Since time immemorial our ancestors have been using specific routes to go from one place to another like the Silk road, the Amber road, the Grand Trunk road etc.
…Let us come to another ancient route known as CHADAR…
But before we begin here, let me put forward something I learned via my guides and porters and something we all should learn and I call it “The Story of Two Ps”.
The Story of Two Ps
Each one of us wants to be Happy. Each one of us wants to be like a bird in the sky and fly high. But if we wish to fly high we need to let go the weight, like the bird. This bird lost its weight so that it can fly.
Sometimes we meet people, who by means of their words change our outlook of certain things. Sometime we meet people,who by means of their actions change our outlook of certain things.
This Outlook for me at least I can say is “The Story of Two Ps” And for Me these two Ps are…Position and Paisa (Where Position is your status in your career, society etc. and Paisa is Money).
It all happened when a few of us strangers were on trip to a remote and secluded place.
No cell phone signal, Nearest Human settlement was at least 25 KM away
We were talking about what we do in your life, our career, the pressure’s we face in our jobs and how each one is running or trying to run like a horse ( without looking left or right, as a horse can only look straight) and then we do meet people that change our outlook , something just came up, just two words i.e. position or paisa
Just a simple question, what do you actually need to survive and live a decent and happy life. Is it position or paisa?
I think there will be mixed answers but I think almost all will agree with the Latter
Case 1 – You have a position but no paisa
Case 2- You may not have a high position in terms of career or society but you have the paisa, not huge volumes but decent enough to have a decent lifestyle.
Case 3- You have both position and paisa
Case 1 needs no answer. Position doesn’t fill your stomach and of those around you
I think you will be very happy when its case when you have decent paisa, you will be able to live a life, eat at a good hotel, travel to nice places, help those in need in whatever way you can etc.
Now if we talk of Case 3, some might argue that position also brings paisa, yes that can be true but this is both a Mirage and a Paradox.
You have a big position and lots of Paisa, Do you really think you will be happy?
If your answer is yes, then I take a bow
But, almost all the populace is running and fighting the race of Position and Paisa and we are losing because… ( left for each one of us to fill)
Now, coming back to Chadar…
This is the Confluence of Zanskar river,which forms Chadar in front and from the left is coming the Indus River. Post confluence the river is known as Indus. The Road you are seeing on the left of Zanskar River is the one that takes you to the point of start of Chadar experience.
Chadar is a bit different from the routes mentioned above. This route is frozen ice and is formed in winters over the Zanskar river. The temperatures are always below freezing point. This Chadar has been and is still being used by the Zanskaris by over 1000 years for travelling from Padum to Chilling to Leh and this route was and is of immense importance to Zanskari people as it connects Zanskar valley to Leh.
Being at Chadar offers an exciting and thrilling experience with some fantastic views. Though it may sound thrilling but one should not deem the walk on Chadar as taken for granted. Some may say that Chadar is just a walk and as far as temperature is concerned one can take of that by sufficient amount of clothing. The answer to this is a yes and a no, there are certain dangers one must be aware of and before you seriously think of materializing your walking on Chadar thought, you should try to set your body in order.
See the Clear water on the left and the Chadar formed on the right
The Local Ladakhi’s. They are one hell of people
Human Bodies are highly adaptive but our bodies are not like Wolverine from X-men. Yes, our bodies do adapt to any particular environment but it does take time and this time depends from body to body.
To be at Chadar one has to take a flight to Leh as all the land routes are closed. Once you come out of the aircraft your body receives a thermal shock, from a pressurized and temperature regulated aircraft cabin you straight come to 11300 feet and a below freezing point temperature( In my case this temperature was -8 Deg C). Be sure to cover yourself well, the bodies of locals are adapted, so they don’t need as many layers as us but look at them, they don’t leave body part/skin un-covered and this is a thumb rule.
Coming back to setting your body in order:Temperature & Altitude-
Temperature variations can be brutal to human body. But our human bodies can handle certain amount if our bodies are acclimatized. For example people live in Sahara region as well as Siberia region,both having extreme temperatures, one is extremely hot and the other is extremely cold.
The temperature in Zanskar valley on Chadar will always be below freezing point and if the skies are clear the temperature can even go down upto -30 deg c, so never take chances with weather and remember one thing, mountains create their own weather.
1.) Make/adapt your body to handle cold. A month before you begin your Chadar experience wash your hands and face with cold water. If you can take a bath with cold water once in a while, it would be great but if you can’t then don’t. ( In my case I didn’t took a cold water bath but its been my habit that I always wash my hands and face with cold water all the time in winter)
2.) Don’t wear too much layered clothing, make your body feel the cold. That being said, it does not mean that you should roam around in half-sleeves and Bermuda. A thumb rule is that your body/skin should not be in direct contact with cold. To acclimatize your body, you should wear less but your body should be covered.
When you are on a road trip you slowly gain altitude and as such your body gets acclimatized slowly to higher altitude but what if you take-off from a place with a mean altitude near to that of sea level and you land at a place above 3000 m. At any point above above 3000 m your body starts to experience less oxygen and that means headaches and uneasiness.
1.) The Best way to deal with less oxygen and to acclimatize our body to less oxygen is to do some running/jogging ( timing to complete a run is not important) at our location, you have to start slow. You may begin with a few hundred meters, then a Km, and so on, but whatever run you do, be honest, it has to be non-stop.
2.) There are a lot of apps like Run-keeper using which we can train our body.
3.) If you develop a headache at high altitude then actually its good but then this headache has to go away. If it doesn’t then that’s a problem, it is advised you drink more water ( hot). Take an altitude sickness tablet should always be the last option.
Clothing & Other Accessories
Clothing may vary from person to person but the key is to dress in layers and layers may vary from person to person. While walking on Chadar you may feel warm and may even sweat but don’t remove your layers and go down to bare minimum. Never go below three layers and if you are still feeling warm, open the zip of your jacket.
1.) Undergarments : Upper+Lower. You normally don’t take a bath during your entire Chadar experience and neither would you feel like changing into new set, so keep your garments accordingly, but do keep an extra set with you in case you fall into freezing water of Zanskar river.
2.) Thermal/Body Warmer: Upper +Lower as per your body. Don’t forget an extra set for emergencies
3.) Sweat Shirt+Fleece+ Warm Pant: Extra Set is advisable
4.) Fleece/Warm/Down Jacket ( with hood): This is your call, which jacket to use. Jackets are good because they trap your body heat and in case you are feeling warm you can zip open the jackets. Do some good study as to which jacket to use.
5.) Waterproofing: Rule 1 is that nothing is waterproof but everything is water resistant. But, waterproof pants and jackets act as wind sheeters, so you should have one.
6.) Other Accessories:
# Medicine Kit
# Gloves: Waterproof Ski Gloves should be used. You should also use liners with touch feature so that you can use your touch screen phones etc. and by using liners when you remove your outer gloves your skin is not exposed to cold.
#Extra batteries: Do carry some extra batteries with you as cold drains power. If you are carrying a DSLR camera/Point and shoot camera with you, use the camera wisely and keep your batteries wrapped in something so that there occurs less charge loss because of temperature.
# Socks: The socks you walk in turn wet because of sweat on your feet. Don’t forget to change your socks at night, else your feet might get frozen. Try to dry the wet socks by getting near to a bonfire if its lit or by rubbing the socks together. Keep around least 6 sets of socks with you.
# Shoes: You should have a good quality trekking shoes with ankle support. As I have said earlier nothing is waterproof, everything is water-resistant, so take shoes that have ankle support, good grip and water-proof/resistant. Also, don’t forget to buy gum boots from local Leh market. The material of these gum boots is hard plastic and quality of these boots is just ok and they are a bit uncomfortable but are useful when there is snow and water and you have to walk through snow and water. Try to wear your gum boots and break into these gum boots before you proceed. The price of gum boots depends on size being used. If your gum boots are bought from Leh/They are cheaper ones/You don’t intend to carry back your gum boots, at the end I request that you give your gum boots to the cooks/porters who are with you during your Chadar experience.
# Balaclava+ Cap. This is pretty useful and might not need your cap but again your personal call.
# Sunglasses. To cut the glare from sun glasses/wraparound with UV protection, preferably category 3 and above. If your wear prescription spectacles like me, then are less options for us, if can manage fitovers/clipovers it would be nice. Else you can get transition lenses with UV protection for you. These lenses will not only be useful to you during your Chadar experience but also afterwards. Metal frames do work here but the frames get cold if you remove the glasses from you. I kept my glasses on during night also.
#Head Torch: It gets pretty dark in night and unlike cities/towns there is no light, so carry a head torch and extra batteries.
# Rucksak/Bag: In case you don’t have one, a 60 L rucksack is sufficient and try to carry your bag on you, it gives protection in case you fall on your back.
# Newspaper: This is a street remedy for cold. In case you are feeling cold and don’t have enough clothes, then stuff newspaper between your clothes.This acts as an insulator. Remember street people can’t buy like us, so they have street survival remedies with them.
# Plastic sheet. Nothing is waterproof, everything is water-resistant, so make a plastic sheet at your home that can cover you and your bag at the same time. We can afford to buy waterproof/resistant stuff but not all can do that. So learning from the street is important. the people on the street use plastic sheets to cover themselves in case of rain/snow.
# Warmee: For those who feel extra cold, this is for them. Tear the packet of the warmee, shake it for 20-25 seconds and this self-heat generating can be a boon.
# Personal Toiletries: Sun Cream, Tooth Brush, Tooth Paste, Toilet Paper etc.
# Food : Take Dry fruits such as Pista, Badam, Cashewnuts, Chocolates
Although, extra sets should be carried to meet exigencies but you have to be brutal in packing. Pack light yet sufficient to meet exigencies. I was trying to be extra cautious, so my backpack weighed between 9-10 kgs ( I could have made it around 2 kgs lighter)
Choose a group, there are many groups that are available online. You can choose any group you feel like, do some research and take a call. You can choose to be alone, with a few locals but you have to take your own call. But never be all by yourself, nobody is that experienced. I traveled with Gio Adventures.
This is my group. +1 to the entire group
My Guides, Durga & Themling ( A Zanskari from Lingshed Village in Zanskar Valley)
My Experience, it was hell of an experience
Acclimatization is the key to begin anything new
As the journey begins from Leh, try to be at least two days before in Leh. Take full rest on your arrival at Leh. And drink water. no cold water please, only warm/hot water , you may feel like drinking cold water but if you get cold or a sore throat at that altitude, there is no other way, but to get down from Leh and there gets you Chadar experience blown away and not just Chadar, even if you are on a family trip to Leh, that might also get blown off.
You must carry your medicine kit with all your regular medicines and some additional things such as Diamox ( helps in altitude sickness), ORS packets( helps in recovering body salts lost unknowingly). It is your personal call, whether to take a Diamox or not but I don’t set my body with a medicine, bigger problems if my body gets used to a medicine. The normal way of acclimatization is always the best and long term.
Coming back to your Day 1 at Leh. After resting for Day 1, you may go for a little bit walk if you are feeling fine. Don’t over exert yourself. This walk is just to see how your body is performing.
If you have a few days before the start of your experience, you may go around the Leh Main Market to do some shopping. You must have bought some clothes from your place but you also get some really good clothes at Leh ( I will come to clothing a little later again). I had my clothes but found some really nice and better one at Leh at far less price. Just roam around Leh, although in winter some shops are closed but some are still open.
You can also find shops to eat in Leh Main Market, there is Neha Snacks, there is one Punjabi restaurant in the main market itself.
Leh Main Market
This is Neha Snacks, a few shops before Neha Snacks is the Punjabi Restaurant
This is Leh Main Market
The journey to begin your Chadar experience starts from Leh and it takes around 3 hours to reach the point of de-boarding where you have to get down from your bus and climb down the mountain and there it is…The Chadar
Walk on Chadar
Some People might think lightly on walking on Chadar but let me tell you, I saw some people with broken bones. You should take care of the following while walking:-
#Don’t walk with hands in your pocket.
# Walk with your feet close together and don’t lift your feet much from the ground. Do a youtube and see how penguins walk. It is not that easy for us to imitate penguins but the key is to keep feet close together and walk by sliding/slight lift to your feet.
# If you fall on ice, then please fall. A lot of injuries take when we try to save ourselves from falling. Imagine, when a baby falls he/she doesn’t get hurt, so if you are falling, try to curl yourself and reduce your body size and try to fall like a baby.
# Try to carry your rucksack/bag, this will help you move properly and balance your weight.
# I walked in my trekking shoes as I was more comfortable with them though I did have gum boots tucked into my ruck-sack. I had to use gum boots at one point when it started to snow (more on that later)
This is Frozen Zanskar River and the ice sheet formed on this river is Chadar. Welcome to Chadar
Base Camp Site
Porters transporting supplies from one point to another.Some people might think that walk on Chadar must be a piece of cake. A Yes and a No. If you look at the locals there, for them it is a piece of cake.
The Day 1 was pretty much routine, got down from our transport, climbed down onto the Chadar, some photography, some walk to base camp 1, some more photography, some food started,Did some night photography slept in my tent with the sleeping bag.
There are two of our porters cum cook . No journey can proceed without their contribution
There is the Kitchen and our cook
Fire in long exposure mode
Camp Site at Night
Porters carrying supplies on Chadar
The Next Day began good, we started off well, at one point Chadar was not formed so had to climb up a mountain and came down from the other side. The trick for mountain climbing is firm grip of your foot and keep yourself tilted towards the mountain , in this case even if you slip, you will slip towards the mountain.
The Chadar was not formed so had to climb up the mountain
There Climbing on one side of Mountain and Coming Down on the other side
Coming Down to the Other Side
On the Other Side of the Mountain
On the Other Side of the Mountain
The Only Vegetation that was spotted
See the Crystal Clear Ice and below this is water flowing
Completely formed Chadar, at least 4-5 feet thick at points and if you clearly see the water frozen overnight, observe waveform of water.
An Army helicopter on a recon mission
Another Frozen waterfall
Everything was running ok till around 12 pm and then…
Clouds started lowering in the valley
It started to snow
Street smart way. Nothing is waterproof, everything is water resistant. Plastic sheet is the street smart way to prevent yourself from getting wet.Nice thinking my friend
More snow and our tents
Ahh, never forget the toilet tent
All white, this is the place from where we got down from the mountain as Chadar was not formed
We climbed back on this mountain, but this time it was risky as it was snowing, slipping would mean falling down, hitting the stones and down into the Zanskar river but somehow we also managed it.
We reached back to main camp site, the information we were able to receive by those over there was that a landslide has occurred and it was still snowing. Our tents were wet, some of our sleeping bags were wet.
Me fellow traveler cum friend ( the one with plastic sheet above) and I got an idea that we should go to the drop of point of the transport and stand over there. So, my friend and I went to the drop off point and luckily, we met a local who was coming down, we asked him the status. He told us that there have been two landslides and no transport would be coming and to clear the roads would take time, provided the snowfall stops and the weather is going to remain the same for more time and it is not going to stop snowing anytime soon.
#There was no communication , only a satellite phone which was 25 kms away from our location.
#As it was cloudy, the weather was a bit warmer than usual and warm weather means melting of Chadar.
#It was snowing and that meant it was difficult to see the Chadar, since it was all covered with snow.
# Our Tents & Sleeping bags were wet
# We had no comms, satellite phones allowed only to army, means worried family back home
This matter was discussed with the group and between the guides and we decided to walk on foot to reach our transport ,if it was available , we didn’t even knew whether our transport had come or not because of snow but we had to take the risk considering the weather condition and our present state
We walked for around 2.5- 3 hours on foot and it was snowing heavily. Crossed over the landslides on foot and we saw our transport. The whole group made it to the transport. That should have it but...
Our transport was not carrying a chain ( this is required to wrap over the tires for better grip).
What to Do?
Tires were deflated a little and our jouney began but our transport bus was slipping. There was some tension because if we slipped in the wrong direction our bus would have gone down in the Zanskar river and within seconds we would have…
Full marks to our bus driver for some excellent driving.
Also, there were a few fellow group members who were cheering everybody with their jokes to loosen up the mood. Full marks to them.
Now, our guides, some porters, myself and my same friend who got the initial idea to go to the drop off point got down from the bus. Put a head light and started digging the mountain. We walked on foot , took a recon of the area, took mud out of the mountain wherever needed and poured it over the snow. This was being done on a regular basis to prevent the bus from the slipping.
The Result in the end was fruitful, it took some doing and a lot of time but we reached our hotel in Leh.
+1 to the entire group, guides, porters, bus driver, everyone. Together, we made this one hell of an experience
And Lastly please don’t leave any waste, carry sufficient bags with you to carry back your waste.
…Take Memories ,Don’t Leave Footprints…