An extremely glamorous trek, Chadar Trek is one for the adrenaline-junkies that like to go all in or all out. Trekking in Ladakh have gained immense popularity in recent years, and Chadar trek has become a favorite amongst Indians and travelers from other parts of the world. For me, it was 8 years back when I did Chadar Trek for the first time. Down the line, this little gorge now gets 20 times more people than those days. The trek is open for a small window of just 45 to 50 days, usually from 1st of January till 20th of February, depending upon the solid formation of Chadar – the ice carpet.

The thrilling Chadar Frozen River Trek
The thrilling Chadar Frozen River Trek

Also, Leh government along with ALTOA, (All Ladakh Tour Operators Association) now have come up with safe operating standards. The trek will run safely as it has been implemented with strict adherence of rules and regulations. Therefore, train your sights below for an on-ground experience of Chadar Trek. Find comprehensive details about the temperature, accommodation, the actual trek, food and some essential pro tips to execute the trek with finesse.

  1. Arrival, acclimatization and permits – 03 Day
  2. Actual trek – 05 Days
  3. Back in Leh and departure – 01 Day

Day 01 – Arrival and rest

Chadar Trek
Chadar Trek

With a group of 8 people including me, we arrived at Leh via an early morning flight from Delhi. From the airport, we took a cab to the guest house on our own (As airport pick up was not part of the package) and reached at around 0830 hrs. Soon after reaching the guest house we were asked to complete the registration process which included insurance form, 3 passport size photo to be given along with a copy of the Identity and Address proof (voter’s card, passport or Aadhar card) and signing the indemnity form.

Post a cup of tea and breakfast, some of us wanted to rest as we were having a slight headache, so we went to our respective rooms. All of us were awoken by 1400 hrs for lunch. We had ordered good vegetarian food from the guest house on extra payment as the food in Leh was not included in the package we opted. My partner and other two guys were having a severe headache along with nausea and they opted out from having lunch. They were given warm water and were asked to take rest.

In the evening, we had to take her to the hospital due to severe hypoxia and AMS symptoms. The hospital was super cozy, clean and highly organized. The doctor admitted her for 2 HRS and administered oxygen and prescribed some medicines. Her health improved drastically after oxygen administration, after which we returned to our guest house by late at night.

Day 02 – Acclimatization walk

chadar trek

After waking up to a fresh morning, all of us were fit with no signs of AMS. Post a scrumptious meal of breakfast, a long and exhaustive briefing was given which comprised important points like

  1. How to acclimatize easily
  2. Protection from elements
  3. Demonstration of cloth layering
  4. Principles of Leave No Trace policy
  5. Women hygiene and safety
  6. A brief idea of what to pack during the trek.

Then we were led to Shanti Stupa for an acclimatization walk. Took some photos there and headed back to Leh market to have lunch and do other purchase. Some of us even had to take photos as they were not carrying one, few went to buy some chocolates and others to get a pair of gumboot. Later, we decided to have our dinner in the guest house and went for a sound sleep.

Day 03 – Permit day

chadar trek

Today’s morning after breakfast we all started our walk to TIC (Tourism Information Center) in Leh. By around 1000 hrs we reached TIC. First, we had to show our boarding pass to the insurance company (ASC 360) along with the 100% accurate and complete insurance form which we had filled on Day01. After verifying and entering all our details into their computer, they gave us a medical form which had to be filled by us, and certified by the doctor and the medical team sitting on the adjacent room. Once in the medical room, we have to pay them Rs. 200/- for the medical check-up.

They will check your BP, and oxygen level first and then once you meet the doctor he will just casually ask a couple of questions regarding your previous health history in a very jolly way. If everything is normal, you are good to go! You get a stamp “APPROVED” on the form. Now with this form, you get back to the insurance office where they issue an insurance card, on the payment of Rs. 2000/- per person. It covers your emergency medical check-ups, emergency evacuation and many more. Now with the insurance card and the list of all the people in your group, you go to the ALTOA desk where they provide you with the following permits after paying the respective fees.

  1. Wildlife
  2. ALTOA fees
  3. Environment fees

Boom! Yes! Now you have got your passport to Chadar trek.

It took us almost a full day to get everything cleared from there even though we were the first group to be there for permits. After receiving the permits we went to the market and had an awesome dinner from a local joint called Darjeeling Corner. After some small shopping like nuts, dried fruits and chocolates for the next day trek, we took a cab and reached the guest house. On reaching, there was an exhaustive briefing on how to and what to pack in a backpack for the trek tomorrow. You can also read our blog that states what should one pack for Chadar Trek.

Actual Trek

Day 04 – Drive and trek to Tso Ma Poldar

chadar-frozen-river-trek

We got ready by 0700 hrs and had our breakfast by 0730 hrs. The vehicles were ready when we came out, it was 02 tempo travelers. We were all packed while the vehicles were loaded with all the ration and equipment needed. After some photo sessions and briefing, we departed from Leh around 0920 hrs. The drive till Chilling was fast, smooth and beautiful. After that, the drive became challenging, treacherous and scarier yet amazing.

The road was wide enough for a tempo traveler to pass through with its tires just inside the road and part of the body overlooking the deep gorges. The adrenaline rush was building in by just seeing the road and the frozen white Zanskar River beneath. By around noon, we reached Tilad Do. We had a quick tasty hot lunch made by our cooks along with hot black tea. Then, it was time to pack and push towards the first campsite. It was a technical walk of around 3 hours and by 1630 HRS we reached the campsite.

chadar trek

Most noteworthy part of the campsite was that the medical camp was placed next to our camps. The medical camp operated by the insurance company ASC360 had two doctors and a few assistants ready 24*7 for any medical support needed. One of the doctors was supposed to travel to the next campsite and luckily he joined us till the next camp.

Talking about the climate and weather, the temperature here drops dramatically after the sunset. The best remedy to curb the cold was the hot soup prepared by the camp chef that helped us keeping ourselves warm. The dinner was just too tasty and fulfilling. We all went to sleep by around 2100 hrs. It was pretty cozy inside the tent compared to the harsh bone-chilling cold outside. The sleeping bags were double layered and we used a hot water bottle for extra warmth.

Day 05 – Trek from Tso Ma Poldar to Tibb

chadar

After a delicious breakfast, we started our trek towards Tibb Cave. It was a long icy walk and by the time we stopped for lunch break, all of us were pretty much comfortable in walking over ice. The landscape was so mesmerizing that sometimes we forgot that we were ice walking over a frozen raging river and water is still flowing beneath at Godspeed. A small mistake can be fatal here.

 

Chadar Trek - Leh Image Credits: planetwayround.com
Chadar Trek – Leh
Image Credits: planetwayround.com

Tibb campsite was comparatively colder than Tso Ma Poldar, but by now we were accustomed to the cold. People who still felt cold were founded by the small fire made by the porters.

Day 06 – Trek from Tibb to Narek Waterfall

chadar trek

Today’s trek is significant as today we are going to witness the much-awaited site, the frozen waterfall in Narek. The trek was long but the enthusiasm and energy in the group were very high. The only aim was to reach Narek falls for the classic group photo with the frozen falls as a backdrop. The place where we stopped for lunch, we saw a few young boys taking a dip in the water. We were tempted to do the same however the initial briefing stopped us from doing anything like that.

The excitement and energy in us went exponentially very high as soon as we saw the frozen falls. It is so majestic and indescribable in just mere words. It looked like somebody just waved a magic wand at the waterfall and it went frozen instantly.

Day 07 – Trek from Narek to Tibb

chadar-trek

After taking some photos of the falls, we started our walk back towards the road head. The walk back felt longer than it actually was before. We reached our campsite a little later than our actual estimated arrival time.

Day 08 – Trek from Tibb to Shingra Koma and drive to Leh

Chadar Trek

Today, we started earlier than usual as we had to trek till the road head and drive back to civilization in Leh. It was a very emotional moment for everyone to leave the beautiful Chadar behind. We reached Leh by around 1830 hrs, and had our lunch at the road head in Shingra Koma.

Day 09 – Departure from Leh

We had an early morning flight back to Delhi. The other two trekkers in our group also had the same return flight therefore we decided to tag along with them till Airport. Finally, an amazing memorable nine days came to an end. If you ask me what has changed from my previous visit and this one, I would say a lot has changed.

Pro tips

  • Ensure you carry a well broke in waterproof hiking shoes
  • Gumboots is a savior, but not an alternate for hiking boots
  • Layering is the success mantra
  • We do not recommend to use crampons. It needs a good experience to be used accurately. Alternatively, you can use easily available “microspikes
  • Trekking poles can be very helpful on the slippery ice
  • Do not expect the same level of service as the life is harsh there. People serving you are also humans; they do their best to keep you safe and cosy but don’t expect luxury.
  • It takes an initial two to three days to get adjusted to the prevailing cold conditions. Ensure the right clothing and layering and avoid heaters.

Read our other blog ‘Short Guide to Chadar Trek”.

You often have heard a lot of stories about the challenges of Chadar Trek that hinders you from experiencing this magnificent trek. As said, ” Don’t Listen to what they say, go see for yourself”. This trek is unique, one of its kind, and must be experienced by all the adrenaline seekers. So if you are someone who wants to see something rare and surreal, it’s time for a new adventure.

A lot has been written about the frozen river Chadar trek. Every year, in the months of January and February, headstrong trekkers dare to attempt the trek i.e., walk over the frozen Zanskar river that is the only route for locals to reach Leh. However, it is best explained in a series of photos. After all, a photo is worth a thousand words.

So without further ado, here’s what’s so special about Chadar Trek and why it should be on your travel wish-list for 2019:

chadarThe temperature here drops to around -30 degree Celsius and is the most suitable for being tread on in the winter months, hence.

webp-net-compress-image-23Trekkers start this exploration from Chilling and hike further up to Naerak(they can return from this point itself) and then Lingshed. The entire ice trail is about 105 kms long and trekkers walk about 15 kms each day

webp-net-compress-image-22A road between Zanskar and Leh is under construction which will make it easier for the locals to commute. However, it poses a great threat for the wildlife including snow leopards in the area.

chadarFrozen Naerak falls.

chadarThe fluctuating temperature in the valley makes and breaks the ice in the river. So, trekkers are to use extreme caution in a terrain such as this.

shutterstock_1113151_cf8ceThe gigantic brown mountains that outline the frozen river present a great visual.

chadar trekLocals cook food here in caves and it is served in caves. How dreamlike!

webp-net-compress-image-21Impeccable trekking gear should be made use of while carrying out this trek. The ice sheets thin down over different times of the day.

shutterstock_7977997_tjn49Camping is an absolute delight on this trek! Enjoy incredible starry nights. Star-gazing is definitely something you should check off your list when you’re here.


What are you waiting for?
Pack your bags and set out for this dreamland! Chadar trek can be undertaken by experienced trekkers each January-February. This is a perfect trek for your travel goal list. 

An Experience Like Never Before 

The Chadar trek is a must for all those people who are living in cities and have been seeking an opportunity to have freedom from their hard-working lives for a short while. After completing it, one will realise the immense beauty of pristine nature and why it needs to be protected. The Chadar trek is a completely different trek as it involves walking on a frozen Zanskar river at an altitude of 13,000 ft for days in sub-zero temperatures at around -25 degree Celsius. The experience of trekking on an aqua blue ice trail between calm brown mountains along with cold breeze is an experience within itself. This trek has been categorised under the major difficulty level trek, as it requires a heavy amount of exertion. One is also required to have a proper guidance before beginning this trek. The trail of this trek is approximately 105 km and on an average, a trekker will be walking a distance of 15 to 17 km per day.

During winter, this frozen lake route of Chadar is one and only route that connects Zanskar Valley and Ladakh.

Special Treats: MAJOR VILLAGES EN ROUTE
Villages falling in the trail of Chadar trek are Nerak and Lingshed. Trekkers will be coming across these two villages on different days during the trek.

NERAKIt is one of the two villages where the trekkers will be taking their stoppages. The views of the sunset from this point are worth witnessing. Travellers should definitely click some pictures from this point. Trekkers will be reaching towards this village after witnessing the captivating frozen waterfall and the massive Tibb Cave. This village serves as a major base camp of the Chadar trek. In order to reach Nerak Village, trekkers will be climbing a steep mountain trail. This village houses facilities such as a rudimentary health dispensary and a solar plant. There is also a residential school at this village where students study till the elementary level. All the basic essential goods including ration are bought for an entire year and are brought in this village from a small settlement of Wonla, which is located at a great distance and is situated across the Zing La pass. Only the Chadar trek trail connects the Nerak Village with the outside world. This village is home to around 30 families.

LINGSHEDTrekkers will be arriving at the village of Lingshed. Trekker arriving in Lingshed will be delighted to know that this village is known as one of the oldest villages in Ladakh. This village is filled with an ample amount of nature’s beauty. It is also home to the Lingshed Monastery, which is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. This monastery is a famous tourist attraction. By now, the trekkers would have visited popular tourist spots such as Gyalpo and Dibyokma. Gyalpo is an enchanting campsite which is located in a meadow in the Zanskar River. At this region, travelers will discover imposing peaks and large natural rocks which are naturally sculpted in abstract shapes. Dibyokma is another stoppage point during the Chadar trek. From this point, travelers can enjoy a breath-taking view of the Himalayas, it is also known as the most peaceful point of the trek.


Dreamlike Chadar Trek: Enjoy Camping Under Starlit Skies 

The thrilling Chadar Frozen River Trek
The thrilling Chadar Frozen River Trek


During the night, the travelers will also get the opportunity to see a vibrant sky full of stars. The Chadar trek is known for its rough camping conditions and fluctuating temperature, there will be several instances where trekkers would be required to manoeuvre through difficult terrain of the trek and climb cold boulders of ice and rock.

chadar

The wide frozen aqua blue ice trail formed by Zanskar River in winters between massive, calm, golden brown mountains is the prime factor which makes Chadar Trek a special trek.

Lifesaver Tips: Exercising Precaution While Treading On The Frozen River 

  • It is suggested that one should share his or her schedule to go on Chadar Trek with at least one friend or family member. This will ensure that he or she has someone for help in case of an emergency.
  • It is advised to carry warm clothes as there is a high probability of temperature to drop extremely low.
  • Travelers are suggested to carry ample quantity of edible food and water with them, as there might be a shortage of food and water during the trek.
  • One should not forget to carry a first-aid kit and medicines, as the travellers will be involved in activities which will require a lot of exertion and will be often getting minor bruises and cuts during the trek.
  • One should ensure that the trail of the trek stays clean and they should not pollute the trail or dump anything during the trek. Travellers are also advised not to use shampoos and soaps at any of the waterfalls.
  • One should respect all religious faiths and the calmness of all the shrines that fall en route.
  • One should not disobey or disregard any of the instructions and tips given by the guide.
  • Avid skipping any of the meals during the trek as the intense terrain of Chadar trek will require trekkers to have a high amount of energy.

The best time to go on Chadar Trek is considered to be the winter season between the months of January and February. At this time, the Zanskar River is considered safe and is suitable for walking.

One of the most adrenaline-pinching, risque, thrilling explorations organised in the winter months(January-February) of every year is a trek on the frozen Zanskar river-Chadar Trek. The ice trail is a bold exploit even for the most advanced trekkers. Fluctuating and harsh weather over a frozen trail between ginormous golden mountains, this one is for the truly headstrong.

But it isn’t impossible! Far from it. The wild undertaking is carried out successfully by hundreds of trekkers every season. Through Naerak and Lingshed, the venturous make their way to the frozen river.  Couple months of preparation and reliable information about the trek beforehand are their only friends. Of course, having a presence of mind and trekking gear in perfect shape are absolutely non-negotiable.

Walking on the frozen Zanskar River
Walking on the frozen Zanskar River

Before we go on to discuss what truly makes this trek so challenging, here’s what you should at least pack for the trip:

  • Trekkers are also suggested to carry a pair of open-toe slippers, which one can wear around the campsite without wetting their socks
  • Proper trekking shoes with high-rise ankle, waterproofing and insulation
  • One size large pair of gumboots – a kind of boots for the purpose of wading through icy water
  • Open toe slippers for casual wearing around the camp
  • Two synthetic trek pants
  • One windcheater
  • Two pairs of upper and lower body thermal wears
  • Two warm pants
  • Two full sleeved collar t-shirts
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 3 pairs of merino trekking socks
  • Four pairs of undergarments
  • 1 complete body raincoat
  • Woollen gloves and synthetic waterproof gloves
  • Woollen cap that covers the ears
  • Woollen socks for sleeping in the night
  • Woollen stole or balaclava to wrap around the neck.
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Cold cream
  • Toothpaste
  • UV protection sunglasses to prevent snow blindness
  • Trekking pole
  • Head torch
  • Daypack
  • Rucksack with a capacity of 50 to 60 litres
  • Medicine kit
  • Insulated water bottle and thermos flask
  • Utensils
  • Packaged refreshments
  • Plastic sealable polythene bags, which can keep items dry and safe

Chadar Trek

Know It All: The Multi-fold Challenges of Chadar Trek 
One will always face the mind-blowing challenge of walking on a thin ice sheet which may break at any time and thrust you in the icy cold water at around -25 degree Celsius temperature. Apart from this challenge, there are some other challenges as well that one may have to face:

  • Acute Mountain Sickness: According to a report, around 15 trekkers are reported to have been hospitalized in 2018, due to symptoms of AMS such as nausea, vomiting and breathlessness. During Chadar trek, trekkers can trek up to 11,123 feet. This sudden change in altitude may affect one’s body, thus failing him from accomplishing the trek. In order to prevent such as thing, trekkers are advised to first stay in Ladakh for a few days before starting the trek. This will enable one’s lungs to adjust according to the change in altitude. This time can be fruitfully used by taking acclimatization walks by trekkers.

  • Constant change in trekking trail: As a major portion of Chadar trek is covered over the frozen icy path formed by Zanskar River, the slightest of change in temperature has an extreme impact on the frozen trail of Chadar trek. It is highly suggested that travelers should pay attention to all the commands and instructions of the team leader and trek on only sledge routes. During an average day, the frozen river undergoes a constant process, which involves the formation of new ice sheets, melting of old ice and irregular breaking of ice blocks. During Chadar trek, travelers will always find the frozen river in a different condition. At times, the whole river will be completely frozen and its surface will be suitable to walk. At other times, the frozen stream of ice will completely melt from the center portion, thus leaving only narrow side trails of ice to walk on. There will also be times when the river would completely melt and the trekkers would have to leave the melted stretch of the river and climb the mountains. When there won’t be an option to climb the rocks, trekkers would also have to wade through the cold slushy stream of the river. It is suggested that trekkers should walk in small packs comprising of 6 to 7 people along with a person, who has all the necessary equipment including rope, carbines, harnesses, slings, a throw bag, sleeping bag and is ready to handle any kind of worst-case scenario. In case a trekker falls into the deeper portion of a running stream, he or she should prevent flowing along the stream. In such a case, a leader would throw a throw bag end, so that the drowning person may grab hold of it and get saved. In order to prevent such a situation, trekkers can opt to get anchored with the leader, who will be attaching all the trekkers by rope to his or her anchor.
  • Extreme cold conditions: The excessive cold conditions during Chadar trek often result in causing hypothermia to trekkers. Hypothermia occurs due to lack of warmth within one’s body. Usually, during a trek, hypothermia sets into one’s body after he or she has worn wet clothes for a long duration or even during the sleeping hours. People having weak bones should refrain from opting to go on this trek as the slippery icy terrain leads one to fall numerous times. Also, people with any kind of serious heart condition are also prone to hypothermia. The cold weather during the trek shrinks the blood vessels in one’s body, thus causing an immense pressure within the heart and leading to hypothermia in people with serious heart conditions. In order to tackle the issue of hypothermia, a trekker is required to be constantly active and warm during the Chadar trek. During the day, trekkers should constantly keep their body in motion, which will help in keeping themselves warm. It is suggested that trekkers at camping site should perform activities such as exploring campsite, interacting with locals or even playing some sports on the icy field. Trekkers are required to bring warm clothes which may protect them from snow blizzards and avalanches.
Chadar Trek - Leh Image Credits: planetwayround.com
Chadar Trek – Leh
Image Credits: planetwayround.com

IN THE UNLIKELY SCENARIO OF A DROWNING: 

  1. Shout at your loudest to attract attention.
  2. Seek hold of the bank and staying glued to it.
  3. In the case of getting dragged away, travelers can hold on to their bags and place it above their chests as it will help them stay afloat.
  4. If a drowning traveler in a running current of the river is unable to reach the surface, he or she should look for a whirlpool in the river.
  5. Once the traveler gets rescued from the river, it is necessary to remove all wet clothes at once.
  6. In case a traveller gets hypothermia, he or she can try to get warmth from sleeping bags and hot water bottles.
  7. In case a traveler is in a serious case, the support staff should set up a tent and arrange warm stoves for warmth.

Are you still reading?
You have already won half the battle if you are well equipped with information because now you know what to expect. And come on, all this risk is what makes Chadar trek an absolute thrill! If you play by the rules, you will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

Located in the Zanskar Valley, the Chadar Frozen River trek offers a unique trekking experience and makes the wish list of every trekking enthusiast. This trek is definitely not for a novice, and even for seasoned trekkers, who have experience of many Himalayan treks; this trek is nothing like they have seen before. The hardly habitable environment of the ‘Chadar’ has all the makings of an extremely challenging trek – one which dares a trekker to test his/her attitude and tolerance while providing some of the best visuals imaginable. On Chadar trek, the only constant is the freezing cold, with temperatures dropping to 30 degrees below zero at times. Dressing sensibly is of vital importance. It is difficult to accurately predict the environments at the Zanskar frozen river trek; but here is a general outline of what to expect on this winter trek:

Chadar Frozen River Trek
Chadar Frozen River Trek

1. Best time to go –
Chadar literally means sheet and in this case a sheet of Frozen River. January to February is the time when the upper layer of the river gets hard and trekkers can walk gently on it.