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Chadar Trek Adventures

  The ‘Chadar’ Trek


 Ever dream of walking on water?

The Zanskar River offers prospects for a lot of off-beat activities, mainly white water rafting in the summer. Nevertheless, in winter, an entire blanket of ice covers the river, in turn giving us, footloose gypsies, the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance to walk on it!

In late January 2013, I reached Leh in order to prepare for my ‘Chadar’ trek. My group arrived a couple of days later and we began our preparations to stock up rations (mainly eggs, noodles, milk powder, coffee, sugar, tea, onion, potatoes, rice, cooking oil, salt, biscuits), sleeping bags, tents, down jackets, gum boots, essential medication and of course our manpower of a cook and five porters. We waited a couple more days as we acclimatized ourselves to the chilling freeze for what awaited us ahead was ice and snow.

The following day, we started for Chilling (not just the weather but also the name of a town from where the ‘Chadar’ initiates), a 65 km drive by road from Leh. As we reached mid afternoon, we transferred all our rations and essentials from the car boot to wooden sledges. It was time for us to start off. On the way, we learnt to walk on what was an unpredictably slippery icy surface below. A few tumbles along our 40 minute route to Tilat not only acclimatized us to the walking technique (almost penguinesque) but also to the metaphorical falls in life from whither we learn to pick ourselves up and move forward.

Ice Sledding

 As we got used to the philosophical walk, steadily we reached Tilat. Tents were pitched on the icy riverside (even the kitchen had its own tent), as our chef served us tea with biscuits. We caught up with travelers from other groups and we clicked snaps of the pristine beauty of the ‘Chadar’. After sunset, we called it a day having been served dinner of dal rice and sabji.

The next couple of days saw us trekking to Shingra Kongma or Shingra Higher and then onwards to Tibb, which turned out to be the longest trek between any two trek points. Here, our senior most porter stayed back to hold a cave for our group to experience the warmth of it on our return leg. Meanwhile, another porter carried on towards Nirak so that he could book a room in the ‘makaan’ for the group in advance.

Shelter at Nirak

 The subsequent day, on the way to Nirak at the prayer flags, the porters, as a tradition, made talismans for the group members out of wood. Upon receiving them, we reciprocated by giving them some money as ‘shagun’ or goodwill. Further ahead, we reached the most picturesque waterfall frozen in ice and in time. The ice curtain or ice wall, as it is perceived, received its fair share of clicks; but no picture, digital or on film, could do justice to the majestic grandeur our own eyes were treated to.

Frozen Water Fall

Upon reaching Nirak, we checked into a room at the ‘makaan’ that our porter had booked for us the previous day. As we rested in the warmth of the fire place in the middle of the room or the ‘bukhari’, our eyes faded into the dreams of a not too distant memory…


… And as our dreams faded into memory and our eyes awakened to the light of day, we were on our way back on the return leg. The following evening on reaching the cave at Tibb (courtesy of our senior most porter) it was a time to feast and rejoice. A bonfire lit, Ladakhi folk songs and old Hindi movie songs sung, and the flowing of rum of a good Old Monk along with the local variant of Chinar made it a night to remember. A toast to the river Zanskar and to the endeavoring spirit of adventure brought the festivities to a close.

Our last night at the ‘Chadar’ was inLower Shingraor Shingra Yokma. Our group bonded as we shared our experiences with one another. It is worth a mention that the soil where our tent was pitched was so sandy that it gave us a feeling of being on a beach. It really was quite surreal. As we thanked the porters for guiding us through this incredible journey, I could not help but picture myself in the warmth of the heaters in the city ofLeh. It would indeed be well deserved end to a fabulous adventure as we headed towards our final stop at Chilling via Tilat the following morning.

View from Lower Shingra

A road is currently being constructed from Chilling to Padum which might have an adverse effect on the future of the trek. So, I urge all you adventure enthusiasts to give it a go before the opportunity is lost.

The ‘Chadar’ trek is one of the most unique adventure treks one can opt for and is also one of the most unpredictable. You have to take it each day as it comes as the surface of the ice changes according to weather daily. On days when the sun is bright and strong, one can hear the deafening sound of ice cracking that shatters the impregnable silence surrounding us. As you can see in the video below, towards the culmination of the trek at Tilat, I almost managed to drown my Canon SLR as the thin ice beneath me gave way. But therein lies the adrenalin, the excitement and the triumph of the human spirit.

Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

To all my fellow gypsies, I end with these words.

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