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Walking on the ice covered river



Salehin Arshedi

Friday, September 23, 2022 01:15 PM

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The day was a cold January night in Konkan. The night was about to end as we boarded the first flight from Delhi to Leh.

As our plane entered the airspace of Ladakh, the rosy glow of dawn was before my eyes. This rosy glow was also making way for the morning sun. And in that glow the snow covered mountains were shining like gold.

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Finally, my dream of walking on an icy river is about to become a reality!

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This dream started about four years ago. My dream started after watching a documentary on ‘Jhanskar’, a region in the middle of the Trans-Himalayas.

The documentary showcases the natural beauty of some unexplored terrain in the area. During the winter the road that connects the region to the outside world is blocked by snow. As a result, the difficulties faced by the people living in the area are also shown in the documentary. The documentary also shows how the people there have mastered the art of finding their way through a seemingly inhospitable landscape. It was so inspiring that after watching it I started dreaming about this beautiful trek.

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Thanks to the country’s largest travel group ‘Travellers of Bangladesh’ (TOB) for making the dream come true. All admins of the group especially Anika, Rabbi bhai, Faisal bhai and Moridul bhai have worked hard to make all necessary arrangements.

In the Jhanskar Valley, an eerie green river flows through the towering mountains that join the Indus River in Ladakh through a deep gorge. A thick layer of ice forms on the river in winter when the temperature reaches near zero. Locals call this layer ‘chadar’ or blanket. Over the ages, they have mastered the art of traveling through this dangerous mantle. They go to town to sell yaks (Tibetan hairy cattle), cheese and furs and return to villages with essentials like salt. Even small children here risk this long and dangerous journey from various villages in the Jhanskar Valley to attend schools elsewhere in Ladakh.

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I was in Leh, the largest city of Ladakh, for this historic trek.

The trek was across an ancient route that was once part of the famous Silk Road. On this trip, there is an opportunity to visit remote Ladakhi villages, stay, talk to the locals and experience their lives up close.

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We stayed in Leh for 4 days and explored the city. The architecture, art and culture of Ladakh are deeply influenced by ‘Tibet’. Numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries scattered across the city still maintain that unique tradition.

On the morning of the fifth day, 5 of us from Bangladesh, with our guide and all the equipment, set off in a small tourist bus. Our destination was a small village called ‘Tilat Sumdo’ situated on the banks of Jhanskar river.

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After a 3 hour drive from Leh along the Kargil highway, we reached Nemo. This is where the Jhanskar River meets the Indus River. After about half an hour from there we reached our destination.

I stepped into the frozen Jhanskar River for the first time after descending 200 feet from the road. How to describe it? I could hear the furious roar of the fast-flowing river beneath my feet. This feeling is as exciting as it is scary!

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As soon as I started walking on the ice, I realized that the task was not easy at all. The sun’s heat melted the outer layer of ice making it extremely slippery. I had to walk like a penguin to reach the other side of the river.

We reached our first campsite after an hour’s trek, I somehow learned to walk on thin ice. We pitched our tent by the river. Far away from the locality, a long winter’s night falls in the great void surrounded by towering mountains.

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The next morning we headed out after pancakes and Kargil’s famous salty tea. We had to cover a long distance that day. Our destination was Shinra Kangma which is more than 10 km away!

After a few hours of walking, the river suddenly narrows. As a result, the ice sheets continue to be swept away by strong currents.

Several times we had to leave the river and climb steep hills to advance. At some places, we had to literally crawl over very narrow and thin channels of ice accumulated on the side of the mountain.

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While walking in the ice, every step was making a terrible sound as if the ice had to break and fall into the cold river!

Next day, our destination was ‘Tibb’ which is another 12 km away. After a short walk we entered the ice waterfall kingdom. This part of the trip was the most beautiful. As if an evil wizard had conjured and frozen everything.

One of these waterfalls emerges from a cave in the middle of the mountain. Locals believe that this waterfall descends directly from Manas Sarovar.

Then we came to the narrow part of the river. Just as our Sangu river narrows towards Andharmanik, the Jhanska river here was only 8 feet wide. Passing this place we reached our destination ‘Tibb’.

A huge cave was found about twenty feet from the river bank. We were camping inside. At night, a huge fire burned at the mouth of the cave. We had a good night’s sleep inside the warm cave with a dinner of rice and fried tuna.

The final destination of our trail was Nerak, an ancient village on the banks of the Jhanskar River, 12 kilometers from Tibet. The trek was fairly easy as the ice cover over the river was quite thick.

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Saw snow falling near our destination. We could see a wooden suspension bridge over the river. Ahead was a wide snow-covered valley lined with juniper trees. The scene at that moment was breathtaking.

2 to 3 stone houses by the river. Trekkers come here and spend the night. The main village of Nerak is about 2 thousand feet above the river bank. We took shelter there in a stone house.

After entering Ladakh it was the coldest night of the entire trip. The temperature was minus 25 degrees. Even with all the clothes we had brought with us, we could not bear the extreme cold. I don’t think I have ever waited so eagerly for the sun to rise.

The next morning the sun rose and magically banished the cold. That day was our reserve day. After a while, we went to see the village which was a bunch of stone houses.

At the entrance of the village there was a large canopied dharmachakra. Music was coming from far away.

On reaching the village, I learned that there is a festival going on. Everyone in the village gathered in the open verandah of the stone-built two-storied house. Some were playing Ladakhi songs with drums and flutes. The young men and women of the village were dancing to that tune. The villagers gave us a warm welcome and in no time we joined them.

I felt lucky to see Jhanska culture so closely.

Walking across Jhanskar gave me a different kind of spiritual experience. It would have been nice to stay here for a few more days. But the next day we had to start our return journey along the same route.

When to go?

Chadar Trek takes place in January and February. However, the ice usually stabilizes enough for safe walking by the third week of January. We completed the round trip in 7 days. If you want to explore this area, you can arrange a few more day tours.

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Direct flights connect New Delhi to Leh and travel agencies usually arrange to drop you at your hotel from the airport and then take you to your trekking site. 60 thousand rupees were spent each on this trip. The cost will vary depending on the size of the group and the facilities you will have during the trek.

The article is in Bengali

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