The year 2020 will probably be remembered by many as the year of a global pandemic. For me, it started with my first ever Himalayan Trek. The year that I got Leh’d. A nomad at heart, a traveller in the making and an eternal ‘enthu-cutlet’, all wrapped in one – Me!
Chadar Trek or the frozen river trek is known to be one of the most difficult Himalayan Treks. Experienced trekkers have faced challenges and for someone who is fairly new to trekking can be at a bigger risk. At least that is what I was told. My experience, however, is a little different. I signed up with TrekNomads and never had to think about ‘everything that could possibly go wrong’ and instead focus on improving my fitness levels, getting the right layers of clothing and other essentials to combat the weather at that altitude. And to sum, my experience as ‘amazing’ is an understatement.
It began with a meet at Decathalon where Captain Naveen helped us pick the right gears and clothing for the trek. Chadar Trek is more about facing the harsh temperatures and being well prepared for it. My excitement induced a thousand questions and all were answered with great patience. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get started and that meet kept me motivated to continue with my fitness routine. I had made an odd mix of running, swimming, yoga with some interesting sessions at CULT. I couldn’t have been more proud of my efforts and it was worth it!
Chadar Trek 2020 gave me an opportunity to be amid the Himalayas while I did Penguin walk in gumboots on the frozen Zanskar. Giving a shout out to Captain Naveen, my fellow travel mates or the very dependable local guides got me sailing smoothly through the four-day trek. I even slid down an ice slide made in the frozen river, got a ride on the sledge by the local guide and of course had a fair share of slips and tumbles on the Chadar which I believe is customary for every trekker to experience. :’)
The trek is memorable for many reasons and few that make it more special is trying to sleep cocooned in two sleeping bags and innumerable washroom visits in the middle of the night. And perhaps my nightly ventures to attend nature’s call were a sign to look up at the night sky. What I saw can perhaps never be replicated in our regular city lives. The whole canvas painted black with a multitude of stars shining down on me. No words can do justice to that feeling of looking up at a starlit sky, in the middle of nowhere in -25 degree temperatures. The chilly night and my moment of oneness with the universe is a memory imprinted forever, and perhaps an image that will pop up in my mind when I hear the word Chadar.
Travelling is always rewarding and exhausting too. But, when you know someone’s got your back, it becomes a delicious piece of cake. As a novice trekker, I made quite a few faux pax from the moment we landed in Leh. It takes about two to three days for our bodies to acclimatize and it is advised to avoid taking baths to ease the process. I stayed put for a day and messed it up the next. Only to understand much later that I had made myself susceptible to hypothermia. A term that I learned then. And like always when trekking with the Captain, I was rescued from committing more such goof-ups. I was advised about how and what I should be doing to ensure that I could go for the trek safely and not land in a soup early on. The four days in Leh for acclimatization and getting medical clearance from the Leh authorities were spent in a comfortable place with thorough indulgence in the local cuisine. I was extremely pleased that I didn’t have to worry about food and where to eat when exploring the Leh market, attending to nature’s call on the topmost level of Leh Palace, meditating at Shanti Stupa and buying my first ever gumboots. A trekking 101 with regard to gumboots is to not walk down or up the stairs wearing gumboots. It is meant only for flat surfaces or in this case…Chadar Trek! I would have found out the hard way but was corrected in time. Phew!
The trek began once we all cleared the medical test by the Leh authorities. The ride to the base camp, losing network after crossing the Sangam was just the beginning of an exhilarating time in the mountains. The experience of sleeping in tents, waking up to hot cups of Kahwa and being shocked at seeing your lenses solution, creams and even wet wipes froze beyond use is all a part undertaking Chadar Trek. Also, entering a portable loo tent for the first time certainly reminds you of caveman times and honestly takes back to your roots about taking care of basic needs in the middle of nowhere where you certainly can’t expect the amenities of city life. I say one should certainly experience this at least once. 😉
While the cold got the better of us and weighed down our bags, the secret to keeping warm on such a trek was revealed to me. It is to get into the kitchen tent. The warmest place in the camp! That’s another trekking 101 gems that I learned. Enjoying piping hot delicacies that were freshly prepared by our team of local nomads was always a perfect start and end to a day. A variety of foods greeted us that ranged from momos, pasta, rice, sabzi, dal and dessert too!
I can’t help smiling whilst I write this as there are innumerable memories that come to my mind. But another important factor apart from being with a responsible trekking group is the people you meet and the memories you forge together. I had the pleasure of meeting a journalist and getting candid demos of live reporting, meeting with a big friendly giant or the man who would overtake me on the trek no matter how far behind I would have left him, a civil servant who could have also been a Major in the Indian Army, a homemaker on her 6th Himalayan Trek, two couples who had brought yummy homemade snacks that were simply delish and can never be forgotten. A young girl in search of inner peace and choosing Chadar Trek over Tibet/Bhutan. Two Mumbaikars who decided to forgo sea for a taste of the mountains. And lastly, a salute to Captain Naveen who kept this nomadic tribe together in the freezing temperatures of Leh.
2020, you will be remembered for the Chadar Trek, the fun, the trek, the food, Penguin walks and the friendships of a lifetime. It’s time I think of another Himalayan Trek with TrekNomads, reliving these memories has been a reminder that ‘the mountains are calling’ and I must go! Trek. Travel. Adventure is what awaits me.
P.s: To all my fellow nomads, travellers, trekkers, explorers – Experience the beauty of Zanskar in its frozen form by signing up for the Chadar Trek. Choose your travel partner wisely like I did and get Leh’d! It’s worth it!
We thank our Nomad Mariam Taqui Ali for taking the time and sharing her experience from our Chadar Trek in January 2020. If you wish to join us on our Chadar Trek in 2021, please click this link for further details.