‘Hello, ice!” Or is it ‘ices’ ?
On January 13th, we were all packed and a bus was to take us to Chilling. Chilling is a 3-hour bus ride from Leh. Considering the winding and uphill route, all three of us took an Avomine and settled down to a 3-hour nap. Only once I remember being woken up to see the meeting of the Zanskar with the Indus. CAP told us how she had visited the spot last year to do rafting in the Zanskar. This time she was to see the Zanskar in different mood. Soon we reached Chilling. Near the bus, there was a narrow, steep path way off the road that led to the Chadar. We could see the Chadar from above. CAP and I looked at each other in dread as we saw the narrow path way. It was steep and it was all loose soil. We were scared and excited. With deliberate and slow steps we made it to the Chadar with help from the Red Hot Pants, M & M and Tinker Bell. Red Hot Pants was our guide who was a local, from Zanskar with, he claimed, experience of guiding trekkers through the Chadar since 1975. He would lead the group, ascertaining with the help of a bamboo stick, the nature of the chadar and if we could walk on it. It is impossible to do the chadar without the kind of expertise he had. M & M was from Uttaranchal, a seasoned mountaineer who would help those of us who were having difficulties during the climb. He would prove to be a life-saver in precarious cliff situations. Tinker Bell was our trek leader. A young, nimble man with enough gumption (and tales of prowess) to compensate for his lack of experience relative to the others.
The first step on the Chadar felt like a moon landing ( How would I know what a moon landing feels like? I don’t. I imagine it would feel like the Chadar.) My head bent, I had no eyes for anything else around me. The Chadar here was pretty well formed and taut. It was also well frequented, making it rather slippery. The word ‘ice’ does not begin to encompass all that this river is when frozen. One word doesn’t suffice. There is thick ice- thick as the concrete we walk on. You can play a cricket match on the river with this kind of ice. Then there is thin ice that cracks with the slightest touch. Then there are variations in between. Then there is the snow that covers the ice in parts like a casual sprinkling of powdered sugar, sometimes. Sometimes oh so easy to make balls and throw at each other. I think one of the best experiences of this trek was to feel for ice texture. To nod smiling at oneself for recognizing it from before, to know what it could and what it couldn’t do, to categorize it in one’s head, to think of the transformation it would go through in the next 24 hours, in the next week, in the next month. To think of a moving, flowing river that freezes over! How? Why? If only science were taught to us on the Chadar!
On the first day, Tinker Bell gave us the crampons, these really useful appendages that go on shoes and give you enough traction to run on all kinds of ice without falling. Laziness determined that I wouldn’t use them since it meant removing them every time we climbed on rocks. I did use them one day, later in the trek and enjoyed it. But here’s the deal. You don’t understand the different texture in ice with the crampons. So while it was definitely stressful to walk on the ice carefully, it was well worth the effort.
We were given two layers of tents and two layers of sleeping bags. Sleeping was an ordeal. ( Actually, everything was a task in the cold. But sleeping became a veritable work-out.) We had to clear the tent space of all our things. Then we had to clear ourselves out. Then one of us would begin by unfurling the big sleeping bag and then the little one and insert the little one into the big one. That one person would lay out all 6 sleeping bags while the two others waited outside. Then we had to insert our hot water bottles into the inner most sleeping bag. And then we would settle ourselves in. Once settled, we had very little room for movement and we would be much too tired to move, anyway.