Sunday, February 7, 2016
I must have some irreversible attachment with Ladakh. I was there in September last year. This time, I went for Chadar trek.
The planned route was – Zok to Tilat Sumdo to Shingra Koma to Tsomo to Dibb to Nerak. However, As I learned in the last few days, Trekking in the Zanskar Valley is highly unpredictable.
To beat the Chadar, you have to become the Chadar.
Cold, constantly reformed, hard.
My perception of cold also kept changing on a daily basis. I think that is the USP of this trek.
Dealing with extreme cold is part of the adventure.It was fun watching the Zanskaris deal with it though. Whats routine for them is adventure for us. I wonder if enough people realize that. They probably do.
We couldn’t make it past Tsomo due to the Chadar not having formed from there on.
There was an alternate route via the rock patches on the side of the river but even after it, there didn’t seem much to keep any hopes of progress alive.
However, we did get a good share of walking on the Chadar. It was a different experience overall. My mind was confused on what to achieve to call this trek a success since scaling a peak is what I usually do.
Perhaps I wanted a different experience with a different approach.
Below is an account of my experiences of the trip :
Day 1: Delhi to Leh – Rest and Acclimatization
I didn’t sleep too much or too well the night before the flight. It is becoming a trend now. I get over cautious of over sleeping and missing the flight.
The flight departure was at 8:45 AM. I reached airport 2 hours earlier. Turned out to be a wise move since there was more rush at the security check than I’ve ever seen before, presumably due to some terror threats.I couldn’t get the coveted “F” seat. They were all taken. I did, instead, get a seat near the emergency exit which I had to give away to a lady.
At the airport, the agency’s trip organizer received me and accommodated me in a vehicle with 3 women. They were part of my group headed to Neyrak.
We were accommodated in Hotel Junaid near the main market.
I went to have lunch with them near Bimla hotel where I stayed last time when I was in Leh. I even managed to meet the hotel manager, Dhangiri. It was a lazy afternoon and all of us curled up besides the room heater. I had a mild headache for a while which went away after dinner. It was cold. Really cold.
Imagine roaming naked on Delhi streets in peak winter. That cold.
Day 2: Rest at Leh
Another uneventful day. We got moved to a different hotel to bring all the members of the group together. The folks who were supposed to reach Leh couldn’t make it due to all the flights getting canceled.
Getting Ready in a Jiffy
I ate a lot of food that day. Started with the morning walk, I took on the snow covered lanes of Leh. The whole town was like a melancholy painting. Not too many colors though, just white.
Snow Covered Leh
The group size got reduced to 8 due to the flight cancellation, which was good, since more the people, more the complaints, more chances of cancellation.
The day was warmer when the sun came out, I took off one layer and still felt fine.
The night was really cold, the temperature dipped sharply. I felt cold but managed to still get a good night sleep. I slept thinking about the trek.
Day 3: Leh to Tilat Sumdo to Shingra Koma
It took 3 hours to reach the point of starting the trek. It was a fairly bumpy ride. We had a road block, literally, there was a landslide and it took 2 hours to clear up.
Ready for the Drive to Chilling
Caught in a Landslide, No Escape from Reality
We reached Tilat Sumdo which is the starting point of Chadar trek. The campsite was 1.5 Km from there, a beautiful place along the frozen river.There were just too many trekkers there. For a moment, It felt like I’m visiting a carnival. Our camp provided really good food.
Day 1 Campsite
Our Guide – Stenzing
The cold wasn’t that much surprisingly. I think I am getting used to it or I over expected
Not too much walking today besides the 40-45 minutes gentle descent to Shingra Koma.
Porter Walking calmly on the Chadar
Day 4: Shinga Koma to Tsomo
We set off from the camp at 9 am. Everyone was extra careful in treading on the Chadar, me included.
Over the past few days, I had heard too many stories from locals of trekkers getting engulfed inside Chadar and others suffering serious injuries by just falling on the hard frozen river.
There was no tiredness whatsoever, even after walking for a few hours. I heard a few people in my group fell. I did OK and only managed to slide often but not fall.
I think I’m getting a hang of how things work here. These are the following types of surfaces to walk on:
1. Shiny slippery ice which is flat
2. Shiny slippery ice which is irregularly surfaced
3. Shiny slippery ice which is either a slope or a gradient
4. Ice which seems translucent
6. Snow on shiny ice
7. Rocky side mountains
If It Shines, It Is Slippery
Walking on shiny Ice is the trickiest. You have to refrain from taking long strides and stick to walking like a penguin without lifting your feet too much from the ground. The snow covered patches are the easiest to traverse on and give a sense of relief, however, one cannot take off the focus as sometimes it’s just a decoy and there’s slippery ice beneath the snow.
After a couple of hours of walking, we reached Shingra Yoma. Shingra Yoma gets its fair share of sunshine. Most of the valley is shadow covered and sunlight is a rare sight.
Over the past few days, sitting in the sun has become my favorite pastime, along with sitting really close to the bonfire at night.
Tea and Lunch, in that order, at Shingra Yoma
After a quick lunch, we proceeded towards our campsite for the day, Tsomo.
The campsite was adjacent to the Zanskar river, on an elevated platform adjacent to a few caves.
Me @ Tsomo
The weather here deserves a special mention since it was breathtakingly cold.
And, no, “breathtakingly” isn’t an adjective.
Over the course of my existence, I don’t remember shivering so much. The cold makes your toes and fingers numb. You shiver but it doesn’t seem to abate. The more you acknowledge it presence, the more it makes life difficult for you.
Our camp cook made us all dinner on his kerosene stove. I used to envy him since the Kitchen tent is the coziest place in the camp. My strategy was to crash as early as possible and gather whatever sleep I get. And so, I called it a day not too soon after the dinner.
Day 5: Tsomo to Mid-way to Tibb to Tsomo
The night before was really horrible. It felt like the cold was winning. My feet hurt and I kept shivering constantly. I tried thinking about different things in my life to distract myself but it did not help.
The cold was overwhelming.
There has only been one instance when I’ve felt like the night isn’t ever going to end.
This would comfortably sit at #2 if I had to draw a list of “Top 10 Worst nights”.
I “woke up” at 6, spent some time in the Kitchen tent trying to defrost my soul.
Yes, it felt like my soul has frozen. I didn’t feel anything but cold.
The Super Cozy Kitchen Tent
We all completed our morning rituals and left the camp at around 9 AM.
The idea was to reach Tibb today.
However, things didn’t work our way and we had to retreat from a point mid-way to Tibb owing to non-formation of Chadar. By that, I mean that the river wasn’t frozen and we had one rock patch on the side to bypass the river.
Our guide, Stenzing, took me and another guy from our group to show us the situation.
Now, I’m a person who has issues in giving up almost anything. I don’t mean that in a self complementary way but in a more “this-is-my-attribute” way.
Looking at the situation, judging the guide’s opinion, I recommended the group to not try moving ahead.
A shorter group could have possibly made it but we were 13 people and the porters were carrying huge weights consequently. I did all the permutations and combinations in my head.
There were just too many factors favouring we retreat to our camp and judge things the next day.
1. Guide’s advice
2. Porter’s weights
3. Group fitness levels
4. Other groups decision to turn back
The factors mentioned above are in order of their priority.
We turned back and headed to where we had camped earlier. It wasn’t too far, a leisurely 45 minutes walk. There was one small side-mountain trail to be crossed but it wasn’t anything worth stressing about.
Snow Leopard Paws prints on the way back
With this, our hopes of going to Neyrak dwindled.
Day 6: Tsomo Campsite – Recon and Back
A couple of volunteers went to check the same spot we came back from yesterday. The purpose was to check the feasibility of going ahead.
I refrained from that duty since I had already gone once and wanted somebody to have a look and then, an opinion.
I wasn’t feeling too bright about it. I focused on enjoying the early morning fire and breakfast.
The volunteers returned around breakfast time and informed us of what most of us dreaded.
The river had melted and there was no possibility of going ahead. We made peace with the fact that going ahead of Tsomo isn’t a possibility and started focusing on the way back. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we get stranded at Tsomo.
I had a sumptuous dinner and called it a day. I somehow got hold of better sleeping bags and felt really cozy in my tent.
Day 7: Tsomo to Shingra Yoma
Today was the beginning of our trip back to Leh.
Few people in the camp wanted to reach Leh a day earlier to cover other touristy places.
Others were more inclined towards good ol’ camping.
The night before was significantly better and I had a good 8-10 hours sleep.
Finally getting used to the cold. It seems the cold is increasing. My toothpaste and sunscreen froze and not just like froze, as in, get a little lumped, but, turned into an ice brick.
As usual, we left the camp at around 9 AM and reached Shingra Yoma very early (45 minutes).
Shingra Yoma Panorama
We camped at a bend in the river bed. The camp had a good mood today and most of them spent all day sliding on the river with the porters sleds.
Kitchen Tent at Shingra Yoma
I also got an opportunity to take out my camera and click a few pictures.
Camped at Strategic Wind proof Location
Prior to getting dark, we took a walk along the frozen rivulet leading to a frozen waterfall. I’m sure it wasn’t nowhere as close as the waterfall after Tibb but it sure made people smile.
The “Frozen” “Waterfall”
The pink headphones were bought by mistake. I don’t like Pink. I thought it was red when I bought it.
I think I’m becoming the Chadar now. I’ve learned to deal with the cold, not physiologically but psychologically. Physiologically, my extremities hurt.
Day 8: Shingra Yoma to Shingra Koma
Another short walk day. I’m craving to exert myself physically but this isn’t a summit trek. The only obstacle is to endure the cold and that makes it a tad bit difficult.
There were a couple of side-mountain climbs that we had to make since the Chadar was broken at a couple of places. The second place being adjacent to a reasonably steep mountain. We climbed and bypassed without much sweat or maybe my sweat froze.
Walking for 3 hours we reached our initial campsite, Shingra Koma.
We camped at the same spot as the first day. People in our camp spent all day clicking pictures. I spent all day sunbathing, listening to music and wondering about the reality of the perception of reality.
Being in the middle of a valley can be very intimidating. Huge mountains bullying you merely by just being there. Reminding you of your insignificance in the greater scheme of things.
There is a routine in this way of life. You seek fire and warmth.The sight of wood gives you a sense of relief. I’m thinking of all the wooden things I can burn in my house in Delhi, for warmth.
No Feeling Beats this Feeling
I’m the medieval man.
Day 9: Shingra Yoma to Leh
The trek has ended. We didn’t reach where we planned to go but that doesn’t matter way too much to me. The view is more or less the same along the valley, the only difference being, the gigantic waterfall.
This was the day for the customary group photographs, goodbyes and greetings.
I packed my bags earlier than the rest of the group and walked towards Tilat Sumdo, where the cars would come and pick us up.
This way, I got a tiny bit of a solo trek experience.
I kept wondering throughout what I’m taking from this trek. Is there any level of catharsis or self learning?
I sure did get a greater knowledge of what I can survive. I did encounter grand views and the strange phenomenon of walking on a frozen river.
I came across a group of individuals with varied personalities and interests.
Such vividness almost drowned the monotony of the two-shade Ladakhi landscape.
I stopped dreaming when our bus arrived.
The trek was over.
We were accommodated at Singge palace hotel. It was quite luxurious. I spent the evening relaxing and watching Leicester City whip Manchester City and build a strong lead on top of the table.
Chilling at the Hotel
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