I had been to Ladakh for the first time in 2011 summer timeframe. We were there to visit tourist spots like monasteries, Pangong lake, Nubra Valley, and to bike on the highest motorable road in India (the Khardung-La pass). The tranquil atmosphere and the sheer natural beauty had puzzled me and I vowed that I would return to this heaven. Before we move forward, I would like to thank my friend, Santhosh HV for organizing this first Ladakh trip, this one was special!
The Journey begins..!
It was in October 2012 timeframe that my friend Koteshwar Rao and I decided to do Chadar trek. We had done booking for Roopkund trek Uttarakhand with Indiahikes, but due to official reasons, we could not go ahead to do the trek. We informed Indiahikes and they were supportive by allowing us to do any future trek by just paying the differential amount. My first trek was due. We looked for the upcoming treks and saw images/videos of the frozen river Chadar trek in Ladakh in January end.
Yes you read it correctly; a trek on frozen Zanskar river in Ladakh in winter timeframe :)
Few videos/websites claim it is the wildest trek in the world and the entire trek is 17-21 days where a trekker travels from Chilling to Padum and then traces the journey back. But most Indian hiking communities offer a cut-down version of 6-8 days Chadar trek.
This Trek is named Chadar because in winter, Zanskar river freezes due to the negative temperatures and looks like a blanket of ice/snow. There exists only a small window, just a month in the whole year when this trek can be completed because during this timeframe, a relatively stable ice layer is formed on the river to walk on. It was a 7 day trek in extremely harsh conditions where the average temperature in daytime is -5 to -10C and during the night, temperature can go as low as -25C. Terrain-wise, it is a relatively flat walk, but the impact factors here were the environmental conditions and the long distance on ice one has to cover 12-15kms daily for 6 days. Daytime would be spent walking on Chadar typically 9am-3pm and night stay would be in tents. To survive such low temperatures, layered clothing was suggested where one has to wear around 3-4 layers on the upper half of the body and 2 layers on the bottom half.
Yes the trek seemed a daunting task specially for a first time trekker. Amidst all this, there were a lot of chaos in my personal and professional life during that time. I wanted to punish myself mainly for 3 reasons,
- for few of my decisions that I had taken in the past
- I was taking some things for granted
- I was not working hard to improve myself on certain things
Cross-checked everything in the list of things to carry by Indiahikes including the warm clothes, medical kit and trek gear, my friend koti and I landed in Leh on Jan 27th morning. The breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains just before landing had already set the adrenaline pumping, and we were told the outside temperature was -6C at the time of landing around 11:30AM. Everything was covered with snow on our way to the guest house. The first day in Leh was kept to acclimatize to the weather conditions and low-oxygen supply in the air.
Next day Jan 28th morning, I had a chat with my family members for the last time as there would be no network for the next 6 days, we had breakfast and left in a bus for for a 3 hour drive to the trek base camp named Chilling. Out of 21 from our group, 3 participants backed out just before leaving as they were not feeling well. 3 members from Indiahikes, 1 trek lead and around 25 local Ladakhi people as porters to carry food and trek stuff such as tents, sleeping bags etc. were with us when we reached Chilling. We descended some 200ft to set our first steps on Chadar and Tilat sumdo camp site beckoned us.
Next 6 days.
Day1- Trek around 12kms from Tilat Sumdo to reach Shingra Koma.
Day2- Trek around 15kms from Shingra Koma to reach Tibb
Day3- Trek around 12kms from Tibb to reach Nerak. From the camp site, trek around 1200ft elevation to reach Nerak Village, be a Zanskari for few hours and head down to the camp site.
Day4 (Nerak-Tibb), Day5(Tibb to Shingra Koma) and Day6(Singra koma to Tilat Sumdo) retrace your path to reach back and head back towards Leh.
We covered around 80kms in 6 days walking on ice and snow and where the ice was weak, we had to find a way from the mountains till the Chadar became stable. All this was with a 10kgs backpack on the shoulders. The trekking pole, gum boots and the cramp-ons played a crucial role in the completion of trek. Walking on snow was easier than walking on ice and mountains. Sun was visible only in few patches as in other places, it was blocked by mountains. Nature showed it's supreme power, we were mere culprits before it. Nature humbled me with extreme conditions. Legs and shoulder pain had become a regular affair.
The trek guides were amazing in gauging which route would be the best by estimating the depth of ice or water. On all days, my clothing consisted of
Innermost layer being thermal-wear
1 full Tshirt
1 thick jacket
2 layer of gloves in hands and 3 layer of socks inside the shoes.
Taking a leak and taking a dump was so awkward as were bundled up in layers.The toughest hours of the day were in the morning from when once wakes up to when the trek started. Even to eat, when we removed the glove from one hand, it quickly became numb and painful. The foot was in pain throughout the 2 hours till it received blood-flow from walking. All this pain went to sub-conscious mind when we saw the breath-taking views of frozen waterfalls, the colorful mountains,floating ice on river, and felt the sensation of flowing zanskar river beneath our foot-steps. In between, few unpredictable things like landslide from a mountain while our group was moving, few people loosing balance and getting wet in the water,and the previous batch returning from halfway due to water ahead as a result of Chadar not forming happened. But our batch was really lucky to complete the trek safely and on time.
While walking on the last day, I saw a great deal of analogy between Chadar trek and Life.
1. The trek had ice, snow, mountains and water patches, similar to the journey of life which has joy, sorrow, ups and downs.
2. During the trek, we could not predict the behavior of Chadar. Everything was controlled by nature. Similarly in our life, the supreme power up there controls everything. We just need to do our daily chores with our full dedication and without worrying too much about the results, leave the rest to luck.
That last moment when we completed the trek will remain embodied inside me. It is more important to feel strong than to be strong, and that moment I was feeling strong. I was slightly misty-eyed to complete my first trek and have an enriching experience. The sound of breaking chadar as we walked on it, the sound of flowing river, the color of mountains and the waterfalls that had frozen will always remain inside my heart. As a trekker, my trekking expedition has just started and I will surely come back in the mountains in the near future. When, I will let the time to unfold it for me :)
Special thanks to my amazing trek group who made the trek so much fun , Indiahikes team for their excellent management of the trek, the porters who carried all necessary stuff for us to have a comfortable stay in the night, and to the trek guides who helped us at every instant of the trek.
A Rookie trekker.