With my rucksack lightly packed, I travelled from summery Delhi to the small town of Leh and the start of my trekking adventure in Ladakh in snowy northern India. There, surrounding Leh, the legendary mountains and valleys of the Himalayas proudly invite many thousands of tourists from all over the world to the thrill and joy of nature.
I had come to Leh to hike one particular route, called the Chadar Trek, along the frozen Zanskar River. Until you see it, it is hard to believe that such a huge river can actually freeze enough for people to walk on it. In fact, before I left I could hardly envision the transition I would make from walking on concrete footpaths to hiking across thick sheets of ice. But checking out the frozen river is one major reason why tourists visit Ladakh in the winter (mid-January to the end of February).
Upon arrival, I was spellbound by the unparalleled beauty and picturesque scenery of Ladakh. I stopped by a homestay owned by friendly locals and started my day with a warm cup of sweet tea. However, with adrenaline already coursing through my veins, I decided not to waste any time and to head out on my Ladakh trekking adventure.
There are many trails from which to choose, all of varying levels of difficulty and distance, but my mind was set on exploring the Chadar Trek. Chadar means ‘blanket’ and the whole path is a thick blanket of snow atop the frozen Zanskar River. As I began walking, I was amazed by a whole new world, frozen in time and shimmering under the afternoon sun like thousands of diamonds.
Going Solo or Not
I began my journey alone, as it was my third trip to the Himalayas and I didn’t need anything organised. That said, considering the region’s uncertain weather conditions and the locals’ lack of area knowledge, I strongly recommend that you book something if it’s your first time to Ladakh.
On this occasion, although I was out solo, I soon met a group of trekkers all awestruck by the region’s beauty, including things like high frozen waterfalls with icicles hanging from their edges and, of course, the paralysed, playful and treacherous river.
I walked for three days with the same group and we became fast friends, taking photos of each other standing in front of ice-bound waterfalls and chatting from inside our warm sleeping bags in ice caves. The bonfire in the caves helped keep us warm at night.
I also spent a few nights on the banks of the murmuring river, relying on a pop-up tent, an awesome mat that kept the floor warm and a sleeping bag that let me survive in such harsh conditions.
Enduring the Climate
The average altitude of this trail is more than 13,000 feet above sea level; it’s hard to believe that there can be any life in such harsh conditions. And yet, while the nighttime temperature can drop to a whopping -25 degrees Celsius, during the daytime, it is relatively warm. The trekking helps to keep the body warm anyway.
Contrary to my expectations in this cold mountain region, I also did come across tiny, quaint villages where there were warm and friendly people smiling and waving at the passersby. After reaching Lingshed Village, I took a day off to relax and reenergise for the rest of the distance. I learnt from local villagers that when winters make life extremely difficult in this area, most of the villagers wander to low-altitude hills around places like Manali or Srinagar. Only porters and sherpas who assist people in trekking stay back.
Staying overnight in a house in the village of Lingshed, I decided to do some sightseeing. I was accompanied by locals to a nearby monastery on top of a cliff. I lazed around and spent most of my day there. The calmness of the atmosphere of monastery was quite soothing and made my experience of Ladakh more soulful. I stayed another night in Lingshed, this time in the monastery, and woke up early the next day with the sound of morning prayers humming in my ears. With renewed energy, I followed the remaining Chadar Trek trail and enjoyed the lovely scenery and floating ice blocks along the way.
The trip has rewarded me with inspiration and memories that will last a lifetime. Ladakh is truly a kingdom of nomads; people ruled by their instincts wander these mountains living life their way. They are surprisingly untouched by industrialisation and have kept the area’s natural beauty intact.