Chadar Trek: Hiking on a frozen river

22 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The Chadar Trek on Zanskar is one of the most famous and challenging winter treks of the Indian Himalayan region. Offering surreal backdrops for a stretch of over 90 kms, the Chadar Trek is known for giving the trekkers the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hiking over a frozen river and ice cold water, while being able to admire the scenic waterfalls completely frozen by the constant sub-zero temperatures. Will you be walking over the Zanskar river on your next adventure in India?

Explore trip itineraries, accommodation, transport, required gear, fitness plan, insurance and more

Chadar Trek on Zanskar River in LadakhChadar Trek on Zanskar River in Ladakh

A day-to-day itinerary

Because it will take you over the frozen Zanskar river, the Chadar trek must be undertaken between January and February. Once there, it will take you approximately 9 days to complete depending on your physical condition and the weather conditions up in the mountains. Here is what you can expect day by day, approximately:

DAY 1. LEH

On the first day, you will be flying from a location in India to Leh. During the opening season of the Chadar Trek, i.e., the winter season, air transportation is the only way to reach the city. You will spend the first day acclimatizing to the high altitude – Leh is already 3400m high – and relaxing in preparation for the adventure to come.

DAY 2. LEH

Because of the altitude, you will need a second day of acclimatization in Leh in order to minimize the risks of altitude sickness. In fact, the local authorities have made it a requirement for all trekkers to stay at least two days in the city. Luckily, you won’t be bored while in Leh and can enjoy a stroll at the city’s market or go for a tour of the many monasteries around the city. 

Chadar Trek – Walking on a frozen riverChadar Trek – Walking on a frozen river

DAY 3. LEH.

Due to a massive increase in the number of trekkers in recent years and its consequent damaging impact on the ecosystem of the region, the local administration has instituted a new set of regulations for trekkers to follow. This includes the two-days/three-nights acclimatization period mentioned above, as well as a mandatory medical check-up on the third day before leaving Leh. Once you have been cleared, you will be able to purchase insurance and receive your wildlife permit. What if you don’t get the green light? Tour companies will most likely offer you an alternative at no additional cost but check with them beforehand to know what exactly it will include.

DAY 4. LEH TO SHINGRA KOMA THEN GYALPO.

On day 4, you will be finally leaving Leh and first embark on a scenic 90 minutes’ drive towards Chilling. Once there, you will start your hike over the frozen Zanskar river, learning how to properly walk on ice with your crampons on. You will trek for around 5 hours that day and will stop at the Gyalpo camp, where you will spend your first night camping in sub-zero temperatures.

DAY 5. GYALPO TO TIBB CAVE.

You will walk from Gyalpo for around 12 km in 5 to 6 hours to the next campsite, Tibb Cave. This stretch of the trek is known for the many frozen waterfalls you will come across, offering a dream-like scenery all along.

Chadar Trek – traversing a frozen Zanskar riverChadar Trek – traversing a frozen Zanskar river

DAY 6. TIBB CAVE TO NAERAK CAMP.

This is an exciting day, as you will be trekking to Naerak Camp and will finally witness the frozen waterfall for which the Chadar Trek is known for. You will also have some time to explore the village of Naerak and learn more about the life of the local population. You will be camping very close to the waterfall and will experience one of the coldest nights of your life, as temperatures might drop as low as -30 degrees Celsius. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing, in layers.

DAY 7. NAERAK TO TIBB CAVE.

You will begin your descent via the same route as the day before, but will be surprised by the changes that will already have occurred on the river. The landscape on the frozen Zanskar is changing constantly, and this day will be the perfect illustration. You will trek for 5 to 6 hours and sleep in a camp near Tibb Cave.

DAY 8. TIBB CAVE TO LEH.

This will be a very long day, as you will trek for 18km for 7 to 8 hours back to Gyalpo, then drive back to Leh where you will arrive in the late afternoon. Take the time to enjoy the beauty of the river for the last time before returning – while you probably won’t miss the cold, you will most likely miss the views.

Chadar Trek – changing landscape of the Zanskar riverChadar Trek – changing landscape of the Zanskar river

DAY 9. RETURN FROM LEH.

On this last day, fly from Leh to your next destination in India.

Different tour companies offer different itineraries, so yours might include different stops for camping every night and last a couple of days longer. The length of each day’s trekking will also be dependent on your fitness condition and hiking speed. 

The Chadar Trek is well-known for a reason. While the sub-zero temperatures make it an extremely challenging expedition, the scenery and experience it offers make it a must for anyone in the region. Get your crampons ready and embark on this incredible journey over the frozen Zanskar river.

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