Treks in Leh-Ladakh can be quite intimidating and dangerous, especially during the winter months when the steep mountain slopes are slippery and the passes are all blocked with snow. The weather is numbingly cold, so much so that it freezes an entire lake (!) in the Zanskar valley. In the winters, when all the conventional routes are inaccessible, this frozen lake aka the Chadar Lake, in the Zanskar valley is the only route which connects the remote villages in the gorges of Zanskar with Chilling town, the nearest town in the vicinity.The locals of Zanskar have been walking on this dicey strip of ice since a long time- longer than you could imagine. This marvelous natural phenomenon has attracted many trekkers around the world who call it as the Chadar Trek.
If you a hardcore trekker with a zeal to invade the Himalayas and desire to stand tall with them in the winter adversities, then Leh’s Chadar Lake Trek should be your next trekking trip.
Read on to know:
- What is Chadar Trek all about!
- Zanskar valley description
- When to Visit
- How to Reach Leh
- Chadar Trek Details: Duration, Cost, Itinerary & Map
- How to get fit for the Chadar Trek
- What to take
- Summing up
Chadar Trek - The Destination for all Trekkers
The first thing that might intrigue you is the name ‘Chadar.’
Well, in winter, large sections of the rapid Zanskar river transform into sheets of ice, making it appear like a white blanket and hence the name “Chadar” which means blanket in the local language.
Glad that we cleared that out, now let’s know more about Chadar Trek.
Chadar Trek is a difficult and a tricky trek in the Zanskar valley. It is preferred mostly by proficient trekkers with a high level of experience. It is a primal, six-day trek about 75km long on the Zanskar river in inhospitable conditions. The average mean temperature during the day is -10º while in the night, temperature drops as low as -30º. The conditions are harsh and frigid and the region is regarded as one of the most uninhabitable regions in the world.
Then why to do the Chadar Trek? Why walk on a risky, frozen path?
For the experience, my friend! The thrill of walking on a white sheet with icy cold-water gurgling underneath. How often one gets to do that?
In addition, the Chadar Trek trail runs deep in the mountain gorges along the frozen Zanskar river. The snow-capped mountain walls are nearly vertical cliffs that stretch up to 600 m high. The trek route follows an ancient path used by the locals and Buddhist monks to arrive at Leh.
Before we talk more about the Chadar Trek, let us briefly introduce you to the Zanskar valley which hems in the famous Zanskar river.
Zanskar Valley: The Valley that Encompasses the Zanskar River
Aptly known as “The Hidden Valley in Ladakh,” Zanskar valley lies in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is located to the south - west of Leh and is surrounded by the Himalaya and Zanskar ranges. Zanskar valley comprises of two main valleys- the Stod (Doda Chu) and the Lanak (Tsarap Chu) which coverage below at Padum.
The Zanskar valley remains inaccessible for nearly seven months in the year, making it one of the most isolated of all the trans - Himalayan Valleys. The geographical isolation of the valley has resulted in the preservation of the Buddhist heritage and identity. Many ancient monastic establishments still exist around the valley; some remote caves, as believed, have been used by Buddhist saints to sustain meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.
These monasteries are actively involved in religious activities at present day as well, adding to the aura of the Zanskar valley.
Fascinating! Don’t you think?
And now, if you are even slightly convinced to try the Chadar Trek then here's everything to know about the ice trek, check out!
When to Visit
The best season for Chadar trek is from January to March, though the region is in a better condition between mid-January and mid-February. The best time to go there is in February when the ice on the river is more stable. This makes the trek through the river less risky.
However, there are various zones which get thin ice and you have to climb to the shores to continue the trek.
A few things to remember before embarking on the Chadar Trek are-
- The weather dictates the trek
- Beware of dead batteries. Use Lithium instead of alkaline.
- Stay hydrated
- And most importantly- devour the incredible, life-altering experience in the gorges of Leh.
Rajat Jamwal, a blogger at Himalayan Diaries with an adventurous spirit, tells his Chadar Trek story with a different spin. When most Chadar Trek returns will vouch for its difficulty level, Jamwal retrospect to his time in the Zanskar valley as a celebratory journey that made me stronger- both mentally and physically.
He writes, “Walking on the frozen Zanskar has been a dream for many. It is, in fact, being a part of a thousand years old heritage. The thrill and the ecstasy on keeping your foot on the Chadar and walking on it cannot be described in words. It’s something which can only be felt in the heart. The memories live with you lifelong, and you become a part of the Zanskari legacy for ever. Your definition of winters changes and temperatures of -25 degrees don’t scare you anymore. The lonely starry nights don’t give you shivers, and fear is no more a factor for you once you have done this. Your mental and physical capabilities increase and you find a more tougher human in you. You came back with wonderful stories and you have redefined adventure.”
How to Reach Leh
The two main highways that connect Leh with Srinagar and Manali are NH 1D and Leh-Manali Highway respectively. However, roads to Leh are become risky to take in the winters with most parts of it under the snow. The only way to reach Leh during this time of the year is by air. Daily flights to Leh from New Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Srinagar are available.
The airlines that are operating regularly to the Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport, Leh's official airport, are GoAir, Jet Airways, and Air India. The nearest railway station is situated at 5.5 km away from the airport. But any kind of terrain transportation should be avoided in the winters.
Chadar Trek Advanced Guide: Duration, Cost, Itinerary & Map
The Chadar Lake trek duration is a total 10-day trek (back and forth). Different trek agencies charge different rates for the trek. But we can tell you for that the total cost starts Rs. 15000 onwards per person. We recommend that you either hire services from recognized trek organizations or connect with expert trek groups for the trek.
Here’s a detailed guide of the Chadar Lake Trek. Take notes!
Day 1- Take a flight to Leh as that’s the only way to reach it in the winters. Keep jackets, woollen caps and gloves handy in the flight to counter the blast of cold air as you get off the flight. The temperature in Leh-Ladakh is always in the negative. And thus, the region is totally covered in snow and with thin ringlets of ice-coated roads. So, watch your steps and be wary of slips and falls.
The city of Leh is only partly functional in the winter months. The only shops opened are those catering to the local needs. Don’t keep any major shopping to do at Leh and get all your gears before you reach the place.
Read everything on Winter camping tips here.
Day 2- Located at 63kms away from Leh, Chilling town is the starting point of the Chadar Trek. Drive on the Leh Srinagar highway, past Nimu and up along the Zanskar river.
Trek (carefully) on the snow blanket- the trail surface can be of various kinds like a coating of fresh powder snow, hard and shiny ice, a freshly formed chadar (sheet of ice), chadar that’s weak and brittle or another new texture. You would want to reach Tilat Sumdo, the first campsite on the Chadar Trek.
Day 3- Try and head towards Shingra Koma which is 10 km away from Tilat Sumdo. The trek will take almost six to seven hours, on the way, you can take a lunch break at Tsomo Paldar. The Shingra Koma campsite is a huge ground right below a huge, outlandish stone wall.
Beware of the big cats, they roam around freely here.
Day 4 - Listen to the legends and myths attached to the place and take in the grand aura of the Zanskar…this is where you'll sense the overwhelming feeling of being transcended to a magical land.
You can take a break and cook your lunch (under an overhang of rocks). You can reach Tibb, which is the destination most of the trekkers perfer on their day 4. Again, there are caves that can easily accommodate eight to nine people. You will also find dry vegetation around.
Day 5 - Explore Nerak/ Nyerak which is a 12 km walk through the cliffs and gorges and valleys of Zanskar. Nerak is a beautiful village located about 2,000ft higher than the river bed.
A rickety bridge will take you ahead to the main lands of Nyerak is a highlight for this trek. And as you take the bridge hanging 70 feet in the air, click some wonderful pictures of the waterfall from it. You can either camp in the village or on the camping ground at 200 ft higher than the river. On another note, at Nyerak campsite, there is a lone shelter which serves as a rafting point in the summers. During winters, it serves as a shelter for the Chadar trekkers.
The temperature can dip to -25º at Nerak. Be well prepared to endure exceedingly cold nights and winds. Nerak is the coldest point of the Chadar Trek
Day 6 – The return journey from Nerak is a retrace of the onward trek from Chilling. However, due to the change in the dynamics of the Chadar, the route might feel completely a new episode.
- While walking under a low over hang, do not hesitate to get down to your fours or even crawl on your tummy.
- If the Chadar breaks under your feet, quickly sprint to the safer sheet ahead.
Now as we have constantly harped on the difficulty of the Chadar Trek, fitness is something you must possess to do this trek.
Keep reading to understand the fitness regime.
How to get Fit for the Chadar Trek
The Chadar Lake trek is graded as a difficult trek. The long walks on the tricky ice surface call for a good extent of strength, flexibility, and endurance. The trek is up to an altitude of over 11,123 feet. Hence, make sure your lungs are healthy enough for it. Again, at times the ice sheet may break and you may have to cover distance climbing as well.
Here’s how you can fit yourself out for the thrilling trek along the Zanskar river.
The Chadar Lake trek demands a good amount of endurance and stamina. Target jogging 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. Begin at a slower pace and increase it daily. Other endurance-building exercises such as swimming, cycling and stair climbing with limited breaks will also help.
A major part of the Chadar trek will be walking in high altitudes carrying your backpacks. Trekking on the uneven terrain will strain your legs. Therefore, leg strengthening is very important. Strengthen your calves, knees, and thigh muscles before the trek
To strengthen your legs, start with the following workout-
- 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Work towards reaching your target in 3 weeks.
- Gradually, target 3 sets of squats with 15 in each set.
Agile muscles will help you trek comfortably. To increase your flexibility and strength, do stretching exercises such as hamstrings stretches, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles, and shoulders stretches regularly.
Do not outdo yourself. It is important that you arrive on the trek with relaxed muscles.
As you gain confidence on going to the Zanskar valley, here's what you should take on the trek. Take notes!
What to take on the Chadar Trek
Despite being a challenging trek, keeping a few things in handy can make the Chadar Trek safe and enjoyable. Things such as a medical Kit, appropriate garments, bare necessities, and others will help you survive the Chadar Trek.
- Trekking shoes
Carry trekking shoes with good grip and ankle support. The Chadar Trek trail is mostly slippery and you shall better shoes than your sports sneakers.
Know all about trekking shoes for a better trek experience.
A durable backpack (40-60 litres) with sturdy straps and a supporting frame. Carry a rain cover for your backpack as the weather is undependable.
Learn how to select the Best Hiking Backpack
A daypack is essential if you are offloading your backpack. Carry your medical kit and snacks in the daypack for easy access. That way you needn’t unload your backpack too often.
- Warm layers: Wear at least three warm layers for this trek- two light layers such as fleece or woollen and one padded jacket. During winter, add another top layer.
- Trek pants: Carry three pairs trek pants. Wear a pair of tights as the inner layer and light trek pants above it.
- Three collared t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved sun-protective t-shirts to prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. Again, wear one and carry two. For more insulation, wear two.
- Thermals: It will be pretty cold and if you are more susceptible to cold then carry thermals for the nights. But do not wear them in the day while trekking.
Know about sun-protective clothing for trekkers here.
- Sunglasses: Goggles and sunglasses are a must to prevent snow blindness and further protect the eyes from dust, wind, and others.
- Suncap: The sun is intense at higher altitudes. So, bring a sun cap/hat with a broad brim to safeguard your face and neck from sunburns.
- Hand gloves: Cary at least two pairs- one pair of fleece or woolen hand gloves and a pair of water proof gloves.
- Balaclava: This woollen helmet helps to keep your ears and neck covered and protected from cold winds. You may replace them with woolen scarves instead.
- Socks: Carry at least three pairs. Two/three sports socks to wear while trekking and a pair of woolen socks for the night.
- Illumination: Carry flashlights, headlights, headlamps, LED torch. And don’t forget extra batteries.
- Trekking pole: A trekking pole helps to save about 40% of your enrergy on the trek. And that could be quite advantageous on a difficult trek like the Chadar Trek.
- Waterproof Poncho: The weather in such cold regions is unreliable. Therefore, it is advisable to carry a waterproof poncho on the trek.
Snack and Munch on: Tips for the hot meals!
Now, it will be a little presumptuous to take cooked food on the Chadar Lake trek. Why? Well, of course, the weather! Your packed lunch will turn stone cold hard in the sub-freezing conditions.
Enter instant noodles and other instant foods. These food options are easy-to-make- just pour some hot water, and when eaten hot, they warm your body and boost your general morale.
And You'll also need:
- Toiletries: Sunscreen, moisturizer, lip balm, light towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, toilet paper. Carry a Ziploc bag to discard the used tissues and napkins. Do not dump the Ziploc bags in the mountains. Plastics and tissues are not biodegradable.
- Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug, and a lunch box. For hygiene reasons, bring your own cutlery.
- Two water bottles: 1 litre each.
- Plastic covers: Use plastic bags to compartmentalize things while packing. Carry extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
A Must - Personal Medical Kit
A medical/first-aid kit is trek prerequisite. Minor cuts and characteristic medical conditions like dizziness, nausea, constipation may occur. So, be prepared with a personal medical kit. Include the following medicines and items in your medical kit-
- Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
- Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)Dexamethasone – one strip
- Nifedipine – 5 tablets
- Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
- Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
- Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
- Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
- Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
- Omez/Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
- Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
- Gauze – 1 small roll
- Band aid – 10 strips
- Cotton – 1 small roll
- ORS – 10 packets
- Betadine or any antiseptic cream
- Moov spray (aches, & sprains)
And that brings us to the conclusion. Yet, you might still wonder why Chadar frozen river trek is called a glamorous trek? Why is a tricky trek on a delicate surface so alluring to the thrill-seekers?
Well, why not!
A frozen lake, some ancient Buddhist monasteries, and a secluded, scattered civilization- doesn’t it sound like the setting of a good novel. And all that is found in this trek! Aside from the legends, history, culture and magical landscapes, recognition on global platforms like features in Travel magazines and documentaries on The Discovery and the National Geographic channels have further added to the glamour of the Chadar Lake Trek. And the priceless experience of trekking among undulating Himalayan valleys, witnessing gorgeous views which are otherwise hidden from human eyes.
So, now do you understand what makes the Chadar Lake trek so glamorous?
And let’s tell you that the Chadar Lake trek is a one-of-a-kind experience. Every trekker will bring back a personal memory, a unique piece of the Himalayan valley from the trek. Each will tell stories and recollect the place in a revering way that will only add to the grandeur of the majestic Chadar Lake Trek. Like Vasudha Gulyam tells India Hikes that the boulders, big and small all coated with snow and the white on the brown mountains reminded her of Turkish delights!
So, you see the Chadar Trek adventure is an experience that you will not comprehend completely unless you “penguin walk” your way in the Zanskar valley.
If you have Chadar Trek stories to share do write to us because memories are made to be shared