Dream comes true on heavenly journey – Chadar trek
If you’re a fan of snow and chilly regions in general, there’s no place better than Chadar! See from height exactly what it’s like to be on a frozen river, surrounded by vertical cliffs, with deadly icicles hanging at the edges of the cliffs
Blue. Brown. White. If these are the only colours you ever knew, for how long would you have lived? I stayed with it for seven days. Every mountain face looking up at the sun is brown, the rest of the mountains covered with snow, and of course as the name suggests the frozen lake is plain white. We could see the sky whenever there was a clearing, a blue like the one you cannot see in cities, unpolluted and natural. Whenever Chadar cracked, there was turquoise, emerald, white and blue gushing its way through it. One can see water flowing underneath during walking on clear ICE
Through the bone chilling days, it was a walk to remember. I think of the first day, I turn around after a half hour’s walk, completely losing sight of the road, just footprints from a long line of trekkers walking on the same path. Creek! Tick tuck tuck! The sound of ice cracking, like the shattering sound of glass, you look down praying it’s not the ice under your feet. You make your grip on the trekking people stronger, look for pole around you to see who can come to your rescue; this is all a part of the challenge in this trek.
DAY 1: 1st February 2016 Delhi to Leh
Its one and half hour flight to Leh from Delhi and snow peaked mountain started after 40 minutes. Captain was explaining about landscape, putting excitement to travellers who started taking photos there. Tsomorari Lake totally frozen, the white chadar so close that everyone is willing to touch. Landed at the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Terminal, Leh at 12 noon and welcomed by TTH driver at airport who took us Guest House at 10 minute drive from airport.
Just after lunch, Agency guide from TTH came for briefing about trek itinerary and list of essentials. After that we went into the market to make a few last minute purchases. At that altitude and temperature, one can never be sure if they are prepared enough. One mandatory requirement on this trek would be gum boots, specially designed for walking on ice and partially save you from direct contact with water. There are a host of army stores which cater to all kinds of trekking needs. Except for the essentials, most of the market is closed in winter, which did not give us much scope for shopping.
DAY 2: 2nd February Acclimatise in Leh
Early in the morning some climbed up to Sanchi stupa, a Buddhist monastery and some upto Leh Palace and then uphill to Leh Castle from where we could get a panoramic view of Leh with light twinkling in the houses. It served us like a warm up session before the big day tomorrow. Keeping your eyes, ear, nose etc uncovered, plenty of water and sufficient sleep is essential at this altitude for faster acclimatization.
DAY 3: 3rd February Drive to Chilling; Camp at Chilling (1km)
After breakfast, we packed up for journey to Chilling which is 80 km away from Leh. The roads in Leh are commendable. Long stretches of black, in the vast landscapes, with military areas along the way was a delightful drive. We passed by Magnetic Hill, the Pathar Saheb Gurudwara, and the confluence of River Indus and R. Zanskar. The turquoise waters of Indus and the pale frozen water of Zanskar. That was the first glimpse we got of the river. We could see it frozen, a hint of what we are stepping into. The road got narrower as we wound around the mountains, now with the river just by our side. After a 3 hour drive the road ended and the bus halted. We took our bags and walked down the steep face of the mountain and set foot on the frozen river. It was a 5 minute walk to the bank of the river, where the tents were set and the team was awaiting our arrival.
Trek Leader joined here and briefed us about the Trek Conditions and gave us 7-8-9 rule. Tea at 7:00 am, breakfast at 08:00 am and departure by 09:00 am. The task assigned for today was to go on a practice walk on the river. Walking on ice is a different game all together. The gum boots were a huge asset. We walked for half hour. All of us being very cautious, taking steps like we have learnt walking for the first time, experiencing the thrill of walking on frozen water. Though we were partly relieved to get back to the tents, all of us wanted more of this adventure.
DAY 4: 4th February Trek from Chilling to Gyalpo (12 Km)
We all gathered around with energy and joy. But suddenly our one wicket got down wit Acute Breathing Problem. He was sent to Leh to ensure necessary medical aid and care. Now we left with a team of Special 13.The rules of walking on ICE were simple, always follow your guide and watch your step. The ice could be thin at certain places and sometimes it’s just water. The safest thing to do would be to follow the guide in a straight line since he will keep checking the path. Follow the person in front of you and lead the way for the one behind you. A special walking technique where you partially glide and not lift your feet to avoid slipping. We stopped at many places and clicked many pictures at frozen waterfalls.
After a few falls, by mid-day we were getting in to the rhythm of it. It was afternoon by the time we reached the camp site, and feasted. It was the perfect setting to play some outdoor games and getting to know the rest of the group with whom we will be spending the rest of the week. Some had went for uphill trek near the trek.
DAY 5: 5th February Trek from Gyalpo to half way to Tibb to Shingra Koma (15 Km)
We knew the drill, wake up, get dressed have breakfast and be ready to walk. It would be the longest walk of the trek and it also happened to be the coldest day. We set time goals and walked taking short breaks in between. One thing about this trek is, we are not climbing mountains and seeing different terrains. It is more of a flat walk with the only challenges being the cold winds and the ice-walking. Once you have your way around them, you will experience the glorious beauty that Chadar is.
At the moment of joy and thrill, suddenly earlier bad news became true that chadar is getting broken. Reason; God knows all global warming or others but things were not favourable. Other groups are not even reaching Tibb and they were falling back with 2-3 days wait at one place. The groups left on 27th to 30th January 2016 who only reached Nerak (final destination) have to stop for extra days with fixed ration, need to pass through cold water and to do rock climbing for returning back.
Before coming at conclusion, one team member along with trek leader went upto the point of disaster to analyse the situations which were really bad. As like other groups we came back at Shingra Koma and decided to wait with good hopes of tomorrow as CHADAR can be formed within 12 hrs but luck was not favouring us.
DAY 6: 6th February Trek from Shingra Koma to Tilat Sumado (16 Km)
This day rule 7-8-9 was broken with face off but return was compulsory as situation on return back were not favourable too. It was along walking day with broken chadar at many places where we need to do rock climbing and pass through vertical hills to form a way back. Out trek leader and other staff were capable enough to handle these situations.
A sense of achievement for walking on frozen ice and staying in -24*C temperature was appearing everyone’s face. We walked through those cold days and slept shivering in the night to see this nature’s wonder and we were there standing in front of it. All the way from the top of the cliff, it was frozen. Like a chandelier with hanging pendants, every drop that ever tried to fall over that cliff is frozen, captured over time, so clear. One has to stand in front of it, to witness its beauty. We found a shack and believe me we couldn’t be more thankful. We sat together around the fire place singing, playing, sharing jokes and stories. Our laughter echoed in those mountains.
Look at the stars, look how they shine for you…
The night progressed much after the dinner, when through the most clear sky we spotted stars and constellations. The trek was only half done!
DAY 7: 7th February Camp at Tilat Sumado
Today was a day of adventure and courage. Adventure to roam around uphills and courage if bathing in ICE cold water with -10*C cool air. Five of took bath on a small iceberg in running water of Zanskar river. The first step in the cold water like encountering 100*V current in your body and coming out from river is like anaesthesia entered in your body making it painless for couple of minutes.
It was anniversary day of couple joined from Ankleshwar Asset. During evening, a cake surprise was organised with the help of cook at that remote place and enjoyed bone fire, sand songs for couple and enjoyed listening their stories in the stary night.
DAY 8: 8th February Trek from Tilat Sumado to Chilling and drive to Leh (3km trek and 80 Kms drive)
After an hour of trekking, we had our bus for going back to Leh. We stopped at the Magnetic Hill clicked some photos and then stopped at the Pathar Saheb Gurudwara for Darshan and Langar (Serving Food to Mass). Gurudwara is well managed by different battalions of Army posted in Leh during different time duration. We had tea there with Namkeen and Sweets and re-inculcate the writing of our GURUS.
DAY 9: 9th February Trek to Hemis village and Monastery (Total 6km up and down)
This day we had visited to Hemis village and Monastery, 45 Km from Leh on the west bank of the Indus, the monastery belongs to Dugpa Kargyutpa order, built on a green hillside surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, is hidden in a gorge. It is the biggest and richest monastery in Ladakh. The monastery was founded by the 1st incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630, which was invited to Ladakh by the king Singay Namgial and offered him a religious estate through out the region.
An upside (1100 mtr around) 3 Km walk, on the side of the mountain above the monastery there is a sacred hermitage founded by the great Gyalwa Kotsang where in the cave, his foot-print and hand – print on the rock is available for visit. We visited there and interacted with monks over there who are living the simple life to achieve salvation. They served us Ladakhi butter tea inside their Ladakhi Kitchen made from antique Ladakhi utensils
DAY 10: 10th February Depart from Leh
There are only morning flights that fly out of Leh. So, coincidentally most of us ended up taking the same flight or near time flight in the morning as per trek itinerary. A stark irony, staying together even when departing. We said our farewell only at the Delhi airport. Through the flight window I could still see glimpses of mountains, reminding me of the week that has gone by, but moments that I will cherish for a lifetime.
A team of Special 14 from different locations of ONGC went together to possibly converting this dream into reality. They are:
Article by B B Kashyap, Dy. Manager (F&A) ONGC Ltd, Delhi, Mobile no 9968282302, Email: [email protected]
Note: Trek was operated by “Trek the Himalayas” wef 1st Feb to 10th Feb 2016 for 14 officials from great ONGC Limited. TTH has took great care of all the necessary things right from landing to take-off. Staff was very cooperative and caring. Tour guide were quite experienced and equipped to deal with emergency situations. ONGC Limited is thankful to TTH for safe and successful chadar trek for its officials.