Chadar trek is one of the most challenging treks in India, located at 11400 feet above the mean sea level, with a distance of 105 km on foot, in the Zanskar region of Ladakh. For years this trek has been attracting tourists with a sense of adventure and is one of the most ambitious treks on every trekker’s list. The reason behind its uniqueness? The trek is on the Zanskar River, which lies frozen during the winter season.
This trek is not only exciting, it is dangerous as well. The best time to cross the river would be in the month of February, when the ice is thick enough and is in its most stable condition. The frozen river trek commences from the Chilling village in Ladakh, which is where the river starts to freeze.
The trek across the river varies depending on the form of the ice. Sometimes it is just a cold hard and slippery blanket of ice, and at other times, it has a gentle dust carpet of snow over it. Trekkers prefer the snow covered ice as it provides a good grip. The ice thickness varies throughout, from thick to thin, and the best thing one can do is to follow the guide for instructions on where to step. At times, one is required to wade into ankle deep freezing cold water.
The trek enables you to experience several never before seen sights as you walk across the river, through the deep ravines. The sunlight stays well away from the Chadar trek, owing to the high mountains on either side of it. Numerous small and big caves are scattered across the mountains. After crossing deep gorges, you finally come across a point where there stands Juniper trees covered in prayer flags. Apparently, a twig from this tree tied with a string from the prayer flags act as a badge of good health and good luck on the trek. A huge frozen waterfall stands quite close by, off which the sunlight reflects creating a myriad of colours. The Zanskar village is the last point of this trek, located not far from here.
On the return journey, one will be surprised to notice that the Chadar trek is completely unfamiliar to him, despite that he passed this trail only a few days ago. This is because of the fact that the Zanskar River reacts to any slight temperature change, and changes its form.
While crossing the ice, there are several points to keep in mind. The ice can be very risky to cross, so trekkers must be cautious about the ice below their feet. It is also recommended to wear warm and layered clothing, as the temperature is well below twenty degrees below the freezing point and decreases even further after sunset.
Overall, the journey is an unforgettable one, with the feeling of accomplishment that you have conquered a most challenging and extraordinary trek. It also makes you feel respect for the local Zanskari people, who brave all odds to survive in their lifestyle.
Written by – Shayantani Mukherjee