Trekking is an unparalleled way to challenge yourself both mentally and physically. Moreover, while trekking, the sole focus is on walking and that is why it takes the mind away from the daily problems and the humdrum of the fast-paced lives we lead, allowing it time to heal. A trek in the snow-clad Himalayas is a trekker’s dream come true and Chadar Trek takes the lead in being the most challenging and the most coveted of all.
Not for novices and amateurs, Chadar Trek in Leh is graded as ‘’Difficult’’ and the 105 kilometre long stretch takes at least 6 days to complete. The trek is so named because the Zanskar river freezes in winter months and looks like a white sheet(chadar). It starts freezing in December and completely freezes by mid of January. During this time, the only access route to the Zanskar Valley is over the frozen river.
How the journey begins
The trek route goes in a circle and begins and ends at Tilad Do. You can catch a flight to Leh and drive to Tilad Do via Chilling. The roller coaster ride extending over 65 kilometres through picturesque scenery gives you a fair idea of the adventure in store for the trek ahead. Tents are pitched at the banks of the frozen Zanskar river for the night and to allow the trekkers to acclimatize to the weather conditions.
Walking the ice
The trek begins with a 10 kilometre walk over the frozen Chadar. Walking over ice takes a while to get used to and you need to be careful to tread only on safe paths where the ice is stable. The best bet is to follow local guides. With the change in climate, Chadar assumes different colours and thickness. Trekking over the frozen river involves walking on ice, waddling in shivering cold water and at times taking a detour over snow covered embankments. Not an easy feat! The temperatures easily fall below -10 degrees during the day and -20 degrees at nightfall, thus it is pertinent to layer yourself well and maintain hydration.
The glory of accomplishment
The trek progresses from the frozen river to the deep ravines of Zanskar where you can enjoy a cup of butter tea at Tibb Cave and lay eyes on a frozen waterfall which will mesmerise you with its spectacle. It seems to be in a state of suspended animation, frozen in time by some wizard’s spell. The trek further leads to Naerak from where you turn back for the return journey. Following the same path back, the trek ends at Tilad Do. Once you reach Tilad Do, you forget all the odds you faced- the inhospitable terrain, the blistering cold and the physically exhausting walk. As you turn back and look at the Chadar, you want to take in its beauty and aura as much as you can, hoping that you take away some part of it inside you while you are very sure that you have left a part of yourself there, for ever!
Important things to keep in mind:
Trekking is not a routine vacation. It can be very dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. If you are planning to undertake the Chadar Trek, you must keep the following things in mind:
- It is not meant for novices. In order to attempt this trek, you must have completed at least one high altitude trek.
- Fitness levels should be optimum. You must be fit enough to cover 5 kilometres in 45 minutes without any stress. You must not suffer from ailments like hypertension, asthma or epilepsy.
- Remember to carry with you a first aid kit and basic medicines after consultation with your doctor.
- Do not skip a meal and remember to keep yourself hydrated even of you don’t feel like drinking in the shivering cold.
- Carry trekking equipment with you as you may not find too many stores in Leh which offer the same.
- Listen to your guide and follow instructions.
- Layer yourself well as the drops in temperatures are quite drastic.
- Protecting your eyes is very important. The glare of sun ray’s reflecting off snow can damage the cornea. Remember to carry and wear dark sunglasses with side covers
- Best time to undertake the trek is between January to February when the ice is most stable.
- Listen to your body and do not ignore signs of exhaustion.
The exotic and challenging Chadar Trek can give you memories of a lifetime besides a deep sense of accomplishment if you just take a few careful precautions.