It is that time of the year again when the temperatures in Ladakh have gone south of zero degree celsius. The Zanskar river has started freezing slowly and in a month or so hordes of trekkers will start flying into Leh to participate in Chadar Trek. Tagged as the ‘Wildest trek on the planet the Chadar trekking season begins about a couple of weeks into the new year. If you’ve come here expecting to find some information,words of advice or encouragement this is not the place. On the contrary, as the title suggests, I will attempt the opposite.
“Wait a minute! Didn’t YOU go for the Chadar trek in 2014? And now you’re gonna tell us why we shouldn’t go and have a look at all those amazing things you saw?” is exactly what you want to say . Well, remember when you wanted to go to that restaurant in your city. But then this friend of yours recommended not to because he’d been there already and wasn’t too excited about it . Think of it as something like that.
“But oh for God’s sake! It is THE Chadar trek. Even we want to put some pictures of ours doing cool things on Facebook. Don’t spoil it for us, will you?” Exactly, my dears. Exactly (the first of) my points about why you I recommend you not to go for the trek.
Because Chadar trek isn’t about bragging rights
Telling people ‘I went for the wildest trek on this planet’ definitely sounds cool. Trust me the trek is a lot colder. A LOT. A LOT. I didn’t go to the Chadar trek because I wanted to show off on the internet. I had wanted to visit Ladakh in winters for a very long time. Before Ladakh was tagged as ‘roof of the world’ Before BBC’s human planet put Zanskar on TVs worldwide giving a rise to a number of Chadar trek organizers. Hell, it wasn’t even called Chadar trek then.
I went because I love the outdoors. I love mountains and I love trekking. In fact, a big reason I came back to India after being away for a couple of years was just because I missed the Himalayas so much. And then I spent close to 4 weeks earlier this year in those mountains.
Unfortunately, for a lot of participants the trek was about bragging rights. Something to add to their social media resume . Most of the participants in the trek in the trek aren’t even regular trekker. And quite possibly, they will never be trekking after this one. And that is the next of my reasons.
Because there are lot of first-time trekkers
If you’re a first-time trekker. allow me tell you something. A trek is not a picnic. From hills of the western ghats to the lower ranges of Himalayas often I’ve seen people who come to a trek expecting it to be a jolly walk. And two hours into it, they start complaining about how tough it is.
And Chadar trek is not just any trek. It is a relatively high altitude trek. A high altitude trek comes with its own set of challenges. And therefore if you’re a first-time trekker you shouldn’t go there just because you think you like trekking. Which most of the first timers do. Liking trekking isn’t enough. Trekking demands discipline, maturity, and character. Funnily enough, the very things that are required while trekking are built because of trekking. But these are not the qualities you should think of imbibing at 11500 ASL in sub-zero temperatures.
I’ve been trekking for about 15 years now. In 2014 when I went for Chadar trek it was my 3rd Himalayan trek in the 12 months preceding it. It took me a long time to convince myself because somehow I was afraid I might be a reason for it getting commercialized in the future. It had already happened by then. And I saw that it wasn’t helping anyone – my next explanation as to why I don’t recommend it
Because the trek is hurting locals and the river
For centuries the trek was a just way for the locals of Zanskar to access Leh. They walked on the frozen Zanskar to be able to get to Leh only when they needed to. Therefore the traffic on the Chadar highway was minimal. With the coming of recreational adventure lovers, the Chadar is not longer the same. Now on any given day during the Chadar trek season, there are about 300 people including the participants and the trekking crew.
So if at places the Chadar melts there’s not enough time for it to freeze back to a solid state with so much of human traffic 2-3 times a week. Therefore there may be times when locals might not be able to cross the river on a given day because
a) global warming the temperatures were not cold enough for the river to freeze and form a sheet of ice as hard as rock
b) because the participants on the trek had a fixed schedule and therefore waded through half frozen over wearing not giving it time to freeze
The Chadar trek for me was an opportunity to interact with the locals, get to know about their life in winters and help by contributing to the local economy. I found out that it wasn’t so. There were always non-locals in the trekking staff. Why? Because possibly the organizers pride themselves in providing full-scale meals with paneer, pooris and what not. Not local delicacies. And therefore they hired cooks who could do that. The trekking crew had to cook their own food because the sumptuous menu was for participants only.
That was insensitive and foolish. That bring me to last of my reasons
Because people are stupid.
This video did a lot of rounds on Facebook. I was shocked. How could any trek organizer allow their participants to take a dip in the river in sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes? And irrespective of that, how could people be so stupid to do it.
This act could’ve been fatal to those who indulged in it for the sake some foolhardy dare. At that altitude and temperatures, the threat of hypothermia or hyperthermia increases greatly when you stupidly participate in such activities. They not only risk them but many times put the safety of a lot of others at stake. When will people ever realize that the elements of nature demand the highest level of respect?
Of course this might be a one-off incident, however, there is some general level of insensitivity all around. Like playing songs on their phone or even worse singing themselves.
I realize that I’m being rudely harsh to people who just want to try something new or adventurous. Is it not the point in life? To take on new challenges and have a bit of fun?
However, The lack of interaction between our trekking support crew and fellow participants during my trek was disappointing. As I spent my evenings in the kitchen tent talking to them about their lives many preferred to be curled up in their tents until it was the call for dinner. Or complain and be disrespectful when things didn’t go their way. Playing music in the peaceful surroundings was the norm or talking loudly while walking were some other things things that. These experiences, therefore put a dampener on my trek. And the reports since then haven’t been encouraging. Therefore I don’t see myself participating in this trek or recommending it to other in the future.
Have you been to Chadar trek? Or are you planning to? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. And spread some social media love by sharing using the links below. And as always, thanks for reading.
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