The Zanskar region of Ladakh is one of the oldest inhabited regions of the world. It has wild and solitary valleys at over 13,000 ft (4000 meters) in the Himalayas. In winter, Zanskar is isolated. Only in January and February is there a way to visit this incredibly unique world: the canyon of the Zanskar River. This trek is an adventure on the so called Chadar or ice covering the river from the village of Chiling to Lingshed.
For this expedition you are accompanied by local staffs from Zanskar, all the porters, and guide are from Zanskar itself, in every sense we want to give you a local feeling, and it helps the visitors to interact easily with local families, and monks. You will never forget the gathering and camp fire in evening, at some places you have to sleep in caves, which will give you a life time experience.
Day 1: DRIVE TO CHILLING AND TREK TO TILAD DO (3100m/10230ft)
After breakfast we will be on the move, driving through the suburbs of Leh, then along the Indus valley. The camp is on a sandy plateau to one side of the Zanskar.
Day 2: Trek to Gyalpo camp (3170m/ 10461ft). Breakfast call is 7:30, but your gear and tent have to be packed by then! We prefer to stay on the river, and you will see Zanskaris take real risks to avoid rock climbing. The ice conditions are too varied (and beautiful) to list, but there are one or two things to bear in mind. You will find yourself rapidly relaxing as you walk, enjoying the views; watching for wildlife. You will develop a sense of the safe and unsafe ice, and learn to catch yourself if you slip. Be sure to use your poles if you want to sound the ice. The ice conditions change quickly and what takes an hour at noon can take three hours by 3pm. Today we will pass through what the porters call ‘Chadar Gate’, a little surprise for the trekkers. By 3-4pm we should be in camp on a plateau above the river. Today we start putting up our own tents.
Day 3: Trek to Dib Cave (3225m/10642ft). This is a stunning day as the river starts to curve and you can see the uphill slope of the ice as we ascend the river into Zanskar. We pass incredible waterfalls on our left, normally frozen into aquamarine ice cliffs. The waterfall was said to have come from a river given to local people who visited Tibet centuries ago to plead for water for their barren land. They were given a box which they were told they must open only on their return home. The curious Zanskaris were nearly home when one of them opened it; out jumped a tiny fish, and the river sprung from the ground high above here. Also today we will probably have to climb briefly above the river – on the sharp bends the speed of the current breaks up the ice. Lunch is on a rocky beach by the river, and camp is near one of the many caves that are blackened by centuries of use by the fires of locals.
Day 4: Trek to Nerak camp (3390m/11187ft) Another beautiful day starts with crags that seem to leap up from the frozen river surface, and ibex can usually be seen defying gravity far above. After lunch we pass the ‘incense tree’, so called because the locals use its branches to burn in their morning rituals, and the prayer flag draped tree marks the entrance to Zanskar proper. The porters will normally take a few twigs from the tree, then tear a small piece of prayer flag to wrap it in, and present it to you. Welcome to Zanskar!
An hour later we turn a corner, and there, high above the river, is the bridge that links Zanskar with Ladakh, and Nerak village with Lingshed Monastery. The valley gorge opens up, and we see the small huts that mark some of the summer grazing of the Neraks villagers. The village is far above. A trail is normally beaten through the snow to these huts, where we camp.
Day 5: Trek to Lingshed (3870m12771ft). We follow a narrow gorge to Lingshed village. We are going higher today, and you will feel it. Add fresh snow, and it will be harder still. On arrival we are staying with friends in the village; a room will be swept clean for us, and we can spread our mats out on the floor, and enjoy sitting and eating around a stove. Tomorrow is a rest day!
Day 6: Rest day and visit Lingshed Gompa (4000m/13200ft)?We climb the steep trail to the famous monastery spectacularly situated below a cliff face studded with old meditation caves.
High to the right you can see the Morgon La, at 4100m/13530ft on the summer trekking route, and as we climb, look back over your shoulder to that huge icy wall – the Hanuma La, familiar to all Zanskar summer trekkers for its brutally steep descent.
Day 7 – 15: Trek back to Chilling and drive to Leh. You have not done the Chadar unless you walk both ways! It is four easy gently downhill days back, if the Gods are happy with us; we have a spare day to play with. We use different camps on the way back (usually) and it really is even more beautiful. Weather changes, light comes from different angles, illuminating different colours. And of course, the ice! The last day we have an easy three hour walk, and there are the jeeps waiting for us high above the river. Have we really been walking on water? It is a three hour drive to Leh, then that hot shower.