Reena Talawar got in touch with us one day in December, asking about a Chadar trek booking. We loved her curiosity and her enthusiasm, and she seemed to have made up her mind. Within no time, she was on her way to Leh.
Now the Chadar trek is no ordinary trek. In the winter, the Zanskar river in Leh freezes over, turning into a blanket of ice. Trekkers and adventurers from around the world have been flocking here for years, all for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of walking on ice. The temperatures drop to 15-30 below zero, you camp in caves, huddle around fires in the evening, and sleep in tents, listening to the ice groaning and screaming as it cracks and reforms during the night.
But here’s Reena, making it sound as easy as pie.
TGN: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do for a living? What kind of adventures do you like? Have you always been a traveller?
RT: This is the most arduous question. Well I am happy-go-lucky, jolly person and kinda bindass girl. I love to challenge myself and take risks. I am not a slogging 9-to-6 person – I lead my life on my own terms and conditions. To be honest, currently I am just chilling and hanging out with my family and wandering around. Apart from that, I do yoga, bake and cook occasionally [cheat on my diet ;)], meet new people, learn new things, etc. I feel that taking a break from the normal routine is a blessing, and helps you discover yourself. During my time off, I discovered that I love travelling and started exploring new places.
For me, everything is an adventure, whether it’s meeting someone, playing with my pets, learning new things, or working on new hobbies. “A new learning is the start of adventure” – I read this somewhere, and I believe in it quite strongly.
Not sure about always being a traveller. My father works with the Central Govt, and was transferred around quite a bit. We never shifted with him, but every summer, he’d take us to his new post location. So we managed to see a lot of new places, and stay away from the cities, in the midst of nature. This helped build my love for nature and made me a traveller, I think.
TGN: What made you pick the Chadar trek?
RT: The Chadar Trek was never in my mind; it just happened. I was planning to go to Bir, Spiti, but due to weather conditions the trek was cancelled and so were my plans. After New Year 2017, I started looking for Bir treks again, but was not sure about the outcome. Meanwhile many treks came to mind: Kuari Pass, Chopta, etc but nothing interested me. One day while browsing, I came across Chadar trek. I guess you could say I heard the call of the Chadar trek! I started researching it, and finally I went ahead and booked without any second thought, with you guys.
TGN: Did you do any special training for the Chadar trek? Tell us how you prepared.
RT: This one is quite tricky as I had only 15 days before the trek to be prepared. Mentally I was preparing myself that I’d have to be fit enough to manage the tricky terrain of the Chadar. I’d go to bed planning to wake up early and go jogging for 30 minutes, but I’d end up walking like a tortoise for 30 minutes instead. It worked for me, but I’d suggest to others to eat healthy and jog to get fit and increase stamina. While you’re trekking, the most important things are focus and determination.
TGN: What kind of gear did you use?
RT: I am not really a gear or gadgets person; I believe in walking free, away from gadgets and enjoying every bit of nature. Sometimes I get lost so much in the breath-taking essence of Mother Earth that I even forget to click pictures and enjoy every bit of it.
TGN: On a scale of ‘I’m freeeezzinnnngg’ to ‘God please take me home’, how cold was it? How did you deal with the super low temperatures?
RT: Cold is an understatement for Chadar. I was prepared for -20 degrees, but the temperatures dropped to -26 to -30 degrees, with heavy snowfall. I was shivering, and my teeth were chattering. While trekking I did not feel the cold much, but the evenings and nights were cold as hell. I just layered my clothes, drank hot cups of black tea after the trek, filled up with hot supper at night, and went to sleep inside the sleeping bag. All those tricks made it easier.
TGN: Do you always go trekking alone? Do you find that it makes the experience better?
RT: Yes, I have been trekking solo. I usually go solo, but end up meeting like-minded people with many different experiences, lots of memories, stories shared, inspirations, etc. I would like to share a story of a friend whom I met in Chadar trek. He had planned his trek with 2 of his friends, but they unfortunately ditched him at the last minute. He was left with no one to accompany him, but he stuck to his plan. He was nervous to be trekking solo for the first time, but he gathered his guts and travelled to Leh. We all met, shopped, played, and trekked together. At the end of the trek, he said this line that I won’t forget: “I came solo but am ending this trek with a family”. That’s what the best experience of travelling solo is.
TGN: If you had to pick one, what was the best moment on your Chadar trek?
RT: Ah! There were lot of “best moments”, but this one is worth sharing, It was the games that we played as a group after our trek, be it volleyball, football, porter pulling, antakshari, storytelling, etc. Our inner child was awakened in those 6 days. Those moments are nostalgic.
TGN: We hear from a lot of young girls or solo women travellers who are nervous about travelling alone. What message would you send to them?
RT: Travelling is a blessing in itself. Not everyone gets a chance to do so and travelling alone/solo is heavenly. You just don’t see or visit the place but you feel it. So girls, don’t be scared! Just pick up your backpack and leave. Staying in the midst of mountains, sleeping below millions of stars is a supreme bliss. Yes, take precautions, but the world is not as wild as we think. Humanity still exists in each one of us. Just the right approach and presence of mind makes life easy.
TGN: You’re a real inspiration to adventurers everywhere. Tell us what’s next on your travel bucket list.
RT: I don’t have a bucket list. I make a spontaneous decision about to my next travel/trek. It’s like a big mind game. Whatever comes to mind first is my next travel plan. As of now, I’m planning to go to Mt Abu with my partner-in-crime and my travel inspiration, my mom. She is the true inspiration for all my travels.
TGN: Are there any Chadar tips that you’d like to give to people thinking about going?
RT: Yes, I’d like to share something. Chadar is a divine place, but it’s large and hard for one team or group to keep clean. Please do your bit and don’t throw litter around. Make a pledge to yourself that you’ll carry an extra bag to store your own trash, or try to pick up the trash around if you see any and keep the surroundings clean and tidy.
For women travellers, please carry a small pack of sanitary napkins/ tampons. Even if you don’t end up needing it, you might be able to help out another female traveller if she’s forgotten or run out. It will be a helping hand for someone else. And please, please, please, do not litter. Roll up your personal waste items really small, wrap it up in a zip pouch and carry it back along with you. You can always throw it away in the garbage once you reach your hotel/homestay/resort where it will be disposed of properly. I thank each one of you personally for reading this, and even more if you decide to help keep the Chadar trek clean.
If you’d like to check out our Chadar trip options, you’ll find plenty here. The season is only for a couple of months each year, in Jan and Feb, when winter is at its peak. That means you have enough time to train for it if you start now