Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Chadar Trek

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain

I guess it all started during one of of our cycling trips in December 2009. Sandeep and I were discussing about the famous Chadar trek with Mohan. We got talking and he said, he would like to do it with us whenever possible. I had never really thought we would be doing it within the next couple of years. I am really happy that we did it finally and it ended with what I can describe as “one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life”.

The Chadar trek is a very famous trek in the Laddakh/Zanskar region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is an awesome walk on a frozen Zanskar river and typically has a window of about a month or so in the winters when one can do it. Temperatures in Zanskar go down to about -30 degree celsisus in winters which allows the river to freeze. Hardy trekkers then negotiate the river by walking a distance on it. I say “walking”, but this also involves, climbing, crawling, wading, bouldering, tripping, falling, slipping and so on. Above all it gets you a lot of fun.

'Zanskar' literally the land of Copper, is a tehsil largely occupied by ridges, ravines and snowy watersheds. The valley is indeed very remote and much less accessible as compared to the other regions here. Padum the district place, lies south west of Leh at around 75-100 odd kms as the crow flies. But there is no road directly from Leh. You need to traverse a long distance from Leh or Srinagar to Kargil and then take the road south to Padum. A really really long distance. In winters however, the Zanskar river which flows northwards from Padum, freezes and sort of creates a “Chadar” or Blanket on which it is possible to do the distance. For centuries the Zanskaris have been using this as a trade route into Laddakh and even today as you trek, you find families of these magnificent people crossing over from either side.

So this was the historical route which we had planned for. We were finally a group of about twelve members led by Manish who decided to traverse the river for about fourteen days.

We had started preparing for the trek about a month in advance. That is when the real excitement also started. However, a day before the trek, we got a message from Satya that he wouldn't be able to make it because he had sprained his ankle. It was not a good news. His doctor had advised three weeks of rest. But Satya is a stubborn trekker, he finally managed to come with us. Satya, Mohan, Sandeep and I were leaving together. Subbu was going to meet us at Delhi.

We started around 7 AM on the 22nd Jan from our house to catch a bus to the airport however after sometime we came to know the buses wouldn't be running today because of a strike. Fortunately we got a taxi immediately for airport and the four of us were on our way.

After we checked-in, had good breakfast and waited for the flight. We were so engrossed in our talks (about Himalayas, treks, cycling, Chadar), that we didn't realize that almost all the passengers had boarded the flight. The journey from Bangalore to Delhi was event less. One of our friends, Sriram, has a guest house in Delhi. We decided to spend the night at the guest house. Jaykumar, his colleague was already staying there. He had made some excellent arrangements for us. For the entire day, we bored Jaykumar with our trekking, running and cycling stories. In the evening we did some shopping at GK market and called it day around 9.30 PM.We had to catch the early morning flight to Leh the next day.

We reached Delhi airport at 5.30AM, found Manish and gang were waiting for us. The other members of the gang included Pantha, Snigdha and Imran from Bangladesh, Arun, Vani and Raghu from Bangalore. Subbu had already checked-in and was sleeping at the airport gate. After we checked-in, we still had sometime for the flight. Satya was feeling hungry so we decided to have some idlees at airport. Again we were so busy in eating that we forgot our flight's departure time. Finally got a call from Manish and Jet airways was also announcing our name for boarding.

The new T3 terminal at Delhi is huge and we had to sprint close to a kilometer for the boarding gate. We met Subbu at the boarding gate. The flight from Delhi to Leh is a short duration flight and if the weather is good, one can get wonderful views of the Greater Himalayan ranges. We were lucky that we got amazing views of the mountains. As we reached closer to Leh, the pilot announced that the outside temperature is -13 degress. I could hear Mohan saying “Wow!! Not a bad start”. We all knew that one thing on the trek that was going to test us was the extreme temperature. Manish had already instructed us to keep some warm clothes in hand luggage which came in really handy. When we got down from the flight and were waiting for the bus to the airport, I could see the pilot waving at us from the cockpit, as we were standing in there outside in very cold weather. Leh itself is at an altitude for around 11,500 feet. The plan was to stay in Leh for the next two days which would help us acclimatize with the altitude and the weather.

When we reached our hotel, Hotel Sheynam on the Old Fort road, the people greeted us in typical Laddakhi style. It was good to see the hotel rooms had gas heaters and immediately everyone had taken up a place next to the heater. We had good hot tea and decided to get ready for strolling around the Leh Market. A lot of us were meeting for the first time, and it was a good time to bond as we were together going to spend the next couple of weeks. Like in every city, Leh also has an M.G. Road. Most of the shops were closed, this being the off season. We did some last minute shopping, bought some warm gloves and caps, just to make sure that we had enough for the trek. After a sumptuous Tibetan lunch, when we were coming back to the hotel, I could feel the temperature had further started dropping down.

We had early dinner and decided to call it day.

Home     Next

Monasteries of Leh

The night was very cold. Manish told in the morning that the temperature was around -24 degrees. He mentioned that temperature range between -10 to -20 is good for Chadar. If the temperature drops below -25, the ice on the Chadar starts cracking.

Today on the 24th, the plan was to do some site-seeing around at Leh. In the morning, another member, Bhavin also came down from Delhi.

There are many places around Leh which are famous for their monasteries and we had planned to visit a few of them.

The first place which we visited was Shey Palace. 15 kms from Leh, is the former summer palace of the kings of Laddakh. The gompa is partially used and is still begin restored. The 12m high Shakyamuni Buddha statue is largest in this region.

We hiked up to the top. The views were very amazing from the top. The snow clad mountains of the Stok ranges appeared to be very close. We met bunch school children who had bunked their school to visit the Shey palace. The kids proudly told us that “3 Idiots” was shot in their school.

Thiksey Monestry was the next place. It is close to 17 km from Leh and is is very beautiful thanks to the extensive restoration work. It has a big statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

After Thiksey we visited Stakna Gompa. It is on the Hemis side of the Indus River and is around 800 years old. I found that in all the gompas, people make an offering of a lot of chocolates. As the old llama at the gompa showed as around, I realized that it was extremely cold in there, much too cold for us to bear. The llama on the other hand felt nothing.

By the time we came to Leh, it was 3.30pm and we were all hungry, but I couldn't get the beautiful gompas we had seen, out of my mind. I had wanted to see more and spend more time at each of the site. I made up my mind to visit again soon.

We had some good hot food and decided to come back to the hotel. There is a very small duration in the day, between 6pm to 10pm when electricity was available in the Leh city. We did the packing of our stuff early that night and were ready for the next day.

Previous    Next

Drive to Chilling and camping at Tilat Sumdo

It was a cold morning as usual, when we got up at the sound of my cell phone alarm. It was quite an effort to search for the cell phone in the dark and switch it off. It took a lot of time and Sandeep refused to wake up.

We had a good breakfast and started for Chilling at 11 AM. It was supposed to be 3 hour drive in our Sumos, on the Leh-Kargil road.

On the way we saw an people playing ice hockey on a rink, which we realized later were parts of the Indus which were completly frozen. After around 30km from Leh we saw the confluence of the muddy Indus and emerald green Zanskar river. This place is very close to the village of Nimmu. We could also see that both the rivers were partially frozen. We clicked some snaps here and then after sometime we left the highway and drove down along the Zanskar river towards the village of Chilling. I could already see the formation of ice, which gives the name of Chadar, on the Zanskar river. The road comes to an end just after Chilling and this was the start of the trek So this is it, I told myself, this is what I had been waiting for, for so many months. We thanked our driver and got down on the Chadar.

It was our first day on ice and on the Chadar; I could sense that everybody was very excited; there was a lot of chatter going on and at the same time people were cautious. We did not know what to expect, but this was really fun. We were walking on ice.

After a while we could see our campsite. The porters had reached and had setup the tents. It was hardly a quarter of an hour that we had walked on ice, but it was fun. We reached the campsite called Tilat Sumdo. Sumdo means a confluence, and there was indeed another small stream meeting the Zanskar here.

The campsite was surrounded by the Himalayan peaks from all the side. All the tents including a dinning tent were pitched. It was nice to see the dinning tent. I realized that it was going to be a luxurious trekking vacation for us. I don't mind it.

As the evening progressed, the temperature started dropping down. The porters typically don't have any tents or sleeping bags and they make the numerous caves or overhangs along the way as their home for night and they use fire to beat the cold.

Manish and Imran had brought some awesome gears for the trek and they were ready to share with other members. We spent the evening, chatting and then doing more chatting. It was good to see that all the members bonding together. We had a delicious dinner at 7 as we huddled together in the dining tent and spent some more time in the warmth of the tent post dinner. This was our routine to be for the next couple of weeks. Imaran, had done the basic and advanced courses from NIM and Pantha had done his basic from HMI. They were quite experienced and Imran, who had climbed Mount Rubal Kang in Himachal, had many stories to share about his experiences. That evening, he told the “metal bite”, which one can get if one touches metal water bottles or metal walking sticks at very low temperatures. Interesting, I told myself.

The sky was looking very clear, we could see lot of stars. This meant that the temperatures would drop in the night. Clear skies are good for Chadar as the temperatures stay low. I saw Arun had taken out his tripod to click some night shots of the stars.

Previous    Next

Tilat Sumdo to Gyalpo

26th January, Republic Day and our Anniversary. Is there any better way to celebrate than on the Chadar ? Sometime in the middle of the night Sandeep wished me. It was a cold morning (as usual) and getting out of the sleeping bag was a big task. After having the morning bed tea we finally decided to come out of the tent and by the time we got ready it was 8.30. Unlike other treks, where we start early, on the Chadar we used to start couple of hours later. This is because, the mornings were horribly cold and made no sense to walk early in that weather.

In the morning I saw a foreigner in a traditional Laddakhi dress on our camp site. What was surprising was he was talking in chaste Hindi and Laddakhi with our porters. It was only later, that Lobsang ji told me that he is a Frenchman, named Tony and has been in Laddakh for the last 20 years. He also takes groups on the Chadar and they do the trek in very much Zanskari style. Very interesting.

After having a good breakfast we started at 9.45 AM. It was a different feeling walking on frozen river. Initially the snow was friendly for the walk however the whole terrain kept changing.

For some initial part we walked on ice, and after sometime since the Chadar was not formed properly we climbed up on the boulders near the bank. We walked, we slipped, we stumbled, we fell; there were lot of different experiences on the same day in the first few hours. All the time the temperature was sub zero and the deep blue colors of Zanskar in the middle kept us company as we walked on the sides. Around 12.15 PM we reached a point where we planned to have lunch. We had hot rice pulav for lunch. This was first time when we had hot food en-route; in all my earlier treks we either used to skip lunch or used to have something leftover packed from breakfast. This was indeed new not that any of us minded it. We started at 1 or the next camp. The rest of the walk was without much rock negotiation. The river flowed between the stark mountains of Himalayas and as one valley closed behind us another one opened. It is one of the nature's wonders. I felt myself blessed that I was witnessing this wonder. We reached the campsite of Gyalpo at around quarter to three.

The porters had reached earlier and already pitched the tents. It was one of the beautiful campsite, surrounded by mountains from both the sides. We got river view tent; meaning we could look at the frozen river and were also on the side where wind struck you first. It was still sunny when we reached but cold. Sandeep, Mohan and Satya did some hiking on the scree on a near by mountain and I could see Sandeep far above waving.

We had good hot soup and dinner while Subbu and Satya narrated the stories from their last trek to Auden's Col. Both Sandeep and I had done a lot of preparation for the Auden's Col but sadly had to miss that trek last year. So we enjoyed hearing the stories. After a while we decided to hit the sack. It had indeed been a day to reckon with and we will always remember how we spent our 2011 anniversary in the cold of Zanskar mountains.

Previous    Next

Trek to Dib caves (the AMS camp)

Last night in spite of the cold outside we did have a good sleep because the sleeping bags and tents were really good. Thats one thing for the Chadar. There cannot be any compromise with gear and we were lucky to get good gear from Manish and Lobsang. It makes no sense to trek when one is in a lot of discomfort and specifically for the Chadar, where discomfort can be really a problem given the weather, the gear matters all the more.

Today we started at 9.15 AM. Lobsang ji our guide was testing if the Chadar was good or not and slipped into knee deep waters. This is the scariest part of this trek. Sometimes when the Chadar is not properly formed we walked on boulders or rocks near the banks. If the rocks were tricky to negotiate and risky we used a length of rope to climb the rocks and cross over.

In the early part of the trek today, we saw that the Chadar was broken in parts and had to be crossed to get to the frozen parts. The water was ankle deep so we borrowed the gum boots used by our porters and guide. The gum boots made it relatively easier to walk through the water. However, there was one small section where porters actually carried all of us one by one to cross small section of water and then with the help of the rope we negotiated the rock section. I for one do not like being carried and would have rather tried the crossing myself, but I realized that in the interest of time and ease to the porters, this was the better option. We did see a lot of action today in the first part of the trek itself. “The Chadar changes every hour”. This was the mantra Manish kept on telling us and it was indeed so. There were stretches where the Chadar was unbroken for kilometers however surprisingly the Zanskar could be seen flowing serenely on some sections.

Since we had seen a lot of action during the initial part of the day, by the time we reached the lunch point it was later than usual. Lobsang ji wanted to camp at this point for the day, but Manish insisted that we go ahead. We had good hot maggi for luch and then started for the camp. For the rest of the day we encountered a properly formed Chadar. At some point, I could feel the water was flowing below the frozen ice and each step I took made a “crack” sound on the ice.

Now this was scary, but by this time we had learned some basic walking techniques on ice. There were few caves before the campsite and that was home for our porters.

When we reached the Campsite, we saw there was one more tent already pitched by some other group. Later on we came to know that one member was not keeping well so had opted to stay behind. This person called himself a wild photographer. When Imarn and Manish spoke to him, he said he was having AMS and couldn't go ahead. But they soon realized that this was the first outdoor experience for this guy and he was totally ill prepared for the mountains. He also showed signs of taking the mountains for granted and was not repentant for doing something foolish. Later they said that he did indeed have AMS ( Attitude Mountain Sickness) but there was no cure. Dib caves came to be known as the AMS camp since then. At this point I would like to mention that even if the Chadar is a walk at a relatively lower altitudes, this trek does require certain level of fitness, a likeness for the outdoors and a willingness to tough it out in the cold. Like all expeditions in the mountains, it requires its own form of preparations.

We had got some Haldiram from Delhi and we were relishing those after reaching the campsite. The campsite was very windy as compared the previous one but Lobsang ji said that the colder and windier campsites were yet to come. Most of the campsites were right on the banks of the river or they appear to be on the banks of river at least in winter, not sure what would happen to these campsites in summer. The Zanskar is not easily negotiable in the summers.

On the way Lobsang had shouted for “Tuggu”, one of the villagers he met. Our own Subbu responded to his call assuming it was for him. This is when Subbu acquired his claim to fame as the Zanskari boy “Tuggu” which we called him for the rest of the trek.

Previous     Next

Trek to Nerak ( the warmest camp)

It was the coldest night till now. I was not able sleep and felt very jealous of Sandeep who was snoring next to me.

Today before we started, Lobsang ji asked me to try a pair of overboots. The overboot had some grip on the sole which he said would help while walking on ice. All of us had multiple falls on ice during the last two days and it was not a great feeling as you take a fall on the hard ice, on your back or on your hips.

We started for Nerak at 9.45 AM. The initial part of the Chadar was perfect and we were walking with a good pace. I realized that the overboots were really good except it added 1kg each to my legs. It was like walking with bricks tied to my ankles. It did help me in the walk though and since it had a crampon like sole, it helped avoid the falls. I also thought it would help me in my running once I go back to Bangalore.

The sky was clear blue and the sun had started peeking in from top of the mountains into the gorge. This made the part the ice on top a little watery and it looked like it would break anytime. Lobsang ji wanted us to cross this section quickly as he said the Chadar could break anytime. We did a little climb to reach the lunch point. The lunch point had big broken ice chunks, it looked like some bomb site. The walk after the lunch point was very scenic. All the porters stopped near a big Juniper tree. They offered prayer and silk clothes for a successful and safe Chadar trek.

I realized that my camera batteries had discharged long back and I casually asked Lobsang ji if he had a spare one. He generously gave his batteries and only because his batteries we could click pictures of the remaining days.

There was a massive frozen waterfall after couple of kilometers. We had seen multiple frozen streams and falls en-route but this one took the cake. It looked like time itself had stopped. It was one of the most beautiful and amazing sites I had seen in my entire life. I have never seen such huge frozen waterfall earlier. Later on Mohan told me that people try and climb a frozen water fall using small ice axes and some sort of technical ice climbing skills are required.

The last part of the day was little scary. There was huge section of the slippery ice, one fall and off you go directly into the river. Falls on the ice are common but one has to be careful if the river flows nearby. Sandeep had two falls in succession here but thankfully he was safe.

Imran chose to take a longer detour and climb the rocks instead of walk slippery ice walk. Finally we could see a couple of houses atop a hill. This was the cmapsite for today. The village of Nerak itself is about a couple of hours climb from the river. For us, we climbed up to the campsite where we found a small house where a bunch of kids were playing.

It was a surprise when Lobsang ji told me that we would staying inside the house which had a fireplace or “bukhari”. That was great news. We would be warm in the evening after many days. We had three rooms and five of us settled inside the room with warm bukhari. Later in the evening everyone joined us in our room. We had hot soup and dinner and had a chatty evening. Subbu was responsible for the bukhari and he almost caused a small explosion as he emptied a can of kerosene on the wood. We had a discussion on different types of gears and Imran invited all of us to Bangladesh. Pantho and Imran had a lot of stories to tell us about their country. Mohan got a very good mat which resembled a swimming pool tube which he said required a little balance but provided good insulation. The only thing we fought for on the trek I guess were the mats, we had multiple mats and Mohan and Satya always tried to grab maximum leaving Tuggu with scraps.

Around 9.30 PM we called it a day.

Previous     Next

Tsarak Doh at the road head

It was warm last night, unsurprisingly because we were in a room with a bukhari. I still had a tough time sleeping. There was a snoring competition going on between Sandeep, Satya, Mohan and Subbu. Sometime early morning I fell in deep slumber.

We got ready by 9 AM. I had two big falls right in the begining of the day. There was a frozen stream going down the mountain and the ice was slick. I had to be careful to negotiate it. The initial walk was on the boulders near the bank because the Chadar was not proper. With my overboot, I had a lot of trouble while walking on the boulders, but it was more comfortable once we were back on the ice. There was small water section which we needed to cross. Lobseng ji from the other end were helping us, but unfortunately Manish had fall and he had to go inside the water. It is very difficult if one gets wet in sub zero temperatures. We met couple of groups which were coming back towards Leh and they said the Chadar was alright ahead with some sections requiring caution.

There were couple of sections early on today where the Chadar was not good, and we had to climb on rocks. There were several sections where I realized that if the Chadar is broken, there is no option to climb as there were sheer vertical mountain walls and no bank.

Since this is a winter route for the villagers between Leh and Padum, there are some sections where some permanent iron rods have been fixed into the rocks. Not that it is safe, but it helps if the Chadar is broken in these sections. One can not completely rely on these fixed iron rods, because the rocks are so brittle here and it felt that it can break at any time. We encountered one such section post lunch.

After climbing using the rods we needed to descend down but the rock face looked so imposing and risky that we decided to use ropes and climb down. With the help of one length of rope, Lobsang ji and porters helped all the team members to descend down After descending down, while unroping Sandeep had fall but he manged without much injury. Mohan had some first aid kit handy so he used it bandage himself.

We walked for a while on completely unbroken Chadar and saw what looked like the road head. There is a road construction going on between Padum and Leh from both the side since 2003 along the Zanskar river. The stretch is not long but becuause its very tricky to cut the mountains and build the road, its taking lot of time. It might take another four to five years before the road work is done.

We decided to walk on the road from here and so we all climbed up to the road head from the river. It was so much easier walking on earthen roads after walking so many days on different forms of ice. We found there were bunch of BRO bunkers and a small tea shop where we had good hot tea.

The campsite of Tsarak Doh was on the Chadar bank after about 3 to 4 km from here. Lobsang ji had already told us that this campsite is very windy since it is open from three sides. We got down from the road head to the campsite (back on the Chadar) and realized that Lobsang ji was absolutely right. It was mighty windy and was so cold that it was almost impossible to stand outside the tent. We decided to have an early dinner and called it a day at 8 pm itself.

Previous     Next

Village of Pidmo

I repeat myself but last night was really very cold. When I got up at 6.30AM, it was snowing lightly outside. Arun asked me “Shilpa where did you take away the blue sky?”. Manish had told us earlier that snowfall is not good for Chadar, because when it snows the temperature is not very low and Chadar might be broken.

For a change from Porridge we had “Puri and chana” for breakfast. I was beginning to get sick of porridge by now and was really happy to know that most of my fellow trekkers shared the same feeling. We started earlier than usual today at 9.15 am.

I realized later that Snigdha had a major fall on the ice right in the beginning. After we started, we had to climb the rocks again. The porters took us on a wrong path and it was very risky and difficult to get down on Chadar. Satya and Mohan some how managed to come down with help of porters and when I tried the porters pulled me from all the directions and I lost my step but finally I managed to get down. Later on Lobsang ji suggested some simpler way and everybody got down from there relatively safely.

We were all happy that we were able to get down without much issue. As we progressed ahead on the Chadar, I heard somebody was calling my name and realized it was Mohan. He asked to me remove my overboots and give them to Snigdha as she was struggling with the very slippery ice today. In the sub zero temp, it was an effort for me remove the shoes. Later on, we came to know that she didn't need my shoes, she just wanted help with the ointment or spray on on her lower back which was hurting terribly because of the falls.

The next part of the Chadar was good. We just sailed through. The beauty around could not be explained in the words. I saw so many Rabbit Ear ( like Auden's Col ) formations around in the mountains. However on some sections we found the Chadar was about to break so Lobsang ji made us to hurry to cross.

I had started feeling hungry because it was already 1 pm and there was no sign of the lunch point. Finally I could see some porters had stopped and realized that it was lunch time. This place was called as Hanumil. The village of Hanumil was a little above the banks of the river, but was mostly deserted. It was a grassy meadow on the banks of the river, and there was fresh snow all over. It looked simply majestic and beautiful all around. After lunch, the later part of the walk was not on Chadar rather it was on the well marked trail. We climbed on towards the trail and saw that the fresh snow had covered most part of the trail. I asked Lobsang ji about how many days old this snow might be had been and he said might be about a week old. We were walking on a well marked trail with the majestic snow covered Zanskar ranges around us.

We took a break of about ten minutes near the Mani wall ( Prayer wall ) just outside the village. From this point the village of Pidmo was very clearly visible. There was one more route directly going towards Nerak through mountains. After walking for about an hour we reached the village of Pidmo. The village was in a small valley surrounded by magnificent snow clad mountains. Some kids playing outside and after lot of cajoling they allowed us to click their snaps.

We had planned to stay in one of the village houses and it was nice to see a bukhari again. After a while Subbu went to play football with the kids and came back bruised (not physically but mentally) as he had lost badly to the kids. In the evening, the entire gang gathered near the bukhari and had hot dinner. It was very comfortable inside the room. The chatty group that we were, we had a lot of stories to tell and jokes to crack.

Previous     Next

The Ancient kingdom of Zangla

Today was going to be a short and easy day. The trail was well marked and our destination was the village of Zangla. We needed to got down from the village to the road head. There was an old bridge on top the Zanskar river which had to be crossed.

We hit the trail just after crossing the bridge. There was one jeep going from Pidmo to Padum and our porters got a lift and carried the entire luggage in the jeep.

At least today while walking no great concentration was required. At least thats what I thought, but later saw Mohan struggle with slips on very hard and slippery ice on the road and realized how wrong I was. We reached Zangla in about 3 hours. There were around fifty odd houses scattered around and we didn't know which one we were planning to stay in. After a while we found our porters near a house and we got into there.

The whole village was surrounded by snow caped mountains. I was not sure what the villagers might be doing here in winters as the whole village was in a blanket of white. Mohan had been here in the summers and said that the village looked very different with lot of green around in summer.

There were couple of small villages like Pishu and Karsha close to Zangla and Padum was a further thirty odd kilometers away. As we went inside the house, it appeared like a typical Tibbetan house. The things were arranged very systematically and was very clean. Everybody was very relaxed because next day was going to be rest day. In the evening Satya went up for a walk near the old Zangla fort.

Rest day at Zangla

It was rest and laziness for all of us today. We woke up little late at 8. Nobody wanted to have porridge for the breakfast and Sandeep kept on repeating delicious street food Pau Bhaji, Bhel Puri, Masala Dosa which of course we couldn't get there.
Aound 11 AM we hiked upto the Zangla fort and some of team members decided to rest and they stayed back. The old king of Zangla still has an house at Zangla. The king himself stays at Leh. The fort was in bad condition. There were lot Chortans around, Chortans are where either very respected Llamas are buried or big sword or pistols and such weapons are buried.

The view from the Fort was amazing as we could see the whole of Zangla carpeted in a blanket of snow. The route to Leh over the Char Char la and Yumlang goes through the mountains nearby. We spent quite some time on the fort there and decided to explore the place a bit more. There was a water duct going behind the mountains so we followed it for sometime into the mountains. We then decided to return back for lunch. We were to learn later that a Hungarian team has taken up some restoration work for the fort at Zangla. A Hungarian traveler had stayed in Zangla and created one of the first Tibetan-English dictionary in the early part of the 19th century. More here

Later in the afternoon we decided to freshen up a bit. The last time we had had a bath was in Bangalore, and by this time we were possibly very smelly. Not that any of us had a problem with it, but some folks decided to wash up their hair. The water used to freeze immediately after a while. People with spiky hairdos were a funny site to behold. The evening was spent listening to some old movie songs on Subbu's MP3 player till it ran out of battery. Finally after dinner while everybody was trying to sleep, Mohan was talking with Raghu till late until Satya got up and gave both of them such a weird angry look that they decided to get some sleep and let others sleep.

Previous     Next

Back to Tsarak Doh and stuck on the Chadar

2nd Feb. It is already February. I have difficulty keeping up with dates on treks. In the morning I tried to convince Norbu, our cook to prepare something different for the breakfast but he didn't agree and we had what else, Porridge. We started at 9 towards Pidmo. Vani,Raghu and Snigdha decided to go in Jeep with all the porters till TSarak Doh while the rest of the gang started the walk towards Pidmo. The walk till Pidmo was nice and easy, we reached there by 11.15. The jeep would drop the first lot and come back to pick up us, that was the plan. At Pidmo we met another group on Chadar, a Japanese group and their porters. I heard the head porter of that group say that the Chadar is really good this time and he had not seen such a good Chadar in the last 12-13 years. I was happy to hear this but silently thought that I should not be jumping the gun. We still had a long way to go and just kept the fingers crossed.

We waited for jeep at Pidmo for sometime and later decided to walk. We were walking on the mettle road which was getting built between the Padum-Leh. We were walking at a very good pace and we crossed Hunmil in no time. Just about 6 to 7 km before the campsite, we saw two jeeps coming towards our side. These were our jeeps and we got on to the second one of them. Afte sometime we saw the jeep ahead of us had stopped and team members were taking some pictures. Lobsang ji came to us and asked “Snow Leopard dekhna hai ??”. We were so excited, we jumped out from the jeep. It was a dream come true. There was an animal chasing a group of Ibex. It was on the far side of the mountain and we could barely make out. Some of our team members tried to capture its picture. It was awesome site, something which I had only watched on T.V., a snow leopard chasing a herd of Ibex. People wait for years before they get a siting and here we were. Although we could not see very clearly, but still the site gave us goosebumps. (Snow Leopard photo by Subbu. It is the small animal seen at the center of the pic)

It was good day for all of us. We reached campsite at 1.30 in the afternoon. We had good hot tea and lunch. This was the windiest and coldest of all the campsites. Around 5 pm, Manish told us that the temperature inside his tent was -5 degrees so the temperature outside could be around -12 to -15.

We had early dinner and decided to hit the sack.

Stuck on the Chadar banks

Last night was I think the coldest night. In the morning, Imran told us that the temperature last night would have been in the high -20s.

By the time we got ready it was 8.30AM. It took really a lot of time to pack the sleeping bags and other stuff. We had a good breakfast and started at 9 AM. Despite the cold in the morning we were making good progress. We realized that we were now going downstream, so it was relatively easier to walk.

In about an hour and half we reached the point where we had used rope earlier to climb down because of the broken Chadar. Now we need to climb up and cross to the other side.

Some of the porters climbed first and with the help of Lobsang ji we all climbed up using the rope.

It took sometime for us to cross this section but all of crossed safely. I remembered that last time this was the only major hurdle between the campsites. I was happy and started dreaming about the warm room of Nerak. But as they say “Man proposes God disposes”. After a while we saw a group of villagers were sitting together and were having their lunch. We came to know that the Chadar was completely broken and for there was deep water for the next 200 meters. There was no way, this section could be crossed. There were sheer walls on all sides and no route over the rocks as well. The only thing we could do was to wait and pray for the river to freeze.

As we waited, we realized that it was very windy and cold. We did not feel the cold when we used to walk, however, once you sit idle, the cold gets to you. Someone suggested that we build a stone wall which we could use for protection from the wind and it would also help us keep warm as we do not sit idle. Everyone started gathering stones from around and helped to build a wall. It did help us keep warm for sometime.

In the afternoon our porters tried to give another shot to Chadar and tried to check if it were possible to cross it, but were out of luck. Lobsang ji decided to camp here itself because there was no way we could go back or go forward and we saw some other group was also coming towards us. So it was better to pitch our tents first. We decided we would not pitch all the tents because it would take lot of time to pack up again if needed to start.

Previous     Next