Chadar Trek : Prepping for the Frozen World

Imagine a river flowing with all its might. And suddenly it freezes, and you can walk on that sheet of ice. Won’t it be cool? Well, this is exactly what happens in Chadar trek, literally.  It’s a dream destination for adventure enthusiasts.

On Chadar trek, you walk on the sheet of ice, which is none other than the frozen River Zanskar. This beautiful tributary of River Indus, freezes in winter in the extreme temperatures of -25 to -30 degree celsius, and you get to trek on it. And the destination is even crazier. While on other treks there is generally a summit at a higher altitude to look forward to, but in Chadar trek, though there is no gain in altitude yet the destination is a mighty frozen waterfall at Nerak.

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Nerak – the frozen waterfall and destination of the trek

Chadar trek to Nerak is 5 day long, which is the shorter version of the trek. There is a longer version as well which is an 18 day trek that goes uptil the village of Padum in Zanskar valley.

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Chadar trek is one in which you don’t gain any elevation. Basically it’s a walk at an altitude of 11,500 ft. However, what makes it challenging are the extreme low temperatures and the fact that throughout the course of the trek, you walk on ice. Not snow – but ice. And you need to learn to adapt your walk and the rhythm of your pace.

Walk on the frozen Zanskar river

When to Go?

Chadar trek can only be done in the month of Jan and Feb, when Chadar is a good 9-12 inches thick and can withstand the footfalls. An incompletely formed or a loose Chadar can be very risky, and may even cost one’s life.  Hence, it is advised to attempt Chadar Trek with local guides. By doing this, not only you safeguard yourself but also their economic interests.

Do I require a permit?

Yes – Chadar trek requires a permit which you can get in Leh at the Tourist Reception Center (TRC). The permit is mandatory to commence the trek and includes a wildlife permit of INR 2000 and medical insurance of INR 3000. So the combined cost of the permit is INR 5000 per person, which is on top of your trek fee. This rule of permit based trek was issued recently – in 2019 by ALTOA – All Ladakh Tour Operator Association. Permit ensures that you are fit enough to commence the trek. There is a medical test that checks your blood pressure and Oxygen levels. You are deemed fit and are provided with the permit, if your Blood pressure is normal and Oxygen levels are good (generally above 80).

What should I pack for the Chadar trek?

Backpack :

A 50-60 ltr backpack is good enough for a 5 day Chadar trek. You might need to carry a 20 ltrs day-pack for keeping essentials handy.

Upper Layers :

Well. Given the extreme temperatures during Chadar Trek, its a good idea to be layered up, which means put on 5-6 layers of clothing including the warm clothes and jackets, as it suits you. Your base layer can be a simple cotton vest. As a second layer you can use a thermal wear. You can use a full sleeve T-shirt as a third layer, followed by a fourth layer of fleece. You can top it with a good thermal jacket followed by a wind cheater.

Lower Layers :

For the lower body, you can use thermal bottom followed by the trek pants or simple trek pant with a thermal lining inside. On top of that you can wear water-proof pants, that will help you stay dry in case if you face any situation where you might need to walk on chilling waters during Chadar Trek.

On a side note, jeans are a bad choice for lower covering. They are heavy, soak water when they get wet, and are hard to dry.

Socks :

For your feet, 2-3 layers of cotton socks, or military socks would do the trick to keep you warm. Carry at least 4-5 pairs of military socks or 8-10 pairs of cottons socks. You can change into a more warmer pair – woollen socks once you reach the campsite. You feet tend to stay warm while you trek. The woollen socks are just for the night to keep your feet cozy.

You must have an extra pair of socks and a towel handy at all times on the Chadar trek, which should be easily accessible in your day-pack. In case your feet get wet, you will need to dry your feet and change your socks without delay!

Shoes :

For shoes, you will need to wear gum boots while walking on ice. Many trekkers carry shoes to be worn on the campsite, along with loafers. But the less you carry the better. A pair of loafers is more than sufficient along with gum boots. Also, quite a few trekkers carry crampons – a metallic spike supporters for you shoes that help you easily walk on ice. But we do not suggest to for these, because they harm the sheet of ice and break it more often, making it difficult for fellow trekkers to trek.

Gloves :

A pair of inner glove (made of a thin material – usually mix of cotton and polystyrene) and a pair of snow glove would keep you warm. You can also carry a pair of woollen mittens.

Head Gear :

One can use muffler or a woollen stole to cover the neck. While a Balaclava can protect your face from the icy winds. Good quality woollen caps are a must during Chadar Trek. You can also buy Russian caps which are made of sheep or goat fur and are very warm. According to us, Russian caps are the best buy.

Ankur showing off his Russian cap
Others :

A 1 ltr thermos flask will be good enough to store some warm water and keep you hydrated. Keeping a plastic bottle or hydration bag is not a good choice, as it will take minutes for the water to freeze and the ice might also break bottle. A lip balm to protect your lips, and a pair of goggles that would deflect the direct light reflecting from the snow.  One can carry a hiking pole for support.

A headlight is a must to wander after dark – in affinity of the camp. 2 quick dry towels, a warmee (for those who do not have endurance for cold). Usually the trek guide carries the medical kit , but one should also carry their own essential medicines. The sleeping bags are usually provided by the trekking groups, but in case if you are looking out to carry one, make sure that it is a double layered sleeping bag that can withstand a temperature drop of -20 to -30 degree (in celsius).

Also, make sure to carry a spare of all the essential clothing, like socks, towel, thermal layers, track pants, inner-wear, a full sleeve shirt. The list may depend upon your frequency of changing clothes. (We have covered everything in the final checklist below).


Chadar Trek - Banjaaraa Couple in complete attire - and yes we are wearing the Russian caps
Chadar Trek – Banjaaraa Couple in complete attire – and yes we are wearing the Russian caps

Final Checklist for Chadar Trek:

  • 1 backpack
  • 1 daypack
  • 3 pairs on inner-wear (upper and lower)
  • 2 pairs of thermal wear (upper and lower)
  • 3-4 full sleeve t-shirts
  • a fleece (jacket or sweater)
  • 1 waterproof jacket or a woollen jacket and a wind-cheater
  • a downjacket
  • 3 pairs of trek-pants (with woollen lining in case you are not carrying the lower thermal-wear)
  • 1 pair of water-proof pants
  • 1 thin lining glove, 1 woollen glove or mitten, and 1 snow-glove
  • 5-6 pairs of military socks/8-10 pairs cotton socks
  • 1 pair of woollen socks (to be worn while you sleep)
  • a muffler/neckline/scarf
  • 1 balaclava/a Russian cap/a woollen cap
  • 1 pair of Gum boots and a pair of loafers
  • 2 quick dry towels (small)
  • a pair of sunglasses (also the case)
  • cold cream and a lip balm
  • a thermos flask
  • a hiking pole
  • 1 torch/headlight with extra batteries
  • Few extra plastic bags (to keep your wet clothes, or carry the trash)
  • Toiletries
  • Essential medicines
  • Warmees/Chemical Warmers (optional)
  • Hot water bags (optional)
  • Anti-bacterial powder
  • Snacks
  • Camera and accessories (optional)

Get ready for some exciting experiences…

Chadar Trek is one trek, where the whole journey shares the same excitement as the destination. Each and every day is filled with adventure and moments to cherish for life.


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