Saturday, 6 April 2013

Across a Frozen River

 "How about walking across frozen rivers, exploring the Zanskar valley?" I thought one morning; the idea taking off from a yearning to see Ladakh in winters, with white carpets of snow draping its scapes. The green terraced fields, colourful prayer flags and cheerful lamas take me to Leh often enough, yet the thought of being there in winters meant a whole new thrill. 

Browsing through old mountain memories brought alive a sense of adventure, backed by a need to escape from manic work, a Nat Geo photo cover of Leh, a knowing look from my sister - that's all we needed. There’s not much to do in Leh city during winters as most of the passes are shut due to heavy snow fall. However the wilderness of the Zanskar valley is wide open during this time, something you cannot explore on foot in summers. What better way than to explore this magical kingdom than to walk across its frozen rivers! That’s when we zeroed in on the Chadar trek.

Chadar is the term used for the layer(s) of ice that forms over rivers in winters. While the river flows and temperatures begin to drop, the edges of the river begin freezing, slowly gaining ground and ultimately covering the complete river with sheets of plexiglass like layers of ice. Unlike a glacier, the river does not freeze into a solid mass as water continues to flow under this Chadar. That’s what makes walking this trek a crazy, thrilling adventure!

Fact File:
Route: Drive from Leh – begin trek from Chilling – Tilat – Dib Yogma – Nyeraks. Leave the Chadar for a detour proceeding to a heaven like village called  Lingshed. Head back –Nyeraks – Dib Yogma – Tilat – Chilling
Region: Zanskar, ladakh
Altitude: 3850Mtrs/ 12,632Ft
Temperature Range: Day temperatures can be as low as - 10°C and night can reach -26°C
Dates: 27th January – 7th February
Rivers Traversed: Zanskar, Indus and their tributaries

We were to begin our trek from Chilling i.e a point where the road ends. Getting on to the river from this point means descending a good 10-20 meters to the level of the frozen river. Chilling was literally chilling to the bone, you just have to keep moving, the only way to keep you warm no matter how many layers you wear!

Imagine a ice rink with a gymnast gracefully gliding from one end to the other.
That’s exactly what this was not!
My first step on that uneven rock solid surface in gum boots, a pair of shoes that I was wearing after playschool; I was anything but graceful! Step2, and Step 3 – CRASH!
Crashes I had and many, you can’t keep a count! But gradually as I understood the undulations of the frozen water, places where to step and those to avoid become a little easier to recognise if not entirely. Overall you pass through water in various forms of snow, trudge through cool blue slush, stomp through beds of brittle ice, glide over surfaces as smooth as polished marble, feather walk over sheets as think as wafers; you can see vivid bubbles of water through it!  Oh, did I mention parts where you crevasse cross over the ice with a wild river flowing below!    
Enroute, we met a German gent, who claimed to have walked across the Chadar 20 times over the past 12 years! A simple man, with no guide, he lived in caves along the path. “You are never safe on the Chadar until you finally reach your home-stay back in Leh city,” he said when asked about the mysterious nature of this journey.

Overwhelming feeling as I took my last few steps on the Chadar, this mad thing to do, for no purpose, just the thrill of adventure! For the Zanskaris it is a way of life, a life line connecting Leh to their homes up in the mountains, but for me it was a sense of putting myself in a unfamiliar environmental,
We pass through narrow gorges overwhelmed by the thought of the raging river below, valleys, hot water springs, floating ice formations across a seemingly calm river, some magnificent frozen waterfalls, and unchartered river banks with magical mint blue waters!
Pancakes on a trek like this! Can you believe it! We had the yummiest food ever on this trek a sure shot mood lifter after getting all black and blue from each fall!  

I cannot begin to cover the sights and sounds, the magical experiences, the million stars, the vivid blues, sheer happiness of the locals just to meet new people! This is one among many journeys that must be experienced to be believed; a rare trek indeed!

This trek would not have been possible without Angchuk and Jigmit, our fellow travellers and guides on this beautiful journey
You can Hear my story at
See Here (youtube): My experiences during this trek @Bar Camp, VJTI 
(Technical information courtesy Jayesh Morvankar from, picture courtesy Yuktie Jhangiani)

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