Frozen River Chadar Trek: A worth winter trek

Himalayas hold the unique proneness of charm that attract us towards them insanely. Mountains calling is a deep rooted desire in every trekker that keeps on proximating every now and then. But if you haven't experienced the unbelievable and if the sight of Himalayas hasn't kept you spellbound then it means you are still to witness the chadar trek.

Ladakh is nature's pristine piece of art. The bike rides to Ladakh are the most chanted and celebrated tourist getaway. There is an adventure trek called Chadar trek which you can attempt. When it is about trekking, Chadar trek is considered as the most astonishing trekking attraction of Himalayas. Chadar trek takes one week to complete and follows the paved frozen path and leads to the mysteries of frozen waterfalls.

The word itself means a blanket. Where else would you get to see an entire river frozen and turned into a blanket of ice? Not only see, but get to walk on it? It is one of a kind and once in a life time experience. It will be adventurous when you walk on or walk along with the frozen river.

This region has an altitude of around 12,000 to 13,000 feet and covers an area of 7,000 square kilometres. Between January and mid-February, this valley has desolated raw winters with very little direct sunlight. If ice skating is too conventional take advantage of the experience of trekking from another level in conjunction with one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

This trek is not for the weak-hearted as it's all about physical strength and zeal of survival in extreme conditions. Frozen lake trek should be in your bucket list because it takes you to a journey of Tibetan colorful cultural delights and rejuvenates you like never before. The aura of Ladakh and traditional values of the Tibetan lifestyle may inject new definitions of life in you.

The local inhabitants of Leh and Zanskar village are very heartwarming. It's just a matter of interaction and they would tell numerous tales about their culture and history of place. The whole journey is captivating and you would feel like capturing each moment of this trek in your eyes to memorize for a lifetime. Bonfire doesn't seem cozy until its really damn cold and camping doesn't seem fun when it becomes basic necessity.

The real thrill of this trek is to see the widespread frozen lake. This seven-day journey to frozen lake would add dozens of life experiences and zillions of memories. So, gear up yourself for this defining trek. Winters of Ladakh is a kind of experience in itself. When Ladakhi winters get camouflaged with chadar trek then it becomes an experience like never before.

The view of the frozen lake is magnificent and the whole trek worth life-time memory. Chadar trek gives you a good chance to soak yourself in the culture and tradition of Ladakh. The cold temperatures and fear of the fragile Zanskar river are nothing in comparison to the views you'll behold throughout the trek.

From the first stop at Leh, to Tsomo Paldar, followed by Tibb Caves till the final destination of frozen waterfall at Nerak, this trek is absolutely enchanting. It is one trek that no one should miss out in their lifetime. Chadar trek is for the adrenaline junkies who like to dare in extreme cold weather conditions.

Chadar Trek offers the adventure seekers a chance to walk on the frozen Zanskar River. The trekkers get to know about the locals and their way of living in one of the most uninhabitable places on earth. It is the trek from Zanskar to Lahaul through the passes. This circuit allows the traveler to discover little known valleys.

The diversity of the landscapes and the privileged meetings with the local population will fill those who already know about Zanskar and dream to discover the hidden face and its secret valleys like Paldar and Pangi valleys.

The crossing of Phe (Ating) to Bugian via Umasi La pass is a pedestrian link used by locals during the summer for those of them who wish to reach the Jammu region without having to follow the tedious road route that bypasses the Himalayan range through Kargil and Srinagar. By crossing this pass, they find themselves by the S side of the Great Himalayan Range and can in a few days reach the tracks that will allow them to go down to the cities of the South.

The Chadar trek is one of the most impressive treks in the world for several reasons. Its location, the conditions in which the expedition is carried out and the wild environment it transcends is for those who assiduously visit the mountains of the world in search of new challenges, of landscapes and authentic and indescribable sensations.

The Chadar Trek is also known as the Lower Zanskar Gorge and is a winter trail on the frozen river in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. This trek is known as Chadar trek because Chadar refers to the blanket as the Lower Zanskar River transforms from a fast flowing river into a white sheet or from the ice sheet during the winter. For lovers of Ladakh and Zanskar, there is a beautiful circuit that makes you travel out of time, out of the world.

Walk on the snow cover of the frozen Zanskar River through the stretches of snow-capped mountains. The magical charm and beauty of the snowy valleys are incomparable. The temperature of the region drops as low as -20 degrees Celsius at night. You may want to work on your endurance before embarking on this exciting journey.

Frozen river Chadar trek

Chadar Trek Specifications

Duration: 7 days

Starting point: Leh (Ladakh)

Maximum Altitude: 11,123 feet

Difficulty level: Moderate

Total trekking distance: 62 km (approx.)

Chadar Trek Itinerary

Reaching at Leh

Altitude: 11,400 feet

The base camp of this trek is Leh. The hassle-free way to reach Leh is by air, otherwise one can reach by road also. There is no railway station in Ladakh. There is direct flight from Delhi, Chandigarh and Srinagar to Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh. You can choose a road journey by following the Delhi-Chandigarh-Manali-Jispa-Leh route.

Don't forget to pack the woolens and trekking boots along with all essential luggage as the weather remains extremely cold during winters at Leh. Once you reach Leh, give yourself time to explore Leh and get acclimatized to its climate. Keep yourself hydrated and relax in the guest house.

Once you're acclimatized in Leh, and have sufficient protection against the cold, you will be comfortable. Know what's the best thing about trekking in -20C? - no matter how much you exert, sweat is hard to squeeze out - and the subsequent spoiling of clothes, the necessity to change at the end of the day, and bacterial growth, are all eliminated. Beat that! Everybody wants to tell everybody else to do this trek, once they're back.

The challenges on a walking on a temporary sheet of ice that lasts a mere month or two, and is always undergoing change, are different. You are likely to come across different hurdles on the Chadar on the way ahead and the way back. Despite being the same trail, it will feel like a new one. The trail is unpredictable to even the most experienced of Zanskaris, which means you live a new experience each time.

Day 1: Medical checkup and essential briefing

Trekkers have to report at the base camp in the morning for the medical tests. After the medical tests are done (Blood Pressure and oxygen) you will be guided with general instructions about the trek. The essential trekking equipments will be handed to trekkers. Submitting ID proofs and final listing of the trekking group will be done.

You may spend the evening by exploring the Leh market and trying out local cuisine. An ATM facility is there at Leh market.

Day 2: Leh-Zanskar-Gyalpo

Altitude: 11,480 feet - 10,500 feet

Trekking distance : 11 km

Time taken: 8 hours

Leh-Zanskar: 4 hrs drive

Zanskar-Gyalpo: 4 hrs trek

The journey would start from the base camp in the early morning after having breakfast. The trekking team will have go in a Jeep for 4 hours of drive alongside the Zanskar river. The serene views of Ladakh region, Gurudwara pathar sahib and conflux of Zanskar and Indus rivers will keep you engaged during this trip.

After a thrilling drive you will reach Zanskar village from where the real trek starts. This trek may seem difficult because the trail is not defined and you actually need to make your way through frozen course. The five hours of trekking would end up in our first base camp Gyalpo. The campsite becomes extremely chilly at night and experiencing such an open space at night amid snow-clad mountains is the real bliss of this trek.

You may face problems while trekking through the frozen and fragile trail. The conditions are unbelievably inhospitable. This includes extreme weather, the trail and the risks involved. Temperature ranges from -15 during the day to -30 degrees during the night, sometimes even lower. The ice can be very slippery to walk on initially. But your chadar experience is considered incomplete without falling at least once!

The trail is challenging as the slightest change in the atmosphere causes changes in the chadar. The formation is inconsistent. At some places it may be just fresh and at some places, proper and hard. Sometimes it is so fresh that you can actually see the water running beneath your feet. Sometimes you may have to climb up a little if chadar is not formed or broken.

Sometimes you may have to wade into ankle deep freezing cold water. And sometimes it is as easy as a breeze. If the trail is unique, the beauty will obviously be unique! And no uniqueness comes without challenges! The trail offers stunning landscapes and myriad never seen before views. Steep mountains, caves, frozen waterfalls, mountain goats and may be a snow leopard if you are lucky!

You will get to witness enormus shades of Blue, White and Brown. At some places the chadar will be crystal clear that you can see the stones laid under the frozen ice. At some places the river will be partially frozen which means you will be walking along side the flowing river! Though it is not all roses. Some people tend to get bored and find it all the same after a couple of days though it gets challenging with every passing day.

Some yearn for some colors around. Not everybody enjoys just the BWB combo. Some just get fade up of the cold. Some suffer from acute mountain sickness. Sometimes as you walk, you can hear the sound of chadar crackling with each step. It definitely sends a chill down your spine and leaves you wondering what if it breaks! Chadar is the beauty and the beast!

The most challenging thing about this trek is that you need to practice the balance with a stick on path and keep the journey going. Once you are sure about the stability of the path, only then take the step forward. It is recommended that you walk slowly and keep your backpack light.

Day 3: Gyalpo to Tibb Cave

Altitude: 10,500 feet- 10,800 feet

Trekking distance: 12 km

Time taken: 5-6 hours

Experience a chilly winter morning at the base camp of Gyalpo. Freshen up and have breakfast. The journey to Tibb cave starts through frozen waterfalls and beside the trail the emerald water of Zanskar flows. The serene beauty here is refreshing. There would be a mid-way halt where you will have the afternoon meal and rest for a while.

You can't do your ordinary stroll on the Chadar; all things being equal, you need to figure out how to do the Chadar Shuffle. It resembles a penguin walk, where you halfway waddle and slide to keep your equilibrium on the ice. You normally wind up slipping about right from the start, and will giggle and be snickered at.

During the day, the ice shapes are very thick, however it breaks and refreezes around evening time. In case you're fortunate, you'll will stroll over a stretch of frozen air pockets that look totally insane. At the point when you show up at Tibb Cave, it resembles a Chadar party is occurring. The base camp is Tibb Cave where you would reach by evening followed by dinner and camping for night.

There are enormous vessels of tea and maggi being cooked, cheerful flames are consuming, and everybody - doormen and adventurers - are unwinding and appreciating the vibe. Around evening time, every one of the tents of the various camping areas turn wonderful when lit upward, and you'll feel truly associated with everybody.

Around evening time, the stars and the moon seem as though they're extremely near the Earth. On account of the absence of light contamination, you can see very far around you. Seeing the frozen stream glancing smooth white in the evening glow, with quiet surrounding you, is a second you'll won't ever neglect.

Some of the time in your tent, before you rest, you'll hear the stream breaking noisily. It'll take you leap, and afterward snicker. Once in a while rises from the stream ascend under the ice and get caught, however they freeze in the ice.

Day 4: Tibb Cave to Naerak Camp

Altitude: From 10,800 feet to 11,100 feet

Trekking distance: 13 km

Time taken: 7 hours

This trekking trail is long and may feel tiring but the magnificent views of frozen Chadar lake and frozen waterfall are so enchanting that you would definitely get lost in the moment. You will be given a satisfying lunch-halt in the mid-way. The breathtaking views of the frozen lake and frozen waterfall at Naerak are those precious possessions that this trek is about.

Then there's the valley itself. With the Indus river flowing right below and towering barren mountains on either side, 'harsh' is the only word that comes to mind. The only people you meet will be fellow travelers (either locals or trekkers). You won't find some guy setting up a tea shop midway.

Ignoring the fact that this trek is a foaming river for most part of the year, the rocky and steeply rising mountains ensure that the region remains uninhabited. Through the day, you marvel at the play of light and the strange geographic features enroute. At the end of the day, you find your imagined solace.

For one, try counting, besides Chadar, how many adventures have to do with walking for days on a sheet of ice. None. You can claim to have walked/driven on land, skiied/boarded down snows, skydived/parasailed through the air, or swam/sailed through waters, but Chadar is a unique surface different from all these. The fact that it is a historic route connecting two seats of civilization - Leh and Zanskar - makes it even more unique.

Spend your night in nearby camping and capture the scenic beauty of nature’s best art. At Naerak the weather conditions become extreme and temperature may fall up to -30 degrees. Make sure you have enough warm clothing to combat the cold.

Day 5: Naerak to Tibb Cave

Altitude: From 11,100 feet to 10,800 feet

Trekking distance: 13 km

Time taken: 6 hrs

A reverse journey begins on the fifth day of the trek. After having breakfast, the trekking team heads back to Tibb cave. The best part of the beauty of this place is the shape of ice that breaks and changes color in the river every few hours. This trek is completely unique in terms of landscape, atmosphere, temperature and also changing Chadar.

The interactions with your expedition team are unique. The Zanskari porters and guides are cheery/helpful throughout, so much that by the end you bond strongly with them, and leave with a genuine appreciation and a generous tip. On the Chadar, sometimes the roles are reversed, as the terrain is always changing, and you can find yourself leading the porters or helping the guide.

Mid-way there would be a halt for lunch and the day-trek would end at Tibb Cave. You will spend the night camping and enjoying the chilly winter nights. Trekkers can also experience the beautiful ice from a bluish tint to golden yellow on a moonlit night.

The average temperature during the day is about 10 degrees below zero, which at night can reach 30 degrees below zero. However, with the right Chadar trek preparation and clothing you can enjoy the wonders that this trek offers with a river literally stopped with turquoise and deep blue colors, completely frozen waterfalls, vertical rock canyons bathed only by the sun the morning.

Day 6: Tibb cave-Gyalpo-Leh

Altitude: From 10,800 feet to 10,300 feet

Trekking distance: 18 km

Time taken: 8 hours

The journey back to the base camp is nostalgic. You are going to miss these majestic hills, barren trails and frozen lake views. The constantly-changing nature of the ice - it could be hard blue ice, or flaky powder, or crystals, or slush, all of which keeps forming and breaking right in front of your eyes, makes you feel like walking on a living mass - as if some mythic beast is heaving underneath.

The back route is simple and familiar so you can recreate the moments of trekking. After the trekking and drive you will be dropped back at Leh by evening.

Day 7: Signing off the trek

In the morning after having breakfast, a last trekking group meet would be there. After completing the signing off formalities of the trek, you can take the leave and head towards the departure from Leh.

So this is what Chadar Trek is all about. We all know that life in the mountains is hard but this trek will leave you with utmost respect for the locals. Also gives you a sense of achievement in terms of how far you can push yourself physically and mentally. The key is to prepare thoroughly and follow the instructions given by the trek leaders and guides.

Kalyan Panja