A cake amidst the Frozen River

A cake amidst the Frozen River

Here I was!!

So here I was!!!! A long-awaited adventure, over approx. 11000 Ft above the sea level, miles and miles apart from my home town, also miles away from the human civilization, standing on a Frozen River. Every adventure seeker in India, has once in his life at least thought of an adventure like this.

As likely, this place could be the gateway of the heaven, the heaven-Kashmir, and the gate way- Ladakh. 

Chadar Trek- A walk on the Frozen River
Chadar Trek- A walk on the Frozen River

What brings me on the Frozen River??

I have been a mountain person ever since childhood, never happened to get a chance to camp around the mountains though. The moment I learnt about this trek through social media, I started gathering information on it, I also started having dreams of sleeping in the tents. These dreams seemed to have an increasing strong effect on me day by day.

How i planned for it??

I learnt a lot browsing through the internet, you could say I pretty well had much information about the trek before even finalizing my plan. I kept talking and babbling about it in my friend circle, maybe even bored few with the same topic over and over again. And my biggest dream was to celebrate my birthday in ice, no grand party no drinks, just me with my true self in the ice and adventure. Therefore, I had planned my dates accordingly through a travel company named Thrillophilia

Completely frozen River
Some places the river freezes completely creating a ice bridge between the mountains

Pitching in the others.

This babbling gave me fellow adventurers, adventurers- I would say because this is not a leisure travel, but a pure hardcore adventure. I could make up a group of 7 people along with me to take up this adventure. I convinced my bestie, 2 colleagues at office, and they intern challenged 3 more, so 7 we were from here- my home town-Pune.

Introduction to the Frozen River.

Trekking in Ladakh has gained immense popularity in the recent years, and Chadar developed as one of the favorite treks located in this region. “The Chadar trek” or “The Zanskar George” as they call it, is a winter trail in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, lying in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This river freezes in Winter, forming a blanket of ice, the name of Chadar implies this ice blanket.

This trek could be a once-in-a-life adventure for us, but is a lot more than a trek to the people inhibited in the Zanskar region. This approx. 70 Km route was discovered as a trade route between Zanskar region and Ladakh by the local people of Zanskar.

In Winter, a long road that passes a high pass- called as Penzi—La is blocked due to heavy snowfall, making it unusable for vehicles to pass by. The river located at these low temperature, freezes, forming a layer of ice on the top and banks, making it favorable for locals to commute.

The locals here find it easy to skid along on the slippery ice of the Chadar, as that’s what they are used to, also their body is well accustomed to the adverse climatic conditions of this region.

First steps on the Frozen River.

Finally, Here I was after ample acclimatization!!!

Standing on the banks of this river, the time of the year was January when the temperature falls approx. to -19 degrees in the day and up to -40 degrees at night. Hence you could imagine me with layers of clothes stuck up on me before I have my final winter jacket, and Oohh!! don’t forget the accessories, I am also wearing 2 gloves one woolen and one leather, 3 socks and 2 head caps ,1 woolen muffler cum face mask. Plus, dry fruits and mobiles and battery banks stuffed in my pockets, also made me look weirdly bulky. The only part left uncovered was my eyes.

First steps on the Frozen River
My first steps on the Frozen River

After a lot of shivering, a moment of weakness, and a rush of adrenaline, I carefully place my first footstep on the ice – “The Chadar”. Yes of course, this part was tricky as we had not yet broken into our gumboots and they felt weird yet, just as funny as the dogs feel on wearing their booties on the first time, and moreover this ice here was think and smooth. Smoother the ice, the more unstable your grips are.

The moment I put in pressure on my footstep, I start to womble, a very unstable grip, and on top of that I have two left feet, however, after a great self-persuasion session I managed to land my second footstep on the ice too.

This moment, any words in any dictionary cannot put in justice to what I felt, a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of accomplishment, a thrill, adrenaline rushing downwards my spine etc….., like I said no adjective seems to fit in this feeling. Of course, it was scary, but this adds up to the fun, and adventures are never easy.

My first fall.

We had been taught the penguin walk where the foot has to be slided on ice more than its lifted, we started our baby steps on the ice, enjoying the uncertainty. This was a lot funny as we already looked like big fat penguins. I start taking my steps- baby steps, first, second, third, fourth, and there I go…….thuuuuuddddddd……

Never admit you fell, Always be photograph ready

I lose my grip and land down on my bum. Ouch but it didn’t hurt as much as falling on the normal ground, plus it warmed me up, also the fall was so funny, that everyone around me had started laughing and the anxiety was gone knowing that this is going to happen every now and then with most of us.

Proceeding ahead the same way for not more than 10 mins, our hearts panicked again as we saw there was no Chadar formed and we had to climb the adjacent mountain where there was a side walk a further up made by the trekkers early morning.

This was a pretty steep climb with loose rocks. We had two guides, one climbed this up like a monkey, the experts followed him, but slipped through the rocks several times. A moment of quitting had crossed our mind already. Somehow, we managed to climb these rocks after multiple falls and rock slips.

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The End of the First Day.

The first day was tiring. Walking distances in these extreme conditions wasn’t easy.  There was a lot to see, the height of the mighty mountains made us feel so minute. The water here was sapphire blue in color, and crystal clear.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B4q-HlUnB7j/

As we covered the distance, the force of the Zanskar river increased. After covering a distance, we were served lunch which was chole and chapati. I can tell you at this temperature whatever you get to eat is tasty, not that our chefs weren’t appreciated enough, but I found myself eating and loving this biscuit brand also, which I would never opt to eat back at home. I never liked those, but things were different here.

We reached our camp site around 5PM, the porters had already put up our tents, and had also made some hot tea. There was also a separate toilet tent, I was very curious about it so I had been the first one to go inside. Not only were we relieved to finally reach out camp, but also tired. We had made 2 more friends and now the 7 of us had become 9. We requested the porters to arrange the dinner tent for our accommodation as it was bigger in size and could accommodate all of us together, and trust me this was the best decision ever.

Our camping sights- woh pink wala tent <3
Our camping sights- woh pink wala tent <3

With so many sleeping together, there was more fun, as well as more bodies radiating heat, hence our tent was comparatively warmer than the smaller tents. Yes, there was congestion but, no, we did not mind it at all. After dinner of vegetable pulao, and some daily procedures of socks changes and one dose of brandy, it was time to go to bed. We had to go to pee forcibly, because no one would wish to get out of the sleeping bags at the cold midnight temperatures. 

Sleeping in Sleeping bags for the First Time

Each were given two sleeping bags to slip into, one as a cover and one as an outer. The guides were helping us covering up with the sleeping bags as getting packed up comfortably in 2 of them was a huge task. I also remember me getting claustrophobic every night.

It was as good as getting yourself packed up in a coffin where you would never move, because moving inside 2 bags and adjusting them comfortably after that took a hell lot of efforts. The zip of my sleeping bag was tangled with the cloth making it impossible for me to slide it, so I remember waking up a friend and he pulling me out of the bag, literally like pulling out a caterpillar of out its cocoon.

Anyways, the night was pretty cold, it took ages for me to fall asleep, 1. Because the tent light was refused to be put off, 2. Everyone around me was snoring. 3. It somehow was too hard to bear the cold. Finally drifting in my thoughts my body had given up.

Mornings on the Frozen River.

Until morning, we heard our guide calling to us “Madam ji, Sir ji, utho aur age chalna hai, jaldi utho tairyar ho jao, breakfast taiyar hai”. We still took a moment to fall on top of each other whom we were fond of just to get warm by the heat radiated from their body. No one brushed; hence I too had skipped and directly drank my tea, which was a black tea, again never in my life had I drunk black tea, but as I said everything in these extreme conditions is very tasty.

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After our breakfast we started our journey again, walking, sliding, and falling on the ice. Most of us could have a bum bone fractured if bums really could come with bones. The moments when sun shone directly upon us were the only moments of relieve, and never was I ever grateful for the sun being just him, the unusually irritating guy with his over warmness.

We started meeting fellow travelers who were on their return back to the starting point. We interacted with quite a few, some sacred us, some gave us hope, some just amused by the beauty.

Yet another night on the Frozen River.

The second night, again getting inside the sleeping bag made me anxious. But again, somehow when you face these adversities, your body gives up. This was a full moon night, the mountains were playing the shadow games unlike the pitch darkness of the previous ones we came across a day before. This night, the camp was very near by the river, hence it felt colder. I had woken up midnight to pee and I tell u it was hell of a Roadies task, and had me pulled my guts to my mouth.

Somehow the night passed faster than expected, they say when you like doing what you are, time flies faster. And I had always wanted to do this.

The Special Night, at the Frozen Waterfall

We started the third day, this time with black coffee…amazingly yuckkk!!!! This was the day we had planned to reach the frozen water fall of Zanskar. We walked and walked again. The moment we had our eyes caught to anything other than our own footsteps on ice, we used to go off balance and land on our bums.

It was almost by 4PM we reached our camp site, and nearly 30 mts from this site was the Waterfall- Naerak Waterfall they say, a huge wide enough waterfall totally frozen, I cannot ever forget the beauty of this. It had small crystals of ice which reflected millions of small rainbows. It was majestic.

The Frozen Waterfall
The Frozen Waterfall

Also mingling with our guides, we found out that there is Naerak village nearby, and were amused by the fact that the whole village had only 3 houses, 1 grocery store and 1 monastery.

We couldn’t even imagine how people lived here, as this was the coldest point of our trek. We were also visited by the local monastery kids for some donations. We were astonished of how easily they could climb the mountains. One of the guys with us also literally tried to climb but took him half an hour to reach the point, where in this kid had done it in 2 minutes.

With the Locals of Naerak Village
With of of the only few Locals of Naerak Village

Tonight, was my night, it was my birthday starting 12 Am, and here I was, me and my adventure.

Some moments, I caught slipping away.

I had already got my gift – the experience of being at a frozen waterfall. I was already very happy at this place, so happy that the cold didn’t bother me now, the black coffee didn’t seem bitter, the pain in my bum went unnoticeable, and the sleeping bags weren’t claustrophobic any more. Tonight, was the night, at stroke 12, I had planned I would just give myself time to be grateful that I was able to make it up to here and spend time in silence thinking about my life, as my mind had been de-cluttered by now.

Everyone had eaten food and slept off, I also tried but as this was the moment of my life which I had waited for several birthdays now, I could not sleep. My mind kept wandering in the mountains. I finally felt the feeling where people say “this is what I was living for”. I realized many things, out of which many were the different levels of myself- my patience, my determination, perseverance to endure this adventure, and my efforts to make my dreams fall in place.

I knew I was stronger than I ever imagined myself to be. The most important thing I learnt about myself is that I never really wanted to get myself an boring 9-5 job, which doesn’t even compensate me well enough for the work I do.

The Birthday Surprise

Just then I heard noises outside, like as if there was someone, the noises were so weird I thought probably it could be a mountain wolf, or maybe a mountain dog – we had already seen one today. Before I could understand anything, the zip of our tent opened, and in peeked everybody one by one. First our guide, then all other fellow travelers.

The Most Special Cake on my Life

The ones in my tent were also up in an instant. Suddenly I was the center of attraction, with everyone’s eyes focused on me, and a big smile on all faces. From behind comes the chef, with 2 plates on top of other like one dish covering the other, he comes infront of me and removes the covered plate, and says “ madamji ke birthday ke liye toh cake banta hai na dessert me”

A Birthday cake on the Frozen River
A Birthday cake on the Frozen River

I couldn’t contain my happiness, if anyone could have seen me smile, it was ear to ear smile. I found out that my friend had told the guide and then guide told the chef about my birthday, and the chef had prepared a cake from biscuits. I have never seen a surprise like this in my life.

This cake was so special for me because making a cake out of no resource, baking it up without any cooker and that too on a old styled stove, was unimaginable, plus it was my dream night that came up with this surprise.

Everyone was waiting for me to cut the cake, so after the emotional moment, I grabbed the knife and cut the cake, simultaneously everyone singing the birthday song. I cut pieces for everyone and personally feed them those pieces. I felt like doing it because I was so thankful for everyone to be a part of this surprise. I also hugged the chef while I fed him his bit, and tears could not contain both his and my eyes.

The one who made my Birthday cake- Our Cook
The one who made my Birthday cake- Our Cook

This feeling of being appreciated and given a surprise at midnight by a bunch of strangers who you have known for just two days, this happiness is beyond the level known to my heart. I shall never forget this birthday in my life.

After the cake everyone slept off and the next morning, we started our return journey back towards the starting point. It was a two-day journey. Luckily it had also snowed on my birthday night, making the chadar stronger, and less smooth. The fresh snow gave us grip, and we fell lighter to walk on it. I also tried pulling a porter’s carriage and it was fun, but all the more exhausting. I couldn’t imagine walking with it the whole day.

The climate was very favorable with the sun shining widely, ear to ear as me. I also had a sip of ice-cold water directly from the icy river, with supervision of our guide of course. The moment my lips touched the ice-cold water, I felt a cold shudder running down my body. Yes, damaged a bit, the crack in my lips grew wider and hurt more as they froze and took a lot of time to get back to normal.

Heading back

Finally, on the fifth day we were all back safely seated in our tempo traveler to head back to Leh. It felt worse to leave Zanskar behind with so many memories attached. Not a single soul would have felt easy departing from here, everyone had some of the other first moment of their lives, like I had many- walking on ice for the first time, seeing a frozen waterfall first time, camping in the mountains for the first time, drinking black teas for the first time etc.

The last snap- with Friends, New Friends, Locals, Porters and Guides who helped us through sustainibility.

I recommend this kind of adventure to everyone reading this post, not particularly Chadar trek, but do follow your dreams, it’s the place where you mirror yourself to see a better version of yourself.  I took a decision here to follow my travel dreams from now on, and I am presently working on them, giving my life a major turn soon.

I learnt that for any task you take up in life, the preparation is more critical than the task itself.

Life is full of surprises; you need to be able to search the right place for one.

With adventure filling your heart, you get the courage to choose your direction in life. Someone once had told me “you are where you want to be” and I never felt it so true, the place where you are now is somehow a portrait of all the colors you decided to fill your life with in the past. I am very close to leaving my “9-5 boring job which doesn’t even compensate me enough” for a life filled with travel and adventure.

I have always loved this quote from Dr.Seuss that applies to both adventure and life:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

So, time to get out of your boring lives, and bang on to an adventure.

~Author

Narita Mahajan

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