This trek is ranked among the toughest and most sought after treks in India due to a number of factors. First and most eye-catching one is that a major part of the trekking route is on a frozen Zanskar river. It stays frozen only during peak winter season and it’s safe to trek for only a short period between mid January to February. The average temperature during this time period stays below -15 degree Celsius and takes about a week starting from Leh city, capital of Laddakh. As roads are closed during this season, one has to take a flight to Leh and get acclimatised to the high altitude first. It’s also possible to start this trek from Himachal Pradesh via Manali route, but it’s a very long route and will take more than twice the time to finish. Although the terrain is not too tough, rough weather and unpredictable behaviour of ice on the river makes it a thrilling adventure. Direct sunlight is a rare sight, but not too welcome as it may lead to melting of ice. This trek is also called Chadar trek due to it’s walk on a frozen sheet (chadar) of ice.
Owing to the details mentioned above, this trek should be attempted only by trekkers with some experience who are in very good physical condition. Extreme cold, unstable route of a frozen river, fairly tough terrain, high altitude all make it a tough endeavour not to be taken lightly. At times, trekkers have to get to the river embankments and walk for a while over the rough terrain if the ice on river is not safe enough for walking. Depending upon temperature, weather, sunlight, precipitation etc. the ice turns rock solid but slick, covered with powdery snow or soft and prone to breakage. Only the locals or guides with multiple years of experience can judge the behaviour correctly and guide the trekkers accordingly. Hard ice by itself is difficult to walk upon as it is slippery, but if it’s covered with fresh snow, walking becomes easier.
Zanskar trek route passes through quite a few landmarks worthy of a visit of a few minutes to hours. Tilad Do, Gyalpo, Tibb, Naerak are some important rest stops for the night. Some trekkers choose to stop in different locations too, but that’s rare. As far as food is concerned, carrying MREs (Meals Ready To Eat), energy bars, dry fruits etc. is the only option. Meals have to be prepared on the spot and consumed as soon as possible. Otherwise they get cold and uneatable within minutes. If you have done this trek already, please feel free to share your experiences and pictures. If you want to do this trek, contact our friends at Himalayan Path Finders.