“When was the last time you tried something for the first time?”
I was thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with yet another friend from my school. Ashwin Raghavan completed the Chadar Trek in 2016.
The Chadar trek is a winter trail in Ladakh’s Zanskar range. The trail requires trekkers to traverse a frozen lake. The ice can be quite tricky and trekkers need to use their judgment to figure out safe paths.
It’s one of the coldest treks in India, where day temperatures are around -10°C and night temperatures often reach minus 25!
Ashwin was in the final semester of his course at BITS Hyderabad and had some time to spare. He hadn’t participated in high altitude treks before, but realised he may not get an opportunity later. Thus, he made up his mind to attempt it.
And if the breathtaking pictures are anything to go by, the experience shall remain unforgettable for him!
The preceding months
Most treks in North India require some prior training, regardless of their difficulty level. However, since Ashwin was already playing a lot of football and working out at the gym regularly, he didn’t have to train for the trek specifically.
He says there was a lot of hype around the trek.
Apart from the extremely low temperatures, he was going with trekkers he didn’t know beforehand. Obviously, sharing the experience together sparked off friendships. But going with complete strangers definitely added to all the excitement before the trek.
The challenging bits
Ashwin agrees that besides the temperatures, the trek itself isn’t that physically demanding. Most of it is just a walk on the flat frozen river. But parts, where the river has melted, could cause some challenge- trekkers are then forced to find a way around it.
He faced some tough luck when the gumboots he brought from Hyderabad cracked at the sole on the second day itself. He had to continue the rest of the trek in regular sports shoes. Quite a setback, because this meant that every 2-3 hours, they had to stop and check their feet for frostbite.
The topic of attending nature’s call is something that gets easily overlooked during the planning phase. Open air defecation can be an unwelcome surprise for first-timers.
It definitely was for him!
“Eventually you learn to rise up before the sun has risen so you don’t need to walk that far away from your base camp.”
going the extra mile
One particularly memorable part was visiting remote Buddhist villages near Nerak, the final point of the trek. This was a choice left to them, and some members of the group decided to trek up to the villages.
At this place, one really faces the wrath of the bitter cold– even the cattle are kept indoors. The village has only a satellite phone to communicate with the outside world.
Hey! Switching off can prove to be a great experience for city dwellers!
On the return back, some parts of the river had melted and they had to walk through waist-deep glacial waters (And here I am, in Mumbai, complaining about the geyser not working!)
However, Ashwin says, they were lucky to have reached Nerak. Two groups that had started before them couldn’t make it, since the ice cover had melted. On this trek, trekkers wake up every morning, praying to be welcomed by a sheet of ice.
onto further adventures
The trek isn’t very challenging. But the trail, the weather, unusual campsites and the surrounding scenery set it apart. Ashwin felt an incredible sense of accomplishment after finishing the trek.
And isn’t he happy that he grabbed the opportunity while he still could! He says since he’s started working he hasn’t had the time or the energy to attempt any such other treks.
Do follow suit!
If you’ve got a week’s vacation and want an experience of a lifetime, don’t keep waiting for an ‘opportunity’ to come by. The Chadar trek is an experience you don’t want to miss out on!
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