Chadar trek

Dauntlessly enthusiastic souls remain seated in the dining mess all ears.  “It’s been 4 days since the previous batch has left for the trek and they are now stuck in the Tib cave as chadar has completely broken on either sides. They can neither move forward nor come back! We are monitoring the situation. This isn’t an easy trek and if you think this is going to be a leisurely fun trip then forget about it. You have got a last chance to decide” The trek captain said. There was no utterance of a single word. The entire room was hushed except for the sipping sound of the tea which had turned cold in minutes. 

Yet again he said “Good let’s do it. Don’t worry we have trek leaders who are capable of handling these rescue operations and if there is something that is not in our hands then we have our Indian Airforce with us, there is nothing that they can’t do”  This was the goosebumps moment for me and I just smiled with pride..

Chardar trek

By APOORVA

Passionate traveller, knowledge seeker and an adventure enthusiast. An engineer by profession, a part time teacher, passionate singer and a budding writer. Learning each day to be the better version of me.

Dawn of the journey
 
Have you ever slept sound on the night before your travel? The excitement of being part of  an adventurous trek did not let me sleep. I still managed to  catch a couple of hours of sleep. As we reached Delhi we got the  first slight pinch of cold. It was 5 degree Celsius early in the morning. As we boarded our next flight to Leh, the plane did not take off for almost 2 hours as there was no visibility due to the foggy weather in Delhi. As the plane reached higher altitudes,  within 20 min from Delhi I could see the mighty Himalayas embracing me to be part of it. A sense of pride, love and security. The spectacular view from the flight window was  inexplicable. 
 
Tip: If you are planning to go to Leh don’t forget to get the window seat to the right. 
Chardar trek

Touch Down:

“The temperature at Leh is -6 degree celcius” announced the pilot just before the touch down. It was  noon yet the temperature was subzero. The glacial wind enveloped us as the cabin crew opened the exit doors. The mountain ranges and the  snow peaks seemed right next to me. It was a divine sight which left us speechless.

 
Tip:- You are not allowed to click pictures at the Leh airport. It is a defence airport which is also used by civilians.
 

Acclimatization:

We took 3 days to get acclimatized to the sub zero temperature at Leh. For all these 3 days we had no heaters, no boilers, in fact no water (except for nature calls) at the Ratna Hotel. The localities heat up the frozen river ice and use it for this purpose. Running tap hot water is considered a luxury there. For almost 10 days we hadn’t taken bath and it was pretty normal there considering the low temperature. 
The nights were crazy. The temperature dropped from -15 to -20 in the nights. We had no extra comforts there. We just had our 5 layers of clothing including thermals, warmers, fleece, sweater/ sweat shirt and a down jacket. The toes were  getting almost numb and  so did our fingers. That was hell of  a night yet we survived. We spent the next two nights outside the hotel inside our  tents. 
 

Day1:

On the first day we took a long walk around the hotel, crossed a bridge above the flowing Indus river and ate maggie which is one of the most sought food in Ladhakh next to momos. 
Chardar trek
Day 2
 
We visited the Hemis monastery and local hotspots. We also did a small trek to loosen our body. The Leh Market was crowded with mostly the trekkers and tourists. 
 
Chardar trek
Chardar trek
Tip:- Leh Market is the best place to purchase all your gears including gumboots which is a must for this trek. If your foot size is above 10 then it’s difficult to get one. All branded accessories that is required for your trek is available there. There is an Army store which sells temperature resistant woolen clothes, gloves, sweaters, khaki socks which is used by our soldiers. They sell best of bests.
 
Day 3
 
The hospitality at the Ratna hotel was incredible and the food was delectable. It was maintained by a kargil war hero from the Ladakh scouts. We were fortunate to meet him there. 
 
Chardar trek
The 3rd day was a bit tiring as we had to complete our medical tests and get a certificate from ALTOA which almost took a whole day. We utilized the wait time by watching the ice hockey match which was an international event.
A rescue card with details was handed over to all of us from ALTOA which you cannot afford to lose.
 
Chardar trek
Tip:- Make sure that you have no Blood pressure, breathing problems and heart problems. If they do not find us fit then we will be denied permission for the trek. And also if you have any symptoms of AMS then drink lots of water and keep yourself hydrated.
 
Day 4
 
It was a long 5 hours of  drive to reach the base camp Tsomo Paldar via cilling and shingra koma. Shingra Koma is the most unique place of chadar for it is placed at the U bend of the Zanskar.  On the way to chilling we got to visualize the finest beauty of zanskar valley, confluence of the Indus and zanskar river, the Magnetic hill and the most serene place Gurudwara pathar sahib on the leh-kargil-srinagar NH1 highway which runs between the territories of J&K and the Ladakh Union territories.
 
 
Chardar trek
Chardar trek

Begining of the Trek: Tsomo Paldar  to Gyalpo

 
 The entire trek was accompanied by our super trek leaders Tundup bhayya ,colone bhai and our porters who selflessly carried the tents and food items.
Chardar trek

The first day of the trek was mild and it was around 3.5  hours of trek  post lunch covering 12 km. The river that flows through the valley is frozen on either sides and sometimes completely like a snow blanket. The valley is surrounded by partially covered snow peak mountains. The challenging part was learning to walk on the frozen zanskar river.

 It takes some time to get adjusted to the gumboots as the glacier is slippery. “Walk like a penguin they say!!” We had few falls but  rose again and continued to walk. Though the temperature is very low, walking produces heat. You don’t feel that cold while walking.  

Chardar trek
We reached our destination, our first camp “Gyalpo”. The night was damn cold but thanks to the Siachen sleeping bag. This is an incredibly amazing sleeping bag which is used by our Indian Army soldiers to counter subzero temperatures at the Siachen glacier. The next morning I realized how important it is to wake up before everyone so that you would be the first one to inaugurate the toilet tents.
 
Tip:- the beautiful route along the frozen river from chilling to nerak is the only mode of communication for the native people of this zanskar valley. Please avoid spike shoes as this would break the chadar and this affects the local people there. 
Carry light so that you can carry your own bag while trekking. 
 

Trek Day 2: Gyalpo to Tib Cave – 25 km

“You never have lived until you have almost died.”

Chardar trek
By now, we had got completely acclimatized and had begun to enjoy the cold. The next trek began early in the morning after a light breakfast. The entire day was spent trekking.  Learning to walk with ease on the ice was initially tough but practice makes everything possible. Just 2 kms before the tib cave the chadar had broken on our way. 
Adding to this the river which looked passive and calm all this while was flowing ferociously and gushing out of a cave with minute glacial particles.. We had to build a small bridge to cross the flowing river. As we crossed the river with our gumboots, these glacial .particles pierced through our shoes .
 
I thought I almost lost my foot and especially my toes It was  uncontainable pain equal to hundred injections . Immediately after we crossed we had to jump to produce some heat, wiped our foot and used spare socks. Nothing helped actually. I just remember running the next 2kms till the camp to produce more heat. As we reached the camp there were blisters all over the foot close to a frostbite and there was no sensation at all until we sat next to the cooking fire. This was also substantiated with yummy pakoras and chai by bhanu bhayya.
 

Heaven seemed so close!

Chardar trek
The freezing temperature at  nights would fall below -25 degree. We had to sleep with our gears and  the down jackets with every inch of our body well packed within the sleeping bag. After a couple of hours of sleep I could suddenly feel snow flakes all over my bag. This was the dream call which woke me up and I  crawled out of my sleeping bag and peeped through my tent. Yes it was snowing!!
 
The adventurous me couldn’t resist and went out with my torch to explore. To my astonishment it was midnight but it wasn’t dark at all. My  torch light was nothing compared to the vibrant glacial moon light which was getting reflected when it fell over the snow peak mountains. I could see the white snow peaks, clear  blue sky with impeccable stars and the flowing Zanskar river .  I perceived heaven on earth. There were tears rolling out of my eyes looking at the untouched serene beauty of the Himalayas. 
 

Trek Day 3: Tib Cave to Nerak 20 km

 
Though the snow fall made us very happy, very little did we know that this would disrupt our journey. The snowfall had increased the temperature and the chadar had broken. The parts of the river that was frozen in the night, was flowing unimpededly in the morning. Our journey to our destination Nerak had become toilsome now. 

Rescue operation: Heroes in Action!

As the journey continued the chadar was becoming fragile but we were very close. It was just 3 kms to the destination. Few of us had crossed the frozen river walking on the glacier but the delicate glacier was hit by a bigger glacier which broke the connection between the two ends. Now we were stranded on the other side. 
The trek leaders decided to head back to the base camp as the weather condition was going pretty bad. All of us on the other side helped each other to rescue everyone. This was my first ever river crossing. The ropes were tied to our waist and we had to slide through the rope to reach the other side. The freezing cold flowing water splashed through my gumboots. My toes were numb with shooting pain for minutes but looking at the trek leaders and their bravery my pain was negligible. A big salute to these warriors. Kudos to Tundup Bhayya!!
Chardar trek

Trek Day 4: The  U turn

 
On our way back to the base camp more that 50 percent of the chadar had broken. There was no glaciers in most of the places. We had no choice but to hike the mountains and walk on the glaciers wherever possible as instructed by our trek leaders. This was a new experience but it was worth it.
At the end of the day we had to camp 10kms after Tib Cave due to change of plans.  The regular camps at these places were already occupied. The day ended with a camp fire, a bit disappointment but a lot of memories and experiences for life.

Trek Day 5: Now -30 degree is soothing we say!

 
This was the next day of the trek at the zanskar valley. This was the day when walking on the glaciers, hiking the mountains with our hefty bags and bearing the freezing temperature had become pretty normal and our mind ad body had accepted this wholeheartedly. The valley felt just like home. 
The night temperature was -30 and now we say it was soothing!  
Tip: Never carry plastic bottles, containers and wrappers.  We had tons of plastic collected from that place. The valley gives us so much let us pledge not to give plastics in return atleast.
 

Day 6:-  Back to Base camp!

The last day of the trek in the valley. We grew somewhere between falling n times while walking to playing cricket on the glacier. We had lots of memories packed with us. Our heart was heavy while saying goodbye to Zanskar. Though we could not reach the destination frozen waterfall at Nerak, we had experienced every bit of this adventure.