Chadar Trek On Zanskar

Leh | India
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All You Need to Know About the Chadar Trek on Zanskar

Though thrill-seekers flock to Nepal and Bhutan when it comes to embarking on high-altitude expeditions and adventures in the subcontinent, India does not lag far behind! With an appreciable share of the Himalayas and the Ladakh plateau in the northern parts of the country, it is a hotspot for travelers and backpackers who wish to bask in the glory of the mountains and drown in the rush of adrenaline!

One of the most exciting adventures in India that you can perform solo, with your partner, or as part of a group is embarking on the Chadar Trek Ladakh. It is one of those high-octane activities that lure travelers from around the world to the far north of India.

Before embarking on the Chadar Trek, Ladakh should be on your research checklist. It lies at the most critical and strategic crossroads of three countries: India, Pakistan, and China.

Ladakh- the highest plateau in India

Undoubtedly the highest plateau in India, Ladakh, which is now a Union Territory of India, extends from the Karakoram to the Himalayan mountains and includes the Upper Indus Valley, constituting the larger Kashmir region. It also shares its borders with two Indian states: Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir, Chinese provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. You can broadly divide Ladakh into five geographical regions:

  • Nubra- situated to the north of the Ladakh range
  • Central Ladakh- forming the heart of the upper Indus valley
  • Rupshu- the dry, high-altitude plateau located at the southeast corner of Ladakh
  • Zanskar- one of the world’s highest inhabited regions and
  • Lower/Western Ladakh- situated around Kargil

Zanskar- the Land of White Copper

This ancient, remote valley in Ladakh comprises glaciers, rare Himalayan mammals like the snow leopard and the alpine ibex, and the fabled Himalayan blue poppy. The 4009 meter high semi-arid valley has a unique feature - it does not have any entrance. A couple of rivers carve a gorge that is super-deep and long, and crossing it for entry or exit creates insurmountable odds.

Hence, the only way to enter or exit the region is by crossing the Zanskar mountain range via high passes that are inaccessible for most parts of a year. This un-trekkable gorge gets covered in ice sheets during the winter and serves as the only way out of the Zanskar valley. Though it is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous ways to hike in or out of Zanskar, the frozen river is the only way to achieve it. The Frozen River Trek or the Zanskar valley trek is also known as the Chadar Trek.

Some unique pieces of information regarding the Chadar Trek on Zanskar

The word ‘Chadar’ can be translated to ‘blanket.’ The Zanskar river gets covered by a thick sheet of ice during the dead of winter. This sheet of ice resembles a blanket covering the river, and hence, the name.

The Chadar Trek Ladakh is not simply adventure trekking; it is an experience of a lifetime. It will stay with you no matter how many summits you conquer or how many high-altitude expeditions you undertake in the future. The frozen river trekking is an unparalleled experience because you get to encounter a new ‘Chadar’ of ice every morning. The sheet of ice covering the Zanskar river freezes at night, melts the following morning, and reforms during the night.

Though the weather during this Chadar Frozen River Trek Ladakh remains disconcertingly frigid, this route connects several villages along the Zanskar river during the winter season. In fact, the Chadar Trek has been the busiest and the most-frequented route adopted for trade and transportation since time immemorial. The locals have to rely on the Chadar Trek for all the critical purposes because the Zanskar river is unmanageable and inaccessible for the most part. It is a mighty and wild river, flowing through steep canyons between the Chilling and the Zanskar valley at a blitzkrieg pace.

The 105 kilometers long and approximately 3596 meter high Chadar Trek is only open during January and February. These months are adequately frigid to form the blanket of ice over the lively and high-speed Zanskar.

How difficult is the Chadar Trek on Zanskar?

As much as the number of offerings, uniqueness, and awe that the Chadar Trek presents, the level of difficulty of the trek is also relatively high. It is, albeit one of the most dangerous and challenging high-altitude expeditions in the world. But due to the high mountain passes remaining shut down due to excessive snowfall, the Chadar Trek is the only feasible route to access the Zanskar valley. The supremely high level of difficulty of the Chadar Trek Ladakh can be attributed to several reasons.

The distance and the height:

If you want to tread one way over the frozen Zanskar river, you need to cover approximately 105 kilometers. Yes, a one-way distance that begins from a height of 3474 meters at Leh concludes at an elevation of 3596 meters! You have to cover almost the entire Chadar Trek distance on foot amidst extreme weather conditions, and it further increases the uphill challenge you face while embarking on this trek. There are instances when the trekkers need to climb icy rocks and boulders, and such treacherous terrain increases the difficulty level.

The weather:

Since the Chadar Trek typically occurs during the months of January and February, you should be ready to embrace sub-zero temperatures all along. As you arrive in Leh, the starting point of the trek, you are immediately greeted by temperatures hovering just below 0 degrees. Once you start moving forward, the daytime temperatures will vary between -5 to -15 degrees, whereas the mercury drops to -25 and even down to -30 degrees at night. The harsh and unforgiving climatic conditions are suited only for those who are fit physically, psychologically, and medically.

Difficult camping conditions:

Forget the cozy tea-house trekking in Nepal; the Chadar Trek in Ladakh presents you with some of the most challenging camping conditions. It is very different from other high-altitude trekking expeditions. While you cover the distance on foot during the daytime, you camp at night. But the nights are spent in caves near the frozen river amidst unsettling weather conditions and mind-numbingly low temperatures.

Now that you are aware of the threats that lie before you on the trails of the Chadar Trek Ladakh, you should prepare yourself accordingly to brave these hostile conditions.

Best time to visit the Chadar Trek?

If one of the most challenging treks in the world excites you, you should collect every relevant information regarding the Chadar trek best time to visit. The best time for Chadar Trek spans from January to February. To be more specific, the ideal time is January 15 to the end of February. Not only does the Zanskar river get covered in a thick blanket of ice, but the surroundings are also snow-clad, presenting an ivory, pristine panorama.

Though the Chadar Frozen River Trek Ladakh tests both your mental and physical strengths, the natural beauty trumps these drawbacks by miles. The beauty of the landscape is unimaginable. When you are hiking over the frozen Zanskar during the daytime, you can watch the mesmerizing beauty of the sun doing peek-a-boo from behind the snow-clad mountain peaks. The experience cannot be expressed in words.

Gear guide and checklist for the trek to Chadar

Since the Chadar Trek is exceptionally challenging, your gears should include everything that prepares you against all eventualities. Let’s do a breakdown of the gears and discuss the importance of each of them.

Clothing:

The best time for Chadar Trek is between January to February, and that means highly frigid climatic conditions will greet you. Your clothes should be warm enough to cover you during such times. A pair of thermal inners, long sleeve hiking shirts, tops and trousers that trap heat, quick-dry hiking pants, a couple of pairs of inner and outer socks, fleece jackets, heavy rainproof jackets, and insulating gloves or mittens are essential.

Headgear:

Carrying your sunglasses will protect you against the glare of the sun during the daytime. You can also take a hat with a retention cord for windy days on the trek and woollen caps to protect yourself from the cold.

Footwear:

A pair of tough, well-made trekking boots and a pair of sandals for crossing streams will be ideal for the Chadar Frozen River Trek. But you also need to ensure that your fingers and toes are always protected from frostbite. During the trek, you may have to wade through knee-deep cold water and snow. Thus, an extra pair of socks and gumboots might save the day for you.

Carriers and sleeping bags:

You can carry a duffel bag for all your spare clothes, inner and outer socks, used underwear, tent, and other camping materials, etc. Alternatively, you can carry a spacious rucksack that caters to all these requirements.

Sleeping bags and insulated mats will protect you from the freezing cold at night. These are must-haves for your next Chadar Trek.

Essential items:

An emergency first aid kit and personal medications should always be on your checklist whenever you are doing any high-altitude expedition. Cuts, bruises, injuries, and certain unprecedented health issues like Acute Mountain Sickness could bother you during the trek, and hence you should stay well prepared.

Apart from the items mentioned above, you should always carry sunscreen, lip balm, hand sanitizers, toilet paper, mouth wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, biodegradable soap, towel, etc. Getting access to palatable drinking water could be a concern at various points of the trek, and hence you should essentially carry water purification tablets and water bottles.

Emergency food items like chocolate bars could also come in handy when you are pretty exhausted and want to limit your rations.

Chadar Trek itinerary

The Chadar Trek is among the most arduous treks across India and the world, and thus you should always inform your family or a close person about the trek itinerary. If any mishap happens during the course of the trek, they could come to your rescue. The Chadar Trek duration is typically ten days.

Let’s get down to the Chadar Trek itinerary.

  • Day 1: The Chadar Trek begins after you land at the Leh airport. You will immediately experience a shortage of oxygen while breathing. Keep your woollens ready. The first day should be laid-back and super-easy. Try to spend the day without much exertion. On the first day, you must allow your body and mind to get familiarized with the low oxygen levels. A minor headache could be a common occurrence. The first day is a day of recuperation, relaxation, and acclimatization to the changing environment.
  • Day 2: The second day should also be spent for high-altitude acclimatization. You will notice a visible improvement compared to the previous day. You can take short strolls to the local Leh market, Central Asian Museum, and the Leh Palace. It would help you adapt faster while spending the day appropriately.
  • Day 3: The third day of your arrival at Leh should also be spent for acclimatization purposes. Further, you need to visit the local SNM hospital for a medical checkup and obtain a Medical Fitness certificate mandatory for the Chadar Trek.
  • Day 4: Officially, the Chadar Trek begins on this day. You will take a ride from Leh (3474 m) to Tillad Do (3170 m), situated 65 kilometers from Leh. From Tillad Do, you will trek about 8 to 10 kilometers and reach Gyalpo (3216 m) via Shingra Koma. For the entire stretch of the trek, you need to move along the frozen Zanskar river. Alternatively, you can take a ride from Leh (3474 m) to Chilling (3195 m). From Chilling, you need to drive a few kilometers more to reach Guru Do. From Guru Do, you will trek along the frozen Zanskar to reach Bakula (3256 m). The trek occurs at an altitude lower than Leh, so it should be a comfortable journey. Camping under the night sky will also be something to look out for on this day of the trek!
  • Day 5: You start day five early after breakfast. On this day, you will hike 15 kilometers from Gyalpo (3216 m) or from Bakula (3256 m) to reach Tibb Cave (3292 m). The gain in elevation is slight, and you should reach the designated camp in Tibb Cave by afternoon. The trail is marked with spectacular natural landforms like natural caves, ice sheets, frozen waterfalls, etc. You will spend the night within the tents at Tibb Cave.
  • Day 6: This day is marked by a hike along the frozen Zanskar river to reach the base of the Nyerak village (3399 m). The 12.5-kilometer long hike will take you to a Bailey bridge and a massive frozen waterfall. It is the last point of the trek from where you need to turn back to Chilling. The long march along the Zanskar river is undoubtedly challenging but fascinating. The ice-cold water and the gusts of winds throughout the trail will be a new experience.
  • Day 7: From Nyerak village (3399 m), you will trek for 12 kilometers to head back to Tibb Cave (3292 m) and set up camp there. You will stay overnight in those camps by the river.
  • Day 8: You start the day from Tibb Cave (3292 m) for Gyalpo (3216 m). Your final destination for the day could also be Bakula (3256 m). The trek could also involve many detours, especially when the Chadar melts during warm nights and you have to climb the steep mountain faces instead.
  • Day 9: On this day, you trek from Gyalpo (3216 m) or Bakula (3256 m) to Tillad Do via Shingra Koma or Guru Do via Chilling. From Tillad Do or Guru Do, you will take a ride back to Leh. It will be the ending point of the Chadar Trek.
  • Day 10: You can take a flight back to your homeland from the Leh airport. Alternatively, you can embark on an optional add-on trek to the frozen Pangong Tso lake. In that case, your Chadar Trek cost will be a little higher since it covers the additional add-on trek as well.

Getting fit for the Chadar Trek

The Chadar Trek Ladakh is a highly demanding and arduous trek that requires you to be at the top of your physical prowess. Having excellent stamina is essential. But you also need to be medically fit. Before embarking on the Chadar Trek, get yourself trained by a qualified trainer to ensure the best of health and fitness.

Since the climatic conditions that you are likely to encounter on this trek are immensely harsh, you should be prepared well in advance. Understand the challenges that lie ahead and ensure that you are in the best physical and medical health.

Physical fitness:

To ensure impeccable physical fitness, you should start training at least six months before participating in the Chadar Trek. Apart from spending hours at the gym and training your core, back muscles, shoulders and feet well, you should participate in rigorous cardiovascular activities like running, cycling, swimming, etc. A day hike across an undulating road carrying heavy backpacks could also come in handy, especially if you do it a few times each week. You can try participating in hikes that occur at a higher elevation than usual. Prior experience of high-altitude expeditions will be a bonus.

Mental fitness:

Walking across a frozen river could be a fascinating experience. At the same time, it could be daunting to those who are not mentally prepared for the trek. The extreme climatic conditions increase the level of mental exhaustion. Apart from the Chadar melting on warm nights, there could be a flurry of unprecedented events that might spring up and cause a roadblock. Getting affected by the Acute Mountain Sickness could also hinder your trek progress and compel you to abandon the trek midway.

Thus, having a steely resolve is of utmost essence. You should prepare yourself in advance for all the adversities that could be waiting for you during the Chadar Trek. Looking forward to the accomplishments that lie ahead could motivate you even if you encounter problems during the trek.