This is the day one would wanna take a good hot shower before leaving for the trek because after this , the next shower is gonna be after one is back from the adventure. We had 2 hours of road journey ahead of us before we reach the base village : Chilling – the starting point of our trek. Earlier the base village used to be Darr but now the roads have been extended till Chilling and its still work in progress. Plan is to have the roads reach last village – Padum in Zanskar valley, on that route.
Drive to Chilling is beautiful, especially when the first sight of confluence of River Indus and River Zanskar unravels itself in front of you. Both the rivers were frozen and the milky white hue of the confluence was a beautiful panoramic sight to behold. We reached the starting point around 12:30 PM, and had some instructions given to us by our guide. Some of us gave their heavy backpacks to the porters. While the rest of us decided to carry our own backpacks. That’s the choice you have to make while booking the trek. If you want to give the backpacks to the porters, you have to pay extra. We decided to carried our own.
Finally, with gumboots on with 6 layers of clothing and a heavy backpack, we started. It was windy out there in the valley and we were freezing. We were numb with cold even after all those layers of clothing. The feet were all frozen and it was hard to walk. We were wondering how are we gonna manage to walk on the frozen ice – that too for next 4 days.
Still remember our first steps on the ice and we all fell. The first touch of Chadar – icy cold. It may sound humorous now, but it hurt a lot. Ice is damn slippery. The first day went in falling and balancing and striving to reach the campsite. A distance covered in mere 15-20 min by our porters, took for us about an hour and a half to reach. But finally we reached our first campsite of the trek – Shingra Kogma.
The Zanskar river takes a beautiful turn right in front of the camp site. Shingra Kogma has a big camping ground on the right as you walk up the stream. Camps were already set up by the time we reached. We had another round of medical checkup at the campsite. We were all fine – freezing but fine and full of zeal and enthusiasm.
Talking about food – it’s well taken care of on the trek. Our cook was great and had set a different menu for each day. Food used to be yum. Our Day used to start with black tea at around 7 AM, followed by breakfast at around 8 AM right before leaving the camp. Mid-day meal was served during the walk around 12 at noon – 1 PM. Evening tea and snacks upon reaching the campsite and finally the day used to end with a sumptuous dinner by 7:30 PM.
Days in the valley are short. It used to be dark by 5:30PM. The whole valley used to be very quiet and beautiful. No matter which campsite you are at, when you look around, you see the beautiful turns of the valley. The whole valley is like a frame right out of a poet’s hallucinations – like a beautiful maiden with exquisite curves, terrifying but beautiful. If your body had no limitations, you can just stay there enjoying the bliss of its beauty.
The sleeping bags provided were double layered that can tolerate temperatures upto -30 degree celsius. But it’s a task to get inside those bags. It takes a lot of effort and a good 15-20 min. to adjust yourself within. At nights, the cold can be unbearable, especially for the first 2 days and one might not get a good sleep. But we managed to sleep for that night.
The day began with a wakeup call. After having morning tea and breakfast, we started for our next campsite – Tsomo Paldar which is about 3-4 hours from Shingra.
As we moved ahead – we were told that the Chadar ahead was broken and the waters levels were above the knee. Our guide Donchok gave us the confidence to give it a shot, and if at all we encounter any broken Chadar we would return back, not taking any further risks. The more we moved ahead, the more we realized that the Chadar was well formed; at least well-formed on the side of the river on which we were walking. Our trek guide super inspected the dependability of the icy road to walk on, and his expertise made our day’s walk as comfortable as it can be in those extreme conditions.
The guides and the porters on any Himalayan trek often go uncredited even though they are the unsung heroes. There is a generalised notion about them. People argue that it is their daily job because they are locals; they are used to it and are supposed to be good at handling such hardships. But to be honest, they are the real heroes out there. Without them Chadar trek would have always have remained a trade route rather than becoming an adventure for us to enjoy.
With this whole experience, we reached the campsite. This was a campsite which was quite restricted in area in contrast to the previous one. It was a hard day and while we were tired after such a strenuous walk, there was also a new sight to behold, making us forget the day’s turmoil – the stars. So many of them… Chaadar is one of those treks which is heaven for stargazers. We had literally never seen so many stars with our naked eyes. It was a sight to behold.
The next day when we woke up, it was all cloudy. Apparently if the weather is cloudy, the Chadar formation is not that great. So Donchok came and announced that we would be heading only till Hotung caves, which is another campsite about an hour and a half before Tibb Caves – our designated campsite as per the initial itinerary.
When you’re in Chadar, the first 2 days may feel like torture to our own selves because of the extremities. But your body learns to adapt after 2 days, and that is when the actual fun begins. You start to enjoy the trek and absorb the beauty around. And because of these hardships, few of our trek-mates, decided to head back to Leh. We bid them adieu before starting our own journey.
Today, we were quite relaxed given that we had short distance to cover with abundant time at hand. One thing we realized after falling so much for all these days, is that one should do a penguin walk while treading on an icy surface. Do not lift your feet too much off the ground while walking, just walk like a penguin does. You will still fall but far less. And don’t be too much cautious while walking. The more cautious you are – the more you fall #FirstHandExperience..
Today’s campsite was the most beautiful of all the campsites on this trek.
Since our tents were surrounded by valley in all the three directions, it was very windy. But we had reached the moment where the chills were bearable, making the valley more enjoyable. The Chadar had a broken patch, from which the emerald green waters were flowing, making the whole scene surreal. But at the same time, our guide was a bit skeptical about the onward journey. Since Chadar didn’t seem to be well formed to withhold the footfalls. But it didn’t dampen our spirits. We left all the worries for the next day.
Since this was the most beautiful campsite, and we had reached quite early, we pulled out our phones and cameras and the sound of clicks filled up the air. Whatever you click is a frame in itself. It is bound to come out spectacular at Hotung. All you need is couple of poses and we had no dearth of them. The clicks lasted past supper.
There are few large caves at Hotung, where generally porters take refuge for the night. The trekkers stay in the pitched tents.
Finally, we had our dinner around a small campfire, and headed to our tents.
Today was the day when we reach our final destination – Nerak – the frozen waterfall. It was supposed to be the longest walk for us today. Since we did not reach our designated campsite the last day, we had to cover that distance plus reach Nerak and then return back to Tibb Caves – our campsite for the day.
We were asked to start early, as the sunlight in the valley lasts only for a few hours. It’s not that it gets dark early but just that the sun is gone. You can’t enjoy the warmth of the direct sunlight, which you so crave for in the valley. Our pace was a bit fast today because over the past 3 days we had got accustomed to the ice patterns making it a little predictable to walk.
During the walk to Nerak there are several small waterfalls frozen with dangling icicles. But you forget all the previous ones the moment you set your eyes on the magnificent waterfall at Nerak.
We were in awe of its grandeur. The rendezvous just swept us off our feet. For a few moments you just stand still and want to take a good look at it. It’s 56 ft high and about 30 ft wide. One can see tinge of blues in that waterfall. You wanna go near it, feel it, bow to its splendour, even kiss it. One just falls in love with it. This was the sight for which we had endured everything on the way.
There were not many groups there with us because most of them had turned back at the start itself which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. Because the valley was very quiet, solitude was a real bliss. We were there for almost an hour. Before turning back, we all gave one last hug to the waterfall that stood still – overwhelming us. And then, we headed back to our campsite.
On our last day, Chadar was broken at many patches and we had to walk in water a lot. It was a long walk for the day heading back to the civilization. But finally, we were through it. We had completed our dream – one more life time experience added to our travel diary. Our trek for the day finished by 5 PM and we headed to the resort.
Chadar has been one trek, where the whole journey shares the same excitement as the destination. Nerak wouldn’t have been as mesmerizing, had the enchanting valley not been there.