For every trekker, the Chadar trek is an aspiration. Considering the difficulty level of this trek, I avoided it. I always felt that I’m not yet prepared and need to do a few more other treks to be fully prepared for this one. However, one day I was reading about the Chadar trek, which is also known as the Zanskar trek, and I decided it was time to do it. I’d done a few treks already, and I was in good health and fitness, so the time was right. In addition, I’d read somewhere that it might close any time, as the new road that is being built will eliminate the need for the trek, so I wanted to see it before that. Out of all the adventure trips that I have been on, this one has been the best.
The views that you see here are so unreal – maybe that’s why it’s considered one of the most unique treks in India. It tests your endurance, but it rewards you with its magnificent beauty. Right from the snow-clad peaks, to the stunning frozen waterfalls, ancient caves and a widespread of starry skies, it is beauty beyond measure.
The Zanskar trek is only done in winter, when the Zanskar river is fully frozen over. I don’t really enjoy the cold, but I love winter treks because you get to see such spectacular landscapes. So I have plenty of snow gear for winter adventure trips.
It’s so strange – the river is an ideal location for water sports in summer, but when winter comes, it becomes a sheet of ice. In summer people are rafting on the river, and in winter, people are walking on the surface. On this trek, most of the time I had steep canyons on both sides, and the river under my feet. It was quite something.
I still can’t forget the thrill I felt while I walked on the Zanskar River. I got to walk on ice, witness the winter landscape, camp on the banks of the river and wake up to crisp clear mornings, and lots more. The trek may sound a bit tricky or difficult, but it’s actually quite flat. The biggest challenge is the cold temperatures, and learning how to walk on ice. Of course, the altitude can be dangerous for those who have not acclimatized properly, but I was fine. I think this is what adventures trips are made of.
Day 1: Arrive at Leh
I arrived at the hotel and at breakfast, and then spent the day resting. The operator had given us strict instructions to not exert ourselves, so that our bodies could focus on acclimatizing. I spent all day reading peacefully in my room, and taking short naps. I had a mild headache, but it went away on its own. In the evening I felt fine and the operator told us we could go for a short walk. I strolled around a bit, and then came back to the hotel because it was really cold. After dinner, I retired to bed early to make sure I got enough sleep.
Day 2: Acclimatization at Leh
Several things are required to be taken into consideration during this trek and one of them is acclimatizing. It might feel like you’re okay on Day 1, but you should rest on Day 2 as well. It’s not a waste of time. I met someone in Leh who had not passed the medical test because they had not acclimatized properly, and they were very upset because they couldn’t be allowed on the trek. I made sure I was sipping water all day and resting well – after all, that’s not so hard to do. After lunch, I was feeling restless, and the operator said we could walk around more. Leh is so pretty that you will not get enough of it. I spend the rest of the day walking around the town of Leh, taking pictures and simply basking in its beauty.
Day 3: Health check-up at Leh
This was the day when I, along with my fellow trekkers had to visit the Government Medical Camp for a health check-up. There was a large crowd at the hospital, but it was quite well managed. My check-up went well, and I was relieved when they certified me as fit to go for the trek. It would have broken my heart if they had not let me go. I felt so happy to be going out on the Zanskar river the next day! Someone else got rejected, and I saw them and felt bad for them. But the test is strict and has to be respected because it saves lives. I went back to the hotel and spent some time meditating, as this kind of calm environment was difficult to find anywhere else in the world. I packed my bags in preparation for the trek, and I retired to bed early.
Day 4: Leh to Shingra Koma
So, my Zanskar trek day finally arrived, and I was certified fit to participate. I felt very confident and excited as we set out. We drove to Tilad Do, from where our trek would begin. It was a short trek today, more to practise our walking skills (or rather, falling down skills!) and learn how to walk on the frozen Zanskar River. This was great fun and the trekkers all got to know each other properly. That evening, they set up tents in Shingra Koma, and we ate a hot dinner. I wrapped up in many layers as it got dark, and went to sleep in all those layers. It was so cold, but I managed to sleep.
Day 5: Shingra Koma to Tibb Cave
Today we did some real trekking. As we entered the canyons and curves of the river, I was totally spellbound. It was stunning. I was chatting with the crew and they were joking and singing non-stop. We were fully occupied with them and with the landscape, so we didn’t notice how time flew. By early evening, we reached Tibb Cave, and I went crazy clicking pictures. There were a lot of trekkers here, and everyone was sharing snacks, sitting at each other’s campfires, singing songs, and just enjoying the vibe. Our tents were set up nearby, and we slept there that night.
Day 6: Tibb Cave to Nyerak Pulu
Every time I think of this day, the visuals of the splendid frozen waterfall appear right in front of my eyes. It was my favourite day on the trek, right from the moment I woke up. We were all at Tibb Cave, and everyone was eating breakfast and getting ready for the day. After that, as we trekked, we all felt like one big group, even though we were all separate. But the highlight of my Zanskar trek was definitely the frozen Nyerak Waterfall, which just took my breath away. As we walked to it, I caught my first view of it, and I’ll never forget it – just a massive wall of ice in the shape of a waterfall! We spend a lot of time here taking photos and enjoying the view. After that, we trekked deeper into the Zanskar Gorge and stayed in tents at Nyerak Pullu.
Day 7: Nyerak Pulu to Lingshed
Today we trekked to Lingshed village. The village was really charming, so far from anything, and so untouched by anything. We spent some time in the village and then set up camp at Lingshed. I felt a little sad because we would now be turning back and returning towards the start point of the trek, so no more new places to explore. I was explaining this to our trek leader, and he told me that the Chadar changes every day, so we would always have something new to see. In the coming days, I realized he was right.
Day 8: Lingshed to Nyerak Pulu
Today we woke up and began the trek back to Nyerak Pullu. We saw lots of new formations in the ice that had not been there the previous day, and I was happy that we had new photos to click! That night we stayed in tents at Nyerak Pullu.
Day 9: Nyerak Pulu to Tibb Cave
Today we trekked back to Tibb Cave, and it felt like coming home. The cave is always a warm and welcoming spot, in the middle of that cold white terrain. Some locals were there, on their way to the next village. They were wearing the traditional woollen robes and those actually seemed warmer than the expensive gear we were wearing. Stayed in tents overnight near Tibb Cave.
Day 10: Tibb Cave to Gyalpo
Today we trekked to Gyalpo. It was our last full day of trekking, and we were feeling bad, but I was also looking forward to heading back to a hotel. It had been a long time since I’d had a bath or used a regular toilet. We trekked all day, and stayed up late that night around the fire, to say goodbye to the Chadar.
Day 11: Gyalpo to Leh
So, the trek was about to end and I was feeling sad and yet excited to go back to a hotel. After breakfast, we trekked to Tilat Do, and then said a final goodbye to the river. We got into our vehicle and they drove us back. I dropped down on my bed in the hotel and rolled on it, enjoying a comfortable bed after so many days. I had a nice hot shower, changed into fresh clothes, and then we all went out to Leh town for a big dinner celebration. I bought some souvenirs in Leh, and then went back to my cozy bed.
Day 12: Depart from Leh
It was time to leave Leh behind. I had an early flight, so I woke up early and headed for breakfast before checking out. By evening, I was back in my own house
Shewta is a photographer and trekker, and chose to do the Zanskar trek for the sake of the spectacular photography opportunities.