Extremes at Zanskar's Chadar Trek
A little story of life around Zanskaras Chadar Trek
When the Zanskar river freezes during the winter, it is the only route that connects the villagers of the Zanskar Valley with Leh - its only land route to the rest of the world. With the various threats looming upon the beautiful trek, locals think that this might be the last generation to do the World's most wild trek.
Lendup Tunsak was born and brought up in the Zanskar valley, Ladakh. Lendup clearly remembers the first time he went for the wildest trek in the world, - Chadar trek - forty years ago, when he was just five years old.
He recalls the moments he was shivering in the below zero degree temperatures, and he also remembers the day when his father told him that this cold was their ally.
His father told him that the freezing cold was their reason of their survival, for without the extreme cold, they would not be able to meet their daily basic needs. The frozen Zanskar river was their lifeline, and the only possible route to reach the nearest town - Leh. All other roadways would be blocked by snow. They would sell skins of cattle animals, dairy products (milk, butter, etc.)
With the money they would earn, they would buy livelihood stocks from the town itself, before returning to their home.
Forty winters have passed by since, but nothing really has changed. Lendup tells me that Zanskar is remotely connected with the country. It remains disconnected from the rest of the world for about five minutes, each and every year. Lendup walks 145 kilometers on the frozen river to reach Leh, and 145 kilometers back to reach his home. And he does not do that for his survival only, but his family's survival as well.
But that, however, is not the biggest challenge. Working as postal official, Lendup knows the extreme danger the trek can pose during the season of winter.
Although pretty popular amongst adventure seekers, the Chadar Trek is not very safe. There are some parts of the Zanskar river that does not freeze. These parts of the river can be life threatening if walked on.
And it is possibly because of those deadly parts of the Zanskar river that Chadar Trek is considered to be the most wild trek in the whole wide world. It has now become a big business for the travel industry, as selling adventure trips has become more of a fad. And not to forget, the scenery also helps - snow covered mountains, frozen waterfalls, and, of course, beautiful blue sky.
But there is a set of huge threat looming over the future of the Chadar trek.
One of them is Global Warming. And yes, Global Warming is real. With the weather being warmer than usual, many stretches of the Zanskar river remains unfrozen. As someone who has walked on a frozen river, I can assure you that it is difficult to make out whether the river is frozen or is there just a crust of ice formed on the top most layer of the water body. Stepping on a thin crust of ice with the ice cold river flowing beneath, it can be extremely dangerous.
Another major threat to the Chadar Trek is the overpopulation of trekkers (read tourists). Every winter, thousands of people do the Chadar Trek. The frozen river has a certain limitation when it comes to how much it can take.
Pollution is another big threat. Many people who do the trek, pollute the route. The most common way of polluting is by peeing on the frozen river. The river, during the non-winter seasons, is the only source of fresh water to the villagers. Not just that, the villagers believe that doing such a filthy thing angers the spirit living there.
If the aforementioned problems are not dealt with, the Chadar Trek might become a thing of the past and go extinct. The onus lies with us what we want to pass on to the next generation - the world's wildest trek or the world's former wildest trek.
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