Chadar Trek stands out for its incredible experience due to its extreme weather conditions, almost simulating to the North Pole right here at the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh in the North Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Chadar is a Hindi word meaning sheet. Here, it refers to the long sheet of ice over Zanskar River. Chadar is a moderate level trek where you do not gain or lose altitude, but there is an extreme ‘ice’ condition you brave. It os a long walk on the flat sheet of ice.
While you tread over the frozen river, your stuff is moved through the sledges. It is like the Christmas revisiting with the ‘jingle bells’ moments revived. You though battle significantly low temperatures, like -10°C in day and -25°C at night, mid-Jan to mid-Feb are the best times to get the optimal experience of this trek. Besides the chill, all the liquids freeze in this temperature. Carry a thermos to keep warm water so that you can have it as a ‘liquid.’
The round trip is Leh (9,800 ft.) to Leh. Right from the flight, the ‘white’ view of Leh in peak winters promises you of a unique experience with solid state of water that lies ahead. You feel the chill right at the Leh airport, the highest one in India. Spend the day acclimatizing, which means you walk and climb moderately and have lot of water through the day. Next day too will have a similar day format. Check out the iconic Leh Palace and Namgyal Monastery. Besides delighting you, they will give you the needed training of exertion in low oxygen thin air.
On day 3, you leave for your first campsite Shingra Koma (10,550 ft.). The drive from Leh to Shingra is just stunning. At Nimmu (10,302 ft.), you see the amazing confluence of Rivers Indus and Zanskar. Cross some ‘on the edge’ hairpin turns to reach Shingra. You see the thrilling frozen Zanskar River. Your guide will train you on how to walk on the slippery ice. Slip you will! In sometime though you will be able to reduce the frequency of slipping. So, your trek on the Zanskar River begins! You reach your stunning campsite in around 3-4 hours of trek. Explore the incredible piece of land you are on. Enjoy the hospitality of Zanskari people here.
On day 4, you get up early enough to leisurely have tea and breakfast. You cover some 14 kms walking on the River. Occasional sunshine will warm you up. The magnificent bordering rocks obstruct the sun rays. You enjoy the beauty of natural isolation here. Just fresh air, ice, snow, and rocky mountains on the edges. You will see the blue waters of the River at some places. You might also see flowing water under the clear transparent ice. At times the ice over the river may be broken or floating and you cannot walk over it. In that case, you take the sidewalk until the place from where the ice is intact and reliably a walkable sheet of ice. In around 7-8 hours, you reach your super beautiful campsite Tibb (10,760 ft.).
On day 5, besides varied stunners, you will see the highlight of the trek Nerak Waterfalls. Frozen! As you proceed, you might see broken floating pieces of ice, which are an experience to watch. You have your lunch enroute in a cave. Reach campsite, drop your luggage, and head for the waterfalls, which are some 30-45 minutes from the campsite. On your way, find the unexpected. You see Yaksgrazing at heights, which means it is green up there. The waterfalls stun you. It is like time stopped. Next to the waterfall is a wooden bridge that takes you to the Nerak Village. Come back to the campsite to spend a night at this splendid place.
Day 6 onward you retrace your route. However, as the water changes form at the slightest temperature change, so does the river. You might find a changed scenery in as quick as 1 day. You will see locals dressed colorfully in their traditional Ladakhi attire, comfortably walking over ice with speed, without falling. With practice, they have conquered the frictionless. They fascinate in their woolen robes ‘Gonchas,’ hats, and colored beaded mala around their neck. Exchange ‘Julley,’ Ladakhi greeting. You might get a deeper cultural experience, if you happen to spot Ladakhi folk singers singing and having fun on sledges. Spend the night at Tibb again.
Day 7, you travel for some 7-8 hours to reach the campsite of Bakula (10,550 ft.). It is slightly higher and an isolated campsite. You might see the footsteps of some animals. Stay at this exciting locale for the night.
On day 8, you head for Shingra Yokma (10,550 ft.), just 30 minutes from Bakula. If you want, you can explore around Bakula and later go for Yokma. From Shingra Yokma, the vehicle picks you for Leh. Reach Leh and rest. On day 9, the group disperses.
Frozen Zanskar River, the incredible campsites, caves, the ochre rock mountains bordering the terrain, frozen waterfall, and finding traditional civilization throughout this trek is a journey in a surreal wonderland. But, it rose to fame due to its ‘iced’ experienced throughout. Completing this Himalayan trek, you have a confidence boost and a story that lasts a lifetime.