The Chadar Trek

Posted by A. Kshaun J.

The Chadar Trek
The Chadar Trek

The Chadar trek is one of the most exciting and adventurous treks in India featuring on many bucket lists due to its remoteness, difficulty and uniqueness. It is one of the best treks in Ladakh and is certainly one of the most unique ones in the world. For about two months a year, the Zanskar river freezes over, with a blanket of ice thick enough to walk on (‘Chadar’ means blanket in Hindi). The blanket of ice covering the pristine blue river is a sight to behold, and the truly adventurous flock here in January and February to experience this once-in-a-lifetime trek.

Here are a few pointers on a few things we feel you should consider when planning to book this trek.

 River freezing in preperation for the hiking season
River freezing in preparation for the hiking season - Photo credit Pradeep Kumbhashi

The Duration

There are two basic variants of this trek - the shorter version and the longer version. The shorter version lasts about a week while the longer version of this trek lasts anything from 10 days to a fortnight. It depends completely on the route you are taking, the people you are going with and the weather conditions. Make sure that you are flexible and prepared to stretch the trek by a couple of days in case of any delays due to the weather.

 

Choosing the right company to trek with

Due to its inherent marketability, this is one of the most competed over treks by adventure travel operators. Beware of the cheapest treks and make sure you know what is included and what is excluded. Does your trip cost includes transport, and if yes, from where to where and in what vehicle? Be aware of the group size you are going with, the number of people sharing your tent, the number of porters and guides coming along and what meals you are being served (Many a traveler has gone to the trek only to be served Ramen noodles for three meals a day). In the freezing temperatures, you cannot expect 2 cooks who also double up as porters to cook food for 12 people three times a day. Tour operators that take advantage of local staff like this should not be encouraged. So trek with people who care and look after the wellbeing of their trekking crew.

 

Check various companies for their licencing, compliance and attitude towards responsible tourism

Some travel companies have legal issues going on with the government agencies in Ladakh. These range from anything regarding non-payment of trekking fees to the violation of environmental regulations for not disposing waste properly. Research the company you are going to trust your life on a frozen river in the Himalayas for ten odd days with. Make your decision based on the full information provided (not just on how cheap the trek is) and if you can, talk to people who have actually been on the trek with them. Do not blindly trust online reviews. In fact, talking to curation companies and adventure travel bloggers is a great way to get the information that you may not know about. You can also learn a lot from forums.

Porter and his cave
Porter and his cave - Photo credit Partha Chowdhury

Connecting with nature

You are going to be walking on a blanket of ice frozen on a river. Therefore, the trail changes every single year and even the most veteran trekkers on the route cannot predict what the trail may include where. You will also share the incredibly scenic route with wildlife and seeing pugmarks on the trail is a common sight. You may also have to cross/climb frozen waterfalls and stay the night in caves. Do not panic and make sure that you do not litter. You are solely responsible for your behaviour.

Ice Trek on the Zanskar River
Ice Trek on the Zanskar River

The trek is becoming extinct

The Chadar trek is the only way that the locals in Padum can get to Leh in the winters. It is an ancient local custom and is certainly in its last steps. To facilitate accessibility, the Indian Government is building a road in the rocky mountains above the river. When the construction is completed, it will almost be impossible to use the frozen river for trekking and will mark the end of this centuries-old tradition. This makes it a truly unique and short-lived experience, which may not be possible even two to three years from now.

 

Is trekking the Chadar on your list? Contact us to enquire about trekking this once-in-a-lifetime route. 

 

Guest post was written by A. Kshaun J. of AlienAdv.com