Chadar Trek – Where I Starved but fed my Soul
Day 2: It has been two days, I haven’t eaten anything, my hands are numb and I’ve got used to this constant headache. Sitting in my imperfectly pitched tent with a growling stomach, I missed my mom and homemade food. I had no one to talk about my frozen fingers to and no one who would have listened to my pain, I just lay there in my sleeping bag wearing four layers and still shivering, hoping for that night to end and the sun to rise again. I grabbed a chocolate, took a bite and sarcastically said, “For my first trek, I had to come to Chadar and that too solo. Fucking retard” and hell, I did not even plan on being here. I couldn’t sleep, and I started cursing the stupid decisions I made that got me there.
The surreal scenery of Chadar Trek
In the month of January, I filed for my resignation, booked a ticket for Leh “The frozen Paradise,” as I like to call it. I was sick of the office life and was desperately looking for something that would help me drift my mind towards a path that would lead me to salvation rather than depression. The only thing I wanted was to travel, without a return ticket and I did. I flew to Leh without a return ticket and being from Delhi, had a brain freeze the second I stepped out of the plane. It was 18 degrees below the freezing point and I rushed to grab a taxi which would take me to a warm guest house. I dozed off the second I crashed into bed and woke up in the evening. The weather was insane, the air was thin, the water in my water bottle froze in a matter of few hours and I couldn’t breathe without heaving; so I decided to devour a cup of boiling chai in the balcony, where I met Bilap. We had a small conversation about escaping the mundane and it leads to the greatest story of my life. He told me he was leaving to attempt Chadar trek the next day; a trek which was talked about in fables told by adventurous men and done by only who claim to have balls of steel; to add extra spice to it, he was going solo (which meant without a guide/ a porter/ a cook). I got extremely inspired and without giving it a second thought, asked him if I could tag along. “Why not?” He said and the next minute we were off to buy things I would require to survive the extremity which is Chadar trek. We bought all the things that I would require and on the way back to our guest house, he told me everything that he knew about the trek. After getting back, I crashed into the bed yet again and dozed off in wait of dawn.
Next morning, I woke up early and with overflowing excitement, went to Bilap’s room, he was packing his bags; not for the trek, but for his flight back to his hometown. He was feeling extremely ill, the harsh winter was taking a toll on him and it clearly showed on his face. My inspiration left me stranded in the middle of nowhere and for a moment, it all came crashing down; BUT the next moment, it came up stronger than ever and I said, “JO HOGA DEKHA JAYEGA.” (whatever happens, I’ll sort it when it comes). And with those words coming out of my mouth, I booked a cab and took off to Chilling, from where the trek starts.
In my 25 kg rucksack I was carrying:
Half a kg dry fruits,
14 packets of Maggie,
And I was wearing:
And I thought, I was ready for the trek.
Day 1: During our two-hour drive to Chilling, I was awestruck by Ladakh’s beauty. I had been on many mountains before that, I covered a lot of Himalayas, but I had never set my eyes on something as beautiful as that. Mountains with no greenery were too much to comprehend and I just kept gaping at the views. I was so close to mountains, I felt like I was home and a slight smile crept across my face as I realized that this was the best decision I had ever made in my life. I got out of the car and descend to the place from where I took my first step on the frozen river. It was a different experience altogether. There was no grip in my gumboots, and I was slipping and sliding throughout the place. A porter saw me struggling and gave me a few quick tricks to maintain my balance and while I was still dwindling, they were caring 50kg loaded sledge and were running like anything. I had to climb up and down several times on the side walls as at some points the chadar wasn’t formed and finally reached the first campsite at $ in the evening. I did not want to pitch in the middle of organizations and loads of people singing and dancing, so I chose a place a little off the track, pitched my tent (that was the first time I ever did that) and then, I had to feed myself as I had nothing to eat since morning and was famished. I got out of my tent, took out the burner and butane gas, and started to lite it. The sunset, the wind picked up the pace and after 20 minutes of struggling, I realized that the gas had frozen and the burner nozzle was full of sand. I knew I was damned and with a heavy heart retired to my sleeping back with a pack of dry fruits in my hand.
Super excited on Day 1
Day 2: The sun finally came up, and I didn’t get out until I could feel the warmth. I got out after 20 minutes, packed my bag and started moving. I realized I was late as the campsite was empty, so I grabbed some more dry fruits and drank cold water along the way. With a 25 kilos bag, my shoulders now started to pain which made me slow. With a stubborn head, I kept walking on with slower and constant pace as if I am in a desert, craving for food and water. After walking for almost 4 to 5 hours, I reached the next campsite and again, looked for an isolated place to camp. I pitched my tent, prepared some undercooked Maggi and retired to my sleeping bag wanting desperately to catch some sleep as I didn’t have any the night before. But, I couldn’t; I shivered the entire night off, again, waiting for dawn.
Day 3: The sun came up and I lay, waiting for the warmth to kiss my tent. I was now accustomed to the routine of getting out, packing everything up, realizing I was late and then having dry fruits for breakfast. That day wasn’t any different except, I was getting very slow because of a severe headache that made me dizzy. After forty-five minutes of packing, I finally picked up my bag and started walking, slowly and steadily. After 2 hours of walking in the harsh weather, I saw few people coming back from the opposite direction. Something felt a little off so I asked one of them the reason for their return; “the river isn’t frozen, it’s impossible to go further.” I felt my heart sink a few hundred meters below that river and turn cold. All this brutality for nothing, I thought to myself. I took off my bag and sat down in despair when a group of porters spotted me and one of them asked, “with which organization are you?”
” None. Going solo,” I said.
He gaped at me in shock when I asked if there is a chance at going further.
He took a puff of his beedi and said “not a chance”
“I wanted to reach Nyrak today. I haven’t had proper food in three days and all of this for nothing.” I said with despair.
The porter just stood there and after a good five seconds told me that even if the river was frozen, it would take me two days to reach there. I’m was sure he felt sorry for me when he took 20 minutes to convince me not to go further and bribed me with a promise of feeding me soup and chicken the coming night. With the condition I was in, who would disagree?
(At that moment, the only thing that I felt was gratitude for Stanzin (the porter). In a world full of materialistic, self-centered people, there existed a small world, carefully ticked away in the lap of the Himalayas where people like Stanzin existed. That day, he made a big impact in my life and to this day, I remember him in every “thank you” I receive after helping somebody out.)
And then, I snapped out of my thoughts and told him “okay, let’s go and thank you, thank you so much.” Without saying a word, he just took my bag, put it on the sledge and started guiding me back to the previous campsite. That night, the full moon towered above us and it made everything glow, the tents, the ice and the mighty mountains. I was served chicken and rice and obviously, I ate like a pig. I still remember feeling overwhelmed thinking about what all I went through and how it will be a memory for a lifetime; I remember being overwhelmed by the taste of rice in my mouth. That night was my last night in Zanskar, local songs were sung by porters and it somehow, I felt like home. I never felt like that before. I surely knew my life is going to change and that I have to come back to complete this unfinished love story with the waterfall. I retired to my sleeping bag, late that night, with a full stomach and a great deal of clarity about my future. “No more drifting with the wind,” I told myself and then, I slept like a baby.
Day 4: Just as the warmth hit my tent, Stanzin unzipped and told me that it was time to leave. I packed up everything, got out of the tent and laid my eyes on those handsome mountains for the last time. “I’ll be back,” I said before turning away. I gave the leftover Maggi packs to Stanzin and kept dry fruits for my way back and just when I was starting to think it was all over, I slipped and landed face first on the hard ice. For a minute everything blacked out and I got numb. The other minute, the sun was too bright, my nose pained and there was blood dripping on the ice. A trek leader from some organization came running toward me and told me I needed stitches and as the odds haven’t been in my favor since it all started, the nearest doctor was in Leh, which was almost six hours of walking and two hours of driving away. The cut was constantly flowing so I did the only thing that occurred to me then, I lay on the side of the river and put my face into the freezing water. At first, it was like bee stings and then a brain freeze and then, surprisingly, I was in a state of Zen.
After falling face first on the ice
P.S: Nobody, except Mr. Bilap knew that I was on the chadar, facing one of the most extreme weather nature had to offer, not even my family.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.
You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
― Cesare Pavese
Also Read: How I Summited Stok Kangri in 51 Hours.