The word "Chadar" means "white sheet or blanket". And that's what it appears like when you walk over the white frozen Zanskar River. This trek, a demanding one, gives you all the thrills of a great adventure. Temperatures can plummet to as low as -30° and there will are challenges the guide and the group will have everyday navigating the course of the river. You walk through amazing landscape and gorges and be prepared for a cold experience all the while we keep you warm by the glowing fires lit up each evening at camp. Our daily trek begins at around 9:00 am and by then the sun's up and blue skies bring cheer despite the cold temperatures. The Chadar trek experience gives you a 10-day experience of what the ancient winter route was taken by villagers and traders who wanted to go from Leh to Zanskar region with 3850m / 12,628ft. Being the highest altitude reached. Many of these spots cannot be accessed during the summer months as they go through spectacular deep canyons and gorges. A once in a lifetime trek!
The Chadar trek is not a technically difficult undertaking. However, the high altitudes involved during the trek (between 3500 and 3850 metres) and the winter cold in Ladakh hitting below -10 to - 30, it is also not for the faint-hearted. And definitely not for someone who does not like the cold! There is fair amount of danger involved in the Chadar trek experience as the frozen river can be unpredictable. These can be overcome by climbing the gorges on the side and then getting on the river where it is frozen again. It is essential that you acclimatize well in order to make the best of the week. You will be advised by the UFO guide to rest and keep your body hydrated as much as possible on the first day of arrival. Your oxygen levels will be monitored from time to time to check on the level of acclimatization. There is a fair bit of walking to be done every day, and we would encourage you to do a bit of walking/running and breathing exercises to enjoy the Chadar trek. A fair level of fitness will be required.
Meet at the group hotel in Leh. A single group transfer at 10.30 am from Leh Airport to the group hotel in Leh is provided. The first day is reserved for acclimatization and you will be advised to rest and drink water as much as possible. Before we go for a Chadar trek experience, the UFO guide will do a checklist of your personal gear before tea to see that everyone has the required equipment. A short walk in the town market in the evening for last minute shopping can be arranged.
We make an early start as today we will leave for our starting trekking point. After tea and breakfast at the hotel, we leave for a 2-3 hour drive to Chilling. The roller-coaster ride takes you along the Indus to the village of Nimu, where the Zanskar river converges into Indus. After stopping at this confluence point to take in the view, the drive continues and the road begins descending right into the river valley. To reach the campsite, you have to cross the frozen Zanskar river; and this is when you take your first steps on the Chadar. It takes a while to get a hang of walking on the ice sheet. The UFO guide will give you tips regarding walking on the frozen river and where not to walk for the safe Chadar trek experience. The evening will be at leisure and you can climb the nearby gorges and hills to get some exercise and keep yourself warm.
Today is a long walking session, about 12 km, on the Chadar river. Depending on the weather, the Chadar can assume various forms and offers an exhilarating Chadar trek experience to their trekkers. It can be cold and hard which can make it slippery or snow dust which gives a better grip. It is best to keep close to the guide and group during the Chadar trek. At places, it might be necessary to wade through ankle deep water or climb on the cliffs at the side of the river. Eventually, you get used to walking on the Chadar river, which looks like a cross between gliding and skating. Midway to Gyalpo, the porter-cum-cooks prepare hot bowlfuls of soupy noodles for lunch. It is important to keep up a decent level of fluid intake. Nothing makes you adapt to the conditions faster than nicely circulating blood in your system. After passing Shingra Koma, you reach the camp-site for the day at Gyalpo, where the tents have already been pitched by the porters. The Gyalpo campsite is at a bend in the river, surrounded by high peaks and walls of rock-faces.
An early start to the day helps us to get ready for the longest day of the Chadar trek experience. We walk through stunning deep ravines of the Zanskar river. The almost vertical walls of the mountains on either sides of the river keep the sunlight away from the Chadar river for most part of the day. There are numerous caves in these mountains and we will also spot some frozen waterfalls. Legend has it that centuries ago the local villagers faced a dearth of water and went to Tibet to plead for water. They were given a box which they were to open once they reached the village, and not anytime sooner. But curiosity got the better out of them, and when they opened the box, two fishes jumped out of it, creating two huge waterfalls. One of those waterfalls, miraculously, is not iced-up even in such freezing cold. The rocks below this waterfall are covered with moss, and this is the only greenery you’ll see on the Chadar trek. We camp at the cave for the night.
Another glorious day on the frozen river for a marvelous Chadar trek experience. We walk on the river crossing deep gorges which would be inaccessible in the summer and reach a point where Juniper trees are covered with prayer flags. The porters give you a twig of this tree tied with a piece of prayer flag as a badge of good-luck and good health. A few steps away stands the mother-of-all frozen waterfalls – a huge instance of suspended animation several feet tall and equally wide. You can see dozens of colors in this enormous ice structure as sunlight plays off its surface. Right next to the waterfall is a bridge across the river which is a part of the summer-time road from Zanskar to Leh. The Naerak village lies several feet above the river, a vigorous hour-long Chadar trek can take you to the village if you want to see the life of a Zanskari. The camp is set up close to the Zanskar river.
Today we start the return journey back to the Tibb cave. Though it sounds like retracing your steps it is not the case. The Zanskar River reacts to the slightest change of temperature, and constantly keeps repackaging itself. The Chadar river would have assumed a completely new form, and it will almost be impossible to say whether you have been here before. On the way, you can meet a lot of locals wearing their traditional woolen Gonchas – some are monks who are hiking from the Lingshed Monastery to Leh. Watching the locals negotiate the Chadar is a fascinating sight. They are suitably adept to the climate and seem very much at home in the sub-zero temperature and the biting cold winds. Nothing wipes the smiles off their faces and dampens the warmth of their spirit
We continue our walk back to Chilling by leaving for Gyalpo today. The high wall of the gorges give us a fantastic feeling of walking between castle walls. In this Chadar trek experience you might spot a few pug marks on the trail and if very lucky, a sight of Tibetan fox or Bharal (Blue Sheep). Snow leopards have been spotted in the area in the past but they are not called the 'Ghost of the Mountains' for nothing and are almost impossible to spot.
We wake up to our last day of the Chadar trek experience. We walk back to Tilad Do where our vehicles are waiting to take up back to Leh. We bid goodbye to our trekking crew and head back to the city to check in the hotel.
We have an early start and go to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi. If you want to extend your stay in Leh, please let us know.