Guest post : Originally written in gujarati by Jay, translated by me..
Photographs : By Nigam and Jay.
Julley is a Ladakhi word which is as versatile a word as cheers in British English — in fact, even more so, because it means ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’, ‘hello’, and just about any other positive vibe emotion you can come up with. I guess nothing better than this to start this narrative. 🙂
In India’s northern most part in the Ladakh region in the Zanskar Valley flows the river Zanskar. In winter this river thanks to the extreme cold winds becomes frozen. This post is about our extreme and unbelievably satisfying experience of “The Frozen River Trek”
or “Chadar Trek”
as it is popularly known.
Described by man as India’s most extreme/adventurous/glamorous trek, it had captured my imagination since the last 4-5 years. However, due to no one ever getting ready to accompany me this trek remained only a distant desire. Last year though I decided that even if no one gets ready, I will accompany myself but any how get this trek checked out of my list. Its kinda amazing that once you make up your mind how things start falling into place. My childhood buddy Nigam got ready to accompany me for this trek and my happiness doubled! 🙂 🙂
“Chadar Trek” as it is popularly known is actually an ancient route that has been used traditionally by the people of Zanskar region to reach Leh. In the extremely cold winters where most roads are cut off by snow this frozen river actually becomes the easiest way to commute from Leh to Zanskar and vice versa. When I say easiest, I only mean to use it relatively! 😛 The river gets frozen and a layer of ice forms on it. Whilst you walk on the ice blanket you can at many times see and at most times feel that water is flowing below you. This feeling of walking on a Chadar(blanket) of ice is where this trek derives its name from.
After having gathered information over the years during summer trips to Leh and the internet, we had decided that we would do a Chadar walk from Leh to Lingsed. We gathered as much info as we could and barged into Decathlon Ahmedabad for a loot! We got almost all the necessary gear that we needed from here. We wanted to be well prepared and equip ourselves adequately so that we would give ourselves the best chances of survival and have a wonderful experience.
Finally on 20th January we left Bharuch and on 22nd Morning boarded a flight from Delhi which was Leh bound. We reached Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport at 9.15 am. The moment we hit out of the plane a dry, bone chilling breeze greeted us and welcomed us to icy yet dry and extremely cold Leh. I have been to Leh quite a few times in summers, Nigam has been here twice too, but this was our first experience of coming to Leh in January in the peak of winter!
We were based at Si-ala Guest House where we met our guide Mr Tashi Namgyal. Tashi was a warm and experienced guide and asked us to move about the town of Leh a bit, relax and rest and take it easy for a couple of days to allow our bodies to acclimatise with the surroundings. He asked us to be careful and keep taking enough liquid, since it was too cold the feeling of thirst does not come about as naturally and yet you need fluids in the body to keep you feeling better in this cold & dry region. Let me just say that we did take his advise well 😉
We realised how important his advise was just the same evening, a group of enthusiasts from Mumbai had come with us in the same flight were busy playing cricket in the noon, thinking that would warm up their bodies. However, almost all of them complained of a headache by night. What people at times do not understand or appreciate is the fact that at this high altitude the air is thin and oxygen is less and hence our body takes a little time to acclimatise as it is not used to such an environment. Once you allow your body to acclimatise things become much much easier and you can enjoy to the fullest.
We had a heater in our room but we decided against using it as we wanted to get our bodies to get ready for the trek. We were to sleep in tents or caves on the trek for 9 days and we thought lets get started and used to it. Luckily inspite of such cold weather the pipelines in our hotel had not frozen and there was flowing tap water in the bathroom. After a good nights sleep we decided to skip our bath and thought we will take a quick bath on the day we leave for the trek.
On day two after breakfast we left for the army store to buy the most necessary gum boots which we did not carry as they would have occupied unnecessary space. The army store fellows welcomed us with piping hot tea. 🙂 We moved about the town and also interacted with a few other trekkers who were seen around. It struck us then that Chadar was very very popular and lots and lots of people had actually come.
Nigam, with one foot in(on) the gutter that is frozen and one foot on the road!!!
Whilst quite a few were very well prepared some it seemed had just come to Leh and hoped to plan and find a way around Chadar! We were worried that whilst its great to dare and come, it could be a rude awakening if the blokes were not well prepared as the weather conditions are extreme. During our lunch time discussion with one couple we were taken aback when one husband signalled us to not describe the cold nights that we anticipated during the trek. He later told us he had not told his wife how cold it can actually get coz he feared she might not have come. F.Y.I it can go as low as -35ºC in the nights in the Zanskar Valley. We felt it was unfair to not properly inform someone you brought here, for spending a night in a hotel room with -35ºC is one thing and quite another being in the open in a tent or a cave!
Anyways, on the morning of 24th after breakfast we left for Chilling Village (apt name for a village eh! 😛 ) from where we were to begin our trek. Here the third trekker was to join us. The third fellow was a 65 year young adventure and trekking enthusiast Glenn Morris from New Zealand. Our guide Tashi informed that we would not start our trek from Chilling and actually drove us a little further to Tilad Sumdo. The road beyond Tilad Sumdo was not accessible and this is where we alighted our Jeep(Qualis). The moment we alighted the vehicle extremely cold and gusty winds hit me on my face to make me aware of what was in store! We soon realised that standing in the sun and shade almost fell like a 5ºC difference!
We walked down a 65-70 degree slope and descended on the ‘Chadar’ Our team assembled here and placed the luggage on the sleighs. Our team consisted of the three of us, our guide Tashi, 9 porters, 1 cook and 1 helper. It was 15 of us who were to be together for the next 9 days. A sense of excitement was gripping me and whilst we were looking about and getting ready to walk, Tashi announced that lets begin the trek with a Lunch!!!! 😀 😀 Black tea was to precede all meals, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. We had black tea and a piping hot soupy macroni to fill us up and prepare for our first walk on a river albeit frozen!! 😀 😀 😀
As we took our first steps on the Chadar we remarked how lucky we were to make it thus far and that so many new experiences awaited us, looking ahead I could see snow white paths, golden glistening rocks and an amazingly beautiful blue sky!!!! This was perhaps another attempt at discovering a totally new myself! 🙂
To be contd part -II coming soon! In the meanwhile here are a few pics for you to devour! 😀
A few pictures taken from the plane before it descended at Leh :
An aerial view! Either its white or brown!
They don’t call it heaven just like that do they?! 😛
Adjectives are just not enough to describe!
Some shots from around Leh :
A view from our guest house… All the trees had lost leaves..
A few locals playing ice hockey on a roadside in Leh
The landscape in Leh is completely unique.
And finally begins our journey :
On the way to Chilling village
The bridge on the river Zanskar near Tilad Sumo
The sangam behind us, you can see the more liquid Indus merging with the more icy Zanskar! That is us too in the foreground!
At some places when the water is visible and the chadar has not formed you saw water with an unbelievable turquoise colour!
Finally on the Chadar :
The Team ready with luggage on the sleighs
The macroni we ate and began our journey 🙂 😛