Chadar Trek- An Extraordinary & Unfinished Journey

Tripoto
23rd Jan 2016
Day 1

My obsession with Chadar Trek started about six years ago before when it was not that popular and was definitely not a trend. I first read about it in an old edition of Lonely Planet magazine. It is actually considered one of the wildest treks in the world and was on my bucket list ever since. And it finally happened in January 2016!

Pardon me for poor quality. I should have kept that copy of the magazine! Image source: slideshare.com

Photo of Surat, Gujarat, India by Hinal Shah

Please be patient. THIS IS GOING TO BE LONG! :p :p

Chadar Trek is a winter trail following the Zanskar river in Leh Ladakh. The word "Chadar" literally means sheet. Due to extreme cold, the entire Zanskar river freezes and turns into a sheet of ice and hence it is called Chadar. The temperature in winters usually ranges from -12 degrees during the day to -30 degrees during the night and can go to as low as -35 sometimes. This river trail connects the villages in Zanskar valley with Chilling (base camp for the trek and around 60 km from Leh). The locals have been using this route for centuries as the mode of commute in winters there is no other link available due to heavy snowfall. Zanskar valley is actually situated some 450 odd km away from Leh by road. But what we do here is a shorter version of the river trail. It is about 8 days long trek covering roughly 80 km and usually follows the route Tilad Do- Gyalpo- Tibb Cave- Naerak.

Booking the trek was easy but then I started having so many questions. What to carry, where to buy, how to prepare to be fit, what to eat, what to drink etc etc. But the most important task was to convince my family that I can do this. Just the idea of living in a -30 degree temperature was driving them crazy. And I realized it all had just gotten real.

Ready, steady and goooo!!!

Photo of Surat, Gujarat, India by Hinal Shah

I took a train from Surat to Delhi and a flight to Leh from there. The views from the flight were mesmerizing. I had never seen a sky that blue and clouds that white! Though don't forget to keep a jacket in your hand luggage. When we landed, flight attendants announced it was -17 degrees outside and it was just 11 am in the morning!

Flying over the Himalayan range.

Photo of Leh by Hinal Shah

If you have the luxury of time, I would really suggest to reach Leh at least a day before. Roam around the city, go sightseeing, explore the market, try local cuisine, mingle around, get acclimatized. I and a friend of mine had reached a couple of days early to explore the city and it was so much fun!! I did not have any health issues through out the trek except for a light headache on the first day. Other than that, nothing. Of course there are other factors but acclimatization is a big one among them. Plus you don't want to start your trek with signs of accute mountain sickness, do you?

Trailer of the next 8 days!

Photo of Leh by Hinal Shah

We started our journey from Leh to Chilling in a small bus. The route is very scenic and covers The Hall Of Fame War Memorial (closed during winters), Shree Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, the famous Magnetic Hill and the confluence point of Indus and Zanskar river on the way.

Photo of Leh by Hinal Shah

Taking the first step on the chadar was an overwhelming feeling. I was so worried the chadar would break with my weight that my trek leader held my hand and actually made me run on the frozen river! There was no looking back after that.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah
Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

A fully formed chadar. Strongest and easiest to walk on.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Formation of chadar at different stages.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Full screen view suggested.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Notice that yellow figure at the bottom? He is our guide and stands almost six feet tall. This trek is a first hand reminder of how tiny we are in front of mother nature.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Can you see little black dots around the middle of the waterfall? Yes they are people. Funny how have managed to ruin the environment despite being so insignificant physically..

Best Republic Day ever!

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Don't forget to give it a special touch! Dive into the river if you find a sunny day.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

Potters and trekkers playing Teen Patti..! :D

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

HOWEVER IT WAS NOT ALL ROSES. NOT FOR US. We had a few hurdles along the way. One of our potters ran away. One potter cut his finger trying to load the baggage on his back. The tip of his finger was literally hanging down. Luckily we had a doctor among us and she gave him basic treatment to stop the blood from flowing away. But it was so bad that we had to send him back to Leh to keep the infection from spreading. Then another got lost with a bag of utensils. We had to borrow some utensils from other trekkers after reaching to the camp. We were three potters down and had lost a big chunk of our utensils by the end of the second day.

Wondering how did we manage? Thankfully we all believed in Sharing Is Caring. So we shared the load. We helped carrying the sledges where chadar was fully formed and riskfree. We helped in kitchen cutting vegetables, cleaning, washing plates or whatever they needed help with. This was fun and really brought us close as a group. But that was not the end.

Chadar was broken after Tibb Cave. We waited at the camp for two days. But chadar was far from being ready. The route ahead was surrounded by steep canyons. The trekkers still could have managed the vertical climbs in between but it was impossible for the potters to climb with all that baggage and sledges. After much consideration, our trek leader took a call and decided to head back. Yes. We were just 13 km away from Naerak (the famous frozen waterfall you see in the pictures) and we couldn't make it. It was disappointing for all but I was more angry than disappointed. I don't know why. I wanted to kill my trek leader at that time despite knowing it is not his fault. I guess I was just emotional. But the adventure was not over yet!

Khardung La Pass in winters.

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

So we had a day extra as we had to cut short the trek. Thankfully, Khardung La pass had just opened a day before and that was the next destination for a few of us! This ride was quite an experience. We had booked an Innova a day before but he arrived with a Maruti Omni the next morning. And I, being a cautious person, was freaked out. I am not a car expert but as a passenger I was skeptical of that car and its controls. But the driver assured us that the car was fine and with chains, it was completely safe. We decided to go ahead. A car is only as good as its driver. Our car did not skid even once. Our driver got to say, "I told you so, madam ji!" and I was totally happy with that. :D

That was our last day in Leh and we partied the hardest that night and were joined by two remarkable women from Indian air force who were off duty that time. They had some amazing stories to share which I can't narrate here as this write up is already long.

Even though we couldn't reach the final destination, I was in love with this journey. I still am. This is one of the most unique and exciting experiences I have had in my life so far. The feeling of walking over the frozen river surrounded by steep mountains and freezing cold water rushing just a few inches below your feet is simply beyond words. Never thought something could be as beautiful and as daunting at the same time. Mother nature I tell you!

Photo of Chadar Trek Ladakh, New Delhi Main Road, Kilokri, Block 7, Madanpur Khadar, New Delhi, Delhi, India by Hinal Shah

One of our guide had told us in the beginning that Chadar is not a destination but rather an experience. I only understood what he meant after the trek. Despite all the sincere preparations, I still had doubts about myself when I landed in Leh. I was probably the heaviest (80 kg) in my group and was worried if my weight would play an enemy even though I was fit enough. I was worried what if I couldn't bare the cold? What if I lose it mentally? What if I step on the chadar and it breaks? I know the last one sounds stupid but I literally had that thought. My head was full of "what ifs". This was not my first trek but I guess the intensity and exclusivity of it was making me nervous.

But as we started the trek, I realized I am healthier (both mentally and physically), more capable, more determined than I thought I was. It was the journey I took within myself with each passing day made it so special. It challenged me, it pushed me, it made me stronger. And for that, I will always be thankful to CHADAR..!! :) :)

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