Chadar Trek - Life below Zero

2nd Feb 2018
Photo of Chadar Trek - Life below Zero by Yogesh Raut
Day 1

I had booked Chadar Trek with Delhi based trek organizer Bikat Adventures. All the participants were asked to report to The Tiger Hill Hotel in Leh for a briefing. There were 15 participants in total. The trek leaders Manjeet and Sandeep from Bikat Adventures briefed everyone about the intricacies of the trek and addressed their queries. The session lasted for couple of hours post which everyone was asked to shop for pending things for the trek from the Leh market. Manjeet advised us not to carry unnecessary things and too many clothes for the trek. Therefore, we chose to keep some stuff back at the hotel.

Somewhere near Chilling, Leh

Photo of Leh by Yogesh Raut

Shingra Koma - The starting point of the Chadar Trek

Photo of Leh by Yogesh Raut

Astonishing view from Bakula campsite

Photo of Leh by Yogesh Raut

Our playground at Bakula campsite

Photo of Leh by Yogesh Raut

Who wouldn't like taking a quick nap on a frozen river?

Photo of Leh by Yogesh Raut
Day 2

On the chilly morning of 4th February, we left for the trek in a Tempo Traveller at around 9 am. The weather had changed suddenly that morning and we were compelled to wear multiple layers in Leh only. It took us almost 4 hours to reach Shingra Koma via Chilling, a distance of about 70 kms. Make sure you keep your camera and phones ready to capture some good shots of the frozen Zanskar river on the way.

Shingra Koma is a place where the actual trek begins. The other trek groups back from their trek were taking the dip in the cold water of Zanskar. Our local guide for the trek, Chomdan asked us to wear the gumboots. Sandeep gave us a demo on how to walk on the ice and how to fall as well. When you fall, your brain instructs you to fall either on your wrists or elbow as a kind of safety mechanism. This is something trekkers have to avoid while walking on the Chadar. Sandeep showed us how to make sure that you fall on your rucksack without banging your wrists/ elbows on the ice and getting them hurt.

After 5-10 minutes of practice, we finally started our trek. The distance between Shingra Koma and Bakula is merely 1.5 kmand takes about 30-45 minutes to cover. We reached the Bakula campsite at around 2 pm. The porters put up the tents at a distance from the Chadar on a hillock and served us tea and lunch.

After some rest, we assembled on the Chadar for another practice session. It was an icebreaker session in a way. Apart from walking and skidding on the ice, we played Ice Kabaddi and Football which was full of fun. While on our way to Bakula, I was under impression that I had learned to walk on the ice pretty well as I never fell during this short journey. That happiness didn’t last long. It was this session during which I experienced what it feels to fall on the hard ice sheet. Nonetheless, it turned out to be the best part of the entire trek. The session actually succeeded in turning all strangers into friends.

Frozen waterfall on way to Tsomo from Bakula

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Frozen waterfall on way to Tsomo

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Best moment of the trek

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut
Day 3

Our trek leaders, Manjeet and Sandeep had set a time rule for the morning – 6:30 am (get up), 7:30 am (breakfast) and 8:30 am (start the trek). The trek began with some stunning views as the sunlight started to find its way inside the valley. And then it was all about skidding and falling on the slippery ice. People were falling down on their wrists, elbows, back. I even managed to fall flat on my face. We even got to slide down couple of small frozen waterfalls.

The only sounds one could hear throughout the walk were the sound of ice cracking under your feet, sound of the strong winds and the rumbling sound of the Zanskar river. We managed to cover the distance of 14 kms in about 5-6 hours. Our camp activities used to be stretching session after reaching the campsite, lunch, then rest followed by games inside dining tent and finally dinner. The meals during the trek used to be tomato/ corn soup, noodles, dal, rice, vegetables, etc. The cooks and porters ensured that our experience in terms of food and other arrangements would be the best.

The stunningly beautiful landscapes on way to Tibb Caves from Tsomo

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

These amazing people made it an unforgettable affair

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Porters - The unsung heroes of any trek

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Somewhere before reaching Tibb Caves campsite

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut
Day 4

The trail between Tsomo to Tibb Caves was probably the best one during the entire trek. Just visualise the combination of white snow, caramel coloured sand, turquoise water and the ever changing colours of the mountains. It was a perfect setup for the photographers to capture the beauty of Zanskar valley. The temperatures during the day used to be subzero only. The pleasant climate and the landscapes were kind of motivation to walk the distance of 10-15 kms daily with a 8-10 kg rucksack on your back.

It took us 5 hours to cover the the distance of 12 kms between Tsomo and Tibb Caves.In comparison to Bakula and Tsomo, it was way too cold at this campsite. Hence, we preferred to take rest in our tents. Although the conditions were good for us to play Football on the frozen river at the campsite, fatigue and the extreme cold played spoilsport and we had to cancel our plans.

Day 5

On Day 4, we were supposed to reach Nerak Frozen Waterfall, also called as the summit of Chadar Trek. But it seemed as if we were not destined to see it. The other trek groups had started their day way too early. Maybe to avoid the crowds at Nerak for the photo-session. However, hardly 1 hour after starting the trek, we started seeing these trekkers returning to the Tibb Caves camp. We got a confirmation from them that it was indeed not possible to reach Nerak that day. We still decided to take a chance and started walking to reach as much closer to Nerak as possible.

After walking for 6-8 kms, we reached Yokmado in couple of hours for lunch. Manjeet and Sandeep took couple of trekkers from our batch to go ahead and check the situation. By the time they got back (some 30 minutes), some of us climbed the nearby hill to get an aerial view of the Zanskar river. As expected, the feedback from the recce team was negative. The Chadar had broken some 1.5 km away from Yokmado, leaving no scope to walk on ice. The option of climbing up the hill for the melted patch and descending to the frozen walkway was useless. The loose rocks on the hill and the scree would have led to a possible fall directly into the freezing cold water. Since we were not going to camp at Nerak, we got an extra day.

Yokmado campsite

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Way to Nerak Waterfall

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Seems like a small whirlpool

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut
Day 6

As we had an extra day on hand, we decided to utilize it in Leh for local sightseeing and for some rest. So we planned to reach Bakula on 5th day, skipping Tsomo. But that meant we had to cover the distance of about 22 kms in 6-8 hours. Another challenge was the melting Chadar. While on our way, we realized that almost all the routes we took while reaching Tibb caves from Bakula seemed totally different.

The Chadar had started breaking at many places and there were couple of patches where we had to climb the rocks on the banks of the river to move ahead. At one such patch, we came across a group of foreigners who had lost couple of their trekmates. Chomdan later told us that one of their trekmates had drowned while the other died due to AMS. The porters from other trek groups immediately emptied a sledge and carried one of the dead bodies. After almost 8 hours of walk, we safely reached our favourite camp, Bakula.

Somewhere on way to Bakula

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Gradually melting Chadar

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Bakula campsite

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut

Bidding adieu to an amazing trek

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut
Day 7

Since we had to cover only 1.5 kms to reach Shingra Koma and then 3 hours drive to Leh, we started Day 6 at around 10 am. The sad feeling of trek coming to an end was subsided as trekkers were excited to take a dip in the water at Shingra Koma. Although I had maintained throughout the trek that I wouldn’t be going for it, I somehow agreed to experience that madness.

We reached Leh an hour late than what we had expected, thanks to the landslide somewhere near Chilling. While on your way back to Leh, do not miss seeing Sangam(confluence of Indus & Zanskar rivers), Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and Hall of Fame Museum. We preferred to spend the next day in local shopping and rest only.

The best trek group ever

Photo of Zanskar Trek, Leh by Yogesh Raut
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