Experience The Zanskar Trek, Leh

All You Need To Know About The Zanskar Valley Trek


One of the most thrilling and challenging treks in the entire world is the Zanskar Trek. While trekking through the frozen river of the Zanskar Valley and untangling the mysteries of the Himalayas, trekkers have often exclaimed entering into a whole new world. It captivates tourists with its breathtaking sceneries and holds various surprises.

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What Is The Zanskar Trek Or The Chadar Trek?

During the summers, the ravine are extremely sought out by the tourists for water sports adventures like the river rafting. But when the winter graces, the entire Zanskar River freezes and the trekking fanatics gather in this region to enjoy the hiking trails. The Zanskar Trek is colloquially referred to as the Chadar Trek. The entire frozen river looks like a blanket of ice which in indegineous term is regarded as ‘Chadar’. 

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Before this route became infamous and several tourists started using it for trekking, the Zanskaris, the local people of this region, till date still use this route of frozen river beds to do their trade (to sell goatskin, copper utensils and yak butter) and transportation in the nearby connecting villages. As the road to the Zanskar Valley during the winters become non commutable due to heavy snowfall, the frozen river is the only route to reach the valley. 

Unlike many other treks, the camping conditions are rough and it is a test of your physical and mental strength. The arduous task is repaid in full (and more) with the mesmerizing beauty and secrets hidden in the snow-clad Himalayas that are revealed in front of your eyes.

When Is The Best Time For The Zanskar Trek?

The month of January and February is advised best to start on this expedition. To be exact, from the mid of January to the end of February is the right time to set out on this adventurous trek. Sometimes even in the first week of March, depending on the weather conditions. The river freezes into an astounding ice sheet and the untarnished snow simply invites everyone to embark on this enthralling journey. Do not forget to keep a tab on the weather conditions of this region regularly.

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How Long Does It Take To Complete The Zanskar Trek?

The Zanskar Trek or the Chadar Trek is said to be one of the most demanding yet unique treks in India. You will be walking on the frozen river for 5 to 6 hours everyday to complete your trek. You need a moderate level of physical fitness to complete the trek. Trekkers who have done Himalayan treks ahead, can take part in this. Approximately on an average the trekker needs to cover 15 to 17kms everyday.

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There are about 3 routes you can choose from to go on this Chadar trek, each longer and more pristine than the other. The frequent route taken by most companies is the Chilling-Nerak route which demands a trek for 5 to 6 days. The overall duration of the trek is a little over 25 hours. The Chilling-Lingshed route, which is about 6kms far from Nerak, takes upto 8 days of trekking. While the longest trail of the Zanskar Trek leads till the capital of Zanskar region, Padum, demands trekking for over 12days and 105kms. It is about 16hours on foot from Lingshed and then a small commute via taxi from Karsha village to Padum.

How Difficult Is The Zanskar Trek?

The Zanskar Trek or the Chadar Trek in the magnificent terrains of Ladakh, is regarded to be one of the most difficult yet unique treks in the country. You should be prepared to face the harsh camping conditions and the unsettling temperatures. Unlike any other Himalayan Treks, the Zanskar Trek does not require any ascending or descending of terrains.

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The trek takes place at an altitude of 10,000 ft to 11,000 ft above mean sea level. During the day, the temperature ranges from 15°C to 20°C, and during the night time, it drops upto -25°C to -30°C. While the most part of the trek has to be by walk, you may even have to encounter climbing icy rocks and boulders on route. You will have to walk on the sheet of ice to complete this trek and take rest in caves in the night.

What Is The Zanskar Trek Route?

There are mainly three trails to the Zanskar Valley Trek: the Chilling-Nerak route, the Chilling-Lingshed route and the Chilling-Padum route. The most chosen route is the smallest among the three, Chilling-Nerak trail. The duration of the entire trek varies for each and every organization or company that you choose to go with. Generally, this trek on the frozen river lasts for about five to six days. The reporting for this trip is generally at Leh (this can also vary for different companies, but in the end you need to start from Leh no matter where you report). From Leh you then head to Chilling where the adventure truly begins.

Day 1

The trail starts from Chilling. However, in recent years, the organizers drive (approximately 2hours) ahead to the first base camp, that lies at the end of Chilling road, at Tilat Sumdo (10,390 ft). ‘Sumdo’ translates to ‘the confluence’. There runs a small stream that meets Zanskar at this point. After trekking for about 8 to 10kms you reach the next prominent region, Shingra Koma, a scenic spot of rustic beauty. It is the next campsite where you get to spend the night under the open sky and tents.

Day 2

Early in the morning, you set out to the next prime region of the trek, the Tibb Cave (10,800 ft), which is around 15kms far away and one of the longest days of this journey. While trekking, you can notice the tranquil natural caves, blanket of ice and frozen waterfalls, along the way. There will be several instances in which you would notice the dangling icicles made from frozen waterfalls. The big waterfall, however, is not completely frozen and has several prayer flags on the trees around it (the myth surrounding this waterfall is said that once Nerak dried up and so to pray for water for his people, a holy man went to Kailash.

He carried a pot of water consisting of two fishes on his way back, which he was instructed to not to keep it down anywhere along the way. Yet he eventually got tired and happened to put at this spot, where the two fishes jumped out and created this huge waterfall. Legend says that this waterfall originates back to Kailash). This is where you get to spend your night amidst legends and mysteries.

Day 3

The very next day the trail continues to the base of Nerak village (10,760 ft) which is about 12.5kms far away. On this day you can finally enjoy the gorgeous frozen waterfall, cliffs, gorges and a gripping sunset. Nerak is also known for its cold nights and chilling winds. The Bailey bridge here is the final and turning point of your trek. From here we go back to where we started, nevertheless, with the ever changing state of natural beauty, it never feels like you’re retracing your steps.

Day 4

The next day you get back on trek to go back to Tibb Cave and continue on to reach Gyalpo (10,550 ft). It is again an enchanting campsite situated at the turn of Zanskar River. This region is filled with walls with rock faces that look very much man-made. It is flanked with imposing peaks. And by the time the night sets in, a small fear creeps in, reminding only a day more is left to relish this surrealistic view.

Day 5

The last and the final day of the taxing trek comes to an end with the final march towards Tilat Do via Shingra Koma from Gyalpo. The mystical trek ends here. And when you finally come back to where you started, you are graced with the ice melting. As a customary practice, most trekkers like to sign off by taking a dip into the melted waters of the Zanskar River.

Zanskar Trek Essential Information

For getting a permit before embarking on this journey, it is a necessity to have medical insurance, for both Indians and foreigners. It is also mandatory that before the trek begins, every tourist must get a pre medical checkup.

There are certain procedures that need to be followed prior to the trek. On the first day of arrival at Leh, the entire day must be spent on resting. The second day is allotted for acclimatization. This is a compulsory step in order for all the tourists to get used to the change in altitude. On the third day at Leh, you can go to the SNM Hospital to get a medical checkup between 2 to 4pm. Then at Wild Life Department Office, Leh, is where you’ll be issued your permit. Finally, on the fourth day, with your permit, you’re allowed to begin your trekking.

What Makes The Zanskar Trek Special?

The Zanskar Trek provides you with an opportunity to witness the surreal beauty of mother nature. Imagine walking on the carpet of ice presented by the frozen river of Zanskar Valley. On one side, Himalayan mountains are covered with snow (untouched), and on the other side a stream slowly freezing or melting (depending on the time of month you visit), while you trek alongside it. It is nothing but a spell-binding panorama.

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The Zanskar Trek is the gateway to exploring the deep-rooted culture of Zanskar. It is a blend of both Indian and Tibetan culture. Additionally, you can also encounter exotic wildlife species like the ibex, snow leopard and blue sheep that are found in the frozen environment.

The Zanskar Trek is one of the reasons why the course of trekking dramatically changed. It brought about better innovations and safer guidelines that are followed till date. When the trek in the frozen river was accomplished for the first time ever, it opened up a window to winter trekking, a concept which was only possible in fairytales up until then.

Dishearteningly, for numerous reasons (and environmental factors like receding glaciers and global warming), the Zanskar Trek is turning out to be an endangered activity. In a few years of time, when proper roads are built and the life of the Zanskaris are more convenient during the winter time, the Zanskar River Trek will turn into an ancient local ritual which once used to flair up with years of activity.

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