Chadar Trek (Frozen River Trek) Best Season - January to Late February
Zanskar, the most isolated of all Trans Himalayan valleys with an altitude ranging from 12,000 to 13,000 ft. covering an area of 7,000 sq km, remains cut-off for around 7 to 8 month in a year (from the beginning of November till around June). Zanskar lies to the south-west of Leh, and mainly comprises of two valleys: the Stod (Doda Chu) and the Lanak (Tsarap Chu). It gets vehicular access only when the Pensi La opens up thus making possible the road journey from Padum and nearby places to Kargil, Leh, Srinagar and beyond. Zanskar is like no other place in India. The geographical isolation has resulted in the preservation of the Buddhist heritage and identity. Many ancient monastic establishments are still actively involved in religious activities. Some remote caves are believed to have been used by the successive Buddhist saints to sustain meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.
Zanskar river, which takes form beyond Padum after merging with its many different tributaries flows through the dramatic Zanskar gorge and merges with the Indus river; the confluence being at Nimmu, just on the outskirts of Leh on the Leh-Kargil road.
As bitter winter comes up, temperatures plummet in the desolate valley and with the river mostly being in a gorge and thus having very little of direct sunlight mostly freezes over during the coldest months of January and February. Zanskaris since time immemorial, cut off during the winter months, have trekked on this river ice surface to reach Leh for their emergency supplies, education and also for the different winter religious festivals that take place in Leh.
Chadar refers to the blanket or sheet as the Zanskar river transforms itself into a white blanket of ice during winter. A frozen spectacle awaits the trekker to be experienced: glass ice ranging from a bluish tinge, to golden yellow during the few hours that sunlight reaches directly into the gorge, to milky white on a moonlit night: an experience like no other!
Day 1: Arrival at Leh
Arrival at Leh. Free day to rest and acclimatize to the altitude and climate. It’s a good idea to stay indoors and not exert yourself. Overnight stay at the hotel.
Day 2: Leh - Chilling
Drive from Leh to Chilling and Tilat Sumdo. Today, we drive to the in the morning drive with small brief halt at the magnificent confluence of River Zanskar and Indus and then again a drive to the Chilling, one of the most famous villages in Ladakh, known for craftsmanship, especially the metal works. Touching the Chadar first time, we start the trek for 1-2 hrs along the magnificent frozen river Zanskar till Tilat Sumdo. Overnight in cave/camp/tent.
Also learn the fun way to adjust yourself to Ladakhi Shuffle walk style on the frozen slippery ice of River Zanskar.
Day 3: Tilat Sumdo - Tsomo Paldar (6 hours.)
After the breakfast call at 7:30 am and an early departure, the walk on the Chadar has fully started. Hearing the different sounds of Chadar forming and breaking, you will soon get familiar where the Chadar or the ice cover is thick and thin. With a early lunch break in between, we would soon reach the majestic .
Day 4: Tsomo Paldar - Dibb (8 hours)
Though today is the longest day of the trek, we pass through some magnificent beautiful waterfalls and frozen ice cliffs on the left - it is like walking through a giant freezer! The walk also crosses through narrow gorges, where the trekker may have to climb briefly on to the rocky river bank. The sharp bends and current of the river breaks the ice in some places. Lunch in between on a flat rocky hill side by the river.
Day 5: Dibb - Nyerak Pullu (7 hrs)
Again one of the magnificent days on the Chadar trek. However, the caution being that this can become a difficult if the Chadar is not very firm. The vistas are stunning though as we pass through giant frozen waterfalls, ice cliffs and one may even catch sight of the mountain fox. Nyerak village is located high above. Beyond the bridge that links Nyerak village with Lingshed, small huts mark the summer grazing shelters of the villagers.
Return trek to Leh
Day 6: Nyerak - Dibb
Though technically it is the same way back, it is also quite different. The Chadar or the blanket of ice that is forming on the River Zanskar is always changing, breaking up and forming itself again. As the Chadar dynamics are ever changing, the same route and place would look and feel different as the texture and conditions change.
Day 7: Dibb - Shingra Koma. Day 8: Shingra Koma - Chilling
Trek from Shingra Koma to Chilling and drive to Leh. Overnight stay at Guest house.
Day 9: Leh
Return from Leh.
So finally a goodbye and good wishes for your return flight to Leh as you board the early flight back to your home town, and definitely some great memories and a lifetime of an experience to narrate to many a friend and family.