Only few places in India are at once so traveller-friendly and yet so enchanting and hassle-free as mountain-framed Leh. Dotted with stupas and crumbling mud-brick houses, the old town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort. Beneath, the bustling bazaar area is draped in a thick veneer of tour agencies, and souvenir shops here, gushing streams and narrow footpaths link traditionally styled Ladakhi homes and hotels with flat roofs, sturdy walls and ornate wooden window frames.
Leh is a place that is all too easy to fall in love with, The Chaddar Trek navigates over the frozen Zanaskar River in the mountains of Kargil, Jammu and Kashmir. This trek encompasses a plethora of awe-striking sights alongside the ravines and canyons of Ladakh. It also serves as the only route between the hamlets of Zanaskar Valley and Chilling during winter. Same route is used as a trail by locals and tourists during the winters.
It takes place on the trade route that has been used by the indigenous people for centuries and is a fairly well established trek. This trek is laden with a bunch of unique experiences that include walking on the frozen Zanaskar River which is literally a sheet of ice with glacial waters running underneath and camping out in inhospitable conditions inside caves. The journey of the trek takes one through breathtaking sightings of hanging icicles, iced-peaks set against turquoise skies and charming Tibetan prayer flags. For many years Chaddar trek has attracted tourist from all over the world, it is one of the most exciting and challenging treks which covers the distance of approximately 105 km on foot, an average trekker completes a distance of 15–17 km each day.
The best time to do the Chaddar trek is January to February when the temperature during the winters drops sometimes to -20 to -35 degrees which makes the Zanaskar Lake look like a mesmerizing crystal lake.
On the Early morning of Thursday 28th Jan, the mood was set in and each one of us was hopeful of flying out of valley to Leh. Though, we were supposed to fly on Wednesday 27th Jan, but snow flurries in Leh cancelled the flight.
We were a group of 9 adventure lovers boarding the plane. As soon as we took off from Srinagar airport, snowcapped peaks fascinated each one of us. The sheer high rising peaks of Himalayas were sparkling like a crystal in the early morning sun. We could feel the freshness in the air and blue sky as soon as we landed in Leh.
We were warmly welcomed by the Mehboob Ali Assistant director tourism, Leh. We collected our gear and headed to our Cozy Roams. We had our lunch and made our way to a short hike to Seemu castle which is a vantage point to shoot the Leh city.
The evening arrangements to backpack the requisites were done by each member so that we can head to Chilling Sumdo as early as possible.
The fact that this trek starts from a village called Chilling is an indication of things to come. With freezing temperatures of minus 30 degrees and a precarious walk on the frozen Zanaskar river, the Chaddar trek promises an experience like no other. Chilling Sumdo is point where from Chaddar Trek actually starts. A three hour drive from Leh via Nimmo and Chilling along the Indus and frozen Zanaskar River was enough to set our juices rolling for this adventurous world famous trek.
We had a short flag off ceremony and a quick bite for ETV Urdu followed by light lunch to have enough energy for the days trek.
The trek leader Muhammad Shafique briefed about the plan. With a loud chant of Allah-u- Akbar, we began our trek. The first few steps on the crystal clear ice were thrilling as each one of us were trying to set in the right balance.
Though some of us had a fall but it was a leisure walk. We trekked the distance of some 9 kms to reach our first camping site called Shera Gompa. Porters quickly pitched tents and begin chores for dinner. The dal and mixed veg with rice was a delight for us. As we relished our dinner, the silence of night was broken by a beautiful recitation of Azaan by Aijaz Sofi and Nimaz was said by the team. Snow flurries that had started in late evening continued till dawn and all of crystal blue Chaddar and surrounding high risers were all painted in snowy white.
After the breakfast, the team packed up and started day second. It was much easier to walk on snow, only apprehension was that, no one was sure what lies beneath the snow.
But fortunately the Chaddar had gained all the strength, thanks to the extreme subzero temperatures. The second days walk was around 13 kms to reach second camp site of Tibb (Dib). The sun, crystal ice, turquoise Zanaskar River and natural architectural barren walls were a treat to eyes.
It was a photographic feast for all of us. The team managed to tuck the distance in only 3.5 hours. Team reached Tibb in afternoon, had a lunch and relaxed in pitched tent.
Tibb is famous for cave camping but we weren’t lucky enough to get the space, as it was already occupied by some other groups.
Whole of the Tibb was crowded by adventure lovers by dusk.
The colorful tenting arrangement was enough to pull many of us out in the -25, to set in camera tripods and capture the mesmerizing star studded sky, high risers and translucent tents.
The night was very cold and every one of us in -5 sleeping bags was feeling the cold sting.
It is worthy to mention that you need to have a good sleeping bag with a rating of -20 and above for a comfortable night. Although, we managed the chilling nights in the -5 sleeping bags. Since we were a day short (lost due to flight cancellation on 27th Jan). The team decided to tread the to and fro Journey of Nerakh in a single day. The team trailed the final stretch of 12 kms to reach Nerakh.
The Trail again was full of adventure, and at some places team required to negotiate over only a foot wide Chader.
A single step here or there will send you in gushing Zanaskar stream. The foot marks of most elusive cat ‘The Grey Ghost (Snow leopard)’ was a proof that we are in a different and inhospitable territory. Team managed to reach monumental frozen waterfall of Nerakh within 3 hours. Some had a quick cup of tea in the nearby stall and basked in the sun.
It was Aadil Shah who took the lead and had a holy dip in freezing waters. This led to a chain reaction, ensuring five of us had a bath of lifetime.
By afternoon we started our journey back to Tibb, reached the camp site before evening at 4:30. We had some snacks and a hot cup of tea before slipping into our sleeping bags to have some rest. Before dinner, it was s routine for us to relish some humorous moments with Mr Wild life, Mansoor Sofi. He is such a jolly fellow.
The morning journey towards the Shera Gompa and then towards Sumdo was also full of adventure. The Chaddar at many places had broken due to extreme low temperatures. Since water was receding down the stream thereby creating hollow space underneath the sheet of ice. Its due to this ice sheet at many places gave inn. At one place, we required to negotiate a ridge as the Chaddar had caved inn. To be frank enough, I was finding it difficult to grip the Scree while climbing the ridge, thanks to Mr Khursheed Laigaroo who helped me to overcome the obstacle. We reached the road head at 11 am and drove back to Leh. The whole team is thankful to Director Tourism J&K, Mehmood Ahmad Shah for sponsoring this expedition.