Chadar Trek
Sikh History, Winter Ladakh

How I survived (and thrived) on my First Day of Winter Ladakh

I keep looking for long weekends (any public holiday combined with Saturday+ Sunday) for a refreshing break and last winters I had asked my friend (Comdt in ITBP, posted at Leh) whether I should visit Leh in Dec (23-25) or Jan (26-28) and he guided me to visit in Jan as most of the lakes, rivers, waterfalls are frozen and give you an opportunity to understand the lifestyle of people living in this part of the world.

Spituk Gompa
Spituk Monastery on top of a hillock, with blue Indus river flowing behind, clicked from flight

 

I would suggest the following for those who are visiting for shorter periods and want to make best use of time available at hand:-

  1. Start some fitness regimen atleast a month in advance – atleast 40-50 minutes of brisk walk and light stretching exercises.
  2. After consulting your doctor, start taking Diamox tablets (Acetazolamide-Brand is a “water pill” (diuretic) used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness and other ailments, see on Google as well to check for contraindications) twice a day, 2 days before landing in Leh and then continue for atleast 2 more days. This helps in getting acclimatized faster.
  3. Once you check into your place of stay, have good breakfast and rest for some time, not sleep as sleeping reduces the oxygen intake and may cause sudden drop of oxygen in your blood.  Just sit and watch TV or simply chat, make plans for the trip.
  4. Do not repeat DO NOT exert on first one or 2 days.
  5. Those having any medical condition must consult their doctor before proceeding. I got my Executive Health Check Up done on 29th Dec, 2017 and the TMT Test showed “Mild Ischemia”. Dr Tarun Sahni, Consultant in Appollo Hospital (Dr Sahni is known as the “father of modern hyperbaric medicine in India”) asked me to get a “Stress Echo Test” done before this trip, which too was done on 23rd Jan, 2018 and it showed “Good Exercise Tolerability”, giving me enough confidence to embark on this trip. Rohan too had got his complete health scan on 29th Dec’17 and was fit to travel.  Both of us started course of Diamox (point no.2 above) from 24th evening.

Our flight landed at 8am and the crew announced “Welcome to Leh, it is a very bright and sunny day and outside temperature is minus 9”.  It made us little bit jittery and we quickly zipped up our heavy jackets, put on newly purchased gloves (claimed to work upto -50 degrees Celsius) and covered our head with a woolen cap.  However, when we stepped out to take the waiting mini-bus from aircraft to the arrival lounge of Leh Airport, we were just fine, no discomfort at all.  This van was heated and the arrival hall too was not “biting cold”.  We travelled from Leh Airport to ITBP Camp in a heated Mahindra Bolero and enjoyed the morning sunshine and beauty of nearly empty road of Leh.  Had breakfast – piping hot porridge and Kahva (a Kashmiri brew tea), rested for about 15-20 minutes, then taxi came at 9 am.

Mr. Jigmet Dorjey, a village headman of Thiksay and an office bearer of Leh Taxi Union was our driver for the next two days. We got an insight into culture, lifestyle and flora/fauna of this region through him. He also narrated his experience about tourism and how it should grow in future too, which I recorded and have shared it in my YouTube post.

Places visited on Day-1

  1. Hall of fame – it is a memorial for those who lost their lives during Oct 1947 war. Lot of information is displayed about various parts of Ladakh, its culture, religion, people, flora and fauna. There is a section, displaying history of various battles fought in this inhospitable region, most interesting being “Kargil War of 1999”.  Spent nearly two hours inside and then had tea in their cafe, without any exertion!
  2. Shanti Stupa was next, which involves a slight road climb for about 100 meters from the car park, which gives a 360 degree view of Leh city.  Each pillar has an arrow pointing towards a particular area, with its name written below it.  A monastery is also located on the way, which gives an opportunity to sit and meditate for a while.  We did not climb stairs as it was too cold @ -8 or 9, spent 20 mnts at this attraction.
  3. Jorawar Singh Fort:- this is a memorial of first Sikh Empire in this area, having lot of historical information/facts about the region where one should spend atleast an hour.  It was a public holiday (being Republic Day) but soldiers of Indian Army showed great hospitality and opened the locked doors for both of us.
  4. SNM Hospital, Leh:- Visit to this Government hospital had twin objectives – a courtesy call on Dr. Dolkar, whom I had met during my last visit in Aug’17 at Matho village and also to meet a friend (Tsewang Younten, teacher at Govt School, Jangla, Padum) who had come via Chadar of Zanskar River, from Padum.

Three of us came back to ITBP Officers’Mess for lunch, had vegetarian lunch, rested for a while and started for covering more attractions, without any stress on our body.

  1. Phyang Ice Stupa, car stop close by and there is no trekking. Took few pics of the lovely Monastery from outside as going inside means climbing lot of stair and the principle on day one is “NO EXERTION”.  Ice Stupa is an engineering marvel, created by Sonam Wangchuk and the project is undertaken by one NGO Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh.  One has to tread very carefully as the surface is very smooth, thus slippery.  I fell down inside this cave structure, while making a video!  This structure melts during summers, providing water for irrigation.

    Ice Stupa – click this link to see inside of this majestic beautiful Ice structure.

  2. Magnetic Hills: A few kilometers after Phyang, we reached this attraction and driver just switched off the engine, stopped the car and released brakes, it started moving slightly uphill!!! I had visited this place several times earlier but this was the  first ever time when I saw it happening.
  3. Confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers seen from the Srinagar-Leh highway, took few pics sitting inside the car because the cold breeze was too strong for me! However, visited this place on our way back from Chilling village for capturing sunset views, near the frozen rivers.

     

  4. Chilling Village: about 25 Kms from Confluence, a tiny village, having hardly 25-30 odd houses, is part of the Hemis National Park, which has good number of wild animals and birds.  This village is famous for copper, silver, iron etc utensils and handicrafts.  Migrant workers from Nepal settled here centuries ago and are still providing wares to Ladakhis.
  5. Chadar Trek Trailer: While returning from Chilling village we found a spot, which was accessible by car and reached the chadar (frozen river), stayed there for 15 minutes.  Tsewang Younten, who had come from Padum, crossing this Chadar, taught us how to walk on this sheet of ice.  I was amazing to find a frozen waterfall on our way back. Click to view: Chadar Trek Trailer on Zanskar River

     

  6. It was getting dark and temperature was plunging, stopped at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib at 6.15pm and as luck would have it, ardaas was about to start after Gurbani, had kadah-parshad and chah da langar (tea), spent nearly 30 minutes.  This holy place is revered due to visit of Guru Nanak Dev ji and as the fable goes, a demon threw a large boulder at him, which melted around his back.  This large stone is placed inside this Gurudwara Pathar Sahib.  Click to watch Ardaas (prayer) inside this holy place:- Ardaas in Gurudwara Pathar Sahib

     

Reached our guest house around 7.15pm, dinner was ready – had lamb meat and dal roti, slept by 9pm as we were to travel at 7 am for Pangong Lake………….to be contd

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