Arjun Majumdar talks about why the Chadar frozen river trek is not as difficult as it looks. He also talks about why the expense of the Chadar trek makes it out of reach of most Indians.
The frozen river trek in Zanskar Ladakh in winter is supposed to be one of the toughest treks in the world. It is easy to see why.
It is a 7 day trek in inhospitable conditions. It is a winter trek over a frozen river in Ladakh. Average mean temperature during the day is minus 15. In the night temperatures fall to minus 25 and 30. The desolate trek is over the ever changing Chadar frozen river. Ice forms, breaks and changes colour on the river every few hours. At places the Chadar (or ice) does not form over the river. Trekkers have to forge a new trail climbing over snow covered steep rocky banks of the river to again descend to a spot on the river where the ice is more stable.
Travel magazines worldwide show incredible pictures of Buddhist monks walking bare feet on the frozen river. The Discovery and the National Geographic channels have both made films on the Chadar trek. Suddenly, Chadar is a difficult but a glamorous trek to do.
Anyone who gets back from the Chadar trek adds to the aura around it by talking about the conditions in a revering way.
The truth is that the conditions on the Chadar trek are something that is not difficult to beat. Temperatures in minus feel cold when you are not protected from the elements. This can be countered with multi layered clothing and a very fit body. Five layers of clothing still feel cold but not colder than Delhi in winter. A fit body copes with intense cold lot more than an untrained body. A flexible body can tackle some of the rough terrain that comes in the way.
If you take away the cold and the harshness of the terrain, Chadar is not a difficult trek terrain wise. It is an almost flat walk with some ups and downs. The terrain rarely makes you go breathless.
But Chadar, for most people, is a trek that is almost out of reach for another reason. The Chadar trek is expensive.
Why Chadar is an expensive trek
Of all the treks in India, Chadar is the most expensive trek you will do. For example, even by Indiahikes standard, the Chadar trek comes to Rs 19,950 per person. Now what makes Chadar such an expensive trek? I spent some time finding out.
First, I found labor is expensive. Porter rates more than double in winter. And for a winter expedition you need more than the usual number of porters – just to carry the winter gears. Next, sourcing equipment is expensive in winter. Even mattresses cost Rs 100 a day to rent. But the biggest killer is food and fuel. Every food item has to be flown to Ladakh in winter. The government subsidizes food to an extent that is unbelievable. Even after the subsidy, food costs more than treble in winter. Fuel, like kerosene is frightfully expensive and worse, you need them in ample quantity just to stay warm. In the extreme cold cooking takes three times longer and naturally the fuel consumed is high. Another hidden killer I discovered is the stay in Leh. Hotels are mostly shut. Those that are open cost abnormally high – with central heating. A two day stay in Leh is 25% of the trek cost. Finally, considering the icy conditions a trek team to Chadar cannot be big to spread the costs. A team of 10-12 trekkers is considered very large. The inability to spread the cost of the trek over a larger number of trekkers increases the overall cost of the trek too.
For those venturing out to the Chadar on the Indiahikes exploratory trek, my only advice is to prepare for the trek and not to treat it as any other trek. The rewards from this trek are plenty to take – the white winter scenery in the Chadar canyons is once in a life-time experience. Experiencing this marvel is something people travel all over the world to witness. I hate to admit, but Chadar is actually a very glamorous trek to do.
The Indiahikes team for the Chadar trek leave on 26 Jan, 27 Jan, 3 Feb, 4 Feb and 10 2013. Click here to register for the trek: Chadar Trek Invitation