There is an unexplainable bliss that lies deep in the mountains, a separate universe of its own when you are disconnected from the rest of the world!!!
A 20-year-old nature lover came across the “Chadar trek” on the internet while randomly browsing travel destinations. “Walking on the frozen river at -10 to -25 degree Celsius….. to reach the final destination of the trek- a frozen waterfall”, read the description. The girl got really excited and decided to go for it. She had never done a trek before. Her parents were scared as she decided to go alone but they supported her anyway. Scared to death but excited for the experience nonetheless, she set out for the journey which she had close to no idea about.
Bags packed, a knot in her throat, curious eyes and a mindset to do it, the girl boarded her flight to Delhi from Chennai. After an entire night of layover in Delhi, she caught the flight to Leh.
Leh airport, unlike other city airports, isn’t that big. A tiny airport nestled among the mountains that operate only till late afternoon. She got down the plane and stood there mesmerized by the view around. Suddenly she felt all the people around her staring at her with a strange expression. Starting to feel too self-conscious, she noticed that everyone was wearing at least 2 or 3 layers of clothing and a winter cap but she was the only one in just a T-shirt and track. And then it hit her!! -5 degrees!!! But the clever girl had packed all her winter gears in the check-in luggage.
Doubts and first fall!
They were to spend the night in Leh and start for the trek the next morning. So, she had planned to shop for trek gears in the Leh market, only she didn’t know Hindi. At a guest house, the trek team gathered and she found out she was the youngest. She told them that she needed to buy stuff for the trek and the rest of it they took care. She relaxed a bit. But when the night came, all her fears came with it. More than a week-long trek, totally out of civilization in freakishly cold place. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she told her family and friends good-bye, wondering what the hell she had gotten herself into.
The next day, the official first day of the trek, was a long rollercoaster ride till the base camp. They reached there well before the sunset and decided to give walking on ice a try. She took her first few steps and… Thuddd!! She found herself on the ice on all fours. The ice was very smooth and slippery. As the sun went down, the temperature went down too. Shivering even after wearing 4 layers of clothing, she wondered if she would survive this stupid decision to go on this trek.
They had an early dinner in the dining tent. She looked around at the bunch of strangers she met just yesterday, now about to go on an 8-day trek, totally disconnected from the rest of the world. Stepping out of the tent, everybody froze at the sight of the night sky. It was a moonless day. But who cares about the moon when there is a sea of stars. That moment she knew, it’s all going to be worth it. She looked at her trek team to find the same expression of awe in their faces. A wide smile spread across her face.
The first two days were the most difficult. Firstly because of the slippery ice which was too tricky to walk on and then the freezing temperature. She concentrated so hard on the path to making sure that she doesn’t fall again and the 10 kg backpack wasn’t making anything easier. She mostly walked alone, taking one step at a time telling herself she can make it.
By the third day, walking on ice became familiar and senses where more open to soak in the beauty around her. The thrill of camping, the soothing sound of the gushing river, the scant sun rays which rarely shone on the valley, the people returning from the trek wishing them luck and greeting with “Juleyyy”, she started enjoying it all.
It was on the 4th day that they reached the stunning Neerak falls. She felt accomplished! Standing there, staring at the falls, she thanked herself for the stupid decision she made. Everything was at ease by then, and they got to stay in a homestay with a heater. Hot food, warm feet near the fire and a lot of chatter, that night she felt so close to the group than ever. She had made new friends who had lots of interesting stories.
The walk back was very relaxed and full of fun. From Ice hockey with trek pole, sliding down the ice, falling face down in ice, anthakshari in dining tent, all the jokes and teasing, dying for a campfire, enjoying every bite of hot food to dancing till the midnight on the last day of the trek, everything and every moment was a beautiful memory that she will always cherish. Last but not least, a dip in the freezing Zanskar river after the trek. Everyone from the team did it and they pushed this reluctant (and scared) girl to do it as well. It was one hell of a freezing dip for her! (video of the dip is there in my instagram)
As they drove back to Leh from the base camp, the entire journey flashed in her head… The 10 kg bag weighing her down, the annoying running nose that never stopped, the pain of pooping in nature and not being able wash, the breathlessness that comes with every slope, the hand ache whenever the gloves are taken off, the blisters all that walking gave, walking up in the sleeping bag with frozen hair, and the first step outside the tent every morning. But all of these were worth good memories. Not one of her fears did she let anybody know or trouble anybody with. Looking at the scenery around her, she felt so proud and happy and satisfied. As she took a deep breath of the crisp cold air, a tear rolled down her cheek and touched the corner of her smiling lips. She had done it!
This when the travel bug bit me – January 2019. A girl once too scared for being alone has now changed into a confident solo traveler. If I hadn’t taken the leap of faith to go with my instinct, I might still be feeling like I am not ready for all this. Or I might have lost the golden opportunity to walk on the Chadar forever, as the trek trail itself might get closed by 2020. So, if you really want to do something but feel like you are not ready, do yourself a favor and take that leap of faith.
HAVE YOU ANY SUCH EXPERIENCE?? LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS…