Chadar Trek 2017

I have always dreamt of doing the CHADAR TREK. I have heard that it is one of the most thrilling and adventurous trek in India. CHADAR TREK LADAKH is a hindi word that refers to a blanket or sheet as the Zanskar river transforms itself from a rapid river into a white blanket of ice during winter. The chadar trek is basically performed on a frozen river called the “Zanskar River”. The frozen Zanskar river served and still serves as the traditional and only way of connect between Leh and Zanskar for the locals in the harsh winter months of Ladakh. It has been used by the locals for centuries.

I had booked by trek with #Wanderers team. My friends had done the trek with them the previous year and they were very satisfied with them. They ensured I booked the trek with WANDERERS only since I was going solo and being a girl it always is about safety first.

Day 1 - The day came, Jan 23 rd , 2017 and I was packed and ready to fly to Leh from New Delhi. I took the Indigo flight to Leh. It was on time thankfully. Sometimes they get cancelled on consecutive days due to bad weather. My luck was on my side. The moment we landed at Leh we were told that the temperature outside was -7C and wind chill was making it -10C almost. Quickly grabbed my extra jacket from the hand bag and put it on, along with a cap that covered by ears. I had been briefed about this by #wanderers in advance.

After checking out of the airport with my luggage, I saw the #wanderers banner on the left held by two men. There were other trekkers too around them and some fellow trekkers from my flight were also happy to see the sign. I realized they were also going for the chadar trek with wanderers. We all went close to the banner and were greeted by the wanderers staff. They quickly introduced themselves as Stenzin and Sam. They took my backpack and hand bag and placed it in the Maruti van that was waiting. 4 of us got in the van and left for the hotel while they waited for more trekkers to come. I got talking in the cab, my fellow travelers were from Delhi and for them too this was the first experience. Their names were Devender, Rajat and Sarita. We were taken to a hotel and were greeted by the staff there. They were expecting us. Me and Sarita were given keys to one room and Devender and Rajat were given another.

Our luggage was helped into the rooms. We were told that breakfast is ready whenever we want. We quickly washed our faces and went downstairs to the dinning hall for breakfast. There were more trekkers there and we all had gathered for Chadar trek. I was happy to see the numbers. Then after speaking to them, I realized that some had already done the trek and had come back and some were going to start after us. As a strict rule with wanderers, they only take 10 -12 trekkers in one group for individualized attention.

Then Lokesh from WANDERERS team came in and introduced him self. Quickly gatherers the trekkers that had arrived today and briefed us about the itinerary and the dos and donts for the next few days. We were advised to take ample rest for the body to acclimatize to the height (Altitude 11,400 ft.) and less oxygen. Post the briefing and question/answer session we went back to our rooms and slept off. Woke up around 6 in the evening and realized it was already dark. Went downstairs for some coffee and realized there was huge group siting and chatting. I joined them and chatted for a while. I got to make new friends. By 9 Pm, dinner was served. We ate out food and went back to our room and slept off again. It was the body’s way of acclimatizing to the thin air.

Day 2 - I woke up at around 7 AM. Realized it was snowing outside. It was a heavenly feeling to see snowfall for the first time in my life. I grabbed my camera and took some pictures. Got fresh and changed clothes. By then Sarita had woke up too. So I waited her to get fresh and then we went downstairs for some coffee and breakfast.

While having breakfast, more trekkers joined us. Post that we went for stroll in the market and came back by noon for lunch. Today we had some authentic thupka, which is local dish of the region. Then Sam from wanderers came and told us that they have arranged for some cars for local sight seeing. We sat in the cars and were taken around leh – we saw the frozen lake where the ice hockey team were playing, thiksey monastery, Phang Monastery, ice stupas etc and came back to the hotel at 7 PM. Post earlry dinner we head back to the room for some rest. Next day was going to be an early day.

Day 3 – We were given the call time of 6 AM by WANDERERS. We were up and ready post breakfast by 6 AM. The cars were ready. They secured our luggage on top of the cars and we drove to Tilad Do via Chilling. (Altitude 11,400 to 10,390 ft.). This 65 kms drive was very picturesque along the river Indus. Everything is just white, covered in snow baring a few rocks. Once the entire team reached the predesignated spot, we had gathered for some instructions. We were going to cross the frozen river to reach the campsite. We were told how to walk on ice and to be careful where we put our foot. Then the staff went first with the all the supplies and our bags. Then we started to walk. It was not easy to walk on ice. This was the first walk on the famous “CHADAR TREK”.

Once we reached the camping area, the crew pitched tents and prepared food for a comfortable stay in tent. While the staff was pitching tents and making food. We went for a hike with our guide Stenzin. He told us before starting to walk slowly and follow his footsteps. It was like a practice session. Everyone was excited about the first walk on snow.

When we came back we gathered in the dinner tent and had some hot soup along with bread toast. After that we were shown our tents. Me and Sarita were again sharing one tent. We went for some much-needed rest. The tents were cozy enough along with the military sleeping bags, it became warm soon and I dozed off.

Day 4 - Today we were going to trek to Shingra Koma which is at an Altitude of 10,550 ft. This was going to be a trek of about 10 to 12 kms. Post the briefing with the Trek Leaders start the trek and a sumptuous breakfast (for the condition we were in) we started. We started to walk on the frozen river bed and it was an experience of a life time.

There were places where we could hear the river gushing under our feet. At some places the ice was not so strong so we were advised to walk right on the edge of the bank or on the rocks.

After walking for about 2 hours, we halted for some rest. The trek leaders gave us some boiled potatoes and eggs for energy. We clicked some pictures here and then started to move again.

At one point, the trek leaders gathered us and told us that the Chadar had broken off at some distance and we will have to climb the mountain to cross that patch. One of the trek leaders – Lokesh started with lead and climbed up the mountain to make route for us. The others then helped us get goin on the mountains. This was pretty adventurous for us since at some places the foot hold was about 1 feet only. Any fall would mean, crashing into a freezing cold river. It took us about one and half hour to cross that stretch and we were back on the Chadar. After passing Shingra Koma, we reached the camp-site for the day at Gyalpo, where the tents had already been pitched by the porters. The Gyalpo campsite is at a bend in the river, surrounded by high peaks and walls of rock- faces which almost look man-made. All that was left to do was to soak in the views, have an early dinner and call it a day.

Day 5 - Shingra Koma to Tibb Cave. (Altitude 10,550 to 10,760 ft.) Post the briefing with the Trek Leaders we started out trek for the next 15 kms. Today’s walk through the deep ravines of the Zanskar was stunning. The sublime walls of the mountains on either sides of the river keeps the sunlight away from the Chadar for most part of the day.

Today again we had to climb a mountain and walk since the ice was fragile. However, today’s scenic beauty was mesmerizing to say the least. I clicked a lot of pictures. The sun was playing “catch me if you can” with us and every time it came up, it gave us a new perspective of the terrain. The light was changing the colours of the ice and the surrounding areas. It was a play of colours and kept us immersed. We stopped after 3 hours and had our packed lunch. Today we had khamiri roti, daal and some eggs. It bought in a lot of energy and we were back on our feet. We reached Tibb around 4 PM. The porters were already there waiting for us. They welcomed us with hot tea and coffee.

At Tibb, there is a big cave. This cave is the dwelling of all the porters and works as kitchen. We all gathered around the fire in the kitchen and started chatting with them. We heard a lot of stories about the trek .. how it used to be in olden times and how it has changed over the years. Also about the emergencies that have happened. I realized that every time someone disrespected the nature, emergency was bound to happen. Over the conversations, we helped them with making dinner. Today we had some chicken and rice. For vegetarians, we had aloo subji and rice. For dessert there was kheer.

After an eventful evening, listening to stories, we went and slept in our respective tents.

Day 6 - I woke up with our trek leader calling us for coffee. I could a bit of chit chat going on. I called out good morning to everyone from inside the tent and everyone responded. Realized by tent-mate was gone already. Slowly I opened the tent’s net flap to peep outside. The breeze was chilly. Everyone smiled and greeted. I realized I was the last one to wake up.

Today, as per the briefing we were going to Trek 12.5 kms to 11,150 ft. As we started to trek, the natural beauty of the place just took over. It was by far the most spectacular day. Walking on the river we crossed deep gorges and reach a point where Juniper trees are covered with prayer flags. The porters gave us a twig of this tree tied with a piece of prayer flag as a badge of good-luck and good-health.

A few steps away stands the mother-of- all frozen waterfalls – a huge instance of suspended animation several feet tall and equally wide. We could see dozens of colors in this enormous ice structure as sunlight plays off its surface. Right next to the waterfall is a bridge across the river which is a part of the summer- time road from Zanskar to Leh.

The Naerak village lies several feet above the river. We decided to trek for an hour to reach the village and observe the life of a Zanskari. This village also has a sat phone in case you want to make a call. While we were busy taking pictures and just admiring the frozen waterfall post coming back from the trek, the porters set up camp close to the river. Dinner was served early today and post that we retired to out tents.

Day 7 - Today we were going to start our returning journey. Like every day we started with our breakfast and briefing. Slightly disappointed that the trip will end soon, I started with the trek. To my surprise, the entire landscape hand changed. I was told that the whole landscape changes within a matter of hours. The Zanskar River reacts to the slightest change of temperature, and constantly keeps repackaging itself. The entire route seemed to be different and new. As if this was the first time I was walking on it.

The entire way we kept clicking pictures since there was a feeling of accomplishment. We stopped for lunch today and had Maggie. The porters had sprinted ahead of us and prepared some fresh Maggie. We had requested this at the start of the day. We reached Tibb cave around 6 PM since we all were pretty slow today clicking pictures and stopping. Post dinner we retired to our camps.

Day 8 - Starting early from Tibb and going to Gyalpo today. The high walls of mountains rising from the sides of the river almost looked like castle walls. Exactly like yesterday, the entire trail looked new to us and we were stunned by how nature was adjusting itself to change in weather conditions. When we reached Gyalpo, our trek leader then asked us to have early dinner so that we can enjoy some start gazing tonight. He said he will show us most of the constellations. In all the enthusiasm, we quickly had out food and waited for it to get pitch dark. True to his word, he came with us and showed us many constellation formation and some big stars well. The night sky was mesmerizing for Day 1 that I landed in

Leh but with this new knowledge it looked even more beautiful.

We retired to our tents about 10 PM tonight, this was the most late we had been outside. It was super chilling outside.

Day 9 - It started early at 7 AM. Today we trekked for about 3 hours and then had a lunch break. We had packed lunch today. Post that we again trekked for 3 hours and reached our starting point. We had our cars waiting for us. The porters had already packed all the bags equipment etc on top of the SUVs and we were all set to go.

While going back, we were all chatting about how beautiful this trip was and how life back home in the corporate world is never going to be so much exciting at all. We reached our hotel just before dinner and checked into our rooms. Post dinner we all sat around and chatted about the experiences. This went on late into the night. I came back to my room around 3 AM to sleep.

Day 10 - Post an early morning wake up call from the hotel staff, we quickly changed and had our breakfast and left for the airport.

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