The winter in the Himalayas attracts the high adrenaline adventurers around the globe to the cold desert town of Leh for the Chadar Trek. The Zanskar valley in Ladakh turned into a bride decorated in the glacial beauty on the onset of the hypothermic winter. As the winter casts its cold spell, the mercury rushes to the south and the ferocious Zanskar River flowing through remote and wild Zanskar valley turns to a frozen ice sheet (locally called as “Chadar” hence the name Chadar Trek).The hikers/Trekkers around the globe throng to the Zanskar valley to walk on the frozen ice sheet on the Zanskar river to explore the stunning beauty of high altitude river in the picturesque valley. Dubbed as one of the most glamorous and adventurous trek, this unique trek tops the adventurer’s list of things to do in Ladakh in the winter. Remote to the core, wild to the wildest and extreme to the edge, the adventurous Chadar trek is every adventurer’s amzonian dream.
My date with Chadar Trek happened three years back in 2013 after watching the River series on the BBC documentary “Human Planet”. The narration of a winter trek to the school through the mesmerizing beauty of the frozen Zanskar river narrated by the master narrator John Hurt provoked the adventurer in me to book the Chadar trek the next winter. It was an absolute incredible winter trek that year. The Zanskar river was frozen, frigid and beautiful basking in the arctic white of the frozen ice. Fast forward to the 2016, everybody is now talking about the precarious state of the Chadar Trek.
The hikers are flocking for the Chadar trek in this winter. Last year the Chadar trek was cancelled by the Leh Administration considering the safety aspects of the hikers due to the landslide on one of the tributary of the Zanskar river. That has led to the surging numbers of the hikers this season. This winter i was back in Leh for my Markha valley trek. We met a lot of hikers in the Leh town who were either preparing for the Chadar trek or were coming back from the Chadar Trek. Everywhere there were discussions on the state of Chadar in the Zanskar river. Some hikers told their stories how they had to climb the peaks on the bank of the river for the trek as the river was not frozen. Some agencies and trek leaders told us that some of their groups had to cut short the trek from 7 days to 3 days due to the incomplete formation of the Chadar.Even one of the trek leader from a reputed hiking agency quipped that the Chadar Trek will be history in a few years.
Unfortunately this year the Chadar has not been formed properly till late January. The locals say the winter is not that much cold this year in Ladakh and some even goes further to say the impact of climate change is being felt in the Ladakh region. The fragile Himalayan ecosystem is changing fast.The El Nino effect of 2015 has made it the warmest year in the recent times the effect of which is reverberated in the Himalayas this winter.The snow coverage of the peaks at the peak of the winter are much less than it used to be in the normal winters and the Zanskar river is showing erratic freezing patterns.
The entire winter economy of the Zanskar region depends on the Chadar Trek.The local Zanskari people are employed as cooks,porters,guides and trek leaders for the trek as they are the only ones who know the terrain better and can withistand and work in such extreme low temperatures.Also in the absence of a motorable road,the frozen river works as a logistical lifeline for the Zanskar region.If the erratic pattern of freezing continues,the day will not be far when we will see a gushing Zanskar river in the peak of the winter.If that happens,it will throw the entire winter economy of Zanskar region into disarray.
The onslaught of the unrestricted access to the frozen river in large groups by the hiking agencies and the use of crampons on the Chadar is destroying the sanity and beauty of Chadar in the frozen river. The river is made to be a money minting machine disregarding its environmental and ecological impacts.The adventurer in me is apprehensive that this beautiful trek is slowly slipping into history.The Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council, the All Ladakh Tour Operators organisation and the local Zanskari people must sit together to find a sustainable and amicable way to preserve this unique trek in the lap of the Himalayas so that we can celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of this trek without endangering its very survival.