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.
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.
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.
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
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.