Ladakh is exciting and adventurous place to travel considering the terrane and the scenic beauty. The mountains are steep and in the winter, snowfall closes many of the mountain passes and makes the few roads treacherous. Some villages become completely inaccessible between November and March. One method of accessing snow-bound villages during the winter is trekking on top of the ice of frozen rivers. One such route is Chadar Trek.
The term ‘Chadar’ means blanket in the local language, thereby giving an indication to the nature of this whole experience. Large sections of the river Zanskar, which is one of the mightiest rivers in Ladakh, freeze over in the dead of winter and are covered by a thick blanket of ice known as ‘Chadar’.
This frozen blanket or ‘Chadar’ is the only way in and out for Zanskaris in winter, when the road and various other caravan routes are closed due to heavy snowfall. The seven to eight days walk from chilling to Padum is both challenging as well as an incomparably exiting experience. The landscape acquires a pristine grandeur in winter as the trail enters into the gorge of the Zanskar, where temperatures sometimes drop to –30 to - 35 Degree Celsius.
With multiple layers and sensible trekking, the Chadar trek is not a very difficult trek. But what sets it apart is its exceptional experience. Everything about it is unique: the scenery, temperature, atmosphere, the frozen river, sledges, unusual camp sites, caves and the ever changing Chadar. So unique that it has to be experienced.
The Trek leads in a narrow valley filled with breath-taking views of ice-peaks and unexpected hanging icicles that will attract your gaze for some time. It connects villages in the Zanskar valley (deep in the mountains) with Chilling (on the road to Leh) along the frozen Zanskar River. This route has been used for centuries for trade and transportation, and is most reliable in February when the ice is most stable. This trek is considered as one of the most exciting and unique treks, an extraordinary trek on shiny ice on the bank of Tsarap River.
Needless to say, having a good guide is critical on the Chadar trek since, trekking on the ice is at times intimidating. A covering of snow makes it difficult to assess its thickness. Sometimes, one has to walk along a narrow margin of ice, constrained by the canyon wall on one side and deep rushing water on the other. Slipping in or falling through would not just be cold; it could be fatal. The water is deep and fast, and would likely sweep who falls under the ice in seconds.