Parth Adhyaru, fitness expert and avid trekker, on the Zanskar river trek that he undertook last year.
Six months after I had rafted on the Zanskar river in Kargil, a friend told me, “You could walk on that river.” I had never heard of the Chadar trek, (named so because the river freezes over in winter). But when I read up on the trek, it fired my imagination. My friend and I decided to brave it last February.
The 70 km trek, from Chilling to Padum, needs a bit of preparation. We flew into Leh and decided to stay there for a few days to acclimatise ourselves to the cold and the altitude. Usually, it takes 72 hours to adapt, but we started half-a-day earlier, stopping on the way at a local market which caters exclusively to Chaddar trekkers, selling gear that withstands subzero temperatures. Many of these are second-hand, left behind by foreign trekkers, but they are affordable and appropriate for the chill. Soon, we were driving the 30 km that separated Leh from Chilling. That’s where the road ends and Chadar starts. That’s also where communication with the world ends. No cellular towers, no satellite cables, it’s a world where nature reigns supreme.
We were a team of seven, including our guide, porters, a cook and an assistant. Day one was completely devoted to training. I am a seasoned trekker, having covered parts of the Himalayas, but none of my previous experience was a patch on what we encountered. It was almost like learning to walk one step at a time — lift a foot, put it down, repeat, the drill went on as we waddled like penguins. I realised why only gumboots worn over layers of socks work; not only do they keep you warm, they save you from twisting your ankle.
It was late afternoon when I stepped on the river for the first time, and promptly fell. In another hour, we retired for the night near a place where the ice had melted, to help ourselves to water. Our local members put down their rucksacks and in no time, assembled a wooden sledge. They set up a modest kitchen with a few vessels, a kerosene stove and insulated containers to carry water. We had with us a lot of ready-to-eat food — semi-cooked chicken, instant noodles, theplas and nuts. That night, as we sat down to eat, it