The Surreal and Spectacular Zanskar Trek

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If visiting one of the most unique destination on the planet aligns with your passion and is accessible to you, I think it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that it WILL have a place on your bucket list. That’s how I felt about THE Chadar Trek - It is one of the most extraordinary and accessible treks in the world, located in the Zanskar Range of our Himalayas. So, three years of procrastinating have finally given way to the moment of truth. Research and personal recommendations lead me to Viktorianz, the preparation began, and the stage was set.

Chadar Trek

The trek is unique in terms of the following –

  • Natural Phenomenon – It happens over a frozen river in Winter. The entire river (most of it) freezes and the frozen river looks like white blanket (of snow) giving it the name - Chadar.
  • Surrounding Beauty – It is a desert but is nothing short of grandiose and dramatic.
  • Climate – The real game changer. We are talking nothing less than -20 to -30 degrees here.
  • Ancient Route – The entire route is around 120 km, 65km of which is the generally excepted length of the trek. It is a very ancient route and has been used by people for centuries for trade. In places where the ice is not fully formed, negotiating difficult and tricky rock face and mountains is the only option to move ahead.

So, we are a group of nine different people who are meeting for the first time, 4 Hyderabadis, 3 Doctors and 2 Mumbaikars. This eclectic bunch is helmed together by our trek leader Muzzamil Hussain and our trek guide Nisar and his team. By the end of the sixth day it feels like we have known each other for years.

The first two days are spent in rest, in and around Leh, acclimatisation and getting used to the environ in Leh. We all have our meds on the third day and get permits for the trek. After a briefing by the trek leader and guide, last minute shopping, and repeated checks when anxiety and anticipation are at their zenith, we start with a 65 km drive to our first campsite. On the journey, we cross the Magnetic Hill, the Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar, and seek the blessings at the Shri Pathar Sahib Gurudwara.

We finally reach the first camp site at Bakula, and spend the day at leisure practising the ice walk and soaking it in. Mind you ice walk is not as easy as it sounds and takes lot of effort and concentration to avoid slipping, falling and injury. Speaking of falls, I was the undisputed winner in terms of maximum number of falls, consistency and variety of falls over the six days. The second day takes us from Bakula to the Hotong campsite through surreal landscapes of the chasm.

Surreal - the word which probably doesn’t do justice to the actual thing that you see. The erosion patterns on the mountains and cliffs look like a fortress of a long-lost civilisation, and you can’t stop being in awe of the same.

The third day is long, tiring and a difficult 12 km from Hotong to Yoqma through the river, rocks, snowfall, fun, tension and so on. There are stunning frozen waterfalls, partially frozen streams and beautiful patterns of ice and snow which are nothing short of exhilarating to look at.

The fourth day takes us to Nyerak where we have the epic spectacle of the stunning Nyerak Waterfall, which is frozen at this time of year – making it even more magical. We then enjoy our lunch en-route and return to Yoqma. It also marks the beginning of the return journey.

Day 5 is again a 16 km walk and the group makes it to Tsomo campsite. This was a difficult day as it involved more rock climbing and we were witness to some spectacular courage and grit.

The last day is when everyone is in a kind-of reflective mood. We are all thinking over the transformation that has happened over the last few days in each of us.

Every journey has a purpose and there are people who make it special and memorable for us. Two such people were our Group leader Muzzamil Hussain and out trek guide Nissar. They were the Bosses – and you don’t mess with them. It is better this way because it is your best interest that they have at heart and they do everything possible, probably beyond your expectations. The courage, strength and valour that they showed during the entire trip was nothing short of exemplary. We all returned home having learnt something from these two. They went out of their way to always ensure our comfort, well-being and, at times, survival. From holding our hands and guiding us, to ensuring that we are tucked in the sleeping bag, they left no stone unturned.

Every trek requires a certain amount of physical preparation and the Chadar is no exception but for a small fact. However, I would even place more value on the high level of mental preparation that is required, along with the physical endurance. There is nothing which can prevent you from feeling cold – and this is where the game changes. You need to be patient with the cold and the temperature and just embrace it. It’s only then that the journey transforms from being difficult to being magical.

The Zanskar river is a stellar beauty in any season, especially in the winters when she will captivate your mind, take over your senses, and never cease to amaze you. She will tease you, test you and just as you are about to give in, bring out the best in you. When you adore and respect her she will be a partner till your last step and it is at this point that the tears inevitably flow. You will come face-to-face with the possibilities and abilities you thought you never had. This epic journey has made you realise that there are actually no limits to what is possible and achievable with focus, strength, and determination. So just like everything around you at the final moment, soak in the tears, the emotions, the beauty and yes make a resolve to be just like the mighty Himalayas - worthy, boundless and infinite.

Original words by Nandini Shirguppi

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