Chadar Trek in Leh Ladakh
This was a trek on my mind for a long time and I really wanted to accomplish it before I went for further studies in US.
So I researched a bit and then booked by trek with Wanderers. Over the internet they seemed to be pretty fair with their pricing considering the experience they carried with respect to safety, equipment and experience of leading Chadar Treks. Booked my flights soon after I booked the trek. It was the best decision to book them immediately since I got my return tickets for 5K only.
Once I registered with Wanderers they kept sending me articles on Chadar Trek in Ladakh especially from the point of view of the trekkers. Also they sent me a list of things I needed to carry and the exercise regime I should be following to ensure a smooth trek. I think that was very professional of them. I must tell you the things to carry list was a little too much for me at first, it did cost a bit to get everything. Also they conducted some workshops at the local Decathlon where they showed us what to buy, differences between different material makes of the same jacket etc, what was optional and the most important thing, how to pack all of it in a backpack.
The day came and I took the flight to Leh. As per instructions, took a cab from outside the airport and went straight to Tiger Hill which was the name of the hotel that we were booked in. There were a few trekkers already at the hotel and we greeted each other and indulged in chit chat. That’s when Jai from Wanderers team arrived and introduced himself. His first and very firm instruction was to drink a lot of water. At least 6 liters of water a day was a must. Since we were at an altitude that was almost 3500 mtrs, the air was thin and O2 was less. We needed to drink more water. Our body would naturally break it down and use the O2. We got to know the batch is going to of 12 trekkers only, since that the maximum Wanderers takes on high altitude climbs. It was a good feeling that they were sticking to their words. We were shown into our rooms. I was sharing it with another trekker from Mumbai, Rohit. This was was his second time time in Chadar and this time his main motive was just to capture some night shots which he missed last time. By 1 PM, everyone had arrived, those who were trekking with us. We had an even number of men and women in the trip. Soon we had our lunch and we were advised to take rest. Also strictly, No smoking and no alcohol at all.
I woke up at around 5 Pm and went to the dining area. Every one had gathered and chit chatting. We got to know everyone and overall it was fun interacting with everyone. We were served Tea along with some sandwiches. Post the tea, Jai bought down his rucksack. He proceeded to show us what all things we need for the trek, how it needs to be packed, where it needs to pack in the rucksack. One thing that we all need were the snow boots. Wanderers had advised us not to buy them from the city since they were expensive there and we would more or less use it only once in life. He enquired if anyone was missing anything essential, made a list and told us that we will be going to market next day to buy them. I had everything except the snow boots. We were served dinner at 8 and by 9 PM were in bed. It was an important part of acclimatization.
Next day post an early breakfast, we went to the market and bought our snow boots. Some people had a bit of issue with their size, some too small and some too big. We had a mix and match of black diamond (brand) shoes and some used army white boots. Post all the shopping, we went for a walk in the market and decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants, which was selling authentic Tibetan dishes. Post lunch some people went back to the hotel while some of us went to the War Memorial in Leh. It houses the artifacts from the Kargil war and is a must visit. We were back by 4 PM. In the evening we were told that we will start at 6 AM from the hotel for the trek. Were served dinner by 7 PM and slept early.
Everyone was ready by 6 AM and we had a tempo traveller ready to take us to the starting point. Before we went, we were introduced to the team. We had Ringzin at the lead guide Stenzin as the assistant guide and Jai was going with us at the Trek Leader. We also had about 12 porters and one chef. We boarded the Tempo Traveller and started our journey. We travelled for about 2 hours in the traveller and passed some beautiful landscapes. We stopped at the sangam where river Zanskar and Indus meet. It was completely frozen, but the sight was surreal.
Soon we reached Tilad do, our starting point. We had a quick briefing session with Jai, while having our packed breakfast of Sandwiches and Coffee. We were reminded about the safety measures that one must keep in mind while we trek on Chadar Trek. Since this was
Day 1 on Chadar, we were given the choice to off load our rucksacks to the porters. We were going to trek from Tilat do to Singra Koma with a lunch break in between. With all the enthusiasm, we started to walk on ice. It was not only a new experience but also a very scary experience considering that it was pretty slippery even with snow boots. The scenes were absolutely gorgeous. Frozen river below our feet, tall mountains on our sides and the open cobalt blue sky on top. This was it! This is what I had dreamt off, for a long time. As we started to walk, some of slipped and fell, everyone else was tight lipped in the beginning but slowly the giggles started and counting – who has fallen how many times. To be honest the walk was difficult for the initial few kilometers, it was slippery, there were patches of water at times and it was too beautiful not to get distracted and slip. We walked for sometime and then we stopped a very scenic place and took some pictures. We were served form refreshments as well. Soon we were walking again, I was trying to balance my camera and myself together and it was pretty tough. After about 3 hours of walking we reached midway and it was time for lunch. The porters and chef had reached about an hour before us and lunch was ready. We were first served some quwaha and tea and then for lunch we had veg. pulao along with some pickle. It was delicious. Post lunch we started to walk again and reached our first camp in 2 hours. It was about 3:30 PM, sun was shining bright. We did some stretching exercises with Jai to release all the stress and then were shown our tents. Picked up my rucksack and went inside my tent to rest for a while. Not sure when I slept off, I was woken up by Rohit for the evening Tea. Went out to realize the sun was almost set and it was even colder. We had our tea and sat in the dining tent. One of the trekkers suggested we play some games and with that started hours of dumb charades. It was real good fun. Dinner was served at 8:30. We had Rice, Roti, Dal, Subji, Shahi Paneer for dinner and some custard as dessert. Everyone was pretty surprised and appreciative with the variety of food we got in those conditions. We clapped for them as a show of appreciation. Post dinner, we were given some ginger water (hot), as per the locals it keeps the body warm and helps in digestion. Once we had that, everyone retired to their tent and slept off.
Day 2 on Chadar started at 5 AM with calls of Good morning Sir! Chai? Coffee? Stenzin, was up and about. He was coming to all the tents and wishing us, and asking for chai or coffee. We knew are days are going to start early, but this early! Anyways, Rohit and me kind of wriggled out of the tent and got hold of our coffee. The early morning scene was absolutely different from what we had seen last night. It was beautiful, but it was cold. It was windy too. Soon, one by one everyone came out of the their tents and we started chit chatting. Everyone went about getting fresh. There was warm water available for us to wash our face and brush etc. Breakfast was served at 6:30 and post that we started our journey again on Chadar. Today we were going to walk to Tibb Cave. We started our trek sharp at 7:45 AM as planned and the porters stayed behind to pack up. About 2 hours into the trek, I saw the porters from our camp walking alongside me. They had caught up with us in no time. Today we passed many frozen waterfalls. We passed some really deep gorges. Today walking on the ice was much easier. We reached the midway soon and had our lunch. For lunch we always chose a place that had ample sunlight, it was warm. Post some tasty lunch of soup and macaroni and cheese we made our move again. We reached Tibb Cave in next 3 hours. Todays journey was slightly longer, but it was much easier since we were used to walking on ice. Some trekkers did slip and fall but it was much better. Tents were put up soon, along with the dinning tent. Today we all gathered in the dinning tent post freshening up. We discussed about the whole journey till now and experience. Sang songs for a while. Soon we had evening snacks of Chai Coffee and pakoras. Singing continued for the next few hours. We also played some uno in the middle. Dinner was served on time at 8:30 PM, scrumptious meal. Dal, Roti, Rice, Subji, Chicken curry for the non vegetarians and dum aloo for the vegetarians, pickle. Ended with some canned cherries as sweet dish. Off to sleep by 9:30 PM. Some did stay back to chit chat in the dinning tent.
Day 3 on Chadar started like yesterday. Calls for Chai and Good Morning woke us up. Today was definitely colder than yesterday. Got out of the tent to some good coffee and dry toasts. Not the usual toast you get in city, but dry Kashmiri salt bread. Post freshening up and breakfast, we started out journey again. Today we were going to trek till Nerak camp. Walking on the river we crossed deep gorges and reached 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. It can be only seen to believed. Right next to the waterfall is a bridge across the river which is a part of the summer-time road from Zanskar to Leh. We were told that the Naerak village lies several feet above the river, a vigorous hour-long trek can take you to the village if you want to see the life of a Zanskari. However the entire group was overwhelmed with the sight of the frozen waterfall and just wanted to sit and admire it. Soon everyone was taking pictures around it and we took a group photograph to keep it for life. The camp is set up close to the river. Today’s special evening snack was Samosas with tea. And for dinner we got a cake with Congratulations written on it. It was a fantastic feeling.
Day 4 we started our journey back to Tibb Cave from Nerak Camp. Bidding the waterfall goodbye we started our journey. On the way we met a lot of trekkers going towards Nerak, asking us how it was etc. Pleasantries were passed on the way. We stopped for lunch mid way as usual. Today the mood was a bit different. There was this sense of accomplishment. A sense of achievement, a long cherished dream had come true. Post lunch we started back our journey to tibb cave. Soon we reached and the usual chit chat started. Today Rohit planned to setup camera for some night sky shots today and I planned to help him. Post dinner, we walked over to the frozen river and setup our base for the night of photography. It got colder by the hour, the pictures kept us going. We took pictures for a couple of hours and then gave up. The temp was -29C on my watch that time. Came back and slept.
Day 5 on Chadar we trekked from Tibb cave to Shingra Koma and setup base there. Today was the last day on Chadar trek and everyone was in a joyful mood. We were excited that we completed the trip without any issues at all. We did not have to get down in the river to cross. Chadar was well formed altogether.
Day 6 on Chadar, we trekked from Shingra Koma to the starting point where the tempo traveller was waiting to take us back to Leh. But just before we went, we had to do what we just had to! Take a dip in the freezing water ! Yeah, I did it! A dip in the water and it was done! Finally, I had completed the Chadar Trek.