Himalayas

The Shadow of Climate Change on “Chadar Trek”

February 1, 2016

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.

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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.

At some places the frozen ice resembles a transparent sheet of glass

At some places the frozen ice resembles a transparent sheet of glass

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.

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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.

 

Sometimes the river is half frozen even in the peak of winter

Sometimes the river is half frozen even in the peak of winter

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 climate change is affecting the freezing pattern of the Zanskar river

The climate change is affecting the freezing pattern of the Zanskar river

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.

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25 Comments

  • Reply Divsi February 2, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Very well documented! Welcome to the blogging world Ajaya 🙂 looking fwd to read many more trekking tales and travel stories 🙂

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout February 3, 2016 at 1:42 am

      Thank You so much Divsi.

  • Reply Asif Khan February 12, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Impressive Ajaya…..but it has generated a fear in my mind that will i get a chance to see this beauty before it vanishes…. 🙁

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout February 13, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you Asif, i hope you get to do the Chadar trek before it slips into the history books.

  • Reply Manish Adlakha February 26, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Nicely written Ajay 🙂 and the memories flood back…

    With the Chilling-Padum road also about to be completed in a few years, seems the trek will be history very soon.

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout February 28, 2016 at 12:24 am

      Thank You Manish.
      After the completion of the road to Padum,the story of Chadar trek will be over.

  • Reply astha April 1, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Great post Ajaya, I have friends who have been to Chadar.. hasn’t it been closed now because of the heavy crowds?

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 2, 2016 at 12:43 am

      Thank you Astha.It is not closed fortunately.I hope you get to do the adventure of Chadar trek next winter.

  • Reply Ami April 9, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    The pictures are just amazing. Chadar trek is something I really am aiming for and someday, hope to do it. Now even more so after seeing this post

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 9, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you so much Ami.I hope you will get to walk on the frozen Zanskar river next winter and live your dream of Chadar Trek.

  • Reply Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld April 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    This looks to be at the extreme end of the adventure scale and what an experience it must have been! It’s a shame the Chadar track story will soon come to an end but I think I would have left it to you anyway – I’m not built for the cold 😉

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 17, 2016 at 12:36 am

      Yes Vicki,it is really adrenaline adventure to walk on the frozen river.Its extreme cold out there but you can manage it.Add this trek to your bucket list and chase the winter in the Zanskar valley.

  • Reply Akid April 17, 2016 at 12:17 am

    You look like you’ve had an awesome adventure, it’s a unique perspective and I’ve not seen this on any blogs I’ve read before. May I ask how much this set you back?

  • Reply Kerri April 17, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Very interesting. I couldn’t imagine myself ever doing this so was great to read about those who do.

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 18, 2016 at 1:36 am

      Thank you Kerri.

  • Reply Heather April 17, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    It’s such a balance isn’t it, between wanting tourism for the economy, not wanting tourism due to environmental pressures, and then of course thrown in the climate and life up there is as you say pretty unsettled. I saw this trek on on Human Planet a few years ago too, we certainly do have some amazing places on earth!

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 18, 2016 at 1:35 am

      Heather,We have some incredibly beautiful places on earth that still boast untouched pristinity.But sadly greed is taking over the Ecological concerns in these environmentally sensitive regions.

      I still watch that episode on Zanskar river even after walking on the frozen river.I love the Himalayas in winter.

  • Reply Matthias April 18, 2016 at 12:50 am

    Woooow, what an amazing adeventure you had mate! This looks soo stunning! But yeah, I hear you regarding the tourism and climate change dilemma! 🙁

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 18, 2016 at 1:28 am

      Thank you Matthias.It’s a beautiful place with its scenic splendour and it’s pristinity intact. But things are changing fast in the valley due to climate change.

  • Reply Takoyacki April 18, 2016 at 1:07 am

    Nicely written and beautiful pictures.

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 18, 2016 at 1:29 am

      Thank you so much Takoyacki.

  • Reply Paul April 18, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    Such a shame that this trek may soon be a thing of the past. It looks like you had an epic time whilst you were there!

  • Reply Holly April 18, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Good read. You make some great points. Looks like you had a nice time too.

  • Reply Tom April 19, 2016 at 2:30 am

    Those pictures are incredible, certainly looks like an interesting place to visit. Hopefully, it is not destroyed by climate change in the future

    • Reply Ajaya Kumar Rout April 20, 2016 at 1:55 am

      Thank You Tom.The Zanskar valley is one of the most scenic and remote place in the Himalayas.It is every aventurer’s dream.But sadly climate change is knocking at its door .

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