Chadar Trek is an exhilarating expedition through the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh, offering a unique and unforgettable adventure amidst the breath-taking landscapes of the Himalayas. Chadar Trek not only provides an adrenaline-pumping adventure but also gives an unparalleled opportunity to witness the stunning frozen landscapes, towering snowclad cliffs, and tranquil snow-covered surroundings. With temperatures dropping as low as -30 degrees Celsius, we had to trek across a frozen river, navigating narrow icy gorge walls and witnessing stunning frozen waterfalls along the way.

This trek definitely requires courage, endurance, and an indomitable spirit to face the challenges of walking on a fragile layer of ice. The test of my mental and physical endurance came in January 2020 when I decided to do the Chadar Trek, which turned out to be the most memorable one.

To begin with, Chadar Trek takes place in the setting of the Himalayan mountains. Along the Himalayas, other popular winter treks are the Kuari Pass trek, Kedar kantha trek, Beas Kund trek, Brahma Tal trek etc. Chadar trek is the most enamouring, adventurous, and one of the longest trekking trails in India covering 62 km over 8 chilly days. It opens in the coldest months, that is, January and February when the Zanskar Lake freezes and becomes a ‘Chadar’ or sheet of ice and hence called the – “Chadar Trek”. Its risk factor is quite high and considered difficult with an altitude of 11,123ft and freezing temperatures along with hard-to-guess river ice. One needs to finish with long trekking hours, sub-zero survival temperature (as low as -5 to -15 degrees during the day and -25 to -30 degrees at night), and no fancy accommodations or health care for trekkers (Acute Mountain sickness, etc). In the end, the trek is all about persistence and survival.

We did our trekking in January 2020 and was my first time at Leh. Leh was covered in a blanket of snow and the town was dressed in white when we landed at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh. The city of Leh was partly open during this time and we were told that most traders shift to other places to avoid the harsh winter. We were strictly asked to acclimatize for the first two days without doing too much sightseeing. Acclimatization to the altitude is essential in this trek as one can experience Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) if not taken care of properly and we need to clear the preliminary medical test before starting the trek. I explored the local markets, had some delicious Ladakhi food, and did not forget some good yak milk dishes which were so delectable.

We started our trek at Shingra Koma via Bakula which was the starting point of our trek. Depending on the weather, the Chadar (sheet of ice over the river) changes its form. It can be hard and glass-like in some patches or it can have a layer of powdery snow on it giving us a better grip or you could face thin ice in certain areas. So, the trek involved us walking in slush or dodging that entire patch and going over the rocks on the side of the river ably guided by a local trek guide. At places, where the Chadar (or ice) did not form over the river, we then had to forge a new trail climbing over snow-covered embankments to descend to a spot on the river where the ice was more stable.

The trail did become narrow and risky in some patches but we were determined to finish this trek and there weren’t many by the end of the first day who hadn’t fallen into the river or slipped from a slope. Also, there were times when there was thin ice or the ice was broken, we had to climb a small peak to avoid river crossing. We spent our first trek night at the campsite where we were given simple yet hot delicious Maggi noodles. The joke in the group was that we would have gobbled up anything that they would give us, as long as it was hot! We slept like a log in the freezing -24-degree weather in our double-layered Siachen-grade sleeping bags inside our cozy tents.

We also had kept hot water bags inside the sleeping bags to ensure that they supplemented our body warmth. As we woke up in the morning, our tents were fully covered in snow and the sunrise was as enchanting and beyond words to explain. The warm sun rays, the ice-clad mountains all around, and the frozen river setting were quite surreal to even explain here.

Our next stretch of the trek was to Dibb and we had to walk 14 long kilometers to reach the next campsite. I marvelled at the views as we walked in this huge valley with nothing but pure crisp air and huge snowy mountains on both sides. The colour of the Zanskar river was deep vibrant blue which I still vividly remember. It was so clean and pure that we took so many sips directly from the river only to realize later that it was a bad spur-of-the-moment activity which left us with sore throats later.

A few dare devil characters even jumped in the freezing waters for a quick trekker high. The next day was another long day for having to trek for 12 km to reach Nerak which was the biggest highlight of the whole trek to witness the most enchanted, and well-accounted destination-Frozen waterfall. The 50ft majestic frozen waterfall transported us to the world of dreams.

To describe it exactly – the waterfall is frozen mid-flow and it forms a cascade of ice through these months. All along the route, our group played with the ice, we fell, we laughed, we sang together happily, we trekked at subzero temperature, we enjoyed, and we saw the beautiful frozen Zanskar it was the trip of a lifetime and the most astounding experience.

To sum it up everything about Chadar Trek is exceptional – the scenery, temperature, atmosphere, frozen river, sleds, unusual campsites, caves, and the ever-changing Chadar, in the end, you will witness the frozen waterfall which is so surreal and phantasmagorical! If you love treks and experiences, the Chadar Trek has to be on your bucket list and must be done as an adventure of a lifetime.

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