Chadar & Snow trek to Lingshed Village

Zanskar is located at a very high altitude in Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the best trekking destinations around the world. In winter the Zanskar River freezes up, and gets converted into an amazing adventures trek called Chadar-The Frozen River Trek.
The traditional name for the Zanskar Trek is Chadar Trek as the river becomes a snow sheet during winters due to heavy snowfall. It boasts of some of the lowest temperatures making it a challenging trek for the adventurers. The most isolated and inaccessible for nearly eight months in a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes; Zanskar has the distinction of being the least interfered with microcosms of Ladakh, and thus one of the last few surviving cultural satellites of Tibet. This geographical isolation together with the esoteric nature of Buddhism practiced here has enabled its ten thousand inhabitants to preserve and perpetuate their cultural identity.
In winter when the road to Zanskar is closed by snow on the high passes, the only overland route to Padum is by walking along the frozen river, a multi-day hike that is now sold as an adventure activity called the Chadar ('ice sheet') Trek. This trek will eventually be rendered obsolete once the road from Chiling to Padum is completed

The frozen Zanskar river, part of the Indus watershed, is used by the people of Zanskar to go back and forth to the outside world when the passes are locked into frozen winter silence. Originally they carried butter, one of many commodities these villagers traded with the outside world. It had to be traded in winter, as it was the only time it could travel from the cool summer cellars of their houses to Leh without spoiling. Today, they go back and forth still trading, but also taking children to school, or making visits to the sacred sites around Leh.

It's a multi-day trek in inhospitable conditions. Average mean temperature during the day is minus 10. In the night, temperatures fall to minus 20 and 25. Ice forms, breaks and changes color on the river every few hours. At places the Chadar (or ice) does not form over the river. One then has to forge a new trail climbing over snow covered embankments to descend to a spot on the river where the ice is more stable. 
This is not a full scale winter trekking expedition, but a trek into the past, where we, in our high technology gear, will trek side by side with smiling locals wearing woolen Gonchas and sounding the ice with their stout poplar staffs to drive away the demons that lurk there.

More of a personal viewpoint, this is a very different trek compared to other treks in the Himalayas. Infact one more or less is walking/sliding on a flat surface throughout in exception of the detours, short climbs up to campsites and the trek up to Lingshed Village. The first day it similar to learning how to walk. It’s more like a Penguin walk one drags their feet without lifting them much. Gumboots are the ideal footwear though on detours and climb upto Lingshed normal trek shoes would have been better. The views are more or less static but I feel the real thing of the Chadar is experience of living through it and its unpredictability. 

13th Jan to 15th Jan - Leh City

I decided to spend an additional day in Leh so as to acclimatize perfectly as I was not keen on getting this part wrong. Reached Leh after a night long wait at Delhi airport at 11am via Go-Air. We were received by the tour organizer and taken to our guesthouse. After a tea & light lunch we slept of at the guesthouse till evening.  
In winter most of Leh is virtually shut and they have limited eating joints which are open, they to tend to shut of early. We left the guest house in the evening for a small stroll and had an early dinner and again slept. 
The next morning the balance team was to arrive at 8am, we went to receive them. It was cold real cold, the temp on my watch showed -16c. The flight was late and we waited a good hour for them at the airport parking lot. This was like a good exposure to understand what we were going to except in the days ahead. The team arrived and we went ahead to the guesthouse once again. We were a total of 5 of us. We settled down headed for lunch and rested the afternoon. Early evening we walked around the market buying few pending things like woolens, jackets and gumboots. 

15th Jan post breakfast we headed for Hemis and Thiskey monastery, after which we visited Shanti Stupa and returned to the Leh market for bit of shopping and dinner. 

16th Jan - Drive to road head via Chilling and trek 4 km to Shingra campsite

Post breakfast we drove some 70Km from Leh, drive on the Leh Srinagar highway till Nimu where the Indus and meets the Zanskar. At Nimu take the road heading left and drive along the Zanskar. The road goes up along the Zanskar. An hour and half more along the Zanskar bring you to Chilling. The road goes a 6 Kms beyond Chilling.  

This is where we left the road and went down on to the Chadar.

Taking the first few steps on Chadar one has to be carefully to get a feeling of the surface you are stepping on. The Chadar surface can be of various kinds - a coating of fresh powder snow, hard and shiny ice, a freshly formed Chadar (sheet of ice) & Chadar that’s weak and breaking. It is easy to walk on a fresh coating of snow. The snow gives you good grip and you can walk normally. An old hard and shiny surface of ice is what is tricky initially one does a penguin kind of walk on such a surface without lifting your feet too much off the ground, you basically slide your feet. As you walk on the Chadar, listen to the sounds it makes. Depending on the thickness of the Chadar, the sounds change. You will soon start recognizing where the Chadar is thick and where it is thin and dangerous. 

A 0.5 Km & 30 min walk/slide we reached Tilat our lunch stop for the day. An elevated level field makes a good camping spot. On the opposite side are a few caves were those not carrying tents can camp. The locals on their journey through the Chadar tend to stay in caves. After lunch we moved ahead covering the balance 3.5KM in some 3 hours to reach our campsite Shingra for the day. 

Enroute we experience our first detour of climbing up embankment as the Chadar was not well formed and once the Chadar had formed only on the corner of the river and the corner is under a low over hang embankment. We had to get down on our fours & lie down and crawl through that section. 
Shingra is a camping ground on your right as you walk up stream. The Zanskar River takes a beautiful turn right in front of the camp site and sharp peaks rise on the other side of the river.

17th Jan - Trek to Dib Campsite - 15 Km

The trek from Shingra to Dib is long. It is also one of the most beautiful days of the trek for two reasons one you have got accustomed to walking and understanding the Chadar surface and two this enables you to start appreciating the surrounding and views. We came across quite a few small waterfalls on the left standing still in the form of icefalls. 

A couple of hours into the days walk brings you to a massive waterfall on the left. Prayer flags flutter on the trees in front of the waterfall. You know that the place is revered by the Ladakhis. Surprisingly the waterfall is not frozen. 

The lunch point Sumo Campsite for the day is mid way and under an overhang of rocks. Post lunch, the Zanskar river passes through narrow gorges where the width of the river is supposed to be minimum. The narrow gorge hardly gets any sunlight and so the river is nonexistent. Generally, a thick Chadar forms end to end here.
Two more hours of walk through the various hues and forms of Chadar brings you to a large camping area on your right Dib. To the left are caves were people can stay put. We reach Dib by 4pm in the evening. 

18th Jan Trek to Nyrek - 11 Km

Due to some western disturbance we woke up to a snowy morning and it more or less snowed the entire day. We left Dib at 9am post breakfast.  3 hours into the trek we see the first sights of Nyrek. Prayer flags around Juniper shrubs by the Chadar signal that you are now close to Nyrek and before the waterfall. A kilometer ahead around a bend under the shade of the gorge lies the famous Nyrek waterfall. The bridge lies just ahead of the waterfall. The bridge is an old wooden bridge.

Spent a good 15min at the famous and most photographed frozen waterfall.  The trail goes along the Chadar and 20 minutes of walk brings you to Nyrek where a small trail takes you up to the Nyrek campsite.
Nyrek is a village located about 1500ft higher than the river bed. We camped not at the village but at the camping ground 200 ft higher than the river. There is a shelter at Nyrek campsite which serves as a rafting point in the summer months. During winters, it serves as a shelter for the Chadar trekkers.
Nyrek is notorious for its really cold nights and winds. For us to Nyrek campsite as among the coldest.

19th Jan Trek To Lingshed Village - 12 Km

Post breakfast at 9am we left Nyrek initial hour walk on frozen river (Chadar) we reached the nala from there we turn right and a good 4 hrs steep climb up to Lingshed village. 
The trek to Lingshed wasn’t similar to the path we had covered so far. We began to climbing up the hill. The climb wasn’t steep but the path was very narrow, it seemed as if someone carved a groove on the mountain just deep enough to place your foot, at best half a meter feet and  at worst 6 centimeters wide. Mountains here are not made of big stable rocks but rather, they are formed by loose gravel. So while walking we had to make sure that we press our foot really hard on the mountains to ensure better grip as we would watch small rocks tumbling 70ft down into the valley. The previous day’s snow fall aided the climb a bit.

We spent the night at the guides home as a home stay. We were given a beautiful room with a bukari, the guide's family kids gave us company. The village is in 3 or so levels where the bottom two levels have houses and the top has the monastery and school. In the evening we climbed up to make a call via the lone BSNL phone in the village. The school was shut, I was tired and got a bit dark so returned back to the house for the night. 

20th Jan we trekked down once again to Nyrek for the night and the following day 21st Jan we reach Dib and finally on 22nd Jan we reach our first campsite Shingra. 

23th Jan morning we started for the road-head ahead of Tilat. Due to the snowfall on 18th Jan the Chadar had started to deteriorate and we realized that today, many places the sheets had broken, we had to go through few detours due to the broken Chadar. One place we waded through a feet or so of water, luckily the sheet under the water was intact.  
We got ourselves immersed in knee deep water once as we stepped on a broken/weak sheet, which surely was not a great feeling. We had to change into fresh pair of socks.

We reached the road head and after a photo-op with the entire team and climbed up to the road. The taxi's were a bit late but we reach Leh by afternoon post shower we had early dinner and retired. 

24th Jan We had finished the trek a day in advance as compared to our original schedule that left us with a entire day to spend in Leh. We left in the morning to Lamayuru Monastery, but it was shut so we retraced back and visited Likir Monastery and returned back to Leh. Meet the support teams and tipped them and had a nice dinner before retiring. 

25th Jan We caught the flight back to Mumbai

Few Pointers

1) It will surely we cold so dress in layers. I had carried two jackets which I felt would be adequate but  the tour organizer insisted to buy a local down jacket. These are all fake one and can cost upto 4000pcs for a North Face(Fake) one... what he did was he took us into one of the by lanes where there was a shop run by local Kargil residents who sold jackets for 600-800 Rs, and yes they were effective.

2) Use gumboots there are ideal and most suitable. If your trek shoes get wet forget about getting them dried on the Chadar. The diamond make shoes widely available are good in quality costing Rs 360/- per pair. Suggest wearing them around for a day before embarking on the Chadar. Get a size bigger as you would wear two pairs of socks.

3) I had local Leh wool socks so I would wear those over my regular trek socks. Carry an additional set of socks/pants in your day pack, so you can change in case they get wet.

4) Eat three good meals they are the best bet for you to stay warm and provide much needed energy

5) Water bottles at the end of the day tend to freeze up or one gets few ice lings in the water due to the temp. Suggest using Nalgene ones compared to local Quecha or other makes. Wide mouth is ideal. Avoid aluminum ones.