PART 1- WALKING ON A FROZEN RIVER
How often do we think that a flowing river can freeze and the ice can become so firm that you can actually walk on it? Yes, it happens, not just in Antartica but also in our much-loved India. You read that right. India is truly a land of stunning landscape and breathtaking mystic beauty. We as a nation are not just about corruption, poverty, traffic and chaos, we also have dense forests, hot deserts and cold; extremely cold conditions.
I read about ‘Chadar Trek’ on some online forum which described it as one of the toughest treks in the world which involves walking on a frozen river in Ladakh for 6 days where the temperature dips to -35 degrees or beyond. The testosterone level of the small travel bug inside me reached its peak on seeing the pictures of frozen waterfalls and a massive river that had turned into a blue and green sheet of ice.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING:
Chadar (‘Blanket’) of ice forms on the rivers in Ladakh only for 4-5 weeks in between January and February. But the planning needs to start couple of months in advance. Firstly, you need an experienced guide and secondly you need to prepare your body to survive at the high altitude while walking for 5-6 days in extremely cold conditions. Rohit Nayak was our guy who had organized a small group of 16 likeminded people in Mumbai and the journey started at Shivaji Park Grounds with a briefing session weeks before the trek started. I was aware of the conditions in Ladakh because of my motorcycle ride to this paradise 2 years back and knew I had to start working out religiously. Office leaves- Check, Tickets- Check, Back pack- Check, Enroute Leh…..
CUT TO LADAKH:
We had an evening flight to Delhi and an early morning flight from Delhi to Leh, Ladakh. We reached Delhi airport at 10pm and were to spend the night on the airport. Now, we as Mumbaikars, do not understand what real winter season means. It was January and for us it was not just cold, but it was freezing in Delhi. After an uncomfortably cold night in Delhi, we reached Leh at 7am in the morning, though the love affair with Ladakh began even before landing on the Leh airport. You get a breathtaking view of the Karakoram Range (you have read this name somewhere in your geography textbook during school days) from the Delhi-Leh flight.
All you get to see is gigantic mountains covered with snow all around you. The trek was to start 2 days later, but we arrived early for something known as acclimatization. It basically means getting your body used to the cold and dry conditions in Ladakh, which is a high altitude region.
THE MOST CHARMING LADY EVER:
I had decided to join the group on the next day because a friend in Mumbai had recommended staying in a village guest house which was run by a lady called Halima aunty. I reached her place early morning and she gave a warm welcome in the guest house. This was not a very fancy place, but was more comforting than a 5 star hotel. Halima aunty ensured that I ate well and also helped with tips for a successful Chadar Trek. She cooked a very basic but nutritious Ladakhi preparation for lunch and dinner. She was like a typical Indian mother who didn’t see people as her customers and would scold you for not eating well and doing something wrong that could take a toll on your body. The next morning, our trek leader Rohit came to pick up from the guest house. Honestly, I wanted to stay there a little longer. She made an amazing Ladakhi breakfast and even came to see off till the car and gave some more food to share with friends and eat on the way. I left with a promise to come back on my next visit to Ladakh.
THE ARRIVAL OF BAD NEWS:
Continued in Part 2- Walking On A Frozen River