west and east respectively.
The official language of India is Hindi written in the Devanagari script and spoken by some 30% of the population as a first language. Since 1965 English has been recognised as an 'associated language'. In addition there are 18 main and regional languages recognised for adoption as official state languages. There are another 24 languages, 720 dialects and 23 tribal languages.
India will sideswipe you with its size, clamour and diversity - especially if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload. Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you.
The time difference for India is GMT/UTC +5.5hrs and the dialling code is +91. India has adopted metric weights and measures.