Ladakh is place that never fails to awe its visitors. Be it the picturesque valleys, the rugged mountains, the azure lakes or the difficult trekking trails, Ladakh seems to have it all to captivate the souls who are always in search of nature’s wonder.
During the summers, Ladakh is vibrant with all the colours and sound of life. The same place bears a desolate and bleak look during the winter months. It is almost cut off from the rest of the world during this time and almost all the passes connecting Leh are closed due to heavy snowfall. The only way you enter Leh is by flight! Some of the villages become inaccessible during the winters due to snow and one can reach such village by trekking though frozen rivers!!! Yes, that’s Ladakh for you…
The Zanskar River is a wild river gushing through the ravines and treacherous canyons of Ladakh. During the summers, the mighty river flows with all its fervor. But, during the winters, the river freezes and calms down. A blanket of ice forms over the river – thus letting the locals who are trapped in the inaccessible Zanskar villages walk over it and reach towards civilization in case of exigencies. This frozen blanket or “CHADAR” is the only way in and out for the Zanskari villagers in winter.
The temperature during this time can be as low as -10 degrees in the morning and -25 degrees in the evening! A seven to eight days hike in inhospitable conditions over the river would take you from Padum, capital of Zanskar valley to Chilling, near Leh. The CHADAR Trek, according to me is not just a trek; it is symbol of hope and optimism. It signifies the indomitable spirit and courage of the people of the region.
The CHADAR trek is now perhaps one of the most glamorous treks in India! But, walking over thin ice layer over a fast flowing blue river, shouting bloody hell at -25 degree (we did the trek with INDIAHIKES) or posing in front of a frozen waterfall is not all about CHADAR frozen river trek. Imagine the thrill of walking with a large backpack over a few inches of thick ice below which the chill, rapid waters of Zanskar is gushing through!
The locals who walk down the boulevard of Zanskar, from Chilling to Padum in the span of a week sleeps in the caves of the canyon walls.
For the trekkers the CHADAR Frozen River trek starts from Chilling, a few kilometers ahead of the Zanskar-Indus Sangam point and leads through the narrow canyons of the Zanskar valley. The trek ends at the Nerak village. The breathtaking views of golden mountains, frozen waterfalls, hanging icicles the babble of river few inches below your feet is sure to mesmerize you.
The chilly winds is sure to blow you away and the freezing cold nights at the campsites below the clear starry skies would make you realise what CHADAR really is! And after a couple of days in CHADAR, the sound of the flowing rivers underneath your feet will indeed be like music to your ears.
The sound of the CHADAR changes according to its thickness. And if you are lucky enough, you might even spot the footprints of snow leopards on the snow.
Early mornings in CHADAR will seem like you are inside a refrigerator. Your hands and feet will go numb. The only therapy here is to walk and walk fast until your feet response again. As you walk down the CHADAR, the sun will play hide and seek with you. You will definitely crave for the warmth of the sun here.
The entire trek path is not uniform. At places you will find fresh snow, while at other places you have to tread on hard ice. Walking on soft snow is relatively easy than walking on hard ice. You have to walk slowly in a penguin kind of way.
Also there are chances that you will fall down. But don’t worry, it happens to all. Experienced trekkers as well as the locals fall down on hard ice. The only thing you do in such situation is to rise again and start walking again with the same zeal and spirit. And at some places, there is no CHADAR at all!! It is broken, weak or not formed. Here you have to make your way through the chilling water.
And if the water is quite deep, you have to climb over the mountains to cross the broken CHADAR.
CHADAR boasts of some very difficult campsites. The locals usually stay at the caves during the night. If you are going with some trekking agency, you might be provided with tents. Personally, our favourite campsite is the Shingra Koma campsite. It is a big campsite beside a frozen stream. As you walk down the stream exploring, you will encounter a frozen waterfall. The whole place will look as if straight out of some Hollywood movie.
CHADAR Frozen river trek is an ultimate experience for all the wanderlust. So what is keeping you back? Shed your inhibitions and venture for this trek. You will return a much stronger person and with memories which you can cherish and brag for the rest of your life. After all, it’s not every day that you walk over water and sleep at -25 degrees !
The trek route:
Leh – Tilat Sumdo – Shingra Koma – Tibb – Nerak – Tibb – Shingra Koma – Tilat Sumdo – Leh
We had a wonderful experience at Chadar Frozen river trek. Please feel free to comment and add your experience too. Also we welcome any queries regarding Chadar….