Here begins a day full of excitement. I am generally an early riser and when on treks I become an even early riser. It’s a pure bliss to see the sunrise in the mountains while the rays beautifully glow golden line on snow capped mountain peaks. This part of Leh didn’t have so many snow-clad peaks and the sunrise was pretty late as this was winter trek. Generally, during the summer treks, you will have rise up by 4/4:15 in the morning to see the golden line (wherever possible). The phenomenon happens only for a few seconds once the sun rises and quickly vanishes as the sun goes up glowing the entire mountain.
In Leh, this time of the year early mornings are the best time to see a clear starry sky, especially after the moon has set somewhere post-midnight to very early in the morning. Watching the beautiful starry sky made me realize that I can’t read the sky and am now determined to learn a little bit about the night sky before I go back to the mountains again (don’t know if I can learn it so soon)
One of the deepest troubles trekkers face is washroom. On such high altitude treks, one can’t expect good washrooms and one need to adapt to what is available. Most trek companies carry a toilet tent and set it up close to their campsites. I strongly insist that trekkers should use these toilet tents and strictly refrain themselves from defecating in the open. Most trekkers avoid using these toilet tents and relieve themselves in the open which makes the surrounding shabby, stinky and unhealthy for trekkers. You can generally find a lot of such mess closer to any camping site, and it’s quite disgusting and awful sight. Trek companies should also voluntarily take stern steps to maintain hygienic and clean environment on the routes they organize their treks on.
Finally after our morning routine and pitiful of breakfast, we were finally all ready to go. We quickly climbed down the small pathway from our campsite and were straight at the banks of the magnificent frozen Zanskar, extremely eager to put our first step on the Chadar and begin the expedition. It was a long here uptill here..
Our trek leader Mahendra Singh conducted a final briefing here on the banks of the Zanskar river. The plan was simple. We step on the Chadar, walk slowly to get accustomed to the Chadar, eventually get used to it and walk our way up to Shingra Koma which was 12 Kms. from our current location, without falling.
So there, we stepped onto the Chadar finally. Waves of chilled shock raised from my legs gong upwards not just because of the ice beneath, but also a lot of the thought that this is the surface we stay on for the next 6 days. I kneeled down and reached my hand to touch the Chadar and patted her lightly. Thanked her for welcoming me uptill here and asked her the take care of me for the next few days. A cold of the hard ice beneath told me not to worry and just play the game…
Mountains have taught me that trekking is a game. There are few rules you need to abide to. As long as you abide by those rule even the mighty mountains will ensure that you are been taken care of. Mountains have taught me to stay humble. You can win the game even if you are playing it with the mountains. Don’t try to play it against the mountains – you will surely lose. Try to win the mountains and not conquer them, and they will help you win.
One rule on Chadar is to stay low (again a lesson to be extremely humble). Manage your weight and bow down to keep balance. Don’t walk erect or lean backward (don’t see the mountains in their eyes) Stay low, stay humble. If you abide this rule on your Chadar trek you will surely summit and comeback unbroken.
In our entire seven days where people fell down numerous times, cracked their bones, broke their tooth and took sledges to ride back I managed to complete the entire trek with just one minor fall during the return, thanks to the lessons mountains have taught me over the years.
Our day 1 on Chadar began pretty early in the morning. Generally, the sun rises pretty late in the winters plus Chadar flows all the way from between the Himalayan ridges. The cliffs on both sides are extremely high while the Zanskar flows in the channel between the hills. Thus it is difficult for sun rays to fall directly on the river for the most part of the day. Thus there was no sunlight around and we started walking over the Chadar in diffused daylight. The Chadar appeared to be glassy blue in the diffused early morning daylight making the rocks around look even darker and bolder as seen against the mystique ice.
As you start walking you realize that the ice is different in different areas and you need to articulate your walk to suit the surface beneath you. One gradually learns to read the ice and while the porters initially help to scrawl we gradually learn the trick – while the rule still applies.
It a surprise to see how the surface of the ice changes every few feet. Some places the ice is as hard as marble and there is no water feet’s beneath, while at someplace you walk on a transparent sheet of glass and can see the ice water flowing right beneath your feet. One crack to this sheet of glass and one will be in the freezing waters of Zanskar. (Local porters are very good rescuers and thus with good trekking companies you are always in safe hands unless you do something really foolish)
Once you familiarize yourself to the Chadar beneath your feet, take the liberty to look around. The sun had started rising somewhere high up and we would see the huge rock peaks beginning to shine upon us. It is dramatizing how we stand at the temperature much below -20 in a dark alley while the bright sun rays shine on the rocks high above. The chill in our bones wants that sunlight to come on us as a warm blanket, while the cold Chadar is the only blanket you have.
At some place, there are beautiful designs formed on the Chadar. They take the shape of flowers, stars or other natural forms but the unique feature about them is they are always symmetrical on particular pieces of Chadar making them look designed for the area.
The tall rocks on both sides of the trail are simply magnificent and their beauty cannot be truly explained in words. With thousands of years of climate change, withering, erosion these rocks have taken simply unbelievable shapes and forms. The formation adds to their mightiness. These rocks look like our ancestors looking upon us with all their scars of experiences and still smiling through their wrinkled skins motivating us to keep moving.
It is only at about 12/1230 in the afternoon after about 6 hours of walk on the Chadar that we came across a piece of land on the river bank where there was bright sunshine. The porters smartly decided to immediately declare it as a lunch point and started setting up the open kitchen.
Merely stepping into sunlight was a great relieve for us as the rays poured some warmth into our freezing selves. We settled down on the banks of Zanskar pretty tired out of our six hours walk. Our porter friends immediately served us with hot black coffee and biscuits while they ran back to cook our lunch. Lunch was our favourite Himalayan staple – Soupy Maggie. We relished multiple cups of the Maggie and prepared ourselves for the next haul. Time is extremely critical when in the mountains and you can’t afford to waste it. Sticking to this principle we immediately started walking towards our next base camp. Another two hours of walk over the Chadar we reached Shingra Koma. Shingra Koma is located about 3217 Mtrs. above the sea level. -10,555ft.
It was relieving to see bright sunlight at the Shingra Koma campsite. Tents were put up and the campsite was ready to welcome us as our porter friends kept a hot cup of black tea and pakoras ready for us.
Leaving our bags in the tent all trekkers gathered around the dinner tent for long sessions of chatting, games and laughter. A few rounds of Uno were played before piping hot soup was served followed by dinner. As we finished dinner and rose to go to bed a campfire was lit in the middle and everyone gathered around for a merry time. An equation that never goes wrong with the campfire is music and quite naturally this one was no exception. As people insisted that I should sing, I sang the song most close to my heart – “chand see mehbuba ho meri” and everybody joined in.
As the flams of the fire doused off we started moving towards our tents. As the temperature outside started dropping to its usual -20/22 C the warmth from around the campfire and all the music in our minds slowly drifted us into a deep sleep, for us to wake up tomorrow morning again and be embraced by our Chadar.
– Written by His Favourite Child