Trekking the Frozen Zanskar River in Rugged Ladakh

Devika Khosla

Last updated: Nov 8, 2017

frozen zanskar trekking
​Frozen Zanskar River

It can be said with certain amount of surety that trekking has been one of the most unequivocal sources of adventure and triumph for generations. Be it the small hills or mountains of your neighboring state or the leviathan Mount Everest (8,848 meters), the sense of conquest and pleasure is unsurpassed at the end of the trekking trail. One such trekking trail is the Frozen Zanskar River Trail in the rugged terrains of Ladakh.

frozen zanskar trekking

The Zanskar River lies in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, which is at a jaw dropping altitude of 3850 meters. The maximum temperature around the trekking area remains at a bone chilling – 15 degree Celsius and the minimum temperature can go as low as -30 degree Celsius. So, it would be advisable to pack heavy winter gear before even thinking about fighting the full force of nature. One of my colleagues, Natesh Rajagopalan, recently took it upon himself to go for the Frozen River Trek. Quite bold for someone who lives in balmy Mumbai! When he returned from the trek, there was nothing else he could talk about and I thought it would be only fair to share some of his exploits.

The frozen river trek has the distinction of being one of the toughest and most arduous trekking trails. The total distance of this tour (one way) is approximately 105 km and is usually covered with average distance of 15 to 17 km a day. The expedition starts with a trek from Tilat Sumdo to Bakula Bawo which is about a 12 km long trek and takes about 5-6 hours to complete. 

zanskar frozen river trekking

There is a distinct way to walk on the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh and is better known by the pseudonym ‘Ladakhi Shuffle’, and it takes some time to get adjusted to this way of walking. The walk is a simple one (compared to what lies in store later on) until you climb a frozen stream to camp at Tipkyeak Bawo. On the way to Bakula Bawo, one passes through Tsemodo. The water in this particular section tends to melt more easily and you may at times have to traverse the steep rocks due to the melting ice.

Once you reach Bakula Bawo; a camp is set up to rest for the night and build up the energy to take on the treacherous tracks of the frozen Zanskar river.  In the morning, putting on a brave smile, the next part of trekking starts which takes you through the ice laden landscape dotted with surreal frozen waterfalls which look like ice cliffs. At the end of the trekking day, the aim is to reach the beautiful location at Tipkyeak Bawo and camp there during the night. On the morning of the third day, the trekking starts from Tipkyeak Bawo and aims to reach a point called Markala.

frozen zanskar river trekking

Frozen waterfall on the last day of the trek, the toughest part of the route and the most arduous of the trekking lie in wait. From Markala, the trekking party’s aim is to reach Tilat Sumdo. This part of the trek, according to Natesh, takes the most out of you. The entire frozen chadar (river) was extremely fragile and adding to the woes was a landslide that made climbing the mountain a Herculean effort. Since it became almost impossible to walk, Natesh had to climb over the mountain (he did summon the Herculean strength) to reach the finishing point where a cup of hot soup and a car was waiting to carry home the triumphant trekkers.