The Chadar Frozen River Trek is perhaps one of the most beautiful treks in India. I will not call it glamorous as many tend to call it. Because, when Chadar is associated with the word ‘glamorous’, it becomes one of the treks that needs to be ticked off the long ‘glamorous’ list. The Chadar Frozen River Trek is an experience, a feeling of wonder. We had done this trek long back in January 2014 – a time when there was not much rush of trekkers at Leh. Chadar Frozen River Trek was our second Himalayan Trek after Roopkund Trek the year before. While Roopkund made us fall in love with trekking, Chadar made us understand the responsibility of being a better trekker or traveller.
I always say that Ladakh is a place that never fails to awe its visitors. During the summers, Ladakh is vibrant with all the colours and sound of life. The same place bears a desolate and bleak look during the winter months. It is almost cut off from the rest of the world during this time and almost all the passes connecting Leh are closed due to heavy snowfall. The only way you enter Leh is by flight! Some of the villages become inaccessible during the winters due to snow and one can reach such village by trekking through frozen rivers!!!
What is the Chadar Frozen River Trek
The Zanskar River is a wild river gushing through the ravines and treacherous canyons of Ladakh. During the summers, the mighty river flows with all its fervor. But, during the winters, the river freezes and calms down. A blanket of ice forms over the river – thus letting the locals who are trapped in the inaccessible Zanskar villages walk over it and reach towards civilization in case of exigencies. This frozen blanket or “CHADAR” is the only way in and out for the Zanskari villagers in winter.
The temperature during this time can be as low as -10 degrees in the morning and -25 degrees in the evening! A seven to eight days hike in inhospitable conditions over the river would take you from Padum, capital of Zanskar valley to Chilling, near Leh. The CHADAR Trek, according to me is not just a trek; it is a symbol of hope and optimism. It signifies the indomitable spirit and courage of the people of the region.
What did we feel about the Chadar Frozen River Trek
Chadar Trek does not have a difficult trail. Yes, I repeat it again, the trail is not difficult, but it is definitely tricky. There are not much ascents and descents as you have in other treks. But, walking over thin ice layer over a fast flowing blue river is no mean feat. The temperature is sub-zero and it is a constant fight of willpower to carry on with the trek!
For the trekkers, the CHADAR Frozen River trek starts from Chilling, a few kilometers ahead of the Zanskar-Indus Sangam point and leads through the narrow canyons of the Zanskar valley. The trek ends at the Nerak village. The breathtaking views of golden mountains, frozen waterfalls, hanging icicles the babble of river few inches below your feet is sure to mesmerize you.
The chilly winds are sure to blow you away and the freezing cold nights at the campsites below the clear starry skies would make you realise what CHADAR really is! And after a couple of days in CHADAR, the sound of the flowing rivers underneath your feet will indeed be like music to your ears. The sound of the CHADAR changes according to its thickness. And if you are lucky enough, you might even spot the footprints of snow leopards on the snow.
Early mornings in CHADAR will seem like you are inside a refrigerator. Your hands and feet will go numb. The only therapy here is to walk and walk fast until your feet response again. As you walk down the CHADAR, the sun will play hide and seek with you. You will definitely crave for the warmth of the sun here.
The entire trek path is not uniform. At places, you will find fresh snow, while at other places you have to tread on hard ice. Walking on soft snow is relatively easy than walking on hard ice. You have to walk slowly in a penguin kind of way. Also, there are chances that you will fall down. But don’t worry, it happens to all. Experienced trekkers, as well as the locals, fall down on hard ice. The only thing you do in such situation is to rise again and start walking again with the same zeal and spirit. And at some places, there is no CHADAR at all!! It is broken, weak or not formed. Here you have to make your way through the chilling water. And if the water is quite deep, you have to climb over the mountains to cross the broken CHADAR.
Chadar Trek boasts of some very difficult campsites. The locals usually stay at the caves during the night. If you are going with some trekking agency, you might be provided with tents. Personally, our favourite campsite is the Shingra Koma campsite. It is a big campsite beside a frozen stream. As you walk down the stream exploring, you will encounter a frozen waterfall. The whole place will look as if straight out of some Hollywood movie.
Chadar Frozen river trek is an ultimate experience for all the wanderlust. But again I would say that if you want to do the trek, please know about the place and do your research. Travel responsibly, because Chadar is not about bragging rights. It is also about respecting the ways of nature!
The trek route:
Leh – Tilat Sumdo – Shingra Koma – Tibb – Nerak – Tibb – Shingra Koma – Tilat Sumdo – Leh
How to Reach?
The only way to reach Leh during the winter is by flight. Leh Airport is connected with all the major airports of India.
Chadar Frozen River Trek can be done in the months of January and February.
Here are some tips that might help you to plan your Chadar Trek.
A few more photographs!
We had a wonderful experience at Chadar Frozen river trek. Please feel free to comment and add your experience too. Also, we welcome any queries regarding Chadar.