Your adventurous self, walking on a frozen river for 8 hours a day in an ice desert, which means being at an altitude of 11,000 ft., frigid temperatures of -30 deg. C, strong winds and extremely low levels of oxygen. There are no roads or network, and sleeping in tents and pooping out in the open is not just mandatory, but the only option.
Eight long days and countless falls later, it will take many swollen hands, numb toes, wet socks, and a bruised body to experience the breathtaking landscapes of the Zanskar Valley. In return, the amazing memories and bragging rights earned for life will be definitely worth everything!
During winter the Zanskar valley in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in India is completely cut off from the rest of the world due to the enormous amounts of snowfall it receives. The Zanskar river freezes and forms a thick layer of ice giving it the name ‘Chadar,’ which in Hindi means a blanket.
I stumbled upon The Chadar Trek on the Internet in early 2015. The photos simply blew my mind and the difficulty level seemed to challenge every cell in my body. I personally didn’t know of anyone who had attempted it and therefore didn’t get any first-hand advice. In my mind, I was determined The Chadar Trek had to be done, and before I knew it I was all booked for the following winter with ‘Trek the Himalaya‘. Although the tour operator seemed legit and had received good reviews for various other hikes they conducted in the North of India, I was quite let down by my experience with them on the Chadar Trek.
The only potential months to visit are January and early February
This is when winter is at its peak and the ‘Chadar’ is fully formed, although this is not guaranteed. The trek is fully dependent on your luck, as weather conditions can vary every few hours. The final destination of this trek is Nerak and even if you’ve started the trek with perfect weather conditions, it doesn’t mean you’ll make it to the end. Don’t be disheartened, however, as battling these conditions is all a part of the thrill and excitement that adds to the challenges of this trek. To this day, I consider myself to be very fortunate to have been able to make it to Nerak and back.
The starting point of the Chadar Trek is 3 hrs from Leh in Kashmir
In order for your body to acclimatise to the high altitude and low oxygen levels of the region, I highly recommend flying into Leh at least 48 hours before the trek begins, especially if you’re coming from a warmer region like Bombay, which was my case.
While most of the trek is completed by walking, you may have to climb icy rocks and boulders or sometimes even crawl during the journey. We walked on sheets of ice to cover the total distance of 105 kms and camped in tents along the frozen river banks during the night.
The average cost for the trek is approximately INR 30,000/-
This may vary a bit depending on the tour operator you hire. The cost generally includes your camping equipment (tents & sleeping bag), porters, guides, meals on the trek, and a one-night stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Leh, both before and after the trek. Not included in the costs are the flight tickets to Leh, travel insurance (very important), meals in Leh, personal equipment (walking poles, shoes, clothes) and porters if required, to carry your personal backpack.
The Chadar Trek is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but definitely not for the faint-hearted.