Things to Keep in Mind During Chadar Trek 2020
Proclaimed as one of the most dangerous treks in the world, the Chadar Trek combines two elements that excite adventure tourists – Ladakh, and trekking. What makes it one-of-a-kind is the fact that the trekking happens on the surface of a frozen river. A river that flows through the enchanting valley between almost-vertical snow-clad mountain ranges; a river that is made as hard as stone by the biting cold winter – a critical challenge to the adrenaline pumping in your blood.
The Chadar Trek is right in the lap of the most glorious speckle of white you’ll ever see. No other trek comes close to the thrill that this one triggers. The perils that come along with it only make it grander; they are the reason people from all over the world are drawn to the Chadar Trek, Ladakh. And you will be too, by the time you reach the end of this article.
OVERVIEW OF THE CHADAR TREK
The Chadar Trek is a trek on the Zanskar River that is frozen rock-solid in the winter months of January and February. The (technically) Zanskar River Trek is popularly known as the Chadar Trek because of how the ice forms a thick snowy blanket on the river.
The Chadar Trek is located in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. As if it wasn’t special enough already, Chadar Trek still manages to add to Ladakh’s charm in its own unmatched way. The trek gets you from the town of Chilling in Ladakh to the villages of the Zanskar Valley. It is of almost 65 kilometres and you can get to a maximum altitude of 11,123 feet above sea level.
The journey starts in Leh. Before you start the trek, you need to get a fitness certificate from government officials in Leh. After you get acclimatized to the weather and altitude, you are all set to head to Chilling. On the way there, you will pass several pitstops worth looking out for – like the confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers, Magnetic Hill and Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. Shingra Yokma is where the trekking will begin. Every day of the trek includes walking for about 6 to 7 hours on the frozen river and then setting up camp for the chilly night. For this, we suggest you camp in caves, along with the locals. It’s a golden opportunity to interact with them, hear stories of how they connect with the rest of the world during the impossible winters, ask for trekking tips and even consume some of the hot, delicious food (a true blessing) they carry just for you.
As you get on, you will come across the majestic frozen falls at the Tibb Cave. Do take a moment to breathe in the beauty as you might not get a chance to witness something like this again. If you’re lucky, you might even spot foxes and snow leopards, making their way through the chadar of snow. After about 5 days of arduous but sweet pain, the trek will end at Shingra Yokma, from where you had started. With tremendous stories of your exciting adventures, you will head back to Leh.
HOW TO REACH LEH AND GO FURTHER
As inviting as the drive to Leh Ladakh is, it is almost impossible to reach there by road during winters. Blocked roads are one thing, but driving can be dangerous due to landslides and slippery roads. And there are no railways in this hilly area. Hence, airways is the only option. Many operators have a daily flight to Leh from New Delhi. And worry not, the view of the mountains from hundreds of feet above ground is as promising as a road trip.
Fom Leh, you will reach Chilling via road. Buses and taxis are abundantly available. The befores and afters of the trek on the Chadar route, are remarkable. The view of one mountain after the other, in an endless sequence, is serene and will get you excited for what is to come!
BEST TIME TO GO FOR THE CHADAR TREK
The best time, and actually, the only time to go for the Frozen River Trek is obviously when the river is frozen. It’s the only window of opportunity to really appreciate the natural beauty that has been preserved for centuries. So, go here in the winter months of January and February. As this is the season to go for the Chadar Trek, all other adventure-seekers will go at the same time as well. So, make sure you have made your Chadar Trek bookings well in advance. Even in this window, we suggest you go in February, because the ice is the most stable during that time. So, you’ll find it safer and a bit easier to trek over.
In these months, the weather is such that every walkable surface is slippery and prone to landslides. But the locals find walking over the frozen Zanskar River the safest way to cross the valley for their daily work. That is how this trek became famous. It is part of the daily routine of the villagers and thus, it becomes the factor that tells you not to worry too much about the stability of the ice. If you follow the guidelines and get properly trained, you will be in a much better position to trek on the ice (pun intended).
THINGS TO CARRY FOR THE CHADAR TREK
Here are the absolute essentials you need to carry. Everything needs to be waterproof and must ensure your warmth in the sub-zero temperatures.
- Backpack (60-70 litres) and rain cover
- Trekking stick (at least 1)
- Chadar Trek route map
- Gumboots and trekking shoes
- UV-protected sunglasses
- Insulated water bottle and water purifier
- Sleeping bag
- Hot water bag
- Torch and batteries
- Energy bars and dry fruits
- Cold cream, lip balm
- Toilet paper and wipes
- Personal medication and emergency kit
- Synthetic trekking pants
- Full sleeve woollen shirts
- Full sleeve thick jacket
- Thermal inners
- Gloves (both, thermal and waterproof), socks, monkey cap, muffler
- Valid ID proof (like passport, driving license) and copies
- 4 passport size photographs and a couple extras
It can’t be stressed enough just how cold it is going to be. So, make sure you have everything you need. When you’re in Leh before the trek starts, you can shop for things you might have missed out on. Do consult the locals for expert tips on this too.
PHYSICAL FITNESS REQUIRED FOR THE TREK
The Chadar Trek is open to all who are physically fit, whether beginners or experienced in trekking. However, it is not advisable for first-timers as trekking on ice can be really tricky. The main challenge is to know the land and place your foot on the right spots. Even if you have trekking experience, you need to prepare yourself as this trek is like nothing you’ve encountered before. As sensational as the Chadar Trek will be, you need to be extremely careful to pull through.
Apart from experience, the most important item on the checklist is being physically fit. You must be active enough to trek about 15 km every day in 6 to 7 hours, carrying a 10 kg backpack, without much fatigue. If you have ailments like high blood pressure, heart condition, asthma, epilepsy, etc., it is highly recommended you sit this one out. And of course, the nights will be rough too.
The level of your physical fitness won’t be determined by you – it will be checked by government officials; they won’t take your word for it. For the Chadar Trek, you need to get a fitness certificate from the SNM Hospital in Leh, without which, or failing which, you cannot go further. But going through the strenuous process of getting fit will be worth it. Trust us, you do not want to miss out on the breathtaking and unique Chadar Trek. If you have set your mind to it, you need to get into shape and build stamina.
For a trek as challenging as this one, you need at least an hour of stressful exercise every day for 2-3 months before it’s time to go. Do cardio exercises such as jogging, cycling and climbing stairs, as well as exercises to strengthen your core such as push-ups, crunches and squats. Also, take steps to improve your lung capacity by swimming and jogging. Cut down on junk food and opt for healthier options. Make sure you’ve gone through your Chadar Trek itinerary a couple of times to get familiar with and understand what you’re in for.
When you reach Leh, spend a day or two to get acclimatized to the weather. Take strenuous walks and test your thermal and trekking gear. If something is missing or not right, buy more appropriate gear in Leh. Pay attention to these details to undergo the Chadar Trek more comfortably.
HOW TO TACKLE THE CHALLENGES FACED DURING THE CHADAR TREK
As the Chadar Trek reviews say correctly, it is not for the faint-hearted. The experience is beyond thrilling. The fact that there are so many hurdles involved, makes the trek more rewarding. The first step is to be mentally prepared for the upcoming challenge.
The weather you will face during the Chadar Trek makes for half of the challenge. The entire day will be chilly and it’ll only get worse at night. The temperature is drastic. -5° in the day and -25° at night. No number of layers to your clothing is too many. But this also means that you’ll be carrying extra weight, so practice doing that. Your fingers and toes are important, needless to say. And they are the most sensitive to cold. So, protect them first. Make sure everything you have, right down to your sleeping bag, will keep you warm. Also, electronics tend to get ruined in such weather. So, keep them close to your body, beneath the layers. Any food that you carry that is not consumed warm, is useless as it will freeze. So, carry ready-to-eat packets and buy hot food from the locals that accompany you on the trek. Drink warm water and keep yourself dry.
The other half of the challenge is stepping foot on the ice. Take your time to learn the technique at Shingra Yokma, before you go any further. Take the help of locals for this – they will give you the best first-hand training. Your footwear is extremely crucial. Gumboots are a good, waterproof idea as at many places in the trek, you may be walking through ice-cold water. And there is no way your trekking shoes will dry after. Gumboots will cause shoe bites, but you’ll get used to them. Also be prepared for other cuts and bruises as tripping over the slippery ice is common.
The ice is beguiling, but deceiving. There tend to be several cracks, that cannot go unnoticed. Places where the ice has a thick covering of snow are usually the best places to walk on. But if there appears a crack under your feet, run to more stable land immediately. In fact, before you start the trek, ask around for the condition and stability of the ice on the frozen river. If at that time, trekking is advised against, do not go further, make your way back home without question.
If you experience any major difficulty in breathing, frost bite, mountain sickness or injury, get help from the locals and other trekkers at once.
The Chadar Trek is every bit as good as it sounds. It is a chance for you to experience Ladakh in a new, twisted way. And it is more satisfying than is challenging. Mark these words. Unfortunately, it will only be around for a couple more years before the government builds the Zanskar Highway here. But fortunately, you can make your bookings today!