is one of the most surreal and unique experiences you would ever have. Having traveled across India, I can vouch for that.
For one, try counting, besides Chadar, how many adventures have to do with walking for days on a sheet of ice. None. You can claim to have walked/driven on land, skiied/boarded down snows, skydived/parasailed through the air, or swam/sailed through waters, but Chadar is a unique surface different from all these. The fact that it is a historic route connecting two seats of civilization – Leh and Zanskar – makes it even more unique.
Others have exaggerated on the difficulty of this trek. But conversely, I found it one of the most comfortable treks, even for someone with very basic outdoors experience. From my calculations, this trek has the highest ‘waist bandwidth’ – ie a reasonably active person between sizes 28″-38″ could do it. The daily gradient isn’t much.
Once you’re acclimatized in Leh, and have sufficient protection against the cold, you will be comfortable. Know what’s the best thing about trekking in -20C? – no matter how much you exert, sweat is hard to squeeze out – and the subsequent spoiling of clothes, the necessity to change at the end of the day, and bacterial growth, are all eliminated. Beat that! Everybody wants to tell everybody else to do this trek, once they’re back.
The challenges on a walking on a temporary sheet of ice that lasts a mere month or two, and is always undergoing change, are different. You are likely to come across different hurdles on the Chadar on the way ahead and the way back. Despite being the same trail, it will feel like a new one. The trail is unpredictable to even the most experienced of Zanskaris, which means you live a new experience each time. The constantly-changing nature of the ice – it could be hard blue ice, or flaky powder, or crystals, or slush, all of which keeps forming and breaking right in front of your eyes, makes you feel like walking on a living mass – as if some mythic beast is heaving underneath.
The interactions with your expedition team are unique. The Zanskari porters and guides are cheery/helpful throughout, so much that by the end you bond strongly with them, and leave with a genuine appreciation and a generous tip. In all mountain treks, I’ve always seen the crew functioning independent of the client. But on the Chadar, sometimes the roles are reversed, as the terrain is always changing, and you can find yourself leading the porters or helping the guide.
Then there’s the valley itself. With the Indus river flowing right below and towering barren mountains on either side, ‘harsh’ is the only word that comes to mind. The only people you meet will be fellow travelers (either locals or trekkers). You won’t find some guy setting up a tea shop midway. Ignoring the fact that this trek is a foaming river for most part of the year, the rocky and steeply rising mountains ensure that the region remains uninhabited. Through the day, you marvel at the play of light and the strange geographic features enroute. At the end of the day, you find your imagined solace.