Though the preparation was underway for over two years yet it picked up steam only in the last eight months or so but guess the gradual preparation helped and was able to cater to each point of the trek to the best of my ability. A photographic trek is like a campaign that is planned and conceptualised with attention to the innumerable details in various aspects which are critical to the successful outcome.
But on the summit of beginning the trek itself my heart was beseeched with a sense of melancholiness that I was unable to fathom, having prepared to the best of my ability for one of the most celebrated treks in the Indian subcontinent and standing on the anvil of its commencement my heart and inner conscious being was swamped with shades of gloom. It’s important to go into treks being 100% positive and focused , but though the focus was there the positivity was somehow not in the vicinity .
The human mind is a hub of various electrical signals which are involved in generation of emotions and thoughts by the conversion of these electrical signals into the above aspects. I knew that my subconscious was affected by some thought that was casting a inhibiting effect on the present and just hoped that would be able to break free of the same as the days move ahead.
The trek began from the foothills of the Western Ghats , that continuum of mountain range glorified in the ancient Vedas , known in Sanskrit as The Benevolent Mountain , running parallel to the western coast of the Indian Peninsula and as i moved towards the state of Goa , was flanked by the tourist season that had descended onto the state , i could see the revellers in shorts and brightly printed flannel shirts buzzing on the rented two-wheelers as I whizzed past them towards Dabolim airport, Goa from where i would be taking the Air Asia flight to Delhi which would be my transit hub for my connecting flight onwards to the mountains of Leh .
Temperature outside temp was stated as -17 deg by the pilot as we stepped on the tarmac of Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport, Leh and the day had begun with a bang . As the weather turned intimidating, the black clouds which were crowding my thoughts and feelings were scattered away and the sight of the beloved mountains played an immense part in it . Seeing them after a short span of 03 months i was so content to once again immerse myself in the simple rigours of a trek life.
Mr Lobzang Sherab , a gem of a person and total professional who was arranging the trek for me met me at the airport and his staff (Zanskar Kanishka Expeditions) soon whizzed us to Shanti GH where we were staying for two days for our acclimatising period. It is very imp to acclimatise if one is arriving by air and in the winters this requirement is utmost critical as the body needs to prepare itself for the physical shock that was going to be thrust upon.
After we settled in, we spent the morning having countless cups of tea followed by a discussion with the team so that we came to know each other and understood about the trek requirements.
The hustle n bustle that one associates with Leh was totally non-existent, the villages wore a deserted look while the people preferred to stay indoors considering the immense cold chill factor. The snow was not heavy on the streets of Leh but the cold was a living being in itself, it was mind numbing .
The mental wait gets you especially when the sun outside struggles to heat up the earth while the cold rules the air as you are in the second day of acclimatisation period prior to commencement of the trek. There was nothing much to do other than drink hot cups of tea and go for walks on empty streets thereby letting the body work itself. The day was an exercise in mental strength in terms of channelizing the thoughts and staying positive to get through the day.
Why do i want to walk on a frozen icy river in the middle of a harsh winter???
Honestly not many a satisfactory answers come to my mind other than the lure of maybe pushing the body and mind searching for that spectacular experience that adverse conditions present. In the olden days of the yore this route was done out of necessity but now this route is done as a matter of embracing the challenges.
DAY I : Leh – Chilling – Bakula camp site
The alarm rang at 0545 hrs and trek day dawned, in the pre-dawn darkness i stretched myself and then went downstairs to the kitchen to get a bucket of hot water to start the day. Post a cup of tea and with a hot bucket of water i was ready to face the day with confidence. By road we drove towards the village of Chilling which lay more than an hours’ drive away. Speeding along empty NH 1D all one could see was the presence of the army who are the ever-present quotient in the Ladakhi landscape, their presence a reassurance which was heartily felt .
After reaching the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar, one could see the ice forming on the banks of the river, a detour from the highway saw us on a single carriageway which was totally broken down and it was a miracle that we made it though the last three km stretch though we had to change vehicles owing to a landslide. After around three km ahead of chillin we dismounted and there after trekked for a km before gently moving downwards to the river bank of Zanskar river. The ice was formed quite well at the edges though the centre of the river was flowing with a great force. Turquoise blue, yes that is the colour of zanskar and under the grey overcast sky the colour achieved a totally different shade of Turquoise blue. Soon we were moving along the bank on the ice, sliding our feet forward, as this is the way to walk on the Chadar .
Readers may note that the correct way of walking plays a crucial part in this trek , one needs to slide the feet forward and avoid as much as possible to break contact between the feet and the ice and distributing the weight of the body in a forward direction.
Come winter and the severe drop in temperature freezes the swift flowing waters of the Zanskar that emerges from the Zanskar region and meets the Indus at Nimmu. The cold is so severe that the river waters freeze against each other in sheets and layers resembling something like a “Chadar “(sheet of cloth/covering), hence the name of the trek being Chadar.
After around an hour or so we stopped at a place known as Zar, for a quick hot lunch of maggi and chai prepared by the cooks on kerosene fired stoves, the weather had worsened by this time and it started snowing on the distant peaks. We made our way soon thereafter as our destination for today was known as Bakula campsite where the legend of the Bakula cave was narrated by our guide Stanzin . This was reached by 1600 hrs in the evening. The entire stretch after lunch saw us walking on a well formed Chadar on the Zanskar, especially on the river bank with the ice several feet thick. The middle of the river was still fluid and the Zanskar flowed placidly with chunks of ice floating sedately on it. It was truly a magical feeling or let me put it as a truly content feeling to see the silence all around in the gorge as the Zanskar flowed carrying chunks of ice that constantly brushed against the banks as it continued its journey downwards.
The campsite was on on a tiny flat piece of river bank that was rocky and flat as the Zanskar curved in a wide curve out here. The tents were quickly set up and after a cup of piping hot tea, the team went about the business of preparing for dinner wherein some went to search for dried branches of bushes while others set up the sleeping bags for the night. Darkness came on quickly and being my first night in the open in peak winter, it truly felt intimidating. By this time the porters had a roaring fire going and I joined them for some time to hear them sing and talk about incidents in their life. Slowly they accepted me in their midst proving me an insight in to their world while the cold dark mountains all around gazed silently on us with the Chadar flowing few metres away carrying huge chunks of ice that swished in the darkness which was all around.
Bakula campsite has a lore which speaks of a religious personality known as Bakula Rimpochee who was a priest of high learning and used to travel frequently from Zanskar region to Leh using the route of the Zanskar river. He used to mediate at a cave out here which later came to be known as Bakula cave. There are Juniper trees out here which are considered highly auspicious in the Buddhism way of life. The trees still grow even to this day at remote ledges and ridges in this area testimony to the wanderings and teaching of Bakula.
Out here I felt so detached from the worries of life, even though I was in the midst of a huge gorge on a peak winter night with the temperature falling easily below -30 deg and darkness all around yet the heart was at peace , the vibes all peaceful and warm .
To be contd………