CHADAR TREK : THE TREK OF MY LIFE!
The Story Begins…
Though everyone plans and increase the wishes in the bucket list, I badly wanted pull out at least one outta it and step into it! That’s how things started with me on this trip! A famous travelers blog gave me the spark for getting to Chadar and experience the beauty! Though I have never been in a trek for more than three days, I badly wanted to do this!
Why Chadar Trek ?
Chadar trek is basically a trek made on the river that is completely frozen in the winter with a maximum altitude of 11,500ft. And, You don’t get to see the surroundings covered with ice caps and snow with a spine chilling temperature of -30 to -40 degrees all the time and the best part of walking on a frozen river. So we were looking out for a good company which can carry it out and take care of us at the same time. Finally we chose Trek The Himalayas(TTH). The main reason to do this trek in Jan 2016 is that the Government has decided to lay roads for Zanskaris via Chadar in another three years and the work begins from June. So, Chadar trek will most probably not be possible or its all set to lose its significance from there on! And the river freezes completely only in the months of January and February! Walking on frozen ice has its own effects. Ice caps are much stronger than rocks at times and they have the capabilities to break the bones in seconds when you fall. Also, if you do not give your full concentration while walking on thin ice, you can slip into the cracks and crevices.
Regular sweaters and jerkins do not matter for Chadar trek. Dressing in layers saves you from biting cold and helps you to survive the worst subzero temperatures. One must have a minimum of five layers to protect from chillness. Additionally, we can also use warmers to generate heat during the night, if you’re unable to get accustomed to the temperature.
Day 1 : Reaching Leh
On 14th Jan 2016, as a group of 9, we reached leh from Delhi. We were taking the temperature with sheer negligence! When the pilot announced that the temperature outside the aircraft was -10 degrees, our group started to laugh and prepared to battle the chilness! Alas, just into the 5th minute of the negative temperature, our fingers froze off and we rushed to the conveyor belt to check out for our luggage a to grasp our down jackets. We reached leh one day in advance for the acclimatization factor, since we’re not used to subzero temperatures. No autos or trains, only Maruti Omnis were available for the transport! Yes! The official kidnapping van till date. The trips were quite expensive comparatively. We booked a good hotel for the 14th stay and the view from the hotel was super awesome! We had the complete view of snow filled peaks and cloudscape. We spent the rest of the day in shopping and photo shooting some places.
Day 2 : Official Entry
To our fortune, Leh received the first snowfall of the year and we were all right into the snowball fight! As per the company, we needed to report to them at the hotel that they specified on 15th Jan. Apart from 9 of us, another team of 11 were already present in the hotel before our arrival. Finally, we came to know that our entire group consisted of foreigners as well. One from Germany, Australia and Malaysia. We had to spend the half day at the hotel (till next morning) and we had a short briefing about the trek in the evening and some dos and don’ts! The temperatures got morose at night and crossed -22 degrees and we had intermittent sleep.
Day 3 : Trek Begins
When we were all thinking about the entire group number as 20 for the trek, to our surprise we found another 20 persons board along with us for the trek.
They were our porters and kitchen staff. They had all sorts of utensils and materials required for preparing the food during the course of trek. They had some small sledge made of plastic pipes and wooden pieces. Two Swaraj Mazdas were tightly packed and it was all set for the journey from Leh to Chilling. Actually, the river won’t be frozen properly until Chilling. Hence the trek begins from Chilling. The distance between leh to Chilling is roughly 100 kilometers and can take up to 4 to 5 hours depending on the men and their road works. Mann, describing the Journey by words is definitely a tough task and even my fingers tumble as I type this line. We have a steep down side on one side of the road with no protection and the other side with vehicles supported by a mountain cover. We had worst moments when we almost hit couple of vehicles on our route. To be precise, the trek started in a thrilling way! To our misfortune, the main base camp was already occupied by another team and we had to stay right exactly at Chilling, where our vehicles stopped for dropping us. It was again a thrilling start to our campsite. We had to get down the hill, which was totally steep and we had no support and the worst part of carrying out rucksack on our back. It was life’s first time when we all used the trekking pole to its best use to save ourselves. Though the porters and kitchen staff were running up and down the steep hills, we found every step damn tough. After taking about 30 minutes, we reached down the campsite and had a beautiful view of the frozen river. Due to El-Nino effect and global warming, the river’s freezing rate is drastically going down and we had to convince ourselves with the frozen parts only at the sides of the river. Our guides started off preparing the tents for our stay and the kitchen staff immediately setup the kitchen tent and the dining tent. At around 3:30 PM, we were served with hot Kawa tea(Leh’s black tea) and pastas(soupy). The temperature was around -20 degrees and the food they provided was the best to fight the cold off and fill our tummies. We were instructed for a short trek(trial trek)on ice. The guides just wanted us to be in ice for a while. Trekking shoes bought for several thousands won’t work at Chadar trek, because at times you have to walk and cross knee high waters and it’s an obvious call that your trekking shoes are going to get wet.
Gum boots! Yeah, gum boots that are used by workers in industries are the best fit for this trek and are available in very cheap prices! We put our gum boots on and started the trial trek. Every step you have many options, be happy about not slipping down or be happy that the thin ice did not crack or be worried about walking on the cracked ones. I have watched the movie Vertical limit so many times and enjoyed the ice cracking scenes in it! But to face it in the life’s reality was quite creepy! Yeah, you step on ice and it cracks, think about the feel. But I’m sure, we got used to it in a while. The only thing about walking on the ice is that you respect(check and walk) them, they save you, else you fall! the from journey was successful and the return journey had two falls and I started off the account! I landed quite hard on my back such that I was unable to move for three mins. Finally my guide helped me up to stand and reach back the camp site. Terrific start for the trek. We had knorr soup in the evening followed by a tasty dinner. Usually it starts to get dark from 5 PM itself and the cold gets to you from there on. We packed us up in to two sleeping bags in our tent and the cold showed its worst nature. Our nails started to pain and we were feeling the quite badly even after using warmers. Somehow managed to survive the first day’s chillness of -28 degrees.
Day 4 : Chilling To Gyalpo
The windy morning was morose on comparing the chilly night. We managed to get up from our sleeping bags and fresh ourselves up and prepare for the real trek day. Everyone was happy that it was just 8 kilometres of trek on ice for the day. Before we started off the trek, our guide gave us all mini spikes that can be attached to our gum boots to walk with friction in ice and enables you to walk steadily and avoid falling. He also advised us to use it if it’s too needy! We all packed it up on our ruck sacks and started the trek. As soon as we started off the trek, BAM! BAM!! BAM!!! Three continuous slips and falls on ice.
Everyone started to panic and chose to wear the mini spikes. We found it quite useful and easy to walk on ice. But the worst part of using them on ice is that they can easily make the entire ice pack to crack off and go down all along the river. One kilometre of walk on ice looked as if 5 kilometres! But nature against us most of the time. We had to climb the mountains since the river was not frozen at 6 to 7 main spots. The climb was dead tough and so was the descent. A single slip would directly lead us into the rough river. Our guide advised us not to look down and was keep on encouraging us all the way. On the other hand our rucksacks were keeping us in a hard state, meaning adding further woes to our existing ones! We somehow managed to cross the 8 kilometres part in 7 hours and had a shot at Gyalpo’s campsite around 4:30 PM. When it was just 50 steps away, we had to take off our mini spikes, since we had to walk on rock and ice simultaneously! Within that short duration couple of guys slipped down and one guy had big blow on his left hip. Ended the second day of trek in a scary way! Hot and soupy noodles was ready for us in our tents and we were ready to eat up anything hot for the weather conditions! We were asked to climb up a small hill to ease our muscles and spend some time there to get some photos too. The evening followed up with fantastic dinner and some camp fire stuff to keep off the cold. The temperature dipped down a bit on comparing the previous one, but we somehow managed again with warmers.
Day 5 : Gyalpo to Tibb Cave
This was meant to be the longest trek day since the distance was 15 kilometers. We somehow got accustomed to the chillness and weather conditions. Most important of all, we were able to analyse the ice cracks – thick and thin ice packs. 8 of our guys successfully spent one full day without wearing the mini spikes on gum boots and managed to make it to Gyalpo with ease. The best part of missing out mini spikes is that you save a lot of energy! We had our early breakfast and set out on trek for the big and long day! Finally, we started to see frozen beauties on our trail.
The first mini frozen waterfall appeared to amaze us and make us a bit eased out of the tiresome trek. We gave some tight works for our cameras to keep them quite warmer during the course to save some battery. And finally saw a waterfall that was not frozen. We were just awestruck to see it flow and our guide told us that it was a hot water Spring We loved the sight and had too many photos and kept moving further. Finally we halted for our lunch in the way to Tibb and were served with upma! The trek started off in the next 45 minutes and we started to race up. At around 3 PM , our guide warned us that from there on, the trek will be too risky and scary. We had to cross several thin ice caps and crooked ways by sliding through them. And finally we had to climb some more rocks and hill climbs to reach Tibb cave’s campsite. Almost everyone who wore gum boots along with mini spikes had sore toe at the end of the day due to tedious trek. For god sake, our tents were ready on campsite and we had to get into it and get ourselves comfortable. When we had our ties checked up with dust powders and moisturisers , our guide called up for visiting the Tibb cave and nobody was interested to come out of the tent. With no other option left, we came out and went up to the cave and had some photos and returned back to the tents for the best rest! The cave is exclusively used for the stay of porters and their preparations and Trekkers are not allowed to camp inside the cave. We returned to find the most awesome hot chicken pepper soup ready on our bowls. Had our tummies filled up and sat on camp fire to give our skin and bones a bit of relaxation from the biting cold. The temperature shot up to -30 ‘s that night. Any number of times you turn and twist your body, you won’t find sleep in that biting cold. That’s the worst part.
Day 6 : Tibb Cave to Nerak
The final destination of our trek was Nerak, i,e. to witness the frozen waterfall. It is exactly located at Nerak and almost a kilometre away from the campsite. We were all fired up for the several reasons! Firstly, the frozen waterfall, secondly we were all set to trek just 10 kilometres and that’s 5 kilometres less from the previous day’s trek and lastly, we were all set to return back at the end of the day. But we never knew what was awaiting us on the way to Nerak!!! We met a group that returned back from Nerak the previous day at Tibb cave. They explained the worst factors that prolonged their trek to Nerak and also the sad story of reaching the frozen waterfall around dark time. And they had good frozen ice when they headed back to Tibb from Nerak and which was obviously a sign for us. But we forgot the point that Chadar changes within hours of time. We started off the trek on a high and were breezing past two groups to find the first mountain climb and that climb almost burnt up the share of two rotis and cup of egg fry. The backpack’s weight was causing heavy back aches already.
The climb was again pretty steep and scary one and we had to sweat it out to reach the ice part. We spent around 10 minutes for resting and started back on ice. When we were into the next 15 minutes of trek, we found three Zanskaris on the way and they reported that the river is partly frozen and the upcoming trek part would be difficult. Booommm!!! All our confidence just got shattered! “Whatever happens and however the pathway is, we are heading to Nerak!” , coined my trek guide Harinder. When we were two hours into the trek, we had knee deep water and broken pieces of ice all over! It was scary as hell to walk over it. We were wearing mini spikes and we every step created worst cracks and noise. Usually, we have the top layer with ice and middle with water and at last a thin layer of ice and then completely water underneath. We were walking on the thin layer of ice holding our nerves. The route was again in a bad shape and we had to sneak through shrunken ice paths. Our guide called for lunch break and we found sometime to breathe ourselves. We were really pissed off about the rest of the trek for the day. He convinced us and boosted up our confidence levels. As when we finished off our lunch and started off our trek, we saw the river in full flow with no ice formation. This time, the climb we had to make was damn worse and some planned to return back to Tibb. The guides showed off their expertise and helped us one by one to reach the other end from one end. They asked us to place one of our step on their knee and place the other on the rock. This time we had slippery rocks, which made the climb even worse. Finally everyone was transferred from one end to the other. As soon as we got down from this , we had to walk in thin ice and our guide asked us to take off the mini spikes since the ice layer was too thin. I was walking too slowly to tackle the slippery path and within seconds, I slipped off and had the worst hit in my back. Still rucksack saved my back, but my right knee got twisted up and the ligaments got disturbed. Guide gave me first aid and asked me to proceed further. Another one kilometre through the cracking ice caps, we ended up in another hill climb but we started to experience snowfall. Well I must say it was godly! Every snowflake on our face was quite chill and awesome and we were all happy! Our guide realised this and yelled, “snowfall makes the river melt furthermore! So, fasten up the trek speed!” We were pacing up through the rough rocks to sneak through the part of the waterfall from the end of the hill. We were all happy and for a moment we thought that the trek was almost over. When we were about to ask our guide the route for the waterfall, he pointed towards a hill and asked us to climb. As simple to see, it was almost inclined in 80 degrees and we had trek at an inclination of 90 degrees to save ourselves from falling! Finally, after trekking for 40 minutes, we reached the top of the hill to find the inundating beauty of the snow capped mountains and the Nerak village from there. Still no signs of frozen waterfall. When we were searching for it, guide signalled us to get down from the other side to reach it. Almost everyone lost their last point of stamina and were barely moving. Atlastt!!! We found the beauty hiding in between the hills and we were lucky enough to stand and take some photos infront of it. The previous group missed it out since it had not frozen. We spent around 30 minutes to take photos and videos of the waterfall and continued our trek to Nerak.
It was another kilometre from the waterfall and we reached the campsite around 6:00 in the evening. Nerak had small guest rooms and a heating unit attached in every room(local one). We had to bind ourselves to accommodate 10 persons in one room and another ten in another room. That night was sweet enough since we had enough heat in the room. But the people who stayed in tents were badly affected since the temperature dipped to -40 degrees at night.
Day 7 : Nerak To Tibb Cave
Fear and happiness filled up all our minds before the start of the trek and we were all puzzled about the days path and the climbs coming forth. Happiness was just for the reason that we were returning back home! We did not want to climb the hill at any cost! Since the temperature dipped to the maximum number, we expected the river to be frozen all the way! But to our misery, we had to climb the same hill that we struggled the previous evening! The water was not frozen near the waterfall and we had to see through the other way around. Nobody wants to waste the morning energy by climbing a hill. But we were left with no other option and we started the climb. It almost ate up 2 hours of our time and we reached down to ice and started to pace up the trek. We were on time and in schedule for the next few hours and our lunch’s site. Though we had to make small climbs over rocks and hills, that were not tiresome as the worst one! The river was well frozen and showed a lot of difference from the previous day. We reached campsite by 4 in the evening. To our misfortunes, the wind showed up in full flow and we had to shiver right from the evening. Nothing worked for us! Neither the fire nor the wind proof gloves! The temperature started to dip down as the time progressed. Almost everyone got affected severely and lost sleep due to this. The next morning was morose than the night.
Day 8 : Tibb Cave to Gayalpo
Again it was the longest one on the slot. The morning was already worse and we prayed the almighty to keep the trek in a simple and shorter format. And I had to tell that gods heard our voice and the trek was really easy and we found good time to shoot pictures and spend some fun time all along the way. We reached the campsite half the time that we took for the journey from Gyalpo to Tibb cave. We were helping each other energy bars and hot drinks all the way! We found some more frozen waterfall on the way and reached the campsite by 2:15 in the noon. And to our surprise it was totally hot and we found some time to take off the first two layers from the worn 7 layers of dressing. We also found time to brush our teeth after 5 days 4 of our guys took bold decision to bath in the frozen river and managed to get three dips in the water! And apart from this some tried climbing the topmost cave in the nearby hill. That’s how the evening went and we had some party at the night along with dance and some music!
Day 9 : Gyalpo to Chilling
To explain this day, we were just like the school children gearing up to unleash all their energy to race back home after the bell. Such was the enthusiasm and energy on us. We were all packed up and ready for the move. Our vehicles would be ready at Chilling on time and there was no doubt about it. We started by 9:30 in the morning and reached chilling by 11:30 sharp and that’s almost half the time we took to reach Gyalpo on day two. We had to wait for the porters to catch us up and prepare our lunch for the next journey. We had yummy Maggie noodles and started the hill climb to reach our vehicles. It took almost another hour reach our vehicles and porters and kitchen staff started to load the vehicles. It took around 3 hours to reach leh and finally we got network connectivity at our hotel by 5:30 in the evening. Then we had some briefing and certificate distribution around 7 and slept well for the day.
Day 10 : Buffer day at leh
We had so many plans for roaming around leh and visiting tourist spots on this day. But nobody was ready to get out of their bed and everyone doze off for most part of the day.
A big shout out to the TTH team for organizing this trek in a flawless manner and taking proper care of us all through the trek. Safety is the priority in this trek and they handled that in the best possible way.
ABOUT ME : I’m an ardent Digital Marketer ,Social Media Specialist and a Growth hacker. I’m running a website called Digital Marketing Quest which helps marketers grow fast. A technology freak and coffee lover. I have great passion for photography and date my D810 at times.