Photograph by Thomas Boehm, age fotostock/Alamy
Zanskar River Valley, India
Best for: Those who want to trek the Himalaya in winter
Distance: 45.4 miles round-trip
When winter takes hold of the distant Ladakh, or “Land of High Passes,” region of India in the Himalaya, there’s only one way to travel from the high, lonesome villages of the Zanskar Valley to the region’s capital city of Leh—walking down a deep, dark gorge on the frozen ice of the Zanskar River itself. That’s the gist of this extreme trek (“chadar” means “the frozen white blanket” in the local dialect), for which tour companies offer trips of nine days to three weeks to travel upriver to the Buddhist monastery of Karsha deep in the valley, and back. In most places, that chadar is solid, though a frozen river is a moody thing so at others it shifts or even breaks open into frigid, fast water, requiring arduous bypasses on snow and slippery rock. Temperatures average below freezing and can drop as low as minus 30º F at night. Along the way, trekkers sleep in caves, just as the local porters who have carried down trading goods (historically butter, which needed to be moved in the cold) and supplies for centuries do. It’s a committing trip—there’s nowhere to go up above the gorge, since paths and roads are shut down by the winter.
Despite the real danger and bone-chilling temperatures—the trek itself starts in a village called Chilling—this hike into a headwaters of the mighty Indus River offers up some huge rewards. There’s the ever shifting beauty of the chadar underfoot itself, as well as the visceral silence of these deep Himalayan gorges in winter. There’s frozen waterfalls. There’s the hardy villages of Zanskar and the chance to walk alongside their people, who have been making this trip for generations (and maybe a pang of guilt, as they walk past in traditional apparel and you struggle in the latest high-tech fabrics). Put that all together and navigating the ice is worth the risk.
Thrill Factor: Plain and simple, the Chadar Trek is a winter expedition in the Himalaya. The river ice can shift and break and present other hazards, but the biggest danger is the cold itself. That said, the winter is a time when few visit the world’s highest mountains and there’s something elementally basic about spending days trekking up an ever changing frozen river with no other way in or out.
Take It Easy: You don’t have to trek the Ladakh region and the Zanskar Valley in winter. A three-week trek across ten mountain passes and open, high country from the monastery at Lamayuru to the village of Darcha in warmer seasons has its own challenges but doesn’t present the frozen dangers of the chadar.
courtesy of: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure