I’m on top of the world, ‘eh.
Cause I am in Ladakh right now!
Okay, the last line isn’t part of the lyrics for the ever so popular song, ‘I’m on Top of the World’ by Imagine Dragons. But it perfectly fits in as Ladakh really feels like the top of the world with the average height being over 3000m! The whole of the Himalayas are grand and spectacular, or as Roald Dahl would call it, Giganticus. Ladakh is a special part of this mega mountain range as the harsh climate and terrain are balanced out by the warm hospitality of the Ladakhi people. Can you really call yourself a traveller if you haven’t been to Ladakh?
And the most unmissable event in the most unmissable part of the Himalayas is the Chadar trek.
Trekking over a frozen river, stunning valleys, frozen waterfalls, mighty mountains and an adventure like no other. Need I cite more reasons to embark on this trek?
Chadar Trek takes place over the ice-covered Zanskar River during the winter months, mainly between mid-January and mid- February, when the river is frozen and is the only means of transportation for the few hundred villagers living in these extreme conditions. However, over the past few years it has carved out a niche for itself as a one of a kind trek. Most of the treks in the Himalayas are only open in the summer months as in the winters it is too cold and inaccessible for these trails. Fortunately, Chadar isn’t like most other treks. Operational specifically only during the winter months, this will be a total different experience from any other trek you will take.
While you may not see too much greenery or pastures as in the normal treks, this trek is about something else itself. It will put you out in the element; just you and Mother Nature. Hundreds of kilometres of open, empty land full of jagged hills, exquisite vistas, night skies full of stars, and a sense of peace that wouldn’t be found in the more commercial hikes. Keep in mind, though, that Chadar Trek is astronomically more challenging than your average trek as the winter temperature can drop to as low as -30C and the altitude itself is on the higher side at about 11000ft. Taking a chilling dip in the icy water is a kind of ritual on this trek so get prepared to freeze these memories. The challenging nature of the trek also makes it that much more satisfactory. And as we know, in a travelling dictionary, challenging = fun!
So with an uncommon but assailable set of challenges and sceneries that will fill up your ‘Oh wow, how is India so amazing’ memorybank, the adventure of Chadar Trek is second to none. Now you must want to know how to get there and what the trek entails, right? Don’t worry, we got that covered for you next!
How to Reach Chadar?
Chadar is a dish best served cold, as we have seen before. But this doesn’t make it easily reachable. The extreme winters and snow block most of the roads off from October-November till about March-April. The construction of Atal tunnel has improved the situation but if you are planning to go by road, be prepared for sudden and unexpected closures and blockades.
This leaves only one major viable option; by air. The Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, or simply the Leh Airport is where you want to be flying in to. This airport is quite well connected for a remote town in the midst of huge mountain ranges. Flights from Delhi regularly fly here and it isn’t inconvenient to the slightest. This is actually one of the few places where you wouldn’t mind aeroplanes being the only option to visit; just a glimpse out the window of the plane at the setting of myriad majestic peaks and meandering rivers in the background of a clear blue sky will make a feast for your eyes.
All organised tours of Chadar Trek starts and ends in Leh itself, so make this rustic little town your base.
Tips for your Trip
For a trek in such tricky conditions, it is only natural that you should be properly equipped and prepared. The Chadar trail is not very hard; it is in fact quite doable for a healthy person. The cold, on the other hand, will not be so easy to bear. Most of the tourists underestimate the chill of Ladakh in winter and often come in for a rude shock. Don’t let the same happen to you. Carry thermals and at all times you should be wearing atleast 4-5 layers of clothes.
Another big pointer for you is there is no need to purchase trekking boots for Chadar Trek. To combat the cold, you will need to use gum boots that can be locally bought in Leh itself for a minimal price. There are also army store with top quality winter accessories near Leh. If you plan on going with a packaged tour, they will provide all the tents, food and other basic accommodation; but if you want to go solo, then you can hire a porter to carry your tents, luggage and all other essentials. Also don’t forget medicines like Acetazolamide to counter high altitude sickness. At times, if there are cracks on the ice or if the ice is thin, be prepared to take detours that may be physically more strenuous.
While all these tips are extremely important, the most vital one is that you should be ready to have a time of a lifetime, because once you are here, despite all of the challenges, you will just want to keep hitting the refresh button on the trip.
The Chadar Trek is 7 days of pure adrenaline. The actual trek spans a period of 5-6 days with a couple of travel days and if you plan on exploring Leh and the surrounding areas, then give yourself a little more time. The whole trail goes on for about 60-65km and you will be walking an average of 12-13km per day. For the more experienced hikers, there are a few tours that take you through the Zanskar gorge in double quick time of around 3-4 days. You will be witnessing a plethora of natural wonders, cultural curiosities and interesting features of the mountains. Soon, you will be singing,
“Don’t stop me now, cuz I’m having a good time, having a good time.”
So let us go through the whole itinerary of the Chadar Trek to find out all the awesome stuff you will be doing on each day of the trail.
Note: The schedule given below is the general one followed by most travellers and packages, although there are alternate routes that can be taken, depending on your fitness, pacing and passion for adventure.
Day 1 & 2: Arrive at Leh and take a day out to explore Leh town
Once your flight lands in Leh, you will wonder whether you are in Shangri-La (not the hotel), a beautiful, harmonious place where life approaches perfection. No wonder that a nickname of Ladakh is ‘The Last Shangri-La’.
By seeing the scintillating earthly wonders of the region, you will surely want to explore all the valleys, peaks and passes neighbouring Leh as soon as you get off the plane but it is better to take it a bit slow. The moment you land, you will be up against the biggest danger of whole trip; thin air. The high elevation of Leh make the air thinner and oxygen levels in the atmosphere drop; this can make altitude sickness a real threat. This is a major reason that it is government mandated that you take an extra day for acclimatisation to the new environment before embarking on your Chadar adventure. However, if you face no issues in your first few days, the trip is more likely to go without hindrance as altitude changes in the Chadar Trek are very miniscule as it goes through a gorge between massive peaks.
Bonus Tip: One great way to combat the altitude is by keeping yourself hydrated at all times. Drink atleast 3-4 litres of water everyday.
Another thing you will need getting used to is the mind numbing cold. You will experience cold like no other during Himalayan winters. This is compounded by the fact that it is also very dry, so bring moisturizers and chapsticks along with you. Now, we can understand why the government has put the protocol of staying an extra day in Leh.
This spare day in Leh can be used to many effects. You could use it as a day of relaxing or you could utilise it to do some sightseeing around town. During your stay in Leh town, you certainly won’t be bored. There are things aplenty to do in or around Leh. One such intriguing attraction is the Magnetic Hill, half an hour’s drive from town centre, where the vehicles seemingly go uphill, defying the laws of gravity. If you are looking for some natural beauties a few hours’ drive from Leh, try visiting the frozen and fabulous Pangong Lake. This lake borders China and is the setting of the popular ending scene of 3 Idiots. The Nubra Valley is another fascinating region; it is the only place outside Mongolia where you will find the Double Humped Camels.
For historic and religious monuments take a ride to Shey Monastery, a 400 year old monastery just 15km from Leh. The Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist Temple built by Japanese monks in 1991, is situated on a hill overlooking Leh town and possesses enough panoramic views of Leh and the nearby hills to infect you with the Leh-Ladakh Fever. You can walk up the Stupa to get your body up and running for the trek. You could also spend the day shopping in Leh Market, although many of the shops may be closed considering it is not tourist season.
As you can see, Leh is a multi-dimensional region with places and things that will keep you occupied before your big trek up the frozen Zanskar.
Day 3: Medical Check Up
This day is purely for the formalities. The government of Ladakh necessitates a medical check-up all trekkers before they leave for Chadar. This includes testing of your BP and Oxygen levels among others. You will also require a permit from the wildlife department of the area and obtain your insurance documents and other such necessary documentations. You might think it is slightly on the lacklustre side, but it is crucial to continue on your great voyage of Chadar.
Day 4: Drive to Chiling and trek to Shingra Koma from there
Oh, finally the wait is over! This is day the trek finally begins.
The starting point of the trek is not in Leh, but infact we have to drive to a village called Chiling from Leh. The drive takes two hours and goes through Magnetic Hill. This drive is scenic and scary at the same time as you go through narrow roads overseeing deep valleys and hairpin bends that are goosebump inducing. But at the same time, the sceneries and the mere setting of the royal mountains on one side and the Zanskar River on the other will make it worthwhile. Seeing the solid Zanskar will only make you more enthusiastic for Chadar trek to start. At a point, you will even get to view the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is another site of religious importance on the way to Chiling. It is maintained by the army and is worth a visit.
The real adventure begins! Initially, you may struggle to walk with your gumboots on the river, so you can take some time to practise by walking around the glassy and icy river. You may fall down a few times as you lose balance, but it is all part of the fun and experience. It will take some time to learn which part of the ice is thick and where to plant your foot and so on. So take your time to get adapted to the icy nature of Zanskar River.
The trekking for today is only for about 4-5km and takes a time of 2-3 hours. This ensures that there is lesser load on you on the first day and gives you time to adjust to the unfamiliar conditions. At night you will get your first experience of camping out in the open in sub-zero temperatures. You can gaze out into the clear skies and reconcile with the stars as you snuggle up into your cozy sleeping bag. Get some good rest this night because an even more thrilling day awaits you!
Day 5: Shingra Koma to Tibb Cave
A frozen waterfall and a mysterious cave. Sounds like something out of Adventures of Tintin. Sign me in!
On this day you will start your journey to Tibb Cave. This is the first serious day of trekking as you enter into a whole new world of icy gorges and ravines. The trail from Shingra Koma to Tibb Cave is 18km long and takes around 7-8hours making it the most hectic day of the trek. The day will start as you reluctantly get out of your warm sleeping bag to face the harsh Himalayan weather. Being winter, the sun rises quite late at about 9-10am and even then it plays hide and seek with the mountain peaks. The result of this is that it forms magnificent patterns, hues and displays as the sun shines on the rocks, river and ice.
You will thoroughly enjoy this day and your excitement will increase once you reach Tibb Cave. These caves are absolutely secluded and are waiting for you to discover them. You may also come across some frozen waterfalls on the way but the real treat is saved for the next day. You will be camping in Tibb Cave this night as the true beauty of Chadar Trek unfolds itself to you.
Day 6 & 7: Tibb Cave to Nerak Village and back to Tibb Cave
So deep into the trek, you will be wondering whether anyone can live in such cold weather, with temperatures regularly falling below minus 30C. On the 6th day of Chadar Trek your questions will be answered as you will get to meet the locals of Nerak Village, which is apparently in the middle of nowhere.
This is again a day where you will be ready to drop following a hard day’s trek of 12-13km that takes 6-7hours. But what follows will get your heart back pumping and excitement levels rising. The Nerak Waterfall, shiny and frozen, looks blissful in the backdrop of the Himalayas. The magical charm of a frozen waterfall cannot be put into words as the waterfall seems to be luring you into it.
The icing on the cake is that you will also get an opportunity to meet the tough and hardy inhabitants of Nerak, who brave the elements to stay in this wonderland. They are very welcoming and friendly and will invite you in for a cup of Butter Tea, a local delicacy. It is also interesting to learn about their lives and the challenges of living in Nerak. Infact, it is the Chadar Trail that is used by the villagers and monks that need to go to Zanskar Village, so you may see a little life on the trail up here. Humans are not the only living beings you could find in this stretch as snow leopards, wolfs and ibex are common visitors and you should try spotting their footprints even though finding the animals themselves will require a third eye.
You will be camping at a site neat Nerak and the next day you will be making your way back to Tibb Cave by the same route as you are now way past the halfway point in the trek.
Day 8: Tibb Cave to Shingra Koma via Gyalpo
The last leg of the journey begins on this day. Once again, the morning vistas and beautiful surroundings will energise you in the morning as you prepare for the trek. On day 8 you will be hiking 18km which will take 7-8hours. Again you will spot many trails and footprints of the native animals. Retracing the steps you took, you will be able to take on last look at the stunning and gorgeous Zanskar River and Chadar Trail. You will be leaving with a heavy heart and bid goodbye to the trail by saying Julley (a Ladakhi term that means hello, thank you and goodbye).
While traversing to Shingra Koma, you will take the route that goes through Gyalpo, a camping site. From Shingra Koma, it is only a short trek to Chiling. From Chiling you can easily get back to Leh the same way you arrived. This will remain a holiday that gets embedded into your memories.
Oh, what a trip! Just writing on it is rekindling all the amazing experiences. I’m sure reading this has also made you want to zoom into the Chadar Trek right now. If reading about it is only making you so excited, imagine what the real trek would be like!
So get on with the planning, jump onto the Chadar juggernaut and be on that plane when it takes off to Leh. You wouldn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime experience for anything in the world. Embark on this journey that is bound to change your life. Enjoy….. and don’t forget to tell us about the blast of a time you’ve had out on Zanskar.
Kaizen Adventours brings you the most exciting adventure.
We Offers Best Chadar trek packages at affordable prices so that everyone can enjoy the vacation with their family and friends.
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