So, I set for Chadar accompanied by my guides Lopsang and Jigment. We passed the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers in the morning and then we went on for several kilometres on something that could be called road. When I was looking at the steep hills above me covered with ice I suddenly understood why even the locals fear this several day long trek so much. We reached the end of the road where the trek begins. We’re tumbling down the slope to the river and the ice is according to Lopsang very good so the sliding may begin. Well, sliding? It’s more like running and sliding together. The locals are really fit so they set out at a fast pace. Am I back in the ice age? Or on a different planet? Where am I? There’s nothing but the towering peaks on both sides of the river canyon which echoes from time to time the sound of the river running beneath the ice we walk on. The first day is about to end so we make a fire in the cave we’re going to spend the night in and we warm ourselves up with some soup. The night was chilly - it was around -30 ºC and the temperature kept about the same even the second and third day. We were lucky to set out for Chadar at this time because the ice was really thick and solid except for the few parts where we had to climb up the cliffs up to 30 m above the river or crawl along the narrow icy ledge right next to the water. We spent the third night in Neraks.
On the fourth day the good and easy time ended. It was snowing again, the ice was melting and we still had eight hours of walking to get to the end of the icy road. Everything around us was pure white. We moved on very slowly and carefully because the ice had become fragile under the heavy and still growing deposits of snow. They say it’s better not to walk as the first one here but id didn’t really work this time - Lopsang in front of me “made the first cut” into the ice so when I followed his steps...“wham!”...and I was up to my knees in the water. I get out of the cold water quickly and went on more cautiously. After a while Lopsang stopped and started to take off his boots...of my! I know what is to come next. We had to wade about 30 m up the stream. It’s still snowing, we cannot see more than 10 m in front of us, the night is falling and we’re getting really tired. Out of a sudden I see Jigment climbing somewhere up the hill. A road! The end of Chadar. Hooray! Moreover I recognize a prefab hut of the road workers in the distance where we not only dry our stuff and have something to eat but we can also spend a night there. Unfortunately this wasn’t the end at all. The most difficult part was still to come. In the morning we woke up into another snowy day. I hoped that the walking will be easier once we get on the road and that we will soon find ourselves in Padum. A big mistake. There are no footsteps from previous day that would make our walking easier, only new snow that is deep up to our knees and sometimes even up to our waists. Ten hours of walking, ten hours of walking constantly up the hill. The famous Winston Churchil’s quote “blood, sweat and tears” came across my mind. Real crisis. What is more, the sweat inside and the melting snow outside of my jacket have caused that it weights a ton. Added to a 15 kg backpack it only encouraged my longing for the nearest village. In the evening Jigment pointed at the cluster of houses in the distance. Pidmo. “Cool,” I think, “half an hour and we’re there.” A big mistake again. At least two more hours, says Lopsang. He probably didn’t have the heart to mention that his house was, of course, the very last in the village and therefore the farthest one. The dinner had nothing to do with me this day - I went straight to bed and fell asleep in a second.
It took us two more days to get to Padum where I met Martin who had taught in Kargyak before me. We both “recharged our batteries” for the second part of our travel and we also shared all the necessary info about the school and stuff. I also met two wonderful guys - Lopi and Dordze who brought Martin to Padum and who are to become my guides from this moment.
Padum is so snowed under that even the locals have hard time remembering when they last saw so much snow. “Hooray to Kargyak,” I say to myself happily believing that the village is only four days of walking away. Sure, if only it didn’t start snowing again. After few hours of walking we had to stop at the Barden monastery because it’s just not possible to go on. It was snowing constantly for four days - about more than a meter of new powder snow on our path. The very path that didn’t let Lopi and Dordze sleep - now, I understand why very well...It takes two hours to get to the next village, Mune, in summer and four in winter. It took us ten hours! The snow was up to our knees all day but the worst was the danger of avalanches in that area. I painfully realized how serious it was when I was listening to the loud and repetitious mantra of Lopi and Dordze: “Om mani padme hum, Om mani padme hum..” In addition to that Lopi told me somewhere in the middle of the area that many people had already lost their lives there. Till today I thought that the danger of avalanches were just old wives tales but now I had a first-hand experience of it.
Right...left, right...left...suddenly I am stroke deaf. The avalanche on the slope in front of us has just gone off. The flood of snow is hurtling down the hill taking everything with it. In a second there’s another one and then one more...I saw my life flashed before my eyes. Only the willpower brought us to Mune tonight, we were exhausted but happy...and, we also realized once again how powerful nature is.
The following days went smoothly without any serious problems, so, we had a chance to focus on the visiting people in the valley. The closer to Kargyak we got, the more chang and arak we were exposed to. Slowly we became to see the holy mountain of Gonporancen which told us that our final destination was close. I think that I had never ever felt such a relief than in the moment I entered Kargyak. I’m walking through the village apparently expected by the villagers, I climb the hill up to the school - to my new home - I give a hug to Pyru and it’s all so wonderful that I still cannot believe I am here...