Planning for Chadar Trek? This is what you should know
Planning for Chadar Trek? This is what you should know
Winters in Ladakh can be amazing. The temperatures plummet much below the freezing point. This makes the Zanskar River freeze. With time it forms a thick layer of ice on it. This is that which is referred to as Chadar. A walk on this frozen river is called Chadar trek. The amazing colours ranging from bluish tinge to golden yellow produced by the reflection of the sky and the mountains on the layer of ice is marvellous. It’s a walk like none other on earth.
WHEN AND HOW DOES THE CHADAR FORMS
By the last week of December , the River Zanskar starts to freeze. First the outer banks of the river turn into ice. Slowly with time, around the second week of January as the flow gets slower due to less water in the river, the freezing process intensifies, causing the river to form a thick layer of ice on top of it. The river flows mostly through a gorge so it has very less sunshine, which helps in making the ice thicker and harder. This layer of ice is so thick and hard that one can walk on it.
LOCATION OF CHADAR
Zanskar valley lies to the South west of Leh, surrounded by the Himalaya and Zanskar ranges. Zanskar comprises of two main valleys the Stod(Doda Chu) and the Lanak (Tsarap Chu) the coverage of which starts below Padum. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 7 months in the year. The river Zanskar meets the River indus at a place called Nimmo, which is 3 km southeast of Nimmu village. Nimmu village is 35 Kms from the town of Leh.
Chadar is more than a trek for the Ladakhi people. It has a history of more than 1000 years. It’s a way of life for the locals. The Chadar is perfect example of the resourcefulness of the Zanskari people. In winters the Penzi La, which is located at an elevation of 14,000 feet gets closed due to Snow. Penzi La is the only road which connects Zanskar with the out side world. The Road starts from Kargil and follows the Suru valley across the Penzi La till Padum. Padum is the Headquater of Zanskar. The Zansar range is high and steep, so there is no route for the people to connect with the other places of Ladakh. So when the River Zanskar freezes during winters, it forms a layer of Ice of it, which is hard enough for letting people walk on it. The Zanskari people in winters walk on it to reach Chilling, which has an all weather road connected with Leh. This has been a traditional route for these people for centuries. It was part of the Silk Route, and people waited for it to freeze, so they could head back to their homes. Even today this route is used by the Zanskari people to move in and out of the Zanskar Valley to Leh. School children who come to study in Leh, go back home on the frozen River.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE TREK
Chadar requires mental, physical and logistical preparations more than any other trek because of the conditions, location and climate. The temperatures plummets to below – 20 degrees centigrade. Ladakh has very harsh winters, so most of it is closed during this season. The Hotels and guest houses cannot function due to shortage of water. All supplies reach Ladakh though air route, so the cost of essentials are also quite high. It is advised to reach Ladakh with full preparation for the trek if you want to save some money. There is a military shop which sells socks, gloves, caps at reasonable prices. Apart from that come fully loaded.
Understanding the altitude factor
Altitude is defined on the following scale
High (8,000 – 12,000 feet [2,438 – 3,658 meters]),
Very High (12,000 – 18,000 feet [3,658 – 5,487 meters])
Extremely High (18,000+ feet [5,500+ meters])
There are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don’t, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 9,000 feet (2,750 meters) with minimal effect. The elevation of Nerak is about 10,900 feet. If you haven’t been to high altitude before, there is no reason to worry, provided you don’t have any serious health related issues. You have to start brisk walking a month earlier. You can do away with lifts and escalators , and use the stairs. Try deep breathing exercises , so that your lungs expand. Try to increase your intensity and duration of exercises , so that you know your stamina is building up.Keep hydrated by having lots of fluids. Live healthy and the rest happens.
If you have been at that altitude before with no problem, you can probably return to that altitude without problems as long as you are properly acclimatized.
When you fly from Delhi to Leh you gain over 10,000 feet. When you reach Leh , it’s a totally new experience for most people. Rarified air and minus temperatures. Keep yourselves hydrated, keep away from heaters, and wear warm clothes. Don’t sleep during the day and have your meals in time. If you have any of the symptoms like nausea, mild headache, fatigue after walking a few steps, or loss of appetite. Contact your trek Leader.
Chadar Trek is a trek through a valley and hence does not have the element of climbing. The thing which is of difficulty here is the temperature. Day temperatures in Leh and while on trek are sub-zero and usually around -8 degrees. The temperatures during night falls drastically to -25 degrees. The ultimate challenge is to keep yourself focussed in completing the challenge.
WHAT TO PACK
1 Rucksack/Backpack of 60 to 70 litres capacity.
1 Rain cover or poncho
1 pair of water proof trekking shoes with a firm grip
1 pair of Gum boots
2 pairs of waterproof trekking lowers.
1 Warm down jacket
1 Wind proof Jacket
1 Fleece sweater
3 Cotton T shirts
2 pairs of thermal inners, upper and lower
3 pairs of sports cotton socks, and 2 pairs of woollen socks
2 pairs of woollen and water proof hand gloves each
2 pairs of woollen caps or Balaclava
Sun or Golf Caps
Sun Glasses. These are very important. The reflection of the sun rays from the snow crystals can make your face burn and cause a white out condition in which you wont be able to see clearly. If you wear spectacles, please get photo chromatic glasses or get a numbered dark glass made. Please avoid wearing contact lenses as moisture can keep condensing on the surface of the lenses.
Small, thin quick drying Towel
2 One litre water bottles
Torch or Headlamp with spare batteries.
Personal Toilet kit
It is compulsory for all trek operators to carry basic medicines, first aid and supplementary oxygen. You can keep some tablets of Crocin, Avomine, Combiflam, Brufen, and Norflox . If you think you can have a High Altitude Sickness, you can go in for Diamox on the advise of a doctor. You can carry a couple of knees caps, Crepe Bandages, some anti inflammatory spray or lotion like Moov. Carry a small first Aid kit comprising of some Bandages, Betadine, dettol, and some band aids.
Some Drinks to enhance your stamina and make up for hydration loss during the trek like Glucose, ORS Salts, or Gatorade.
HOW TO PACK
.Make small packets of similar items. So that you don’t waste time in finding any item. Like keep socks, gloves and T shirts in one packet, toiletries and medicine in one pack, and so on. Try to carry as minimal as possible.
.Keep the weight of your back pack around 8 to 9 kgs.
.Keep a jacket and a waterproof raincoat at the top, so that you can get it out quickly if needed.
.Keep a headlamp/torch in your outside pockets wrapped in waterproof cover. Once you reach a camp keep the torch in your pocket.
. Keep your spare batteries inside the pockets of warm clothes. Batteries drain out fast in the cold weather
.Carry a polythene packet, in which you can keep clothes that get wet or you have changed.
The trek is a walk on ice. There is no defined technique to judge weather the ice is hard or soft. A experienced trek leader and the local Zanskaris know by instinct where the Ice is hard enough to take your weight. At most places the Ice is hard enough to take your weight, so there is no reason to worry. There may be places where the Ice is thin. At such places a experienced trek leader can guide you through an alternate route. So safety is very important. Please listen attentively to your trek Leader at the time of breifing. Never walk in front of your lead guide, and never behind your tail guide. They first check weather the Ice can take your weight or no. Where the Ice is week , an alternate route has to be taken along the mountain. Some times there is hard ice only near the banks, so you have to crawl under protruding rocks. If ever you break thin ice and your foot gets drenched in water, there is no need to panic. Just pull your leg out or ask your trek leader for help. If you do not sight your trek lead, ask any local guy you see around to help you. What I mean by a local guy is a guide, cook, helper or porter who is a Zanskari. Change your socks and shoes, as wearing wet ones can make you freeze. When ever you walk on a rocky portion, make sure you dry your sole of the water as it can become ice and make you slip on the rocks. Don’t walk in groups, as it can put weight on a single slab. Don’t stand for long durations where you can hear cracking sounds.
Remove the batteries from the cameras as you finish taking photographs and put them in your pockets. Be careful while changing lenses, as vapour can set in dampening your camera. Thin silk gloves are a great help while taking pictures in these sub zero temperatures.
Stay hydrated, take small sips as the water is too cold. Keeping hydrated is the key in high altitudes. The water level in your body helps to force oxygen to your organs, and at high altitudes, there is a greater rate of water vapour lost from the lungs. You don’t feel so cold while walking, because your body is in motion but once you reach a camp you suddenly feel the chill. So keep a warm jacket ready, and put it on as soon as you reach a camp.
ON THE CAMP
Once you reach the campsite, make sure you are warm. Change the clothes which are wet. Have plenty of fluids like soup and warm water. If you have any feeling of sickness, contact your trek leader. Get your oxygen level checked. Relax and conserve your energy for the next day. Eat a proper diet. Get into your sleeping bags and fleece inners in a tidy manner. If his is not done properly you may have an uncomfortable night. Make sure the zips of your sleeping bag and tents are fastened properly. At night keep your water bottle inside your sleeping bag, so that you have warm water to drink in the morning. Drink lots of water in the morning.
Please don’t litter around the campsite. Keep a compartment in your bag for wrappers, waste etc. Respect the mountain which lets you spent time on it.
Don’t Smoke or consume alcohol during the trek. It can be fatal.
Walk safely, enjoy, take pictures of the yellow golden blush tinge reflections. Feel the adrenaline rush. Spread smiles, and come back with wonderful stories.
Cheers and regards,