Chadar Trek, otherwise known as Zanskar Gorge or  The Frozen River, is the most thrilling hike in the Himalayas, and there is no other like it. Chadar means “white sheet,” hence the name.

The Chadar Trek is one of India’s most unique and challenging treks. The multiday Chadar hike across the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh occurs from late January to late February or sometime in March, depending on the weather. Walking on the thick glass of an icy river with great mountains on either side is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Chadar Trek

Photo Credit: Sumita Roy Dutta Wikimedia Commons

Coming in at 11,150 feet, the Chadar Trek almost feels like an expedition to the North Pole.  Temperatures drop to 30 degrees at night, all food and drink are transported in on sleds, and you have to find refuge in caves. By all accounts, taking on The Chadar Trek is on many people’s bucket lists – especially thrill-seekers that enjoy challenging hikes. The area’s local people are known as Zanskari’s, whose main occupation is cattle-rearing and farming.

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Reasons To Take On The Chadar Trek

The Chadar Trek is one of the unique treks in the world. You are hiking the surface of a frozen river. Other hikes in India are through hills and mountains that pass through passes and caves, ancient forts, and valleys. This one meanders along the Zanskar route, where the ice is thick enough for you to walk on it.

A Whole New World Visiting The Chadar Trek

The Chadar Trek will force you out of your comfort zone. Far from civilization, you will be cold most of the time. Try butter tea (which not everyone likes), and be at the mercy of nature, but only for a few days. You will get a new understanding of life far away from the cities and be one with nature.

You will learn a lot about Ladakhen and their challenges. It is a humbling experience, and you will develop a deeper appreciation for the comforts and privileges of your daily life.

Chadar Trek

Photo Credit: Sumita Roy Dutta Wikimedia Commons

See Places You Have Never Seen Before During The Chadar Trek

Winter brings dramatic changes to the Ladakh landscape. This high-altitude desert offers the most spectacular views thanks to the Zanskar River, especially in the river valley.

Experience waterfalls that have frozen over and form icicle walls that tower over your head. You will see air bubbles from the river frozen under the ice. On some sections of the trek, you hike on a thick layer of ice under which the river swirls. Around them, the Chadar changes daily.

If the temperature rises by just a few degrees, the ice melts, breaks, and freezes. If you are lucky, you can see mountain goats navigating the steep slopes.  The surrounding trees are leafless, and their branches, blackened by the weather, stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding white landscape.

There Is No Other Trek In India Like The Chadar Trek

The Chadar Trek is unique because it takes place on the surface of a frozen river. Other treks in India go through hills and mountains, through passes and caves, through ancient forts and valleys. This trek meanders along the Zanskar River. Where the ice is thick enough, you will walk on it. Where the guides think the ice is too thin, you will hike on the frozen banks of the river. You will stop to camp and enjoy the calm of the river and the starry sky above.

You can see the bonfires of other trekking groups downstream. Enjoy singing lessons and devour hot meals that will make the chilly night less daunting.

One of the Chadar Trek highlights is Tibb Cave, an ancient cave becoming a popular spot for all hikers.

Tibb Cave

Photo Credit: Sumita Roy Dutta Wikimedia Commons

The soot from decades of campfires has blackened the cave walls. Someone is always stirring a large container of hot and cold soup at any time of the day. Here, you will be offered more tea. The feeling of camaraderie is calming, and you will feel like a true adventurer sharing your experience with fellow hikers.

Tibb Cave Temperature

The temperature is twenty degrees below the freezing point and sometimes even colder!

Bragging Rights

The Chadar Trek hike is not difficult – assuming you are physically fit enough.  There are no steep slopes, and no technical training is required. However, it should not be taken lightly. The weather and altitude make this trek challenging. The harsh conditions can put your life at risk if you don’t listen to your guide.

Remember: There is a fast, icy river swirling beneath your feet at all times. But that’s what makes it so special, not everyone daretake up the challenge of the Chadar.

When you return, you will feel stronger and more confident than ever.

There is something about an adventure like this that makes you feel better about yourself – more accomplished!  And when the Chadar hike is over, you will join an elite community of trekkers from Tschadar who have faced everything. Be prepared for shocking looks and many questions as you become the hero of your circle.

Chadar Trek Facts

  • Chadar Trek duration: Typically 9 Days and 8 Nights (but it can vary)
  • Start and End Point: Guest House in Leh
  • Maximum Altitude: 11,123 feet
  • Chadar Trek Distance: 62 km
  • Level of difficulty: Difficult Chadar Trek
  • Temperature: 5 to 15 degrees (daytime) and 15-25 degrees (overnight )
  • Last ATM: Leh Market and Airport.

Permits & Rules for the Chadar Trek

To ensure that trekkers are safe and abide by the rules, the Leh Government instituted rules and permits that you will need to follow & get upon arrival in Leh.

All trekkers must:

  • Acclimated in Leh for two days post-arrival & before departing for the trek
  • Go through a medical check-up and get a medical certificate from a local medical board in Leh that states that you have acclimated to the altitude and are physically fit to take on the trek.
  • Mandatorily have trek & personal accident insurance for the trek
  • Get a permit from ALTOA post submission of NOC & medical certificate

Nerak Waterfall

One of the Zanskar river hikes highlights a grand waterfall that is completely frozen over from top to bottom – The Nerak Waterfall.

The thick ice sheets that form the Zanskar River resemble a white sheet called aka “Chadar.” The Zanskar River is best known as the Chadar Trek. While it may seem like a challenging hike, it is not the most difficult. It is basically a flat hike along the Chadar with minimal inclines. You are in good hands if you can hike for a couple of hours without much stress.

When it comes to trekking in India, Chadar is the most glamorous and difficult trek.

In 2019, the local administration required all Chadar Trek participants to undergo a medical examination at the SNM Hospital, Leh post, to receive a fitness certificate.

Nerak Waterfall

Photo Credit: SukeerthaKrishna Wikimedia Commons

How To Reach The Chadar Trek

Air: The nearest airport to Chadar Trek is Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (IXL), located in Leh. This airport is connected to major international airports in India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, etc.

By Train: Take the New Delhi Jammu Tawi Rajdhani Express, which leaves Delhi at 8:40 pm. and arrives in Jammu at 5:45 am. From Jammu you can take a bus to Srinagar, from Srinagar there are regular buses to Leh. It is recommended to fly from Delhi to Leh and rent a taxi to Chilling the next day after acclimatization.

By Road: Delhi to Leh is 1,266 km via the NH1. It is 64 km from Leh to Chilling. To get to the Chadar Trek, one has to go to Leh. From Leh, the journey begins and leads to the freezing Zanskar Rive.

From Leh, it takes about 65 to 70 km to reach the trek base camp via Tiled.

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Things You Need To Do The Chadar Trek:

  • Woolen cap, socks, mittens & scarf
  • Head torch
  • Rain cover
  • Warm clothes
  • Caps
  • Toilet paper & wipes
  • Walking stick
  • Day pack (20-30l)
  • Water bottle
  • Extra pair of socks
  • Backpack with waterproof linings
  • Fleece jackets and thermals
  • Led torch (with extra batteries)
  • Lightweight quilt or blanket
  • Mosquito & insect repellent
  • Waterproof windcheater

Best Time To Visit The Chadar Trek:

The Zanskar River freezes over completely at the beginning of January and remains frozen for two months. The best time to do Chadar Trek is from mid-January to early February.

Difficulty Level Of The Chadar Trek:

The Chadar Trek is a unique experience, but the adverse conditions and an astonishing height of 11,123 meters make it a difficult journey. In such a situation, physical fitness becomes critical.  A physically healthy person can complete the trek; however, lots of precautions are to be taken.

Places To Visit Near The Chadar Trek:

  • Tilat Sumdo- It is a campsite for the Chadar trek where you can view the Himalayas.
  • Shinra Koma is 10 km away from Tilat sumdo, which has scenic beauty and spellbound tourists.
  • Tibb- Tibb offers a beautiful waterfall and cave.
  • Nerak- Nerak is the base camp for the trek and is a spot for sunset, which is amazing.
  • Gyalpo – Gyalpo is a campsite located at a bend in the Zanskar River and is imposed by peaks and walls of rock faces that look artificial.
  • Diploma – Dibyokma is again a campsite which offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas.
  • Lingshed – It is one of the oldest villages in Ladakh and boasts awe-inspiring exquisiteness of nature. This region is also famous for the Lingshed Monastery, which is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh.

Closing Thoughts

Most people will not think of India when it comes to trekking a frozen river. Most will think of Iceland or Patagonia – maybe even Antarctica. And, as stunning and elite as these other locations are, don’t rule out what India has to offer in terms of challenging and unique treks.

Have you done the Chadar Trek? Share your experience with us here.

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