For most adventure enthusiast the challenge of trekking across the frozen stretch of Zaskar river in Leh, is extremely exciting and thrilling. Known popularly by the name of Chadar Trek, this is one of the toughest and glamorous treks across India. In order to truly enjoy the trip, it is important for the trekkers to be familiar with the most important aspects of the trip. This information can prove extremely important to not only keep the trekkers safe but also help them prepare them for them mentally for the surprises and challenges of this trekking trip.
Chadar Trek – An Introduction
Chadar Trek is the name given to the 105km long trekking trail that mostly follows the path of the frozen Zanskar River. The literal meaning of Chadar in Hindi is blanket and the trail is named so because the trekkers are required to walk over the blanket of ice that covers the gushing water flowing underneath. It is this thrill of climbing up the terrain of a frozen river that attracts countless amateur and professional trekkers to Leh during the winter season.
The beauty of trail is enhanced in a significant manner when the golden rays of morning sun fall on the snow covered peaks making the entire view look breathtakingly beautiful. The picturesque landscape is definitely the most rewarding aspect of this strenuous and difficult trek, which tests the tests the physical stamina and mental focus of the trekkers at every turn.
A Unique Experience
The Chadar Trek 2016 will provide the participants with an opportunity to experience the mesmerizing beauty of the majestic snow covered Himalayas at close quarters. Trekkers can enjoy the thrill of walking on ice, climbing on icy rocks, spending nights in caves and the beauty of the ever changing Chadar, which make for a truly unique experience.
The 9 day long trek is extremely refreshing and relaxing as the participants take up the challenges presented by nature and overcome them in a successful manner. In fact, the Chadar lake trek is an absolute must for people who have a flair for high altitude trekking and are willing to take up the challenges of this most difficult trek.
Best Time To Undertake Chadar Trek
Even though the Zanskar River starts freezing from the month of November itself, the ice does not actually become solid and b enough to bear the weight of the trekkers, until at least another few months. That is why the best time to enjoy Chadar trek in safe manner is from 15th January to the end of February. With the frozen river confined within a steep canyon for a major part of the trek, even a slight weakness in the ice blanket can lead to a major catastrophe, which is why it advisable to not undertake the trip before the mid of January or after the last week of February. By this time the river freezes into a beautiful sheet of ice and the trekking trail becomes surrounded by pristine white snow clad mountains, giving the entire trail a heavenly look and appeal.
Understanding The Difficulty Level
The mere thought of walking over shiny white ice with cold water rushing just inches below the feet, can make even the most adventurous people feel a sense of fear. However, the difficulty is not limited only to the terrain of the region but trekkers need to prepare themselves to face various inhospitable settings including disturbing temperatures and extremely harsh camping conditions of this most popular destination for trekking in India. Since the entire distance of 105 kms is to be covered on foot, they must be physically b enough to walk long stretches of ice while also carrying their baggage on their back. At times, the trekkers might also have to walk along a narrow margin of ice, constrained between the steep walls of the canyon and the gushing cold water of the Zanskar River. They should be mentally b to bear the harsh climate and difficult climb that is sure to test their patience and confidence in the most stressful manner.
The Average Temperature
Since the Chadar Trek is conducted only in winters, it is quite natural for the temperatures to be extremely low. The average temperature during daytime is no more than 15-20 degrees and as the night falls, the temperatures drop down further to -25 to -30 degrees. In order to survive in such harsh conditions, the trekkers need to not only be physically and mentally fit but also carry the right kind of clothing and footwear for the trip. It is advisable to for the trekkers to bring along their warmest jackets and sleeping bags along with a nice warm pair of snow shoes.
Average Trail Covered Per Day
In order to complete the Chadar River trek within the stipulated time period, it is important for the trekkers to cover a specific distance each day. On an average the trekkers would be required to cover around 14-15 kms of the trail every day, which would mean that they would be walking for around 7-8 hours per day. The trekkers might also be required to do a little bit of climbing and maneuvering which might reduce their pace and make them feel more exhausted and tired than normal trekking. Despite the difficulty of the terrain and the harsh climate of the region, most trekkers enjoy the adventure and challenge presented by this high altitude trekking trail.
On the first day, the participants of the Chadar Trek are required to assemble at Delhi Airport, from where they take a flight to Leh. As the group flies over miles and miles of snow clad mountains, it becomes quite clear that air transportation is the only way to reach Ladakh in winters. After landing at Leh Airport, the trekkers are given a day to explore the town, since there are several beautiful and historic places to visit in Leh Ladakh.
On the second day, the group is driven to Chilling and as the vehicle navigates through the steep hairpin bends of the snow covered road that is build along the Indus River. On arriving in Chilling after a 3 hr long drive, the participants trek for 2 kms to the Tilad Do Camp. The trek entails crossing a patch of the frozen Zanskar, which gives the trekkers the first experice of walking on the frozen river. At the campsite, each member of the group receives warm sleeping bags to enjoy their sleep.
On the third day, the trekkers walk for around 6 hrs to cover the distance of 12 kms from Tilad Do Camp to Gyalpo Camp. During the trek, the participants might be required to wade through shallow water reaching their ankles or climb up the cliffs on the banks of the river. The Chadar can take on various forms depending on the weather and it is advisable for the trekkers to closely follow their guide and abide by their instructions. On reaching Gyalpo, the participants can soak in the majestic views of the campsite before retiring for the night after an early dinner.
On the fourth day, the trekkers are expected to cover a distance of another 14 kms from Gyalpo to Dib Cave. In this section, the trail passes through deep ravines of the Zanskar which offer a stunning view. The participants get to see some truly mesmerizing views such as those of frozen waterfalls, and one which remains unfrozen despite the freezing cold in the region. Upon reaching Dib, the trekkers are warmly welcomed into an enormous cave that is the dwelling of the porters.
On the fifth day, the trekkers move on to Naerak Camp which is located at a distance of 10.5 kms from Dib Cave. During the trek the group comes across deep gorges and also faces a collection of Juniper trees that are covered with prayer flags. The porters present each member of the group, with a twig covered with a prayer flag from the trees as a token of good luck and well-being. There is also a huge frozen waterfall nearby which creates the brilliance of dozens of different colors as the sunlight reflected from its surface. The camp site at Naerak is located quite close to the river and is the resting place for the trekkers for night.
On the sixth day, the participants begin their journey back to the Dib Cave. But the trek back is much more than retracing the steps that had been taken in the forward direction only 24-hours back. With the slightest change in temperature having a deep impact on the appearance of Chadar, participants might feel that they have never been in the area before. The trekkers might also come across several locals, including monks returning to their destinations in the Zanskar Valley.
On the seventh day, the trek ends at Shingra Koma, rather than at Gyaplo. The steep walls of mountains rising along the sides of the trail give the participants a feeling of moving through a castle. The trail in impregnated with footmarks of different animals including foxes, ibex and snow-leopards.
On the eighth day, most participants tend to feel nostalgic on realizing the fact that this is their last day of walking across the Chadar. They taken in the mesmerizing sites that they might have left unnoticed on their journey up and upon reaching Tilad Do bid good-bye to the magnificent Zanskar valley and its simple yet courageous inhabitants. From Tilad Do, the group is driven back to Leh where they get to enjoy a comfortable stay at a cozy guest-house.
On the ninth day, the trekkers depart from Leh by air, with much respect for the people of Zanskar in their hearts and memories and experiences of a thrilling trek that would last a lifetime.
Strength Of Group Of Trekkers
In order to ensure the safety of the participants and keep the group well within a manageable limit, the number of members allowed in each group of Chadar trekking is no more than 10. This gives enough room for the participants to enjoy the trek with close friends and select family members, who enjoy trekking and are physically and mentally fit to undertake this difficult journey. The trek can be best enjoyed when it is carried out with like minded people who can appreciate and respect the beauty of the region despite its harsh conditions.
Since, the groups can include both men and women, the guides for the same are chosen keeping in view the safety of the female members. The leader of the trekking expedition is generally a professional who has undergone proper training in mountaineering and also is an expert in providing first-aid. In addition, to the above there is a local guide, a cook, a helper and a porter as well as other staff in the group.
It the responsibility of the group leader to take care of the safety and comfort of the participants while at the same time, the participants are also required to strictly follow the instructions of the leader to avoid putting their own lives and those of other group members at risk.
Type Of Accommodation Available
One of the main concerns of participants while enrolling for the Chadar Trek is about the type of accommodation that would be made available to them. Here the participants need to understand that while it is reasonable to expect accommodation in a decent hotel in mainland. However, trekkers will have to do with temporary accommodation facilities while they are actually treading the Chadar. The most common type of accommodation available for the trekkers would be portable tents made from high quality material capable of keeping away the cold.
On some occasions, the trekkers might also be required to camp in the caves adjoin the trail. This makes it even more important for the participants to carry warm clothing, insulating fleece and rain proof jackets, insulating gloves, steam crossing sandals and a warm sleeping bag. In addition every trekker should gain information about the conditions they might have to face during the activity and prepare themselves well for the same long before setting out on the trip.
Kind Of Food Served
The menu of the food to be served to the participants during the Chadar Trek is planned with great care. Most of the times, the participants get to eat common Indian vegetarian and egg dishes. This helps in ensuring that the participants receive the requisite amount of nutrition and that their dietary needs are fulfilled in a satisfactory manner during the course of the trek. The food is cooked carefully to preserve its nutritional value so as to ensure the physical well being of the trekkers.
Since the climatic conditions of the region are extreme and differ significantly from those of the mainland, the focus is on maintaining the hygiene and safety of the food. Generally protein rich foods are preferred along with diet that helps in maintaining the high energy levels of the participants. This helps in countering the affects of the harsh climate and making up for the lost energy and stamina due to climbing to a high altitude.
Resolving The Issue Of Safe Drinking Water
In addition to getting healthy meals, another major problems that trekkers face during the Chadar expedition is that of finding safe drinking water. Although, the water in the region is considered pure and safe enough for direct consumption, most trekkers prefer to boil it with chlorine tablets before drinking. In many cases, the expedition leaders might provide information about filling stations where the participants can get pure and safe drinking water.
Support In Case Of Medical Emergencies
Safety of the participants is the main point of focus with each group of trekkers. However, many times irrespective of the best precautions taken, the participants might meet an accident. Although no doctors accompany the group of trekkers, the trek leader holds a certification in first aid and hence is qualified enough to take care of minor injuries and primary health care of the participants.
However, in case of serious medical emergencies, evacuation through helicopter can be arranged. However, this can be done only from a camping site and in case the affected participants are unable to reach the site on their own, they are carried there on a makeshift bed by the staff members accompanying the group.
It is also important for the participants to carry ample quantities of any regular medication that they might be taking. In addition they should seek the advice of their family doctors before venturing out on the trip especially if they are suffering from a long term illness or have any other medical condition. The medications for the same should also be carried on their person by the trekkers at all times.
Avoiding Common Trekking Mistakes
Over the years, it has been observed most accidents during trekking in Ladakh occur due to mistakes that could have been easily avoided by the participants. In order to ensure a safe and exciting trekking expedition, it is important to avoid taking any actions that might be against the set rules and guidelines. It is also important for the participants to never act on impulse and seek the advice of their trek leader to get rid of any doubt, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
The participants should make sure that they are physically fit enough to undertake the arduous trip of Chadar Trek. They should seek the advice of a reliable physician to get a clear idea about whether or not they possess the physical stamina, strength and endurance to face the challenges of this high altitude trek.
Once the participants embark on the trek, they need to keep themselves well hydrated at all times. For this they should drink enough water no matter how cold the temperatures may become. Maintaining the body’s water balance is extremely critical for the trekkers to prevent it from becoming weak and tired during the expedition.
As important as drinking water is for the trekkers, eating sufficient amount of food is also equally significant. Food provides the necessary energy and nutrition to the body to keep it b and sturdy throughout the expedition and make the body capable of facing the harsh conditions of Zanskar valley. Skipping even a single meal can make the body weak and reduce its resistance towards the elements.
Another common mistake that trekkers should avoid is that of wearing inappropriate attire. It is advisable for the participants to avoid wearing flowy or frilly clothes that can hinder navigation. Rather they should prefer warm polyester clothing that would not only keep the participants warm but also make trekking relatively easier for them.
In addition to wearing the right clothes, it is also important to wear the right kind of footwear. Since the participants will be spending most of their time in treading on ice, they should carry a pair of b snow shoes having metal spikes to gain a firm grip in snow. However, at the same time, the shoes should be comfortable and should not pose any problems while travelling over long distances.
Irrespective of the difficult terrain and harsh conditions, the Chadar Trekking expedition can prove to be extremely enjoyable and refreshing. However, to ensure the same the participants need to plan their trip well and take the various aspects into consideration, before enrolling for the same. The participants should make sure that check out factors such as the time of the program, trek cost, the route to be taken, the detailed itinerary and the various challenges and conditions that they would have to face during the trek.
Before setting out on the expedition, aspiring trekkers should to do a little research about the terrain, the climatic conditions and the geographical features of the trek. They should also prepare a checklist of the various things that need to be done to make the trip truly enthralling and memorable. However, the most important thing that trekkers need to keep in mind is to follow rules laid out by the trek leader at all times.