When I went walking on a Frozen River - A Photo StoryMonday, March 31, 2014
|Chadar - The Frozen Zanskar River|
Here's my story and of the river's, as we trudged in subzero temperatures over the ever-changing Chadar for 11 days.
[P.S - All those of you who were kind enough to answer my B&W or Color question on Twitter and Facebook, I am not ignoring your response. Color pictures coming soon in a new album. :) Thought B&W binds the story better here.]
|The confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers, the one on the left is Indus. Till a decade from now, Chadar used to form till here. Expeditions to Zanskar valley were at least a 30 day affair, a far cry from today's one week short walks. The road you see to the left didn't exist. Today, even the Chadar doesn't fully form.|
|Clear nights are a good sign. It means the Chadar won't possibly break and will remain intact. The starry skies look splendid but it is hard to admire the celestial opulence when every inch of your body is struggling to stay warm in the minus temperatures. We don't hang around outside much unless there's a fire going on. There are limited dried up juniper trees next to the river side, they provide the much needed warmth.|
|This is the Chadar, meaning blanket in Hindi - A blanket of ice. Beneath these volatile sheets, flow waters that run deep. The ice forms during the winters, in January/February to be precise. This is what we walked upon for over a week. The ice is ever-changing, it breaks, moves, flips, forms and breaks again. There's never the same sight to be seen again. In a day, the Chadar can change completely.|
|The Chadar breaks often, in such cases we try to cross over the banks as seen here. If not, we wade through the bone-chilling waters to get to solid frozen section of the river. Luckily we had very few ankle deep water crossings. Rest of the time clambering up the rocky and rickety slopes got us through.|
|It is bad news when it snows. It might seem counterintuitive but it gets warm when it snows. This warmth causes the Chadar to melt, break and water to flow over the Chadar. However, the snow makes the walking very easy. The normally glossy sheets of ice, when covered in snow provide much needed friction. This arrests the otherwise inevitable multiple slips and falls.|
|This takes some getting used to, walking on thin ice ledges with deep waters running right next to you. One can never tell when it'll break. I saw a Thai hiker fall knee deep through the ice sheet on a ledge like this right in front of me. My heart skipped a beat. So must have his. He got up and started walking and so did I. Well, what can I say? It's all part of the Chadar experience.|
|The famous frozen waterfall of Nerak and the old bridge used during the summers in the distance. It was snowing relentlessly that day and we walked with the powdery snow hitting our faces ever so gently. The skies were gray and the mountain tops were covered in a white mist. It was strange mix of raw nature and gentle beauty. Things could've gone wrong, bad weather in the mountains is no joke. But as long as they don't, it is only beautiful, extremely.|
|From Nerak, we took an extended deviation to the remote village of Lingshed. We left the river and followed the trail of a small stream flowing through narrow gorges. The gorges were as narrow as just under a meter wide at places. After the monotonous walk on the river, this route brought as an exciting change in scenery. I was initially much disinterested but as spectacular views opened up, I quite enjoyed the walk. We climbed over huge rocks, narrow ledges alongside deep slopes and it was all covered in white except for the blue sky above. But in the end, all I remember is the cold and the white snow.|
|Lingshed village is one of the many remote yet beautiful villages hidden in the valleys of Himalayas. With a handful of houses and a monastery, Lingshed is remoteness personified. Surrounded by snow covered mountains on all sides, living in a place like this, even for a day, puts things into perspective. It takes 2 days for them to reach out to civilization, by walking over the frozen river. Otherwise, during summers they trek over high passes.|
|On the third day when it was snowing incessantly, we thought it'd be a good idea to climb up to Nerak village on a steep snow-ridden trail late evening. It wasn't a good idea, it was a bad idea but the effort was worth it. The pretty village was completely snow ridden, the evening was very cold and we were shivering. But a helpful villager offered us shelter and warmth. On our way back, we slid, got stuck on steep slopes, had our hearts in our mouths several times but made it back in one piece. Some adventures are to be had.|
|My gumboots and one of the many forms of Chadar, the frozen bubbles are seen through the glossy ice here. It feels wonderfully weird to walk on ice where we can see beneath our feet, the stones, the bubbles and the cracks. There's never a dull moment on the Chadar, despite the monotonicity of the idea of walking on a river for weeks. The Chadar keeps you on your feet and leaves you only with a lifetime of memories. One of the most interesting treks I have ever come across, I'm glad to have experienced this truly unique adventure.|
Note : I went for this trek on invitation in January 2014. The trek was made possible by founder of Himalayan Explorers Club, Rohit Khattar(+91-7602865245/ firstname.lastname@example.org). Rohit is a former corporate employee who fell for the mountains and now organizes small group treks to Chadar.