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Shikha Gautam Oct 24 2013

What do I need to know about the Chadar Trek?

Debangana Sen Oct 24 2013
6 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

Chadar Trek (from the official website)

This is a 7-8 days trek on a frozen river in inhospitable conditions, up in the remote reaches of Zanskar. As one of the most unique treks in the Ladakh region, the Chadar trek is slowly gaining popularity. ‘Chadar’ is a Hindi word for cover, used to denote the frozen sheet of ice that forms over the Zanskar river during the winters.

Confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers (by Bodhisattwa)

This ‘frozen river’ becomes the sole access to Leh and the rest of Ladakh for Zanskar locals living in the Padum or Lingshed region, as all the roads and passes are shut down due to heavy snowfall. During summers, the same river becomes a favoured spot for white water rafting.

Trekking on the frozen Zanskar River (from the official website)

This trek is one of the many frozen river treks in the Zanskar region and arguably the most exciting and memorable one. It takes you on an extraordinary journey on a frozen river that winds through a narrow valley and come across some dreamy views of hanging icicles and frozen waterfalls. No adjective can describe the awe-inspiring beauty of this pristine white landscape - jagged and rugged at some places and smooth flat expanses of pure white at others.

Frozen waterfall (from the official Facebook page)

The frozen river or Chadar (by Duong)

Sometimes (almost invariably) you are forced to stop on the way because of heavy snowfall, and you set camp with a nice steaming cup of tea or chhang and watch the beauty of the snowflakes floating down and merging with the rest of the fallen snow. The day comes to an end real fast (around 4:30 pm), so in the evenings after you have secured a resting place in one of many caves along the way and finished your humble but delicious meal of piping hot maggi, you really have nothing to do but gaze at the million stars scattered across the pitch black night sky. And what a view that is!

Camping in the night (by Duong)

The return journey seems like a new trek altogether. The interesting thing about Chadar is that it keeps changing with slight changes in weather conditions. So you may find a river where just two days before, you walked over frozen water, or see small glacier-like structures floating by on your way back where there were none before. The differing intensities of the sunlight also counts for significant changes in the way the mountains and the rocky cliff appears.

River with glacier-like structures (by Srinivasan Adiga)

Though the conditions are inhospitable, Chadar trek is by no means as challenging as it stated by some. In fact, it can also be done men and women without any real trekking experience.

Prayer flags (from the official website)

But, don’t get me wrong, the trek is far from easy. You do have to walk a lot in temperatures as low as -20°C on an ice layer that is only a few inches thick at places, and you’ll have to live on very basic rations. If the thought of walking on thin ice (literally) with the river raging just a few inches beneath your feet, makes you nervous, you are not the only one. However, proper precautions and good personal gear reduces the risk to a minimum.

View on the trek (by Partha)

Here are some of the things you should keep in mind.

1. Getting a good guide is crucial. Attempting to do this trek on your own is probably the worse mistake you could make. Usually post snowfall, it becomes very difficult to gauge the correct footings. A slight misstep and the ice below might crack and you will fall right in the brain numbing cold waters. If that’s not bad enough, the gushing waters below will take you under the ice within seconds.

Getting a good guide is crucial (by Partha)

Opt for a local guide, who will be able to guide you through safer routes so that you avoid areas where the ice is too thin to walk on.

2. Your ideal travel party should consist of a cook and a few porters to carry your belongings and tents. The idea is to travel light but not compromise on the essential gears and rations. The more stuff you have, the more porters you will need. Carrying your own gear may sound good, but you should keep in mind that you will be trekking at a very high altitude where the temperatures usually fall significantly in the sub-zero category. The lack of oxygen and the constant intake of chilled air usually affects even the best of us. So, carrying extra weight might worsen your state.

What you pack is crucial (by Duong)

3. Next, let us come to the personal belongings. You should absolutely have warm waterproof thermals (wear your clothes in multiple layers as it traps the heat more effectively). Jackets, caps (that cover your ears) and gloves are also a must. Try to wear as many waterproof clothing as possible. Wet clothes can be fatal at sub-zero temperatures. Needless to say your socks and shoes should be waterproof as well. This is crucial!

Next come the trekking shoes and crampons. Crampons come in very handy when you have to trek on slippery ice tracks. You really don’t have to go for expensive clothes, just layer 2-3 t-shirts with an inner and put on a warm jacket, and you will be good to fight temperatures in the range of -20s and -30s (°C)

A pair of crampons (by Ddbaisley)

It is also a good idea to pack a pair of gumboots as you will have to wade across the river at places where it is not frozen, and getting water inside your shoes can be fatal. Even if you don’t have all the above mentioned items, you can easily arrange for them on a per day rent basis.

4. Packed food is a complete no-no. They become frozen and too cold to eat, so hot meals on the way is your only option. This is where your cook and the kerosene stove comes in handy. Go for solid food, instead of liquid ones. Apricots and powdered roasted chickpea are an excellent source of energy and help you keep warm as well. As your cook to carry some fermented barley, which can be made into Chhang - a local beer that also helps in keeping you warm.

Hot meals are the way to go (by Duong)

5. Before beginning on your trek, keep an extra day in hand just to acclimatise in Leh. This is very important as Leh is at 13,000 ft above sea level, high enough to cause some serious medical conditions if you are not used to it. Take out a day simply to stay in Leh for a day and have a look around. During winters, the whole town is covered in snow and looks jaw-dropping beautiful. You should also keep aside a day just for emergency/backup purposes

Thikse Monastery at Leh (by Shrikanth Hegde)

6. On especially tricky surfaces, or slippery ice try to do a penguin walk without lifting your foot too much. If you have to cross an area of thin ice, do it from the edge of the frozen river where the ice is much more stable or slide across the patch on your belly, so as to spread your weight over a larger area. There can also be certain places where the ice has formed only on the banks which is is covered by rocky cliffs or covered by a low overhang. You can easily get on all fours and crawl under it and over to the other side. In fact these are some of the fun things that to do on this trek.

Spread your weight on a larger area on thin ice (from the official website)

7. Try to listen to the sounds of the ice layer as you walk on it. Soon enough you will be able to gauge the thickness of the ice beneath by the crunching sound it makes as you walk on it and avoid the areas which are dangerously thin.

The ice can be thin in places (by Partha)

8. Don’t get scared by claw and pug marks on the snow. Big cats are common in this area. They are very elusive animals and will make it a point to stay out of your way, so don’t fret too much.

9. Late January and the whole month of February are the best time to start this trek as the ice is the most stable during this period.

As white as snow (by Partha)

As mentioned before, Chadar Trek is the only route available to the villagers in the Padum and Lingshed region to go to Leh and back. Regular up-downs are done by the locals to earn their wages. The trek itself is the quintessential example of the resourcefulness and the indomitable spirit of the ladakhi people. Though, the trek will soon cease to be the sole mode of access between Leh and Padum in winters. A road is being constructed by blasting off the rock-face above the river. It will be a much safer and convenient route for the locals, but surely mark the end of an ancient local custom.

Yet another mesmerizing landscape (by Srinivasan Adiga)

Below is a workable itinerary for a 8 day trek.

Overnight stay at Leh

Day 1: Drive upto Chilling from Leh (3 hours) and start your trek from here. Head towards Talat Sumdo campsite about a kilometer away (2hours). Night stay in a tent or a cave.

The night sky on the trek (by Duong)

Day 2: Trek to Shingra Koma-Muska La-Choumo Cave. Night stay in cave.

Day 3: Choumo Cave to Tibb (7-8 hours). Probably the most prettiest route in this trek.

Day 4: Tibb to Nerak village and campsite(7 hours). This is where you’ll see the famed frozen waterfall. You will have to cross a rickety wooden bridge from where you get excellent shots of the waterfall. Also this is the coldest point of your trek.

The famous frozen waterfall (by Duong)

The wooden bridge (by Partha)

Day 5: Nerak Village-Lingshed (4 hour trek). Most people end their trek here. To go upto Padum, you need more days in hand.

Day 6, 7 and 8: Retrace your steps back to Chilling.

On the way back (by Partha)

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