Winter is here and so are the treks over remote icy terrains. One such is the Chadar Trek over the frozen Zanskar River. Among the toughest treks in India, it lasts approximately six to ten days and reaches altitudes up to 10,900 feet. The trek is coming back in 2023 after a two-year hiatus owing to the pandemic.
The Department of Tourism and Culture, Ladakh, recently chaired a meeting reviewing the preparation for Chadar Trek, 2023. Keeping the difficult terrain in mind, the committee announced that they will review all safety and security factors, and make sure that adequate facilities are made at night halt locations and along the route. This is especially important as the window of safe travel/trek over the river is limited. Project Yojak (BRO) discussed the availability of a safe stretch for trekking along the Chadar Trek route. This is set tentatively for the period from January 1 to February 10, 2023.
What's In The Name
The name of the trek comes from the appearance of a frozen Zanskar River (a tributary of the Indus flowing through Jammu and Kashmir). The ice layer on its frozen surface looks a lot like a white chadar (or sheet).
The Ice Route
The trek route is down the remote Zanskar gorge where walls rise a few thousand feet out of the riverbed. This near-vertical rise makes the frozen river the only way to 'commute'. During winters, the river route is used by local people to travel from Leh to Zanskar.
Winter temperatures can reach minus 30° Fahrenheit at night. Mid January to mid February is the safest period to walk the Chadar. This is when the river is frozen to a depth of 6-10 feet. As a Zanskari proverb says, &lsquoIn early winter, the Chadar measuring the thickness of a goat&rsquos rib can support the weight of a yak but later the Chadar, even of the thickness of a yak&rsquos rib, cannot support the weight of a goat&rsquo.
You will spend the nights in caves, which are essentially depressions in the gorge face used by generations of locals for shelter. What is interesting is that the caves, known as bau, are named after the myths that are attached to them.
The trek does not have any significant ascent or descent. Each day, you will probably walk five hours.
How To Walk
You have to be ultra careful as you walk on the surface. Most times the ice is strong enough to support the weight of people. But as temperatures fluctuate, bubbles of water escape the sheet of ice, this means the ice can break sometimes. In such a scenario, you have to navigate the rocks on the riverside which are very slippery.
The local people use a special walking technique which looks a lot like a penguin waddling. That's because you cannot walk the usual way on ice. This walk is sometimes referred to as the "Chadar shuffle".
What To Carry
There&rsquos a road till Chilling. You will not find anything on the route after that point, so get all essential supplies like food, kerosene, stove, etc.
Protect yourself from the extreme temperatures with adequate and layered clothing. Carry thermals, waterproof and wind-resistant jackets and waterproof, ankle-high shoes. Don't forget the sunglasses for eye cover.
Since this is a difficult trek, make sure you get an okay from your doctor before attempting it. And please do not litter the pristine environment.