“Winter is coming“.
If you are a GOT follower, you would have seen beyond the wall. Have you ever wondered how cold it must be? Ever thought of the experience of camping in such a place? Sleeping on snow, cooking inside caves, walking in gum boots and living like a wildling? If yes, then you are in for a treat.
Zanskar in Leh, freezes during the coldest months of mid January to mid February. The locals are cut off during this period from civilization. They have to walk miles to reach the nearest transport service.
“CHADAR” is translated as blanket, referring to the thick ice formation on Zanskar river. This frozen spectacle is on every trekkers bucket list. This is the only trek in the world which is on a frozen river at 11000 ft with temperature dropping as low as -30 degrees.
Walking on the frozen lake has been in my list ever since the trekking bug bit me. With many adventure organisations in the market it is difficult to pick the one you can trust. As I had previously trekked with Himalaya Destination, I decided to go with them again. With 5 layers of warm clothes and a rucksack full of excitement, I boarded my flight to Leh from Bangalore. The magnificent beauty was witnessed by us at 30,000 ft, as we entered the Ladakh mountain range. It was a sight to behold. The temperature was -9 degrees when we landed at the airport, the cold stung through my skin and re-instated its presence.
One thing you will notice in Leh is the multiple tips and warnings for acclimatization. More than 50 percent of the tourists fall prey to AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The first thing to do is rest for 24 hours. Sleep is the best medicine or you can also take necessary medications before the flight. Always keep couple of days buffer before the trek itself. Walk around the local street markets in the city which is at a higher altitude than Chaddar, drink lots of water and rest until the trek commences.
As we had forgotten our Medical certificates, we went to a local doctor for consultation. He checked our oxygen level and examined us before handing out a green signal for the trek. My friend’s Oximeter reading was lower than expected; it was around 53, which is dangerous. He did have headache and congestion but we did not take it seriously. The doctor immediately asked us to shift to the Government hospital and get him checked. At the hospital we found out that the condition was severe and he was hospitalized. He was given oxygen through the night and was asked to opt out of the expedition. At the hospitals tourist wing we met many trekkers who had returned from Chaddar due to AMS. It is a very real syndrome that can hit anybody no matter how fit and strong. Take necessary precautions and follow what the adventure companies advise.
Day 1 : Starting from Leh at 10.00 in the morning to reach the base camp in itself was a task. We were told that it will be a 4 hour drive and then an hour’s walk. Sitting inside the van and heater we felt that this trek was going to be a piece of cake. After 3 hours of drive, the van came to a sudden halt because of the traffic ahead. We got out to see a landslide in front of us due to which we had to walk the next 4 hours alongside the serene Zanskar. Watching her flow in her own pace, making way to reach her destination kept me going.
Day 2 : It was all planned and we had an itinerary in hand to follow but nature had its own objective. The weather which was bright and shiny for 2 weeks, suddenly turned rogue. It started pouring down snow as if it could not be contained. Due to heavy snow fall the Chaddar below the blanket of snow was melting. This resulted in multiple cracks and breaks in the path. Many groups turned around as they felt it was too dangerous to continue. Nevertheless we went ahead. We proceeded covered in knee deep snow and 2 hours of human traffic to cross the path where the Chaddar was broken. The continuous snow fall kept us warm and the walk was pretty easy but the challenge was the occasional wind which would remind you of the Grim Reaper..
Day 3 : It was a bright sunny day. After 48 hours of snow and heavenly whiteness it was a relief to see a blue sky and the birds flying. It was a long walk for 8 hours but we never reached our camp as the ice beneath our feet broke and we were forced to retreat. We found a cave where we camped for the night as there was no place to pitch a tent anywhere else.
Day 4 : I opened my eyes to see the sunlight shine through my tent as I could hear the Zanskar, sharing morning pleasantries.
Just as the little birds got out of the cave holes singing and dancing, I changed into my day socks and got out rubbing my stiff fingers.
Wild winds had blown the snow off the ground enabling the ice below to see what a bright day it was. As we completed our trek, experiencing landslide, knee deep snow, monstrous chill, slanting night camps, swollen fingers, frozen nose and a content heart, we pulled out our tricolour flag and held our head high in pride.
Altitude: 11,123 Ft.
Temperature: -30 degrees
Amidst the hustle-bustle of the cities and our day to day lives, we get lost. Lost in a way we feel stressed by mere issues, things that need not be given importance to. We can sometimes feel lonely amongst hundreds but when we travel either alone or in a group we feel complete and content. Sitting on a rock overlooking nothing, can give you a sense of accomplishment. I sometimes wonder if travel is over rated but then if it makes me happy, I will book the next flight anyway.
himalayadestination is a trekking company I usually do my treks with. They are well organised, professional and economical. The founders of the company, Manu, Mikita and Somal are always there to answer your queries and ensure you are comfortable. Check out the link to their Chaddar booking here.
Oh Yes! I did take a dip in the mighty Zanskar!