A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
“The first steps on the frozen ice were a little scary, but also a lot of fun. We had our first fall on the ice, but that never stopped us from continuing towards our journey. The first night was difficult, but we made it alive.”
Welcome to the travelogue of “Walking on a Frozen River”, by Sugam Anand-
The IITian Trekker – Sugam Anand
A pair of black gum boots and a happy-go-lucky fellow donning it, decide to push their limits and experience the extremes of nature. How, and why? A thought goes through this guy’s mind about the extent of existence of the infamous frozen river of Zanskar; the trek is popularly known as Chadar, and he feels that perhaps this could be the real kick-start to be doing all the winter treks in India.
Meet Sugam Anand, a final year Master of Design student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur; who wants to learn professional mountaineering and cover all peaks and glaciers across India.
Sugam believes, “Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show”. He has a bucket-list in place, a bucket-list we all would happily crave for – undertaking the Everest Base Camp Trek, ticking off the Annapurna Base Camp Trek and gazing at the Northern Lights at Svalbard.
Way to go, Sugam, way to go!
The First Step – Planning Chadar
Sugam Anand takes his first step on the frozen river of Zanskar!
Sugam got the idea of undertaking the life-altering trek at Chadar with the mere goal to test his potential and strength, and so he lay about in the laps of nature’s extreme and untouched conditions!
It is true that most people take up the Chadar Trek, after having taken other relatively-easier winter treks, and having picked up a decent set of skills and experiences. In Sugam’s case, he simply chose to turn the table, and do exactly the opposite. In a conversation with Thrillophiilia, Sugam expresses that, “this was without doubt, the most amazing trip I have ever had”.
A lot of us wonder as to how Sugam went about planning the trip. Like any other curious traveler, he began to search on the internet about the Chadar Trek. He read blogs, articles, travel journals and anything which popped up reading ‘Chadar’. After thorough planning and convincing himself, he was off to the city of Ladakh on the 15th of January, 2018; a Monday, not so blue!
A Complete Guide to Chadar Trek: https://www.thrillophilia.com/a-complete-guide-to-chadar-trek
For Beginners here’s all you need to know about Chadar Trek: https://www.thrillophilia.com/chadar-trek
The aerial view of Ladakh, from up in the sky, definitely high!
Trekking Relations, Made On The Frozen Zanskar
The Chadar Trek reminds us of the land beyond the ‘Wall’, meticulously shown in the TV series Game of Thrones. If Chadar’s the Wall, then the other adventurous trekkers definitely are the ‘Guards from the Night’s Watch’. These rangers crossed the Wall, and trekked on a frozen river to accomplish the feat the Chadar Trek, in a span of 7 Nights and 8 Days.
The harsh truth is, “It’s easier said than done”. The trekkers had to climb mountains when they felt that the ice ahead was too weak to walk on; they traversed through the ice-cold rivers where the mountains were unreachable, they fell and they rose; but they did make it there.
Sugam defines this bunch of trekkers as family now, and holds their “never give up attitude” accountable for having them complete the trek a day in advance!
The Second Step – The Chadar Trek Route
Traversing through ice, water and icy water at Chadar
Sugam’s 8 Nights and 9 Days journey which began on the 15h of January 2018, turned a day shorter; thanks to the enthusiastic bunch of trekkers he was batched with! After having crossed the snow-topped valleys and mountain tops of Ladakh via air, he landed at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh to acclimatize for the day.
Acclimatization is a very important aspect of trekking at high altitudes, and allows the body to get used to the reduced oxygen levels and high altitudes of the region. Some of the key places which they would cover during the days after acclimitazation were Chilling, Tilad Do, Shingra Koma, Gyalpo, Tibb Caves and Nerak.
The First Frozen Night at Chadar
Journeying along the Leh-Kargil Highway, the first day at Chadar was about rubber-tramping. Rubber-tramp? For those who are unaware, it means ‘tramping’ along on rubber tires. The group of excited trekkers left their hotel at Leh at sunrise, and reached Chilling, from wherein they started their Chadar journey. Yes, the journey had begun!
Plying along the Leh-Kargil highway, the group was headed towards Chilling
Once they reached Chilling, a round of Maggi and tea kick-started their trek on the ice floor. The boots slipped, tripped and celebrated their falls, and within a couple of hours, they had set foot on Tilad Do, which was the destination for their first night camping.
Sugam recalls, “The first night was not easy, but we made it”. With the chilly winds making their way to the insides of their tents, we took shelter in the warmth of the blankets. We had no doubts about the difficulty of passing the first night. Nonetheless, the next day’s morning sun made up for the night, Sugam expressed in ecstasy!
The trekkers rest their feet at Tilad Do camping site
The next morning witnessed a sunrise which the trekkers cherish till date. The freezing scenes on the first night had left them feel the chills in their bones. The men began to learn how to walk on the thick ice-sheets, they’d seldom fall and on celebratory occasions, they’d even slide through them at times!
They reached their next campsite at Shingra Koma, collected woods for the fire, had a sumptuous dinner and rested their tired feet in the comfort of their double-layered sleeping bags! The next day was going to be a bouncer; of course, the trekkers did not know that yet!
Learning to traverse through the Chadar
The next day was not challenging because the temperature was unquestionably low, or because the group had to get up early morning. The next day was challenging because Chadar was slipping away; yes, news came that the route ahead had become weaker, and it was time that the trekkers made alternate arrangements.
On the present day towards Tibb Camp, the Chadar had broken ahead and the trekkers had no choice; they were either climbing the treacherous mountains along Chadar, or were simply crossing the thundering temperatures of the angry Zanskar River! Either ways, Mother Nature had passed the ordeal, and the trekkers had to build their camps just outside the Tibb Camp site. The toughest night at Zanskar was this one, Sugam tells us with a straight-face, with a tinge of not-so-hidden smile.
Trekkers help one another cross a broken section of the Zanskar
The Stepping of Dawn at Nerak
A common man, at an altitude of 11,150 feet in a freezing temperature of – 17 degrees, would expect good news, at least after a day of unexpectedly tiresome trek the previous day. However, days on treks are like a Hollywood mystery flick. One must expect the unexpected. The Chadar had refused to give in to the comforts of the trekkers, and kept gushing water through the journey from the Tibb campsite, all the way to Nerak Falls. Trekkers treat their days while trekking like a Hollywood movie, and they are ready to do anything to accomplish their mission. Today’s mission was reaching the Nerak falls campsite before sunset!
Pausing momentarily for a quick click
The boot-men made their way through rough mountain tops, and crooked broken ice-sheets, all the way to reach the Nerak Falls. The level of inexplicable patriotism arose in them, and the falls witnessed a group of trekkers whom it had just met, sing aloud the National Anthem. Yes, they had done it. Mission Nerak was successful!!
The mighty Nerak Falls and Sugam exchange greetings.
All set and done, the group was ready to return back to the comforts of their hotels. The journey backwards seemed relatively easy, the temperatures bearable, and within no time, they had officially completed the Chadar Trek.
In a casual conversation with Thrillophilia post his trek, we asked him about the most memorable part of his trek. He expressed in a convinced tone, “The Day 5 walk to Nerak Falls was the most beautiful walk. It almost felt like you’re walking in a National Geographic documentary. Snow capped mountains, frozen river and frozen waterfall made me fall in love with that place.”
Sugam had truly lost his soul at Nerak!!
Can’t stop thinking about the Chadar Trek? – Consider Sugam’s Chadar Trek guide-
The Chadar Trek is the Mecca of treks in India and is every trekker’s desire. Sugam mentions the following pointers to make your Chadar Trek experience, all the more comfortable, convenient and beautiful-
- Read blogs online to understand the sort of experiences people have had in the past.
- Undergo proper training by means of walking with and without weight, to avoid cramps during the trek.
- Carry extra pair of clothes and socks. Change them, as soon as they get wet.
- Drink a lot of water, and eat nutritious food during the trek.
- Multi-layered clothing is desirable.
- Purchase gum boots, socks and caps from Leh itself. You’ll get them in the best of quality and at cheap prices.
- Sunscreen and glasses are a must.
- Keep minimal weight on your back.
- Most importantly, do not be scared. Crossing Chadar is more of a mental challenge, than a physical one!
Sugam enthusiastically put in his suggestions about improving the trek overall, and the Thrillophilia team appreciates his endeavor and is making changes to make the once-in-a-lifetime trek all the more better.
Check out this compilation of Sugam Anand’s Chadar moments.