- Mark Twain
I guess it all started during one of of our cycling trips in December 2009. Sandeep and I were discussing about the famous Chadar trek with Mohan. We got talking and he said, he would like to do it with us whenever possible. I had never really thought we would be doing it within the next couple of years. I am really happy that we did it finally and it ended with what I can describe as “one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life”.
The Chadar trek is a very famous trek in the Laddakh/Zanskar region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is an awesome walk on a frozen Zanskar river and typically has a window of about a month or so in the winters when one can do it. Temperatures in Zanskar go down to about -30 degree celsisus in winters which allows the river to freeze. Hardy trekkers then negotiate the river by walking a distance on it. I say “walking”, but this also involves, climbing, crawling, wading, bouldering, tripping, falling, slipping and so on. Above all it gets you a lot of fun.
'Zanskar' literally the land of Copper, is a tehsil largely occupied by ridges, ravines and snowy watersheds. The valley is indeed very remote and much less accessible as compared to the other regions here. Padum the district place, lies south west of Leh at around 75-100 odd kms as the crow flies. But there is no road directly from Leh. You need to traverse a long distance from Leh or Srinagar to Kargil and then take the road south to Padum. A really really long distance. In winters however, the Zanskar river which flows northwards from Padum, freezes and sort of creates a “Chadar” or Blanket on which it is possible to do the distance. For centuries the Zanskaris have been using this as a trade route into Laddakh and even today as you trek, you find families of these magnificent people crossing over from either side.
So this was the historical route which we had planned for. We were finally a group of about twelve members led by Manish who decided to traverse the river for about fourteen days.
We had started preparing for the trek about a month in advance. That is when the real excitement also started. However, a day before the trek, we got a message from Satya that he wouldn't be able to make it because he had sprained his ankle. It was not a good news. His doctor had advised three weeks of rest. But Satya is a stubborn trekker, he finally managed to come with us. Satya, Mohan, Sandeep and I were leaving together. Subbu was going to meet us at Delhi.
We started around 7 AM on the 22nd Jan from our house to catch a bus to the airport however after sometime we came to know the buses wouldn't be running today because of a strike. Fortunately we got a taxi immediately for airport and the four of us were on our way.
After we checked-in, had good breakfast and waited for the flight. We were so engrossed in our talks (about Himalayas, treks, cycling, Chadar), that we didn't realize that almost all the passengers had boarded the flight. The journey from Bangalore to Delhi was event less. One of our friends, Sriram, has a guest house in Delhi. We decided to spend the night at the guest house. Jaykumar, his colleague was already staying there. He had made some excellent arrangements for us. For the entire day, we bored Jaykumar with our trekking, running and cycling stories. In the evening we did some shopping at GK market and called it day around 9.30 PM.We had to catch the early morning flight to Leh the next day.
The new T3 terminal at Delhi is huge and we had to sprint close to a kilometer for the boarding gate. We met Subbu at the boarding gate. The flight from Delhi to Leh is a short duration flight and if the weather is good, one can get wonderful views of the Greater Himalayan ranges. We were lucky that we got amazing views of the mountains. As we reached closer to Leh, the pilot announced that the outside temperature is -13 degress. I could hear Mohan saying “Wow!! Not a bad start”. We all knew that one thing on the trek that was going to test us was the extreme temperature. Manish had already instructed us to keep some warm clothes in hand luggage which came in really handy. When we got down from the flight and were waiting for the bus to the airport, I could see the pilot waving at us from the cockpit, as we were standing in there outside in very cold weather. Leh itself is at an altitude for around 11,500 feet. The plan was to stay in Leh for the next two days which would help us acclimatize with the altitude and the weather.
When we reached our hotel, Hotel Sheynam on the Old Fort road, the people greeted us in typical Laddakhi style. It was good to see the hotel rooms had gas heaters and immediately everyone had taken up a place next to the heater. We had good hot tea and decided to get ready for strolling around the Leh Market. A lot of us were meeting for the first time, and it was a good time to bond as we were together going to spend the next couple of weeks. Like in every city, Leh also has an M.G. Road. Most of the shops were closed, this being the off season. We did some last minute shopping, bought some warm gloves and caps, just to make sure that we had enough for the trek. After a sumptuous Tibetan lunch, when we were coming back to the hotel, I could feel the temperature had further started dropping down.We had early dinner and decided to call it day.