Chadar Frozen River Trek is considered to be one of the best winter treks in India. It is a unique experience of trekking over the Zanskar River which is completely frozen in the winter months from January till the end of February.
The thick blanket of ice that the Zanskar River forms resemblances a white blanket which in the local language is called – Chadar. Hence the trek along the frozen Zanskar River is known as the Chadar Trek.
This trek is basically a flat walk along the Chadar with almost no climbing. The challenge is walking in the extreme cold on the ice where night temperatures dip to up to -30 degrees.
Is Chadar Trek for beginners?
Is it possible to make it by a zero experience trekker to attempt this best winter treks in India?
Yes, it can be, provided you take certain precautions and have adequate preparation.
Once upon a time, Chadar Trek was considered to be a very difficult trek meant only for experienced trekkers. There were few organizers and very little information was known about the Chadar conditions. Proper gear was not available easily for this trek which happens in the sub-zero Leh Ladakh temperature.
I was pleasantly surprised when in my recent Chadar Trek in January 2018; I met many first time trekkers. They had never trekked before but we’re doing the Chadar frozen river trek. Based on my interactions with them I can say that the Chadar Trek can be for beginners too. But you need to take certain precautions before you attempt it.
First and the most important precaution you need to take is proper acclimatization at high altitude if you have to trek in Ladakh. Leh is at a height of 11,480 feet (3500 meters). Any place above 8000 feet you are susceptible to AMS i.e Altitude Mountain syndrome especially if you don’t have proper fitness. The cold Leh Ladakh temperature which dips till -20 C at night adds to the deteriorating health of trekkers.
You need 3 days of proper acclimatizing at Leh before you can embark on this epic adventure. But some trekkers take acclimatizing very lightly and depart the very next day after their arrival. These are the ones who find it difficult when they are walking on the frozen river.
In fact, I noticed a few trekkers who had AMS symptoms didn’t want to undergo a medical check. They fear if they are diagnosed with AMS and advised rest by the doctor they may miss the trek.
Most trekkers invest a lot of money on this dream trek for their travel, trek packages, gears and other fees. Hence they don’t want to miss out on the experience even if they have AMS. Sometimes they don’t even know they have AMS. Unfortunately, some organizers also compromise on the acclimatization and medical checkup aspect. The situation aggravates when these unfit trekkers are on the chadar but till that time it is too late.
Fortunately, the Ladakh administration has now regularized the chadar frozen river trek event by bringing in certain precautions and standard procedures for trekkers and organizers.
The administration has brought 3 important regulations:
- Acclimatizing in Leh for 3 days
- Medical Check prior to the trek up at Leh
- Medical Insurance for the chadar trek
All these as mandatory regulations and trekkers have to obtain an NOC from ALTOA followed by the Permit from Wildlife Department. A permit will be issued to each trekker only after producing the medical certificate.
Second is preparation for your fitness. Start working on your physical fitness at least 1 month before the trek. Though the trail is a fairly laid out path and doesn’t have any steep ascends or descends remember that it starts from Leh Ladakh which is at an altitude of 3500 meters which is quite high. At this altitude, the air gets thinner and oxygen is less abundant and you will find difficult to breathe. Your body needs to acclimatize well before you start your trek.
I would recommend a fitness routine of at least 4 weeks before the trek. It should include cardiovascular and strength training. Cardiovascular training will help you to acclimatize quickly at Leh and you will clear the medical test too. (As per the new regulations for chadar trek medical checkup is mandatory before the trek)
There is a lot of trekking distance that you will cover walking on the frozen river with your backpack. It could be taxing for your legs. For this, strengthening your legs will help a lot.
Finally, find the best Chadar trek organizers who have been conducting Chadar frozen river trek for many years. They ensure that there is no compromise on gears like tents and sleeping bags which help you survive in sub-zero Leh Ladakh temperature at night.
In my opinion, with proper acclimatization, prior fitness regimen for 4 weeks and best chadar trek organizers you will be good to go on the chadar frozen river trek and experience one of the best winter treks in India.
I did my Chadar Trek with Altitude Adventure India. If you want to have more detailed information the itinerary, safety, things to take, detailed fitness regimen about chadar frozen river trek click here.
I found them to be one of the best Chadar Trek organizers operating from Leh Ladakh.
If you want to know a medicine used as a precaution to reduce your chances of AMS and whether or not you should go for it click here.