“Life is either a daring experience or nothing.”
Helen Keller’s words define the journey of every trekker who dares to walk on the frozen Zanskar River in the Leh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Popularly known as Chadar Trek, the difficulty in walking the 105-km trek on the frozen river is so extreme that there is no other adventure in India toppling it anytime soon. One requires tremendous physical and mental preparedness before setting off to this expedition, and if there was someone who was confident of pulling it off, it was Bangalore-based techie, Sateesh Somashekar.
Aged above 40, Sateesh is a marathoner and a fitness enthusiast. The thrill of walking on a blanket of ice alongside the cold and calm waters of the river stimulated him to go on this expedition. In the month of January, he booked his Chadar Trek via Thrillophilia to garner memories of a lifetime! He set off to trek the Chadar stretch between Chilling and Nerak and successfully completed the trek in a week’s time.
Walking towards “The Walk”
Sateesh had spent a sleepless night before departing to Leh. His sore, red eyes were soon relaxed by the first glimpse of the snow-clad mountains he witnessed while flying over Leh. He knew that from here on, the entire week was going to be a visual treat full of never-seen-before scenes.
Upon locating Nimo, a village where the picturesque confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers delights visitors, Sateesh felt ecstatic that he was finally there. It was a matter of time now for him to walk the adventure. During his first day in Leh, he met his ten fellow trekkers and excitedly planned their journey.
After shopping for the Chadar essentials in Leh, it was now time to call it a day, in order to wake up charged up the next morning and start the trek in freezing cold temperature!
The big day started with the trekkers moving towards Chilling, where the trek starts. Passing through the popular Magnetic Hill was a highlight of that journey. They halted at Nimo for meals and clicked pictures to savour majestic sights of the confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers. With locals humming Ladakhi tunes all along, Sateesh felt the essence of being on the most tranquil land on the planet.
The White Walk-er?
Upon reaching Chilling, Sateesh saw many fellow trekkers kiss the white surface; as for him, he was too awestruck by the paradise to react. He had resolved not to trip before reaching Tilad Do, where he was supposed to get his pair of gumboots for the trek. He enjoyed the 2-km walk and clicked many pictures en route to Tilad Do, where the camps awaited the trekkers for a night stay.
The nights in Zanskar are bone-chilling as the temperatures drop to as low as minus 35. However, camping in extreme conditions while a billion stars smile at you is an unparalleled adventure, and Sateesh lived every moment of it.
The next morning, he woke up to enjoy hot tea and breakfast by the freezing Chadar. The real Chadar starts today as they set off to Gyalpo and Tsomo Paldar, which is at a distance of 12 km. By now, Sateesh had mastered the penguin walk. He also witnessed the first frozen waterfall, which was an enthralling sight!
While Sateesh was captivated by the beauty of the place, he realised that one of his legs had pierced the thin ice layer and dipped into the gushing cold waters of the river running beneath. While the frost felt like a thousand pins, he somehow recovered and reached Gyalpo by 4 in the evening. Sateesh also enjoyed photographing the night sky while camping beside the frozen river.
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The morning rays gleamed bright on the dead-white snow, making it a sight to behold! They were off to Tibb Caves, walking over patchy ice at places. It was one of the riskiest stretches as the ice was submerged in water, making landing difficult and unpredictable. By 4 pm, they reached the caves and the evening was spent playing cards and sharing life experiences in the camps.
Unmissable View of People Missing
The next morning, they had to reach Nerak. However, Sateesh decided to go beyond Nerak, to Lingshed and return. The 22 km journey was a tough task but he, along with the guide, set off early at 6:30 in the morning to accomplish the feat.
As Sateesh describes it, Chadar is the most beautiful in the wee hours as there are not many trekkers walking the trail. What can be a better experience than walking on the frozen river with nobody around and feeling close to nature? Sounds serene, doesn’t it?
Nerak welcomed them with the most beautiful blue waterfall Sateesh had ever seen! After exploring the place for a while, they decided to march towards Lingshed. The stretch between Nerak and Lingshed had it all—waterfalls, ice tunnels and snow-leopard footprints to send chills down their spine!
A diversion for Lingshed ensured that they had to walk on soil, not ice, which was a longed relief. Lingshed welcomed them with another majestic waterfall and multi-coloured walls. The trek had charmed Sateesh enough by now.
The day ended after an exhaustive 22-km trail where Sateesh had witnessed everything. It snowed that night, changing the entire landscape when they peeped out of the tent in the morning. The next day, they had to again walk 22 km to Nerak and they managed it. The two returned to tell tales of Lingshed to other trekkers before finally dozing off owing to a tired body.
On the sixth day, he set off to Shingra Koma—at 15 km—to witness the “U” bend of Zanskar. The trekkers had gelled well and enjoyed a campfire by which they shared a good laugh.
The next morning was the most anticipated one as they had planned to dive in the freezing-cold water at Tilad Do. The biting water felt like a billion pins mauling the body, yet a memory to savour!
By now, Sateesh had started feeling nostalgic and was yearning to live those moments again. While the places awed him, the moments spent with fellow trekkers have become an inseparable part of the sojourn for Sateesh.