Walking on Zanskar River, Chadar Trek

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JULLEY Amigos!!!

“Julley” is a common word in Ladak used to greet or express gratitude. The glorious Chadar trek, Frozen river trek, Zanskar river trek is one of the most difficult trek in India. Zanskar River gets frozen during January and February and the trek is conducted during this period. Irony is in summer this river becomes rafting river. I came to know about the trek when i was searching for another trek my friend suggested me six months earlier. I couldn’t make that trek with him, but my wild search bring Chadar Trek to my check list. Some photos of the trek look similar to frozen Lake Baikal (Russia) , which was already there in my check list. Finally I decided to do Chadar trek. Its comparatively cheaper and I have never done a trek in India. Chadar trek has 2 different options, till Nirak waterfall- 9 days, till Lingshed 12 – 15 days. Only 9 days package was available for my preferred date.
I found only a few operators out of many who is doing the trek during February second week. No one was responding while I was about to confirm the dates. Later I found out the trek was closed for 10 days because of snowfall. I confirmed with adventure nation as soon as I get a positive response from them as the options were less and there was only 2 weeks left for the trek. Then I applied the leave and book the tickets. I had almost all the gears for trekking and camping gear will be provided by the company. Still i have to get some more things to survive -30°c. Then I read the news of 400 passengers stranded in Leh airport due to snowfall for 4 days, inspiring.


Day 1

Arrival Day, acclimatization, last minute shopping (Leh).

Day 2

Leh – Chilling – Tilad Do (Base camp) by road (3-4 hour drive) and acclimatize.

Day 3,4

Tilad Do – Shingra koma Trek on day 3(Trek 9-10 km. / 4-5 hours)

Shingra koma – Tibb Cave Trek on day 4 (Trek 10-11 km. / 5-6 hours)

Day 5

Tibb Cave – Nerak Waterfall (Trek 9-10 km. / 8 hours)

Day 6,7

Nerak – Shingra koma (Trek 14-15 km. / 9 hours)

Shingra koma – Tilad Do (Trek 7-8 km. / 4-5 hours) – Leh

Day 8

Depature day

Day 1 (Arrival Day)

I was in Leh one day before and met some of the fellow trekkers. Some of us were staying in the same hotel. We were supposed to have an orientation session in the morning, but some of the group members were late due to flight delay so it gets postponed to afternoon. For Chadar trek gumboots is essential. No normal trekking boots will survive full day trek in snow and water. Most of us bought used gumboots from hotel for almost half price. All the sizes were not available in the market since it was the end of season. The trekkers we met suggested us to get used ones because of  more grip. We have to wear two pairs of thick socks to beat the cold so we choose next size of our regular shoe size. Then we went out for some last minute shopping. I bought some waterproof pants, thermal wear and trekking poles along with my new friends. In Leh we cheaper trekking gear even compared to Nepal (Quality is different, but it will survive more than two treks). We bought some extra pair of socks from army shop (basically use and throw) since our socks can get wet anytime and we should change them immediately since it’s too cold out there in Zanskar. We met some of other groups returned after the trek. The news was not positive. Out of many groups we met, only one group completed the trek. Even they were headed back and they somehow convinced the guide to make it. Most of them had to walk on around hip level water to get back since the Chadar was melting and they had to walk uphill many times to avoid water. So for the past 15 days only a few made it till the end. They share their experience like they didn’t change their clothes through out the trek, some didn’t feel like brushing for the whole week and taking dump in the morning is the hardest thing, so on.
Then we have the orientation with others in the afternoon. Most of us were booked via adventure nation. Then we realize that most of the top tour operators outsourced their Chadar trek to Geographic tours. In our group, out of 20 only 18 show up. He gave us a brief about the trek, basic instructions and alternate option in case the weather is bad.

Day 2 (Leh – Chilling – Tilad Do)

We boarded in the bus at 10. It’s around 3 hours drive to the base camp. The route is via magnetic hill road, Chilling, and then Dar. The last 30 km drive is tricky mountain trail or the road is washed away by landslides or avalanches. But the route was more than scenic with Zanskar River on one side and mountains on the other side, despite the terrible condition of the road. We saw some tourists having fun in the frozen Zanskar river, might be doing a short trek. We reached the base camp after 10 minutes downhill trek from the place we were dropped.
I was experiencing the snow for the first time, the sight of frozen river took my breath away!. I throw my backpack somewhere on the rocks and started walking on the river. Soon I started feeling cold since I was not wearing my jacket and 3 layers of my clothing can’t save me from freezing. So I ran back to get my jacket. I got my new friends who were with me for shopping as tent mates. They were from Delhi and friends from school days. Then again I started walking with proper jackets, this time with company and we reached a place where the Chadar was broken. We don’t want to fall into the freezing water before our trek is officially started so we decided to turn back. When we were returning, we met another group with guide. So we crossed the river with their guide. The view across the river is again marvelous. No words, photos even videos can’t explain what we are seeing over there throughout our trek. My camera failed to capture what I was seeing. I was enjoying the moment than capturing them. Then we get back to the camp wondering how we are gonna survive -30°C or much lesser. My watch shows temperature till -18°C then goes blank. So we don’t know what temperature we were in other than it’s beyond -18, even in day time. Then we had the dinner (Rice, dal, roti, subji followed by dessert). Hats off to to the crew, the food was really good despite the extreme climate and surroundings. Nobody had any problems with that. Wake up tea time and trek start time for next day will be announced after the dinner . The climate was pleasant through out the trek, so we start our trek around 8.00AM everyday after the breakfast.

The Trekking starts here… (You can see the base camp around the corner)
The Team, on the move…
Panramic view from the camp, impossible to describe
The Ghost tree!!!

Day 3 (Tilad Do – Shingra koma Trek)

We woke up to see the snow inside the tent we were sleeping. The moisture in the exhaled breath was converted to snow. All the stuff we kept inside the tent, including our sleeping bags was covered in snow. We hear someone screaming “Quick Action”. Later found out that whenever the food is ready our chief cook will scream “QUICK ACTION”. The food could be ice cold in no time, so we should eat the food as soon as possible. We all had difficulties since there was no basic amenities available, but the view through out was epic, I felt like I was in Antarctica many times, what was missing was just penguins. There were small and big frozen waterfalls, small islands of ice in the river,.. so on. There is different kind of surfaces we have to walk like snowy, smooth ice, crushed ice, watery ice. You will easily learn how to walk on each surfaces one you have been on it. Sometimes penguin walk on ice, normal steps on snow and sometimes I learned the trick after the fall. First day we were moving carefully, slowly. We made it to the camp around 2.30 and the temperature was below -18°c at that time. We had a mini campfire at night and I tried some night photography as well. I was planning to try out shooting star trails, light painting on icy mountain, but I was too lazy to stay out in the freezing weather and I didn’t have all the gear for night photography. In order to get decent night photography results, one should carry at least 24mm wide angle, F2.8 lens. I was carrying 24-120mm, but F4.

Moving on
These guys nailed my photo!!!
Fully charged…
Mountains everywhere….
Nothing to say…

Day 4 (Shingra koma – Tibb Cave Trek )

We had morning tea at 7.30 and started trekking after the breakfast since the Chadar was looking good and the climate was favorable. Today we were moving but faster. Chadar always keeps you in the present moment. If you lose your attention for a second you are down in the ice. I slipped countless times, fell many times, fell with camera, fell down even in between recording a video. You have to give your full attention on the trail for not falling down. Our camp was located near Tibb cave. We tried to explore surrounding areas but the terrain doesn’t look friendly without a guide, so we didn’t go so far. We had dinner followed by valentine’s day celebration, sorry birthday celebration of one of our trek mates. What a place to celebrate the birthday. Unfortunately I don’t have the photo of celebration since i was taking the video.

Our camp and Is that a ship?
Endless rock formations, need a drone to capture the real beauty
Porter buddy moving on….
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Porter (3)
Our guide taking rest, nah, waiting for me!!!
Camp fire…

Day 5 (Tibb Cave – Nerak Waterfall )

Weather was still good and today we are going to hit Nerak waterfall. We set the camp in almost halfway between the cave and the waterfall. We left our luggage and continue to waterfall with minimum stuff like water and camera in hand. The terrain was rough till the end. The final part was scary. We had to walk on a sheet of thin ice which was about to break apart and free flow in water. We have to pass one by one to prevent the ice sheet from breaking. The current was strong enough to take one with the water if someone fell braking the ice. Other option was to trek up the mountain to reach the waterfall avoiding this area, but it was hard after full day trek. Luckily we all pass the area slowly without much hustle to reach the “Nerak Waterfall”.

We made it!!! All were excited to take photos, some with flag, some with their club jersey and some wearing almost nothing. Somehow I was searching for something better, higher apart from the crowd. I was asking myself “That’s all, WHAT NEXT???” I am damned, I don’t know when I can get rid of that question. We didn’t stay there for long, since we have to get back to the camp before it is dark and some places are not really trekker friendly especially in the dark. There is Lingshed village and a monastery ahead. There is a place to make satellite phone call in the village which is around 2 hours apart. We returned to the camp gently and some of our friends had to run away from an avalanche.  The avalanche was not that dangerous, still it was close. We all reached the camp safely by 6 and its “Party Time”.

To the Waterfall
Captain making way for us…
This place, we have to pass one after one, since the ice was thin and about to break apart
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Near-Waterfall (2)
Almost there
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Nerak-Waterfall (2)
Here you are, Nerak Waterfall, piece of ice??
I was searching for something higher….
Monks on the way to Zanskar village

Day 6 (Nerak – Shingra koma)

We decided to cut short the trek by one day by covering 3 days trek in 2 days. So we started early. On the way I learned to drink water directly from the freezing River. I was playing football with a piece of ice with others while walking, sometimes last one in the group, sometimes running with the guide or trying to catch up with porters who were moving really fast in the front. It was all fun. Today we had to step in knee high water since the Chadar was broken in a place. So we take off our socks, raise the pants above the knee, wore the gumboots in barefoot to walk in the water. We followed the guide but the leg was freezing like anything and the current was strong enough to take me with it. In between i managed to take a selfie with my friend. He almost killed me for that for keeping him in the ice water. When we get out of water we can’t feel our toes and we had to keep on jumping to bring our feet back to normal. After walking for sometime we wore our socks and the things are back to normal.

Our boys heading back
He almost kill me for keeping him in water for selfie!!!
Quick Action Buddy…
Sambar pasta I guess. (Guide and support team)
Ignore this fellow…

Day 7 (Shingra koma – Tilad Do)

This day we have to cover only few hours compared to other days. So we were moving slowly. We took some crazy pictures on the way back to the base camp. Some of us took bath in the ice cold water. I was lazy to jump first, but I jumped into the river later, twice.  Taking a dip in the freezing river is an experience you shouldn’t miss, if your body allows you. There was pooja by guide and porters to celebrate the completion of successful trek. We collected money for tips for porters and guide and handover it to the guide. We gave our gumboots and some other stuff to porters.

“Game Over”.

We were all relaxed and planning for a get-together party at Leh, suddenly the bus stopped. Then we realize that the road was blocked by landslide. Everyone get out of the bus to clear the snow not giving a chance to porters. The first one was comparatively small, we have more landslides on the way to clear even a live landslide while we were clearing one. We get back to hotel by 5.30 and had get-together party at 9 at Red Sauce restaurant

Drinking water from the river…
Long way to go
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Crazy-Me (2)
Crazy guide!!!
Support team send off party….
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Team (2)
You can’t say its a dangerous road, when there is no road!!!
Clearing the avalanche by our self
Chadar-Trek-Zanskar-Way-Back (2)
Is it scary? Then don’t go there…

The construction of road to Zanskar village is going on. This trek might not be significant after 2-3 years as we will be able to reach Zanskar by road. If anyone would like to go there, plan now. The season is from January to February 2nd week. January will be better since the ice will start melting in February. Sad part is the trekkers are leaving a lot of rubbish and human waste there, unknowingly or knowingly polluting the river.

Once again “JULLEY…”