The vast mountains are my place of solitude, a place to experience my inner self. They never fail to surprise me by their sheer magnificence. And if the place is Ladakh, they make a heady cocktail. Ladakh is a place which never fails to awe its visitors. The colourful mountains make the place even more interesting.
Trekking the Chadar has been perhaps the most unforgettable experience in my life. The Chadar trek is perhaps one of the most alluring treks for all the trekkers. There are more difficult treks than Chadar, but those who did Chadar trek seem to have an extra aura around them. 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 temperatures can be as low as -10 degrees in the morning to -25 degrees in the evening!
The thrill started as soon as the flight to Leh was about to Land at the airport. The temperature outside was 12 degrees below zero! This was announced by the cabin crew. I very well understood what is there in store.
The Chadar trek started from Tilat Sumdo, a few kilometers ahead the Sangam point – the place where the Zanskar and Indus river meets. The trek route is from Tilat Sumdo to Nerak village passing Shingra Koma and Tibb on the way, and back to Tilat Sumdo. The golden mountains on the way, the frozen waterfalls and the hanging icicles are simply mesmerizing.
The mornings at Chadar trek are really cold. I felt I was inside a refrigerator. My hands and feet grew numb. The only therapy here is to walk, and walk fast until your numbness subsides. The sun too plays hide and seek with the trekkers. This is one place where I definitely wanted the warmth of the sun. But having the sunshine on you is a luxury at Chadar trek. Often the chilly winds blows so strong that cold reaches to your bones. The first day I felt why did I have to endure myself to such extremes? But two days in Chadar, the days were no longer an ordeal. Now the sound of Chadar was like music to my ears. The sound of the Chadar changes with its thickness.
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. On hard ice, you have to walk carefully in a penguin sort of way. And at some places, there is no CHADAR at all!! It is broken, weak or not formed. Here the trekkers had to make their way through the chilling water. And if the water is deep, then the only way is to climb across the cliffs to cross the broken Chadar.
Eight days of trekking in a not so friendly environment of the Ladakh mountains was an unforgettable experience. The trek itself is not very arduous, but the conditions are definitely challenging. The trek challenged my limits and I never knew that I could be push myself to such limits. This is one experience which I can brag about always! It is not every day, you get a chance to walk over a frozen river!
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