I had first thought of this Trek in last year October,
There were objections by my mother and father.
I still went on with my decision without their imprimatur,
Almost missed my flight at the airport check-in counter.
Faced nail-biting cold, survival dilemmas and harsh weather,
In the end, nothing deterred me from completing the Chadar.
In a nutshell, That’s how I would describe my experience. Now, allow me to fill you in on the details.
There's a lot of rumour-mongering about the difficulty of this Trek. So much so, that a night before my flight to Leh, I met two people at Zostel Delhi who flew back from Leh the same day after completing the trek. Their testimonials left me quite aghast especially when they said two people died on this Trek in their group. I informed my father about it and he relentlessly tried to talk me out of the trek again, I still persisted on my stand. I invited one of those guys I met in Zostel to check out my gear, if it’s appropriate. He saw all of it and requested me to buy some more woolens from an Army Shop in Leh. As for the two people who died, one was extremely obese and unfit, the other had contracted hypothermia. Freaking out much?
Don’t Worry. There was a man weighing a quintal in our group, who finished the trek with ease. In hindsight, I found out that the obese person who had died previously had an allergic reaction after taking Diamox (Oxygen tablet). So please do not take these tablets mindlessly on someone’s advice if you’re unaware of such allergies about yourself. As for the person who contracted hypothermia, that’s easily avoidable at your instance.
Nevertheless, I mustered the courage to embark on this trek after putting all this behind. I almost missed my flight at the Airport. I began to wonder, is this a bad omen of more uncertain things to come? Probably my mind was playing games, Probably not. Wait until the end of this article and judge for yourself.
Before landing in Leh, I wore all of my woolens as a precautionary measure to avoid exposure to the chilly winds. So I wore 4 layers both above and below. I landed in Leh, it was -3 degrees and I began sweating quickly. The gist is, every person has their own resistance level to cold weather. I live in Chandigarh, which has a decent winter. Besides that, I had outdoor fitness sessions before the trek to raise my resistance. Which is why, I took off two layers while my other friends were still feeling cold. Minus temperature is just a state of the mind, to be honest.
We checked into Lyon Guest House, arranged for us by our travel agent. Guess what? No Water in the taps, no electricity, no functional toilets. I feel like I’m on the Chadar already. The guest house staff gave us buckets of water, so your only instrument for doing everything is a mug. They gave us heaters in the day but for some demented reason they took them away in the night, albeit for themselves maybe. So my first night was basically tantamount to a night on the Chadar, except that there were 4 walls, instead of the tent. This seemingly awful arrangement prepared me mentally for what beckoned in the next few days.
I went to the market, bought gum boots (barely 350 bucks), and stocked up my woolens. There are plenty of blogs out there who will tell you all sorts of stuff to carry. It essentially boils down to three things:
1. Your fitness level – will entirely decide how much weight you can carry. I was carrying 12 kgs on 4 days and 20 kgs on the last day. So basically, carry excess luggage/ miscellaneous stuff only if you have the capacity to carry.
2. Resistance to Cold – Every person has different resistance levels. There were some people at the trek whose feet were still cold after wearing 4 pairs of socks, while I was wearing two. Therefore, The day you land in Leh, Try these combinations and take/leave stuff accordingly.
3. Strong Mental Attitude – I saw elderly people, Indian and Foreign, I saw kids doing this trek. If they can, so can you.
Next day, we left early and drove to Chilling, the starting point of our trek. The place where everyone was camping is known as Bakula. Other subsequent camp names were too confusing and hard to remember – Names like Shera Koma, Shera Kongma, Shera Yokma etc. So we’ll just stick to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 camp etc.
We begin walking on the Chadar around 2pm and it’s way too slippery. An incipient nervousness had taken over before the trek began. I had read certain blogs which mentioned that people must walk like a penguin to avoid slipping and injuring their back or hips. This uneasiness gradually dissipated en route as I became comfortable walking on the Chadar, my trekking pole came in very handy! (Some gifted people completed the trek without even slipping once!)
Everyone was too busy taking selfies after every turn, so we reached our base camp in 2 hours, which was actually a 2 kilometre stretch usually covered in 30 minutes.
I must tell you, The formation of the Chadar and surrounding landscapes changed after every 100 metres. It was literally breathtaking! We hiked up a bit and took some stunningly surreal time lapses.
After Day 1, I had summed up Chadar already. A simple yet gruelling trek. I say simple, because there's no slope, as one walks on a frozen river with myriad formations. Gruelling, because of the inclement weather that beckons. Braving temperatures of -35 degrees is a herculean task in itself. It's like you're somewhere in the Arctic. Avian and mammalian creatures were hard to spot though.
The temperature is astonishingly low, so much so that ice chunks ornate the river surface en route.
Some stretches of the Chadar had an acutely narrow pavement-like way to walk. Having already slipped once, I was overly cautious of my footsteps. Would certainly not want to lose footing and slide into the chilly water.
We began Day 2 early. I glanced at the marvellous snow-laden landscapes on the way, ornating the rocky terrain. In addition to this, I also observed the undulating & unpredictable Chadar which freezes and melts contemporaneously while we crossed the obstacles. I had a tete-a-tete with a localite on the way. His name was Dorjee, a resident of Naerak Village which is nestled deep in the Zanskar Valley.
Amidst the extreme weather, he traverses dozens of kilometres on the frozen Zanskar River everyday to fetch firewood so that his family can survive the winter ordeal. He recently became a father and is solely responsible to fend for his family. There are no radio or mobile towers on the Chadar route, except for one satellite phone at Naerak Village. Physical people to people contact is their social media. When the Chadar is about to melt, he gets apprehensive about his safety, fearing he might drown in the unknown.
Such stories really are heart wrenching. I salute this hero, who is a true warrior.
Moving on , I found Day 3’s camp to have the best location. I had these thoughts pouring in my head :
Far far from the madding crowd,
There's nothing here that is loud.
The River plays a game of shroud,
While I lay back all astound.
I hiked up a little and saw a jaw dropping view of the Valley. From that vantage point, the people trekking on the route looked like ants marching back and forth on an icy mound. As I watched the sun play hide and seek with the clouds, I immersed myself in nature's magnificence.
It was now Day 4 and we were supposed to visit the Majestic frozen waterfalls at Naerak village.
We had just climbed a steep slope,
To click a picture with a view so dope.
Spotted a snow leopard in the terrain behind,
Who scuttled away, never again I could find.
While we were coming back from Naerak, we contemplated whether we should finish our Trek before time. It was Day 4 already, with two more days to go. The quality of food served by the porters was very poor. I'm not saying I expected sumptuous food in the mountains in subzero temperatures, but the taste was even below the most minimal standards imaginable. Our protein bars and other carb stocks were also fast depleting. Besides that, The head guide - Lobsang was being very arrogant. He repeatedly shunned our calls for better food. Another porter - Thille was indecently hitting on a girl in our group. He was cautioned but still did not stop, which really infuriated us. Against this backdrop, we sat down near a bonfire and debated whether finishing the trek before estimated time is doable.
Come morning, we solemnly swore to complete the trek before time, after reaching a serious impasse with the trek guide and his crew.
Schrödinger's cat, that's how I would describe Day 5 of the Trek in short. We begin at 9am. Now here's the catch:
We don't know how many more kilometres are left to reach the end point (Bakula). There are varying narratives - some say it's 25 kilometres, some say it's even more than that. Some say it's a foolish idea to complete it in one go, dampening our spirits. Besides that, There was no network in this quaint and remote location. Hence, We don't know whether there'll be a pick up taxi available for us at the end point. Nor we can call someone in Leh to send a taxi for us.
Against this backdrop, we marched forward.
By noon, we stopped by for lunch. The trek leader was being pesky when I asked him to prepare lunch for the 7 of us. He smirked and said, let's wait for the rest to come. I insisted cause we might get late for the taxi, after which he budged.
We were done with lunch by 12.30pm. At this time, the trek leader cautioned us again albeit in bad faith, that it would take us 5 more hours from here and that it would be impossible for us to reach the end point. We told him we would take our chances.
I was really surprised that we reached the end point within 3 hours, after which we tried to arrange for a taxi/mini bus. There were two buses available though. One was full, the other had two vacant seats. We were 7 of us and couldn't have taken that bus either.
Therefore, we struck a deal with one of the drivers. Gave him 1500/- advance cash. Took a copy of his Bus's Registration certificate. It takes 3 hours to reach Leh from Chilling and mobile network coverage becomes available 1.5 hours before Leh so we told him that after he crosses the coverage point, he should call another driver in Leh and tell him to come pick us up.
While we lay in wait, I took a bare skinned dip in the Zanskar river while the temperature hovered around -20 degrees. I must tell you, the ice floating on the river's surface had entered my ears! It was indeed a spine tingling experience. Completely knocked my feet off. (The dip is in the video uploaded in the beginning)
After that, we filled our tummies with some Momos. It was 9 pm and still no sign of the driver. Moreover, there was another group which had also been waiting for a bus since 2pm. A huge cloud of uncertainty had engulfed us all.
Finally at 9.45 pm, I heard the sound of an engine.
Now here's the catch, we still don't know whether it's our bus or the ones' who're waiting since 2pm.
I rushed towards the bus and breathed a heavy sigh of relief to see it was ours! We quickly occupied the bus and took off for Leh.
Half an hour into the journey, we find ourselves stuck cause of a minor landslide. At this point, I had never freaked out to this unimaginable level. The only thoughts revolving in my mind were to get back to civilization. The 7 of us stepped out of the car, used all the strength that we had, whatever was left of it, to push those massive boulders down the slope. All my fitness training paid off at that hour.
Everything done, we reached Leh at 1am, checked into a hotel, had a long hot shower and nestled into bed.
One Hell of a day and week!
If you wish to know more about the trek or have any queries, hit me up on Instagram: live.earn.travel