Shyok River – Origin, Length, Tributaries & Other Useful Facts

The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river, located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The river system originates in the Rimo Glacier of Siachen and flows through northern Ladakh, and enters Gilgit–Baltistan. The total length of the river is around 550 km (340 mi).

The most important feature of the Shyok River is that it originates in the high altitudes of the Rimo Glacier and flows in a south-eastern direction joining the Pangong range. Subsequently, it takes a northwestern turn flowing parallel to its previous path.

A trip along the Shyok River would be an interesting one. The water is clear and the scenery breathtaking. Tourists and adventure enthusiasts worldwide visit the Shyok river to explore the beautiful scenery and experience the rich, colorful culture of the people of the Shyok valley. When visiting the area, you can also plan trekking in Shyok valley.

A road trip towards the Shyok river in Ladakh is thrilling and highly enjoyable if you have planned it well. If you are reading this article to know about the Shyok river in Ladakh, then you are at the right place. This article will provide you with all the required information about the Shyok river.

We arrange tours and trekkings at Shyok river. Contact us to book your trip.

Shyok River Facts

  • The Shyok river originates at the Rimo Glacier, one of the tongues of Siachen Glacier, and flows along the Karakoram Range.
  • Shyok river widens at the confluence before Diskit village with the Nubra River, its main right bank tributary. 
  • It turns into a narrow canyon near Yagulung, flowing through Bogdang, Turtuk, Tyakshi, and then enters Baltistan.
  • The river joins the Indus at Keris, east of the town of Skardu.
  • The Shyok river has significant importance in the deposition of the Quaternary sediments—a treasure for Quaternary geology researchers.
  •  The origin of the river is famous for the distinction of being the highest battlefield in the World.
Shook river in Ladakh

The Shyok river valley

  • The Shok River serves as a vital source of freshwater for the many ethnic groups that dwell in the Shyok Valley.
  • Shyok Valley is the valley of the Shyok River situated in Ladakh and is close to the Nubra Valley.
  • Shyok Valley is located at an elevation of 10,500ft.
  • Khardung La on the Ladakh Range lies north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys.
  • The Siachen Glacier lies partially near the end of the valley.

The Nubra and Shyok valleys are located between the central Karakoram and Ladakh range of northwest India and have preserved excellent sand dune and bar sediments between Khalsar and Hunder village.

Journal of the Geological Society of India

Climate

  • The climate around the Shyok river is semiarid.
  • The annual precipitation averaging less than 8 inches (200 mm).
  • The maximum daily temperatures in summer, often exceeding 86 °F (30 °C).
  • River flow and sediment load are highest from June to September when monsoon rains and glacial meltwater reach a maximum.
  • Winters are cold, with minimum daily temperatures of about 14 °F (−10 °C).
  • Natural vegetation in the higher regions of Shyok is scarce. It consists of short grasses and scrubs. But irrigation sustains the lower valley regions are pretty fertile and abundant in fruits such as apple, walnut, apricots, and mulberry.
  • Crops like wheat, barley, and potatoes also grow profusely along the Shyok valley.

Tributaries of the Shyok river

  • The Saltoro river starts from the Saltoro Kangri Peak and flows in the southwest direction. Another branch begins from the Masherboom Peak, and both of them join together to enter into the Shyok river near Khaplu village.
  • The Chang Chen Mo river originates from the Pamzal region and flows in the western direction to join the Shyok river.
  • The Nubra River is also a tributary of the Shyok River, which joins the Indus River in the Ladakh region.
  • The Galwan River starts from the Samzungling region and flows in the western direction to combine with the Shyok river.

Other tributaries of the Shyok river are:

  • River Chu
  • River Chipshap
  • River Chang Celmo

Why is Shyok called River of Death?

Basically, in Yarkandi, the Shyok river means “the river of death.” In ancient times, several groups of Central Asian traders traveled from Yarkand in Central Asia towards Leh. The Shyok River had to be crossed numerous times and most often during the winter months. But it was relatively the most trouble-free and unchallenging way to cross the Shyok river in the winter season. Many people and herds of animals were swept away by this fierce river, and consequently, it ended up with this intriguing name with a renowned distinction. Fortunately, nowadays, many bridges enable people to cross over safely without any danger.

Best time to visit Shyok River:

Read best time to visit Ladakh

  • The weather and temperature from April to June, before summer, are pleasant to visit Shyok river.
  • The autumn time of September and October is also a good time to visit the Shyok river.
Shyok valley

My travel experience to Shyok river

The journey begins

We packed our bags and started our trip towards the Shyok river. Also, we decided to take an expert guide of Ladakh-tourism with us. We chose to take the guide for our peace of mind that we were always on the right path. We drove a short distance to Sabu Phu (approx 4 km). From Sabu Phu, we needed to trek to reach the Shyok river and the beautiful Shyok valley. As we reached Sabu Phu, we began our trek over the hills. We felt pretty exhausted after hiking for 2 hours, but fortunately, we found some porters waiting there. We handed our backpacks to them and continued to trek for another two hours.

Camping

Meanwhile, we came across a small stream with crystal clear water descending the hill. We noticed that while the surroundings turned drier and barren, the enticing views of the Zanskar ranges and its snow-bound peaks behind us were getting more alluring and fascinating. The Stok ranges were also visible as we ascended upwards. We climbed over the hill slowly and steadily with a few interruptions, which was not at all easy on the first day of the hike. After continuing for 3 hours, we reached a campsite at an altitude of approx 4500m. We could not walk further and asked our guide if we could spend the night there. He agreed, and we rested inside our camps after managing all our camping gear. Our tents were pretty spacious and included a kitchen, dining, and toilet tent.

The next day

We woke up early feeling more refreshed than ever and had our breakfast. We decided to get some morning air and got outside. After a while, we started our hike once again, but we were supposed to take it easy this time. We needed to acclimatize to the high altitude as we were not used to it, so hiking further might lead to altitude sickness. The wind blew gently across the hill and on our faces providing us quick relief from the scorching sun above our heads. We were wandering lonely across the valleys and hills and desperately hoped to meet anyone while trekking. We could hear our voices echoing twice deep in the gorge. Over the next few hours, we came across a herd of yaks and sheeps grazing on the grassy meadows on the way to Shyok river. We also clicked some photos with the majestic mountains and clear blue skies in the background.

The Karakoram and Zanskar ranges

After some time, we reached Digar La, which was located at 5100m (approx 16730ft). From this point, the trail was all marked and decorated with colorful prayer flags. We meandered on the twisted tracks to the top of Digar La (approx 5300m). When we reached the top, in the north, we could see amazing views of the magnificent Karakoram Ranges along with the Saser Kangri Peak with an altitude of 7672m (25171ft). Towards the southwest, we enjoyed the fabulous scenery of the Zanskar Ranges. And the journey continued towards the Shyok river.

Chumik Gongma

We continued to walk across the valley and saw a stream flowing down the hill. For two hours, we followed the stream, and finally, we reached our campsite known as Chumik Gongma (4630m). Chumik Gongma is the summer grassland of the Digar village. With rocky mountains surrounding the open terrain and small, dry shrubs provide fodder for the sheep, yaks, and other animals which graze there in the summer months. We also met the villagers and the native shepherds, who greeted us and welcomed us inside their home and prepared delicious butter tea and some vegetable soup for us. They also offered us some local bread with homemade apricot jam spread over it. Later, we returned to our campsite and had our dinner, which we had brought from the village house. Our tents were not as comfortable as a homestay. We knew that a suitable sleeping bag is an essential part of every camper’s equipment, but the layers of blankets kept us warm and cozy as the temperature declined below the freezing point during the night. We snuggled down in our comfy beds as early as possible for a good night’s sleep. A proper rest was essential to continue the journey tomorrow for Shyok river with full energy.

Kyema Village

The next day we woke up relaxed and relieved. To our surprise, we saw snow scattered all along the ground and the mountains covered with freshly fallen snow. After having our breakfast, we grabbed our backpacks and were on our way to Shyok river. But before that, we had to reach the Kyema village (4000m), located in a bowl-shaped gorge with the mighty Karakoram Ranges in the background. We got there and rested below a shady tree for a while. We regained our breath back and began walking through the green meadows and climbed the marked pass of Kyema La (4500m). When we reached the top, we witnessed the breathtakingly beautiful views of the valley on the other side. While descending down the hill we also came across the confluence of two rivers. We continued to trek till Jukti through Nebuk La (5000m) to Rele village(4400m). We reached our campsite and set up our tents for an overnight stay in the town. We could not hold back any further to get a glimpse of the magnificent Shyok river, which was just a few miles away now.

Shyok river bridge

Shyok River

The next day, we started walking along the gorgeous valley of Tangtse and finally reached the Shyok river. We were at an altitude of 5540m, and the Shyok river stood stiff and frozen in front of us. The wind was harsh and freezing — and we could actually feel the lack of oxygen in the air. The sun was hidden underneath the clouds as they moved and clustered over the mountain peaks, constantly changing their positions to give us stunning scenes of the landscape around us. While we took a stroll across the valley, we enjoyed listening to our guide speak about Buddhism, local monasteries, and his experiences exploring the Shyok region during winters, a time when only the most adventurous enthusiasts hike.

Sightseeing around the Shyok river

The next few days, we enjoyed ourselves at a lodge in Shyok. We were lucky to get a room with amazing views of the Karakoram mountains beyond the river. During our stay at the lodge, we visited some nearby attractions, including the Shyok village. The villagers welcomed us to their homes, where we got to know about the Ladakhi culture, customs, traditional food, and farming methods of the locals that keep them self-sufficient throughout the year.

We also visited Buddhist monasteries and went for a day trip to Pangong Lake and Nubra valley during our stay at the lodge.

Last but not least, we tried our hands at river rafting. We were trained by experienced rafters who knew how to combat certain situations easily. Since we were amateurs, we took an experienced guide with us to follow the signals while rafting down the untamed river.

Conclusion

The dazzling landscapes, rocky mountain terrains, jaw-dropping sceneries, and snowcapped mountain peaks could be seen from every corner of Ladakh. There was still so much to see, visit and explore and without proper guidance, we would definitely miss out on many of the unforgettable moments. So to ensure that you don’t miss out on any of those moments in your dream destination, you must plan your trip and customize your itinerary accordingly.

Insider tips for travelers

  • Shyok river and its valley is a great place to visit in Ladakh. So, if you want to explore the pristine beauty of this place, you should plan a few days of hiking to the Shyok river.
  • Sunrays are of high intensity around the Shyok river during summer, so if you plan a visit in summer, wear sunglasses and use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Check the weather prediction report before planning a trek to the Shyok river.
  • Only postpaid SIM of other states works in Ladakh. So, subscribe for a BSNL, Airtel, or Jio postpaid SIM card before visiting Ladakh.
  • Google Map is working fine around Shyok river, but make sure to download the offline Google map of Shyok river areas.
  • If you are traveling to the Shyok River from October to May, carry some warm clothes and a wind protector jacket.

Please read the World health organisation’s travel advice, before travelling anywhere.

Read Indian Government travel guidelines.

About the author

Sam K. Pandepa is a certified travel agent of Ladakh. He completed his MBA in 2012 and has worked as a tourist guide up to 2015. After that, he is working as a travel agent.