Chadar Trek with Trek The Himalayas
On the last day of Rupin Pass Trek we had decided that our next would be Chadar Trek and from June 2017 we started planning. With many trek companies in the market it is difficult to pick the one. As we had previously trekked with TTH, we decided to go with them again. So we were eagerly waiting for the TTH to start the booking of Chadar and on the first week of July 2017 we booked the trek and this was the start of only trek in the world which is on a frozen river at 11000 ft with sub-zero temperature. As I already had all the necessary trek accessories and blessed with good stamina, decide to go for the trek without any special shopping and preparation. Things that I bought prior to trek was Gum Boots, one more thermal and extra layer of socks that to in Leh market.
Chadar Trek had been on my wish list from the last two years, ever since I started Trekking. And After months of anticipation, finally the day arrived. We boarded the flight on 20th January, 2018 from Mumbai to Delhi and then next morning to Leh.
Day : 1
How many times do you get to see half a mountain covered with snow and the other half with brown land? How many times do you get to see the entire land covered with snow? How many times do you see people switching their seats from the left window to the right one or vice-versa?
This is what happens when you take a flight to Leh during the winters! All you need is a window seat, a clear weather and may be a good camera. While I was enjoying this breath-taking view, an announcement was made by the flight attendant, “Fasten your seat belts. We are about to land and photos are prohibited.” With this announcement, everyone settled onto their seats and packed their cameras. Finally, we landed after an hour of breath-taking views of the mighty Himalayas. We were shocked when we stepped out of the flight, as we were greeted by the -10 degree warm afternoon air. We then headed to our hotel, where we were welcomed by TTH folks.
Day : 2
Next morning, we packed our bags moved towards the 1st camp site, Tilad Do!
As we were moving towards our 1st camp, we were seeing a huge blue frozen river in front of us flowing till eternity, with tall mountains on both the sides. Everyone in the bus was excited to place their first step on the Chadar and finally the wait was over when after 3hours of drive, we reached our campsite. In the evening, our trek leader taught us how to walk on ice and gave us some precautionary tips that may be required for the next 6 days.
Finally, the moment arrived when we put our gum boots and placed our first step on the ice. It was a marvellous moment with everybody trying to find their step on the surface which was very slippery.
Doing the penguin kind of walk on such a surface without lifting the feet too much off the ground is the key. While we learned to walk on the thick slippery sheet of ice, most of us kept falling while walking. And slipping and falling with both the legs going up was a common sight for all of us for next 6 days.
Day : 3
Tilad Do to ShingraKoma
There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance; it is called humility which is why I love the mountains. They break your arrogance and make you realize how insignificant one is in front of them.
This below part of the trek, this little patch of flowing chadar made us think of going back and quitting the trek.
We started our trek in the morning to our next campsite, Shingra Coma. After walking for about 2kms on the frozen river we realized that the ice had cracked ahead. I still remember the exact words of the trek leader, “1st day hi chadartuti hui hai, aaagekyahoga malum nahi, better humlogfirsewapischaltehai” and I was shocked because he just said “wapischalo” He was concerned because we needed to walk on the frozen water and this could be difficult. At that time I thought that this broken path is lesser than 50 meters, anyone can cross it in 5 – 10 secs and after contemplating a few times, we finally decided to cross this patch. Cherry on the cake was we were the first group going to cross this patch. So I was excited. ‘’Common who could miss the chance of walking in the freezing water! This is the real adventure”, I thought to myself.
First step in that water and I realize, how stupid and wrong I was for underestimating coldness of the water. It was so cold that the moment the water entered my shoes, “aagechlo bhai” I screamed as loud as I could. It was a scream filled with pain and fear of that I might lose my senses. By now, the water was knee deep and seeped through my gum boots and pants. Ohhh man those 10 seconds were hell, never have I felt so much numbness. First thing we did when reached the other side that we removed our shoes and wet socks before it got stuck to our skin. But still after 15 minutes I couldn’t feel my feet and my fingers because that’s how cold the water was! Stepping into the icy cold river wasn’t a decision which was as brave as I had imagined it would be because the cold water just made my whole body go numb.
After taking a 30 minute break after crossing that broken patch, we were ready to move again. But this time we had to climb the most treacherous terrain of this trek and then descend. Being a regular trekker of the Sahyadris, I was confident enough of do it easily, but I forgot that I was wearing gum boots and not trekking shoes and there is a big difference between the grips of these two shoes.
And now, imagine how we managed to descend at this point. The cliff was steep and getting down was even more challenging. There was no grip whatsoever, one wrong step and we would fall straight into the frozen river. The moment I stepped my foot on above point, I saw stones rolling down the steep slope. In fact, it was impossible to do this task without the support of porters who put their lives at risk to safeguard us. You know the best part of this patch was all the porters who were helping each and everyone without knowing whether the person they were helping was from their group or not. They were so helpful. Porters are the real heroes of every treks and every trekker would agree on this.
Last 2 hours were very scary since our life was on stake that time. Once we reached our next campsite, we had to make a big decision of whether we want to continue or not and the way things turned out on the first day, everyone was scared. But now, when I look back to those moments and decisions that we took, I feel it was all worthy and the whole experience seems very exciting as well.
ShingraKoma to Tibb Cave
Before going to sleep, everyone prayed for the proper formation of the Chadar hence forth and in that case we were very lucky that Chadar had formed very well on this day and we did not have to take as many detours as we had on the previous day.
We witnessed many frozen waterfalls and caves, all along the day.
Some are short in height and some tall. But one of the waterfalls that caught our attention is the one in the below picture which was a flowing waterfall which mysteriously never freezes.
So out of curiosity I asked our porter how come this waterfall is still flowing when every other waterfall is frozen. As per his saying, this waterfall has its source at Kailash in Tibet and the rocks behind seem to have two nostrils – One which is full of water and the other one which is dry.
One more interesting sighting of the day was when the Zanskar river passes through this narrow deep gully between the two mountains
The gorge hardly gets any sunlight and the river looks as if it is non-existent. It looked like a desert of ice. Many a times I asked our trek leader whether Zanskar exists at this place or had we taken some different route. Honestly after what we had gone through on previous day of the trek this was the most smoothing sight to our eyes.
After a good 10 hours trek where we witnessed so many frozen waterfalls and crossed the narrowest strip of chadar, we reached our third campsite – Tib caves.
This was our campsite at tib, under the caves, slightly above from the chadar.
Day 5 :
Tibb Cave to Nereak
People often ask me why do I love trekking so much?
And I wonder how can someone not like waking up to seeing snowclad mountains and flowing river? How can someone not like taking a sip of hot chai at -15 degreecelcius? When you are high up in the mountains, there is nothing that comes close to a simple cup of chai. Isn’t it beautiful to live those 8 days without any technology, worries and check-ins? Just you, some beautiful souls and serenity around you.
This was our last camping site at Nerek waterfall, opposite the snowclad mountains. It is a beautiful setting where Nerak village is based at an elevation of 2000 ft higher from the Zanskar river. Nerak is notoriously famous for its really cold nights and winds. The temperature can dip as low as -35 degreecelcius or lower. This was the coldest point in our trek.
After lunch and some refreshments, we moved towards our so called summit point. With 15-20mins steep ascend and 5 mins of easy walk, we got a chance to witness the first glimpse of the much awaited frozen waterfall of the trek.
And finally, when one of my Frozen Dreams came true.
It is an ice fall and a breathtakingly beautiful sight for all the trekkers after a hard day of walk (close to 15 kms). After all this, when you finally reach this place, something within you changes, you are no longer the same person who started the trek, with lots of ups-downs and a moment when you actually thought of going back because you couldn’t bear the harshness of Zanskar anymore, and yet you stand there staring at the gorgeous view of the mighty frozen waterfall covering the whole snow landscape with a speck of greenery at the top. It was so delightful that I can’t find the exact words to describe the feeling of relief that I actually made it. It is an absolute wonder to keep looking at the waterfall and think how on earth such things exist! It was a moving sight for sure.
I think this is the kind of place that leaves you speechless. It’s going to take me awhile to get over this place or maybe I just never will.
Day 6 :
Return Journey to Tibb Cave
Our return route was the same as our onward one . We all were super relaxed on the return journey. The uncertainty whether we would reach till the end was not there as that was replaced by the sense of accomplishment. Surprisingly, there was a complete change in Chadar’s status during our return. At many places where Zanskar river was completely covered by ice sheet on our onward journey was now flowing water.
Many patches were broken in big slabs of thick ice as if an earthquake had destroyed them. For us, it was difficult to even trace back the same route and that’s the beauty of Chadar.
As we returned to Tibb very early, we got ample amount of time. Luckily, we had a good company of the blue sky so some of us started photography sessions and some engaged in conversations with the trekkers from the other groups. One thing I have learned that day is that you can’t predict the formation of the Chadar on any given day. It changes overnight and gives a new look altogether and you must adapt and be ready for this, same as our LIFE.
Don’t magical nights like these make you want to stay up all night despite the freezing weather?
I have been fascinated by the night skies ever since I came to know about the thing called milky way. I remember, whenever I saw any good pictures on Insta, I would screenshot and share it with my friend, Aadi. We have been wanting to shoot night sky from long time but every now and then we missed or got it wrong. And finally, at Tibb we got another chance and this time aadi nailed it. Still finding super unreal that we actually got this one perfectly.
You see, I love such nights, witnessing those zillion stars shining bright only for you. It feels as if the universe is talking to you, in a language that u have always known, but never realised.
Isn’t it beautiful to end your day under starry starry nights like this viewing snowclad mountains around? and thinking how small we are in front of nature?
Day 7 :
Tibb Cave to toShingraKoma
Our return journey to ShingraKoma was the same as yesterday’s long tiring walk on Chadar without any difficulties.
We reached early afternoon; so again, we had lots of time to spare. After taking a small nap, we decided to roam around. We climbed a small hill and got this splendid superview of Chadar.
As we still had time before it got dark, we decided to play with sledges. Pulling other trekkers with help of sledges and running on Chadar was a quite different experience. We enjoyed a lot, thanks to our group.
Btw did I forget to tell you something?? Ohhhh yes. The Sledge.
Sledge!! The Lifeline Of Chadar.
Sledges are used to carry goods, mostly camping stuff, and food which is made by the porters and can hold up to 50 kilos of stuffs. On Chadar, they just pull the sledge, but at places where we encounter watery and rocky patches, they carry the sledges and the goods on their shoulders like backpacks. So basically, sometimes they have to carry 25-35kgs on their back.
Unfortunately, if any casualties happened during the trek, then there are only two ways to go back to Leh. Either wait for an Army helicopter or carry that person back to the base camp and this is what actually happened during our return journey. One of the trekkers from the other group got severely hit by AMS. Believe it or not, one of the porters carried that person on sledge from Nerek to Tilad Do in a day. Imagine pulling and carrying a 60-70 kg person on Chadar.
If porters are God, then sledges are not less than angels in Chadar.
Day 8 :
ShingraKoma to Tilad Do and Leh
On the last day everyone was in hurry to reach the base camp as soon as possible and was literally running on the ice, so was I! In that period there was a time, where I found no one in front of me, just myself walking alone with my stick, blanket of ice, the sound of icebergs crushing and the clear blue sky. So, I stopped to look back to see if anyone was behind me and surprisingly no one was there; but what I saw this magical view!
The Chadar in between mountains and the golden rays of the sun were relaxing on the top of those mountains. It looked like a gateway to new life.
I like these textures of nature, as if every moment came together to slow down the time and remind us that this world is more beautiful than we know.
Once we reached Tilad Do, waiting game for the bus was started. And here comes the moment when Aadi and I decided to plunge into the Zanskar.
Yes, you read that right! Ever since I had seen that famous video, where a bunch of people jumped into the river, I wanted to do this and on the last day of the trek, got a chance to jump into the freezing Zanskar water.
This was by far the craziest thing I had done till now and was the perfect way to end the thrilling Chadar trek which gave us an adrenaline rush.
A 10kg bagpack, 6 days of trek, 11000 feet altitude, temperature varying from -5 degree to -30 degree, 75kms walk on a frozen river, living by the banks of the river and under the cave – these are the ingredients that make the Chadar trek one of the most difficult and the most glamorous treks in India.
I think this is what trekking is all about! Struggling your ass off for days to realize how strong you can be in moments of extremity, how one decision can make or break you and in the end you get to enjoy these kinds of experience. And let me tell you, only a handful of people can relate to intensity of such moments.
With successfully completion of my epic voyage, I must thanks to this amazing energetic group, who made this journey smooth, epic and unforgettable.
And last but not least,cheers to my three brave souls.
We were together and holding each other’s hands when some of the trekkers from our group returned to Leh after the 2nd day, even when the temperature was going downwards only, even when we decided to carry our 8-10kg backpack with us only. All and all they stuck with me throughout the ups and down of the trek
More pics to follow